Somalia is a nation located on the east coast of Africa. This small African state, slightly smaller than Texas(1), is home to one of the world’s most pressing issues. For many years, fighting between warlords, neighbors, family clans, and foreign forces has killed over 400,000 people by some estimates, and created nearly half a million refugees.(2) The international community seeks serious and long-term solutions to Somalia’s internal conflicts in order to prevent wider scale conflict from erupting in the region.


Pre-Colonial Somalia

International involvement in Somalia dates back to the early 16th century, when Muslim Somalia invaded Christian Ethiopia. Ethiopia was almost completely conquered but, with help from Portugal, was able to fend off the Somali invaders. After this invasion the Warsangeli Sultanate ruled Somalia until the 19th century. The Sultanate provided a strong government, which managed to unite all of Somalia under one ruler.

However, in the late 19th century, European nations looked to control the region around the Horn of Africa. The Horn of Africa is the easternmost part of Africa that actually resembles a horn. The European powers interested in this region were Italy and Great Britain. Italy established a colony in Southern Somalia in 1889, and in 1935 conquered Ethiopia as well. Great Britain, after conquering Egypt in 1882, continued to push south into Sudan and Northern Somalia. Thus, by the turn of the century, Somalia was divided in two.

Somalia Under Foreign Rule

Somalis resisted colonial rule, with the fiercest fighting occurring in British controlled territory to the north. Resistance persisted until after World War I when Great Britain devoted its full attention to subduing its Empire. In the period between WWI and WWII, Italian Somalia experienced dramatic economic growth, but British Somalia’s economy suffered. The resistance movement in British Somalia hindered economic growth because Britain hesitated to increase infrastructure, such as roads and ports, believing that the fighting going on in the region would only destroy anything built.

This difference between north and south dramatically affected the balance of power in Somalia when it declared its independence in 1960. The more developed former Italian portions of the new Somalia become the main source of political power and led to resentment in former British Somaliland.


Somalia has often been politically divided along clan and tribal lines. This led to a divided and ineffective government after Somalia gained independence. In 1969, the democratic constitution of 1960 was abolished and General Siad Barre took control in a military coup. In order to maintain his political power, General Barre often set clans against each other and brutally put down dissenters.


Relationship with Ethiopia

From 1967 – 1977, General Barre gave money to a Somali resistance group in Ethiopia’s Ogaden province and invaded this region in 1977. At the time, Ethiopia was allied with the Soviet Union and received military aid from them. This strong alliance led General Barre to announce the withdrawal of Somali forces from Ogaden in March of 1978. The border of Somalia and Ethiopia remains contested to this day, and the Ogaden war only created further animosity between the two nations.

Map Displaying the Disputed Ogaden Province



Political Repression under General Barre

Following the war with Ethiopia, General Barre faced growing internal dissent and international pressure to reform and democratize. However, instead of moving towards democracy he increased the level of political repression in Somalia, jailing those who disagreed with him. He also grew even more distrustful of anyone not from his own tribal group, and began to violently persecute the other Somali clans. From 1988 until he was forced from power, General Barre attempted to ethnically cleanse the areas under government control. This led the northern regions of Somalia to declare independence in 1991, forming a nation known as Somaliland. Somaliland functions as an independent nation to this day.


What are some reasons why Somaliland has been able to remain independent from Somalia for over 15 years?

Rebels defeated General Barre in 1991 and he fled the capital. Somalia plunged into chaos. The country lacked a central government and warlords claimed control of various territories. From 1992-1995, the United Nations had three peacekeeping operations in Somalia. Ultimately, these missions failed at creating stability and warlords forced them out of the country.

The chaos of the 1990s allowed the further breakup of Somalia, with Puntland declaring independence in 1998.

The Transitional Federal Government

Not all countries have governments such as those familiar to citizens of stable, developed countries such as the United States. Instead, some countries do not have a government at all. When this is the case, a government may be set up by an organization such as the United Nations. This type of government is called a transitional government. In 2004, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) for Somalia was created in Nairobi, Kenya, and set up a capital in Baidoa, Somalia. The transitional government in Somalia faces the task of restoring peace and security, reuniting its scattered provinces, and restoring hope in the future to the Somali people. However, this new Somalia national government lacks military forces and political power to expand beyond the new capital.

