A failed state is defined as the inability of a power to perform the main function of government, protection of its populace. While there has definitely been an improvement to the livelihoods of the average Somali citizen, these violent conflicts had early on become an inherent reality within the nation. Somali’s issue has been that instability and inefficiency of its government had left the state with little agency over control of the use of violence within its borders. Hence, the points of violent contention that plague Somali’s history are border disputes, clan warfare, and Islamic extremism. All of these issues could be summarized as a lack of legitimacy perceived of the state, which incentivizes the grab for power by additional actors. The ability for foreign and non-state actors to maintain so much agency in Somali territory begins with the historical legacy of European colonialism. Arbitrarily drawn borders that were created irrespective of the cultures of the native people that inhabited the land prevented the unification necessary for a state to form. The competition of Ethiopia, the United Kingdom, France and Italy for control within colonial Somaliland compounded with the pre-existing clan identities of Darod, Isaaq, Hawiye, etc… resulted in a fragmented populace that is Somalia. Understanding the original cause for Somali’s illegitimate conception of leadership, allows us to better understand instances of international and domestic violent conflict.
Somalia’s tentative relationship with its neighbors has been an ongoing challenge to the regimes in power. Of the three powers that border the Federal Republic of Somali, Ethiopia is the regional hegemon that deploys its forces with obvious ease over Somali territory. Ethiopia because of its economic and military superiority on the Horn of Africa is the understood regional hegemony. Exercising its state will, Ethiopia for decades has mobilized forces across the border justifying them by claiming to seek out insurrectionists and or bring peace to the region. In order to secure their interests, the Ethiopian government has also actively provided arms to rebel groups that sought the overthrow of what they deemed an unfriendly Somali government. The constant breach of what is an ultimately porous border by Ethiopia can be arguably due to not just an unstable government but also the constant need for foreign assistance. Ethiopia can pursue any target it wants within Somalia’s borders because the regime relies heavily on foreign troops to fight back insurgent groups that struggle for power. In 2006 following the struggle against the Islamic Courts Union, Somalia drew upon an international coalition to fight against the rebels. Ethiopia one of the contributing forces at the end of the crisis maintained a military presence, out of interests of “maintain security”. The inability for Somalia to act for itself leads to violent conflict being initiated by Ethiopia.
Another source of violent conflict within Somalia comes from the actions of Islamic extremist groups like Al-Shabaab. This group maintains power due to the vacuum left by an unrecognized state government. They have been responsible for mass bombings in Kenya, conflicts between rural Somaliland and urban and killings within Mogadishu. Their presence within Somalia provides cause for countries like Ethiopia and the US to intercede and engage in combat within Somali territory. This has also affected the policy of the remaining government because of the implied balancing of domestic and international demands. The US primarily determines to what degree an Islamist state is extremist or moderate, and this control of definition means the president is prompted to submit to any foreign demands, in order to maintain support. However, any decisions based on foreign interests inevitably conflicts with the residing populace. This balance ultimately results in what is currently Somalia, a political class dependent on foreign support because of a domestic undercurrent that threatens them remaining in positions of power.