The Somalia War has been a multifaceted dispute triggered by a chain of political events and clan pressures.
Background- What caused the Somalia War?
The Somali Civil War is an armed conflict that erupted in Somalia in 1991, following the overthrow of dictator Siad Barre. The former British Empire of Somaliland, which merged with Italian Somalia in 1960, declared unilateral independence in 1991 but received no international recognition. The rest of the country, however, descended into anarchy as clan-based warlords competed with one another, with no one controlling the country as a whole.
Since 1991, Somalia has effectively been without a government. As large-scale humanitarian crises arose, the international community responded by sending aid and a UN peacekeeping mission to monitor food distribution and protect relief workers. The UN mission was quickly expanded to include the restoration of law and civil governance. This proved to be a difficult task.
During the Somalia War, the deaths of UN troops, including 31 US soldiers, in Mogadishu street fighting resulted in the total withdrawal of foreign peacekeepers by March 1995. The United States withdrew its troops in March 1994. The UN has since looked to African leaders to take the lead in restoring Somalia’s governance, law, and order. Although no effective government has emerged as a result of this process, a degree of stability has been achieved as a result of various smaller entities declaring autonomy.
Colonial History- Who is Somalia at war with?
When European colonial powers met to divide Africa, the area now known as Somalia was divided among the British, Italians, and French. Somalia gained independence only after being granted internal autonomy following World War II. Even so, Somalia had to integrate between two territories ruled by different colonial powers.
Somalia and Kenya had border disputes in 1963, and Ethiopia and Somalia had border disputes in 1964. This second disagreement resulted in armed conflict. These wars were motivated by Somali irredentism, or the desire to “rejoin lost territories to the motherland.” The notion that Somalis should live under a single political jurisdiction is a European type of nationalism.
Three conflicts occurred during Somalia War between 1977 and 1991: war with Ethiopia (1977-78); civil war in the north-west between the military and the Somali National Movement (SNM) over control of that region; and internal conflict between government forces and clan-based liberation movements (1989-1990). After nine years of civilian rule, a military coup in 1969 installed Siad Barre in power.
Read more: Mogadishu Beaches
Rise of Siad Barre
Barre purposefully pitted clans against one another to divert attention away from the country’s economic problems. He also prohibited mention of clan allegiance, which had the effect of “pushing such identity underground.” His increasingly divisive and oppressive regime sparked internal revolts that led to his overthrow in 1991 and the former British colony’s unilateral declaration of independence as the Republic of Somaliland.
Barre’s regime was supported by military aid from the Soviet Union, which made Somalia a venue for Cold War politics to some extent, as Western states also provided aid.
The downfall of Siad Barre
The insurgencies against Siad Barre’s repressive regime sparked the first phase of the civil war. After he was deposed, a counter-revolution occurred in an attempt to restore him as the country’s leader. Only Somaliland, which consists of the country’s northwestern region (between Djibouti and the northeastern region known as Puntland (which is also effectively independent), has functioning governments.
The rest of the country, particularly the South, devolved into chaos. Warlords emerged, each controlling a small zone and competing for control of larger areas. Mass starvation followed the event, which occurred in one of the world’s poorest countries.
International Intervention- Why is Somalia still at war?
Resolutions 733 and 746 of the United Nations Security Council resulted in the establishment of UNOSOM I, the first mission to provide humanitarian relief and assist in the restoration of order in Somalia following the dissolution of its central government.
On December 3, 1992, the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 794, which authorized the formation of UNITAF, a coalition of United Nations peacekeepers led by the United States, tasked with ensuring the distribution of humanitarian aid and the establishment of peace in Somalia.
During the first year of the civil war, an estimated 300,000 people died of starvation. The United Nations humanitarian forces arrived in 1993 and began a two-year effort (primarily in the south) to alleviate famine conditions.
“Just before pro-US President Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991, nearly two-thirds of the country’s territory had been granted as oil concessions to Conoco, Amoco, Chevron, and Phillips,” critics of US involvement pointed out.
Conoco even lent the US embassy its Mogadishu corporate compound a few days before the Marines arrived, with the first Bush administration’s special envoy using it as his temporary headquarters. The cynical argument was that the US was intervening to gain control of oil interests, rather than as a humanitarian gesture.
Somalis were opposed to foreign presence for a variety of reasons, not the least of which were concerns about imperialism. On March 3, 1995, the entire UN mission left, having suffered more significant casualties. Somalia’s order had yet to be restored. There was no government in place that could claim to have control over the state.
Division of Somalia
Between 1998 and 2006, several self-proclaimed autonomous states within Somalia were established. Unlike Somaliland, they were all autonomous movements rather than outright claims of independence. Various attempts at reconciliation were met with varying degrees of success.
Movements such as the pan-tribal Transitional National Government (TNG) and the Somalia Reconciliation and Restoration Council (SRRC) eventually led to the formation of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in November 2004.
Peace Efforts in Somalia
Since 2006, the Islamic Judicial Union (SCIC) has served as the primary source of law and order in Mogadishu and the surrounding area by establishing Islamic judicial and law enforcement structures via loosely connected Sharia courts. Local communities largely welcomed these efforts because they were moderate in their adherence to Somali customary law.
The examples presented here show that a so-called failed state is not a government-free zone, but that in the absence of a central government, local government-like cooperation occurs, which can provide essential functions of public order and, in contrast to the imposition of a liberal state paradigm, can create peace.
Writer: Mustafa Mmj