The Failure System - The role of external actors in the Somali state collapse

Bachelor Thesis, 2009

48 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. The history of the Somali conflict
2.1 Somali history before 1991
2.2 Digression: The Somali clan system
2.3 Somali history since 1991

3. Important internal actors and factions in Somalia
3.1 The Transitional Federal Government and allied groups
3.2 Autonomous regions
3.3 Warlords and anti-government groups

4. External actors in the Somali conflict
4.1 Theoretical perspectives: The internationalisation of internal conflicts
4.2 Neighbouring States
4.2.1. Ethiopia
4.2.2. Eritrea
4.2.3. Djibouti
4.2.4. Kenya
4.3 Global actors
4.3.1. United States
4.3.2. European States
4.3.3. Arab League states
4.4 International Organisations
4.4.1. African Union
4.4.2. United Nations
4.4.3. IGAD
4.5 Non-state external actors
4.6 The Somali diaspora

5. Conclusion

6. Literature

1. Introduction

Since the fall of the Barre regime in 1991, Somalia has been the most profound and outstanding example of state failure not only in Africa but the entire world. For almost 20 years Somalia has been lost in a vicious circle which the author of this paper calls “the failure system”. It is a system of mutually reinforcing factors consisting of clan violence and a corresponding history of real or imagined marginalisation, the establishment of war economics, various jihads and last but not least the interference of a multitude of external actors. The question of this bachelor thesis is: What role did external actors take in the process of state failure in Somalia? My hypothesis is, that the Somali state collapse cannot be seen as a purely internal phenomenon but rather as a layered systemic process that has been influenced by external actors on a massive scale. The main purpose of this bachelor thesis is to outline the role of external actors in the Somali state collapse. Albeit the focus of this work is clearly the external dimension of this conflict, we shall not neglect the internal actors and factions in Somalia. Especially after the Ethiopian invasion of 2006 and the begin of the international anti-pirate mission at the Horn of Africa a whole pile of scientific literature has been written on external actors and their strategic motivations in Somalia. But usually these publications only focus on the external actors and their motivations without appropriately addressing internal dynamics. In order to bridge the gap of understanding between the layers of internal and external conflict dimensions, this work tries to create a holistic and systemic big picture view of the Somali state collapse by outlining historical, sociological, internal and external factors alike. To achieve this goal, this work has been divided into three main parts.

The first part will briefly describe the Somali history. I will at first outline the historic developments before 1991 to give an impression of the long-term development of the country. Subsequently the clan structure and its relevance will be addressed to answer the question why such a high internal conflict potential could arise in Somalia despite far reaching ethnic, cultural, religious and lingual homogeneity. Afterwards the historic events in the state-failure period from 1991-2009 will be described. The main sources for this chapter are the country study “Somalia” of the Library of Congress Research Center as well as Ioan Lewis remarkable book “Understanding Somalia and Somaliland” which gives deep insights into the Somali society.

The second main part will consider the various factions and groups inside Somalia. As I said earlier, the internal factors of the conflict are of great importance for an encompassing understanding of conflict dynamics. As alliances in Somalia are shifting quickly and some, if not all, actors are having hidden agendas, these alliances and networks can only be described as a kind of snapshot. An in-depth analysis of the true motivations of these actors is beyond the scope of this work and would probably require intelligence and research on the ground in Somalia.

The first faction that will be described, is the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia (TFG) and its allies. I will outline the composition of this camp and the motives of these groups to work with the TFG. Secondly I will take a look at the autonomous regions in Somalia, especially Somaliland and Puntland. The case of Somaliland is particularly remarkable because this region has managed to avoid the collapse of order and the decline into lawlessness almost completely. The last part of this chapter will be a description of some of the more important anti-government groups. An analysis of all anti-government forces and militias will not be possible due to the enormous diversity of this faction.

The last and largest main part of this work will encompass a detailed overview of external actors active in Somalia. A special focus in the consideration of these actors will be, how they interact with internal factions in Somalia as well as with other external actors to unravel the different layers of interests and influences. I believe it is exceedingly important to understand these system relevant networks in order to reach an holistic conflict understanding.

The analysis of external actors begins with a theoretical consideration on the internationalisation of internal conflicts to show the explanatory framework for this phenomenon according to the classifications by Michael Brown. Following is the first praxis-oriented part which will take a closer look at the motivations of the three neighbouring states, namely Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya. Ethiopia will be more closely analysed as it is the country that has exerted the most direct influence of all external actors be occupying Somalia from late 2006 to early 2009 and supporting the TFG. Also of great importance for the Somalia conflict is the case of Eritrea which supports the anti-government forces, which are also anti-Ethiopian. This conflict between the diametrically opposed interests of Ethiopia and Eritrea is one of the most important systemic determinants, as Somalia is used as a proxy-battleground of these two adversaries. Subsequently the roles of Djibouti and Kenya will be described, because both tried to act as a mediator on various occasions.