The Union of Islamic Courts

The disorder of the 1990s also led to the creation of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) in Mogadishu in 1999. Initially this group provided business people and residents some kind of legal structure and relief from the lawlessness that was widespread in Somalia. It soon began to also provide health care, education, and police forces. In 2000, the Islamic Courts also formed their own military component and it clashed with the warlords who still controlled most of Mogadishu. In June 2006, the Islamic Courts defeated the warlords and took control of Mogadishu.

With the defeat of the warlords, new fighters swelled the Islamic Courts’ militia and it gained access to more equipment. It met success outside Mogadishu. By late fall 2006, the Islamic Courts controlled nearly all of Somalia. Additionally, it began to make advances into Puntland preparing to attack the Transitional Government.

In December 2006, the Islamic Courts’ militia reported facing Ethiopian troops, who occupied Baidoa, Somalia’s new capital, to support the Transitional Government. This prompted the leader of the Islamic Courts to call for a jihad against Ethiopia. Ethiopia took this as a declaration of war, and on December 20th invaded Somalia. By the end of January 2007, the UIC pledged to fight a guerilla war against the Transitional Government and any foreign forces intervening in Somalia.


Besides threats from the UIC causing increased tension, what might be some other reasons for the Ethiopian invasion in 2006?

Al-Qaeda in Somalia

Currently, the Transitional Federal Government governs Somalia. On February 14th, Aymen al- Zawahiri, second in command of al-Qaeda, one of the world’s most widespread terrorist networks blamed for the September 11th attacks, gave his support to the Islamic Courts’ struggle against the Transitional Government and called for jihad in Somalia. Additionally, he said that Islamic fighters are already on the ground in Somalia and that they planned to make Somalia into another Iraq.

The issue of al-Qaeda’s involvement in Somalia led the United States to support the Transitional Government and Ethiopia. In fact, the United States launched air strikes against the Islamic Courts’ in places where they are suspected of hiding al-Qaeda members.


“I call on the Islamic nation in Somalia (the Islamic Courts) to hold fast on this new battlefield between the crusade carried out by America, its allies and the United Nations against Islam and Muslims.”   -  Aymen al-Zawahiri  -

Source: Al-Qaeda calls for Iraq-style jihad in Somalia

Many members of the international community fear that the violence in Somalia is just the beginning to the opening of another front in the global war on terror. The United Nations Security Council and the African Union (AU) began planning an African peacekeeping force for Somalia in response to the instability. Although initially few countries volunteered troops for the mission, by February 14 the AU had managed to put together a force of 8,000 peacekeepers for AMISOM, the African Union Mission to Somalia. This mission replaced an earlier United Nations authorized force, IGASOM, and will act under the terms of Resolution 1725.

Challenges Facing the Transitional Government

The status of Somalia’s territory still requires resolution. Currently, many forces play a role in Somalia. The international community does not recognize Somaliland, despite its declaration of independence in 1991. However, the government of Somaliland has repeatedly stated that they will forcefully defend their independence. Puntland, however, does not seek international recognition. In fact, the President of the Transitional Government is a former President of Puntland. The issue of foreign occupation of Somali territory is perhaps the most pressing issue. As the Union of Islamic Courts was not entirely defeated, members continue to attack government and international forces.

Additionally, the Somali people are suffering. While peace and security issues remain a top priority, Somalia’s economy and infrastructure are virtually nonexistent outside of Somaliland and Mogadishu. Somalia often faces food shortages due to periods of drought and flooding, and was terribly affected by the tsunami of 2004. The Transitional Government has asked for international assistance with refugee resettlement, food aid, medical aid, and numerous other issues. Funding, however, has been insufficient. Although the United States and the European Union will finance the AU peacekeeping mission in Somalia, the amount of money for social and economic problems is not enough.

Finally, there is the issue of reconciliation between the various warring factions. Somalia has a deep history of tribal divisions leading to violence in the 20th century. Under General Barre, violence peaked during his program of ethnic cleansing. Today, the Transitional Government has organized, with European Union and United Nations help, a series of reconciliation conferences aiming to put to rest clan and tribal rivalries.


