Logistics: Somalia Thrives With Government Gone

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June 11, 2009: While the anarchy in Somalia conjures up images of everyone living a Mad Max kind of life, the economy, and some living standards, have actually improved since the government disappeared in 1991. Sure, there are more bandits and warlords, but there have always been bandits and warlords. What has been missing is a central government that, as is often the case in Africa, takes more than it gives. With the government gone, all manner of economic activity got going without the usual official interference. A cell phone network now covers most of the country. Sure, the cell phone providers have to pay off warlords, but the bad guys don't want to lose their phone service, and don't squeeze too hard. The same rules apply to many other consumer goods. Far more people now have radios, and other appliances. Electric generators and batteries are abundant as well. Food, of course, is cheaper, thanks to the millions of tons of free eats provided by the international community. Much of this is stolen by bandits, but most of that ends up in local markets, where it tends to drive the prices down.

Many Somalis have fled the violence, and found work in the West. They send money back, which has kept the GDP at about two-thirds of pre-collapse levels. Because there is no government to steal on a large scale, the poverty rate has declined. What money there, gets spread around more.

The constant attention by foreign aid groups, aided by the millions of Somalis living in refugee camps, deaths from childbirth and diseases have declined. Alas, literacy (about 24 percent in the early 1990s) has gone south (to under 20 percent). School enrollment went from nearly 15 percent, to half that. But the arms traders and drug dealers are doing a brisk business. The Islamic radicals leave the gun dealers alone, but go after the drug dealers, and whiskey importers. Imports continue, arranged by local merchant associations through brokers in the Persian Gulf. Life goes on, amid the gunfire and chaos. The average lifespan has increased by a few years, despite the constant fighting between clans and warlords (both secular and religious). The constant feuding has been a feature of Somali life for centuries, although since 1991, the violence has not been supervised by a central government.

 


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