Foreign policy and defense
Based on geographical map from Digopaul, Somalia is a nation in Eastern Africa. Its capital city is Mogadishu. The conflict in Somalia affects the entire region. For its survival, the government of Mogadishu is dependent on Amisom, the AU force that was sent to Somalia in 2007, where neighboring countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti are now contributing troops. For both Ethiopia and Kenya, it is a great deal to try to prevent the unrest in Somalia from spreading across their borders. However, Uganda still contributes the most soldiers to Amisom. At the same time, the United States and many Western countries are worried that Somalia will act as a sanctuary for international terrorist groups.
Relations with Ethiopia and Eritrea
When Ethiopia entered Somalia in 2006 to assist the then transitional government, it did so with US support. At the same time, Eritrea helped the Somali Islamists, mainly with the aim of weakening Ethiopia after the Eritrea-Ethiopian border war 1998-2000. That the transitional government relied on Ethiopian support was a sensitive issue in Somalia. The countries have long had a tense relationship, much because of a dispute over the Ethiopian province of Ogaden (see Modern History).
- Countryaah: Overview of business holidays and various national observances in Somalia for years of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025.
In 2006, the Ethiopian government denied for the longest time that it had troops in Somalia. But as the fighting accelerated in the late autumn, it became clear that Ethiopia had great forces on Somali land. Behind the intervention, there were fears that Somali Islamists would take root among Ethiopia’s large Muslim minority. The military branch of the Somali organization al-Ittihad al-Islami, which is now disbanded, was accused in the 1990s of having participated in blast attacks in Ethiopian cities.
It is also in Ethiopia’s interest that the neighboring country remains divided and weak and cannot impose new demands on Ogaden. Ethiopia formally withdrew its troops from Somalia around the turn of the year 2008/2009, but in 2011 Ethiopian forces again crossed the border to fight the militant Islamist group al-Shabaab. In 2014, the Ethiopian soldiers were deployed to Amisom.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who took office in April 2018, visited Mogadishu in mid-June of the same year and then negotiated with Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed on possible financial cooperation and various investments in infrastructure. Abiy Ahmed was also said to have submitted an invitation from the United Arab Emirates for cooperation (see also below). More sensitive topics such as Ethiopia’s participation in Amisom, or the serious human rights crimes committed by the paramilitary Liyu force in Ogaden were not addressed.
Following the peace agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea in July 2018, relations between Somalia and Eritrea also improved, which already decided the same month to establish diplomatic relations with each other. President Farmajo called on the UN to lift the sanctions against Eritrea, which was however controversial, especially in Somaliland. It was also noted that the President, in connection with a visit to Eritrea, did not mention the Eritreans border conflict with Djibouti.
In November 2018, the UN decided to lift sanctions against Eritrea. Then Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea had signed a cooperation agreement and the leaders of the three countries had met in person on three different occasions.
Relations with Kenya
Contacts between Somalia and Kenya have been periodically strained, but the neighboring country played an important role in the talks leading up to the peace agreement in 2004. Kenya has also received hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees.
Kenya entered the military in Somalia in the fall of 2011 after accusing al-Shabaab of kidnapping of foreign tourists and aid workers on Kenyan territory. Kenya said it was acting on behalf of the Transitional Government in Mogadishu. Not long afterwards, the Kenyan force formally became part of Amisom.
An important reason for Kenya’s intervention was that it wanted to create buffer zones against the Islamists, so as not to risk being drawn into the Somali conflict. To achieve this, Kenya is cooperating with local clan militia in the south. As revenge for Kenya’s involvement in Somalia, al-Shabaab has carried out several acts of terror on Kenyan soil.
At the beginning of 2019, a dispute arose between the countries about a sea area equivalent to 100,000 square kilometers, which is believed to be rich in oil and gas. The matter was referred to the International Court of Justice in The Hague (ICJ), but tensions also led to Kenya calling its ambassador for consultations and urging Somalia’s ambassador to leave Kenya. The diplomatic contacts resumed after a month and at the end of the year, however, the countries agreed to do even more to normalize relations between the countries.
