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Nickolay Kosukhin

Doctor of History, Professor of Russian University of Peoples’ Friendship, Institute of African Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Why did dramatic events occur in Somalia which led to the collapse of the state as a result of two decades of civil war?

How to solve the Somali crisis?

External peace efforts coupled with the experience of resolving inter-clan conflicts by the traditional Somali society may yield positive results.

Why did dramatic events occur in Somalia which led to the collapse of the state as a result of two decades of civil war? How to solve the Somali crisis? External peace efforts coupled with the experience of resolving inter-clan conflicts by the traditional Somali society may yield positive results.

The Origins of Inter-Clan Civil War

The Republic of Somalia no longer exists as a single state. After the collapse of the dictatorial regime of Siad Barre it split into a host of self-governed enclaves. On the territory of Somalia have emerged quasi-states - Somaliland and Puntland. The process of formation of new "self-declared states" is under way. One example is the proclamation of a new state – Azania – in the territory bordering on Kenya. The official Federal Transitional Government is unable to resolve inter-clan conflicts and put an end to the civil war. The reasons for the dissolution of the state are rooted in the country’s territorial fragmentation inherited from the colonial past: the country was divided into Italian, British and French Somalia, with the clan structure of the society causing a constant struggle in this or that region for the dominance between the clans for pastures, water sources and cattle. Due to the nomadic way of life the life-style of clans is different however a strong clan identity is maintained. [1]

Inter-clan contradictions in this Muslim country have a permanent source in the confrontation of moderate and radical extremists and interference of neighboring countries, above all Ethiopia and Eritrea as well as the US which explains its interference by the necessity not to allow Somalia to turn into an African center of “Al-Qaeda”.

As a result of social and economic situation in the country, virtual absence of centralized power, famine and poverty of the population in the coastal area of Somalia (about 1,700 km) the local population turned to piracy as a means of earning an income and solving the survival problem. Warlords and leaders of tribal clans are not interested in countering piracy because they themselves are involved in it.

UN and African Union Peacekeeping Efforts in Somalia

The world community realizes quite well that if the current situation in Somalia remains unchanged, it may lead to the escalation of tension in the whole unstable region of the African Horn and provoke further deterioration of the country’s social and economic situation.

From the start of the civil war in Somalia the UN Security Council in April of 1992 adopted a decision to launch the UN Operation in Somalia UNOSOM I and in March of 1993 – UNOSOM II and sanctioned armed interference.

The vanguard of the Joint Task Force consisted of the US armed detachments. American marines landed on the country’s coast and began the operation “Restore Hope”. Along with Americans participated detachments from 20 countries totaling 30,000 [2]>.

However, certain tactical mistakes were made in the conduct of the US operation. One example is that the UNO representatives refused to hold direct negotiations with the leaders of armed groups, which had a negative impact on the operation. Besides, the UN Mission command took a decision to forcibly disarm militant groups; if an armed Somali refused to surrender his weapon he could be shot at. This was a direct challenge to all the armed groups. The same effect had the efforts to seize the rebellious general Mohamed Aidid and his close associates. All these steps resulted in the rejection of the UN humanitarian intervention by rank-and-file Somalis.

The Somali operation cost the United Nations Organization about three billion dollars. 165 servicemen and civil employees were killed. That was one of the main reasons why the humanitarian intervention was stopped. Its failure in 1992-1995 was a result of the heavy-handed policy of force conducted without regard for local conditions, which adversely affected the peacekeepers’ image (local population began to look upon them as occupants). Finally the UN forces left Somalia and chaos reigned in the country.

To sum up, neither the UN peacekeeping efforts nor attempts of neighboring countries to stop armed inter-clan clashes had any effect. Taking advantage of the situation the radical movement the Union of Islamist Courts (UIC) stepped in, establishing in 2006 control over Mogadishu, central and southern regions of the country.

In December 2006 Ethiopia with the US support unilaterally brought its troops into Somalia in order, as it was declared, to render support to the legitimate government. The UIC insurgents were ousted from Mogadishu and most other areas under their control. American planes also participated directly in fighting against the Islamists [3].

