Visitors arriving at Aden Adde International Airport in the Somali capital of Mogadishu can be forgiven for wondering where they have landed. As the aircraft taxis toward the terminal, concrete bollards appear, painted with the distinctive white star and crescent of the Turkish flag. Shorn-headed, muscular white men in dark glasses stroll around the airfield as if it were their own, directing unmarked planes toward fortress like enclosures complete with watchtowers and razor wire. In order to leave the airport, one must run a gauntlet of tense, heavily armed Ugandan and Burundian soldiers guarding the exit.
The situation at the airport reflects the state of Somalia as a whole. Since the late 1980s, the country has been without effective central authority and has, in some sense, become a playground for international experiments in state-building, peacekeeping, and disaster relief. Because of its strategic position in the Horn of Africa, proximity to the Arab world, and current association with al-Qaeda and sea piracy, Somalia has attracted multiple foreign interventions—military, diplomatic, and humanitarian. At times these efforts have backfired spectacularly, like the U.S. military’s 1993 Operation Restore Hope, which started off as a largely humanitarian venture. The operation ended with the infamous Black Hawk Down incident, when Somali militiamen shot down U.S. helicopters in Mogadishu and jeering crowds dragged the naked corpses of American soldiers through the streets.
Somalia has been fought over and torn apart since the colonial period, when France, Italy, Great Britain, and Ethiopia all staked claims over Somalia and its people, who lived—and continue to live—in an expanse of territory far greater than that enclosed by Somalia’s current national borders. Today, there are significant Somali populations in all three of Somalia’s neighboring states: Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti. In the 1970s, Somalia’s war with Ethiopia was in many ways a proxy conflict between Cold War powers. Somalia suffered defeat when the Soviet Union dramatically switched sides, abandoning it as an ally following a call for help from Ethiopia’s new Marxist leader, Mengistu Haile Mariam.
The number of foreign powers currently involved in Somalia is perhaps greater than it has ever has been. Kenyan, Ugandan, Burundian, and Djiboutian troops are on the ground as part of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Ethiopian soldiers are also present in significant numbers, as are military advisers and covert troops from the United States and Europe. Several nations have frigates patrolling off the Somali coast in an effort to combat piracy, while the United Nations has controlled Somali airspace since 1996. Simultaneously, private security companies employing personnel from a wide range of countries operate in some parts of the territory, while in other areas jihadists from South Asia, the Arab world, and elsewhere fight for al Shabaab, the al-Qaeda-linked militia that occupies much of southern and central Somalia. Al Shabaab has recently lost its main urban strongholds, however, and has resorted to more traditional asymmetric guerrilla-style violence including suicide bombings and targeted assassinations.
Apart from combating the foreign jihadis, the stated aim of these myriad forces is to rid Somalia of al-Qaeda elements and sea pirates and to restore stability. Their presence, however, is highly problematic. Somalis are a proud and independent people who are traditionally hostile to foreign military presence and political interference. In particular, Somalis are suspicious of Kenya and Ethiopia, both of which have established buffer zones along the Somali border and interfere with governance in those areas. For now, many Somalis are grateful to the African Union troops for playing a key role in wresting a number of towns and cities from al Shabaab’s control, including Mogadishu. It is unclear, however, how long they will tolerate AMISOM, especially as the mission does not appear to have a clear exit strategy. The longer AMISOM stays, the more likely it is that Somali patience will wear thin.
Many Somalis argue that the presence of so many foreign troops in Somalia means that not enough attention is being paid to building up a strong and integrated national military and police forces. In the short term, outsourcing Somalia’s security to the international community may be easier than training, equipping, and integrating the country’s numerous militia groups into a unified force. That, however, cannot be a permanent solution.
In addition to domestic security, politics have, to some extent, been taken out of Somali hands. There has been much talk amongst foreign diplomats, academics, journalists, and UN representatives about how Somalis led the recent approval of a draft constitution and the selection of a new parliament and president, marking the end of a long period of political transition. Yet much of the de facto political power in Somalia remains in the hands of the UN, the United States, Europe, and other outside actors. Moreover, when politics do not seem to be proceeding the way UN and Western diplomats would like, outside players try to exert pressure in the hope that the process is brought back on course. It often seems that political developments are not Somali-owned at all, but rather guided by a form of external remote control.
The 2011 presidential election, determined by parliamentary vote, is a prime example. Before the election, it appeared that the incumbent head of state Sheikh Sharif Ahmed had developed an agreement with Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden, a powerful former parliamentary speaker, which would virtually guarantee his reelection as president. But a flurry of internal maneuvering and diplomatic activity prevented this from happening. It was even rumored that Qatar provided funds for the eventual winner, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, to buy parliamentary votes.
As a journalist and a close observer of many recent political developments in Somalia, I often feel as though I am watching a series of parallel universes. Interest groups seem to exist in separate bubbles, occasionally colliding, but usually floating independently of one another. Such is the case with the Somalia-focused community at the UN, which includes what is known as the “Nairobi bubble” of well-paid UN officials based in Kenya, a separate and parallel world to the UN Somalia team in New York. The two arms seem to operate at cross-purposes as often as they are cooperating. Even different UN departments compete with one another or fail to communicate effectively. Somali politicians and other wily operators have become experts at exploiting this disconnect, using various sources of outside assistance for their personal advantage. For example, a UN report leaked in July 2012 said that seventy percent of the millions of dollars earmarked for the development and reconstruction of Somalia had gone unaccounted for, much of it diverted into the pockets of Somali politicians. Somalis in turn have accused the UN of spending much of the money meant for their country on the lavish lifestyle of Nairobi-based UN employees, many of whom rarely set foot in Somalia. In many ways, the vast UN Somalia operation and Somali politicians are mutually dependent on each other. If the challenges in Somalia were to subside and the UN was to withdraw, many UN workers would lose their jobs and some Somali officials would lose lucrative cash flows.
