Somalia has had no central government since after the Civil War in 1991. Only the internationally recognized Transitional Federal Government controls a small part of the country.
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In the late 19th century, during the years of the European scramble for Africa, Somalia – officially the Republic of Somalia and formerly known as the Somali Democratic Republic, located in the Horn of Africa – was colonized by four countries, namely Italy, Great Britain and France, and Ethiopia. The colonizers divided it into five parts. Two of the parts in 1960 united to form what is now Somali Republic. The other two remained under Ethiopian and Kenyan rule. The fifth part, the Republic of Djibouti was recognized as an independent state.
Break from the colonial York
Somalia’s reaction to the rule of the colonial powers was led by religious leaders which had been suppressed by 1925 either through eliminating or neutralizing their leaders. As a country it has been characterized as a failed state and is one of the poorest and the most violent states in the world (Said).
As a start to the long process of creating elites, colonial powers endeavoured to employ more Somalis in the lower echelons of the colonial civil and military labour force, and opened limited schools, in which children of the traditional elite were given priority and privilege.
In the Second World War, most of the Somali territory fell under British military administration who proposed, in the four power’s conference (USA, British, USSR, and France) held in 1946, to put all territory under British administration” (Said). Whatever the real intent of the British plan for Somali unity was; it was hailed by people of Somalia and strengthened their aspirations for unity.
However, this proposal was utterly repudiated by the United States, France and Soviet Union for a variety of reasons including a strong Ethiopian lobbying at the US administration. Ethiopia, according to this plan, would have lost the Somali’s territory it had captured during 19th century. As a result, in 1949, the former Italian colony was retuned to Italy under UN trusteeship.
After 10 years and with support to Somalia from Egypt, in a haphazard way, the Somali Republic gained independence on the 1st of July 1960 (Aidid and Satya; Drysdale).
The year 1969 is the first milestone towards the failing of the Somali state. The earlier years of multiparty system and democratic culture were flawed and elections were rigged with all means possible. More than 60 parties which were sub-clan based took part in the 1969 elections. However, the ruling party of SYL rigged the election and received a majority of the seats.
Over and above this, in order to claim one party rule, SYL absorbed all members of the parliament from the opposition parties. Therefore, the nationalist SYL party of the earlier years of struggle for independence, domesticated by colonial powers in the years of 1950 till 1960, had drifted towards one party dictatorial rule in 1969.
Consequently, grievances of overt rigging of the election, rampant bureaucratic corruption, and widespread unemployment especially among the educated elite that dismayed with the lukewarm illegal government policy towards pan- somalism, had culminated in the political turmoil and the assassination of president Sharmarke.
During this period, the prestigious national army launched a coup d’etat on 21 October 1969 and received enthusiastic support from the majority of the disgruntled Somali people. It was not long before the new regime curtailed freedoms and banned all social and political organizations, exercised heavy-handedness on the opposition and practiced extra judicial detentions and persecution.
The regime adopted a new covert policy of targeting particularly specific clans and offering particular privileges to others under the pretext of promoting revolutionaries and eliminating anti-revolutionary elements. Needlessly to say, the latter developed into armed rebel factions.
With the execution of the Islamic scholars, hitherto dormant Islamic movements took on new momentum and underground organizations proliferated in every region in defence of the faith against the “Godless socialists” (Adam). From this historical moment, contemporary Islamic movements formulated their ideological foundation and launched social reformist programs.
Gradually, these two forces, stemming from the indigenous ideologies of clanism and Islamism, united in their ardent desire for regime change but disagreed on the means. Apparently, the military regime clashed with these two indigenous inviolable Somali ideologies, clanism and Islam, creating a crack in the fabric, cohesion and solidarity of Somali society (Adam).
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The coup plotters who fled had begun to form armed oppositions and received a welcoming hand from the hostile neighbours, particularly Ethiopia. Fleeing to Ethiopia the coup plotters came back with no coordination to take over power from the nationalists. “The motor forces of Somali clannish particularism overwhelmed the centripetal forces of nationalism and Islam” (Alisha).
When President Mohammed Said Barre was forced to take refuge in 1991, and the Somali state fundamentally was no longer in existence, and became characterized by the almost total absence of any coordinated governmental authority. Since that time, there have been at least fifteen attempts to establish a government in Somalia, all unsuccessful.
Similarly, since the collapse of the Somali army in 1991, there has been no meaningful security of any kind, with virtually every attempt being undermined by opposition groups, who essentially turned soldiers into domestic mercenaries. The lack of designated policing authorities has created an ongoing security vacuum. This has encouraged the clan violence and anarchy that make Somalia a global poster child for a failed state.
