Clash of Clans: Challenges to Somali Government

By Rigol, Natalia | Harvard International Review, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview

Clash of Clans: Challenges to Somali Government


Rigol, Natalia, Harvard International Review


On October 1, 2004, Somalia's newly established 275-member Parliament elected the country's 14th president, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed. Though Somalis and members of the international community hope that this new administration will bring peace to a region where intra-clan warfare has caused more than 300,000 deaths since the early 1990s, the history of failed attempts at establishing governments makes it unlikely that this new president will be successful. Not only will Yusuf's dictatorial manner antagonize the myriad of Somali factions, but deep-seated structural issues within Somali society continue to make a centralized Somalia nearly unattainable.

Somalia's demographic homogeneity has prevented the ethnic disputes seen in other African countries. Despite this, the region has been torn by inter- and sub-clan warfare. Clans control different regions of the country and often fight over natural resources. British and Italian colonization deconstructed the decentralized clan structure to form a centralized government, which also reconfigured the traditional peaceful manner of conflict resolution. As a result, an attempt at the unification of the two European-controlled territories within Somalia following its independence caused antagonism between the largest clans (Dir, Isaq, Hawiye, Darod, Digil, and Rahanwayn), which used newly-brought European firepower to resolve their differences.

After two failed presidents Army Chief Siad Barre staged a coup in 1961 and initiated a dictatorial regime that lasted until 1991. His notorious divide-and-rule approach was supplemented by the ruthless slaughter of opposition members and clans. General Muhammad Farah "Aideed" and Ali Mahdi Muhammad, both members of different sub-clans of Hawiye and of the United Somali Congress overthrew Barre in a coup, but conflicts left more than 14,000 Somalis dead. Since then, rival clans and warlords have aspired to gain power in the region but have failed because of a disregard for centralized governments and a haphazard, artificial subdivision of power within those governments.

The current agreement for the establishment of a national government seems to be following the same path. It has been brokered by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development and, in particular, Kenya. However, the procedure of selecting government officials has been flawed. The peace talks, which began in 2002, were expected to go through three stages: recognition of key problems and setting up a cease-fire, dealing with issues of land ownership, disarmament, and drafting a constitution, and, finally, power sharing.

However, the "interests," both internal and external, that ran the conferences, have sped up the initial two phases without true resolution. …

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