The scarcity of land in Somalia. Natural resources and their role in the Somali conflict

Release date: 2009-04

A historical perspective, as proposed by this Occasional Paper, might illuminate one of the underlying roots of conflict and state failure and might also help address central problems to conflict resolution in Somalia. It is the thesis of this Paper that in the fertile riverine areas of southern Somalia, natural resources and especially land have become a key driver of armed conflict. By looking at the current conflict from a historical perspective and by considering core issues such as access to land more closely, bottom-up approaches in conflict resolution might be developed on a broader basis and in the end be more effective in a country that is still best described as a pastoral society. The north of the country has experienced a phase of relative political stability. Here again, a historical perspective might explain the success the north has had in contrast to the south. In northwestern Somalia, which was a British protectorate, the British applied their policy of indirect rule allowing clan structures to remain intact. The Italians on the other hand, who colonized the south, tried to actively undermine them. As the focus of this Paper is to explain current violence in Somalia, it will exclusively focus on southern Somalia.
In trying to describe the role of natural resources and the impact of the Barre dictatorship on local land use and traditional ways of resolution of conflicts over land, this Paper describes the traditional conflict resolution system in the first section before describing the role of land and the state’s politics’ impact on land use. Finally, some preliminary conclusions and policy recommendations will be drawn.