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Useful Notes / Somalia

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A Country With No Order
Somalia has 1,900 miles of coastline, a government that knows its place, and all the guns and wives you can afford to buy. Why have I never heard of this paradise before?
Pierce Hawthorne, Community

First off, Somalia is not a good tourist destination.

Somalia (Somali: Soomaaliya, Arabic: الصومال‎ aṣ-Ṣūmāl), officially known as the Federal Republic of Somalia (Somali: Jamhuuriyadda Federaalka Soomaaliya, Arabic: جمهورية الصومال الفدرالية‎ Jumhūriyyat aṣ-Ṣūmāl al-Fiderāliyya), is an East African desert country at the Horn of Africa with a long, rich history. The region was home to many wealthy city-states, which ballooned with increasing Indian Ocean trade. For centuries, it was one of the primary destinations from which spice and other Eastern goods would make it to the West. When European colonization of Africa began in the 1880s, the horn of Africa was one of the biggest hotbeds of resistance. Despite this, the region would eventually be conquered, as European powers (particularly Britain) had a vested interest in securing the Gulf of Aden and thus the entrance to the Red Sea. Britain would force the resistance to capitulate by using new aerial bombardment techniques developed in World War I. They took an area now commonly referred to as Somaliland. The rest of modern Somalia went to Italy.


After World War II, Italy retained their colony under the precondition that they be released in 10 years. The idea was that the Italians could educate local officials and develop the infrastructure needed for Somalia to succeed as an independent nation. Finally, in 1960, the Italian and British colonies were cut loose and unified into a constitutional republic. Unfortunately, it didn't last long. After 9 years, the ruling Somalia Youth League was accused of election fraud and deposed by Siad Barre in a coup d'etat. Barre transformed the country into a Marxist-Leninist government. Barre attempted to modernize the country and emphasized a blend of socialism and Islamic beliefs to unify the scattered tribes and ethnic groups of Somalia. This lasted until 1977, when Somalia launched a war to claim ethnically Somali territories from Ethiopia. Initially they were quite successful, but the Soviet Union -a long time ally of Somalia until then- chose to back the Ethiopian government, which was also communist. Seeing this betrayal, Somalia aligned itself with America despite it continuing to be a Marxist state.


The government was weakened by the loss in the war against Ethiopia, and Barre's regime became increasingly tyrannical to hold onto power. The end result was a rebel insurgency that quickly spiraled into outright revolution, with Barre being removed from power in 1991. The country collapsed into anarchy afterwards, fracturing into multiple different tribes, clans, and ideological movements. The country has been locked in a perpetual civil war since 1991, and it has all but destroyed the state's infrastructure. Fighting continues between various factions, and in January 2009 the Transitional Federal Government was sent into exile following the end of a war against Ethiopia, giving de facto control to the Islamist factions. Currently, the UN-backed government does not govern beyond the capital, Mogadishu. In other words, there are no traffic lights, no road maintenance, no postal service, and no police, unless you count the various local and foreign military groups assigned there to keep the peace. On the bright side, this means no taxes, so international businesses can import and export more cheaply. Not usually by boat, though, since there are pirates all around the busier ports. It's the textbook example of a "failed state".

There are four main regions in Somalia. From north to south:

  • Somaliland: De facto independent country. Used to be ruled by the British, while the others were ruled by the Italians. It joined the Greater Somalia project, but has been duly regretting it since the civil war. A world apart from other regions of the country and undoubtedly the safest area, with a functional, unbroken democratic government (a record for East Africa) and a police force who has control over the entire territory, which is kind of a given, considering that they have been vying hard for independence (no one has yet to recognize them). One's chance of dying here is infinitely reduced, so tourists can actually enjoy what little piece of Somalia that is usually off limits to outsiders.
    • Disputed region: Maakhir and Northland compose the region disputed between Somaliland and Puntland.
  • Puntland: Not vying for independence, and not as safe. Most pirates come from here.
  • Galmudug: Formerly ruled by pirates until they were driven out in 2007, the Galmudug government is trying to rebuild within its own country.
  • Jubaland: Formerly occupied by the Islamic Courts Union, the group has fallen from power since 2006, though their remnants in the form of Al Shabaab continue to control the area.
There are also three honorable mentions:
  • Somali Galbeed (Western Somalia)/Ogaden: The "Somali Province" of Ethiopia. It is an historic and ethnic Somali region. It was handed over to the Ethiopians by the British. To say they are not being treated well by their new country is an understatement. Somalis from that region want to reunite with their brother and sisters to the east, and create a Greater Somalia.
  • Woqooyi Bari (North Eastern): The "Somali Province" of Kenya. Was carved out of Jubaland and retained by the British when the rest of the region was given to the Italians as a reward for their cooperation in World War I. The site of a Cold War conflict in the 1960s and an attempted integration into Greater Somalia, it is also currently suffering spillover from the Somali Civil War and its aftermath (not helped by the fact that Al Shabaab's main camps are located in Jubaland).
  • Djibouti: Like Ogaden, it is historically and culturally Somali. While Somaliland was ruled by the British and the rest by Italians, Djibouti was ruled by the French ("French Somaliland"). Unlike Somaliland, it did not join in the Greater Somalia project and became a separate proper country upon independence (proper as in internationally recognized).

