A deteriorating official economy, displaced and repressed people, a corrupt regime, a large shadow economy involving the large scale sale of small arms, and a severe draught dictating a severe scarcity of resources, came to ahead in Somalia in the early 1990s with disastrous consequences, according to George Ayittey President of the Free Africa Foundation “Armed thugs and bandits roamed the country, pillaging and plundering, and murderous warlords battled savagely for the control of the capital, Mogadishu. The carnage and the draught claimed over 300,000 lives, and heartbreaking spectacles of emaciated bodies of a famine that became the daily diet of the Western media”.
All of Somalia’s underlining problems exploded upon Somali society when Siad Barre’s regime was overthrown by the USC (United Somali Congress) and was replaced by an interim government led by Mohammed Ali Mahdi in 1991. The Somali National Movement (SNM) proclaimed independence from Somalia breaking away to form Somaliland in the North, leaving the rest of Somalia fractured, stateless, and lawless, with an abundance of small arms from the Cold War era circulating on the shadow economy, as many sought security within clan identities. US and UN humanitarian intervention in early to mid 1990’s sought to reconcile the fragmentation of Somalia, but was criticised for making the situation worse. Foreign aid gave Somali warlords a greater ability to fund and continue violent offensives. Warlords exchanged aid for small arms upon the shadow economy creating new nodes of authority. Jacqueline Coolidge and Susan Ackerman writing for the World Bank noted “it is now understood that the politics of warlordism in Somalia is no more than a logical extension of the Siad Barre’s methods of wielding power…. Aid to Somalia has been part of the problem, not part of the solution.” Moreover, this has continued as foreign aid capital has been replaced by shadow economic networks.
According to a report in the Somaliland Times the main actors within the Somali conflict centre upon the control of property that enables them to generate, authority and profit through illicit infrastructure. Control of illegitimate airports, markets and bridges that carry a toll allows warlords to make a profit within the power vacuum left by the collapsed state. This makes fighting and power struggle within Somalia dependent upon material investment rather than notions of state building or political power struggle. The profits generated from illicit taxation allows Somali Warlords or businessmen that back the Warlords to buy arms from an endless list of willing sellers through illicit means. UN experts according to the Somaliland Times reported to the security council in 2003 that “Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, the Sudan, Yemen, Egypt , Libya, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait have given arms, money or training to Somali factions” at some point since 1991.
William Reno in a special piece for the Somaliland Times argues that the factors that have brought about the collapse and the continual fragmentation of the Somali state are not purely economical or clan based. He claims that institutions that have lasted the Somali conflict that have created violent and economic authority cannot be traced solely to structures within the collapsing state, ethnic lineage or clan families. Moreover, he claims orthodox structures of authority such as those who control the legal arrangements that exist within Somali society, world economic players and alliances with non state international actors are essential when attempting to understand the unorthodox social evolution of Somalia since the collapse of the state. Such institutions still exercise a degree of control over what and who is considered legitimate, who gets available resources and where coercion is exerted. Not discounting that Somali traders have continued economic and inter-clan networks of trust following the collapse of the state, with Somali scholars identifying at least 67 sub clans from the six major clan families that have formed defensive networks against predation since the 1990s, making clan lineage not necessarily detrimental to Somalia’s strife. For instance, oral history from the Jabba river valley outlines how loss of elder control over matters of matrimony will lead to disruption- as has been the case, while throughout other regions of Somalia (according to The Global Review of Ethnopolitics) “traditional clan structure … acted as a framework for identity the settlement of disputes and conflicts, and communal security”. However, it is undeniable that some clan structures have cooperated with violent entrepreneurial-ship activity, as by clan nature not all clan families have the same history or cultural heritage.
As the faltering Barre regime became more repressive in an attempt to hang on to power it led to a fracturing of security that to a large extent created privatised nodes of authority that would make transition to democratic rule more difficult. During the 1980s the regime began to privatise Somalia’s economic assets so that they would be tied to the regime, allowing the regime to administer authority through privileged economic networks. An example of this dates back to as early as 1975 when the regime expanded land tenure law, encompassing it in patronage networks, by giving legal legitimacy to those civil servants and businessman that could get government backing. This enabled them to claim traditional clan owned village that were not already being used for commercial farming. This has had an adverse affect especially upon southern inter-clan relations as the law was applied mostly to Southern lands destroying any autonomous traditional authority over resources. The severity of the situation meant that economic power, especially in primary export resources was now tied to a quickly fragmenting state. This has resulted in many of the most violent warlords that emerged post state collapse being part of patronage networks during the regime. An example being, General Mohammed Aydeed, a former elite within the Barre government during the 1980s, that with political backing giving him the authority to administer land in Southern river valleys, provided land on which ‘Mooryan’ (free lance armed groups), could settle. Moreover, those tied to Aydeed including his principle backer Osman Ato organized the looting of locally owned farmsteads before establishing militia controlled banana plantations that exported to Europe, providing financial support for his violent campaigns in Somalia after the collapse of the state. The already embedded networks of Southern elites meant that much of Northern Somalia was marginalized. However Barre still exercised control in the North through violent means arming Ogadeeni refugees to fight Isaaq communities that were thought to pose a threat to his rule. The control of those that posed a threat through violent armed groups made clans fight against each other down clan lineage divisions, destroying hope that stable political order would emerge after regime collapse. While illicit trades on the shadow economy promoted the fragmentation of Somalia and authoritative elements that may have had a hand in building a new order.
Rigid divides between communities formed as a result of outsiders disrupting and seizing local lands due to coercive policies created animosity and security dilemmas between communities. This forced people to seek protection from clan militias and outsiders that exploited land and resources to lead long-term violent campaigns and build rigidified ethnic in groups and out groups Moreover, since the collapse of the regime studies show that very few Somali’s have benefited from aid, with agriculture only receiving 22 percent of development spending in the 1980s, the vast majority of which was invested in large scale commercial farming in the South that was dominated by those with links to the Barre regime. The result of such un-equal and deprived spending in many parts of Somalia was that marginalized, disfavoured groups were forced to rely upon the shadow economy. This had a reinforcing affect upon warlords who participated in shadow economy activity to generate revenue for violent struggle.
The link between the Barre regime and patronage networks that dictated who controlled economic resources following the collapse of the regime meant that there was very little space for the emergence of indigenous resistance and traditional nodes of authority to stabilise Somalia. Groups that may have been able to resist the onslaught of ‘warlordism’ such as the Somali African Muki Organization (SAMO) based within the Shebelle and Jubba valleys representing the Bantu population, do not have the same access to the economic resources that were granted to warlords via patronage networks during the Barre regime. This can be seen as a taking away of responsibility of organized violence from clan division, and instead placing responsibility on regime malpractice. Moreover, it can be argued that a cause for the continuation of conflict in Somalia can actually be traced back to colonial influence that broke with customary networks of trade between what are now competing clans and regions. The same can be said upon the destruction of the traditional authority held by elders that influenced land and marriage arrangements, which helped haze ethnic lineage boundaries.
Links & Resources:
Free Africa Foundation - Washington Based NGO advocating "African Solutions for African Problems"
Hii Dunia - Previous Somalia articles
Somaliwide - Useful Somalian news source
The Somaliland Times - Online home of this English language important weekly paper
University of Denver - "The Collapse of Somalia and Economic Considerations" a paper by T. Craig Murphy