In the last year, the political instability in Somalia, alongside the large presence of Islamic terrorism have been joined by further threats, such as the coronavirus epidemic, the invasion of locusts, and floods that have caused approximately 500,000 internally displaced persons. The situation has worsened as some large areas have become inaccessible to aid. The country is the typical case in which the pernicious synergy of war and climate change produces its most devastating effects.
In addition to the insecurity, the large number of internally displaced people at the borders (2.6 million) and refugees abroad (900 thousand), the lack of all social services, Somalis must also face recurring and increasingly frequent famines due to drought. Consequently, malnutrition affects hundreds of thousands of children. According to UN agencies, 710 million dollars are needed to respond to the crisis in Somalia. Regarding the scourge of terrorism in al Shabab, the strong infiltration capacity of the Islamic extremist group across the border remains worrying. In recent months, attacks in urban areas have intensified. The heaviest due to the devastating effects and political consequences took place in Mogadishu on 13 July 2020 against an escort convoy to General Rage, commander of the Somali army for a year.
However, the Shababs have a problem to contend with: a (minority) part of the terrorist group has split up. The reason lies in the fact that while al Shabab has always been pro al-Qaeda, the splinter wing has instead declared itself loyal to Isis and the Caliphate. This rupture has a heavy impact on the population: between the end of 2018 and the first months of 2019 both groups, the pro-Qaedist Shabab group and the one affiliated with ISIS (called Islamic State in Somalia-Abnaa ul-Calipha) began to extort population, businesses and companies to finance themselves.
A final important element concerns Somalia’s relations with the countries of the Arabian Peninsula. With respect to the strong tensions that oppose Qatar to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (on opposite sides in the war in Yemen), President Farmajo has always tried to maintain a position of neutrality. A line that risks being undermined by Turkey’s investment policy, which in 2020 signed further military agreements to train Somali troops and increased investments (the Albayrak company signed a contract for the management of the port of Mogadishu for the duration of 14 years).
What is being fought for?
Originally, in 1991, the conflict broke out to overthrow the Siad Barre dictatorship. Soon, the civil war became a struggle between groups led by “warlords”, then from the early 2000s, it was transformed again, taking on a pseudo-religious matrix: the warlords disappeared, power gradually passed into the hands of the Islamic Courts, which by applying a traditional model of justice and political management, have managed to pacify some areas of the country.
This was an interesting experiment that was stopped too early. The last decade (but especially since 2012) has been characterized by the affirmation of the terrorist movement of the Shababs, decidedly more radicalized than the old Courts. The goal of the Shababs is the conquest of the country and the establishment of sharia law.
The presence of the African Union (AU) AMISOM mission has weakened the movement that,while still continuing to control vast rural areas in the south of the country despite defeats on the battlefield, has long since adopted the tactic of retreating to more remote areas of the country, infiltrating its militiamen among the civilian population and in the cities, and intensifying its attacks in those regions. In November 2017, the progressive disengagement of the 22,000 Amisom soldiers was announced but so far there has been only a slight reduction. In January 2021, the United States withdrew its men from the UN mission who were redeployed to Kenya.
According to the 2018 “Global Peace Index” report by the Sydney Institute for Economics and Peace, Somalia ranks 159th out of 163 countries surveyed. In Africa, only South Sudan is worse, outside the continent Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. A study that gives a misleading idea of the country’s situation.
The hopes that democratic institutions could get established in the country are gradually diminishing due to the continuous postponement of the elections – now apparently suspended without a deadline. A stalemate has been created which has gradually eroded the consensus of President Formajo. In April 2021, in response to the forced resignation of Prime Minister Hassan Alì Khaire and the approval by Parliament of the two-year extension of the presidential term, violent demonstrations were held in the capital Mogadishu which increased insecurity.
Let’s retrace the salient steps that led a country that was still stable (even if under dictatorship) in the second half of the 1980s to become one of the most disastrous areas on the planet. Since the proclamation of independence on 1 July 1960 (which constitutes the moment of unification of Somalia, first divided between the Center-South under the Italian 1950-1960 trusteeship and, in the North, British Somaliland) the country for nine years he had a legitimately elected government, then, in 1969, Siad Barre, a promising military man, took power in a coup d’état and established a Marxist-inspired regime. In 1977, Somalia waged war against Ethiopia to conquer Ogaden, an Ethiopian region with a high Somali population. A disastrous conflict for Somalia, which ended in bitter defeat and generalized impoverishment. The regime becomes increasingly despotic and poorly tolerated, and towards the end of the 1980s the clashes take on the profile of a civil war. Many opponents are arrested and jailed, others flee abroad. The regime falls in January 1991. On the one hand Somali integrity is gradually being eroded (Somaliland comes to proclaim independence on 18 May 1991) on the other hand one of the darkest periods in the country’s history begins: a war of all against all, warlords, clans , rival gangs. The country undergoes balkanization.
