Thursday, April 22, 2010

Circumventing International Recognition

In 1991 Somaliland declared independence from Somalia. Unlike the rest of Somalia, Somaliland has managed to establish a degree of peace in the time since. It prints it's own currency, the Somaliland shilling, and issues passports. The problem: Somaliland is not recognized by the international community. The solution:
At various roadside junctions in central Hargeisa currency vendors sit at battered metal containers piled high with brick-size wedges of Somaliland shillings, US dollars and Euros. Wedged into these stacks of cash are Somali passports.

“We sell these passports because our government is not recognised, so if we want to do business outside Somaliland we have to use this document”, 26 year old Hussein told me flicking through the front pages of a pristine Somali passport. Adding ones details is no sweat – simply glue a photo over the box that says ‘picture’ and fill in your details by hand. A minister’s signature is required from Mogadishu – if indeed there is a Minister of Immigration -but that is easily circumvented.

“We just forge the signature”, Hussein said nonchalantly.

“And the Somaliland officials turn a blind eye?” I asked. “Of course they do”, smiled Hussein, “They have to travel on these passports too”.
Anyone interested in traveling to the horn of Africa?


liberty said...

So, have any of the Austrian anarchists who argue that Somalia is better off without a state actually compare Somaliland to Somalia, to see whether a possible state - such as the one in Somaliland - might work better than no state after all?

Will Luther said...

Good question. I am not sure Somaliland meets a strong ceteris paribus assumption. For one, you have to ask how they were capable of establishing a government so quickly (just four months after state collapse!) while Somalia has yet to do so. This suggests to me that there are fundamental differences between between Somali and Somaliland.

For the record, I am not sure whether Somalia is better off stateless. Leeson makes an important, but weak, point: Somalia is better off now relative to the Barre regime. That seems like a reasonable claim. Powell's point, that Somalia has improved relative to other countries is also a weak point. The facts seem to suggest they have. But that doesn't necessarily mean that anarchy is more consistent with growth than the typical governing institutions in the region. The great improvements could merely reflect a mean reversion (the Barre regime was REALLY bad...).

The relevant question, though, is what is Somalia's alternative? Leeson and Powell et al seem to be the only ones addressing this question. But that doesn't mean they are right. Would Somalia get another Barre regime? Perhaps. And I'd be willing to say anarchy is better than that. Would they get institutions similar to others in the region? If so, the case for anarchy isn't as clear. It depends on how much the measured improvements reflect mean reversion.

liberty said...

I have very little knowledge about the region or the history, so I am only speculating; but you suggest we must ask "how they were capable of establishing a government so quickly (just four months after state collapse!) while Somalia has yet to do so. "

This is a great question - and one which I think Leeson, for example (I have not read Powell's work) should address, given that he makes the case that establishing a new and reasonably democratic or un-predatory government is difficult, and unlikely to occur in Somalia--that their relevant alternative is a highly predatory one. But is it?

I don't know the history, but I am not sure Leeson does either - so it may be a bad (and arguably bigoted) assumption.

Think about China. When Mao came to power, most of Chinas incredibly long history had been of authoritarian, hierarchical empire. If Mao had been stopped, and had never taken power, Leeson (or someone) might have made a similar case: anarchy must be better than what they had, and what they would have if he were to succeed. And in fact, anarchy surely would have been better than the Great Leap Forward, Cultural Revolution, etc.

However at that exact time there was an alternative - the Kuomintang. And when Mao won, they went and set up a state in Taiwan -- one of the freest and most democratic, un-predatory states on the Earth.

Perhaps the alternative leaders "in exile" similarly set up Somaliland. What is to say that the Kuomintang could not have led China as a very large Taiwan - free and democratic - these past decades? Or that the Somaliland leaders could not have taken power and created a free Somalia? Likely the latter would have been much easier, as I would think that governing - and changing culturally - a massive country like China would be much harder.

In short: I think Somaliland undermines Pete Leeson's argument pretty thoroughly.

Anonymous said...

fascinating story

Will Luther said...

I think Somaliland (and Kuomintang) strengthens Leeson's case.

To establish a government, you have to be able to organize a coalition large enough to win. For a small area with a homogenous population, a coalition is easier formed and often results in better governance.

Somaliland is smaller and more homogenous than the larger Somalia (as defined in 1990; today's Somaliland, Somalia, and Puntland). It would be incorrect to infer that Somalia has the same 'feasible institution set' as Somaliland.