Conflict in the Horn of Africa

Authors: Dr. Jota Samper, Dr. Katerina Tkacova, Dr. Annette Idler • Resource type: Interactive Visualizations


The armed conflict in Somalia has a complex history due to its large number of interlinked actors. Clans and the loyalty to them have played a key role, as many of the armed actors mobilize along clan lines. During his reign, President Siad Barre relied predominantly on the support of the major Darood clans (Shay, 2008: 6). His autocratic rule and conflicts with Somalia’s neighbours resulted in the formation of the armed opposition, led by the Somali National Movement (SNM) and the United Somali Congress (USC), drawing their forces predominantly from Isaaq and Hawiye clans. The opposition gained control over large parts of Somalia in 1991 and ousted the president. While the clans supporting president Barre did not accept the political change, the anti-president coalition broke (Woldemariam, 2018: 217, 224–226). Somalia entered decades of violence, chaos and fragmentation of political power as fighting erupted among various clans, sub-clans and their militias for power, land and resources.​

From the power vacuum, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) grew in 2004. ICU was defeated by the Somali government with the help of Ethiopia in 2006. The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), an insurgent group operation in Ethiopia seeking to establish an independent Ogaden, launched several attacks against Ethiopian targets as a punishment for their military involvement in Somalia (Menkhaus, 2007). Following the military defeat of ICU, Al-Shabaab formed from the radical part of the ICU and soon became a dominant armed actor in Somalia. Contrary to the previous Islamist groups, al-Shabaab managed to some extent to overcome the clan loyalties, and draw its support from multiple clans (Hansen, 2013: 7, 22). Al-Shabaab extended its attacks beyond the borders of Somalia to Kenya and Ethiopia. Somalia’s state collapse also affected the North of Somalia, where SNM became instrumental in forming Somaliland and declaring its independence in 1991 to separate itself from the unstable South (Woldemariam, 2018: 226). However, they also suffered from the clan-based violence and clashed with the regional government in Puntland over disputed territory. After 2007, al-Shabaab also carried out several attacks in the territory of Somaliland (Horton, 2019).​

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