Take Somalia for example, the central government has almost no control outside the capital and arguable within it as well (citation needed). Although the government is recognized internationally as the governing body within its borders, large areas can be said to have no effective government. What would we call these areas to distinguish them from other forms of government such as the illegitimate control of Al-Shabab or other sectarian bodies?

  • I suppose it depends on what you consider government and what level of control is held by which parties. For example, there are many parts of the world which are tribal in that the formal government of courts and police may not be in operation, but traditional justice is still administered by local chieftains, councils, sheiks, and so forth. This is something different from a situation like Somalia or areas controlled by ISIL, where neither central nor traditional authority is much in effect. – choster Jul 30 '15 at 20:50
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    This seems like a discussion which might better be had on the Stack Exchange - History site. – WS2 Jul 30 '15 at 21:01
  • I don't agree, WS2, this site is frequently used to find the right word for some context. – user2397965 Jul 30 '15 at 21:03
  • Choster- That sounds pretty valid. I'm probably limiting my idea of government to some central authority but the more I expand the idea the more vague the idea becomes. I think I've found the word though, despite this mismatch. – user2397965 Jul 30 '15 at 21:06
  • In the case of a territory where rule of (some kind of) law had once prevailed, but where the authority and the functions of government subsequently broke down, I believe one common term for the territory is a failed state. – Sven Yargs Jul 31 '15 at 0:13

The following article from The Economist refer to this part of the conutry as "ungoverned territory".

  • Neighbouring regions worry about the Donbas becoming a largely ungoverned swathe of land.

  • Somalia scenario”, under which the Donbas becomes a swathe of ungoverned territory harbouring bandits who cross ...

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"ungoverned territory" seems like the best choice.

  • ungoverned (adj) - not restrained or controlled


"a rebellious or insurgent territory"

  • rebellious - (of a person, city, or state) engaged in opposition or armed resistance to an established government or ruler.
  • insurgent - rising in active revolt.

"a no man's land".

  • land or area that is unowned, uninhabited, or undesirable. Disputed ground between the front lines or trenches of two opposing armies.
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  • Only difference between this and the accepted is the suffix added to govern and the lack of a source. I appreciate the alternatives though. – user2397965 Jul 30 '15 at 20:56
  • @user2397965 You didn't wait until I had finished my answer. Seems like you were in a hurry. – Centaurus Jul 30 '15 at 21:03

In the West we describe such a country as lawless.

Somalia’s Pirates Flourish in a Lawless Nation The New York Times

The following article challenges that.

It is often said that Somalia is a lawless country but in fact, most Somalis abide by an ancient system of justice, known as xeer (pronounced heer). Centuries-old, xeer has survived dictatorship, warlordism and a rise in Islamic militancy. http://www.trust.org/item/?map=forget-war-and-hunger-a-few-things-you-didnt-know-about-somalia/

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  • Law wouldn't necessarily need a government to function in my opinion but I do appreciate the term. Although I don't agree with it, It would probably be the best or most familiar way to communicate the idea. Thank you. – user2397965 Jul 30 '15 at 20:52

In English, nouns ending in -archy or -cracy often describe systems of government; e.g.: monarchy, democracy, technocracy etc.

The English noun 'anarchy' comes from the Ancient Greek 'anarchía', meaning without laws or governance, or literally 'not ruled'.

Perhaps this is the word you're looking for?

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  • +1. But, we need a word for the territory "not ruled", rather than just the system of government. This is not the normal meaning of anarchy, but I guess you might do so. What about anarchate or some other form? – Keith Jul 31 '15 at 6:20

A similar term, in Latin: terra incognita (see e. g. Merriam-Webster Dictionary) (Also from the dcty: plural ter·rae in·cog·ni·tae \ˈter-ˌī-ˌin-ˌkäg-ˈnē-ˌtī, -in-ˈkäg-nə-ˌtī\ : unknown territory : an unexplored country or field of knowledge)

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