Speaking in London in February, Somalia’s newly elected President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud noted that his victory marked “the first time in recent Somali history that a leadership that has not practiced violence has come to power”. He heads the first Somali government to be recognised by the USA in over twenty years, a breakthrough which is predicted to encourage an increase in international aid for the famine-stricken country which up till now has been in a state of anarchy and unrest. Foreign aid for Somalia declined in the wake of the expulsion of US-supported UNOSOM troops in 1995, after two American helicopters were shot down (inspiring the book and film Black Hawk Down) and eighteen American soldiers died in the Battle of Mogadishu.
The roots of Somalia’s war stretch back to the late 1980s, when the then President, military dictator Siad Barre, was overthrown by a coalition of resistance movements with a variety of ideological and clan-based motivations. Barre’s initial response to the challenge to his power was to kill 50,000 people and force 650,000 to escape to neighbouring countries as refugees. These would be the first of millions of people killed or displaced as the conflict grew in intensity and complexity.
In the 1990s feuding warlords like General Mohamed Farrah Aidid sought to fill the power vacuum left in the capital, Mogadishu. At the same time, northern regions announced their secession from the South in order to form new political entities; the Republic of Somaliland and the Puntland State of Somalia. The Civil War has seen a variety of Islamist groups attempt to seize control. ‘Al-Shabaab’, which is powerful in the southern and central regions and publicly supports al-Quaida, has been the main opposition to the internationally-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG). Between 2009 and 2012, they fought for power over Mogadishu until Al-Shabaab was toppled. Subsequently the current President was elected in September 2012. Mohamud has stressed his dedication to re-establishing peace and political stability in Somalia, and hopefully he can deliver on this promise to provide the region with a measure of stability after a long drought of lawlessness.