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Somalia
 

 Antagonists

Various clans

Status

Active

Connections

AfricaWars

Ethiopia

Somalia

Explanation

Traditional Somali society consisted of nomadic camel herders with no long tradition of settled government. During the colonial period an Italian, a British and a French colony was set up on Somali territory. Other parts were occupied by Ethiopia. Part of the Somali grazing grounds is incorporated in the northern part of Kenya.

The military regime of Siad Barre collapsed in 1991 leaving no central government. The country has split into two areas, the northern, roughly the former British area, and the southern, roughly the former Italian area. The southern part is divided into at least two zones: that controlled by the former President Barre's own clan and the rest by the Somali National Movement. There is also an area of the southern zone calling itself Puntland.

The wars seem to be mainly about clan dominance. The remaining infrastructure of the former state was of value and so war lords have been fighting over such areas as the ports and airports for control of any trade that still continues.

A development in June 2006 was that an organisation calling itself the Union of Islamic Courts had fought its way to control Mogadishu and had defeated the various war lords who had been controlling it until then. The Islamic courts began in the rural areas and gradually extended areas of relative peace. It seemed likely that they would be popular if they could bring the war to an end and restore normal life for people. Their activity was to set up a traditional Islamic court with a judge who will hear disputes. This of course is one of the fundamental functions of a state and was one of the earliest activities of a king that allowed him to exercise legitimate power.

The question then was whether the United States would accept this new beginning? There were reports that the US had been supporting the war lords for its own purposes. The United Nations had been trying to create a government for the territory. The latest reports are that the leaders of the Islamic Courts had been talking with the Transitional Government. There were hopes that this war might at last have been coming to an end. There remained the questions of Puntland and Somaliland. Would they also come under the jurisdiction of the Islamic courts, and perhaps also of the Transitional Government? Would the Islamic Courts agree to elections to legitimise the Transitional Government (which has an appointed parliament, representing some of the warlords, rather than the people as a whole)? But the United States fears that there may be now or in the future Islamic terrorists in the country, backed by the late Osama bin Laden. If there are, attacks from the US can be expected.

As well as the United States there are other interests. There have been reports that Ethiopian troops have crossed the border. Ethiopia has long had a claim on parts of Somali territory - as Somalis have counter claims on Ethiopian land in the Ogaden. Eventually there will need to be an agreement between the two states, when there is a Somali government again.

A development in November 2006 is the declaration by one of the leaders of the Islamic Courts Union of a Jihad against Ethiopia and a welcome for Islamic fighters to come and help. This sounds like the Taliban of Afghanistan. Ethiopian forces then invaded the country and put the "Interim government" into power. The US bombed a village with alleged Al Qaedah suspects 9 January 2006.

As well as the United States there are other interests. There have been reports that Ethiopian troops have crossed the border. Ethiopia has long had a claim on parts of Somali territory - as Somalis have counter claims on Ethiopian land in the Ogaden. Eventually there will need to be an agreement between the two states, when there is a Somali government again.

Ethiopian troops have since invaded Somalia and removed the Islamic Courts government. However, the Ethiopian forces (supported by the United States) are under continual attack from Somali guerrillas. They eventually withdrew leaving the situation as before.

The Government continues to have little or no influence and the main external problem is now Piracy - gangs boarding passing ships, capturing them and bringing them to a ports and then demanding ransom payments from the owners. A NATO naval force is trying to prevent them, with only moderate success.

2011 A force from Kenya has entered the country, ostensibly in response to terrorist attacks in Kenya, attributed to Al Shabab. Will this grow into a long war?

Attacks by Al Shabab in Kenya have increased in 2011.

February 2012
Ethiopian and AU troops occupy Baidoa, said to be the main base of Al-Shabab.

Naval and air patrols said to be reducing the success of pirates and causing them to range further into the Indian Ocean. Merchant ships are now usually armed.

Last revised 23/02/12


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