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Why did Somalia Become a Failed State? Essay

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Updated: May 28th, 2020


The Fund for Peace categorizes states as failed according to its failed state index which is based on twelve indicators and this indicators are; “demographic pressure, massive movement of refugees and internally displaced persons that often demand humanitarian assistance, chronic human flight, sharp economic decline, de-legitimization of the state, deterioration of public service, suspension of the application of the rule of law, security apparatus operating as a state within a state, rise of factionalized elites and massive external intervention” (Haims 1).

Somalia is categorized by the Fund for Peace in the red zone due to the degree of erosion of the state legitimacy, lack of proper functioning state structures and its highly propensity violent conflict. Somalia also falls in the World Bank categorization of failed states. This is based on the following indicators: Security, economy, and government.

Based on security, Somalia has constantly and continuously experienced conflict since 1991, there is breakdown in the maintenance law and order, there are increased insurgent groups and lack of proper functioning government. Economically, Somalia lacks an organized economic system; the conflict has resulted in the disruption of economic activities like farming and civil servants have been converted into fighters.

Conflict also disrupts the supply chain and hence no foreign investor is willing to invest in such a fragile and volatile environment. On the government dimension, Governments in failed states are functionless and unable to provide essential services to the population. Since governments in failed states are rigid, authoritarian and corrupt, they become major impediment to efforts of the international community to offer assistance.

Strong terms have been used in reference to failed states: “Failed states are tense, deeply conflicted, dangerous and contested bitterly by warring functions” (Rotberg 9). Just like any other third world country, Somalia underwent a transitional and transformational period. Transitions are always extremely difficult and involve several dynamic factors.

Transition is always aimed at realizing several things and key among them are good leadership, good lifestyle and new regime. Countries often experience conflict and blood shed during transitional periods (Salih and Wohlgemuth 1). Somalia underwent a period of crisis in 1980s and 1990s; this transformation affected its identity and direction which was majorly associated with its defeat in the Ogaden war with Ethiopia.

This marked the period of diplomatic isolation. President Siad Barre took advantage of this opportunity to selfishly harness the resource of the state and perfected the art of playing one clan against the other and therefore aroused clan passions. The collapse of state structure in Somalia has roots in the 1991 civil war which replaced all administrative structures with clan based regional groups.

This allegiance to the respective clans intensified following the fall of Siad Barre from power during the same year. Clan groups took the form of political parties which led to the civil war that pitted one tribe against another.

Instead of embracing peace, the clans perfected the art of power struggle which led to the formation of clan based political parties like the Somali National Movement (SNM) for the Isaaq clan, SSDF for the Majeerteen clan and Somali National Movement (SNM) for the Ogaden. All this was formed for the sole reason of sharing the spoils of the state and ultimately led to the collapse of the state system (Fitzgerald 2).

What made Somalia a failed state?

In the eyes of the global policy forum, an international non-governmental cooperation, Somali is rated as the text book example of failed states in the world. This is because it cannot effectively fulfill its international obligation like repayment of its debt and is unable to uphold the effectiveness of state duties like the monopoly of violence and it cannot deter several forms of transnational crimes which thrive in its borders.

Following the inter clan conflicts, the state collapsed and left the Somali clan organization unstable and fragile. This narrowed down to homes where a man’s two wives fought in the scramble for material resources. It is no doubt that Somalia is a perfect example of a failed state since it lacks legitimate government and it oscillates between anarchy and military rule.

This is despite the intervention of United States and United Nation. The presence of small arms have proved detrimental to the existence of the state, this is also worsened by the unregulated entry of weapons through its porous borders. The American foreign policy ranked Somalia as the leading failed state for the second year running in 2009.

Unlike other failed states, Somalia lacks the fundamental characters of a state: the absence of central government since 1991 and characteristic anarchy caused by the warring factions. Attempts to stabilize and restore the state of Somalia have failed and it is now being written off as being on the verge of collapse especially with the rise of Islamic insurgency.

This is despite the massive international commitment especially from Ethiopia which has supported the situation by intervening militarily. Restoring Somalia has been overshadowed by piracy and international community has committed itself to fighting piracy as opposed to salvaging Somalia.

The Genesis of the Failure

The genesis of the failure of Somalia state can be traced to the cold war geopolitics and its geostrategic position, the feudal character of Somalia politics and the significance of its clan politics. Despite being strategic during the cold war period, the end of cold war left Somalia with a permanent scar that has refused to vanish and has been left on its own by the international community.

