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January 20, 2009
Q&A: Answers to lawlessness in Somalia’s weekly radio show explores the worsening situation in Somalia, taking a look beyond the pirate frenzy offshore and examining the causes of instability onshore.

Martin Savidge hosts a panel of guests and address viewer questions about the region. In addition to the audio interview, here are some written answers to user-generated questions regarding the history, politics and the humanitarian crisis in Somalia.

Lynn Fredriksson is a researcher on the Horn of Africa, including Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea, for Amnesty International. She co-leads missions to the Horn. Most recently she has traveled to Nairobi, Kenya and Hargeisa, Somaliland to interview refugees from the armed conflict in southern and central Somalia.

Abdi Samatar is a professor and chair of the department of geography and global studies at the University of Minnesota. He was Fulbright Scholar to Ethiopia and Botswana. His research focuses on the relationship between democracy and development in the Third World in general and Africa in particular, and he has written extensively about Ethiopia and Somalia.

David H. Shinn is a former Ambassador to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso. He is currently an adjunct professor at George Washington University.  Amb. Shinn’s research interests include Africa, terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism and U.S. foreign policy in Africa. He also blogs regularly here.


Photo: Abukar Albadri

Q: Why hasn’t Somalia had a stable central government in 17 years?

Prof. Abdi Samatar: Two factors contributed to the demise of a national government: Internal and external factors. Unlike what many conventional analysts claim, it has not been the genealogical structure (clans) of Somalis that has been the problem.

Instead, the key problem has been sectarian politicians who undermined the integrity of the public order by using state resources and power for personal gain and to oppress those who challenge them. The internal problem has been political rather than cultural in the sense of genealogy.

Second, the internal factor dovetailed with cold war agendas that supported whichever local groups that served their interests. These two forces jointly destroyed the legitimacy of the state and alienated the population. Once warlords divided the country into fiefdoms it has been difficult to create the space for civic minded citizens to mount a counter-attack and the international community continues to support the sectarian politicians and warlords.

Q: Has piracy always been a problem?

Prof. Abdi Samatar: Piracy is a new phenomenon and can easily be eliminated by a legitimate Somali government.

Q: How much of this is a religious struggle between Somali Muslims and Ethiopian Christians? Is radical Islam and the war on terror the root causes here?

Prof. Abdi Samatar: There is little that is religious in the conflict between Ethiopian and Somalis. The struggle is centered on the marginalization of the Somali population in Ethiopia as well as Ethiopia¹s long-standing attempt to undermine Somali unity. The war on terror is the problem. Most of Somalis who subscribe to political Islam are nationalist.

Q: What does the resignation of the Somali president in December mean for internal Somali politics and leadership going forward? How has the power sharing between Somali leaders and Islamists worked out so far? Which party/group will likely emerge from the power vacuum?

Prof. Abdi Samatar: It will not change things significantly as far as the legitimacy and capacity of the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) is concerned. It is hard to predict which political grouping will come out on top.


Q:  What were Ethiopia’s goals in occupying Somalia in 2006? Did Ethiopia accomplish them? What were Ethiopia’s interests/fears concerning Somalia?

Amb. David H. Shinn
: Ethiopia actually had small numbers of troops inside Somalia before 2006. The growing strength of the militias of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) and, especially, their march towards Baidoa in south central Somalia in late 2006 persuaded the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and Ethiopia to take strong action. Baidoa was the TFG headquarters. A few UIC leaders had even expressed an interest in waging a jihad against Ethiopia. At least one of the leaders revived the idea of Somali irredentism, or taking back land under the control of Ethiopia.

At the time of independence in 1960, it was the goal of the Somali government to incorporate into Somalia that part of Ethiopia inhabited by Somalis. This region constitutes about one-quarter of Ethiopia’s land area. Ethiopia decided it was time to defeat the UIC militia.

After defeating the UIC, Ethiopia wanted the more compliant TFG to take control of Somalia. This would remove the threat of jihad against Ethiopia and neutralize any thought of reviving Somali irredentism. Ethiopia initially succeeded militarily by soundly defeating the UIC, whose militias evacuated the capital of Mogadishu as the Ethiopians and TFG approached. Within months, however, the situation began to deteriorate in the capital. The Islamists have slowly rebuilt their strength ever since.

The Ethiopian military force and their TFG and African Union force allies became bogged down in urban guerrilla warfare. As financial costs and casualties mounted, the Ethiopians concluded it was necessary to pull out. Ethiopia says that it achieved its objectives. Over the short term, it is true that they need not fear an attack from Somalia nor is irredentism a serious threat. On the other hand, they did not install the compliant TFG in Mogadishu and forces in Somalia opposed to Ethiopia have reasserted themselves and eventually might decide to revive the idea of Somali irredentism.

My own view is that the Ethiopians decided to cut their losses and leave Somalia. In the best case scenario, this decision may permit moderate Islamists and the TFG to take control of the country and reestablish a degree of stability.

Photo: Abukar Albadri

Q: Did Ethiopia invaded Somalia with the backing of the U.S.? How did the U.S. support Ethiopia, and why?

