The enigma that is Somalia

The key to disentangling the web of Somalia's politics analytically and to understanding the present crisis is to acknowledge it hyper complexity.

After a successful revolution that overthrew dictator Siad Barre in 1991, the insurgent forces were unable to agree among themselves on the formation of a central authority, precipitating a drainage of power to regional and local leaders who, over time, have entrenched themselves and jealously defended their scraps of power.

The longer that statelessness has persisted, the more the interests of the myriad powers have become vested, leading to strong resistance against the consolidation of authority.

The problem with Somalia society is a dizzying array of clans and sub-clans that ally with and fall out with one another. The clan structure provides Somalis with protection and traditional means of dispute resolution through elders, but it also reinforces the country's fragmentation and is a cause of conflict.

Overlaid on the clan structure are warlords and their business associates who control regions and localities, and also from leagues with and oppose one another depending on their perceived interests fro the moment. Continually jockeying for position, they opportunistically take advantage of support from external powers, which sometimes play several sides at once.

When a single clan or alliance of clans predominates a region—as in the breakaway mini-states of Somaliland and Puntland -- relative political integration and stability ensues; elsewhere -- particularly in Mogadishu – the situation is more fluid and tense, and fragmentation and conflict are the order of the day.

The players in Somalia's politics are so many, their loyalties so uncertain, their interests so cross-cutting, overlapping and entrenched, and their linkages to outside powers so nuanced that 13 attempts to institute a central government have failed and the 14th effort currently in process fell into jeopardy as the Islamic Courts Union took control with lightening speed.

However, one thing that will always easily unite the people of Somalia is their unquestionable belief in Islam. Despite being a member of the African Union, Somalia always leaned towards Middle East and is a member of the Arab league.

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