This article was published in the Summer 1997 issue of Formulations
by the Free Nation Foundation
Somaliland: Some Useful Background
a review of
The Road to Hell
by Michael Maren
Free Press, 1997
reviewed by Marc D. Joffe
for the New Country Foundation

 (to table of contents of FNF archives)

Recently, NCF supporters have focused on Somaliland, the northern part of what was once Somalia. Although we know that some of Somaliland's leaders are willing to host some sort of libertarian entity, we know very little about the people who live in that part of the world or how they might react to a group of western settlers. A recently published book, The Road to Hell: The Ravaging Effects of Foreign Aid and International Charity by Michael Maren, provides some useful perspective.

Maren offers a devastating indictment of western food aid programs—both public and private—with a particular focus on the Somalia experience. The author suggests that western food aid programs destroyed much of the Somali economy and society, and contributed to the breakdown of civil order in that nation during the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Libertarians familiar with development economics will anticipate many of Maren's arguments, but will still be shocked by the overall picture of incompetence and mendacity painted by this former aid worker who has spent most of the last in 15 years in Africa. The book introduces us to UN officials, Somali ministers and leaders of respected charities, who are far more interested in maintaining the flow of aid money than in promoting the Somali public welfare.

As Maren points out, western food aid is motivated by the need to dispose of agricultural surpluses, rather than the requirements of starving Africans. Much of the food is stolen by government officials or rebel troops, and then sold at market. As a result, a parasitic warrior class is enriched at the expense of local farmers. Also profiting from the aid system are shipping companies, who overcharge government agencies to ship the food, and on-site contractors—usually foreign—who make enough money by providing logistical support that they can frequent the local prostitutes.

International organizations also fund programs intended to promote local agriculture. However, Maren provides evidence that these programs are so poorly managed that they are more likely to frustrate rather than help local beneficiaries.

Somalis who've had the opportunity to deal with Westerners in recent years have undoubtedly become cynical. Many Westerners took advantage of the aid system to enrich themselves, at the expense of intended beneficiaries. Others were merely naive, thinking they were helping matters, while in fact they were part of a system that was doing quite the opposite.

Settlers of a potential new country in this region will have to face attitudes shaped by these exposures. It may take many years before local residents will become accustomed to dealing with Westerners in the open, win-win atmosphere of the marketplace. D

 (to table of contents of FNF archives)   (to top of page)