Amb. David H. Shinn
: The U.S. denied that it supported Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia. It is important to remember that the TFG invited Ethiopian troops to join them in opposing the UIC. It is still not clear to me, and I believe the public generally, to what extent the U.S. supported Ethiopia in this endeavor. We know a few facts.

The U.S. never publicly called on Ethiopia to end its military action inside Somalia nor did it publicly criticize the effort. Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi publicly acknowledged that the U.S. shared intelligence with Ethiopia as the Ethiopians moved deeper into Somalia. I do not know if the U.S. provided any military equipment that could be used in the action or paid any of the costs for the invasion.  Many Somalis and Ethiopians in the region believe that the U.S. provided more tangible support. They either have information that is not available to me or they are just guessing. At a minimum, however, the U.S. gave a green light to Ethiopia.

The U.S. was sympathetic to the Ethiopian position for several reasons. The U.S. supported the TFG and Ethiopia was trying to put the TFG in power in Mogadishu. A defeat of the UIC, which at the time had both moderate and extremist members, would in the view of the U.S. reduce the likelihood that terrorism would increase in Somalia. In fact, a TFG/Ethiopian victory might even create a situation that would allow the U.S. to root out a small number of foreign terrorists that it believed had taken refuge in the country.

Q: How does the crisis in Somalia affect the greater region (Horn of Africa)?

Amb. David H. Shinn: It has had huge, negative implications for the wider region. The crisis drove Somali refugees into neighboring countries, especially Kenya and Yemen. It attracted Ethiopian troops into Somalia, further exacerbating relations between Somalis and Ethiopians.

The crisis destroyed the economy of Somalia so that it became a net importer of virtually everything rather than a producer. Somalia is traditionally a nomadic country with herds crossing between Somalia and Ethiopia. The crisis disrupted these movements and forced many nomads to move to the capital where international agencies provided emergency food aid.

Outside powers joined in the fray, seeking advantage for their own purposes. As Ethiopia supported the TFG, Eritrea supported the UIC in an effort to put additional pressure on Ethiopia.  You will recall that relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea were poor because of a dispute over demarcation of their border. A small number of outside extremists began funding radical elements in Somalia, thus increasing the specter of terrorism.  As the Somali economy broke down, more and more Somalis took to the profitable business of piracy in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean. This has had a major impact on international shipping in the region.

The biggest losers in all of this, however, have been the Somalis themselves, especially innocent men, women and children who have nothing to do with the conflict.  They face regular danger, minimal food and health care, and often find themselves internally displaced.

Q: What does the resignation of the Somali president in December mean for internal Somali politics and leadership going forward? How has the power sharing between Somali leaders and Islamists worked out so far? Which party/group will likely emerge from the power vacuum?

Prof. Abdi Samatar: It will not change things significantly as far as the legitimacy and capacity of the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) is concerned. It is hard to predict which political grouping will come out on top.


Q: On Friday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution expressing its intention to establish the U.N. force in Somalia, but postponed the final decision for several months to assess the situation and strengthen the African Union force currently deployed in the capital. Why the delay? Is the situation in Somalia on the scale of Darfur? Has the situation changed since Ethiopia pulled out?

Lynn Fredricksson: The delay appears to be based in large part on the inability of the UNSG to find lead and other country willing to make troop and other necessary commitments to constitute a full U.N. peacekeeping operation. It is also perhaps bad timing in that the Ethiopian forces are only now pulling out and the immediate imposition of a significant international force might be less than welcome, especially before the Somali people know what is happening in relation to the presidency, the impact of Ethiopian troop withdrawal and the impact of recently strengthened anti-piracy operations.

Amnesty International’s greatest concern about the new resolution is that it does not include preparations for human rights provisions to be included in any upcoming operations nor does it address the lack of capacity and  mandate for civilian protection by the current AU peacekeeping operation. While I don’t think it’s worthwhile to compare African crisis situations, I would say that the interlinked humanitarian and human rights crises in Somalia are among the worst for civilians in the world.

Photo: Abukar Albadri

Q: When were you in Somalia last, what did you see on the ground?

Lynn Fredricksson: While direct access to Somalia has been challenging due to ongoing security concerns, Amnesty International has been regularizing its missions to the region since late 2007 — including field work in the self-declared independent Somaliland and in Nairobi, Kenya, where we have interviewed refugees from southern and central Somalia, including journalists and human rights defenders who have been forced to flee, and in Djibouti where we have been monitoring the progress of the peace process there.

Our findings throughout 2008 have indicated a disturbing and ongoing targeting of human rights defenders, humanitarian aid workers and journalists, the very people who we depend on to have revealed consistently dire human rights conditions in which humanitarian organizations are obstructed from providing desperately needed assistance to some 3.2 million vulnerable Somali civilians.

Q: Has the safety of humanitarian workers and journalists improved?

Lynn Fredricksson: Conditions for Somali human rights defenders, aid workers and journalists has not yet improved. It often takes time for developments like the Ethiopian withdrawal, the resignation of the president or United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions to result in clear changes in conditions on the ground.

