For Want of Order

A common bit of snark that bubbles up among the political blogosphere is to respond to state skeptics by saying “well look at Somalia”.  This completely ignores the reason why Somalia doesn’t have a central government, among other things, but whatever, it’s out there.  Oddly enough, the New York Times did a profile on one of the warlords currently running a piece of the country:

ABOVE the shimmering horizon, in the middle of a deserted highway, stands an oversize figure wearing a golf cap, huge sunglasses, baggy jeans, and an iPhone on his hip, not your typical outfit in war-torn Somalia. But then again, Mohamed Aden, the man waiting in the road, is not your typical Somali. The instant his guests arrive, he spreads his arms wide, ready for a bear hug.  “Welcome to Adado,” he says, beaming. “Now, let’s bounce.”

Mr. Aden, 37, is part militia commander, part schoolteacher, part lawmaker, part engineer, part environmentalist, part king — a mind-boggling combination of roles for anyone to play, let alone for a guy who dresses (and talks) like a rapper and recently moved from Minnesota to Somalia in an effort to build a local government.

Think of him as the accidental warlord. And a shard of hope. In less than a year, Mr. Aden, who was born in Somalia and emigrated to the United States at age 22, has essentially built a state within a state.

The wording the author of this article adopts for the subject is a bit annoying, though unsurprising.  So what does the Aden Administration look like?

Somalia is one of the most violent countries on the planet, and at times Mr. Aden has had to speak with the business end of a machine gun.

This is like saying “at times, major league pitchers have had to throw fastballs”.  But I digress…

His patch — which encompasses around 5,000 square miles and a few hundred thousand people, most of them desperately poor nomads and members of his own Saleban clan — is now one of the safest parts of this broken nation. […]

Mr. Aden does not get much help from the United Nations or the internationally supported transitional government of Somalia, which is led by moderate Islamists and preoccupied with beating back an intense insurgency in the capital, Mogadishu.

Most of what Mr. Aden has accomplished he has accomplished on his own, in distinctly Somali fashion. His police officers carry rocket-propelled grenades. Parked in front of the police station are two enormous tanks.  “My Cadillacs,” Mr. Aden calls them.

But however playful or flamboyant he may come across, Mr. Aden seems to have hit upon a deeper truth. People want government, he says, even in Somalia. “They’re begging for it,” he said. (emphasis mine)

There’s no way of knowing how literal this is, barring an in-person survey of Somalis.  Food, money, medicine for common regional ailments?  Of course they want that.  Stability?  Obviously chaos is counterproductive.  Yet it seems a bit of a stretch to claim of a people with such a long tradition of polycentric order that they beg for a State, at least if we’re assuming the Western view of such.

Acknowledging their history leads to a realization: the residents under Aden are used to having plenty of options if they disapprove, so his claim of a monopoly on force doesn’t carry an immovable amount of weight.  They must be getting something out of the arrangement, right?

With the elders firmly behind him, he was able to form a well-armed police force of several hundred fellow clansmen who are fiercely protective of him — essentially his own private army, which has made it difficult for the extremist Islamists wreaking havoc in other parts of Somalia to establish a beachhead here.

Well, that works.  But as always, there’s the reminder of what else comes with the authority:

People who have challenged his authority have paid the price. Last summer, his police officers shot to death four men who violently refused to vacate a piece of property that Mr. Aden’s administration ruled belonged to someone else.  “I knew there were outliers, people with their own rules,” he said. “I knew I had to challenge them, sooner or later.”

Much of the 1st World ignores this.  The few who do acknowledge it, most do little beyond shake their head & call it barbaric.  A waste, as this leaves a question hanging in the air that both anti- and pro-government types could benefit from asking: just what is a State, really?

(cross-posted to


About b-psycho

Left-libertarian blogger & occasional musician.
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One Response to For Want of Order

  1. Pingback: saleban

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