SEATTLE — Somalia is a hotbed of extreme poverty. The region has experienced massive conflict and famine. The average life expectancy in Somalia is 52 years, the majority of the population lives on less than $2 a day, a quarter of the population struggles to meet their basic food needs and nearly one in 10 infants born in Somalia will die before their first birthday. According to the Fragile States Index, Somalia is considered one of the most fragile states in the world, second only to South Sudan. In encountering such an extreme situation in desperate need of humanitarian aid, one may ask “Why is Somalia poor?”
When answering “Why is Somalia poor?” one cannot ignore the political strife in Somalia. In 1991, the Somali rebellion successfully overthrew dictator Siad Barre, who ruled the nation for over 20 years. Different rebel factions began to compete for influence in the new transitional government. The conflict between the rebels ignited the Somali Civil War, which has raged on for more than 25 years.
Though the plights of war are tragic, the most damaging impact of the Somali Civil War is the lack of a strong and stable central government. Somalia remains broken into factions. In 1991, Somaliland broke off into an autonomous region and was followed by Puntland in 1998. What further complicates matters for the Somali government is the presence of Al-Shabab, an Islamist terrorist organization formally aligned with Al-Qaeda. Though Al-Shabab lacks control over Somalia’s major cities, it controls much of Somalia’s farmland. This has made providing foreign aid for these regions difficult, since the U.S. and the U.N. do not want to give additional resources to terrorists.
The Somali Civil War and the lack of a stable governing body have also exacerbated the impact of natural disasters and disease in Somalia. This occurred most notably with the 2011 East Africa drought which brought a famine that killed 250,000 in Somalia. In a nation with a functioning government at peace, a famine would not have had to occur, especially if there was sufficient aid from the international community.
Stable governments like that of Kenya have been able to avert famine through providing aid to farmers and food vouchers to the general public. However, this drought occurred during the height of Al-Shabab’s power and Western nations were unwilling to send aid to areas controlled by the organization. This year, the region is experiencing another drought, and if Somalia and other East African nations do not get the aid they need, it could be the worst humanitarian crisis the world has seen since 1945.
Though Somalia has been in crisis for more than 25 years, the fight for peace in Somalia is far from insurmountable. The first establishment of a Somali Parliament in more than 20 years was in 2012. In 2016, the Somali government announced a National Development Plan that aims to reduce poverty, repair infrastructure and strengthen the efficacy of government policy. In May 2017, U.N. secretary-general Antonio Guterres announced that current conditions in Somalia make it possible for Somali victory over Al-Shabab.
So why is Somalia poor? The 26-year-long war has brought bloodshed and instability to the region and serves as a major obstacle to development. Devastating famine made possible by the conflict has served to impoverish the Somali population even further. The effects of the famine were even more destructive due to an insufficient humanitarian response from the Somali government and the international community. Though Somalia faces one of the most disastrous crises in recent history, there is still a path forward to Somali development.
– Carson Hughes