In 1960, after the Italian and British regions in the Horn of Africa gained independence, the United Republic of Somalia was born. Aiming to establish a Greater Somalia, which would also include the French-occupied Djibouti and parts of Kenya on ethnic and cultural grounds, Somalia experienced conflict with Ethiopia over the Ogaden region with intermittent wars over three decades. An agreement was reached in 1988, but the basic conflict issue was not solved.

Internally, democratic governance ended with a military coup and disputes between the clan system that deeply characterises the Somali society turned into guerrilla warfare. In 1991 the main rebel group overthrew the government and the subsequent scramble for power between the clan-based militia groups pushed the conflict to the degree of state collapse.

Severe famine further plagued the region and UN troops were deployed in 1992. Several groups were opposed to the UN presence and the death of UN soldiers, and subsequent death of US soldiers (in Mogadishu not under UN command) prompted both to withdraw from Somalia in the mid-90s.

Since then, failed implementations of peace treaties and transitional governments, escalated violence, US air strikes targeting al-Qaida operatives and severe famine have resulted in immense humanitarian need.

In the last few years several clan-based militias have fought over the creation of new federal states but it has been the Islamist group al-Shabaab that has been the primary warring party with the Somali government. Since 2013, Al-Shabaab has lost territory through the advances of the military, supported by the African Union Mission for Somalia (AMISOM), but continued to carry out bomb attacks and assassinations. Operation Indian Ocean (a joint military operation between the Somali military, AMISOM and the United States military) against Al-Shabaab has continued since 2014.

Peace attempts

Peace attempts have been made in Somalia but a lasting peace has so far been thwarted for several reasons. With so many factions and volatile parties at war, ceasefires are difficult to negotiate and even harder to implement. When a Transitional National Government (TNG) was finally elected by clan elders in 2000, opposition groups unified against them. Political factions have expanded at every international peace conference since 1991, creating a recurrent dilemma when determining legitimacy and authoritative representation. The exclusion of hard-line opposition in some past peace negotiations has also seen treaties dissolve.

The opposition to the presence of Ethiopian troops, now officially integrated into the AMISOM mission, has also been known to derail peace talks, and in 2014 Human Rights Watch published a report criticizing the increase of sexual abuse of Somali women by AMISOM soldiers, further damaging the reputation of the mission.

Despite the difficulties, a peace accord reached in 2008 outlined a process for Somalia that saw a transitional government supported by the UN, AU, EU and US, with a roadmap to establishing permanent democratic institutions. In 2012 a new constitution was formed, and a parliament was selected for the Federal Republic of Somalia, the first permanent central government in the country since the start of the civil war.

The death of peacekeepers and specific targeting of UN personnel has not aided foreign involvement in Somalia, a contentious issue since the Mogadishu disasters in the 1990s, with UNSOM personnel attacked by militants as recently as 2014 and UNICEF workers killed in April, 2015.

October 2, 2019

The Global Fragility Act is set to go to the US Senate floor as a rare bipartisan Act. For the peacebuilding community, it could be a game-changer...

July 23, 2019

Peacebuilder Abdullahi Isse Abdulle was killed in an al-Shabab attack in Somalia, but one of his final interviews reveals his poignant message for the world...

September 14, 2018

September 21 is the International Day of Peace – a good day to celebrate news about peacebuilding around the world. Here are 5 important stories to follow...

July 28, 2018

Over 70 per cent of Somalia's population is under 30 years of age, and its civil war has spanned generations.Can education break the cycle of violence? A new study reveals some answers...

July 6, 2018

UN peacekeepers have been criticized for being isolated from the communities they are meant to protect. Can a different model work?

June 27, 2018

Displaced to Kismayo, Sadija’s story is one of resilience and enterprise, as she reflects on her reconciliation with women who once had been her enemies.

June 8, 2018

The 2018 Global Peace Index has been released, with Iceland ranking the most peaceful country for the 10th year in a row.

This is the twelfth edition of the Global Peace Index (GPI), which ranks 163 independent states and territories according to their level of peaceful...

We know that video games are great entertainment, but can they also be used to build peace? Check out the gaming community's answer to war.

Is the world becoming more violent? Are wars increasing? Is there a realistic chance for peace? The answers will surprise you.

February 4, 2016

Peace activist Elman Ali Ahmed was killed in 1996, but his Somaili-Canadian daughter, Ilwad Elman, has followed his footsteps, countering violent extremism.

November 15, 2015

Recent social media have seen a drive to change the way Africa is perceived. We interview the people behind a video challenging stereotypes that went viral.

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