Comprised of a former British protectorate and an Italian colony, Somalia was created in 1960 when the two territories merged. Since then its development has been slow. Relations with neighbours have been soured by its territorial claims on Somali-inhabited areas of Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti.
In 1970 Mr Barre proclaimed a socialist state, paving the way for close relations with the USSR. In 1977, with the help of Soviet arms, Somalia attempted to seize the Ogaden region of Ethiopia, but was defeated thanks to Soviet and Cuban backing for Ethiopia, which had turned Marxist.
In 1991 President Barre was overthrown by opposing clans. But they failed to agree on a replacement and plunged the country into lawlessness and clan warfare.
Years of anarchy followed the downfall of President Barre, and it was not until 2012, when a new internationally-backed government was installed, that the country began to enjoy a measure of stability once more.
The decades of fighting between rival warlords meant that the country was ill-equipped to deal with natural disasters such as drought, and around half a million people died in the Somali famines of 1992 and 2010-12.
Somalia is comprised of 99.9% Muslims and only 0.1% of the population are Christians. The country has an entirely Muslim population and in some areas Shari’a law is implemented. Church properties were nationalized and missionaries expelled in the 1970s. Existing churches are permitted by the government so long as they do not evangelize Muslims. All Muslim children, by law have to attend Islam classes in school, even if in private Christian missionary schools.
Challenges for Christians:
Somalia is ranked No. 4 among nations that are the worst persecutors of Christians based on Open Doors 2007 “World Watch List.” On May 11, 2007, Islamist Web sites attributed the kidnapping of two aid workers in Puntland to the aid workers having allegedly used the provision of assistance as a pretext for proselytizing. Similar claims were made against Ethiopians who the Islamists have stated were attempting to Christianise the country as part of their military occupation. On September 17, 2006, Leonella Sgorbati, an Italian nun, was killed at a hospital in Mogadishu by gunmen, hours after a leading Muslim cleric, Sheikh Abukar Hassan, condemned Pope Benedict XVI for his remarks on Islam and violence. Hassan declared, “Whoever offends our Prophet Muhammad should be killed on the spot by the nearest Muslim.”
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…In 2006 …Islamists …gained control of much of the south, including the capital, after their militias kicked out the warlords who had ruled the roost for 15 years.
With the backing of Ethiopian troops, forces loyal to the interim administration seized control from the Islamists at the end of 2006.
Islamist insurgents – including the Al-Shabab group, which later declared allegiance to al-Qaeda and in 2012 announced its merger with the global Islamist terrorist group – fought back against the government and Ethiopian forces, regaining control of most of southern Somalia by late 2008.
Ethiopia pulled its troops out in January 2009. Soon after, Al-Shabab fighters took control of Baidoa, formerly a key stronghold of the transitional government.
Al-Shabab consolidated its position as the most powerful insurgent group by driving its main rival, Hizbul Islam, out of the southern port city of Kismayo in October 2009.
But al-Shabab was wrong-footed by a series of government and African peacekeeper offensives and a Kenyan army incursion in 2011. They withdrew from Mogadishu in August 2011, the port of Baidoa in February, the key town of Afgoye in May and the port of Merca in August, and lost their last urban stronghold – the major southern port of Kismayo – in October 2012, along with the major inland town of Wanla Weyn.
In a sign of growing confidence, Somalia’s first formal parliament in more than 20 years was sworn in at Mogadishu airport, marking an end to the eight-year transitional period.
Parliament chose Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, an academic and civic activist with little political experience, as president in September 2012. He in turn appointed an economist and businessman, Abdi Farah Shirdon Saaid, prime minister with a brief to stamp out nepotism and clan rivalry (emphasis mine).
BBC News, Somalia profile – Overview, 21 October 2014
The al-Qaeda affiliate (al-Shabab which launched its deadliest attack on Kenya, which left 148 people dead at Garissa University last week – italics my additions) says it is at war with Kenya, and wants it to withdraw troops sent to Somalia in 2011 to help the weak government in Mogadishu fight the militants.
Kenyan fighter jets have bombed positions of militant Islamist group al-Shabab in neighbouring Somalia, a military spokesman has told the BBC.Many people in Somalia believe the air assault is merely aimed at showing Kenyans that the government is responding to the threat posed by al-Shabab. They point out there was a similar strike after al-Shabab killed 36 quarry workers in Kenya’s north-eastern Mandera region in December. Then, too, there were reports of civilian casualties, while Kenya failed to provide any proof of al-Shabab being hit.
This is in contrast to US air strikes in Somalia, which led to the killing of al-Shabab fighters and leaders.
Islamist militant group al-Shabab is battling the UN-backed government in Somalia, and has carried out a string of attacks in neighbouring Kenya. The group …has been pushed out of most of the main towns it once controlled, but it remains a potent threat.
Who are al-Shabab?
Al-Shabab means The Youth in Arabic.
It emerged as the radical youth wing of Somalia’s now-defunct Union of Islamic Courts, which controlled Mogadishu in 2006, before being forced out by Ethiopian forces.