Global actors have been present in Somalia since the first days of the state collapse following the disempowerment of Siad Barre. Especially the United States have been active in Somalia at various times. After the catastrophic failure of the US-led UNOSOM II mission whose decisive event is universally known as “black-hawk down” the US seemed to have lost interest in Somalia. This changed after the 9/11 attacks as the US suspected Somalia to house alleged Islamic terrorist. Since then the USA have provided massive support for Ethiopia as well as conducted air strikes on terrorist targets. Some European states are also involved in the conflict, especially Italy and Great Britain due to their colonial heritage. Most Arab League States are also involved, partly because of economic reasons and partly due to religious and ideological reasons. Some support for the more radical Islamic groups like al-Shaabab or the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) has been provided by Arab League nations.

Another important factor in the Somali conflict are the international organisations . Three main player can be identified: the African Union (AU), the United Nations and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). AU and UN haven been of the highest relevance due to their various peacekeeping and humanitarian missions. IGAD as the regional development organisation for east Africa has been important as a mediator.

Following the role of external non-state actors like NGOs and transnational corporations will be described. The role of economic actors also very interesting in the light of a lack of economic regulation as well as illegal activities like arms-trafficking and illegal waste disposal. The reflections on external actors will close with a sketch of the large Somali diaspora and their role in the conflict, especially in the light of the financial aid they provide to various conflict parties.

I will now begin with the first main part and an description of the Somali history until 1991.

2. The history of the Somali conflict

This section will take a closer look at the Somali history. It will also outline the clan system which is important to understand the conflict dynamics especially of the internal actors in Somalia. The focus of this section will be on the time after 1991 because the state collapse began that year. Of course Somalia has been a weak and/or failing state years before the fall of Barre. I will now begin with a short history of Somalia before 1991.

2.1 Somali history before 1991

The exact time of the first settlement in the area today known as Somalia cannot be reconstructed exactly. It probably has been about 8000 years ago that the first permanent settlers arrived there (except purely nomadic stone-age populations). Since that day the population structure of Somalia began to form, resulting in a very diverse clan system despite ethnic consistency. This clan system is very relevant for Somalia even today and shall be analysed in the following section of this chapter. Like all other primordial societies Somalia was animistic until the advent of Islam in the 7th century AD (cf. Library of Congress Research Division 2005). The comprehensive conversion to Islam was finished in the time of the Islamic Sultanates in the 14th century, which led to not only ethnic but also religious homogeneity. Between the 14th and 19th century various factions rose to power in Somalia but no steady dynasty could be established. The exact events of this period are ill-researched and furthermore not of real interest for this paper. In the late 19th century many important developments took place. King Menelik II of Ethiopia conquered the Ogaden territory which was and still is populated by a large percentage of ethnic Somalis (cf. Library of Congress Research Division 2005). The case of the Ogaden is an open conflict between Somalia and Ethiopia even today.

Another important event was the colonialisation of the Somali territory by Italy, Great Britain and Frace which resulted in the establishment of the colonies Italian Somaliland, British Somaliland (same territory as today's autonomous region Somaliland) and French Somaliland (Djibouti). During the 1930s and 1940 fascist Italy tried to gain control over the entire greater Horn of Africa. Italy succeeded in conquering large parts of Ethiopia in the 1930s and British Somaliland in 1940/41 (cf. Lewis 2008; 27 et seq.). But the Italian victory was short-lived and Great Britain managed to regain control of its former colony as well as to free Ethiopia and conquer Italian Somaliland which Great Britain administered together with its own Somaliland colony until 1949. From 1949 till 1960 the former Italian Somaliland was under direct administration of the UN (this is why the Somali flag resembles parts of the UN flag) and it was merged with the British part in 1960 to form the new independent state of Somalia (cf. Lewis 2008; 32 et seq.).

