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The Somali Conflict: Finding a Solution for Lasting Peace in the Horn of Africa

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The Somali Conflict:
Finding a Solution for Lasting Peace in the Horn of Africa

The Civil War in Somalia
History of the Somali Conflict
The colonial territories of Somalia and Somaliland joined to for m the Somali Republic under the East African nation’s first constitution in 1960, marking the first time that the territories enjoyed independence from foreign colonial rule since the 1880’s. Unfortunately, political strife and tension was present even at the time of the country’s formation. Prior to colonial rule, the two territories were governed by a highly decentralized form of pastoral rule, consisting of large clans of nomadic and agricultural familial units (Ahmed 1999, 114). It has been argued that the incompatibility of such a decentralized form of governance with a highly centralized Western-style governmental structure is the fundamental driving force behind the ongoing political conflicts, formations of factions, and civil war in Somalia (Ahmed 1999, 115). Indeed, centralized government was not successful in the fledgling African country. By 1969, less than a decade after its inception, the Somali government was taken over in a swift and virtually bloodless military coup led by the commander of the Somali Army, Major General Mohamed Siad Barre (Linke 2011, 47). Upon seizing power, Barre quickly dissolved the country’s parliament and court system, suspended the constitution, and constructed a military dictatorship based largely on Marxist principles (Linke 2011, 49). After enjoying some initial successes and public support, Barre’s government quickly began to deteriorate. By the mid-1980’s, Barre’s grip on Somalia was weakened as the nation grew tired of living under military rule (Linke 2011, 49). Additionally, the end of the cold war weakened Somalia’s military might through the loss of support by strategic allies (Linke 2011, 50). In an effort to retain power, the military government became increasingly totalitarian and oppressive, giving rise to several clan-based opposition movements and militia groups determined to remove Barre from power. Throughout 1990 and into 1991, fuel and food shortages, coupled with rapid inflation and currency devaluation led to the Somali civil war. Many small opposition groups banded together to chase Barre from the northern half of the country to the southern half, and eventually into exile in Kenya in May of 1991.

Aftermath of the Civil War
The tolls of civil war wreaked havoc across Somalia. The infrastructure was neglected, bombed, and decimated. Whatever wasn’t destroyed was looted and sold on the black market. Distribution channels across the country were disrupted, and large populations mobilized to escape violence and destitution (Ahmed 1999, 120). The many opposition forces and militias, once united against Barre’s administration, quickly turned against each other to try and fill the power vacuum created by the collapse of the state (Kasaija 2010, 262).
To aggravate matters further, a severe drought hit the region that wiped out crops and brought about widespread famine. Hundreds of thousands of people died of starvation, and unsanitary conditions in urban areas due to the crumbling infrastructure gave rise to a host of devastating infectious diseases (Ahmed 1999, 117).
UN Intervention
The UN responded to the crisis in Somalia by sending troops to maintain peace and distribute aid. These humanitarian efforts were soon confronted by some of the many warring factions across the country (Linke 2011, 51). Small regional conflicts erupted, sometimes involving UN forces, which prompted the peacekeepers to adopt an offensive position (Ahmed 1999, 120).

Attempts to Achieve Peace
UN Reconciliation Conferences
The attempts to reconcile the political structure of Somalia have been nothing short of catastrophic. The United Nations has conducted several conferences to try and bring about a political solution for the broken state (Kasaija 2010, 262). Virtually all of these conferences have been held in neighboring countries such as Ethiopia, Egypt and Kenya. The results of these conferences have been focused on trying to re-establish Somalia as a centralized, Western-style state (Ahmed 1999, 121). Warring factions came away from the conferences having signed peace agreements, only to have those agreements violated and summarily dismissed within weeks of adopting them.
Transitional Governments and Autonomous Regions
With the country divided, a Transitional Federal Government (TFG) was established to try and maintain some semblance of order in Somalia. Largely dysfunctional and unable to maintain adequate security forces, the woefully underfunded government has been unsuccessful in fighting off militant Islamic forces in the southern half of the country (Kasaija 2010, 265). Complicating matters is the autonomous government of Somaliland in the northwest. Although unofficial, the region of Somaliland has a functioning parliamentary government and is largely dismissive of any efforts to reconcile with the southern half of the country (Kasaija 2010, 262). This establishment of an autonomous government, though frustrating to peacemakers, may hold the key to a lasting political solution for the region.

Possible Solutions to Civil Unrest
The possibility of some kind of military victory in Somalia is an unlikely scenario, given the traditional cultural structure of the region. In general, the culture doesn’t support the establishment of a centralized, Western-style rule (Hartkorn 2011, 26). To assume that one force will defeat all others, and that the defeated forces will be absorbed or assimilate into a new centralized state, is a flawed manner of thinking. This has been the predominant approach by the UN, and it has failed thus far.
Although the majority of Somalis are Islamic, many of the warring factions represent a more extreme, militant wing of the religion. For example, Al-Shabaab, a branch of al-Qaeda, controls large swathes of southern Somalia and has been in constant conflict with the TFG. The possibility that a branch of al-Qaeda would share power with a more moderate faction in the north of the country is practically non-existent (Hartkorn 2011, 26).
The solution most likely to resolve the civil war in Somalia is some form of partition. Given that prior to 1960 Somalia was two distinct territories it may be prudent to re-establish the territories as separate nations. The tendency toward regional, decentralized government has already been displayed by the establishment of the autonomous government of Somaliland in the northwest region of the country (Hartkorn 2011, 25).

The former territories of Somalia and Somaliland are vastly different regions, not only culturally, but economically and geographically as well. A distinct divide between the northern half of the country and the southern half has existed from the inception of the centralized government in 1960 – a government that didn’t even survive for 10 years. Perhaps the solution to peace in the horn of Africa lies in returning to a structure more reminiscent of pre-colonial days, and disconnecting north from south.

Ahmed, I. I., & Green, R. (1999). The heritage of war and state collapse in Somalia and Somaliland: local-level effects, external interventions and reconstruction. Third World Quarterly, 20(1), 113-127.

Hartkorn, S., & Pedersen, K. (2011). Community-led stabilisation in Somalia. Forced Migration Review, (37), 25-27.

Kasaija, A. (2010). The UN-led Djibouti peace process for Somalia 2008-2009: Results and problems. Journal Of Contemporary African Studies, 28(3), 261-282.

Linke, A., & Raleigh, C. (2011). State and Stateless Violence in Somalia. African Geographical Review, 30(1), 47-66.…...

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