Somalia Modern History

By | January 30, 2023

Somalia is a country located in Eastern Africa. With the capital city of Mogadishu, Somalia has a population of 15,893,233 based on a recent census from COUNTRYAAH. Independent Somalia was characterized from the beginning by strong tensions between the north and the south. In the 1960s several elections were held, but in 1969 the military took power in a coup. Mohamed Siad Barre’s regime formed a close bond with the Soviet Union. In 1977, Somali troops entered Ethiopia to try to conquer Ogaden, but Somalia suffered a stinging defeat. In 1991, Siad Barre was forced out of power. Many years of political chaos followed, where clan-based militia groups fought each other.

Peace talks led to the formation of a transitional government in 2004, but the violence continued. UIC, a new Islamist group that took power in Mogadishu in 2006, was overthrown after six months by the transitional regime supported by the Ethiopian military. However, for a few years the militant al-Shabaab managed to take control of large parts of southern and central Somalia, before the Islamist militia was forced back with the help of an African peace force.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Somalia. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

Fragile democracy

In a referendum after independence in 1960, it was decided that Somalia would have parliamentary rule with universal suffrage. Foreign policy would be neutral and alliance-free. But it was not easy to reconcile the former Italian and British territories with their different political traditions (the British had largely allowed local leaders to retain their positions, while the Italians had tried to limit their influence). In the early years, politicians dominated from the south, which led to the people of the north feeling disadvantaged. Since the country’s leaders, in orderly form, were replaced after a parliamentary election in 1964 and an (indirect) presidential election in 1967, similar complaints came from southern Somalia instead. Check best-medical-schools for more information about Somalia.

When Somalis in Ethiopia and Kenya wanted to join the Republic of Somalia, this was welcomed by all Somali leaders. Relations with neighboring countries were sometimes tense. Border war was fought with Kenya in 1963 and 1967 and with Ethiopia in 1963-1964. Since agreements with both Kenya and Ethiopia were concluded in 1967, tensions towards the outside world eased, but then they increased instead in the country. The economy stagnated and the governing bodies were accused of corruption and slanderous politics.

In the 1969 parliamentary elections, 64 clan-based parties lined up. Victory made the Somalia Youth League whose position was strengthened by the fact that many members from other parties jumped to the party after the election. Prime Minister Mohamed Ibrahim Egal remained in power despite allegations of electoral fraud, but the president, Abdirashid Ali Shermarke, was assassinated after the election. For the military, under Major General Mohamed Siad Barre, the murder became a pretext to seize power in a bloodless coup in October. The country’s name was changed to the Democratic Republic of Somalia.

One-party state after Soviet model

Siad Barre came to rule the country for just over two decades, initially at the head of a Supreme Revolutionary Council that immediately banned the clan system. Siad Barre formed a close bond with the Soviet Union and built up his rule according to the Soviet model. Banks and corporations were nationalized, and in 1975 all land was nationalized. The year before, Somalia had joined the Arab League. In 1976, a one-party system was introduced. All important political and military items went to Siad Barre’s own clan, Darod.

In 1977, Somali troops entered Ethiopian Ogaden, largely inhabited by Somalis. But now Ethiopia was also affiliated with the Soviet Union. The war led to a sharp end to Somalia’s cooperation with Moscow, which was party to the larger country. In 1978, Ethiopia, with Cuban help, drove Somalia’s troops. Siad Barre was now seeking support from the United States and other Western countries.

The backlash of the Ogaden war hit the economy hard and dissatisfaction with the regime grew. Several opposition groups were formed, including the Democratic Front for the Rescue of Somalia (DFSS), and the Somali National Movement (SNM), both of which had their base among clans in the northwest and were initially supported by Ethiopia. Several revolts erupted, and when SNM revolted in the former British Somaliland in 1988, the army responded by bombing the cities of Hargeisa and Burao. About 40,000 people were killed and about 400,000 Somalis fled to Ethiopia.

This increased support for SNM and contributed to Siad Barre promising multi-party. But, step by step, the regime lost control of the country. Members of the Hawaiian clan formed in exile in Italy the United Somali Congress (USC). After fierce fighting in and around the capital, USC militia Siad Barre forced to flee to his home region in the southwest in January 1991.

For now, USC has claimed power. Its Mogadishu faction appointed Ali Mahdi Mohamed as president, but he did not even control the entire capital. Darod and Issaq Somalis, many of whom are related to Siad Barre’s regime, were looted on their property and fled. In northwestern Somalia, SNM’s leadership proclaimed an independent state, the Republic of Somaliland. Also in the south, fighting was ongoing, including control over the port city of Kismayo.