Aden Abdullah Osman Daar from the Somali Youth League (SYL) took office as the first Somali president in the same year. Main aspects of his policy were the rapprochement to the Soviet Union as well as attempts to assert national territorial claims which brought Somalia the distrust of the neighbouring states. This led to inner-party differences which resulted in his voting out of office and the subsequent taking of power by his party comrade Abdirashid Ali Shermake in 1967 who favoured a block- free alignment. In 1969 Shermake was murdered and the military under Siad Barre took power. Barre established a military dictatorship and again seeked rapprochement to the Soviet Union. After early successes especially in the area of rural development and education, discontent with his politics began to arise during the famines of the 1970s (cf. Shay 2008; 3 et seq.). The situation got worse when Barre tried to retake the Ogaden territory, that Ethiopia conquered in the late 19th century, during the Oganden- war from 1976-78. Because the USSR continued to support the Ethiopian Derg regime during the Ogaden war, Barre turned his back on socialism which brought him the support of the USA. Despite the massive military help of the US, Somalia was not able to win against Ethiopia (cf. Shay 2008; 4). That resulted in a massive economic and humanitarian degradation. With the reform of the economic sector, corruption and nepotism reached new heights and the compliance of Barres policy fell even further which resulted in an increasingly harsh oppression of any political opposition. Some marginalised clans began to form guerilla and resistance groups as well as broad opposition movements. These groups were particularly supported by Ethiopia which hoped to destabilize its enemy. With the end of the cold war and in consideration of the massive human rights abuses by the Barre regime, the USA stopped supporting the Somali government. In January 1991 Barre was driven out of office after several defeats of government forces by the United Somali Congress (USC). Despite a prior cooperation agreement between the main opposition forces, namely the USC and the SNM (Somali National Movement), a consensus to form a transitional government could not be reached (cf. Lewis 2008; 67 et seq.). The result was the fragmentation of the Somali territory and the open outbreak of clan rivalry which led directly into the Somali civil war and the process of state collapse. The Djibouti peace conference of July 1991 could not solve these inter-clan differences.

I will now take a closer look at the emergence and the structure of the Somali clan system, because it is even today a defining factor of the conflict dynamics in Somalia.

2.2 Digression: The Somali clan system

As I have outlined earlier, the Somali clan system is one of the defining properties of Somali politics and society. The overwhelming majority of the indigenous Somali population has been part of a pastoral nomadic culture since the dawn of history but there is also a minority of farmers which marks one of the traditional divisions and conflict lines in Somalia(cf. Lewis 2008; 3).

Today one can find five important clans that are of course divided into a substantial number of sub-clans which I can't consider in this work. These clans are the “Hawiye, Darod, Dir and Isaaq clans from the Somali group of pastoralist clans, while the Rahanweyn form a fifth clan of southern agriculturalists” (McGregor 2009; 33). The divisions between these clans are reinforced and clan boudaries are usually impermeable due to the principle of of patrilinear ancestry (cf. Bakonyi 2001; 51).

Together with the much smaller agro-pastoralist clan Digil, the Rahanweyn form an alliance with many shared values and interests and together account for about 17% of the Somali population (also called Digil-Mirifle). Their main centre of settlement and influence is located in the Bay and Bakol area in north-west direction from Mogadishu. Due to their social structure, which is based upon inter-cultural adoption, assimilation and exchange, these clans tend to be more friendly and less conflict-prone than the nomadic clans (cf. Lewis 2008; 4 et seq. And McGregor 2009; 33 et seq.).

In the north, where also the autonomous regions of Puntland and Somaliland are located, the population consists of the Dir and the Isaaq. Dir and Isaaq belong to the same genealogical super-group and also have much more in common than their area of settlement. They live in large, multi-generational families and keep nomadic livestock of camels, goats and more seldom cattle. Ioan Lewis describes them as the “stereotype of traditional Somali socio-political organisation” and “quintessential Somalis” (Lewis 2008; 4). Differences between these northern clans and the rest of the country firstly became important with the conflict between the Hawiye dominated USC and the Isaaq dominated SNM after the fall of Barre 1991 (cf. Shay 2008; 7 et. seq.). Since then, the Isaaq and Dir, that together account for 29% of the Somali population, have essentially played their own game with the establishment of Somaliland in 1991.

The Hawiye clan is probably the most important clan in the younger Somali history and accounts for roughly 25% of the Somali people. This has been supported by the fact that the Hawiye dominate the area of Mogadishu and its neighbouring provinces like the Shabelle Region and large portions of the coastal line. A significant minority of these usually nomadic clansmen has a long history of trade and is more cosmopolitan than the Hawiye majority (cf. Lewis 2008; 5 et seq.). In the aftermath of the 1991 rebellion the USC was supported mainly by the Hawiye. Also the infamous warlord Aideed was of Hawiye origin. In the various transitional governments, members of the Hawiye clan usually took leading position with the last most important one as president of the TNG (Abd al-Qassim Salad Hussein) from 2000-2004 (cf. McGregor 2009; 30).

