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The Root Causes Of The Conflict In Somalia History Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: History
Wordcount: 3959 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Somalia has experienced political fortunes and misfortunes since formal independence from European rule in 1960. Political fortunes in the case of the passionate nationalism which brought Somaliland and Somalia together in 1960, coupled with the fuelled ambitions to extend the resulting Somalia republic to include the entire nation and other Somali speaking persons from the neighboring horn of Africa region- well symbolized by the five stars in the Somali national Flag. However political misfortunes came in unexpectedly and this extinguished these nationalist ambitions [2] . Then, with a reversal of external and internal pressures, the divisions within the nation reasserted themselves with an explosive retribution. This paper therefore will seek to examine the factors, that is, internal and external which are seen to be the root causes of clash in Somalia.

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With a population numbering of conceivably four and a half to five million, the Somali-speaking people can barely be regarded as a large nation [3] . Somalis form one of the largest single ethnic blocks in Africa, and though sparsely distributed on the ground, they live in unbroken occupation of a great vastness of territory covering almost 400,000 square miles in the ‘Horn’ of the continental Africa facing Arabia [4] .

The people of Somali origin broaden out to four separate parts; the ex-French Republic of Djibouti, which became independent in 1977, the Ogaden region in Ethiopia, Somaliland and the North-Eastern region of Kenya.

The Somali people have suffered from long-standing oppression and violence at the hands of their fellow Somalis. Somali regardless of being the most homogeneous region in Africa has witnessed a civil war for over Two decades and this work seeks to ascertain the course of this, they have lived in thorny and harsh conditions under both democratic and martial regimes. This paper seeks to thoroughly tackle the root courses of the long standing conflict in Somalia.


Somali gained independent in 1960 when the British Somaliland protectorate was united with the Italian administered United Nations territory of Somalia. During the self-governing era (1960-1969), self-rule and newly established state institutions failed to meet people’s expectations. There was a surge in poverty which led to the deteriorating of security. Moreover, corruption, preferential treatment and cronyism characterised state institutions.

On the onset of military regime the situation was observed to become worse. Siad Baare’ government and armed factions used haphazard killing, burning of villages and torture as instruments of control. The conflict caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Somalis and many affected civilians were either internally or externally displaced.

At the turn of the decade in 1990, with the close of the cold war, a new sense of optimism for peace and democracy had swept across Africa. Many countries in Africa realized new exemption during this era, like multi party elections in Kenya, end of the apartheid and the release of Nelson Mandela from prison to lead South Africa to multiethnic rule, Ethiopia got a new president from a prolonged autocracy and granted Eritrea independence and so on. But with the promise of inclusion in the new world order still humming in African ears, things fell apart elsewhere; chaos and then famine emerged in Somalia in unprecedented levels.

The deterioration of human rights situation in the 1980s and the general repression by the Siad Baare’s regime which eventually led to the collapse in Somalia of both the regime and state in the early 1990s could be attributed in part to US paternalism or geopolitical strategy of the cold war in the horn of Africa to neutralize the Soviet Union in Ethiopia, after the Soviets having ditched Somalia. Armed conflict was absent during the first 17 years of independent (1960-1977). This period was marked by Vibrant but corrupt and, eventually dysfunctional multiparty democracy. When military came to power in 1969 it witnessed broad support as the people sought change and felt that military rule was the answer. Somalia is a homogenous community in that all Somalis speak the same language and in most occasions subscribe to Islam. This when compared to the rest of the continental should act as a unifying factor as most of the conflicts fought within the continent are as a result of ethnic and religious divide. There is widespread uniformity of Somali culture; language religion etc .Contrary to this similarity ensuring peace this region has witnessed one of the most terrible civil wars in Africa for more than two decades [5] . Somalia has been without a functioning central government since the late dictator General Mohamed Siad Baare was ousted in 1991. This paper seeks to establish the root causes of the Somali conflict and analyses some of the obstacles that have plagued peace efforts for the last fourteen years.


The Somali conflict is characterised by a multifaceted array of causes and drivers that including political, economic, cultural and psychological [6] . Various peripheral and internal actors have played different roles during the various stages of the conflict. The lawlessness in Somalia not only affects the people within Somalia but it also has a number of negative effects on the neighbouring countries.


