The Forum in Somalia


Throughout its history Somalia, officially the Federal Republic of Somalia, has had long and illustrious reputation as a centre for trade and commerce. In the ancient and medieval periods, Somalia was a key hub for traders bringing goods from India, China, and South East Asia to the Middle East and Southern Europe. A key stop on the Silk Road trade route, Somali ports were one of the most important sources of valuable spices, ebony, ivory, and gold in the world. Following the introduction of Islam to the Somali peninsula in the 7th Century, in the medieval period Somalia became ruled by various dynastic Sultanates. Ongoing, sporadic conflict between the Somali Sultanates and the Christian kingdoms of Ethiopia was a constant for a number of centuries into the early modern period. The complete conquest of Ethiopia by the Somali Adal Empire in the mid-16th Century was only averted when the Portuguese intervened in the conflict responding to a plea from their fellow Christians for military assistance. In the early modern period, the most powerful states to emerge in Somalia were the Warsangali Sultanate, the Bari Dynasties, and the Gobroon Dynasty, which continued to flourish from the seaborne trade established by previous Somali Empires.

In the late 19th Century, during the European colonial powers’ Scramble for Africa, Dervish leader Mohammed Abdullah Hassan initiated an anti-colonial struggle against the British, rallying Somalis to fight for Somali independence and unity. Hassan acquired weapons from the Ottoman Empire and appointed ministers and advisers to administer different sectors of Somalia. Hassan created a highly centralized and militarily focused Dervish state. Initially, the Dervish state’s attacks on British forces in the region were successful, but by 1920 the Dervish state had collapsed and the Dervish territories subsequently turned into a protectorate. In the mid-1920s Italian colonial forces under the direction of Mussolini took over a large amount of Somali territory, and in 1936 Italian Somaliland became part of the greater Italian Empire. During the Second World War the British regained control of Italian Somaliland and following the end of that conflict administered British and Italian Somaliland as military protectorates. The two protectorates remained under British control until they were unified and granted independence as the Somali Republic with a new constitution in July 1960.

Almost a decade into the new state’s existence, the Somali President Abdirashid Ali Shermarke was assassinated, and the Somali Army, led by Major General Mohammed Siad Barre, launched a successful coup. A Supreme Revolutionary Council (SRC) subsequently assumed power, with Barre as its head, and renamed the country the Somali Democratic Republic, dissolving the parliament and Supreme Court and suspending the Constitution in the process. In 1976 Barre’s SRC disbanded itself and established the Somali Revolutionary Socialist Party (SRSP) in its place. Over the next 15 years, the Barre government came under increasing pressure as the people became unhappy with the totalitarian and militaristic nature. In the 1980s a number of resistance movements emerged in the country, leading to the Somali Civil war and the eventual collapse of the Barre central government and the disbanding of the national army in 1991 .

In 1993 a United Task Force of United Nations peacekeepers began a two year operation to provide security to achieve the stability required to mount a transitional political process and provide humanitarian relief. During this time battles were fought between various local militias and the peacekeepers, until the UN mission withdrew from the country in March 1995.

Over the past 20 years, efforts have focused on rebuilding political and governance institutions in Somalia, a task which has been complicated by various rival armed groups competing for power and influence. The Transitional National Government (2000), and its successor the Transitional Federal Government (2004), were established to facilitate the process of the formation of permanent democratic governance institutions in the country. The Transitional Federal Government’s interim mandate ended in August 2012, and the Federal Parliament of Somalia was concurrently inaugurated, ushering in the Federal government of Somalia – the first permanent central government in the country since the beginning of the civil war .

 Current Work

Project Title:  Building Capacity for Federal Governance as a Source of Peace and Security in Somalia

September 2015 – March 2016

Funder: Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada (DFATD) – Stabilization and Reconstruction Task Force (START)

Project Description and Major Objectives:

This program is the Forum’s first major initiative on Somalia, which adopted a Provisional Federal Constitution in 2012. Working with our lead partner, the Ministry of Interior & Federal Affairs, the project convened two major dialogue-training sessions that included senior, mainly minister level, representatives from all the new/emerging federal member states/regions as well as key federal government institutions. The strategy is to create a core group of influential actors from across the whole country with a robust understanding of the basic principles of federal governance so that they can enhance the current ongoing constitutional and policy debates in this still very nascent federation which is supposed to adopt a permanent federal constitution in 2016. Finally, the program will produce two publications, in Somali: one on the distribution of powers, which are not yet finalized in the provisional Constitution, and a second which provides an overview of a full range of federal governance topics.