Somalia? Which Somalia? Some Facts About Everybody’s — Nobody’s Land

Human Wrongs Watch 

By Baher Kamal

To begin with, Somalia is situated in the so-called Horn of Africa, bordering with Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and the Indian Ocean. Its territory covers over 637,000 kilometres, hosting around 10 million inhabitants who speak Somali, Arabic, Italian and English, and are mostly Muslim Sunnis.

Somalia’s main ethnic groups are Somali (some 85%), Bantu and other non-Somali (15%) including slightly over 300,000 Arabs. Nevertheless, Somalia is a member of the League of Arab States.

Its income per capita is around 600 US dollars, and its major natural resources are uranium and quasi-unexploited reserves of iron ore, bauxite, copper, tin, salt, natural gas and non-quantified oil reserves. Foreign fishing floats largely benefit from its fish-rich waters and contiguous international waters.

But this is not enough. This is data, figures, however important.

Oil Blocs in Puntland – Image: Ingoman | Wikimedia Commons

How Many Somalia Are There?

The fact is that Somalia was historically made of different tribes living in different areas that used to include large areas but now remain outside the country.

The big European colonial powers decided to take bits and pieces of it, splitting it in the following five different Somalia:

1. – The so-called British Somalia:

In 1839, the British Empire established a military protectorate in the North West region, cutting it up from Somalia. It remained under British occupation until independence in 1960.

2. – The so-called French Somalia:

In 1860, the French Empire decided to take one part of Somalia, which became independent in 1997, and now known as Djibouti.

3. – The so-called Italian Somalia:

In 1889, ltaly opted for not lagging behind other European powers and therefore occupied another part of Somalia. This part is the largest area, positioned in the South and East of the country, hosting over 2,5 million people.

In 1938, Italy decided to enlarge its occupation, invading other parts of Somalia and occupying Ogaden, which was under British rule.

4.- The so-called ‘Kenyan’ Somalia:

Another region, situated in the South West of Somalia, was annexed to the British-ruled Kenya in 1963. Before Kenya’s independence from Britain, this region decided its integration to Somalia, through a referendum. This result, however, was declared null. It remained in Kenya.

5. – The so-called ‘Ethiopian’ Somalia or the Ogaden region: formerly occupied by Britain, later on by Italy, and finally it was annexed by Ethiopia.

Independent Somalia?

After the II Big War, Britain annexed the French and Italian areas, naming them Somalia, which was declared independent in 1960.

A formally independent Somalia, but left without some of its lands – one part was annexed to Ethiopia, a second part was annexed to Kenya, and a third one became Djibouti. All this would lead to several wars.

Somalia was ruled in 1960 by President Abdul Rashid Ali Sharmaki until he was murdered in 1969. General Siad Barre seized power in a military coup and became president.

Siad Barre proclaimed an iron regime with communist orientation, and in 1977 entangled Somalia in a big war against Ethiopia with the aim of recuperating the originally Somali Ogaden region.

Caught In The Cold War

In a notable illustration of the nature of Cold War alliances, the Soviet Union switched from supplying aid to Somalia to supporting Ethiopia, which had previously been backed by the United States, prompting the U.S. to start supporting Somalia. The war ended when Somali forces retreated back across the border and a truce was declared.

The Ogaden War weakened the Somali military. The weakness of the Barre regime led it to effectively abandon the dream of a unified Greater Somalia. The failure of the war aggravated discontent with the Barre regime; the first organised opposition group, the Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF), was formed by army officers in 1979.

The Kingdom Of War Lords

After a wave of violent unrests, the Siad Barre regime fell in 1991. The country entered into a phase of uncontrolled violence and anarchy. The fall of General Siad Barres regime was followed by the ‘creation’ of ‘a new country’ in Somalia, the Somaliland Republic, which unilaterally declared its independence.

And a number of ‘war lords’ set up their own mini-States in Puntland and Jubaland. These ‘sates’ have not been internationally recognised, though they had a much higher degree of stability.

And the so-called ‘war lords’ gradually dominated Somalia, armed by everybody.

The Outcome

But regardless of the many more recent details of this never-ending Somali drama, some key facts should be recalled, in any rapid attempt to understand what there is behind.


1) The colonial history, which systematically disintegrated the country with the consequent huge economic and human haemorrhage that it implies,

2) The colonial concept of Somalia not as a nation, but a conundrum of tribal groups, which leads to fuelling rivalries and violence,

3) The continuing interference of foreign powers in Somalia affairs,

4) The consequent increasing strength of the ‘war lords’, armed and backed by foreign powers and encouraged by Washington’s so-called ‘war on terrorism”.

5) The absence, in view of the above, of a specific ‘national project’-the fragmentation of Somalia and the interference from abroad, accentuated individual groups interests and influence.

6) The imposed chaos benefited too many ‘businessmen’ trafficking in weapons, drugs, illegal fishing, toxic and radioactive materials dumping—let alone trafficking humans.

The phenomena of piracy, which everybody – above all the U.S. and Europe – showed promptness to combat, is just a fraction of the enormous gaining of these ‘war lords’ who apparently have been transformed into a key weapon in that ‘war on terrorism’.

These are the facts – at least some of the most widely unknown ones.

What Future For Somalia?

Ut regardless of the never-ending human drama now aggravated by droughts, what will happen in and with Somalia from now on?

Ask somebody else. Somewhere else. Not in Somalia. Do you by chance know anybody working at multinational mining or oil companies… or at the business of illegal fishing and toxic, radioactive waste dumping? (Human Wrongs Watch)

2011 Human Wrongs Watch

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