Politics and Conflict in Somalia

The official name of Somali is the Federal Republic of Somalia, located in East Africa and borders with Ethiopia in the west, Djibouti in the northwest, the Gulf of Aden in the north, Kenya in the southwest, the India Ocean in the east. Somalia lies at a very strategic place in the world which is a gate for the Red Sea and the Arabian Peninsula. In addition, it is of highly importance for the regions of the Middle East, the North Africa, and for the Sub-Saharan Africa in terms of its geographical condition. The population of Somali is approximately 10 million and the majority of the population believes in the religion of Islam. There are different ethnic groups in the country, including 85 percent of Somali (Samaale), and 15 percent of Bantu and other non-Somali. The Samaale ethnic group composes of the four important clan groups, including Isaaq, the Dir, Daaroodeach, and Hawiye. The Samaale live in Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya. Somali and Arabic are the official language of the country.[1]
Throughout the history, Somalia had been used as an important trading station by the different civilizations. Somalia has a unique place on the international politics. Since 1991, there has not a central government in the country, facing a deep political, social, and economic instability. It is described as a collapsed state by the international community.[2] East Africa is among the poorest regions in the world. Due to the long-standing civil war in Somalia, economic and political institutions have failed to provide the basic services to the citizens. Since 1991, hundreds of thousands of Somali have died due to violence and starvation and approximately one million was forced to free the country. Infrastructure in the country is extremely bad.  While unemployment rate is 74 percent, life expectancy is around 50 percent. 82 percent of the population is poor and the unemployment rate for the youth is 67 percent. 73 percent has no access to health facilities.[3]

During the colonial period, the Somali people were divided by the colonial powers. European colonial powers established their colonies, known as British Somaliland Italian Somaliland, and French Somaliland after the signing of the Berlin conference of 1884-5. While Britain colonized present-day north-western Somalia, Italy took control over the current north-eastern, central and southern Somalia. French also colonized present Djibouti called French Somaliland and controlled it until 1977. During the Second World War, Britain took possession the Italian Somaliland and ruled it until 1949. The former colonial powers established their colonies in Somalia so as to control the route to India, to exploit resources, to strengthen their trading network, and to use it as a coal station. Between 1950-1960, the Italian Somaliland became a UN trusteeship under Italian administration. On 26 June 1960, Somalia gained independence from Britain in the north and Italy in the south on 1 July 1960. The two different former colonial territories under the President Aden Abdullah Osman Daar decided to unite and declared its independence by forming the United Republic of Somalia on 1 July 1960.[4]

The period of the dictatorship in the country began after Major General Mohamed Said Barre staged a bloodless coup against the elected government on 21 October 1969. After he came to power, he changed the name of the country as the Somali Democratic Republic. Said Barre established the Supreme Revolutionary Council (SRC) in 1969 to rule the country and became the president of the SRC between 1969-1991. He banned all the political parties and activities, abrogated the parliament and the Supreme Court and shelved the constitution. In his period, social and economic problems extensively increased and he used an oppressive policy against the oppositions, in particular the Isaaks clan. Said Barre pursued an irredentist policy and claimed the eastern region of Ethiopia, the north-eastern part of Kenya and the country of Djibouti. The Ethiopian-Somalia War or Ogaden War began with the Somali army attacked the region of Ogaden in July 1977, claiming that the region of Ogaden historically belonged to Somalia. During the war, General Siad Barre provided political and military support for the secessionist group in the eastern region of Ethiopia known as Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF) and aligned with the Soviet Union and bought weapons from the Soviet Union, the worth of the billions of dollars.  The main motivation behind the war was that Somali under the leadership of Said Barre aimed to create a Greater Somalia by taking possession over the Somali-inhabited areas in East Africa. The war ended in March 1978.[5]

Importantly, both global actors the Soviet Union and the US played an active role in escalating the war by selling weapons to the both countries Somalia and Ethiopia. The US provided political and military support for Ethiopia until 1974, while the Soviet Union also supported Somalia. With the coming of a military regime in Ethiopia in 1974, the leader of the military government in the country Mengistu Haile Mariam began to increase its relations with Moscow. Throughout the Ogadeen War, the Soviet Union supported Ethiopia, such as the deployment of the Soviet military troops and the helping of deployment of the Cuban military troops in the country to fight against Somalia. In 1974, the Soviets signed a Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with Somalia. In December 1976, the Soviet also signed a military agreement with Ethiopia. In response to it, Siad Barre dissolved the 1974 Soviet-Somali Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation and sent the Soviet advisers back to the Soviet. In 1974, the US began to reduce the degree of the relationship with Ethiopia and increased its partnership with Somalia, aimed to decrease the influence of the Soviet Union in the region.[6] In the 1970s and the 1980s, Somalia became the country that received the largest financial aid of the US in Africa but most of the money was used for the military expenditures by the regime of Siad Barre. The Ethiopian-Somalia War reflected the struggle for power among the global powers over the Horn of Africa and illustrated the nature of the proxy war in the region.

