Somalia today is regarded by news outlets and Western governments as a failed state, or in other words a state that has lost sovereign control over its own territory. Somalia's failure can be traced back to the divisions imposed upon in by the colonial powers of Great Britain, Italy and France, as well as to its use as a pawn by both the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. More recently, a long civil war and the rise of the terrorist group al-Shabab have perpetuated Somalia's failed-state condition.


The country known today as Somalia was colonized by the British, the Italians, and to a certain extent the French in the 1880s. The colonial powers not only kept the country underdeveloped but inflicted significant damage in suppressing Somali resistance movements. Additionally, warfare between Britain and Italy during World War II extended into Somalia and further destroyed the region. When the country did finally earn its independence in 1960, it was a combination of decentralized territories that had been controlled by different colonial powers and which lacked sufficient infrastructure and economic development.

The Cold War

The Cold War also indirectly affected Somalia's development. In 1969, Gen. Mohammad Siad Barre took power and established a communist government after elected President Abdirashid Ali Shermarke was assassinated. Barre was initially supported by the Soviet Union, but after the Soviets sided with Ethiopia during the 1977 Ogaden War, Barre courted the United States. Though Somalia was a communist country at this time, the U.S. provided Barre with weapons and money to counter Soviet-supported Ethiopia, and in doing so kept him in power and halted the democratic development of the country. Barre was eventually overthrown in 1991 at the start of the long Somali Civil War.

Civil War

This war, still ongoing today, began in 1991 when a series of rebel groups opposed to the repressive Barre regime at first toppled the dictator but then fought with each other over control of the central government. Since then, the country has witnessed several attempted U.N. peacekeeping missions, one of which resulted in the deaths of 18 U.S. troops, several interventions by the U.S.-backed Ethiopian military, and the deployment of African Union troops, none of which have put a firm end to the ongoing conflict.

Political Islam

In recent years, the conflict has become one between peacekeeping forces and Islamic political movements. The first of these movements was the Islamic Courts Union, but in 2007 moderate members of the ICU signed an agreement with non-Islamic forces and created a coalition government. The extremist wings of the ICU formed al-Shabab, a terrorist organization that took control of large parts of southern Somalia in 2009. Today, the civil war continues between the coalition government and African Union troops and the forces of al-Shabab. Though the government reconquered the capital city of Mogadishu from al-Shabab in 2011, the country remains a failed state.

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