Who Caused the Somali State Collapse? A Chronological Review

Somalia Civil War
Somali Civil War (1992–1995) American soldiers on patrol in Mogadishu n 1992. Photo: War History Online


As is the norm among societies of war-torn countries recovering from civil wars, questions like “Why did our state collapse?”, “When did the collapse begin?”, and “Who is to blame for it?” often dominate public discourses. Somalis are no exception, as crucial questions like these are discussed in academic forums, cafés, and other palaver talks. The answers are mostly contrasting as people hold opposing views on the matter of Somalia’s costly state collapse. Therefore, to do away with the generic, unexamined takes, and reach an informed conclusion on the matter, one must view it from all perspectives and dig deeper.

When did the collapse begin?
To answer this question, different dates, based on which group you talk to, are tossed around by Somalis.

Hardline pro-Somaliland-secessionism for example, will tell you that a collapse was inevitable as the 1960 union of the Italian and British Somaliland failed. This take hinges on how “unequally” the North was treated, as a result, they say, a dissolution was bound to unfold.

Another school of thought argues that the uprooting of the capitalist, democratic government which ruled the country from 1960 to 1969 by the socialist, military dictatorship is where the decline begun. That sudden yet drastic paradigm shift is, they believe, the reason for the nation’s disintegration.

As per the supporters of the Barre regime, the military “saved” a nation that was descending into unseen levels of corruption and kleptocracy.

So, as is apparent, this, in line with Somali history in general, is a polarising theme. The correct way to go about its deconstruction is to chronologically analyse each period on its own, put both the positives and negatives on the table for all to judge.

The Civilian Era (1960-1969)
This era saw a democratic Somalia which had a remarkable degree of freedom of expression and political participation. Somalis had in the eyes of many, the best democracy in the African continent at the time. And despite everything not been rosy and governance having its flaws, this for a start, had a lot of potential.

Something constant in these 9 years was that the country’s leaders were all part of the freedom-seeking movements of the pre-independence. Presidents Aden Adde and Abdirashid Sharmarke and Prime Ministers Abdirisak Hussein and Mohamed Ibrahim Egal, were all members of either Somali Youth League (SYL) or Somali National League (SNL) movements that championed freedom in the two Somali protectorates. Corruption and nepotism were however, admittedly, rampant during this period.

The Authoritarian Period (1969-1991)
Following the mysterious assassination of President Abdirashid Sharmarke on 15 October 1969, the military staged a coup, jailed most of the ruling class, and set the country on a new socialist and authoritarian path whereby decisions were taken by a select crop of individuals named “The Revolutionary Council”.

Early on, the military rule accomplished some commendable milestones. Settling on the Latin script and putting efforts into educating the whole nation on the newly adopted script was a huge literacy achievement. With help from USSR, strengthening the Somali army was another laudable feat.

However, the regime’s tyrannical nature, and the constant abuse of power to oppress and eliminate all non-conforming voices, overshadowed those accomplishments. Arbitrary arrests, trials at kangaroo courts and summary executions persisted throughout this period.

To consolidate their rule, the military at times waged barbaric military campaigns in various provinces whose communities were seen restive. Nugaal, Galgauud, and Mudug were the first to fall victim as wells were vandalised and poisoned, civilians killed, and women raped by the military.

A similar campaign took place in the town of Adado in central Somalia where, astonishingly, the regime came to the aid of one side in a clan-based clash. But the bloodiest of them all was that whose victims were the communities of Burao and Hargeisa, in what is now known as Somaliland. A significant part of the government’s military might, including aerial bombardments, were used to quell these regions.

After a while, this oppressive style of governing prompted Somalis to establish rebel militias aimed at toppling the government which at the end succeeded.

Militias’ Era (1978-2000s)
The first rebel militia came to light in 1978 right after the defeat in the Ogaden war and a botched military coup. In the next decade, many others emerged. They all had one goal; topple the regime but failed to formulate a comprehensive plan to save the country’s rotting governance. A major stain on the militias was that they emulated the very same savagery they rebelled against.

Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF) killed innocent civilians in Galgaduud for sharing lineage with the dictator. Somali National Movement (SNM) massacred many in Awdal because they deemed those communities “sympathetic” toward the regime they loathed. United Somali Congress (USC) split into two warring factions and rendered Mogadishu a graveyard. And although overthrowing the tyrannical regime was essential, all the militias in this case slowly but surely turned into what they despised, and the ultimate loser in all this anarchy was the ordinary Somali.

History is often marred with disappointing memories and unfortunate events. And for a community like Somalis to build toward a common future, we must reconcile with our past; good or bad. We must put our biases aside, abandon any historical revisionism, and come clean about all wrongdoings. A genuine, nation-wide, and comprehensive reconciliation remains out of reach until those steps are taken. For as long as grievances aren’t altogether addressed, the nation will be stuck with a fleeting and cosmetic harmony.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of this publication

Osman Aidarus
Osman Aidarus
Osman Aidarus writes about Somali history and occasionally opines on the monumental day-to-day social issues that arise in the country be it politics, economy, or security.

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