Cooperation with the United States
After the terrorist attacks against the United States in 2001, Somalia ended up in the spotlight as a possible hiding place for international terrorists. Islamists increased influence in the United States, especially given the strategic position of Somalia. When the UIC / SSICC was forced out of power, the United States bombed targets in Somalia where it was suspected that people who participated in the terrorist attacks against US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 were. Even later, the United States, with Somalia’s approval, made raids into the country and killed suspected Islamist leaders (see Political system ).
In 2014, the United States sent five military advisers to Somalia, the first in the country since 1994. In May 2015, the US Embassy in Mogadishu reopened, in connection with the then US Secretary of State John Kerry visiting the country for a few hours. A permanent mission was opened in Mogadishu in the fall of 2019.
Following the change of power in Washington 2017, when Donald Trump became US President, the US defense was given a boost to increase its efforts against al-Shabaab and the Islamic State (IS), and carry out air raids without first obtaining permission from the White House. They are also allowed to cooperate with Somali special forces on the ground.
The US was reported in October 2017 to have 400 men in Somalia. The US military has performed over 100 airstrikes in the country from June 2017 to March 2019 (the number continued to increase in 2019). There are fears that the attacks, which occur both from manned aircraft and with the help of drones, can counteract their purpose by risking increased support for jihadist groups in the country. The United States has said that no civilian casualties have been claimed, while Amnesty, which investigated five of the raids, claims that at least 14 civilians have been killed (see Calendar). Read more about it here (article in English from the BBC).
In recent years, Turkey has also become more active in Somalia. In 2011, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan became the first foreign head of government to visit the country since the early 1990s. The Turks also launched a series of projects to improve the infrastructure in Mogadishu, by building schools and hospitals and more. The work soon led to visible improvements in Mogadishu.
Turkey also started a scholarship program for Somalis who want to study at Turkish universities. Turkish relief workers, at least initially, were able to move fairly freely in Mogadishu. At the end of May / June 2012, Turkey organized a large conference on Somalia.
At the same time, there were observers who warned that the Turks were at risk of being exploited by powerful business interests and various warlords.
Several Turkish companies were also active in Somalia, where one of them operated the port of Mogadishu. In 2017, Turkey opened a military base in Mogadishu, where 200 Turkish soldiers would assist the government in training Somali soldiers (1,500 at a time).
As security in Mogadishu improved from 2011, several countries, including Britain, Kenya, Iran and Uganda, have opened embassies in the Somali capital.
China opened an embassy in Somalia in 2014. The Chinese government has promised to increase trade exchanges between the countries and support the reconstruction of Somalia.
Somalia has for a long time had extensive trade with the countries of the Persian Gulf. The country has good contacts with both Saudi Arabia, which is its main trading partner among the states of the Persian Gulf, and Qatar, and is trying to maintain its neutrality in the conflict that broke out in 2017 between the two Gulf states. This is despite the fact that the government of Mogadishu from June 2017 was put under intense pressure from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to sever all relations with Qatar. President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed still allowed Qatari planes to fly through Somali airspace in late summer 2017. He was also said to have refused no extra support of $ 81 million from the United Arab Emirates if Somalia agreed to break contact with Qatar. Both Saudi Arabia and Qatar withdrew their budget support to the Somali government in the fall of 2017 (the Saudis must have paid $ 50 million to Mogadishu before). At the same time, the United Arab Emirates strengthened its position in Somaliland and Puntland, which is in opposition to the Mogadishu government. Companies from the United Arab Emirates, among others, have strong interests in the port of Bossasso in Puntland, and in Berbera in Somaliland.
The United Arab Emirates has also participated in the training of the Somali Army (SNA). These forces are, according to the American think tank Stratfor, the most reliable in the SNA. However, the collaboration was suspended in April 2018 after Somali security forces pledged $ 10 million that would have gone to soldiers’ salaries. Hundreds of weapons were stolen from the facility when it was closed. The UAE has also closed a hospital that offered free care.