In recent years, a number of newcomers have also entered the picture. Gulf states such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have become increasingly active in Somalia, as has Iran. Turkey, however, has made the most concerted efforts of late, effectively making Somalia its foothold in Africa. In August 2011, during the height of famine in Somalia, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan scored a diplomatic coup by travelling with his family to Mogadishu—the first non-African head of state to do so in two decades. His visit served as the catalyst for a massive, highly visible Turkish humanitarian effort in the capital. The Turks donated food, set up a well-ordered camp for the displaced, and converted bullet-scarred buildings into schools and hospitals. Turkish teachers and doctors now live among the Somali population, instead of barricading themselves in secure zones at the airport or directing operations from Nairobi. In fact, as one Somali put it, “Turkey has become the McDonald’s of Mogadishu. Their flags are everywhere, just like the yellow arches of McDonald’s are everywhere in America.”
Unlike most other foreign interventions, the Turkish effort has been popular among Somalis. Some Somalis say Turkey has done more for Somalia in a few months than the rest of the world has done in decades; a number have even named their baby boys “Erdogan” after the prime minister. But not everyone views Turkey’s presence quite so positively. A report published in October 2012 by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) claims that many countries consider Turkey’s role in Somalia to be naïve adventurism. Envy of Turkey’s achievements might partially explain this assessment, but the ICG also suggests that Turkey’s approach has been too unilateral and has duplicated other, ongoing efforts to improve the situation. The report also critiques Turkey’s efforts as too focused on Mogadishu and claims that the Turkish contingent has been manipulated by Somali politicians. It also notes that Turkey’s officials have been too close to former President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, who has been widely accused of corruption.
Regardless of opinions on Turkey’s controversial involvement, the truth is that even if foreign powers were to leave Somalia alone, it would not be able to function as a proper country or nation-state as we know it. Decades without a strong central government have led to severe political disintegration: the country has essentially split up into a series of semi-autonomous regions that operate as “statelets,” some fairly stable, others chaotic and violent. The result is a constantly shifting patchwork, marked by regions that sometimes rub against each other and break into open conflict.
The most striking example of autonomy is Somaliland in the northwest, which declared itself independent from the rest of the country in 1991. Although it lacks international recognition, Somaliland is a functioning polity and more democratic than the rest of the Horn of Africa. Arguably the most successful Somali region, Somaliland has also experienced the lowest degree of foreign interference, particularly since it developed its own political system from the ground up, marrying traditional forms of authority with more modern, Western-style democracy. For example, the upper house of parliament, or guurti, is made up of traditional elders, while the lower house is elected.
Other parts of Somalia operate more as semi-autonomous units such as Puntland in the northeast, where international companies are exploring for oil, and the newly formed region of Jubbaland in the south, which runs along the Kenyan border. Elsewhere, particularly in south-central Somalia, much smaller units—including towns, villages, pastoralist groups, and religious communities—carry out fairly effective forms of self-government and administration. The challenge for Mogadishu will be to balance these disparate forms of authority with each other and the central government. It is telling that the newly drafted constitution does not yet address the allocation of resources between the regions and the center.
As well as the many “mini-Somalias” within the territory, there is also the challenge of considering “Greater Somalia.” For many Somalis, their true nation encompasses the five points of the white star on the Somali flag that stand for Somalia, Somaliland, and the Somali-speaking regions of Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya. It could be argued that the years of conflict and instability have led to the creation of a sixth point on the star, representing the global Somali diaspora stretching from Australia to America and from Dubai to Denmark. Somalia will always be “bigger” than the territory it inhabits on the world map.
Many Somalis have used their forced displacement to great effect, creating a highly globalized community of economically dynamic, technologically sophisticated entrepreneurs. Their financial and technological acumen both in Somalia and in the diaspora, however, has not been matched by an ability to function well politically. Signs indicate the new authorities in Mogadishu will be different from previous administrations, which did not seem capable of separating violence and corruption from political power. There are also indications that the outside world is beginning to understand Somalia a little better, ceding more room to Somalis to do things their way and in their time. For example, the international community recently permitted Somalis to choose their parliament, president, and other leaders on Somali soil, rather than forming a government during internationally sponsored conferences outside the country, as has been done over the past twenty years. In the meantime, however, the presence of so many foreign boots on Somali soil and international involvement in its politics will continue to pose serious challenges, both in terms of devising a workable exit strategy and giving Somalis the chance to take charge of their own security and development.
By Mary Harper