Delegates must create a resolution addressing the long-standing issues involved in Somalia focusing on promoting stability throughout the region. Delegates should consider:

  • What can the United Nations do to bring more assistance to Somalia?

  • What should be done with Somaliland and other breakaway provinces?

  • How can the United Nations help secure Somalia’s sovereignty after nearly two decades of interference by foreigners?

  • Is Somalia a new battleground in the war on terror?

  • What steps can the United Nations ask other nations and international organizations (the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, World Trade Organization) to take to help rebuild a safe and prosperous Somalia?

Questions to Consider:

  1. What type of action regarding Somalia does your country support?

  2. Does your country have a history of trade or economic relationships with Somalia or its neighbors?

  3. Does your country have cultural or historic ties to Somalia?

  4. Has your country provided aid to Somalia? Peacekeeping troops?

Terms and Concepts

Refugee: a person who has relocated to another country in search of safety.

Ethnic Cleansing: a campaign attempting to rid a country of an entire population either by forcing them to relocate or by murder.

Infrastructure: the physical things that help a society run smoothly backbone, which include roads, airports, buildings, power plants etc.

Coup: a situation when a government is overthrown by a person or group.

Horn of Africa: a peninsula of northeastern Africa (the easternmost part of Africa) comprising Somalia and Djibouti and Eritrea and parts of Ethiopia.

Clan: a group of people of common descent; family.

Somaliland: The northern region of Somalia which has declared independence and functions as an independent nation without formal international recognition.

Transitional Government: a government usually set up by an international organization or another country or group to provide support until a nation becomes stable enough to establish its own independent government.

Transitional Federal Government: the interim government of Somalia working out of Baidoa. Somalia lacks permanent national government.

Union of Islamic Courts: a group of Islamic courts that united to form a rival government to the Transitional Federal Government

Jihad: a Muslim holy war or spiritual struggle against non-believers.

Puntland: a region of northeastern Somalia that declared itself an autonomous state in 1998.

Warlords: a supreme military leader that exercises civil power in a region usually when the central government is weak.

African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM): a peacekeeping mission authorized in January 2007 to provide security to Somalia in the wake of war there in 2006.

Appendix A


16th Century Muslim Somalia invades Christian Ethiopia
1882 Great Britain colonizes Northern Somalia
1889 Italy colonizes Southern Somalia
1960 Somalia declares independence
1969 General Siad Barre comes to power
1977 General Barre invades Ethiopia’s Ogaden province
1978 General Barre withdraws from Ethiopia in reaction to Russia’s alliance with Ethiopia
1988-1991 General Barre carries out a campaign of ethnic cleansing
1991 Somaliland in the north declares its independence
  General Barre defeated by rebels
1992-1995 United Nations deploys three peacekeeping missions
1998 Puntland declares independence
1999 Union of Islamic Courts establishes itself in Mogadishu to give some governance in the region
2000 UIC develops a military component
2004 Tsunami occurs after an earthquake in the Indian Ocean causing great damage to Somalia
  Transitional Federal Government established an seated at Baidoa
2007 UIC pledges to fight a war against Transitional Federal Government and any foreigners who intervene
  African Union deploys ANISOM, a peacekeeping mission of 8,000

SOURCES FOR RESEARCH  - The website of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia, in English  - An Internet news website specifically for Africa news. Search Somalia for the most up-to-date news on the situation.  – News from the United Nations on the situation in Somalia.  – The BBC’s In-Depth coverage of Somalia - On this page, the National High School Model United Nations conference has compiled exhaustive lists of websites which are useful to Model UN delegates regardless of the topic. - The webpage of the UN Security Council, containing information on speeches, positions, and resolutions passed. Also contains important information about the powers and responsibilities of the Council  - Under the UNA-USA’s Resources tab, you will find research links to a wide array of organizations which deal with topics on the UN agenda  - Website for the United Nations mission in Somalia



1 CIA World Factbook

2 Internal Displacement Monitoring Center