Clan battles create chaos, starvation disaster requires 100,000 lives

About twenty clan militia were now trying to take control of as large areas as possible. Many Somalis who belonged to clans with weak militias or who were outside the clan system were expelled from their areas. Within USC, the contradictions between Ali Mahdi and General Mohamed Farah “Aidid” grew. Mogadishu was divided into two zones: a northern controlled by Ali Mahdi and a southern controlled by Aidid. The Civil War 1991-1992 required 35,000 civilian casualties in Mogadishu alone.

In April 1992, the UN Security Council decided on humanitarian action, since relief organizations warned of a famine disaster. When UN troops arrived at the end of the year, the entire country was divided into areas controlled by clan militia. The UN passed a ceasefire in Mogadishu, but Aidid strengthened its position by backing an invasion attempt by Siad Barre, who fled the country.

The fighting made it difficult to assist the civilian population in the Mogadishu area, and Aidid and other warlords made the relief efforts more difficult to strengthen their own position. Hundreds of thousands of people starved to death from mid-1991 to the end of 1992. With an upset opinion in the back, the United States, in agreement with the United Nations – against the advice of many relief organizations – decided on a United States-led UN operation. The Americans were also concerned by reports that militant Islamists were gaining influence in Somalia.

The UNaf unit Unitaf consisted mostly of over 30,000 men. Of these, 24,000 were American elite soldiers. It soon became clear that the operation was well thought out. The United States wanted to restrict it to the protection of humanitarian operations, while the UN preferred that Unitaf also disarm the warring groups. Soon UN soldiers ended up in regular battles with Somalis.

In the spring of 1993, a new UN operation, Unosom II, was launched, which meant that for the first time the UN entered into a civil war to force peace, without the consent of the parties. The US saw Aidid as the main obstacle to peace and a US special forces was deployed to capture him. In the fall of 1993, several hundred Somalis and 18 Americans were killed in fighting, but Aidid escaped.

The US and UN forces leave the country

The United States officially withdrew from Somalia in 1994 and the last UN soldiers left the country the following year. Aidid was elected by his own USC faction to interim president. However, he was injured in a fire and died the following year. He was succeeded by his son, Hussein Mohamed Aidid, who was previously a US Navy soldier.

After years of failed peace talks, Djibouti President Ismaïil Omar Guelleh succeeded in gathering around 400 Somalis from clan militia as well as the old state administration and civil society in 2000. However, neither Somaliland nor Puntland participated. After three months, the conference elected a clan-based parliament, which in turn appointed Abdikassim Salat Hassan as president. The Provisional Government (TNG) was welcomed by war-weary Somalis, but clan leaders, who felt their own power threatened, refused to acknowledge TNG. After a short time, the government force was drawn into the military war and became little more than another faction in the Somali power struggle.

Transitional government is created by peace agreement

The East African cooperation organization Igad in 2002 initiated new peace talks held this time in Kenya. 15 of Somalia’s 20 factions participated, as did TNG, representatives of Somalis in exile and various civilian groups. After two years of bitter power struggles, an agreement was signed in January 2004 between all major warlords and clan leaders to form a transitional parliament with 550 members.

But the violence in Somalia did not stop and in the autumn of 2004 Parliament was held its first session in Nairobi, Kenya. Abdullahi Yussuf Ahmed of the Darod clan was elected president despite some accusing him of war crimes. In the new government, several warlords sat, including Hussein Mohamed Aidid as Minister of the Interior.

Both Kenya and the UN pushed for the government to move to Somalia and the African Union (AU) promised to send troops to help it establish itself in its home country. The issue of foreign troops was also sensitive within the government. Only in June 2005 did the transitional regime move to Somalia, but due to the precarious situation in the capital, Parliament was first abandoned in a few smaller cities west of Mogadishu.

Islamists take over in Mogadishu

At the same time, the Islamic Courts Union (UIC) managed to create some order in Mogadishu. The UIC had grown out of about ten Muslim clandestine courts in the capital, with the support of local businessmen. Their growing influence was seen as a threat by the warlords who had previously controlled Mogadishu. In the spring of 2006, fighting broke out between the UIC militia groups and the Alliance for Peace and Fight against International Terrorism (ARPCT) formed by several warlords. Clans who had previously been at odds with each other agreed to fight the Islamists. However, information that the US assisted ARPCT increased support for the UIC. Reports also surfaced that Ethiopian troops were in Baidoa to protect the transitional government.