After the end of the civil war that removed Siad Barre, the state of Somalia stopped functioning and this worsened after the withdrawal of international aid. This inability to discharge its duties as a state qualified Somalia as a failed state.

This collapse still remains till the present, it lacks internationally accepted political system, lacks formal authority, it lacks functional judicial system, it lacks well function security apparatus and also lacks commercial and trading system like insurance and banking systems and also no basic social facilities like health or education system (Hironaka 5).

Somalia is totally collapsed

1991 marked the collapse of Mogadishu and the end of the regime of Siad Barre. This was after the defeat of Barre regime by the coalition of clans under the umbrella of United Somali Congress (USC). The loose coalition of clans later turned against the other. This was because Barre left from power unexpectedly and this created a power vacuum which was occupied by the Manifesto group.

Besides the inter clan feud, the collapse of Somalia state may be linked to religion. Majority of Somalis are Sunni Muslims and loyalty to Islam is considered fundamental. The 1969 revolution created a way for socialism; an ideological change that attracted widespread criticism which led to executions of religious leaders who were earlier prohibited from engaging in politics joint government.

Scholars describe Somalia as the leviathan state as described by Thomas Hobbes where everyman turns against everyman and this situation leads to violent deaths. In this leviathan state, life is short, nasty and cruel. Despite the fact that clans were united in the removal of Siad Barre from power, they lacked direction and vision about the future of the country.

They themselves perpetuated the civil war after the ousting of Siad Barre where the dominant Somali National Movement (SNM) objected the legitimacy of the provisional government that was formed by the United Somali Congress (USC). This resulted in the SNM establishing their breakaway state they referred as the independent republic of Somaliland in the region that was earlier British Somali land.

The policies of Siad Barre and his style of and consequently the end of the civil strife that removed him from power left the Somali economy in tatters and in need for reformation. Instead of the opposition concentrating on building the state and restoring its apparatus, they initiated another civil war in the process of competing for political power in this process, the state collapsed and resulted in widespread violence as rival clan militia groups turned against one another.

This led also to the collapsed state economy and destruction of urban centers. The “loose alliance between clans and sub-clans divided the country into clan fiefdoms and both fighting to control any of the town” (Kreijen 1). The current failure of the Somalia state and the subsequent collapse of state institutions are largely associated with the regime of Siad Barre.

After coming to power following the 1969 revolution, he was considered the only president to unite and salvage Somalia state but his defeat in the Ogaden war humiliated him and forced him to be authoritarian, a fact that exposed his regime to opposition. This drove Barre to usurp control by exploiting clan emotions and his survival in power depended on the loyalty of his clan and family.

Opposition groups mushroomed all with intention of overthrowing Barre. This turn of events forced Barre to adopt brutal ways to sustain his leadership. This brutal ways made Barre to order the poisoning of water wells and also gunning down of livestock that belonged to the opposition.

This led to anger that strengthened the resolve of the opposition and guerilla groups determined to oust Barre, a feat that was achieved by the USC. It has also been noted that “the deposition of Barre led to the emergence of formidable clan politics which cast doubt on the stability and unity of Somali” (Kreijen 1).

The above events resulted in street wars in the city of Mogadishu that involved several clans using armed means to justify claims on political power. Government disintegrated, and state institutions collapsed which rendered the state unable to provide to basic services to its population. This resulted to anarchy.

The collapse of the Barre regime and the decline of Mogadishu resulted in an anarchic Somalia that was characterized by havoc and emergence of power hungry warlords who could not consolidate the state power but only interested in curtailing ant international humanitarian agencies who were interested in salvaging and averting the humanitarian crisis that was looming since a lot of people had started dying of hunger and starvation and this laid the foundation for a totally failed or collapsed state of Somali.

After the collapse of the Barre regime, USC assumed power and appointed its own Mohammed Ali who served the State under the 1979 constitution. When USC fully assumed power, another splinter group of USC developed; this group supported the union between USC and SNM and was led by Mohammed Farah Aidid who emerged as Mohammed’s main challenger and later Aideed established its own government in southern Mogadishu.

Later in 1991 Farah staged a coup and declared him self the president. The withdrawal of the UN forces has also contributed to the state failure of Somalia since it halted rejuvenation and reconstruction of Somalia. Also the exit of the UN forces in 1994 led to the continuation of the civil war. Consequently, the unwillingness of the international community to assist Somali has worsened the Somalia situation.

