U.S. Department of State Background Note
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The Cushitic populations of the Somali Coast in the Horn of Africa have an ancient history. Known by ancient Arabs as the Berberi, archaeological evidence indicates their presence in the Horn of Africa by A.D. 100 and possibly earlier. As early as the seventh century A.D., the 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.
The Somali-populated region of the Horn of Africa stretches from the Gulf of Tadjoura in modern-day Djibouti through Dire Dawa, Ethiopia, and down to the coastal regions of southern Kenya. Unlike many countries in Africa, the Somali nation extends beyond its national borders. Since gaining independence in 1960, the goal of Somali nationalism, also known as Pan-Somalism, has been the unification of all Somali populations, forming a Greater Somalia. This issue has been a major cause of past crises between Somalia and its neighbors--Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti.
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 Shabelle 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, although Arabic, English, and Italian also are used extensively.
Early history traces the development of the Somali state 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.
Somalia's modern history began in the late 19th 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 by a dervish rebellion led by Mohamed Abdullah, known as the "Mad Mullah" by the British. 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 many 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 1927. 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 were a fluid concept, with one-person political parties forming before an election, only to defect to the winning party following the election. A constitutional conference in Mogadishu in April 1960, which made the system of government in the southern Somali trust territory the basis for the future government structure of the Somali Republic, resulted in the concentration of political power in the former Italian Somalia capital of Mogadishu and a southern-dominated central government, with most key government positions occupied by southern Somalis, producing increased disenchantment with the union in the former British-controlled north. Pan-Somali nationalism, with the goal of uniting the Somali-populated regions of French Somaliland (Djibouti), Kenya and Ethiopia into a Greater Somalia, remained the driving political ideology in the initial post-independence period. Under the leadership of Mohamed Ibrahim Egal (prime minister from 1967 to 1969), however, Somalia renounced its claims to the Somali-populated regions of Ethiopia and Kenya, greatly improving its relations with both countries. Egal attempted a similar approach with Ethiopia, but the move towards reconciliation with Ethiopia, which had been a traditional enemy of Somalia since the 16th century, made many Somalis furious, including the army. Egal's reconciliation effort toward Ethiopia is argued to be one of the principal factors that provoked a bloodless coup on October 21, 1969 and subsequent installation of Maj. Gen. Mohamed Siad Barre as president, bringing an abrupt end to the process of party-based constitutional democracy in Somalia.
Following the coup, executive and legislative power was vested in the 20-member Supreme Revolutionary Council (SRC), headed by Barre. 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. Barre reduced political freedoms and used military force to seize and redistribute rich farmlands in the interriverine areas of southern Somalia, relying on the use of force and terror against the Somali population to consolidate his political power base.
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 Haile Mariam 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. Following the overthrow of the Ethiopian Emperor in 1975, Somalia invaded Ethiopia in 1977 in a second attempt to regain the Ogaden, and the second attempt initially appeared to be in Somalia's favor. The SNA moved quickly toward Harer, Jijiga, and Dire Dawa, the principal cities of the region. However, following the Ethiopian revolution, the new Ethiopian government shifted its alliance from the West to the Soviet Union, and the Soviet Union supplied Ethiopia with 10,000-15,000 Cuban troops and Soviet military advisors during the 1977-78 Ogaden war, shifting the advantage to Ethiopia and resulting in Somalia's defeat. In November 1977, 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 continued 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 1977-1978 Ogaden war, desperate to find a strong external alliance to replace the Soviet Union, Somalia abandoned its Socialist ideology and turned to the West for international support, military equipment, and economic aid. 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 at the port of Berbera in northwestern 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 integrity. From 1982 to 1988, the United States viewed Somalia as a partner in defense in the context of the Cold War. Somali officers of the National Armed Forces were trained in U.S. military schools in civilian as well as military subjects.
Following the Ogaden war, the Barre regime violently suppressed opposition movements and ethnic groups, particularly the Isaaq clan in the northern region, using the military and elite security forces to quash any hint of rebellion. By the 1980s, an all-out civil war developed in Somalia. Opposition groups began to form following the end of the Ogaden war, beginning in 1979 with a group of dissatisfied army officers known as the Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF). In 1981, as a result of increased northern discontent with the Barre regime, the Somali National Movement (SNM), composed mainly of the Isaaq clan, was formed in Hargeisa with the stated goal of overthrowing of the Barre regime. In January 1989, the United Somali Congress (USC), an opposition group of Somalis from the Hawiye clan, was formed as a political movement in Rome. A military wing of the USC was formed in Ethiopia in late 1989 under the leadership of Mohamed Farah "Aideed," a former political prisoner imprisoned by Barre from 1969-75. Aideed also formed alliances with other opposition groups, including the SNM and the Somali Patriotic Movement (SPM), an Ogadeen sub-clan force under Colonel Ahmed Omar Jess in the Bakool and Bay regions of Southern Somalia. In 1988, at the President's order, aircraft from the Somali National Air Force bombed the city of Hargeisa in northwestern Somalia, the former capital of British Somaliland, killing nearly 10,000 civilians and insurgents. 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 treasury.