Since the collapse of the regime of Siad Barre in 1991, Somalia has fallen into anarchy and long-standing conflicts. The north of the country (the territory of the former British Somaliland) by the clan of the Isaaq within the framework of the Somalia National Movement (SNM) declared its independence as a Republic of Somaliland from the rest of Somalia in May 1991; however, its self-declared independence was not recognized by any government in the world. In 1998, the region of northern-east also declared its own self-autonomous as a State of Puntland. Importantly, Ethiopia has supported both the secessionalist groups such as the Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF) in the north-west in Somalia and the Somalia National Movement in the region of Puntland.[7]

 After the fall of the regime of Siyad Barre, regional and international actors have attempted to establish a central government in Mogadishu. The Transitional Federal Government (TFG) was established in Nairobi, Kenya in October 2004 under the auspices of the sub-regional organization Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the “Transitional Federal Charter (TFC)” was adopted. Abdullah Yusuf Ahmad was elected as the head of the TFG by the Parliament. Importantly, the “Transitional Federal Institutions” were also created with the adoption of the TFC in 2004. The TFG was supported by the United Nations, the African Union and the US and recognized by the international community. In June 2006, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) attacked Mogadishu and captured the southern part of the country, including Mogadishu; however the TFG with the support of Ethiopian military troops and the AU peacekeeping force prevented the invasion of the ICU in 2006. According to Paham,[8] the TFG was not a government because it could not provide the basic services to the people of Somalia. It was extremely dependent on the assistance of foreign troops. With the end of the mandate of the TFG in August 2012, the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) was established and accepted as a central government of Somalia by the international community.[9]

The UN has deployed the two peacekeeping missions in Somalia, known as the UN Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM I – 1992) and (UNOSOM II – 1993-1995). The US also dispatched its military troops in the country called the US-led Unified Task Force (UNITAF – 1992-1993). However, the three international military interventions have failed to maintain peace, security and stability in Somalia. The African Union has also maintained a peacekeeping mission in the country called African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) since February 2007, which mainly aims to strengthen the Transitional Federal Institutions (TFIs) and support the TFG.
There are three important dimensions of the conflict in Somalia, namely international, regional and domestic.[10] The civil war has not only threatened political and economic interests of the Somalis but also menaced strategic interests of the global actors, notably the EU and the US. Somalia is at the strategic place to control over the Arab peninsula and the oil transportation route. The war in Somalia has led to the emergence of the threat of the piracy off the coast of Somalia which threatens the trading activities of the global actors on the Horn of Africa. The international actors have deployed their operations in order to protect their economic activities, international maritime security and prevent the piracy attacks in the Gulf of Aden, and the off the coast of Somalia. For instance the EU deployed its naval mission called the EU NAVFOR – Atalanta (2008-present). The US also authorized its naval operation in 2009 called Combined Task Force 151. The NATO also has a naval mission called Operational Ocean Shield on the off coast of Somalia since 2009. 

The second dimension is the regional dynamics in East Africa. The legacy of the colonialism has still affected the regional developments in the region. For instance, the colonial power divided Somalia and the countries in the region between different ethnic groups. Particularly, the ongoing border dispute between the states in this region is the legacy of the colonial powers. Since Somalia has gained its independence, it has pursued an aggressive foreign policy to annex the Somali-inhabited regions in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti under the policy of irredentism. The third dimension is the internal dynamics. Somalia is among the poorest countries in the world and corruption is extremely very high in the country. Unemployment rate and underdevelopment have posed a number of challenges which damage economic and political stability. It is unclear how the diverse strategic interests of the various regional and international actors involved in the Somali crisis for a long time would contribute to maintaining peace, security and stability in Somalia. 

There are three important steps for creating lasting peace and security in the country. The first is that the different segments or tribes in the society rather than the through international interventions should take responsibility to unite the country. The second one is that the Somalis themselves should take initiative to create the institutions of the state to make the government a functioning entity. The third step is the focus on development in the country.[11] While development can significantly contribute to social, economic and political stability, underdevelopment will make the country the worst. The countries in East Africa have strengthened their military power and paid the billions of the dollars for it despite the extreme poverty in the countries. Changing the traditional foreign policies for the countries and developing economic-oriented foreign policies in the region are necessary to change the destiny of the region. Particularly, the struggle for power among the different clan groups has destabilized the regional security and economic relations among the countries.


[1] World Bank, “Conflict in Somalia: Drivers and Dynamics”, 2005, Working Paper, pp. 7-8.
[2] J. Peter, Pham, “Somalia: Where a State Isn’t a State”, The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, Vol., 32, No. 2, 2011, p. 133.
[3] United Nations Development Programme, “Fact Sheet: Somalia Human Development Report 2012”, 2012, pp. 1-2. 
[4] Ibrahim Farah, Abdirashid Hussein, and Jeremy Lind, "Deegaan, Politics and War in Somalia." Scarcity and Surfeit. Institute for Security Studies. Pretoria, South Africa (2002), pp. 323-4.
[5] World Bank, “Conflict in Somalia: Drivers and Dynamics”, 2005, Working Paper, pp. 9-11.
[6] Kenneth, G. Weiss, “The Soviet Involvement in the Ogaden War”, 1980, Center for Naval Analyses, pp. 1-14.
[7] Bjorn, Moller, “The Somali Conflict: The Role of External Actors”, DIIS Report 2009, Danish Institute for International Studies, pp. 10-1.
[8] J. Peter, Pham, “Somalia: Where A State Isn’t a State”, The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, Vol., 32, No. 2, 2011, p. 147.
[9] Matt, Bryden, “Somalia Redux? Addressing the New Somali Federal Government”, 2013, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), pp. 14-16.
[10] Rossella Marangio, “The Somalia Crisis: Failed State and International Interventions”, 2012, IAI Working Papers 12, Istituto Affari Internazionali, pp. 2-3.
[11] Ibid., p. 15.

Bu blogdaki popüler yayınlar