This article was published in the Winter 1998-1999 issue of Formulations
by the Free Nation Foundation
A Report
Meeting Michael van Notten
by Wayne Dawson
(to table of contents of FNF archives)

Michael van Notten. What does that name mean to me? It means a man who is willing to take a risk. It means a man who is willing to find the one place in the world with the least amount of state activity and move there.

I met Michael van Notten at the Raleigh-Durham Airport. I had had him paged twice: once to meet me at his arriving gate and once to meet me at baggage claim. After having waited at the gate for a few minutes, I decided to meet him down at baggage claim, since I figured that must be where he was anyway, and I didn't want to make him go back up to the gate. So after having him paged for the second time, I proceeded to baggage claim and began speaking his name. No one responded, but a couple of minutes later a man came walking down the corridor to the baggage claim area. My first sight of him was a man pointing at me saying "You are there and I am here."

We shook hands and Michael van Notten had been officially met at the Raleigh-Durham Airport. I was to drive him to Hillsborough where he was to speak at a Free Nation Foundation meeting that night, Friday the 11th of September. As he was hungry and wanted to "calm his stomach" before getting to the dinner meeting, we drove around looking for some place he could get some cookies or something appropriate. He wound up getting some granola bars at a hotel shop.

Back on the road the highway was surprisingly congested, and we were about half an hour late to the meeting. The dinner was in honor of Roderick Long, Founding Scholar of the Free Nation Foundation. Notwithstanding Roderick's tremendous contribution to FNF (so far—I have no doubt that he will continue) and my immense respect for him, I was happy to be trapped in a traffic jam with Michael van Notten.

Michael and I spoke of his efforts to find an appropriate business with which to fund the start-up of his Freeport in Somalia. There were several businesses he has looked into, and I would not want to jeopardize any of them by discussing details here—having little experience in the area of business development, I prefer to err on the side of caution. When we arrived, I wasn't sure whether to announce him as you might be announced at a formal dinner or what, so I just stood there until Michael saw Rich Hammer and they greeted each other. The table was quite full, so Michael and I sat at a new table and a couple of my friends joined us. We chitchatted about what was good on the menu and such. Then as it invariably does the conversation came around to libertarian issues.

The time came for Michael to speak. After being introduced by Rich, he jumped right into telling the story of his activities in Somalia. It is quite a treat to hear Michael himself tell the story. After his talk, he took questions. Here I will try to give a brief synopsis of Michael’s presentation that night.

Because Somalia has existed without central government for nearly a decade, Michael believes this is the perfect opportunity to set up a freeport there, where true free enterprise can flourish without the yoke of the state to oppress wealth production and wealth producers.

If a group of Westerners wishes to set up a freeport in the Somali region, they must have a way of interfacing with the existing social structures. For the Somali region is not in chaos, as the Western media would have us believe. To quote Michael, "City life, urban life is quite possible there, because there is order and there is law—customary law."

Much of what Michael talked about was this customary law. Tribes are the primary social/political/legal entities in the Somali culture. Any group of non-Somalis who would create an enterprise there would need to create essentially an artificial tribe, which would need to have within it judges and institutions that correspond with, or at least perform the same functions as, what the Somalis are used to dealing with. There would need to be some sort of "mechanism for solving conflicts" between what I am calling the new artificial tribe and Somali tribes that currently are in existence.

One thing that Michael made clear is that Somalis in general do not want political democracy. They have seen the corruption that is inherent in this overrated system, and "they want none of it." What impresses me the most is that there is a nation-sized region of the world in which (apparently) most people feel this way about the state. And they feel strongly about it. Approximately eight years ago they intentionally dismantled the state that had been imposed upon them by the colonial powers and returned to their customary law system, which had existed for thousands of years before the colonial powers came in.

Before the day I met Michael van Notten, I had been wanting to meet him for months. I had wanted to meet him, in fact, since I had first learned of the existence of this intrepid soul who had set out to put libertarian ideals into practice, in an area that most people regard as quite backward and without promise. If you ever have the opportunity to meet him, I highly recommend that you take it. D

Wayne Dawson is FNF Webmaster.  <>

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