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The Causes of Somalia’s Civil War (Fall 2102)

            Somalia is located in Eastern Africa, bordering the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. Bordering countries are Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya. Recently, Somalia was in the news when the United Nations announced that there was a famine in some parts of Somalia and called it the worst drought in 60 years. When people think about Somalia, all they seem to know about it is war, famine, pirates and terrorism. Somalia has had a dysfunctional government since 1991 when the Somali civil occurred.  According to GlobalSecurity.org, “since 1991, an estimated 350,000 to 1,000,000 Somalis had died because of the conflict.” It is still an ongoing war today.  Somali are from the same ethnic group, share the same language, culture, and religion but yet they somehow find differences to fight about. There are many causes of the Somali civil war and what is still fueling it up to today but I will just focus on some of the root causes like dictatorship, clan system, bad economy, and territorial problems.

            Politics and Government is a factor that had a great influence on Somalia’s civil war. The president Mohamed Siad Barre was known as the general who lead the coup d’etat and came into power by force after the assassination of President Sharmarke. He was viewed as a dictator by some and he had a negative impact in Somalia’s history by playing the role as one of the causes of the civil war. President Barre who ruled the country since 1969 was over thrown by clan-based militias. He once said, "When I came to Mogadishu...[t]here was one road built by the Italians. If you try to force me to stand down, I will leave the city as I found it. I came to power with a gun; only the gun can make me go. That’s exactly what happened. He ruled with an iron fist and anything he says goes. President Barre proclaimed a socialist state and believed in nationalism. He established the Somali language to be the official language and was anti-tribalism. He also advocated for Greater Somalia which included the Ogaden region also known as Western Somalia (who is still under the occupation of Ethiopia even after the Ogaden war that was led by Barre), Djibouti, and the North Eastern province of Kenya, NFD. Barre was accused of human rights abuses. George James from the New York Times reported that “In June 1990, a hundred prominent citizens signed a declaration called the Mogadishu Manifesto, calling for his resignation and the appointment of a transitional government pending free elections.  He called the manifesto "destructive," and jailed 45 of those who had signed it, but about a month later he ordered their release. He agreed to multi-party parliamentary elections to be scheduled in February but later canceled them and the civil war took its course.”  

            Somalia was colonized by Italy and Britain. Italian Somaliland and British Somaliland later united and formed the Somali Republic in 1960, which will be later known as Somalia’s Independence Day, on July 1st.  Because of this history of colonialism, Somalia still to this day has regional problems. There regions, districts, and states divided within the country. North Somalia, or Somaliland has cut ties with the South and does not intent to reunite. Somaliland is unrecognized, self-declared state and Puntland along with the other regions has acknowledged themselves as autonomous states.  Competition for power and resources has continued to divide these regions.

            Tribalism is one of the major causes of the Somali civil war.  Even to this day, the first thing a Somali wants to know about another Somali is what clan does he or she belongs to. In order for a Somali to recognize a government or a political party, they need to have a clan representative who will think about their people. “Clans form the bedrock of Somali society and identity, but political exploitation of their rivalries has blocked every attempt at peace since Somalia collapsed into war in 1991.” (Reuters, 2011)

            The economy also played a big role.  “The scarcity of Somalia’s resources is one of the driving forces of the conflict, as different groups compete for these limited resources” (Afyare, Barise, 12). Somalia has always been a poor country and is still undeveloped today. The Somali people have relied on foreign aid for many years and when that was taken away, it had troubled a lot of people.

            Political, Economic, and Social problems are some of the root causes of the Somali civil war. Somalia is a county who has known war after war and famine after famine. If you ask most Somalis today, they will tell you that they want peace. It’s time to put down the gun and pick up the pen. The international community has held countless peace conferences, provided millions of aid, but still has failed to bring peace. The only people who can bring peace to themselves are the Somali people. Maybe they can finally learn lessons from the past and start thinking about the future. The Somalis in the diaspora is using education to fight back right now. This young generation today can maybe store hope one day. 

  1. Pike, John. "Military." Somalia Civil War. Global Security, 20 Apr. 2012. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.
  2. James, George. "Somalia's Overthrown Dictator, Mohammed Siad Barre, Is Dead." The New York Times. The New York Times, 03 Jan. 1995. Web. 09 Dec. 2012.
  3. Maclean, William. "Somali Group Fights Tribalism in Diaspora." Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 08 Dec. 2011. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.
  4. Elmi, Afyare A., and Abdullahi Barise. "The Somali Conflict: Root Causes, Obstacles, and Peace-building Strategies." Institute for Security Studies. African Security Review, n.d. Web. 9 Dec. 2012.