Finally the Darod, that are spread over large parts of Somalia with strongholds in the south, including northern Kenya and the north-east, account for about 25% of the population. There is no consensus in the scientific literature whether the Hawiye or the Darod are the most numerous clans. The most notable Darod member in younger history was Siad Barre, who - despite an anti-clan political agenda under his “scientific socialism” relied heavily on his clan network (cf. Bakonyi 2001; 78 et seq.). Today the main importance of this clan derives from its property of being the dominant clan of Puntland. This has also given them much weight in the current TFG with Darod member Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmake as Prime minister since February 2009 (cf. McGregor 2009; 31).

2.3 Somali history since 1991

The outbreak of civil war between the rivalling clan fractions in 1991 together with a coinciding drought led to a large scale humanitarian catastrophe with hundreds of thousands of internally displaced and starving people. This situation triggered UN security council resolution 751 which led to the establishment of the UNOSOM I mission in April 1992. In December 1992 the US-led UNITAF mission followed to secure the humanitarian mission as well as the UNOSOM II mission in May 1993 (cf. Quaranto 2008; 29). During the course of these missions clashes between the US troops and the militias of Hawiye clan leader Aideed intensified. Warfare in Mogadishu culminated in an attempt of US forces to capture Aideed - this failed operation is commonly known as Battle of Mogadishu or “Black Hawk Down”. During this Battle 18 US soldiers and more than 1000 Somalis lost their lives. As a result the US withdrew its troops in 1994 followed by the remaining UN troops in 1995.

Somalia was now left alone to fight out its civil war which led to a manifestation of the spheres of influence of the clans and the enduring fragmentation of the Somali territory. While the situation in the southern parts of Somalia remained unstable during the whole time period, the region of Somaliland, which is the same territory as the former British Somaliland colony, declared its independence in 1991 and the north-eastern region Puntland claimed autonomy in 1998. Despite the fact that these regions have never been recognized by any sovereign state, these two regions - and especially Somaliland - managed to establish a sphere of relative order and state-like structures. Particularly due to the acts of private enterprises and the privatisation of security a stable environment could be formed here, which allowed for a later establishment of more state-like institutions (cf. Quaranto 2008; 30 et seq.).

In 2000 a peace negotiation between the conflicting clans was held in Arta, Djibouti to establish a transitional government that was called TNG (Transitional National Government). But soon the TNG lost most of its support and had to reside in Kenyan exile due to security concerns. After new negotiations in Kenya 2004 another transitional government with the name TFG (Transitional Federal Government) was formed by members of the former TNG, the autonomous region of Puntland and some former adversaries. This was the 14th attempt to create a functioning stable Somali government since 1991 (cf. Hanson 2008). As expected this new government was not able to unite the different Somali factions and also had to initially reside in Kenya and later in the western Somali city of Baidoa (cf. Shay 2008; 81). Within the TFG all four major clans were represented equally but this did not stop the Hawiye Clan from feeling under-represented.

During the Year 2006 the fundamentalist Islamic Courts Union (ICU) began to gain ever more power which resulted in a series of defeats of TFG-affiliated forces and the subsequent taking of Mogadishu in June 2006. Especially because of their function as Sharia jurisdiction the ICU was accepted and respected across clan borders. In the ICU-controlled regions Sharia law was quickly established and a situation of relative order and stability was reached which was seen quite positive by the war-worn general population (cf. Shay 2008; 94 et seq.). Due to their fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, the ICU was quickly discredited in the west and put on the list of terror supporting organisations. As a consequence of the incapability of the TFG to deal with the ICU Ethiopia declared war on the Islamic Courts and invaded Somalia on the 24th December 2006.

After a swift and total victory of Ethiopia (which also was supported by US air strikes and intelligence) against the hopelessly inferior ICU troops, the TFG - being protected by massive Ethiopian forces - could reside in Mogadishu for the first time (cf. Shay 2008; 116 et seq.). Later, a AU peace-keeping mission under the name AMISOM (African Union Mission to Somalia) was sent to Somalia in order to stabilize the situation. Unfortunately this force hasn't reached its planned strength until this writing and AMISOM has so far not been able to fill the power vacuum left by the withdrawal of the Ethiopian forces in January 2009 (cf. Weber 2009; 2 et seq.). Currently the political and security situation in Somalia remains as volatile as ever. Neither TFG nor AMISOM forces were able to exercise control over territories outside their strongholds. Since the Ethiopian withdrawal many smaller towns and whole rural regions have fallen back into the hands of warlords and various insurgent factions. This is especially true for the Lower Shabelle-, Bay- and Gedo Region (cf. United Nations Security Council 2009; 4).

