“Somalia needs a chamber of commerce before it needs a cabinet”, or the case for anarchy in the Horn

That is Alex de Waal in the New York Times.

African neighbors and the West want to stop piracy, uproot terrorism, relieve famine, end civil war, and strengthen a federal government:

This is all very laudable, except for one thing: It won’t work.

The transitional government, established in 2004, has no credibility, in part because it could not exist without foreign backing. In fact, many Somalis don’t want a central government. Or, to be exact, they are so embittered by their experience of centralized power that they would rather have no government than the type that their African neighbors and the West have designed for them.

…For quite a lot of Somalia and for quite a lot of the last 20 years, quite a lot of things have worked. Above all the country has a booming private sector, self-regulating and helped by the country’s simple monetary policy (no one can print banknotes). The efficient, informal hawala system of money transfer allows the Somali diaspora to send money home. And Somalis enjoy one of the cheapest and most modern mobile phone networks in Africa, if not the world.

Somali society has functioned for centuries without a state, on the basis of kinship, customary law and Islam. These traditions survive.

…Instead of gathering Somalia’s discredited politicians and promising them more help, Cameron should support what already functions well in Somalia: the vibrant middle class and Somaliland. Britain, and other donors, should empower Somali businessmen with lines of credit and an improved system to regulate money transfers; Somalia needs a chamber of commerce before it needs a cabinet.

Interesting throughout. I concur with supporting the business community. It’s the idea that this is done “instead” of boosting a central government that is less obvious. “Before”, “alongside” or “at least as much as” would be more defensible.

Can we really expect regional political stability without some kind of national-level regime? Is this institutionalized anarchy? Why not a highly federal system in its place?

Most of all–Is it realistic to ask the UN, Presidents and Prime Ministers to accept that route (and could they if they agreed)?

I don’t know in general, and I know next to nothing about Somalia. Readers?

h/t @cheng_christine