The establishment of the Transitional National Government (TNG) could not deliver its mandate because it lacked enough material resources to reinforce its administrative and authority over the territory. The United States launched a spirited campaign together with its allies to put pressurize the United Nation to withdraw from Somalia and this happened in 1994.This has resulted in Somali losing support and legitimacy and has made it vulnerable to opposition entities from both Somaliland and punt land (Kreijen 1).

The presence of small and heavy weapons in the hands of militias and warlords promote the anarchic situation of Somalia. Lack of international and conventional standard on small arms has made this situation unbearable (Mentah 4). The Ethiopia factor has largely contributed to the state failure of Somali. This is due to the change of Ethiopia’s policy towards the Arab world.

Ethiopia has considered itself a dominant hegemony in the horn of Africa region and largely fears radical and fundamental Islamic groups who are threat to their territory due to its proximity to Islamic countries like Sudan, Eritrea and Egypt. Since Somalia shares a long border with Ethiopia.

The border has always been heavily latent with conflict and Ethiopia guards the border jealously since it is wary of radical Islamic and fundamentalists that may cross over to its territory and hence it has always sponsored insurgencies who believe in their ideals hence perpetuating internal wrangles in Somali affairs.

The transitional federal government which is largely supported by the Arab countries has been facing opposition from groups that are sponsored by Ethiopia that has often escalated into war of emissaries (Liberman 6). Consequently, terror networks that existed since 1990s and created by Iran, Bin laden and Sudan like the al shaabab and Al-Itihad al-islamiya still continue to exert their influence against the government.

These movements have been cooperating with the al Qaida (Somalia 1). Somalia’s irredentisms plans have always led to its absolute rejection by the neighboring countries and thud always contributed to the nature of Somalia state. Consequently the geostrategic position of Somalia in the horn of Africa has made it a center of attraction to the major powers. These powers at times sponsor even warlords.

The war between the clans is growing destructive every day (Metaferia 34). The porosity of the borders of the Somalia state has also exposed its fragility. Majority of the clans in Somalia are nomads and their frequent migration is always threat to the fixed international boundaries.

The response by the UN humanitarian mission and the force deployed to restore peace in Somalia in 1992 contributed to the failure of state of Somalia. The UN mission was heavily attacked by armed groups which forced US to initiate operation. This took a different turn when18 US soldiers were killed and their bodies paraded along the streets of Mogadishu which halted the peace keeping mission (Calvert 10).

The 4 unequal distributions of national resources also contributed to the failure of Somalia. The strategic position of Somalia in the horn of Africa made it critical during the world war and it received massive resources and arms. The existing leadership allocated resources based on clannism and clan affiliation. This attracted resentment from the marginalized clans who in turn took arms and revolted against the government of the day (Besteman 9).

The failure of Somalia was also necessitated by the heavy presents of high powered weaponry which were dumped in the country during the cold war era and remained a major threat to peace and security of Somalia citizens. This was the dangerous wound that Somalia inherited from the cold war which made Somalia an arsenal spot (Mohamed 6).

No individual could have predicted that piracy will one day be an international menace. Unlike in other countries even those that are failed have ineffective police force, the striking thing about Somalia is that it lacks all national institutions and this has piracy thrive along the gulf of Eden. The emergence of sophisticated art of piracy has worsened the Somalia situation.

These pirates are not linked to insurgent groups in Somalia but they pay money to those who control the coastal waters, these proceeds from piracy are always used to procure weapons that can be used to maintain the conflict (Akpinarli 1). The heavy international intervention in Somalia is also another characteristic depicting it as a failed state.

Several meeting have been convened to discuss the Somalia situation but the intentions of these meetings are not always intentioned to solving the Somalia crisis but each state pushes for its own interest. The reluctance of the mediators to engage the Islamist opposition leaves the mediation without a practical course since it will not have involved all the parties (Besterman 3).

Piracy is a sign of power vacuum and failure of the state and the transitional federal government is powerless to stop the thriving business of piracy. Piracy on one hand and insurgents and militias on the other hand has rendered the government powerless and functionless (Economist 1).

The intensification of piracy in the gulf of Eden in relation to the widespread chaos in somalia prompted resolution of United Nation chapter 7 sponsored by the George Bush administration that resulted in the labeling of piracy as a threat to the international peace and security (Washington times 1).

Beside the piracy menace, Somalia has also become a free economic zone. This means all kind of legal and illegal businesses are carried out within the boundaries of Somalia. All kinds of smuggling and trafficking of arms and weapons and also smuggling of migrants to Yemen are done through the gulf of Eden.

It has been argued that it is difficult to avert the piracy menace without a politically stable Somalia (International Crisis Group 1). Power in Somalia has been passed in the hands of insurgencies and clan warlords and the transitional federal governments lack the capacity to effectively combat these rising factionalized groups.

