Somalia – Islamists and Pirates Part I

After 19 years of civil war, Somalia has become more on the international agenda. Piracy, which exploded in 2008, has helped put Somalia on the map. The emergence of the movement of young Muslims (al-Shebab), a group that says they are allied with al-Qaeda , has also created fear. Other Islamist movements, such as the radical Islamist party (Hizb Islamiya) and the Sufis of the “Sunna’s Way” (Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa) have also become important.

  • What is the situation in Somalia now?
  • Is the whole country just as troubled?
  • Where do the dividing lines go?
  • How do countries around them react to the conflict in Somalia?

From Puntland and cities in central Somalia, the pirates operate, hijacking ships and demanding ransom for them. The international community supports a transitional government led by one of the leaders of the former Sharia court , Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed. However, the transitional government controls only parts of the capital Mogadishu.

In the northwest, the self-proclaimed, independent republic of Somaliland has experienced peace since 1996. In the northeastern corner of Somalia, Puntland, there is also relatively peaceful defiance of pirate groups operating from this part of the country.

2: Background

Somalia was established as a separate state in 1960 as a union between a former British colony (British Somaliland) and a former Italian colony (Italian Somaliland). The dream of the nationalists who organized the merger was to bring all Somalis together in one state. But Somalis also lived in neighboring countries, and these countries would not give up the lands inhabited by Somalis.

Corruption in the country, and the conflicts with neighboring countries, created fertile ground for a military coup in 1969; thus, dictator Siad Barre came to power. Somalia built a large army with Soviet support. During the Ogaden War of 1977-78, in which Somalia tried to conquer Somali- inhabited parts of Ethiopia, Siad Barre’s new army was crushed, and the Soviet Union withdrew its support.

The United States became the country’s new ally. The war resulted in many refugees in Somalia, a country located in Africa according to The economy weakened, and Siad Barre lost popularity. Barre tried to remedy the situation by playing clans against each other, which created more conflict. Four major rebel movements were established. After the Cold War, the United States was no longer interested in supporting Barre, and he had less and less resources to rely on in the fight against the rebels. In 1991, he had to flee the capital Mogadishu; most consider this to be the start of the Somali civil war.

3: Warlords and UN intervention

The parties that threw Barre out were far from united. The movements active in southern Somalia failed to pay their soldiers, who were not very loyal to the leaders and often looted to support themselves. The factions became increasingly divided. Sub-managers took power over parts of the organizations that the central management had not been able to pay. The process took time, and in 1991 the factions were still large, resulting in bloody fighting, the so-called four-month war that was one of the worst in Mogadishu’s history.

The locals were squeezed between the fighters, and more and more had to flee. Somali refugees were scattered in many countries, among them Norway. Matches and a growing famine got the UN to intervene with a peacekeeping operation, United Nations Operation in Somalia I . This was ineffective and was soon replaced by a US-led, but UN-adopted, operation in 1992, UNITAF . Later, this became a UN operation under American leadership, UNOSOM II .

The relationship between the Americans and one of the leaders of a local militia, Muhammed Farah Aideed , got worse and worse. In 1993, therefore, the Americans tried to capture Aideed. After the so-called “Black Hawk Down” episode, in which an American Black Hawk helicopter was shot down by Aideed’s militia and American soldiers were severely abused, the Americans withdrew from Somalia. Soon all the UN forces followed.

The division among the rebels continued. In Mogadishu and southern Somalia, more and more warlords established themselves with control over ever smaller territories. The growing anarchy created increasing insecurity. When the warlords were unable or unwilling to pay their own militia soldiers, they, along with freelance militias, began looting the civilian population . The Somali clans, which are important for mobilizing support in Somalia, and who had often previously supported warlords from their clans , became more and more skeptical of the warlords .

In this situation, many Somalis joined forces to support the creation of so-called sharia courts, courts based on Islamic laws led by Islamic leaders, to create local order. In some of these courts, extremists came to power. They were often seen as effective soldiers who could fight against the warlords and crack down on crime. These Islamists had also sent some younger militia soldiers to Afghanistan for training there. These became very important to the courts as they were skilled soldiers. They were often referred to as the young Muslims (Shebab) .

Horn of Africa - a deadly place

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