THE QUESTION OF INTERVENTION IN SOMALIA
Somalia was colonised by the great powers of Europe in the 19th century. France was the first European nation to gain influence in Somalia, gaining some control of the coast in the 1860s, whereas Britain first declared a protectorate over Somalia in 1887. Subsequently, Somalia was divided between the French, the Italians and the British. Regions of Somalia, such as Somaliland, continued to alternate leadership between these powers for much of the 19th and 20th Centuries, until the 1950s, when Italian Somaliland was granted internal sovereignty and merged with the French and British regions, to form the United Republic of Somalia.
From the outset Somalia was scourged with war: disputes with Kenya and Ethiopia in the 60s caused great hostility between Somalia and its African neighbours, and a military coup led by General Muhammad Siad Barre assumed governance of Somalia in 1969. Somalia subsequently joined the Arab League, and became a socialist state with a nationalised economy. Somalia continued to endure hostility and international war with its neighbours, namely Ethiopia, until Barre was ousted in 1991 and it became subject to factionalism and civil war.
State collapse, militaristic warlords and eventually the conflict of idealisms scourged the nation. The state became divided, as the former British protectorate declared unilateral independence in 1991, and the Puntland declared autonomy in 1998. The nation has been disunited and many people living in the territories have different views of if, and how, the nation should unite. This has often led to violence, humanitarian atrocities, international paralysis and, most notably, the rise of Islamic extremism in the state. Al-Shabaab, a group associated with Al-Quaeda, has a significant presence in Somalia and was responsible for numerous suicide bombings in recent years. Piracy and other crimes have plagued the nation, making it unpopular with the international community, and causing humanitarian crises to arise. Somalia is the third poorest country in the world, with a GDP per capita of only $600.
Ever since its colonisation, there has always been some form of international presence in Somalia. The UN has overseen more than two peacekeeping missions and numerous humanitarian schemes in an attempt to ameliorate the situation. Following the collapse of the USSR, Somalia’s strategic importance to the West diminished, and aid was withdrawn. This heightened clan factionalism and conflict, however any international response was belated by conflicts in the Gulf and Balkans. The first UN mission (the United Nations Operation in Somalia I) was deployed in April 1992, when a ceasefire was negotiated between the two main belligerents in Mogadishu, Ali Mahdi Mohamed and General Mohamed Farah Aideed. However UNOSOM I was unable to curb the violence, and was forced to adapt in 1993 to UNOSOM II.
This was due to the decision of the outgoing US government to deploy troops to Somalia to support the mission. UNOSOM II made significant progress by providing resources such as humanitarian aid and medical equipment, as well as improving security and reopening Mogadishu airport and seaport. It was however unable to disarm the various factions and militia operating in the country, and eventually became embroiled in conflict. The US withdrew its support for the mission and UNOSOM II imploded.
The UN’s departure triggered international disinterest, and thus a decline in international aid. Ever since, the international community has advocated different solutions to the situation in Somalia. Ethiopia favoured a “building-block” approach – a stance often backed by the West. This would involve donations of “peace-dividends” to reward stability. The Arab states on the other hand supported reconciliation programs, which would aim to revive a central, federal government. Various peace conferences attempted to authorise numerous governments, however the international community has never shown a united front, and so many of these failed.
A response from the Security Council is desperately needed to alleviate the grave humanitarian crises in the region, to secure stability and to prevent Somalia once again falling victim to the scourge of war.