Ahead of the Curve?

Somalia has, I argued a few posts back, been trying and failing to construct a modern centralised nation-state; its neighbour Ethiopia has been doing the same thing, with more success.

But what if the time for that has passed? What if nation-states are no longer the Social Control Structure du jour?

Consider: those organisations that have developed most successfully in post-Siad Barre Somalia have all been oriented outwards, towards the rest of the world. The organisations I have in mind are:

  • Somaliland, which derives the bulk of its income from exporting livestock to the Middle East through the strategic port cities it controls;
  • The Union of Islamic Courts/al-Shabaab, which appeals to a trans-national ideology (Islamism), gets money from foreign (mainly Arabian/Gulf states) muslim charitable groups, and gets a lot of support from the Somali diapora and from the growth of commerce in the region;
  • Pirates, who scavenege the goods of the world’s wealthiest countries as they sail past.

Put this in the context of small states finding their hands increasingly tied by the dictates of the global economy and its institutions (the IMF, the WTO, etc.), and the dominant powers increasingly being not nation states but half-a-continent states (Russia, India, China, the USA, the EU). All the smart rulers of global south countries have twigged that supra-national bodies are going to be necessary – whether it’s Chavez talking about a Latin American Union, Gaddafi talking about a United States of Africa, ASEAN in South-East Asia, etc.

So maybe the ‘build a national state’ line is behind the curve. What if Somalia, with its fragmented and dispersed power structures, is more sensitive to this, and the failure to make it into a nation-state really shows how much more with the times it is than, say, Ethiopia, which has poured so much blood and conflict into holding together a soon-to-be-defunct organisational form.

Of course in many respects this isn’t true, as are all things.

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