Understanding nature of conflict in Somalia

Posted on 26/12/2010


Unlike many African countries, Somalia is one of the most homogeneous countries in Africa. All Somalis are Muslim Sunni, and enjoy same culture and language. They are one tribe with clans and sub-clans. However, Somalia faced most catastrophic war in Africa for last twenty years. There have been numerous attempts, both internal and external at finding compromise and sustainable peace in Somalia. At least seventeen Conferences have been held in different places at different times, in which most of them ended with failure. Today, Somalia is without effective government with Al –Shabab taking most of the southern Somalia under their regime.  The violence in Somalia is not till born conflict but of proliferation of structure violence representing as complex interrelated political, social, and economic back ground. However, the problem of violence can be studied at three levels; direct violence, structural violence, and social violence.

War, killing, rape, and any form of physical damage are examples of direct violence, which is visible. On the other hand, structural violence which is invisible is product of social, political, and economic systems. Examples of this kind include oppression, poverty, hunger, discrimination (based on race, religion, gender, etc).

John Galtung was the first scholar who to introduce the concept of structure violence in 1976, in attempt to explain the effects of inequalities in human being (Galtung: 1969) accordingly this, structural violence stems from social, political and economic systems, creating disparities between groups of people. Moreover, Galtung argues that structural violence is not inevitable: it can be avoided by changing behavior. He maintains that structural violence causes direct violence. Those that are exploited or oppressed accommodate violence as instrument for change. Somalia’s conflict can be understood According to this concept.  

Pre colonial era, Somalia’s life was nomadic nature without complexity, all you needed was to belong a clan, which was central fact of the society, clan served as the source for governing, and conflict managing.   History reminds us that there was some times tension between the clans over scarce resources such as grazing and water. Historically Elders had played major role through mediations and negotiations to end such conflict.

In Colonial era, Somalia was Balkanized into colonial enclaves, in which new and entirely different colonial culture, economic and governance institutions were introduced. During this period, Somalis suffered harsh at the hands of the new imperial colonists. They were subjugated, exploited and lived inferior conditions. As reaction to this oppression and exploitation new armed struggle against colonial powers was on surface, led by Sayid Mohamed Abdulle called Mad Mullah by British, in which many died.

After long struggle, Somalia gained independency on 1960 announcing first Republic of Somalia and Aden Abdulla became head of the government, at this period, citizens enjoyed a high political participation under Aden Abdulla and more youth immigrated toward urban areas to find better life. However, the newly selected government poorly educated lacked essentials of running the country’s affairs such as resource managing, distributing wealth and failed to fulfill employment equality between citizens. Corruption was at high level. This accelerated intervention of the military establishment into political agenda. October, 1969, the first selected government was ended by Gen. Barre as was termed the bloodless coup. Mr. Barre created a governing body called the revolutionary council to run affairs in the country.

In the early  days of the military regime there was undeniable success in building institutions, schools, writing down Somali language script guaranteeing free education, medical, developing infrastructure and call to bury tribalism which seemed as breading source for social fragmentary was not exceptional. The principle of equality had been encouraged to enhance social and economic opportunity for all.

However, the Regime with funds from international partners began to build up one of the largest standing armies in Sub- Sahara of Africa and allocated much of state resource for that purpose. Such an excessive armament negatively came on price of the grieved poor Somalis, but also sent a frightening massage to Ethiopia, the traditional enemy of Somalia. Often, Ethiopia and Somalia have had tensions on Ogadenia (Somali-galbeed).

As Barre’s government was weakened politically and economically in mid 1980s, the situation was fuelled by many unemployed youth who stayed at streets looking for opportunity of survival. This was alarming bell that Somalia was heading toward worse.

On the other hand, liberation movements based on their clan identity and backed by Ethiopia began flourishing across the Country, eventually leading to the civil war.

Finally, to understand the roots of the conflict in Somalia it is necessary to look back and draw lessons from the past; this will enable us to put the frame work for any future peace process and will enhance our standing of essentials of peace, stability, and development in Somalia.  What we would look at in details could be: 1) Pre-Colonial Era, 2) Colonial Period 3) after Independency 4) and Military regime period.

After comprehensive details of each stage and more discussion on what was right, what was wrong, then we can move toward next phase of reconciliation and mediation, after that, in the third phase we will be able to talk about stability, peace, development , human security, esc.

Cabduulahi Warfa

 Saturday, December 25, 2010

Posted in: African papers