A SIAD BARRE regime was ousted in January 1991; turmoil, factional fighting, and
anarchy followed for nine years. In May of 1991, northern clans declared an independent
Republic of Somaliland which now includes the administrative regions of Awdal,
Woqooyi Galbeed, Togdheer, Sanaag, and Sool. Although not recognized by any government,
this entity has maintained a stable existence, aided by the overwhelming dominance
of the ruling clan and economic infrastructure left behind by British, Russian,
and American military assistance programs. The regions of Bari and Nugaal comprise
a neighboring self-declared Republic of Puntland, which has also made strides
towards reconstructing legitimate, representative government. Beginning in 1993,
a two-year UN humanitarian effort (primarily in the south) was able to alleviate
famine conditions, but when the UN withdrew in 1995, having suffered significant
casualties, order still had not been restored. A Transitional National Government
(TNG) was created in October 2000 in Arta, Djibouti which was attended by a broad
representation of Somali clans. The TNG has a three-year mandate to create a permanent
national Somali government. The TNG does not recognize Somaliland or Puntland
as independent republics but so far has been unable to reunite them with the unstable
regions in the south; numerous warlords and factions are still fighting for control
of Mogadishu and the other southern regions. |
Somalia is located on the east coast of Africa on and north of the Equator
and, with Ethiopia and Djibouti, is often referred to as the Horn of Africa. It
comprises Italy's former Trust Territory of Somalia and the former British Protectorate
of Somaliland (now seeking recognition as an independent state). The coastline
extends 2,720 kilometers (1,700 mi.).
The northern part of the country
is hilly, and in many places the altitude ranges between 900 and 2,100 meters
(3,000 ft.-7,000 ft.) above sea level. The central and southern areas are flat,
with an average altitude of less than 180 meters (600 ft.). The Juba and the Shebelle
Rivers rise in Ethiopia and flow south across the country toward the Indian Ocean.
The Shebelle, however, does not reach the sea.
Major climatic factors are a
year-round hot climate, seasonal monsoon winds, and irregular rainfall with recurring
droughts. Mean daily maximum temperatures range from 30oC to 40oC
(85o F-105oF), except at higher elevations and along the
east coast. Mean daily minimums usually vary from about 15oC to 30oC
The southwest monsoon, a sea breeze,
makes the period from about May to October the mildest season at Mogadishu. The
December-February period of the northeast monsoon also is relatively mild, although
prevailing climatic conditions in Mogadishu are rarely pleasant. The "tangambili"
periods that intervene between the two monsoons (October-November and March-May)
are hot and humid.
as the seventh century A.D., indigenous Cushitic peoples began to mingle with
Arab and Persian traders who had settled along the coast. Interaction over the
centuries led to the emergence of a Somali culture bound by common traditions,
a single language, and the Islamic faith.
Today, about 60% of all Somalis are
nomadic or semi-nomadic pastoralists who raise cattle, camels, sheep, and goats.
About 25% of the population are settled farmers who live mainly in the fertile
agricultural zone between the Juba and Shebelle Rivers in southern Somalia. The
remainder of the population (15%-20%) is urban.
Sizable ethnic groups in the
country include Bantu agricultural workers, several thousand Arabs and some hundreds
of Indians and Pakistanis. Nearly all inhabitants speak the Somali language, which
remained unwritten until October 1973, when the Supreme Revolutionary Council
(SRC) proclaimed it the nation's official language and decreed an orthography
using Latin letters. Somali is now the language of instruction in schools, to
the extent that these exist. Arabic, English, and Italian also are used extensively.
Early history traces the development of the Somali people to an Arab sultanate,
which was founded in the seventh century A.D. by Koreishite immigrants from Yemen.
During the 15th and 16th centuries, Portuguese traders landed in present Somali
territory and ruled several coastal towns. The sultan of Oman and Zanzibar subsequently
took control of these towns and their surrounding territory.
history began in the late l9th century, when various European powers began to
trade and establish themselves in the area. The British East India Company's desire
for unrestricted harbor facilities led to the conclusion of treaties with the
sultan of Tajura as early as 1840. It was not until 1886, however, that the British
gained control over northern Somalia through treaties with various Somali chiefs
who were guaranteed British protection.
British objectives centered
on safeguarding trade links to the east and securing local sources of food and
provisions for its coaling station in Aden. The boundary between Ethiopia and
British Somaliland was established in 1897 through treaty negotiations between
British negotiators and King Menelik.
