Ethnically and culturally, Somalia may have appeared to be, before the civil war, one of the most homogeneous countries in Africa. The great majority of people are ethnic Somalis who speak dialects of the same language, Af-Somali, and who practise the same religion, Islam. However, clan, territorial and economic identities stratify Somali society. Islamic practice varies somewhat countrywide, and has over the years been influenced in varying degrees by Arab culture. Somalia also has significant ethnic and economic minorities. There are people of Bantu descent living mostly in farming villages and towns in the south. Heirs of Arab and other non-African migrants (called Gibilad or white skin) live in the coastal towns like Brava, Merka and Mogadishu. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 stimulated European expansion into the region. By the end of the century, Somali people were living under the rule of four foreign powers: the British (in Northwest Somalia and in Northeast Kenya), the Italians (in Southern Somalia) the

French (in what is now Djibouti) and the Ethiopians (in Ogaden or what is now Ethiopias Region 5). The colonial presence led to the development of new social groups (colonial clerks, teachers and medical personnel) which, among other factors, contributed to the independence movement as elsewhere in Africa. Early in 1940, Italy invaded British Somaliland, but a year later the British re-took their protectorate, conquered Italian Somalia and the Ogaden, and placed all three territories under British administration. British control of the Italian colony ended in November 1949 when it became a United Nations Trust Territory. Somali nationalists there won assurances of independence in a decade. This, in turn, inspired Somalis in the British protectorate to press for independence and unity with the former Italian Somalia. The British territory became independent on 26 June 1960. Italian Somalia became independent a few days later on 1 July 1960, and on that same day the two joined together to form the new Republic of Somalia. During the next nine years,

Pan-Somalism, the belief that Somalia should be united with all Somali-inhabited territories, was a motto for years and led to a build-up of the Somali military and ultimately to fighting in northern Kenya and war with Ethiopia in the 1970s. In October 1969, the Somali President was assassinated, and a few days later, the army under Major General Mohamed Siad Barre took power. At the beginning, the new military authority enjoyed a large measure of popularity, since the former government was perceived as inefficient and particularly corrupt. Closely allied with the Soviet Union, Barres military regime adopted Scientific

Socialism and undertook a modernisation campaign in the country, both at a cultural  level (improvement of the status of minorities and women, writing of the Somali language) and at the infrastructure level (health, education and, public works projects. However, authoritarianism, economic mismanagement and corruption continued to weaken Somalias  social fabric With the fall of Ethiopias  Emperor Haile Sellassie in 1974, Siad Barre thought that he could realize his Pan-Somali dream and regain popular support. He invaded Ethiopia in an ultimately unsuccessful bid for the Ogaden. Because the Soviets backed Ethiopias regime in the conflict, Siad Barre expelled the Soviets from Somalia in November 1977 and quickly shifted his alliance to the Western powers, which obtained military facilities and provided  development aid.

Though Somalia still benefited from its geo-political position, it had to pay the economic price of the war against Ethiopia, and in the 1980s reluctantly agreed to strict International Monetary Fund (IMF) policies and pursued economic liberalization. These policies failed to take hold as the Somali State was already collapsing under the weight of corruption, nepotism, inefficiency and the lack of accountability. In April 1978, after the failure of an attempted coup against Siad Barre, organised mostly by Majeerteen clan officers, an armed opposition group was set up in Ethiopia with Libyan financial support, which came to be known as the Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF). Despite crucial foreign support, its leadership divided and ceased functioning by 1986. In 1981, the Somali National Movement (SNM), made up mostly of members of the Northwestern Isaaq clan, was created in London and moved quickly to Ethiopia where it launched guerrilla raids in the Northwestern part of the country.

In 1988, the SNM controlled for a short period two main Northwestern towns Hargeysa and Burao. Government forces were able to regain the two cities only by using brutal force. Other organizations--the Somali Patriotic Movement (SPM)  which was formed in 1989, recruited among the Ogadeni clan, concentrating its activities in the trans-Juba area. The United Somali Congress (USC), formed in 1990, which recruited members from Hawiye clans concentrated its activities in the central region. There was considerable confusion over who the main leaders were and what their political agenda was beyond the overthrow of Siad Barre's administration.  Both anti-government forces and the armed opposition loosely controlled several clan-based militias, which they had organized.  However, all attempts to stop the fighting and negotiate to undertake serious reforms failed.

By  the  end  of December 1990, the capital Mogadishu was rocked by serious fighting.   Large  zones of the country were already outside the control of any authority. Finally,  in  January 1991, Siad Barre was forced out of Mogadishu, and the Somali  State  collapsed.   No armed faction was able to provide a national solution,  and years of fighting continued in various parts of the country. In  May,  1991,  Somalia's  Northwestern region declared itself independent Somaliland  and in 1998 local authorities in the Northeastern region set up the semi-autonomous  Puntland State of Somalia.   Local  leaders based in Baidoa, in April 2002, announced the formation of a Southwestern State of Somalia. Since  1995,  most  of  the  front  lines  between warring factions have remained quiet although  intermittent clashes continue.

In May 2000, Somali civil groups including local authorities, elders, women's groups and others, gathered in Arta, Djibouti, to embark on a peace process aimed at ending years of civil strife  and  forming  a new interim national government.  In August 2000, a Transitional National Assembly (TNA) was formed which elected an interim  President.The  subsequent  appointment of a Prime Minister  by  the  President  saw  the  finalisation  of a new Transitional National  Government  (TNG).  The  TNG  has been working in Mogadishu since October  2000.It reclaimed  the  Somalia seat in all international organisations  in  which  the  country  has  membership  and  its Permanent Representative presented  credentials  to  the  UN Secretary-General on 12 September  2001.  However,  several  Somali groups and local authorities remain outside the initiative of the Arta peace process.

Historical Chronologies

Somalia Chronology - IRIN has compiled a chronology of events leading to the current Somalia peace talks.

Related Links

Somali history - read about the origins of the Somalis, the imperial partitions and their bid for independence

Ruuniket.com - Somali website with chatroom, news etc. Also has a history section.

ArabNet: Somalia History - Brief overview of Somalias history over the course of the Twentieth Century. Begins with British colonizatio

History of Somalia - Brief overview of Somalias history over the course of the Twentieth Century. Begins with British colonization.

History of Somalia - Includes Partition, Pan-Somalism, Siad Barre and Scientific socialism and the oppression of the Isaaq