When most Americans hear the name Somalia, their first thoughts would probably be of violence and instability. This is no surprise when you consider the way blockbuster movies like Black Hawk Down and Captain Phillips portray the country. In both films, Somalia is shown as a lawless country, filled with heavily armed militias and desperate pirates that will do anything for power and control. Unfortunately, that portrayal is frighteningly accurate aside from the piracy issues, which have declined to the point of being almost nonexistent since 2012. However, the problem in the mainland of Somalia remains the same; the country is divided into separate autonomous regions, militias with varying loyalties are fighting for power, and terrorist attacks make focusing on the rampant humanitarian issues nearly impossible. It’s a situation that the United States likes to deal with from the controls of a Predator drone.
Sometimes drone strikes aren’t enough. For situations involving either additional precision or personal involvement, the United States provides between 200 and 300 special operations troops for assignments in Somalia, thereby putting boots on the ground in a hostile region. Regardless of what the American public might think about having their troops fight for the people of some far away country again, the special operations forces have been successful in assisting the meager Somali forces and the troops of the African Union.
The largest force helping to stabilize the country are those African Union troops, numbering about 22,000. They are made up of people from Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda, with each nationality operating in different sectors around south and central Somalia. The Somali government forces are based mostly around the capital Mogadishu. In the north, the autonomous region of Somaliland occupies the coastline to the west of the Horn of Africa, and the autonomous region of Puntland occupies the tip of the Horn and some land to the south. The rest of the country is left to deal with the presence of al-Shabaab, a terrorist group that has declared allegiance to al-Qaeda. The group is responsible for attacking and bombing various civilian targets in Somalia, as well as taking some of the heavily fortified strongholds of the African Union troops. They were also responsible for the 2013 attack on the Westgate Mall, and almost succeeded in bringing down a Somali airliner last February. The map below shows areas where al-Shabaab attacks have been concentrated in recent years.
Even with all this division and destruction, there is still some hope for the Somali people. The government promised the population in 2012 that they would have their first democratic poll in almost 50 years in 2016. Unfortunately for the Somalia, “a combination of poor security, chaotic politics and a devastated infrastructure” has caused these first democratic elections to be postponed. The new system is an improvement, but it is inherently flawed. It is overly complex, and at its greatest extent only 14,025 people will be allowed to choose the new president, and even those people will be chosen by clan elders around Somalia. Consisting of less than 0.2% of the population, that group of about fourteen thousand people is remarkably small, and it is therefore difficult to call the new process democratic. Regardless of how the new administration is chosen, the administration itself will face a tough task of securing, governing, and developing a struggling country.