There are numerous reports of foreign jihadists going to Somalia to help al-Shabab, from neighbouring countries, as well as the US and Europe.
It is banned as a terrorist group by both the US and the UK and is believed to have between 7,000 and 9,000 fighters.
BBC News, 3 April 2015
Foreign intervention in Somalia
1992 – UN troops arrive to monitor ceasefire after fighting which followed fall of Siad Barre. US-led task force delivers aid
1993 – UN mission is dealt a fatal blow when US rangers are killed in incident made famous by Hollywood film Black Hawk Down
1995 – UN troops withdraw, leaving warlords to fight on. UN casualties number 150
2006 – Ethiopia sends troops to defend interim government
2007 – African peacekeeping force AMISOM deploys
2011 – Kenya enters Somalia in pursuit of al-Shabab militia
The long-standing absence of authority in the country led to Somali pirates becoming a major threat to international shipping in the area, and prompted NATO to take the lead in an anti-piracy operation. International efforts were seen to bear fruit in 2012, when pirate attacks dropped sharply.
BBC News, Somalia profile – Overview, 21 October 2014
Somalis continue to experience one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. As of September 2013, there were more than 1.1 million Somalis displaced internally and nearly one million refugees living in neighboring countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia, and Yemen.
The government installed in 2012 controls only a fraction of the country, and those areas remain fragile in the face of tension between competing warlords and frequent attacks from the Al Shabab terrorist group.
Current Humanitarian Situation
Increased access and stability have improved Somalia’s humanitarian situation in recent months, but only marginally. While famine conditions no longer exist, the UN estimates that there are 870,000 people in need of live-saving humanitarian assistance. Cities are coming back to life in areas where Al Shabab has given up territorial control, particularly the capital Mogadishu, where approximately 369,000 IDPs reside. However, the displaced population is not benefitting from this revival.
A complex network of local powerbrokers (including businessmen, landowners, and public officials) controls the (Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) – italics mine) displacement camps and regularly diverts incoming aid (emphasis mine).
Further, as property values rise, landowners are designating more and more land for reconstruction and development. In the process, IDP camps on that land are being cleared, and IDPs are being forced to find shelter elsewhere. The UN estimates that tens of thousands of IDPs were evicted during August and September of 2013. RI is urging the Somali government to publicly condemn forced evictions and to implement protocols to protect the rights of IDPs.
In addition to the massive IDP population, Somalia is also the second-ranking source of refugees in the world. Kenya’s Dadaab camp, designed to hold 90,000 refugees fleeing the Somali civil war in 1991, holds nearly half a million refugees more than two decades later. The Kenyan government has indicated that it wants the bulk of the refugee population to return home. However, if returns occur prematurely, there is a high likelihood that those refugees will become IDPs within Somalia, facing the same protection challenges as the IDPs who are currently living in and around Mogadishu.
In November 2013, Kenya, Somalia, and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) signed a Tripartite Agreement to establish a framework for supporting voluntary returns to Somalia. The principle of voluntariness (emphasis mine, in view of Kenya’s pressure) must be upheld, and Kenya, along with UNHCR, must continue to provide protection and support for those refugees who feel that Somalia is not yet safe enough for a return home.
Refugees International, Somalia – Overview
Hundreds of fleeing Somalis have been reported drowned or killed by smugglers. Lately, kidnapping for ransom has dramatically increased for Somali refugees.
Some Somali refugees, previously stationed in one of the many refugee camps in neighbouring countries have preferred to return to a still volatile security situation in Somalia, rather than continue to endure practices of looting and raping by security forces, supposedly there to protect them.
History, overview, trends and issues in major Somali refugee displacements in the near region, Laura Hammond, Senior Lecturer, Department of Development Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), February 2014.
1.5 Million out of approx.. 10 Mio Somali live outside Somalia, in the “near” and “far” diasporas, in such countries as Kenya, Ethiopia, Yemen, Djibouti, and Uganda (1.1 Mio. In the latter countries, the rest as far dispersed as Europe, U.S., U.K., North and South Africa).
UNHCR, Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat, 30.9.2013
Barely 30% of the population has access to clean water and only 13% of boys and 7% of girls attend school.
From Website of International Medical Corps UK
Gross domestic product (GDP) per capita and human development outcomes are now among the lowest in the world.
The pre-eminence of customary clan-based systems inhibit social cohesion and pervasive traditional practices such as polygamy, early and forced marriage, exclusion of women from education and employment opportunities, result in some of the worst gender equality indicators in the world.
With more than 70% of the population under the age of 30, Somalia is a young country with enormous development needs. Among the more urgent is food security which, together with displacement of a large share of the population, has led to a continuing humanitarian crisis that has spilled over into the wider region.
Life expectancy at birth is 51 years and infant mortality rates are estimated to be 108 deaths per 1,000 live births i.e. one in every 10 children dies in the first year (UNICEF).
The World Bank, Somalia Overview, Last Updated: Mar 09, 2015