Cornerstone Global Associates

Somalia’s future and what we have to know about its past

Posted by: simona on: February 27, 2012

(Photograph by the author)

Simona Maria Ross, Cornerstone

As leaders from around the world met at the London Conference on Somalia, it becomes imperative to understand the root causes of the conflict. Over 40 governments and multilateral organizations came together with the aim of delivering a new international approach to Somalia. The main issues have been security, political process, counter-terrorism, piracy and the current humanitarian situation.i Furthermore, we have to ask whether there will be any progress achieved by June, when the next conference on Somalia will be held in Istanbul.

Somalia’s history of conflict reveals an intriguing paradox––namely, many of the factors that drive armed conflict have also played a role in managing, ending, or preventing war. For instance, clannism and clan cleavages are a source of conflict. They are used to divide Somalis, fuel endemic clashes over resources and power, mobilize militia, and make broad-based reconciliation very difficult to achieve.ii

However, significant armed conflict was absent during Somalia’s first 17 years of independence (1960–77).iii The Somali Republic (1960–1991) constituted the former Italian colonies of South-central Somalia and Puntland and the former British Protectorate of Somaliland.iv Artificial states without a strong social base of support, resources, or popular legitimacy often survived during the Cold War thanks to superpower patronage and international norms that favored stability and sovereignty. Several of those states, however, collapsed in the 1990s, as external support was withdrawn and societal demands for economic advancement and better governance increased. Sometimes this led to anarchy, but other times legitimacy devolved to local groups.v Decolonization and the institutions of the early independence years failed to establish effective new ways to connect Somali society to the Up to the spring of 1988, through skillful manoeuvering and repression, Siad Barre had managed to stifle the clan conflicts in Somalia.vii His regime became increasingly authoritarian over time. In the end it relied upon brute force and the manipulation of clan animosities to remain in power. Opposition groups failed to develop an agenda beyond the need to remove Barre. When the state finally collapsed, it left behind little but the wreckage of distorted traditions and artificial institutions, a vacuum that the most ruthless elements in the society soon filled. A long and complex process led to the collapse of the Somali state, compelling the international community to consider what it could do to reverse the deterioration.viii Siad Barre and his supporters finally fled Mogadishu on January 27, 1991.ix In a tragic unfolding of events, chaos and insecurity built up until Siad Barre was forced out of Mogadishu. The uncontrolled street violence in the capital led nearly all embassies, international organizations, and non-governmental organizations to close their offices.x

In mid – 1991, regional actors attempted to convene peace conferences in Djibouti to forge a new ruling coalition, but with little success.xi The government of Djibouti requested the support of the UN, which refused with no explanation other than that the matter was too complicated. Had the UN, together with regional organizations, been involved in preparing this conference, the reconciliation process could have gotten off to a good start. Even though the negotiations might have been long and arduous, international pressure would have ensured that all parties were committed to the results.xii The United Nations finally took action to respond to the political vacuum in early 1992 and succeeded in getting the major factional leaders in Mogadishu to sign a cease-fire in March. The United Nations and the rest of the international community, however, responded slowly to the opportunity to broaden the cease-fire into an effective process to promote political reconciliation and institutional rehabilitation.xiii International officials have responded to the challenge of state collapse by considering expanded multilateral peacekeeping or peace-enforcement operations.xiv

The military operations by the United States and the United Nations in Somalia have important implications because they exemplify one of the first cases of international action in response to state collapse in the post-Cold War era, and because they represent experiments in new forms of multilateral peace operations. Somalia, of course, has a number of unique characteristics and there is no single model for international actions in cases of state collapse.xv However, by November 1992 President George Bush sent U.S. forces to lead an international intervention.xvi Before long UNOSOM itself became embroiled in the conflict, leading to the infamous shooting down of US Black Hawk helicopters in Mogadishu and the subsequent withdrawal of US forces. UNOSOM’s humiliating departure from Somalia was followed by international disengagement and a decline in foreign aid.xvii

Two major international peacekeeping interventions, the UN Mission in Somalia (UNOSOM) in the 1990s and the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) today, have left their mark on the country.xviii Some argue that the seeds of militant Islamist movements were planted in this period. Osama bin Laden, then based in Sudan, denounced the UN mission as an invasion of a Muslim country.xix

Conflict between rival warlords and their factions continued throughout the 1990s. No stable government emerged to take control of the country. The UN assisted Somalia somewhat with food aid, but did not send peacekeeping troops into the country. In the late 1990s, relative calm began to emerge and economic development accelerated somewhat. The country was by no means stable, but it was improving. A transitional government emerged in 2000, but soon lost power.xx

In the climate of international insecurity that followed the 9/11 attacks on the US, the failed state of Somalia attracted renewed interest as a potential haven and breeding ground for international terrorists.xxi Additionally, Somalia is often the battleground for divisions between its African and Arab neighbors. Regional actors support clan groups in Somalia that may extend their influence. Somalia is a member of the African Union and the League of Arab States (LAS). As part of Africa, it is automatically a member of the African Union, while its long-standing historic ties based on common cultural and religious affinity give it membership in the LAS.xxii

The issue of foreign intervention in the country arouses profound emotions. Somalis believe that foreigners – from the Western nations through Somalias immediate neighbors to the foreign fighters working for Al Shabab – are involved with Somalia only to satisfy their selfish economic and political interests. They are deeply disappointed by the lack of progress made during past reconciliation conferences sponsored by the international community.xxiii

Somali people are not just having a lack of trust in the international community. They also doubt that the Transitional National Government is capable of improving their situation. One Somali stated: “I cant see anything they can do because all their programs are dictated from abroad, so there is no other solution other than for them to leave their positions.”xxiv They argue that: “People with knowledge must take positions of authority. That can restore peace.”xxv Most want a peaceful solution to the conflict through reconciliation between the opposing forces – only a minority advocates the use of force. Although, as noted earlier, many see a role for the international community in terms of providing financial and moral support, they are nonetheless adamant that reconciliation must principally be a Somali-led effort.xxvi

When discussing the conflict and possible peace-building measures in Somalia, it is important to note that the majority of Somalis are Sunni Muslims.xxvii The international community has to fully understand their personal interpretation of religion and the meaning of war.