3. Important internal actors and factions in Somalia

I will now give a short overview of the different factions and internal actors currently active within Somalia. Due to the enormous diversity of these groups (which to comprehensively analyse is far beyond the scope of this work) I will focus solely on the most important ones and outline their current situation, political aims, views and affiliations. To systematize this overview I have divided this section into three parts. The first one will take a look at the TFG and its allies. The second part will analyse the autonomous regions of Somaliland and Puntland, while the third part will give a sketch of the different warlords and anti-government groups.

3.1 The Transitional Federal Government and allied groups

The TFG and its allies form a constantly shifting and rather loose coalition that is held together rather by temporary advantages than by true conviction. After the defunct TNG was dissolved in 2004 the TFG was established after IGAD-led negotiations in Kenya. It was until February 2006 when the TFG could reside in Somalia for the first time, which was in a converted warehouse in the city of Baidoa. Following its catastrophic defeat by the ICU, the TFG was only able to regain governmental control with the massive help of Ethiopia. To assure a fair distribution of power between the rivalling clans, the TFG is comprised according to the “4.5 formula” (Hanson 2008). “The four major clans—Darood, Hawiye, Dir, and Digil-Mirifle—all received sixty-one parliament seats, while the remaining groups together received thirty-one seats” (ibid.). It is not very surprising that the Issaq are not represented, as the Somaliland government has decided to no longer participate in the affairs of the rest of Somalia.

Currently the division within the TFG is mainly between the members of the Hawiye and those of the Darod clan. Due to their pro-Ethiopian attitude and their control over Puntland the Darod clan has managed to take a leading position within the TFG which resulted in a covert conflict with the Hawiye clan. According to a report of the International Crisis Group “Hawiye people in the diaspora now believe that the Ethiopians are fighting a proxy war for the Darod clan, who want to take revenge on Hawiye” (International Crisis Group 2007; 3). The feeling of marginalisation of the Hawiye is also reinforced by the fact, that former President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmad carefully selected his cabinet members to fit a pro-Ethiopian attitude while the Hawiye clan is usually anti-Ethiopian. This situation now seems to change with the appointment of Shaykh Sharif Shakh Ahmad from the Hawiye clan, who was also the former leader of the ICU, as president of Somalia in January 2009 (cf. McGregor 2009; 31). As the inter-clan struggle for power between the Darod and the Hawiye seems far from settled, the TFG is bound to instability and shifting political directions for the foreseeable future. A breakdown of the whole TFG into openly hostile factions doesn't seem to be completely out of the question. Furthermore the TFG has fundamental structural and organisational problems. To quote the findings of the 2008 International Crisis Group report on Somalia:

“ The structural problems that plague the TFG hinge on three main issues: the Transitional Federal Charter (TFC), the composition of parliament (TFP) and federalism. The Charter ’ s system of governance is meant to be based on democratic and pluralist principles consistent with the profound attachment of the Somali people to their religion and culture. But it is an awkward, ill-defined and overly elaborate document, replete with errors, inconsistencies and contradictions ” (International Crisis Group 2008; 3).

So besides the clan struggles described earlier, the TFG is fragile and faulty by design. Only a large scale constitutional and public sector reform could establish the basement for a working democracy or even a functional government.

I will now give a short overview over the various groups are are aligned with or supportive of the TFG. Ironically the ICU, which was the prime adversary of the TFG before the Ethiopian invasion is now one of its closest allies. This is particularly due to the fact, that most radical elements of the ICU where absorbed by al-Shaabab and the Eritrea-supported group of the ARS (Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia). The remaining ICU forces, that are supporters of the current president Shaykh Sharif Shakh Ahmad, are usually deployed together with the regular armed forces but are reported to have been involved in open conflict and even combat with allied TFG forces (cf. McGregor 2009; 22). These events underline the fragile partnership between the TFG and the ICU and it could very well be, that increased ICU involvement especially under the new president is an attempt of the Hawiye to weaken the Darod influence.

Another Islamic group that is at least loosely aligned with the TFG is the Ahlu Sunna Wa'l-Jama'a. As they promote the traditional Sufi Islam they are the enemies of al- Shabaab and these two groups have mutually declared jihad against each other (cf. McGregor 2009; 23).


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The Failure System - The role of external actors in the Somali state collapse
Helmut Schmidt University - University of the Federal Armed Forces Hamburg  (Internationale Politik)
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Marcel Lossi (Author), 2009, The Failure System - The role of external actors in the Somali state collapse, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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