The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

An endless civil war, the legacy of imperialist ambitions

Jan 8, 2007

Like the rest of Africa, the territory made up of the Somali ethnic group has been the prey of imperialism. In 1839, British troops carved out Somaliland. At the end of the 19th century, Italian troops set up a “Somalia,” while the French seized the “French coast of Somalia,” which today is Djibouti. In 1936, Italian Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia were conquered by the Italian dictator Mussolini, and turned into Italian East Africa. In 1947, Italy renounced this territory. Next the United Nations put Italy in charge of “looking after” its ex-Somalian colony. In July 1960, Somalia became independent, along with Somaliland. But certain Somalian regions were left as part of Ethiopia and Kenya.

The imperialist countries, during more than a century of domination, exacerbated the rivalries between the different Somali clans in order to reinforce their domination in a region of strategic importance. The French base of Djibouti, for example, was the counterpart of the British base at Aden in this region that forms a bridge between the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea.

From 1969 to 1991, Somalia was led by a military dictator, Syad Barré. With his fall, the country tipped into civil war – the warlords of the larger clans fought the Islamists for power.

In 1992, the United States, with U.N. approval, made a supposedly humanitarian intervention, bringing food to a region ravaged by famine. In reality, the U.S. undertook to reestablish order by balancing among rival factions. It set up its headquarters in a building owned by U.S. oil companies, which had divided the country into zones! After the well-known Black Hawk Down episode, dramatized in the movie of that name, the United States, not wanting to get bogged down, quickly left the country. The U.S. left the U.N. in charge and U.N. troops left in 1995.

The imperialist intervention was given a name: “Restore Hope.” Instead it pushed the population further into the chaos of civil war. In fifteen years at least 300,000 and perhaps as many as 500,000 people were killed. One sixth of the Somalian population became refugees.