Mary Harper is Africa Editor at the BBC World Service and author of Getting Somalia Wrong? Faith, War and Hope in a Shattered State (London: Zed Books, 2012). Her website is


  1. Mrs Harper you have talked at length about Somalia, were the title of your article has nothing to do with, and you have forgotten to speak at all, about how Somaliland and Somalia joined in 1960, while ignoring the genocide that Somalia has committed against the peace-loving people of Somaliland, who took their government to Somalia. Your article is not at all welcoming to my people, because it looks that you just concentrated to Somalia, while you said my country is functioning and democratic, while specifically you mentioned it is better than the rest of Horn of Africa. My people need from people like you to tell exactly why my people have decided to go their way and divorce Somalia, 21 years ago.

    • You seem either misinformed or lying. Somalia has never committed genocide against your people, Your people and most of the people of south suffered in the hands of a military regime, therefore it is a regime that committed genocide perhaps. You seem to deny or not aware of it, that your ex-President Riyale (the at that time head of the notorious NSS north-west Somalia section) who was personally responsible for torturing, imprisoning and killing of your people, who you chose as President of your region afterwards. Gosh, and you dare to accuse the south of committed genocide against your people? You separatists are pathetic to be honest.

  2. "Somaliland is a functioning polity and more democratic than the rest of the Horn of Africa"

    – 22-Years of Democracy have not put food on the table.
    – 22-years of DemonCrossy have not added 1-cent to the GD.

    Eritrea without any DemonCrossy is flourishing wonderfully with a GDP of $4-Billion and a population of 4.6million. This while under Full sanctions… That is an achievement since their independence 1991.

    Sanctions which were put in place as a form of State bullying:

    "It has been two years now since the UN General Assembly’s Special Committee on Somalia issued a report that said that at least 80% of the arms available in Somalia came from Ethiopia. Or were arms “donated” by the USA and other western countries to the so called “Somalia Transitional Government” and then sold on the black market, often times to the resistance. Recent reports continue to echo this fact on the ground, that the arms for sale in the arms bazaars throughout much of southern Somalia/Mogadishu come stamped Made in the USA, not Eritrea."

    Is Democracy over rated?

      • Only Majeerteenia i guess!

        If your Zero Sum game is "Let us all remain a failure together till the end of time"

        I will remind you we DESTROYED the Kacaan, insha'allah we will DESTROY Kacaan-2 and insha'allah we will DESTROY anything that challenges our declaration of re-independence.

        🙂 Another question where will you run when 20,000Amisom and 30,000Abgaal start knocking on your door in galkaciyo???

        Sool & Sanaag border will be closed since Pirateland has ZERO diplomatic relationship with Somaliland-Republic.

  3. The independence of Somaliland did not come easily, we've lost more than 200.000 people including 20,000 SNM fighters. the question is why all these people have lost their lives? they were fighting to have their freedom from Siyaad Bare regime. Afwayne Bare was the father of all Faqash people including (Daarood) Afwayne killed many innocent people from Isaaq tribe during 80's iIaah naata ha ku fogeeye he destroyed all Somaliland cities and towns and villages he did not leaf any thing. How can many people saying today Somaliland is a part of Somalia.

      • The Same Faqash that raped all the Omar-Mahamoud women in Mudug. When Abgaal start murdering MJ i bet you anything Mareehaan will be helping them dig the graves for you!

        New Faqash are coming for you and they have to crush you before they even try anything on anyone else!

    • "Jama….You see, you just contradicting yourself. You said: ''they were fighting to have their freedom from Siyaad Bare regime'', which they were not the only ones. For example, Hawiye and even Majeerteen etc were fighting against him. The SNM agenda was only to get rid of a regime, never a secession. Until view separatists high-jacked it and flipped the whole agenda. SNM stands for, Somali National Movement, not Somaliland National Movement. You see, no matter how much you try to hide the facts and lie, the truth is there for everyone to see.