Conflict-sensitive assistance would mean that reconstruction and development policies, programs, and projects consider their potential impact on the conflict environment, in order to ensure that interventions do not contribute to conflict escalation but instead, if possible, to de-escalation.xxviii Conflict monitoring would have two aspects: monitoring indicators of change and monitoring the impact of reconstruction and development interventions on the conflict situation.xxix A preventive approach in such case has a fairly good chance of success without great expense, and without the need for a large military

Leaders agreed on a seven-point plan promising more humanitarian aid, support for African Union peacekeepers and better international co-ordination.xxxi Whereas Ms Harper from BBC News argues that: ” There seems to be a bit of a contradiction in the final communiqué. On the one hand, it states in bold type that decisions on Somalia's future "rest with the Somali people". On the other it talks about outsiders taking some control of the government's budget.”xxxii Whatever those world leaders agreed on and discussed, it is still questionable whether this conference will bring any change.

Somalia is the longest-running instance of complete state collapse in the post-colonial era. It has also been the site of some of the world’s most intensive mediation efforts, designed to bring the country’s twenty-year crisis to a close.xxxiii

However, we have to notice that with each failed peace process, the Somali crisis has become more intractable and difficult to resolve as distrust grows, grievances mount, coping mechanisms become entrenched and the percentage of the Somali population that has a living memory of a functioning central government shrinks.xxxiv


Baugh, Matt. [London Somalia Conference, 2012], Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London, URL:

BBC. [London conference backs Somalia terror fight, 2012], London, URL:

Bradbury, M./ Healy, S. [Whose peace is it anyway? – Connecting Somali and international peacemaking, 2010], Accord, Issue 21, London.

Central Intelligence Agency [Somalia], In: The World Factbook, URL:

Levy, Andrea L. [Searching for Peace – Views and Comments from Somalia on theFoundations of a New Government, 2011], National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, Washington DC.

Lyons, Terrence./Samatar, Ahmed.I. [Somalia – Sate Collapse, Multilateral Intervention, and Strategies for Political Reconstruction, 1995], Brookings Occasional Papers, Washington DC.

Pike, John. [Somalia Civil War], Global Security, URL:

Sahnoun, Mohamed. [Somalia – The missed opportunities, 1994], The United States Institute of Peace Press, Washington DC.

World Bank. [Conflict in Somalia: Drivers and Dynamics, 2005], URL:

Footnote :

iBaugh, M. [London Somalia Conference, 2012], w.p.
World Bank. [Conflict in Somalia, 2005], p. 9
World Bank. [Conflict in Somalia, 2005], p. 9
ivWorld Bank. [Conflict in Somalia, 2005], p. 6
v Lyons, T./Samatar, A.I. [Somalia, 1995], p. 1
viLyons, T./Samatar, A.I. [Somalia, 1995], p. 24
viiSahnoun, M. [Somalia, 1994], p. 5
viiiLyons, T./Samatar, A.I. [Somalia, 1995], p. 24
ixSahnoun, M. [ Somalia, 1994], p. 9
xLyons, T./Samatar, A.I. [Somalia, 1995], p. 28

xiLyons, T./Samatar, A.I. [Somalia, 1995], p. 25
xiiSahnoun, M. [ Somalia, 1994], p. 10
xiiiLyons, T./Samatar, A.I. [Somalia, 1995], p. 25
xivLyons, T./Samatar, A.I. [Somalia, 1995], p. 3
xvLyons, T./Samatar, A.I. [Somalia, 1995], p. 6
xviLyons, T./Samatar, A.I. [Somalia, 1995], p. 25
xvii Bradbury, M./ Healy, S. [Whose peace is it anyway?, 2010], p. 11
xviii Bradbury, M./ Healy, S. [Whose peace is it anyway?, 2010], p. 107
xix Bradbury, M./ Healy, S. [Whose peace is it anyway?, 2010], p. 11
xx Pike, J. [Somalia Civil War], w.p.
xxi Bradbury, M./ Healy, S. [Whose peace is it anyway?, 2010], p. 13
xxiiWorld Bank. [Conflict in Somalia, 2005], p. 370
xxiiiLevy, A. L. [Searching for Peace, 2011], p. 8
xxivLevy, A. L. [Searching for Peace, 2011], p. 6
xxv Levy, A. L. [Searching for Peace, 2011], p. 7
xxviLevy, A. L. [Searching for Peace, 2011], p. 11
xxviiCentral Intelligence Agency [Somalia], w.p.
xxviii World Bank. [Conflict in Somalia, 2005], p. 40
xxixWorld Bank. [Conflict in Somalia, 2005], p. 52
xxxSahnoun, M. [ Somalia, 1994], p. 5
xxxiBBC. [London conference backs Somalia terror fight, 2012], w.p.
xxxiiBBC. [London conference backs Somalia terror fight, 2012], w.p.
xxxiiiBradbury, M./ Healy, S. [Whose peace is it anyway?, 2010], p. 16
xxxivBradbury, M./ Healy, S. [Whose peace is it anyway?, 2010], p. 17