Developments in Somalia

Updated: 2 September 2014

Somalia is suffering enormously from internal fighting. After almost 20 years of civil war, 40 per cent of the population is in need of emergency food aid, according to the UN. However, a new parliament and a new president give the country a glimmer of hope.

In the 1800s, Somalia was colonized by Britain and Italy. After its independence in 1960, there was a period of weak economic growth, corruption and rivalries between clans. In 1969 the military seized power, under the rule of Mohamed Siad Barre who tried to form the country inspired by the Soviet model. After his fall in 1991, civil war broke out as different clan militias – and later on Islamist groups – competed for influence. Since then, Somalia has been without a functioning central government.

In Somaliland, which declared its independence in 1991, and in the region of Puntland in the north, the situation has been calmer.

The constantly re-ignited fighting and the lack of central leadership have harmed the country in several ways:

  • The level of education is low; almost four people out of five are illiterate.
  • Infant mortality is among the highest in the world; many children die before the age of five.
  • Estimated life expectancy is 51 years.

A peace agreement in Kenya in 2004 led to the establishment of a transitional government. In 2011, a roadmap to peace was signed by several Somali leaders. The following year, a new clan-based parliament was formed, which in turn has elected a new president. The new government faces major challenges, such as the establishment of state institutions.

The transitional government as well as the new government have only had control of a small part of the country. Large parts of central and southern Somalia are controlled by various Islamist groups, particularly the militant al-Shabab. In recent years though, al-Shabab has weakened slightly and increasingly larger areas are controlled by government loyal troops. Security still remains a major problem and an obstacle to development.

Drought leads to starvation

The land of Somalia mainly consists of tree-, grass- or bush savannah. A large part of the population makes their living from livestock. Recurrent droughts create huge problems. In 2011, the region was hit by the worst drought in 60 years, with thousands of people dying of starvation in Somalia. The situation was further aggravated by al-Shabab preventing aid agencies from assisting the population in many areas.

For long periods of time, large parts of Somalia's nine million people have been displaced, both within the country and abroad. In 2007, the estimated number of internally displaced people was 400, 000. Almost as many people had escaped to other countries.

But amidst the chaos, there are areas that show progress. The absence of a controlling overall body has enabled the private sector to develop rapidly. This particularly concerns small-scale manufacturing – services that were previously monopolized or dominated by the public sector. There have also been private investments made in commercial enterprises and in hotels, transport and the service sector, especially from Somalis living abroad.

The overall objective of Sida's work in Somalia is to promote lasting reconciliation, stability and restore efficient governance. We do this by: 

  • Strengthening peace, improving security and establishing good governance.
  • Investing in people through improved social services.

Read more about Sida's work in Somalia.

Page owner: Department for Africa

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