  4. The Ethiopian stooge (SNM) are surly digging their own grave Somalia is united Country that protects its borders from Afmadoow to Saylac. The Ethiopian stooge (SNM) cannot redrew a white trash colonial borders meant to divide Somali people. somalia will never let that happen. in Somali history they have defeated far more superior army like the British, American, Ethiopian etc. The Ethiopian stooge (SNM) are piece of cake their blood will be written all over the walls in hargeisa, burco and berbera.

    • Listen while you are sharpening your knife to harm Somaliland-republic:

      – Federalism is being dismantled which means the 120,000 Hawiye & Rahanweyn Idps in Bari and Mudug will be given citizenship in puntland.
      – Federal constitution will be re-written to give more power to Damu-Jadiid to rule for the next 50years.

      It began with Kanadiid who enslaved the Hawiye and took their land ruling them all the way up to Hobyo until the early 1900s. Thousands of Hawiye were massacred by Kanadiid.

      Harti-Abgaal? sometimes i wonder if these are the Bastard child of the Majareerteens during the time Harti used to enslave the Hawiye???

      Even the Fiqishiini that live in SOOL are they Ceyr that were bought as slaves to serve Dhulbahante?

      Ajuuran and Degodia have been turned into Looma-Oyaan langaabs by the Marehaans & ogadeens. Let us not even talk about the Bahdil of the Sheikhals in the Kilil, NFD and Juba valley.

      Siyad barre gave hawiye land to Ogadeen from Ethiopia as recent as 1974 during the Daba-Dheer drought.

      We wish our Irir brothers all the best with their government and attempt to civilize their old enemies 🙂

      We will sit this one out and watch how it works out!


      • LoL Buuxiye. ''Federalism is being dismantled which means the 120,000 Hawiye & Rahanweyn Idps in Bari and Mudug will be given citizenship in puntland''…..Pleas visit America or any other Federal country, to gain knowledge of what Federal is. Federal is not based on tribal system idiot. The 4.5 is even taken out of the picture, since it was never been put in the constitution. The President said many times that Federal state can be formed when two or more states join as one, not two or more clans idiot. As for who lives where or integrates, everyone is allowed to move and integrate into which ever state they like.

        You see Buuxiye, unlike you separatists we the south aren't mentally sick as you separatists. And unlike you (calool kuqaadyaal) separatists, we the south don't hold grudges for each other, we've moved on and reconciled with each other. I've never seen more mentally sick tribal people than you separatists. And it is for that reason why the rest of the other tribes in north-west Somalia don't want nothing to do with you. You will never ever ever prosper in your life like that. Watch my word.

        • "we the south don't hold grudges for each other, we've moved on and reconciled with each other."

          Truth10, watch this video then say again.


  5. @Putlandgeezer have you Lost your mind? Did you remember 15 October 2007 when Somaliland army captured Laascaand city,Somaliland army over taken the city after they had defeated Puntland militia from Garowe. previous Somali Government had one of the strongest army in Africa where is it now? that government collapsed when SNM fighters took arms against Somali National army (Faqash). Somaliland will continuous defending itself any government any people and will black mailed by people like you.

  6. "Somaliland is a functioning polity and more democratic than the rest of the Horn of Africa"
    MGoth, it is clear that you have retitled her article, it doesn't look very clever mate. The article mainly talk about moqadishu, with contrasting and comparing other somali fedral states.
    She didn't even mention somaliland for more than 3 lines.

  7. Folks, you could argue 24/7 day-in day-out, about the fates of the two seperate sovereign
    states viz Somaliland and Somalia??? But the fact of the matter is that, the only mandated
    Govts of Hargeisa and Mogadiscio have agreed to have talks peacefully without military
    confrontations and conflicts??? their talks began from London feb 2012, followups from
    Turkey and Dubai??? and now back to London again. Let the two Govts sort out their conflicting
    political differences.

  8. Many new good developments are taking shape both in Somalia and Somaliland. Therefore,
    it's better to follow the turns and twists specially the Somalia arena???

  9. Haters keep hating, Landers Keep Grinding! We don't have time to be on dh a d hood sites talking smack cause we are too busy grinding making money, building a country, building institutions, and trying to build something for our people…..we ain't got time for bull sh y t or xasidniimo too busy grinding, too busy cutting our teeth building something for our children for our future!

    What have the likes of kayse, sahro, paku n talandcajuuus do with their spare time? Come online and complain like little by t ches.

    Like fabulous said when they ask me how I am doing, I say better than them over there! That's the difference between Somaliland, Somalia and the mofos called the dh a dh oo o d, its men vs nu ggg as

  10. children of the blogs no need for all this………..I'm the true SNM who never as 12 yrs old boy never turn back from the tanks of faqash what makes you think as 35 yr old grown ass man would not put them back at their place. And even worse for you i have 20 yr old comando's with me which i do not doubt could go as far as Mugadisho with out a resistance if they so choice to….so all you haters piss off.