By the end of the 1980s, armed opposition to Barre's government, fully operational in the northern regions, had spread to the central and southern regions. Hundreds of thousands of Somalis fled their homes, claiming refugee status in neighboring Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya. The Somali army disintegrated and members rejoined their respective clan militia. Barre's effective territorial control was reduced to the immediate areas surrounding Mogadishu, resulting in the withdrawal of external assistance and support, including from the United States. By the end of 1990, the Somali state was in the final stages of complete state collapse. In the first week of December 1990, Barre declared a state of emergency as USC and SNM forces advanced toward Mogadishu. In January 1991, armed opposition factions drove Barre out of power, resulting in the complete collapse of the central government. Barre later died in exile in Nigeria. 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.
Following the collapse of the Barre regime in 1991, various groupings of Somali factions sought to control the national territory (or portions thereof) and fought small wars with one another. Approximately 14 national reconciliation conferences were convened over the succeeding decade. Efforts at mediation of the Somali internal dispute were also undertaken by many regional states. In the mid-1990s, Ethiopia played host to several Somali peace conferences and initiated talks at the Ethiopian city of Sodere, which led to some degree of agreement between competing factions. The Governments of Egypt, Yemen, Kenya, and Italy also have attempted to bring the Somali factions together. In 1997, the Organization of African Unity and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) gave Ethiopia the mandate to pursue Somali reconciliation. In 2000, Djibouti hosted a major reconciliation conference (the 13th such effort), which in August resulted in creation of the Transitional National Government (TNG), whose 3-year mandate expired in August 2003. The absence of a central government in Somalia also allowed outside forces to become more influential by supporting various groups and persons in Somalia, particularly Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Egypt, Yemen, and Libya, all of which have supported various Somali factions and transitional governments.
A transitional government, the components of which are known as the Transitional Federal Institutions (TFIs) was formed in 2004 following the conclusion of a 2-year reconciliation conference. The TFIs include a transitional parliament, known as the Transitional Federal Assembly (formed in August 2004), as well as a Transitional Federal Government (TFG) that includes a transitional President, Prime Minister and a cabinet known as the "Council of Ministers." For administrative purposes, Somalia is divided into 18 regions; the nature, authority, and structure of regional governments vary, where they exist.
Principal Government Officials
The self-declared "Republic of Somaliland" consists of a regional authority based in the city of Hargeisa, including a President, Vice President, parliament, and cabinet officials.
In early 2002, Kenya organized a reconciliation effort under IGAD auspices known as the Somalia National Reconciliation Conference, which concluded in October 2004. In August 2004, the Somali Transitional Federal Assembly (TFA) was established as part of the IGAD-led process. Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed was elected President of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia on October 10, 2004, and Ali Mohamed Gedi was approved by the Transitional Federal Assembly as Prime Minister on December 24, 2004. The components of the TFG, including the Parliament and Executive, are known as the Transitional Federal Institutions (TFIs).
Two regional administrations exist in northern Somalia--the self-declared "Republic of Somaliland" in the northwest and the semi-autonomous region of Puntland in the northeast. In Somaliland, which is made up of the former British protectorate, Dahir Riyale Kahin was elected President in presidential elections deemed free and fair by international observers in May 2003. The area of Puntland declared itself autonomous (although not independent) in 1998 with its capital at Garowe. General Mohamed Adde Muse was elected President by the Puntland parliament in January 2005. Puntland declared it would remain autonomous until a federated Somalia state was established.
There are no Somali armed forces. Prior to 1991, the Somali National Army was made up of the army, navy, air force, and air defense command. The Transitional Federal Government and other various groups throughout Somalia are estimated to control militias ranging in strength from hundreds to thousands. Some groups possess limited inventories of older armored vehicles and other heavy weapons, and small arms are prevalent throughout Somalia.
Somalia followed a foreign policy of nonalignment for a brief period following independence. In 1970, the Siad Barre regime declared a national ideology based on scientific Socialism and aligned its foreign policy with the Soviet Union and China. In the 1980s, Somalia shifted its alignment to the West following a territorial conflict with Ethiopia over the disputed Somali-populated region of the Ogaden from 1977-78, which was supported by the Soviet Union. The central government also sought ties with many Arab countries, and continued to receive financial and military support from several Arab countries prior to its collapse in 1991.
In 1963, Somalia severed diplomatic relations with the United Kingdom for a period following a dispute over Kenya's Somali-populated northeastern region (Northern Frontier District), an area inhabited mainly by Somalis. Related problems have arisen from the boundary with Ethiopia and the large-scale migrations of Somali nomads between Ethiopia and Somalia. In the aftermath of the 1977-78 war between Somalia and Ethiopia, the Government of Somalia continued to call for self-determination for ethnic Somalis living in the Ogaden region of eastern Ethiopia. At the March 1983 Nonaligned Movement summit in New Delhi, President Siad Barre stated that Somalia harbored no expansionist aims and was willing to negotiate with Ethiopia over the disputed Ogaden region.
Following the collapse of the Barre regime, the foreign policy of the various entities in Somalia, including the Transitional Federal Government, has centered on gaining international recognition, winning international support for national reconciliation, and obtaining international economic assistance.
Although the U.S. never formally severed diplomatic relations with Somalia, the U.S. Embassy in Somalia has been closed since the collapse of the Siad Barre government in 1991. The United States maintains regular dialogue with the Transitional Federal Government and other key stakeholders in Somalia through the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. Consular coverage for Somalia also is maintained by U.S. Embassy Nairobi, while American Citizens Services in the self-declared Republic of Somaliland are provided by the U.S. Embassy in Djibouti.
Principal U.S. Officials
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Revised: Oct. 2007