Thursday, September 16, 2010

(imposing) Democracy in Africa, and Xeer (somali) law

From The Rule of Law without the State which is well worth reading in its entirety:

Democracy is unworkable in Africa for several reasons. The first thing that voting does is to divide a population into two groups — a group that rules and a group that is ruled. This is completely at variance with Somali tradition. Second, if democracy is to work, it depends in theory, at least, upon a populace that will vote on issues. But in a kinship society such as Somalia, voting takes place not on the merit of issues but along group lines; one votes according to one's clan affiliation. Since the ethic of kinship requires loyalty to one's fellow clansmen, the winners use the power of government to benefit their own members, which means exploitation of the members of other clans. Consequently when there exists a governmental apparatus with its awesome powers of taxation and police and judicial monopoly, the interests of the clans conflict. Some clan will control that apparatus. To avoid being exploited by other clans, each must attempt to be that controlling clan.
which is the most insightful explanation I've seen on why centralizing authority in tribal cultures always seems to result in dictatorships and glib dismissals that they aren't ready for democracy. Democracy simply isn't an absolute ideal, and is only appropriate if it can transcend local ideals/loyalties.

some of the highlights of the Xeer. First, law and, consequently, crime are defined in terms of property rights. The law is compensatory rather than punitive. Because property right requires compensation, rather than punishment, there is no imprisonment, and fines are rare. Such fines as might be imposed seldom exceed the amount of compensation and are not payable to any court or government, but directly to the victim. A fine might be in order when, for example, the killing of a camel was deliberate and premeditated, in which case the victim receives not one but two camels.
The link also shows the unique dependencies on family and community the Xeer law uses, which probably make it impractical in our cultures, but could it work?

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