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TM, ®, Copyright © 2021 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

TM, ®, Copyright © 2021 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Nations in Crisis: Somalia
Articles on Somalia before 2021

  • (august 2021) Nations in crisis: Somalia
    (Part of a series on "Nations in Crisis")

    Somalia is not a nation in crisis: it is a nation that doesn't exist. Somalia experienced total state collapse in 1991 after Marxist-Leninist dictator Siad Barre was deposed, ending his 22-year rule. Despite the fact that the country is all Muslim, civil war erupted among the various clans. The northern part, originally a British colony (mostly dominated by the Isaaq and Dir clans), declared independence as Somaliland, and remains de facto its own state with capital in Hargeisa, with none of the violence that destabilizes southern Somalia. In 1998 Puntland too became a self-ruling entity but doesn't aspire to full independence anymore.

    Whatever order existed in Somalia's capital Mogadishu in the 1990s was due to the Islamic courts. In 2000 they formed the Union of Islamic Courts and elected the moderate Sharif Ahmed as chairman. Aden Hashi Ayro/Aero organized the armed militia Al-Shabaab to support the Union.

    At the same time a group of Somali politicians led by Abdiqasim Salad Hassan established (in 2000) the Transitional National Government in Djibouti, a neighboring city-state, and organized (in 2004) a national reconciliation conference in Kenya's capital Nairobi of a Transitional Federal Government that appointed Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed as president. Since Mogadishu was in the middle of a war pitting the Islamic Courts Union against warlords, he settled in the southwestern city of Baidoa, protected by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). His prime minister was Ali Gedi but he lived in exile in Kenya.

    After 15 years of chaos, in June 2006 the Union of Islamic Courts seized control of Mogadishu. In December 2006 Ethiopia invaded Somalia and installed president Abdullahi Yusuf and Ali Gedi in Mogadishu (they would become bitter rivals). In March 2007 Mogadishu experienced its first suicide bombing, which killed 73 people: Al-Shabaab had become a terrorist organization affiliated with Al Qaeda. Al-Shabaab fought the Ethiopian troops for three years. Thousands of "terrorists" were killed by the (wildly unpopular) Ethiopians. Ethiopia eventually withdrew in January 2009 and ironically, the clans chose Sharif Ahmed as president of Somalia, replacing Abdullahi Yusuf.

    In May 2008 an air strike by the USA had killed Al Shabaab's leader Ayro and his successor Ahmed Godane turned against Sharif Ahmed's government. In May 2009 Al Shabaab laid siege to Mogadishu, trying to remove Ahmed from power, at the cost of hundreds of lives. For the next ten years Somalia was devastated by Al Shabaab terrorism and its territorial expansion, especially in the south. In June 2009 a car bomb killed a minister and 35 people. In December 2009 a suicide attack killed 20 people, including four ministers. In August 2010 they killed 30 people at a hotel in Somalia's capital. The conflict expanded against beyond Somalia's borders when Al Shabaab militants kidnapped foreign nationals in Kenya, and pirates became a serious threat off the coast of Somalia (African pirates took a record 1181 hostages in 2010, of which 1016 off the coast of Somalia, hijacking 53 ships of which 49 off the coast of Somalia). In November 2010 Somali-USA citizen Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed was appointed Somalia's new prime minister (by president Sharif Ahmed) but the effect was short lived. It is more likely that the turning point for Somalia's war against Al Shabaab was the famine that killed nearly 260,000 people, half of them children, between 2010 and 2012. It probably weakened Al Shabaab. In August 2011 the African Union Mission to Somalia, originally deployed in 2007, helped government troops to expel Al Shabaab from most of Mogadishu. In October 2011 Kenya invaded Somalia and helped the government to liberate southern Somalia. In August 2012 Somalia's first internationally recognized government since 1991 was inauguarated (with president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, founder of the Peace and Development Party, loosely affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood) and in October 2012 Kenyan troops delivered Jubaland's capital Kismayo, the last stronghold of Al Shabaab, to such government (or, better, to Ahmed Madobe, a former rebel).