“During the decade which followed, some European and Asian countries took advantage of the chaos in Somalia and sent their commercial fleets to fish in Somali waters,” says Adam, Hussien (99). He adds by saying, “Roger Middleton has argued that what began as a legitimate fight by Somali fishermen against foreign exploitation has turned into a criminal enterprise once its lucrative potential was discovered.”
The current Somali government has a facade of a working cabinet but is supported by no real departments, no civil servants in staff positions, and perhaps most importantly, has an almost total lack of funds. Also missing are any of the services that working governmental departments would provide. Corruption and criminality are defining characteristics of Somali governments.
Given Somalia‘s lack of central government, there exist small fiefdoms whose rulers are always subject to change and which are inherently unstable.
The current Transitional Federal Government is an Islamist regime led by President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, who was elected by the Transitional Federal Government in January 2009. His power nominally extends no farther than the capital city of Mogadishu, and even within these confines there are multiple groups who compete politically and militarily for neighbourhoods and even particular streets.
“The effort to control Mogadishu is heightened by its status as a port, which affords those who control it considerable financial opportunities. One radical group known as The Islamic Courts Union was pushed out of Mogadishu in 2006 by Ethiopian soldiers who supported the Transitional Federal Government, and in coordination with the military wing known as al-Shabab, assumed control from the Transitional Federal Government over central and southern Somalia.
The Transitional Federal Government is now completely disconnected from central Somalia. Irrespective of ICU control, they do not hold the support of those Somalis living in these regions. The use of Sharia law and their continuing insurgent conduct have actually created greater alienation from the local population” (Adam).
The lack of a central government, and continued internal strife, has facilitated external intervention, which in turn has made the domestic conflict even worse. On December 28, 2006, Ethiopian troops captured Mogadishu from the ICU. This intervention led to more chaos and instability in the country, with humanitarian, political, and security conditions continuing to deteriorate across south-central Somalia (Alisha).
Somaliland claims independence as a sovereign nation known as the Republic of Somaliland, but has no international recognition. Puntland remains part of greater Somalia, but generally administers its own affairs through its own military and government. The two have fought for years over the Sool and Sanag regions, part of which Puntland exists on an ethnic basis, while Somaliland says they are part of its territory under the colonial border Britain left behind.
Somaliland’s capital‘ city of Hargeysa has a government which has a legislative branch, a police force, a currency and even their own passports, along with a Constitution that it ratified in 2001. The dependence of Somaliland on the Port of Berbera for revenue greatly undermines its claim for sovereign status. Since there is virtually no recognition of Somaliland as an independent state outside the region, no foreign aid or benefits of any kind are available.
There is no law and order of any kind in Somalia due to the lack of a central government, along with extreme poverty. As a result, criminal activity is rampant throughout the country. Some engage in criminal behaviour for basic survival, while others have created what amounts to a professional criminal enterprise. Those who participate in criminal activities are more apt to resist any efforts to establish a safe and stable Somalia, as it does not serve their long-term interests.
Perspectives on Somali State Collapse
Collapse of Somali state can be looked at from different perspectives in accordance to schools of thought. The issues looked at in this paper include Cold War and foreign aid, Somali irredentism and war with Ethiopia, primordialism, moral degradation and eclectic factors.
Cold War and Foreign Aid
The Somali state collapsed with the withdrawal of external assistance and increased local demand for improved political goods. Drysdale, John quoted that, “When external support was withdrawn and societal demand for economic advancement and better governance increased it tumbled down”.
Other than the withdrawal effect it is bearing the triple burden of defeat in the war and accompanying humiliation, an economy on the skids and the burden of the absence of super power patronage, Somali politics turns inward. The national focus turned into the regime and the state, which were caught in an enveloping atmosphere of acridity and suspension.
Somali Irredentism and War with Ethiopia
Somalia’s national aspiration for unity and its neighbor’s unwillingness to cede the disputed territory due to different views of the state-territorial versus cultural led to state collapse. “Somalia’s arguments under the principle of greater Somalia were sharply contrasted to Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti’s insistence on the principle of territorial integrity and sanctity of colonial border, principles these states were prepared to defend by force if necessary,” Drysdale, John (55).
Siyad’s demise and the disintegration of the Somali state were therefore, not only a consequence of clan politics but are attributable in part to Somalia’s irredentist foreign policy. Other recognized factors are border permeability with countries that hosted the growing number of Siyad Barre’s opponents.
This traditionalist approach is based on the segmentary lineage social system that is antithetical to the nature of the state. The collapse of the colonially created state represents technically a triumph for the segmentary lineage system and political power of kinship. Somalia is a country of clans where the beginnings of a modern State have been only in the making in the midst of capricious forces of history within the context of a unitary capitalist order and yet politically compartmentalized system.