Under these conditions in 2007 the African Union (AU) decided to set up its own mission – AMISOM – totaling eight thousand people [4].

In subsequent years the UN SC repeatedly raised the question of the situation in Somali, with 13 resolutions adopted by the Council on the issue. At the same time it was reluctant to send a UN peacekeeping mission to the country. The Security Council extended the mandate of the AU peacekeeping mission to Somalia until October 31, 2012 and called on the African countries to increase its numerical strength from eight to twelve thousand people.

Today the only force capable of at least mitigating the armed clashes is the AU Peacekeeping Mission consisting of eight thousand Ugandan and Burundi soldiers. It is apparent that African countries are not ready to send their forces to take part in peacekeeping operations separately because of lack of funds and a threat to the peacekeepers’ lives.

As a result of the civil war only during the last three years 21 thousand people were killed, 1.5 million lost their shelters and 500 thousand became refugees [5].

There were certain hopes that Arab countries, in particular the Arab League, could play a role. However, the “Arab spring” has indefinitely postponed these plans.

Thus admittedly the situation in Somalia was and still remains on the periphery of the international community’s interests.

That said, during the recent years the maritime piracy and armed brigandry at sea near the coast of Somalia have been causing increasing concern on the part of European countries resulting in increased UN allocations for the support of AMISOM. On the initiative of the UNO several international conferences were called to deal with this problem. The world community is also concerned that Somalia may become the second Afghanistan and turn into an Al-Qaeda base as it attracts insurgents from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Pakistan. At the moment their number has reached over two thousand people [6].

The rise to power early in 2009 of the new president of Somalia Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, a moderate Islamist, formerly one of the leaders of the IUC, and the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops have been seen by the world community as a great step forward in the settlement of the Somali conflict. It was assumed that the president would be able to reach an agreement on cooperation with the leaders of Islamist organizations and include their representatives into the government. The parliament adopted the main conditions of reconciliation – the official recognition of Sharia laws in the country. However, these concessions turned out to be ineffective. What the Islamists wanted was complete control over the central government.

At the consultative meeting of some leaders of the country in Mogadishu on September 6, 2011 supported by the UN a road map was approved. According to the plan, by the end of August a new constitution was to be drafted, a parliamentary reform carried out, democratic elections held and measures for ensuring national security taken. At the same time the Transitional Federal Government was recommended to decentralize governance, i.e. to delegate part of the functions and resources to local administrations and groups providing their interaction with the central government.

The primary goal of these and other recommendations is to create a federal form of government where the lower government bodies would be granted sufficiently broad authority.

In our opinion it all boils down to regional autonomy of a union of clans (ethno-regional autonomy) interacting within a single state and having their representatives in central parliament. Certainly the specific forms of autonomy must be the subject of constructive negotiations. The autonomy may have in its jurisdiction provision of security, control over pastures, water and other resources, participation in the adoption of major government decisions etc.

It should be taken into consideration that Somalis not only have the experience of clan clashes but also traditions of the restoration of peace and good-neighborly relations as the life of a Somali nomad, of a clan was a constant struggle for survival in extremely unfavorable natural and ecological conditions. As a result in the Somali traditional society there has evolved a practice of solving all disputes within a clan and with neighbors through the structures based on social contract (xeer), the council of elders (hurki) and assembly (shir) of adult men. Such a practice of solving contradictions made it possible for I. Lewis, an English researcher, to call the Somali society “a shepherds’ democracy”.

These characteristics should have been taken into account in the activities of the UN peacekeeping forces and currently the mission of the African Union. The combination of internal and external peacekeeping efforts may bring positive results.

1. (Africa. Encyclopedia) Африка. Энциклопедия. В 2-х т. Т. 2. М., 2010. С. 674.

2. Africa South of Sahara. L., 2009. P. 1651.

3. (Africa and the World in the 21st Century) Африка и мир в XXI веке. М., 2010. С. 286.

4. (Urnov A.Y) Урнов А.Ю. Африка и ООН. М., 2011.

5. (Urnov A.Y.) Урнов А.Ю. Африка и ООН. М., 2011. С. 111.

6. (Vestnik “Kompas”) Вестник «Компас». 2010. № 30. 15 июля. С. 45

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