    Al Shabaab continued its terrorist campaign: in April 2013 at least 20 people were killed in a series of bomb and gun attacks in Mogadishu; in September 2013 Al Shabaab retaliated by storming a shopping centre in Kenya's capital Nairobi and killing 67 people; two months later they turned against the peacekeeping troops of the African Union, killing 19 of them; in February 2014 they attacked Somalia's presidential palace killing two senior officials; in May 2014 they attacked Somalia's parliament killing at least 10 people; and in September 2014 a suicide bomber attacked again African Union troops. Finally the USA decided to intervene: in September 2014 an air strike killed Al Shabaab's leader Ahmed Godane. At the same time, Ethiopia reentered Somalia in 2014, joining Kenyan forces and the African Union. This was de facto the beginning of a remote war between the USA and Al Shabaab: Al Shabaab continued to attack the US-recognized Somali government, the peacekeepers of the African Union and the Kenyan troops, while the USA continued to bomb Al Shabaab. In June 2015 the Islamists attacked an African Union military base and in January 2016 they killed 180 Kenyan troops in el-Ade and 20 people in a restaurant at Mogadishu's Lido beach. In March 2016 the USA killed about 150 Al Shabaab fighters, but in June 2016 Al Shabaab attacked a hotel in Mogadishu and in September they killed a Somali general. Suicide bombers and car bombs killed people in and around Mogadishu, with increasing disregard for civilians. In February 2017 a car bomb killed 34 people at a market, in June 2017 they attacked another hotel and another restaurant, in July 2019 they killed 26 people at a Kismayo hotel in southern Somalia, and in December 2019 a bomb killed 94 people in Mogadishu. At the same time, between 2016 and 2020, when Donald Trump was president, the USA carried out 196 air strikes in Somalia, using both drones and manned aircrafts, killing hundreds of people. There were also about 700 US troops on the ground until January 2021, training the elite Somali commando force called Danab. They had arrived in October 2013. Less well known is that Turkey's largest overseas military base is in Somalia, and Turkish advisors are training Somali soldiers. (Turkey rebuilt Mogadishu's international airport and is planning to upgrade the port).

    Meanwhile the political front improved a bit. In February 2017 Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (nicknamed "Farmajo") became Somalia's president. He and prime minister Hassan Ali Khayre are openly supported by Ethiopia and the USA. Somalia is now officially a federal republic made up of the five semi-autonomous states rather than a chaotic assortment of clans and nomadic groups: Puntland (president Said Abdullahi Dani, who lost to Farmajo in 2017), Galmudug (president is former prime minister Ahmed Kariye), Hirshabelle (president Ali Abdullahi Hussein), Jubaland (president is former warlord Ahmed Madobe), and South West. Mogadishu has a special status (called Banaadir). Abdiaziz Hassan Mohamed aka Laftagareen is president of South West State since December 2018 but that has created a serious problem. In October 2018 Mukhtar Robow, Ahmed Godane's old deputy who defected from Al Shabaab in 2017, decided to turn politician and run for the presidency of South West State (which, incidentally, is by far Somalia's most violent state). It was obvious that president Farmajo and prime minister Khayre supported Laftagareen. Robow was arrested (apparently by Ethiopian troops) and is still in jail. He was only guilty of being a popular opposition candidate.

    Indirect elections (not popular elections) were scheduled for September 2020 but have been postponed to August-October 2021 (yes they will take three months), while president Farmajo is bickering with new prime minister Mohamed Hussein Roble. It is a good sign that they can do business, but violence has not abated, mainly because the politicians are still competing for power despite the many signed agreements. Tension between the central government and Kenya-supported Ahmed Madobe's government in Jubaland state help Al Shabaab. Clashes between the Darod and Hawiye clans in Galmudug state helped Al Shabaab reorganize there: in June 2021 Al Shabaab attacked a military base in Wisil town and killed 30 people. Ditto in Hirshabelle, where Ali Abdullahi Hussein's troops clased with secessionist General Xuud's militia. Even Puntland is under constant attack: Al Shabaab killed two governors (in March and May 2020) and in March 2021 freed 400 inmates from a Bosaso prison. Not surprisingly, the USA has resumed its air strikes against Al Shabaab.

    What has not changed in Somalia is the tribal nature of politics. The 2021 elections will mainly pit clan against clan. The Hawiye clan, prevalent in Hirshabelle and Galmudug, has given Somalia politicians like Gedi, Hassan Mohamud, Roble and prime minister Hassan Khaire. The Darod clan, prevalent in Puntland and Jubaland, has given Dani, Madobe and Farmajo. The Rahanweyn are the majority in the South West state. Running for president are the current president (Farmajo would become the first ever Somali president to serve a second term), former presidents Hassan Mohamud and Sharif Ahmed, former prime minister Hassan Khaire, and even a woman, Fawzia Yusuf Haji Adam, who served as minister of foreign affairs and deputy prime minister in 2012-13.

    Like in Libya, the dictator had kept the country together and all but eliminated the influence of Islam. His fall re-tribalized Somalia and allowed Islamist organizations to increase their influence.

    What has changed dramatically is the composition of Somalia's population: 70% are under the age of 35, which means that 70% of Somalis have lived their entire life in pure anarchy. It is impossible for the rest of the world to imagine what these Somalis think and want.

    For example, you'd be surprise to hear that, in a country as poor as Somalia, opioids are spreading, especially among young women. Pharmacists make good money preparing and selling drugs like morphine, tramadol, pethidine and codeine. It is not clear where addicted young girls find the money to buy these drugs, but clearly it doesn't bode well for the future of a country that already has one of the highest crime rates in the world.


    The presidential election was endlessly postponed. Meanwhile, in 2021 the USA withdrew all troops from Somalia. Finally in May 2022 the bickering clans reached an agreement and former president Hassan Mohamud was reelected president of Somalia (he had been president from 2012 to 2017). Then the USA sent back troops to fight al-Shabab.

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