The United Nations gives life to the Unosom mission, also known as “Restore Hope” with the aim of creating a safety margin for sending humanitarian aid to the population. Italy takes part in the international contingent with the task of controlling the Mogadishu area. It is the first time that a former colonial power takes part in a UN mission to places where it had colonial possessions. The mission will be a total failure and will cease in early 1994. The following years will be characterized by a progressive fragmentation of the territory by the “warlords”. Somalia becomes a no man’s land, devoid of border controls, managed by gangs with gun control. A situation that allows the development and growth of illicit trafficking of all kinds, from weapons to hazardous waste, from drugs to trafficking in human beings, up to the formation of training camps for jihadist militias. Some areas of the coast will become the starting point and landing place for pirates.
Many peace negotiations have been put in place, but each time they ended with nothing. It is necessary to wait until 2004 to see, at the conclusion of the 14th Peacemaking Conference, the appointment of a transitional Parliament that elects Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed as President and a Federal Transitional Government (TFG). In the summer of 2006, in the clashes that began in Mogadishu between the warlords and the Union of Islamic Courts, the latter prevail and from Mogadishu, little by little, they take control of a large part of southern Somalia. The TFG, which in the meantime had obtained the protection of the UN, then launched the counter-offensive which, with the decisive intervention of the Ethiopian army and the support of the soldiers of the Autonomous Region of Puntland, led in a very short time to the reconquest of Mogadishu by the President Abdullahi Yusuf. On 1 August 2012, the National Constituent Assembly approved the new Constitution: thus the Somali Federal Republic was born. Since February 2017, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed known as Farmajo has been President of the country.
Key figure or organization – USA raids and civilian victims
In 2019 there were 61 air and drone raids in the United States, 53 in 2020. In the first months of 2021 they were significantly reduced. The attacks from the air are carried out against al Shabab militiamen, but the problem is that many civilians are involved. The victims (326 in 2018 and 225 between January and March 2019) are by no means all belonging to the Somali terrorist group.
Amnesty International, in March 2019, published the Report “The hidden US war in Somalia: civilian casualties from air strikes in Lower Shabelle” which documents the deaths of numerous civilians in American raids in areas controlled by al Shabaab. For these attacks, in addition to military fighters, drones called Reaper were also used. With the Trump administration, the raids have tripled compared to the Obama administration.
Focus 1- Misdirection and scapegoats
It happened on March 20, 1994. On that day the flag of the Italian peacekeeping mission in Somalia was lowered, and almost at the same time in a dusty and sun-baked street of North Mogadishu Ilaria Alpi and Miran Hrovatin were murdered.
A quarter of a century after the double murder, there is still no judicial truth: the only Somali, Hashi Omar Hassan, convicted of complicity in murder, has obtained a review of the trial and complete acquittal. Therefore, to date, no executors and no principals have been identified.
The sentence that freed Hashi, however, put pen to paper that the Somali was a victim of a wide-ranging action of misdirection carried out by figures of the Italian institutions. Even the parliamentary committees have carried out a misdirection of a political nature, not only on the events in Mogadishu, but to avert a Tangentopoli (recycling, weapons, waste). In 2020 there was a mobilization in Italy to thwart the definitive dismissal of the case by the judiciary.
Focus 2- A forgotten story
Historical research and historiography on Italian colonialism in Africa over the past three decades have made significant progress. New lines of research have been added to old lines of research on the basis of well-established interpretative keys and thanks to the access and sharing of new sources. In short, thanks to a new generation of scholars, important studies have been added to military history.
However, it is emblematic to underline that much has been produced on Italian North Africa (Libya), on Eritrea and on Ethiopia, but little or nothing on Italian Somalia. The fact that the history of colonial Italy in Somalia does not arouse interest is rather emblematic, in relation to the need of a people – both Italian and Somali – to have an identity.