Clan enmity, collective punishment and adverse antagonistic features of Somali culture reward violence. At times, a disparaging conflict between clans starts over a mere expression of hostility [7] . One may kill a member of another clan merely because the victim’s clansmen have killed an individual from the perpetrator’s clan. There are several examples in history of conflicts originating from the clan differences and competition. The recent and most prominent is the conflict between the Dir and the Mareehaan clans. A member of the Mareehaan clan had killed an entrepreneur from the Dir clan about thirteen years before. To avenge this there was a bloody retaliation. The situation that could have been easily and peacefully dealt with was the basis of a major conflict that saw deaths and displacement of hundreds of civilians. In addition to such expressions of hostility, most Somalis witness people using aggression and benefiting from it. Young men have been known to attack other clans and steal their camels. In townships it is evident that thousands of armed men benefit from using violence to force people to pay them illegally, and they feel that their actions are justified by the fact that Somali clans have been fighting and robbing each other since time immemorial [8] . Over time majority of Somalia’s ancient and even current writings have been seen to support the use of violence witnessed amongst different clans, or at least attempting to legitimise stealing their property.


In Somalia one clan is of major importance in the society, one has to identify and be accepted by his clan. There has been since history evidence of clan animosity. Divisions are defined by clan and sub clan lines. The Somalia society is made up of main clan families like Darod, Dir, Isaaq, Hawiye and Rahanweyn, and minority clans. Clan divisions has been a source of conflict used to divide Somalis, fuel endemic clashes over resources and power, mobilize militia, and make broad based reconciliation very difficult to achieve. Most of the Somalis conflicts have been fought in the name of clans often as a result of political leaders manipulate clanism for their own benefits. President Mohamed Siad Baare and his policies played a significant role in propagating clanism. Current realities validate this assertion that competition for power and/or resources was the leading cause of conflict among clans and militia groups.

Below are instances where the conflict was clan based

The war between the Somali forces and the Somali National movement (SNM) for control of North West Somali. The members of isaaq clan formed a front, their grievances were against Baare’s administration placement of the Northwest under the military control and used the military administration to attack Isaaq and dispose them of their business. The civil war mounted by SNM began in the May of 1988. Government forces committed killings against civilians. 50000-60000 Somalis died mostly members of the Isaaq clan. Over a million Somalis were rendered homeless. These atrocities fuelled Isaaq demands for secession in what became self declared state of Somaliland [9] .

The conflict before 1991 pitted government forces against a growing number of clan base liberation movements in 1989 and 1980 [10] . The strongest of these movements included the United Somali Congress (Hayiwe Clan), The Somali Patriotic Movement (Ogaden clan) and the Somali salvation Democratic (Movement Marjaten clan). This multi front war presaged the predatory looting and banditry that characterized that characterized the feud in 1991 -1992 [11] . When opposition Leaders wanted to mobilise forces, they emphasised the most inclusive identities: the SNM leaders emphasised the grievances of the Isaaq clan, whereas the USC leaders mobilised the Hawiye clan, in general; all people were being mobilised and organised along clan and sub clan lines. General Mohamed Siad Baare depended heavily on his own Mareehan sub-clan of the Darod clans. As a result, the SSDF leaders gunnered their support from the Majerteen sub-clan of the Darod clans, while the Somali Patriotic Movement (SPM) depended on the Ogaden sub-clan of the Darod clans. After 1992 there was a shift from emphasis on inclusive clan identities (for example Darod or Hawiye) to sub-clan identities such as Harti, Mareehaan, Habargidir or Mudullood. Overall the only important function of clan identity lay on their importance in mobilisation.


The accessibility of weapons made the Somali conflict worse. The Somali people ammunition was censured by two major sources of weapons. Because of Somalia’s tactical location, the two superpowers of the time (the former Soviet Union and the US) competed to arm the former dictator.

Another important source of weapons to warring parties in Somalia is the Ethiopian regime, which was arming opposition groups. The easy access of weapons and the animosity in the society in general resulted in all-out civil war in 1988.