The capital, Mogadishu, is a bad place. The Wikivoyage page reads like an over-the-top parody, with no fewer than seven statements emphasizing the likelihood of travelers to die there, but it's all truenote . The rest of the country controlled by the central government is not much better. Somaliland is a different story, but since it is independent from Somalia in all but name, it is not counted.

Noteworthy for both playing the trope We ARE Struggling Together straight and subverting it at the same time, as the country has been wracked with civil war for decades, but the rival factions have temporarily united to drive out foreign groups sent to restore order (such as the American-led United Nations mission in the 1990s and the Ethiopian intervention in 2006-2008) before resuming fighting among themselves. At the moment (2011), the African Union is trying to stabilize the situation, but as with previous occupations can barely manage to keep the capital intact and watch as the chaos continues everywhere else.

Despite being part of the Arab League, Somalia is not majority Arabic-speaking nor do its citizens culturally identify as Arab (this is the same case with Djibouti). The Somali language is related most closely to languages of the Ethiopian Highlands, most notably Oromo, the largest language in Ethiopia by number of speakers. It is genetically related to Arabic, but very, very distantly (think of the relation between English and Hindustani). The language is written by a Latin alphabet, introduced by linguist Shire Jama Ahmed in the 1970s following several failed attempts at a unified writing system.

The Somali flag

Bet you thought it was the Jolly Roger, huh? The white five-pointed star symbolizes the five areas dominated by the Somalis — the British and Italian Somalilands (currently forming Somalia), Djibouti (once French Somaliland), Ogaden in Ethiopia, and the North Eastern Province in Kenya; the light blue field shares the same color as that of the United Nations, which was instrumental in granting Somalia legitimacy, though currently it symbolizes the Indian Ocean and the sky.

Tropes as portrayed in fiction:

  • Butt-Monkey: Just like Zimbabwe with its Ridiculous Exchange Rates, Somalia is a prime target of jokes in fiction thanks to its reputation as the poster boy of failed states and its ongoing problem with piracy.
  • Ruthless Modern Pirates: Somali pirates are the current Trope Codifier and a popular pick for authors when they need to throw pirates into a modern day setting for one reason or another. The piracy problem has been largely neutralized by around 2015/2016 thanks to greater cooperation between international navies, as well as changes in maritime law allowing merchant ships greater leeway in self-defense actions.

In media

  • Black Hawk Down is all about the disastrous 1993 American operation to capture the warlord Mohammed Farrah Aidid.
  • The Season 7 opener of NCIS has Ziva David held prisoner by Islamists in Somalia.
  • South Park did an episode about Somali pirates.
  • FlashForward (2009) had the beta test for the blackouts take place in Somalia. Some of the protagonists eventually find out about it and go there to investigate.
  • The movie Fishing Without Nets is a tragedy about a fisherman dragged into the ruthless world of piracy.
  • One of the missions in Modern Warfare 3 takes place in Boosaaso, Price's team need to extract info from a guy named Waraabe on the attacks on Europe.
  • The 2nd American mission in the Command & Conquer: Generals expansion pack Zero Hour is about safeguarding a UN convoy at a Somalian port. It's also the one mission in the series where you get to control both a battleship and an aircraft carrier with a whole wing of F-22 Raptors.
  • The 2013 film Captain Phillips, based on the real life hijacking of an American cargo ship by Somali pirates.
  • Part of The Expendables 3 takes place in Somalia.
  • The 2017 CW military drama Valor focuses on a special forces mission to Somalia that went horribly wrong and the political and personal repercussions of said mission on the team that carried it out, and the United States as a whole.
  • The 2018 Chinese military film Operation Red Sea begins with a special forces team retaking a Chinese freighter hijacked by Somali pirates.
  • Jormungand: In the beginning of the "African Golden Butterflies" arc, the HCLI crew is attacked by Somali pirates while sailing along the African coast to South Africa. They picked the wrong ship to mess with.
  • In Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka, the Babel Brigade operative Giess is a Child Soldier recruited from Somalia.

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