Just what is fuelling the conflict in Somalia? Following independence in 1960 by the federation of a former Italian colony and a British protectorate, the country was ruled under an effective dictatorship by Mohamed Siad Barre from October 1969 until January 1991 when he was overthrown. That triggered a bloody civil war waged by clan-based guerrillas that effectively destroyed Somalia's economy and infrastructure and split the country into areas under the rule of various factions. Today the country is nominally administered by the Transitional Federal Government being widely recognised as the legitimate authority and occupying Somalia's seat in the United Nations. However rebel groups are still active and see the transitional government as a mere puppet of western forces and reject the official government's interpretation of Sharia Law which they considered insufficiently strict.
The main current 'rebel' group, Al-Shabab (meaning 'Youth'), is the military wing of the former Union of Islamic Courts (ICU) that once held sway over the capital of Mogadishu and large portions of the Somali countryside particularly in southern and central Somalia following Mohamed Siad Barre's downfall, however the African Union-led (AU) military campaign has eroded their dominance, ousting them from Mogadishu although they continue to mount regular, lethal attacks against Western and AU forces and civilians in the capital and across the region. Another rebel group was Hizbul Islam (meaning Islamic Party) led by cleric Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys however they were defeated during fighting with Al-Shabaab 2009-2010 and renounced violence in 2013 staing that they would continue their activity in formal Somali politics as a political party and changed their name to Istiqlal in 2014.
It is estimated that around 500,000 people have been killed in Somalia since the start of the civil war in 1991 and, as ever, it is the wider population who have lost the most. The majority of that population are mainstream Sunni who do not adhere to the literal and rigid interpretation of the Koran demanded by al-Shabab however, despite African Union troops attempting to maintain the peace and neighbouring countries such as Kenya reinforcing the border, the outcome, if there is one, may be decades away not least because Al-Shabab has targetted the population of countries that has served against it with, for example, indiscriminate terrorist attacks in Kenya and Uganda.
While the wider international community has been unwilling to become fully embroiled, with then President Donald Trump ordering his Department of Defense to remove the majority of the 700 U.S. troops in Somalia in 2020, Somalia's strategic position in the Horn of Africa continues to give an impetus to preventing al-Shabab usurping the Somali government as it would then, in all likelihood, extend its reach into Eritrea and other neighbouring states. Of course the real losers of the conflict are Somalia's children who have known nothing but war and conflict for the duration of their lives; 200,000 of them have even been drawn into the conflict as child soldiers in support of varying sides. These children are in the middle of a humanitarian crisis, however most aid agencies fear to work in Somalia due to the conflict risking the lives of their staff, many of whom face kidnap and abduction.
Somalia Conflict: Volunteer in Somalia
Somalia Conflict: History of Somalia
Somalia Conflict: Sponsor Children in Somalia
Somalia Conflict: Somalia Country Profile
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