Ideally, the utter destruction of pre-capitalist devolvement in the form of decentralization and traditions which are primordial in Somalia and the concomitant convergence of basic institutions around market exchange of historic necessity in order for the Somali State to complete its evolution
This concept is widely held by Somali Islamic scholars who trace all of the socio-political non-conformity of the Somali state to its secular factor, moral deterioration and the unscrupulous expediency of the leadership elites. However, very recently others have appeared to voice the cultural dimension of the state’s collapse. For example, Ahmed Samatar wrote “It is one of later arguments that at the heart of the Somali catastrophe is a full breakdown of culture (e.g., heer, Islam)” (Said).
Abdullahi, explains how the indigenous ideologies – Islam and clan- were suppressed and perverted, became radicalized in the late 1970s. Therefore, he concludes that “Only Islam possesses the essential ingredients for successfully integrating the various elements of Somali society and providing stable government capable of meeting the urgent social, political and economic needs of the country”.
“To focus solely on the contradictions between a foreign imposed colonial system of government and an indigenous political system would be to overlook the impact of the oppressive, corrupt and violent system of political patronage that marked the 21 year military rule of Mohamed Siad Barre (1969-1991), the influence of Cold War and post-Cold War politics in the region, the impact of structural adjustment and economic liberalization policies in the 1980s and the character of the armed movements in Somalia,” (99).
Somalia civil war is the product of the togetherness of contingent and proximate factors. In the case of the former, the factors are the evolution of the Somali state, its incorporation into the global capitalist system, and the failure of the first experiment at state-building by the Somali compradors, who assumed the reigns of power when “flag independence” was granted.
The latter factors are the repression, exploitation, economic deprivation, social unease, and manipulation of identities which are primordial in nature visited on Somalia by the dictatorial regime of General Mohammed Siad Barre.
Steps involved in the movement to a democratic state
“Most critical of Somalia reconstruction is the political rehabilitation. Divergent views are held are on how to reconstitute the Somalia state”. Alisha (100). “Some prepositions are that state reconstitution should take its own track, in the revived hope that new state (or states) structures will emerge from the civil society once hostilities end” Adam, Hussien. This research paper observes that in order for reconstruction to occur the following are necessary to be achieved.
- Provision and delivery of security throughout the country must be possible before a peace process can truly become a rebuilding Endeavour. Infrastructure had to be made secure in order to ensure users were not harmed. This was made possible with the help of even peacekeepers
- Disarmament and demobilizing the combatants was one of the major factors to bringing peace. War participants should be indulged in other activities that are not violence related or they can also be issued with pieces of land that the can adequately use to the benefit of the community, thus making them acceptable to the society. This is a step that was unfortunately omitted in Somalia in 1993.
- Partial restoration of stability and confidence is a requirement for lasting peace. Order and the right rule are key factors to a transitional rule in the republic of Somalia, without which the environment would not be favorable running of a smooth government. Transitional administration and international agencies can – once this is in order – “focus on four primary and parallel objectives: jump-starting the economy, restoring the rule of law, re-creating political institutions, and rejuvenating civil society” (Said).
- Restoration of law and order is necessary for transitional administration to function towards ensuring an atmosphere conducive to recovery. “A new introduction of the rule of law can be done in stages, over the course of time, but nationals will not support reconstruction efforts until they are certain that legal redress will be available,” Adam, Hussien (104).
- He also adds by saying, “Training or retraining of police personnel, judges, bureaucrats, and parliamentarians for reconstruction and democratization of the failed state. The state’s defense forces will have to be arranged in a new way and their chiefs reoriented. Strong local leadership cannot be assumed but must be nurtured and strengthened.” (Adam, Hussien, 110).
- Sustainable state rebuilding will require a promise of commitment from the rich nations to stick with the newly formed functional state. They should partner to support rebuilding and stick around through the tough work of till completion. Formation of institution will require outside state help since they were mutilated and destroyed in the collapse period.
In conclusion we could say that Somalia has had several attempts to reconstruct its government but all this has been in vain. Despite the intervention of other organizations such as the UN who have imposed sanctions in order to have help it has still failed to reconstruct its government. Although Somalia still suffers, there are progressive activities all over the world that have been put in place in order to help Somaliland regain the peace and have a government system that will unite its citizen and ensure they live in peace with each other.
Adam, Hussien. “Militarism, Warlodism or Democracy?” Review of African Political Economy 54.Surviving Democracy? (1992): 11-26.
Aidid, Mohammed Farah, and Pal Ruhela Satya. Somalia: From The Dawn of Civilization To The Modern Times. India: Vikas Publishing House PVT LTD, 1993.
Alisha. Somali Government, The Somali Peninsula: New Light on Imperial Motives. London: Staples Printers, 1962.
Drysdale, John. The Somali Dispute. New York: Praeger, 1964.
Said, S. Somalia Country Studies: Federal Research Division of Library of Congress.