Somalia irredentism tendencies have been a source of challenges to state sovereignty in the horn of Africa and have constituted a major source of insecurity in the region. Somalia extends into parts of the terrain of the Kenyan North eastern frontier, Djibouti, Somali land and the Ogaden region of Ethiopia. The dream of United Somalia was resurrected by Mohamed Siad Baare. The claim by Somalia of the territories with Somali speaking people is symbolised by the five stars in the Somalia’s Flag. Somalia’s aim and objective is to later in the future bring these territories together as one great Somalia. Over time this aspiration has been a cause of strife between Somalia and its neighbours. British colonial legacy say to the interference of the boundaries through treaties with Italy for compensation. The British established a demarcation in the Kenyan northern frontier as a marker of where the Somalis were not allowed to travel beyond- this in turn strengthened the feeling by the Somalia’s in this region as exceptional and exclusivity. In the Northern Frontier the rate of taxation of Somalis was high than other Africans. In the commencement of independent Somalis in the Northern Frontier demanded separation from Kenya. After independence and KANU took over the Somalis resulted to guerrilla warfare.

On the Ethiopian side Somali’s irredentism was more problematic as it involves a larger population and the border is still in dispute. Kenya and Ethiopia have signed a pact to ensure security in case of Somali’s irredentism. Somali irredentism has been abandoned as the neighbours and the world was against it.


Somalia’s large number of jobless youth stimulated the conflict. Although no plausible census has been taken, Somalia now has an approximate population of about 9-10 million. Over time there was an increase in population which saw a young population with no employment opportunities (1980s). Social amnesties for the population like education, health and others were not availed to the Somalia people by the government. The vital sectors which could ensure employment were under-developed as well. In turn this state of affairs created widespread hopelessness among the youth. The youth idleness and lack of a tangible income generating agenda place then in a situation where they were vulnerable to the possibility of being manipulated and swayed to conflict by the elites who is out to ensure there interest by unlawful means. As viewed Somalia has continuously been termed as a failed sate due to the general lack of security in the region. There was a huge visible divide between the rich and the poor. As in any society of this sort the elites capitalised on this opportunity and organised the young men to use them to their benefits [12] .

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Ethiopia meddling in the internal affairs of Somalia is a significant cause of the conflict in Somalia. This ensures shelter for all the instigators of the conflict. The meddling has undermined vital peace accords i.e. The Cairo Accord 1997 and the Arta Agreement of 2000 and has manipulated Somalia peace process in Kenya. More than a dozen Somali warlords and other important group leaders agreed on a power-sharing principle in Cairo, Egypt, in 1997. They also by consensus reached a decision to form a national government. The most contentious issue was the wide divide amongst the factions and the areas they drew their support. There were the Libyan supported factions on one side and the Ethiopian supported factions on the other. These two groups controlled most of Somalia, and both participated in the Cairo convention. In most cities in Somalia’s the civilian’s welcomed these agreements i.e. the Cairo Accord by widespread chants in its support. Ethiopia has also been involved in the training/ recruiting of some of the warlords involved in causing animosity in Somalia. It encouraged Colonel Abdullah Yusuf and General Adan Abdullahi Nur to leave the meeting and reject its outcome. From Cairo their first stop was Addis Ababa. Ethiopia started to openly sustain these two faction leaders militarily and politically.

On numerous occasions Ethiopia has sent weapons to guarantee the conflict in Somalia. Ethiopia seeks to sustain its regional hegemony status by ensuring a weak and divided Somalia. This has lead to two major wars in 1964 and 1977, and hundreds of skirmishes have taken place along the border between Ethiopia and Somalia. The main origin of one of the major conflicts was the Ogaden region, which is under the jurisdiction of Ethiopia. Somalia has sought to support an overthrow of Ethiopia’s government, and on the other hand Ethiopia has supported opposition movements to the Somalia government. All of the opposition groups have started their wars in Ethiopia in order to fight against the military government of Siad Baare, and Ethiopia has been a major player in perpetuating Somalia civil war especially in the past 14 years.


Warlords who are benefiting from the status quo lead most of Somalia’s factions. Some have

Committed atrocious crimes and therefore feel unsure about their futures. These use violence and intimidation after peace accords were signed which in turn is beneficial to them. The latest example of Mogadishu warlords’ determination to demoralize Ali Gedi’s government illustrates better how Somalia’s spoilers are committed to keep the status quo. General Aideed, for example, challenged and effectively undermined the ill-fated UN efforts to restore peace in Somalia in 1993, regardless of wide support for the UN presence and activities. The two Somalia militia leaders best known to the world in 1992 represent specific ethno geographical interest areas.

