Monday, March 19, 2012

Somalia: the Complexities

Somalia has had no central government since 1991 and that has led to displacement of many people, internally and externally. Since 2006, there has been renewed armed conflict in the country and with the rise of Al Shabaab, the situation continues to worsen. Displaced Somalis have fled to neighbouring countries, Kenya and Ethiopia, and are mostly accommodated in the Dadaab (20 years old in 2012) and Bokolmayo refugee camps respectively. Within Somalia, the Afgooye camp has continued to house fleeing Somalis from Mogadishu, where fighting is a daily occurrence. But of course other neighbours in the East and Central Africa region (Tanzania, Uganda, Djibouti, Rwanda, Burundi, Sudan etc) have also continued to receive many refugees from the country.

Many African countries that have had instabilities have gone through mediation and conflict resolution processes that have ultimately led to ‘peace’. But with Somalia, it would seems like the classic mediation processes have continued to fail and many people wonder why this is the case. The Somalia conflict is a very complex issue and a number of factors have led to the crisis (the list is not by any chance exhaustive):

1. The clan structure
Most of Somalia is arid and its people have been pastoralists for centuries. Most of these communities are clan based and ruled by traditional elders. When Somalia descended into civil war, a huge number of small arms were seized by different clans and these were used to fight each other. Also, in the advent of multi-party democracy in the country in the late 60’s, most of the political parties were formed along the clan system. This has made reconciliation amongst the different clans very difficult.

2. Competition for resources
Since time in memorial, Somali clans (and due to their pastoralist nature) have clashed over resources (pasture, water and livestock). Traditionally, these disputes were settled by clan elders but as people moved into urban areas, the types of resources needed also changed. There was a quick realisation that whoever controlled government, would control the recruitment process for government employees, disbursement of foreign aid, and government resources (Elmi and Barise, 2006). Corruption, use of the military for to solve clan disputes, political patronage in appointment of government officials soon became rampant, and the overthrow of President Barre was fuelled majorly by this.

3. The Ethiopia element
Somalia and Ethiopia have had a long running conflict since time in memorial. They have both been used by the US and Soviet Union in the Cold War, have engaged in war over the Ogaden region and other conflicts (in fact, these two have been at it in 1899-1905, 1964, 1977-1978, 1982, 2006-present). There is no doubt that Ethiopia has provided arms and other machinery to rebel clans and groups to assist in fighting each further destabilising Somalia. So long as Ethiopia keeps meddling in the peace process, Somalia may remain a stateless country for a longer time to come.

4. Warlords and Al Shabaab
Since Somalia exploded, factions led by clan warlords, terrorist groups (of particular mention, Al Shabaab), proxy armies and other armed groups have determined to continue intimidating Somali civilians and using violence to detract from peace. Al Shabaab, for instance, controls the entire of southern Somalia. These groups are constantly fighting each other for control of resources and continue to destabilise the country.

Given the above, it is very difficult to claim that any one solution is required to solve the problem. Many have indeed argued that there can be no Somalia solution that assumes that Western methods will work without taking into consideration the root causes of the problem and I would support this notion.

There can be no peace in Somalia without considerations of the role of informal groupings i.e. clan systems, and incorporating these in any peace accord. Maybe a central government in Somalia must be inclusive of all the clans and perhaps local government should be based on the clan system.

Maybe resources mobilisation and use should take into consideration the best possible way of making sure that all groupings benefit from such resources.

Maybe it’s time for Somalis in exile and those at home to focus on finding a solution to the crisis that is not led by Western powers.

The Chairperson of the Somali expatriate group in South Africa was interviewed on Africa360 (eNews Channel in South Africa) a couple of weeks ago and he said that there can be no progress on the implementation of recommendations from conferences so long as these conferences are held outside Somalia, the agendas determined by non-Somalis and implementation expected to be done by Somalis. And he is right, in my opinion.

