The Somali people have a strongly established common culture, but the Somalis are divided into a number of clans. Most Somalis identify themselves first with their clan and then with the Somali people. These divided loyalties have given rise to Somalia's current problems.
The Somali Republic was formed on 1 July 1960 as the result of a merger of British Somaliland, which became independent from the United Kingdom on 26 June 1960, and Italian Somaliland, which became independent from an Italian-administered United Nations trusteeship on July 1, 1960. A coalition government was formed by the Somali Youth League (SYL) and the 2 leading northern political parties, with Dr. Abd ar-Rashid Ali Shir-make, a leading SYL politician and member of the Darod clan, as first prime minister, and a single legislative body.
The initial problems of combining the previous colonial administrations were eased by shared Somali cultural ties, and for the first years of the country's existence internal conflicts among clans were secondary to ongoing efforts to extend the boundaries of the new state to include Somali communities in Ethiopia, French Somaliland (present-day Djibouti) and northern Kenya. Liberation movements were established for this cause in each of the neighboring territories. It soon became obvious that these efforts were bound to fail, however, and political efforts turned to addressing the problems of Somali peoples resident in other countries—and to internal conflict.
Abd ar-Rashid Ali Shirmake was elected president in 1967, but in October 1969 he was assassinated in the course of factional violence, leading to a coup d'etat. A Supreme Revolutionary Council (SRC) formed an army and police officers announced that it had acted to preserve democracy and justice and to eliminate corruption and clanism and that the country was to be renamed the Somali Democratic Republic to symbolize these aims. Army commander and president of the SRC Major General Jalle Mohamed Siad Barre became head of state. For nearly 30 years Barre led Somalia as a socialist state, but economic stability was continually disrupted by internal dissent and by troubled relations with neighboring Ethiopia. On 27 January 1991, the United Somali Congress (USC) ousted the regime of Siad Barre, and the country descended into anarchy and widespread banditry based on clan feuding.
Since the overthrow of the Barre regime, politics in the country have been in a state of chaos. Clan-based political parties have seized different areas of the country and have fought each other over control of disputed regions. No one clan has a national base of support. While chaos has been the norm in much of Somalia throughout the decade, some orderly government has been established in the northern part. In May 1991, the elders of clans in former British Somaliland established the independent Republic of Somaliland, which, although not recognized by any government, maintains a stable existence, aided by the overwhelming dominance of the ruling clan and the economic infrastructure left behind by British, Russian, and American military assistance programs. In 1998 neighboring Puntland, in the northeast of the country, declared its autonomy and has also made progress towards reconstructing a legitimate, representative government.
Over the course of Somalia's troubled decade, several foreign relief efforts have been attempted in the country. From 1993, a 2-year UN humanitarian effort (primarily in the south) was able to alleviate famine conditions, but when the UN withdrew in 1995, having suffered significant casualties, order still had not been restored. In February 1996, the European Union (EU) agreed to finance the reconstruction of the port of Berbera in Somaliland. Since then, other aid projects have been undertaken by the EU and by an Italian non-government organization.
In August 2000, delegates at a 3-month peace conference in Djibouti formed the National Transitional Assembly and elected Abdulkasim Sala Hassan as the new president of Somalia. Although the new administration has made progress in creating the beginnings of an army to establish law and order and has taken up residence in Mogadishu, Somalia still faces real difficulties. The war-lords of the various feuding clans are unwilling to give up their positions as powerful and feared leaders controlling substantial resources gathered through protection, looting, and extortion. They are heavily armed, and they need to be offered a way to show support for the fledgling government. Another challenge for the new government is the problem of its relations with the administrations in Somaliland and Puntland. An agreement to allow these areas to secede would allow them to gain international recognition and thus aid, while allowing the rest of former Somalia to the south to concentrate on its internal security problems.
Somalia once had a 4-tier court system based on Western models. Under Barre, separate National Security Courts operated outside the ordinary legal system and under direct control of the executive and were given broad jurisdiction over offenses defined by government as affecting state security. These were abolished in 1991, and no organized court system exists in the country. The Republic of Somaliland uses the pre-1991 penal code.
With no effective government, there is no formal taxation. However, warlords exact payments from businesses in return for not harassing them and provide some protection against the predations of others. Surprisingly, some observers report that the lack of government has contributed to positive developments in the economy, as entrepreneurs have been freed to develop their business free from government intervention and bureaucracy. Most economic transactions are conducted in U.S. dollars, thus easing the problems of the utter instability of the Somali shilling.