updated 7:42 AM MDT, Jul 30, 2017

Understanding Somalia: Reasons for its State Failure

  • Published in Opinion

By Mitesh Mistry

Since the end of the Cold War, Somalia has held many titles. First as a state in civil conflict driven by clan warfare, then as a failed state nesting a humanitarian tragedy and now finally, two decades later and topping the premier league of failed states, Somalia has become the new front for international terrorism. Once considered a potentially lucrative location early on by British and Italian colonialists in the 1900′s, it is now largely considered to be an “outlaw state”. From their colonial legacy to a lack of central governance, Somalia’s fall into state failure is extraordinary. One thing is certain; Somalia has undeniably become the world’s most dangerous place.


Somalia’s plunge into state failure is down to a combination of internal and external factors. There is a tendency to suggest factors like terrorism and famine constitute as reasons for Somalia becoming a failed state. This is a misconception because these factors emerged as a result of no official central government. Instead of being causes of state failure, they are instead symptoms of state failure that continue to drive failure in the country. The reasons for Somalia’s deterioration are simple and somewhat predictable, given the path the country has gone down since acquiring independence.

The biggest factors to have contributed towards Somalia’s state failure pertains to the legacies of European colonialism and impact of Cold War politics. Similar to other failed states like Haiti, Somalia has a colonial past that deeply impacted society. During their colonial period, most of Somalia was subject to a European scramble. The colonial powers of Britain and Italy divided communities, ignoring pre-colonial social and political organizations and arrangements for their own administrative convenience The negative impact of colonialism came after Somalia had acquired independence in 1960. Somali people of now very different cultures were thrown together in a system of new politics, disturbing the nature of society generations of people had become accustomed to.

Secondly the impact of Cold War politics is somewhat largely responsible for Somalia falling into the crevasse of state failure. Despite the historic pedigree of domestic and regional conflicts in and around Somalia, the Cold War added a completely new dimension. The rivalry between the United States and Soviet Union had escalated further and heavily involved their clients in Eastern Africa, specifically Somalia and Ethiopia. Whilst pursuing what they believed to be their own vital interests, it became the norm for their clients to engage in similar conflict. During the 1970′s the Ethiopians and Somalis tried to get the better of one another; hence the tension building up towards the Ogaden War from 1977-1978. Therefore the Cold War style conflict between the global superpowers largely impacted Somalia’s transition into a failed state because it encouraged proxy wars and created new tensions which with poor leadership brought financial decline and socio-economic hardship.

Somalia’s fall into state failure has been a fascinating yet classic story. A combination of internal and external factors have contributed towards Somalia’s downfall. Somalia’s status as a failed state is not a revelation but was to be expected. European colonialism left a deep imprint on Somali communities and was the cause of growing tensions after Somalia acquired independence. It contributed towards their state failure because it distorted structures in society, displaced families and eventually caused cultural tensions between communities. The rivalry between the U.S. and the Soviet Union influenced Somalia’s invasion of Ethiopia with the Ogaden War; resulting in the loss of financial aid and a severe humanitarian crisis.

Mitesh Mistry

United Kingdom

From Bradford. 22, Politics Graduate. Interests include Conflict Resolution, Diplomacy and Peace-Building. Ex-Intern at Embassy of Dominican Republic in The Hague. Views are my own. @Mitz_Mistry

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