During the first two decades of this
century, British rule was challenged through persistent attacks led by Mohamed
Abdullah. A long series of intermittent engagements and truces ended in 1920 when
British warplanes bombed Abdullah's stronghold at Taleex. Although Abdullah was
defeated as much by rival Somali factions as by British forces, he was lauded
as a popular hero and stands as a major figure of national identity to some Somalis.
In 1885, Italy obtained commercial advantages in the area from the sultan of
Zanzibar and in 1889 concluded agreements with the sultans of Obbia and Aluula,
who placed their territories under Italy's protection. Between 1897 and 1908,
Italy made agreements with the Ethiopians and the British that marked out the
boundaries of Italian Somaliland. The Italian Government assumed direct administration,
giving the territory colonial status.
Italian occupation gradually extended
inland. In 1924, the Jubaland Province of Kenya, including the town and port of
Kismayo, was ceded to Italy by the United Kingdom. The subjugation and occupation
of the independent sultanates of Obbia and Mijertein, begun in 1925, were completed
In the late 1920s, Italian and Somali influence expanded into
the Ogaden region of eastern Ethiopia. Continuing incursions climaxed in 1935
when Italian forces launched an offensive that led to the capture of Addis Ababa
and the Italian annexation of Ethiopia in 1936.
Following Italy's declaration
of war on the United Kingdom in June 1940, Italian troops overran British Somaliland
and drove out the British garrison. In 1941, British forces began operations against
the Italian East African Empire and quickly brought the greater part of Italian
Somaliland under British control.
From 1941 to 1950, while Somalia was
under British military administration, transition toward self-government was begun
through the establishment of local courts, planning committees, and the Protectorate
Advisory Council. In 1948 Britain turned the Ogaden and neighboring Somali territories
over to Ethiopia.
In Article 23 of the 1947 peace treaty, Italy renounced all
rights and titles to Italian Somaliland. In accordance with treaty stipulations,
on September 15, 1948, the Four Powers referred the question of disposal of former
Italian colonies to the UN General Assembly.
On November 21, 1949, the
General Assembly adopted a resolution recommending that Italian Somaliland be
placed under an international trusteeship system for 10 years, with Italy as the
administering authority, followed by independence for Italian Somaliland. In 1959,
at the request of the Somali Government, the UN General Assembly advanced the
date of independence from December 2 to July 1, 1960.
Meanwhile, rapid progress
toward self-government was being made in British Somaliland. Elections for the
Legislative Assembly were held in February 1960, and one of the first acts of
the new legislature was to request that the United Kingdom grant the area independence
so that it could be united with Italian Somaliland when the latter became independent.
The protectorate became independent on June 26, 1960; five days later, on July
1, it joined Italian Somaliland to form the Somali Republic.
In June 1961,
Somalia adopted its first national constitution in a countrywide referendum, which
provided for a democratic state with a parliamentary form of government based
on European models. During the early post-independence period, political parties
reflected clan loyalties, which contributed to a basic split between the regional
interests of the former British-controlled north and the Italian-controlled south.
There also was substantial conflict between pro-Arab, pan-Somali militants intent
on national unification with the Somali-inhabited territories in Ethiopia and
Kenya and the "modernists," who wished to give priority to economic and social
development and improving relations with other African countries.
the Somali Youth League, formed under British auspices in 1943, assumed a dominant
position and succeeded in cutting across regional and clan loyalties. Under the
leadership of Mohamed Ibrahim Egal, prime minister from 1967 to 1969, Somalia
greatly improved its relations with Kenya and Ethiopia. The process of party-based
constitutional democracy came to an abrupt end, however, on October 21, 1969,
when the army and police, led by Maj. Gen. Mohamed Siad Barre, seized power in
a bloodless coup.
Following the coup, executive and legislative power was vested
in the 20-member Supreme Revolutionary Council (SRC), headed by Maj. Gen. Siad
Barre as president. The SRC pursued a course of "scientific socialism" that reflected
both ideological and economic dependence on the Soviet Union. The government instituted
a national security service, centralized control over information, and initiated
a number of grassroots development projects. Perhaps the most impressive success
was a crash program that introduced an orthography for the Somali language and
brought literacy to a substantial percentage of the population.
