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   Vol. 71/No. 5           February 5, 2007  
Behind the war and divisions in Somalia
(Reply to a Reader)
In her letter to the editor, Wendy Banen solicits further explanation of the situation in Somalia today, including references to “warlords” and clans. She asks, “How did they originate and develop and what do these groupings represent in the class struggle in Somalia?” How have the imperialist powers fostered divisions along these lines?

The capitalist media and politicians falsely attribute the conflict in Somalia to “ancient clan enmities” and portray the imperialist powers that have dominated Somalia as playing a “civilizing” role.

The big-business media often uses the term “warlords” to identify leaders of Somali armed groups that Washington opposes. But all sides of the conflict—including forces the U.S. government backs—involve “warlords,” that is, clan-based militias.

The conflict in Somalia today is rooted in more than a century of imperialist domination in the Horn of Africa. In the late 1800s, the Somali people’s homeland was carved up into five colonial territories: British Somaliland, Italian Somaliland, French Somaliland (now Djibouti), a British-ruled area now part of Kenya, and the Ogaden region, now part of Ethiopia.

The defeat of the Italian invasion of Ethiopia during World War II and the rise of anticolonial struggles worldwide boosted the Somali national struggle. In 1960 British and Italian Somaliland united as independent Somalia. Kenya shook off British rule in 1963, and Djibouti became independent from Paris in 1977.

The imperialist powers did little to develop modern agriculture or industry in Somalia, today an impoverished semicolonial country. They have used the country primarily for its strategic position in the Horn of Africa. Somalia’s economy remains largely nomadic cattle raising and trading in the ports; there is a very small working class. Because of the legacy of these precapitalist economic relations, the social and political structure remains based on clan family groups.

Stalinism too has helped perpetuate this situation. To gain a bargaining chip in its class-collaborationist dealings with Washington, Moscow initially financed and armed the Mohammed Siad Barre dictatorship, which took power in a 1969 military coup and falsely called itself “socialist.” Siad Barre gave privileges to some clans over others to weaken any opposition.

After the 1974 revolution in Ethiopia, which toppled the U.S.-backed monarchy of Haile Selassie, Moscow switched its support to the new government in Addis Ababa and dumped the Somali regime. The U.S. rulers, alarmed at the revolution, drew the Siad Barre government into their orbit and prodded it to invade the Ogaden in 1977-78 as a proxy attack on Ethiopia.

When Siad Barre was overthrown in a 1991 coup, the consequences of imperialist-fostered divisions came to the fore. Without a nationally cohesive ruling class—the capitalist-landlord class is fragmented among six major clans and numerous subclans—central authority collapsed. Fighting broke out among warring clan leaders over resources and territory. Clans in the north declared that region an independent Republic of Somaliland. Those in the northeast declared their region, Puntland, an autonomous state.

Since then Somalia has been ravaged by famine, civil war, a 1993-94 U.S. invasion, and a takeover by the Somalia Islamic Courts Council (SICC), which gained support through its appeals for order. This Islamist group had its main political base among some of the southern clans. Washington, stepping up its military presence in the region, patched together a “transitional” government based on other clan groups, which routed the SICC from Mogadishu through an Ethiopian invasion. This foreign military presence continues to reinforce divisions between Ethiopians and Somalis.

Imperialist domination and intervention, far from being a force for progress, has been the biggest obstacle in Somalia. The solutions to the social disaster confronting the Somali people will come only from the struggles of the emerging working classes in alliance with the peasants and other exploited producers, and with the solidarity of fellow workers and farmers worldwide.
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