  1. Elmi AA and Barise A (2006) The Somali Conflict: Root causes, obstacles, and peace-building strategies
Further Information
  1. Wars between the East African neighbors of Ethiopia and Somalia
  2. Roots of the Crisis (Somalia)
  3. The issues in Somalia

Friday, March 16, 2012

Somalia: a Brief History

Map of Somalia  
The war and instability in Somalia has been going on for a long time- 21 years in 2012 to be exact. I was only a few years old when it all exploded and remember vivid pictures on TV (my parents still had a black and white TV then) of American soldiers that had been killed being paraded on the streets of Mogadishu. And things have never been the same since. Many atrocities have been committed by a number of groups and very often (because of the prolonged war) a lot of people are unaware of the real issues surrounding the crisis in Somalia. I am going to write a series of blogs that provide some information and sources of information on the crisis in Somalia. 

For those geographically challenged (please raise your hands if you have watched the KONY2012 video and heard the narrator talking about Uganda being in Central Africa!), Somalia is the easternmost country in East Africa in a region often referred to as the Horn Africa. It is bordered by Djibouti to the northwest, Kenya to the southwest, the Gulf of Aden with Yemen to the north, the Indian Ocean to the east, and Ethiopia to the west. It has the longest coastline on the continent, and its terrain consists mainly of plateaus, plains and highlands. Hot conditions prevail year-round, along with periodic monsoon winds and irregular rainfall.

Somalia was colonised by both Britain and Italy and gained independence in 1960 although it was under the rulership of Britain in 1941-1950. Prior to this, Somalia was split into British Somaliland, Italian Somaliland (both on the Coast), and the Dervish State (controlled by Muhammad Abdullah Hassan in the interior). In 1960, all these regions amalgamated into one, the Somalia Republic which would be led by a Civilian government. In 1961, the country adopted its first constitution resulting from a nationwide referendum  

In 1969 Abdi Rashid Ali Shirmarke, Somalia's second President, was assassinated and in the following days a military coup, led by Major General Muhammed Siyad Barre, gained control of the country. In 1970 Barre declared Somalia a socialist state successfully ending any hope for a multi party democracy. Somalia had always wanted to claim all the other areas in neighbouring countries that had Somali populations (Kenya, Djibouti, and Ethiopia) and it’s a move to reconcile with Ethiopia over this issue that led to this military coup (Somalia has since reconciled with Kenya and Djibouti over this issue). Somalia and Ethiopia have been enemies since the 16th Century and as we will see in future blogs, this animosity has somewhat contributed to the instability in Somalia.

The regime of Barre proved to be unfriendly to opposition parties, ethnically divided and the excessive use of the military to protect interests of the regime were evident. By the 1980’s, Somalia had engaged in another conflict, to seize the region of Ogaden from Ethiopia but had lost the war and intensified the animosity between the two countries. During the cold War, the Americans supported Somalia in another conflict with Ethiopia aimed at protecting its territory in the West. By the late 1980s wars had broken out in the Northern region of the country (between ethnic groups and government forces), many ethnic groups had armed young men to fight the Defence Force and with continued looting of the national treasury by Barre and his ‘kitchen’ cabinet, the economic collapse of Somalia was evident.

In 1991, a coup, by opposing clans, overthrew Barre and this was the beginning of the end of any form of governance in Somalia. The country has had no central government since then. Various negotiations have led to the institution of transitional national governments (at one point this government was fully based in Kenya), many international conferences have been held to discuss how to resolve the crisis, food insecurity, economic collapse and vulnerabilities within Somalia especially for the poor have intensified, and the situation has worsened for many that are unable to leave the country. Yet, in 2012, the international community (including Somalis in exile) has been unable to resolve the crisis. But is it the international community that should be solving the crisis or is it Somalis in Somalia? And if the latter, do they have enough capacity to resolve the issues?

Somalia is indeed plagued by a myriad of problems, and needs a myriad of solutions as we will see in future blogs.

On the next blog, we look at the big issues in the Somali Conflict!

For more background information on Somalia’s history:
  1. Somalia Profile
  2. Somalia
  3. Background Note: Somalia
  4. Somalia: a country in Turmoil

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Thoughts on Kenya's New Constitution

Map of Kenya

This blog post has been long coming and i am quite glad that I can finally post it!

Kenya has a new constitution! This is something that my ancestors fought for but never lived to see the day that we would have reforms on the old constitution, riddled with problems. Since the euphoria about the constitution has died down, I decided that I would read through the document to see what the key changes were (for me) and that’s what I will focus on here.