Somalia has taken a stand for Saudi Arabia in the country’s war in Yemen.
When the AU sent the first soldiers to Somalia, many believed that the force would soon be replaced by UN troops. But that has not happened. Instead, Amisom has gradually grown, from a few thousand Ugandan and Burundian soldiers in 2007 to over 22,000 men in the fall of 2015. In the beginning, there was a clause that forbade neighboring countries from contributing troops, but it was abandoned when the Kenyan soldiers were included in Amisom in 2012. Sierra Leone also has soldiers in Somalia. A large part of the effort is funded by the EU, which has, however, set a ceiling for its contribution to the AU force. In 2016, the funding was reduced by one fifth.
According to reports in June 2016, many AU soldiers had received no salary for six months. Kenya threatened to leave the AU force unless other actors pushed for more money. Kenya had also declared that the country would close two camps for Somali refugees. As a reason, both lack of security and financial concerns were stated. Some analysts saw the Kenyan government’s play as a way to get more money from the international community. In late May, Kenyan Interior Minister Joseph Nkaisserry said that the largest of the Dadaab camps would be closed in November 2016, and that the decision would not be reconsidered. However, the measure was halted after a court decision.
At the same time, it is hard to believe that Kenya, and Ethiopia, would be prepared to leave Somalia completely, given the risks it would pose to security in its own country, if the situation in the neighboring country worsened.
In the fall of 2017, Amisom announced that the force will be reduced by 1,000 men by the end of the year, which was a first step towards winding it up until December 2020. Since then, however, the UN Security Council has pushed for this, as the Somali defense forces have not was considered ready to assume responsibility for security in the country. In May 2019, Amisom’s mandate was extended to February 28, 2020. It could then amount to a maximum of 19,626 people.
Amisom has helped increase security in the country, but the force is also accused of being ineffective. Many times, the AU soldiers have been able to enter a city after al-Shabaab left without a fight. Sometimes the Islamists have destroyed wells and other important infrastructure, sometimes not.
Coordination between units from different countries is often lacking. Many of the soldiers do not have the training or equipment they need. There are no statistics on how many Amisom soldiers have been killed in Somalia, but it may be a few thousand.
Somalia’s national army (SNA), has been built with support from, among others, the US and the EU. But soldiers are too few to allow the Somalis themselves to take over responsibility for security in the country. Soldiers’ training shortages and wages are low and it can take a long time between payments. As a result, some of the soldiers raise money by selling weapons and ammunition on the black market. At the same time, the bill is increasing because the payroll also includes names of non-existent soldiers. Alongside the SNA there is also a police force and a military intelligence service Nisa.
AU soldiers have also been accused of corruption as well as brutality against the civilian population. In several cases, Ugandan soldiers have been sentenced for this. According to analysts, this does not mean that the Kenyan or Ethiopian troops are behaving better, but rather that their countries are not making any major efforts to hold them accountable.
In the fight against al-Shabaab, more moderate Muslim groups such as Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca, who have close ties to Ethiopia, are also participating (see Political system). Several private security companies are also active in the country, among other things to assist the government, Amisom and private business interests, and not least to intervene against pirates.
Despite the 1992 UN arms embargo, there have always been plenty of weapons in Somalia. In 2013, the UN Security Council eased the trade ban and allowed the government side to make purchases of light weapons and grenades. But in a secretly-labeled 2014 report, the UN Monitoring Group for Somalia and Eritrea called on the Security Council to sharpen the arms embargo again. This is because new weapons have landed in the hands of clan militia or sold at private arms markets in Mogadishu. An adviser to the president is suspected of having prepared arms deliveries to al-Shabaab. The government rejected the charges.
Puntland and Somaliland have their own defense forces. The Poundland Army receives money from the United States to fight al-Shabaab, and a coastguard force is funded by the United Arab Emirates.
FACTS – DEFENSE
Army: 19 800 men (2017)
Military expenditure’s share of GDP: 1.5 percent (1989)