On June 5, 2006, the UIC claimed to have mastered the entire Mogadishu. For the first time in many years there was a relative calm in the capital. Islamist militia now took control of increasingly large parts of southern and central Somalia, in many cases without any fighting.

Following pressure from the Arab League, peace talks began in Sudan in 2006 between the transitional government and the Islamists who renamed the Somali Islamic Courts Council (SSICC). Despite some progress, tensions within the country rose. In Mogadishu, the fierce forces in the SSICC, al-Shabaab, dominated Eritrea with weapons. The West and Ethiopia saw its takeover of power as solely negative and chose not to support moderate forces such as Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.

In December 2006, the United Nations Security Council, on the advice of the United States, voted for an AU force, Amisom, to be sent to Somalia to protect the transitional regime. The resolution stated that no neighboring countries were allowed to participate, but the Ethiopian troops already in the country were not mentioned.

The Islamist regime is overthrown with Ethiopian help

Shortly thereafter, fighting broke out. By the end of 2006, the transitional government and the Ethiopian forces were able to enter Mogadishu, which gave up without resistance. Many of the SSICC leaders fled abroad and the organization dissolved. However, militant Islamists returned to the metropolitan area to fight the new regime.

The Islamists and some clan militia now had a common goal: to force Ethiopia to leave the country. Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, but also warlord Hussein Mohamed Aidid traveled to Eritrea, where they formed the Alliance for Somalia’s New Liberation (ARS).
The first Amisom soldiers arrived from Uganda in the first half of 2007, and also became a target for the Islamists. Clashes occurred in several parts of the country and hundreds of thousands of people were displaced. At the same time that many Somalis became dependent on emergency aid, the violence meant that aid organizations were becoming increasingly difficult to assist the population.

In June 2008, talks started between the transitional government and a faction of the ARS in Djibouti, leading to a ceasefire. The parties also agreed that UN troops should be sent to Somalia and that the Ethiopian soldiers should leave. Later that year it was agreed to give the ARS faction a seat in the government and the transition parliament.

A power struggle within the government led to the resignation of President Yussuf at the end of 2008. Former UIC leader Sharif Sheikh Ahmed was elected in January 2009 as new president of the transition parliament.

Around the turn of the year 2008/2009, the Ethiopian troops left Somalia step by step. Faithful troops, including Amisom, then controlled only parts of the metropolitan area. Various Islamist groups, in particular al-Shabaab, covered more and more areas. In 2010, the militia controlled most of southern and central Somalia.

Over time, criticism grew against the president, who was accused of incompetence and corruption. Ministers who were part of strong business networks were said to have enriched themselves, while the government had done nothing to improve the living conditions of ordinary Somalis.

The AU force was gradually strengthened, but apart from Uganda, only Burundi had sent troops. As revenge for Uganda’s role in Somalia, al-Shabaab conducted a suicide attack in Uganda’s capital Kampala in July 2010, demanding some seventy deaths.

From late autumn 2010, Africa’s horns were hit by the most severe drought in 60 years. The situation in Somalia was aggravated by the precarious situation and by the fact that al-Shabaab banned a number of Western aid organizations from working in areas controlled by the group. Another factor that hampered the relief efforts was US fears that money and food could end up with al-Shabaab.

Finally, the disaster became so extensive that in July 2011 al-Shabaab lifted its ban on Western aid organizations. However, the way the Islamist group handled the hunger issue was considered to have weakened it and al-Shabaab left Mogadishu in August of that year. According to the UN, nearly 260,000 people, many of them children, had died by 2012.

In the fall of 2011, Kenya entered Somalia with troops (see Foreign Policy and Defense) and Ethiopia also participated openly in the fighting against al-Shabaab, which was forced to retreat. The militia struck back with attacks, both in Mogadishu and in other parts of the country.

Roadmap to democracy

As the transition regime’s mandate was about to expire, the parties agreed in the fall of 2011 on a “road map” that would step by step lead to the election of a new parliament and a new president, and that Somalia would be given a new constitution. A group of 135 clan elders appointed members of a constituent assembly which in August 2012 approved a provisional constitution. Later that month, the Assembly appointed members of a new parliament (see Political system).

In September of that year, the new parliament elected political activist Hassan Sheikh Mohamud as new president. He defeated, by a good margin, the incumbent president. Before the election, Sheikh Mohamud had promised general elections for 2016.

Somalia Modern History