The Somalis have limited freedom of speech, expression, opinion and press; there is also widespread violation of human rights. The recruitment of children into these organized militias and into terrorism groups like the al shaabab since all these gangs are driven by the motive of swelling their crowd (Mohammed 1).

Another justification for Somalia collapse is the continuous emergence of armed groups that keep on dividing Somalia among themselves and these divisions led to the rise of fiefdoms that the warlords fought over. Consequently, the bid for autonomy and independence by Somaliland and puntland has not been recognized by the international community or the African countries.

This has been considered as a weakness in the side of the central government to control these regions. The central government no longer controls the entire territory but only controls some few kilometer circumferences from the town of Mogadishu (Mubarak 6).

The formation of Transitional Federal Government (TFG) by exiled groups in Kenya and the international support it is accorded, has failed in its effort to create a widely accepted government and instead it has perpetuated the culture of clan marginalization and divisions based on clan affiliations.


The prospect of Somalia recovering from its status as a failed state sill remains a tall order. This is because the same factors that lead to the present situation are still intact. The same warlords that helped create the disaster and the culture of clannism and clan loyalty still exist.

None of the warlords and insurgent groups is willing to negotiate for power and as history tells even a negotiated deal will not last for long. The same ingredients that forced the Somalia state to go into war are intact and alliance between clans will always remain fluid.

What enhances the volatility of Somalia situation is the presence of heavy weapons and also constant supply of weapons from its porous borders. This has made it difficult for the international community to regulate the situation and it has been rendered out of option on its efforts to save Somalia from total collapse.

Somalia has lapsed into the greatest degree of anarchy and the efforts by the international community to save the situation have always failed due to lack of willingness by the warring factions to support international efforts and also thriving piracy has always worsened the conflicts. This has left Somalia on its own.

This was evidenced by the desire of Ethiopia to withdraw its forces that amounted to 2000 is likely to create a climate of fear and uncertainty. This is a show of frustration by the Ethiopia following the realization that the war against insurgency is deteriorating and the insurgencies are as a result of Ethiopia occupation which they unanimously accept.

The Somalia situation can therefore be improved by ensuring the mediation efforts involve all the warring clans and more so. Since no international efforts have helped to save the situation, the Somalis themselves can be given the opportunity to decide their own destiny with minimum interference from external parties.

Works Cited

Akpinarli, Neyire. The fragility of the ‘failed state’ paradigm: a different international law perception of the absence of effective government Volume 63 of Developments in international law. New York: BRILL, 2009. Print.

Besterman, Lowe. Unraveling Somalia: race, violence, and the legacy of slavery; The ethnography of political violence. Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999. Print.

Calvert, Peter. Terrorism, Civil War, and Revolution: Revolution and International Politics, 3rd ed. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2010. Print.

Economist. . The Econimist, 2008. Web.

Fitzgerald, Nina. Somalia: issues, history, and bibliography. New York: Nova Publishers. Print.

Haims, Marla. Breaking the failed-state cycle Volume 204 of Occasional paper. New York: Rand Corporation, 2008. Print.

International Crisis Group. . African report no.8 de. Scribd, 2008. Web.

Kreijen,Gerard. State failure, sovereignty and effectiveness: legal lessons from the decolonization of Sub-Saharan Africa Volume 50 of Developments in international law. New York: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2004. Print.

Liberman, Rachel. The Red Sea terror triangle: Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, and Islamic terror International relations Middle East military studies, Transaction. New York: Prentice hall, 2006. Print.

Mentah, Tatah. Dilemmas of weak states: Africa and transnational terrorism in the twenty-first century, Contemporary perspectives on developing societies. New York: Ash gate Publishing, 2004. Print.

Metaferia, Getachew. Ethiopia and the United States: History, Diplomacy, and Analysis. New York: Algora, 2009. Print.

Mohammed, Abdullah. State collapse and post-conflict development in Africa: the case of Somalia (1960-2001). New York: Purdue University Press, 2006. Print.

Mubarak, Jamil. From bad policy to chaos in Somalia: how an economy fell apart. New York: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1996. Print.

Salih, Mohamed and Wohlgemuth, Lennart. Crisis management and the politics of reconciliation in Somalia: statements from the Uppsala Forum, 17-19 January 1994. Nairobi: Nordic Africa Institute, 1994. Print.

Somalia. Somalia: U.S. government policy and challenges. New York: DIANE Publishing, 2003. Print.

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