Somalia rising

On 1 July, 2000 troops attached to the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) departed from Somalia. Five days later, the Federal Government of Somalia took over six forward operating bases vacated by the departing troops, the latest in a string of major military facilities it has been given control of over the last two years.

These, the first steps of a phased withdrawal that will see most of the peacekeeping forces exit Somalia by the end of 2024, constitute a remarkable turning point in one of the world’s oldest ongoing civil wars. For the first time in 32 years, a permanent and native central government is retaking control of the country’s security.

The people of Somalia have not known peace for a generation. Following a disastrous lost war against Ethiopia in 1978, the last government, led by Mohamed Siad Barre, progressively crumbled under withering attacks from various clan-based armed groups, eventually collapsing with Barre’s ouster in 1991.

Turmoil and anarchy followed, during which even customary law often failed. By 1995, following an unsuccessful attempt by the UN to stabilise the country, Somalia had devolved into a failed state. And over the next decade, as war consumed the country, two northern regions – Somaliland and Puntland – broke away.

Swathe of suffering

Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation deteriorated. Droughts, famines and disease ravaged Somalia. Over three million refugees streamed into neighbouring countries; at one point, Daadab, the main camp for Somali refugees in Kenya, had over half a million people, which would have made it Kenya’s third largest city.

But it wasn’t just refugees that left Somalia. The chaos also spilled across borders, with some of the factions organising attacks inside Ethiopia and Kenya. Ethiopia, long used to meddling in Somalia, invaded in 2006. Al-Shabaab was formed as a response to this invasion. In 2011, Kenya also invaded, in a bid to stem an increasing number of Al-Shabaab attacks and kidnappings.

All along, a series of attempts were made to reconstitute a national government for Somalia. The first to gain international recognition, known as Transitional National Government, was formed in 2000. In 2004, it gave way to the Transitional Federal Government (TFG). It was in support of this latter effort that the African Union sent peacekeepers into Somalia in 2007.


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Known as the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), the operation had a six-month mandate to provide cover for the strengthening of the TFG, while reining in the insecurity which was hampering the delivery of humanitarian aid. Uganda contributed the first contingent of troops, earning it Al-Shabaab’s wrath. Burundi, Ghana, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone joined in a little later; Ethiopia and Kenya’s troops were also folded in. At its height, AMISOM had over 20,000 personnel.

Prolonged posting

As might have been foreseen, AMISOM’s initial six-month mandate turned out to be quite insufficient for it to complete its assignment. Thus, it was extended over the following years, each time in six-month increments. It wasn’t until March 2022 that AMISOM was renamed the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS), its leadership transferred to the Somali government, and arrangements for the withdrawal of its troops started being made.

When AMISOM first deployed, most of Somalia’s territory was under the control of militant groups. A big chunk of the country still is, but the most important areas, like the main cities and transport corridors, are now run by the federal government and its allies. Al-Shabaab, still the main threat to peace in the country, often carries out attacks even in these areas, but it is no longer the main actor.

Additionally, with the help of AMISOM, the Somali government has built up, over the years, its own armed forces. It has its teeth fighting insurgents alongside AMISOM forces, from whom and with whom it has also received training and equipment. It is still deficient in many ways, but it exists and, crucially, is gradually becoming a more disciplined and professional force.

Most importantly, the government itself has been kept operating almost continuously since the arrival of AMISOM, despite facing all manner of challenges. It has held a number of (admittedly deeply flawed) elections, and seems resilient enough to weather most troubles. For instance, when the immediate former president tried to extend his term and power, parliament ousted and replaced him.

And in the midst of all this, the Somali people are rebuilding their lives. Mogadishu, the capital, is thriving, despite periodic terrorist attacks. Critical infrastructure, like a new electricity grid, is springing up. Hotels and other amenities cater to a growing number of visitors. And remittances from Somalia’s vast diaspora are lubricating the engines of commerce on increasingly crowded street markets and bazaars.

The road ahead will be tough. Al-Shabaab remains a potent threat; its devastating attacks will continue to test the country’s resolve. Poverty and famine are unlikely to abate soon. The question of future relations with the separatist and self-governing Somaliland hasn’t been resolved. And corruption continues to hobble the fledgling and under-resourced government. But despite these challenges, Somalia seems to be rising again.

It has been a long time coming, and copious amounts of blood sweat and tears have been shed to get here. But things are finally looking up for this troubled country and its long-suffering citizens. And, should it stay the course, and continue to get the support it needs, it may very well see peace in the near future.

I, for one, am looking forward to that future.



Mathew Otieno is a Kenyan writer, blogger and dilettante farmer. Until 2022, he was a research communications coordinator at a university in Nairobi, Kenya. He now lives in rural western Kenya, near the shores of Lake Victoria, from where he's pursuing a career as a full-time writer while concluding his dissertation for a master's degree. His first novel is due out this year.

Image credit: Pexels

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