It is therefore essential that the international community, particularly the UNSC and donor countries, pay close attention and commit significant resources to humanitarian access and assistance, human rights monitoring and a commission of inquiry, and enforcement of the arms embargo, beyond only peacekeeping operations and anti-piracy operations.


Q:  What will an Obama administration mean for Somalia?  Will the international community intervene?

Amb. David H. Shinn
: The UNSC, with strong support from the outgoing Bush administration, adopted a resolution on Jan. 16, 2009 that called on the African Union to strengthen its force in Mogadishu from 2,600 to 8,000 troops. It also authorized the U.N. Secretary General to submit a report by April 15 that includes a possible mandate for a U.N. peacekeeping force in Somalia and to make a decision on this matter by June 1.

The U.S. has been pressing the U.N. for months to put a peacekeeping force in Somalia. So long as there is no peace to keep, this idea is problematic. U.S. ambassador-designate to the U.N., Susan Rice, expressed no enthusiasm for a U.N. peacekeeping force in recent testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Even if the U.N. eventually agrees to a peacekeeping force, it will probably be predicated on the ability to “keep” the peace rather than to “make” peace.  The Obama administration, in view of the unhappy U.S. experience in Somalia in 1992-1993, would not likely allow the U.S. to contribute boots on the ground. At best, the U.S. would pay its share of the cost and provide logistical and intelligence support to the peacekeeping force.

I believe the Obama administration will pursue a more flexible approach to the Somali crisis by consulting with a wider range of Somali participants involved in the conflict. It may also pay greater attention to ameliorating the humanitarian catastrophe caused by the conflict.  It may try to grapple more effectively with the root causes of the crisis rather than focus almost exclusively on the conflict as a counter-terrorism issue.

Photo: Abukar Albadri

Q: What needs to happen in order to stabilize the humanitarian crises?

Lynn Fredricksson: Stability and security in Somalia will require a the confluence of a number of factors:

  • progress on the various facets of a more inclusive peace process
  • development of a mandate and capacity for whatever peacekeeping operation exists in Somalia to protect civilians
  • strengthening and enforcement of the arms embargo
  • the eventual deployment of human rights monitors and progress toward the establishment of a commission of inquiry into past human rights abuses
  • and, security focus on unhindered access and adequate funding for humanitarian operations to provide for the immediate needs of more than 1.2 million internally displaced Somali civilians, hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees in Kenya, Somaliland and other areas of the region, and other vulnerable Somali civilians; and protection for Somali human rights defenders, aid workers and journalists.

Photo courtesy of Abukar Albadri and the CIA World Factbook.

Host: Martin Savidge
Producers: Lisa Biagiotti, Katie Combs and Stephen Puschel




[…] Q&A: Answers to lawlessness in Somalia […]


The present chaos in Somalia is tribal conflict, that had been triggered in the absence of a state for two decades. Personally I feel that the Somalis who are residing in the Arab/Islamic countries are still living in their tribal stage, the reason why the conflict will continue.


Remember my beloeved brothers and sisters globally fear Allah where ever we are this is our way out and stay in peace not pieces.


There is alot of diversion between the Muslim,where by alot of sects with differents views and principles are saying they are a good muslims while they are not.They are just pretenders to the religion.Islam is one and need a peace in the world.


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[…] Read more background on Somalia’s conflict in our Q&A: Answers to lawlessness in Somalia. […]


Islam has no nature of violence….Rather islam is a peaceful religion…Ethopia has done wrong interfering with Somalia. Problem of Somalia must be solved internally..Somalia and any other Muslim country should not tolerate Extremist and groups of people who have twisted ideas of the religon of Islam and rather deceive Islam..These groups have used Islam….They are not Muslims and their brutal practices is condemed and is not the practice of Islam…WE should encourage Peace and Diplomacy as Muslims.. TFG and ALshabab must come together and form a goverment based on the right Islamic Laws as Somalia is a 100% Muslim country… Working together and sharing power must be encouraged and is the only way to Govern Somalia…


marcel is nothing, but an enemy of islam. western powers who are the real enemies of islam are responsible for what we see and hear about somalia, they hate islamic sharia, while they do supports satanism. islam is not a religion that support brutality,lawlessness or anything bad. marcel are those child of today’s satan that encourages violences. UP ISLAM.


what new leadership of the somalia needs to do is to send all foreign forces out and then call the Alshabab’s and the rest to form an islamic regime.


I love this piece. What a great summary on all of the issues facing Somalia, from someone with great insight. More of these!


David shinn lobbys for the Ethiopian government and is enemy to somalian people this is not objective discaution, it is white wash. you should have invited real objective experts. he claims he does know if US government supported Ethiopians financially and militarily. everybody knows that. never mind


David Shinn is an enemy of the somali people in my view. It upsets me that he is invited to discuss the concerns of the somali people when he is indeed pro-ethiopian.


Marcel is clearly an idiot


This is another example of the violent nature of Islam ,something the western media cover up to give us the illusion that it is something noble.
We see this curse all over the earth with Moslems killing Moslems and blowing up each others mosques when they are not killing Christians and Jews.
Shame on you media for not having the courage to question this perverted religion of hate and intloerance especially with the chaos,brutality, lawlessness and piracy that Islam has brought to Somalia.

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