These influences the governance of Somalia, some key actors (factions) in Somalia are; Alshabab, Hisbul Islam, Al Suna wal jama’a, Somali, Punt land etc.


Over time the only interested parties in the Somalia conflict are the neighboring countries a as these suffer the spill over effect of the conflict. Kenya has been actively involved in the peace talks and is hosting millions of refugees from Somalia.

Winston Tubman, the UN Secretary-General’s political representative to the Somali peace

Conference in Kenya, was quoted as saying: “One of the five permanent members of the UN

Security Council – China, Britain, France, the US and Russia -could make a difference in Somalia … The African Union can be interested, the European Union can help, but what you need is some driving force (by a big power) in my experience”. Somalia’s failed state dimension is more prevalent as no major power has a keen interest in the region. Before the rise of the piracy Somalia feature minimally in the International System relations. Now that it is posing a major threat to most powers there is a possibility that the increasing interest in the region by other actors will pressure it into a peace agreement.


The surfacing of many religious leaders and groups associated with different schools of thought has seen religious participation in fighting within different religious groupings. Globally, religious leaders are often seen as linked to terrorism. This serves to tarnish their image nationally and internationally. The main resistance to the government consists of the Supreme Council of Islamic Courts (SCIC) also known as the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), Joint Islamic Courts, Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), or the Supreme Islamic Courts Council (SICC), a cluster based on fundamental Islamic law that is attempting to wrest formal administrative and governmental control from the TFG as well as impose a system of Shari’ a law upon the country. They seek to bring order of some sense to the chaotic region, thus ending the long period of disorder since1991. A more radical faction of the SCIC has emerged throughout 2007 and early 2008 – al Shabab (‘the lads’ in Somali). These had been internationally attributed Al Qaeda. These groups continue to commit gross abuses / violations of human right in Somalia which in turn worsen the situation in Somalia and creates a conducive hub for other groups to mobiles and get involved in the conflict [13] “.Fundamentalist Islamic clerics have more and more sought to set themselves up as an substitute to the clan-based fiefdoms and the intermediary federal government that is struggling to affirm its authority. The new alliance describes the clerics as terrorists and accuses them of killing temperate intellectuals, Muslim scholars and former military officials in a string of unexplained murders [14] .” Religion has for a long time been a significant cause of conflict in Somalia. They rally the use of the ever contended shariah law which has seen execution and cutting of limbs of civilians old and young, Islam has been responsible for a number of suicide bombs which are seen as a form of religious act.


This is a cause of conflict in Somalia as it sees inflow of capital that sees the capability of purchasing weapons and the recruiting of youngsters who have no other source of income. Piracy has created a population that is viewed as outcasts of the Somali society; those associated to piracy are secluded and disowned by their clans because they are seen as immoral. They are accused of being involved in drug and prostitution which are unforgivable in the Somali society. As a result these hang around gangs and become extremely dangerous to the security of Somalia.


The study of the root causes of the Somalia conflict has been a murky one has everybody has their own version of what is or has been the cause of the ensuing conflict in Somalia, the truth is there is no real simple answer on this question as there are complex and intertwined causes as the conflict moves from the early stages to the intermediate and so on. The issues are more than just merely religion and tribe. Somalia has been a victim of mismanagement, poor governance, lack of leadership and dictatorship since independence. Because of these factors, Somalis found it easy to get refuge within their clans, sub-clans and families where their honors and dignity are upheld and respected. Unnecessary regional interference from Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Kenya, and external interference by the US and Europe have played a major role in instability and insecurity seen today in Somalia. Therefore the consolidation and pacification of the Somalia state needs to be driven by Somalis themselves to enable the proper realization of peace based on Somali local remedies and mechanism. As international organizations have found out the civilians are the most affected in this ongoing conflict, a solution is bound to emanate from the involvement of the United Nations in the stipulation of the clarity of leadership. The involvement of the African Union in ensuring peace by sending its troops should be stepped up. For complete peace in Somalia the interference by Ethiopia and other outside parties in funding of militias or otherwise should be stopped.


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