The SRC became
increasingly radical in foreign affairs, and in 1974, Somalia and the Soviet Union
concluded a treaty of friendship and cooperation. As early as 1972, tensions began
increasing along the Somali-Ethiopian border; these tensions heightened after
the accession to power in Ethiopia in 1973 of the Mengistu Hailemariam regime,
which turned increasingly toward the Soviet Union. In the mid-1970s, the Western
Somali Liberation Front (WSLF) began guerrilla operations in the Ogaden region
of Ethiopia. Fighting increased, and in July 1977, the Somali National Army (SNA)
crossed into the Ogaden to support the insurgents. The SNA moved quickly toward
Harer, Jijiga, and Dire Dawa, the principal cities of the region. Subsequently,
the Soviet Union, Somalia's most important source of arms, embargoed weapons shipments
to Somalia. The Soviets switched their full support to Ethiopia, with massive
infusions of Soviet arms and 10,000-15,000 Cuban troops. In November 1977, President
Siad Barre expelled all Soviet advisers and abrogated the friendship agreement
with the U.S.S.R. In March 1978, Somali forces retreated into Somalia; however,
the WSLF continues to carry out sporadic but greatly reduced guerrilla activity
in the Ogaden. Such activities also were subsequently undertaken by another dissident
group, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF).
Following the 1977 Ogaden
war, President Barre looked to the West for international support, military equipment,
and economic aid. The United States and other Western countries traditionally
were reluctant to provide arms because of the Somali Government's support for
insurgency in Ethiopia. In 1978, the United States reopened the U.S. Agency for
International Development mission in Somalia. Two years later, an agreement was
concluded that gave U.S. forces access to military facilities in Somalia. In the
summer of 1982, Ethiopian forces invaded Somalia along the central border, and
the United States provided two emergency airlifts to help Somalia defend its territorial
From 1982 to 1990 the United States viewed Somalia as a partner
in defense. Somali officers of the National Armed Forces were trained in U.S.
military schools in civilian as well as military subjects. Within Somalia, Siad
Barre's regime confronted insurgencies in the northeast and northwest, whose aim
was to overthrow his government. By 1988, Siad Barre was openly at war with sectors
of his nation. At the President's order, aircraft from the Somali National Air
Force bombed the cities in the northwest province, attacking civilian as well
as insurgent targets. The warfare in the northwest sped up the decay already evident
elsewhere in the republic. Economic crisis, brought on by the cost of anti-insurgency
activities, caused further hardship as Siad Barre and his cronies looted the national
By 1990, the insurgency in the northwest was largely successful.
The army dissolved into competing armed groups loyal to former commanders or to
clan-tribal leaders. The economy was in shambles, and hundreds of thousands of
Somalis fled their homes. In 1991, Siad Barre and forces loyal to him fled the
capital; he later died in exile in Nigeria. In the same year, Somaliland declared
itself independent of the rest of Somalia, with its capital in Hargeisa. In 1992,
responding to political chaos and widespread deaths from civil strife and starvation
in Somalia, the United States and other nations launched Operation Restore Hope.
Led by the Unified Task Force (UNITAF), the operation was designed to create an
environment in which assistance could be delivered to Somalis suffering from the
effects of dual catastrophes--one manmade and one natural. UNITAF was followed
by the United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM). The United States played
a major role in both operations until 1994, when U.S. forces withdrew.
prevailing chaos in much of Somalia after 1991 contributed to growing influence
by various Islamic groups, including al-Tabliq, al-Islah (supported by Saudi Arabia),
and Al-Ittihad Al-Islami (Islamic Unity). These groups, which are among the main
non-clan-based forces in Somalia, share the goal of establishing an Islamic state.
They differ in their approach; in particular, Al-Ittihad supports the use of violence
to achieve that goal and has claimed responsibility for terrorist acts. In the
mid-1990s, Al-Ittihad came to dominate territory in Puntland as well as central
Somalia near Gedo. It was forcibly expelled from these localities by Puntland
forces as well as Ethiopian attacks in the Gedo region. Since that time, Al-Ittihad
has adopted a longer term strategy based on integration into local communities
and establishment of Islamic schools, courts, and relief centers.
attack on the United States of September 11, 2001, Somalia gained greater international
attention as a possible base for terrorism--a concern that became the primary
element in U.S. policy toward Somalia. The United States and other members of
the anti-terrorism coalition examined a variety of short- and long-term measures
designed to cope with the threat of terrorism in and emanating from Somalia. Economic
sanctions were applied to Al-Ittihad and to the Al-Barakaat group of companies,
based in Dubai, which conducted currency exchanges and remittances transfers in
Somalia. The United Nations also took an increased interest in Somalia, including
proposals for an increased UN presence and for strengthening a 1992 arms embargo.