Abdullahi Elmi M. elmi@kth.se

So much has been said about what went wrong in Somalia, yet we are in the dark as how and why the Somalia Government and society disintegrated so completely and so violently. What is presented in this article is just to contribute to the ongoing debate on Somali question by looking the issue from another important perspective i.e. scarcity (and availability) of environmental resources that are necessary for sustaining life. In order to get better understandings of the crisis, it is fundamentally essential to be aware of the important major causes of the crisis and the useful incentives for change. There could be a number of theories governing the ongoing civil unrest in Somalia, and this article relies on the one that extremely relates to the scarcity of resources on which the human existence strongly depends.
Somali Version (Af-Soomaali)
In view of the linkage between the ongoing socio-political crisis and scarcity of environmental resources with livelihood values, the Somali Centre for Water & Environment (SCWE) conducted an analysis on the pronounced social and political crisis in our country. The result reveals some truth.

In general, the human life is mainly influenced by two fundamental factors; (1) the way the people think, and (2) the environment in which the people live. The environment forms also the way the people think.

In Somalia, there are extreme scarcity of and lack of reliable access to the environmental resources; such as water and grassland which supports the fragile life system of the powerful clan-based pastoral communities who claim they are the majority of the Somali population. Socio-economic activities in Somalia as well as the lives of the majority are desperately traditionally depending on the rarely available natural resources particularly grass and water, which frequently forces rural communities to migrate in search for them. In Somalia, climate, primary factor in much of Somali life for the large nomadic population, forms and determines the life. One of the most important tools to survive in that harsh environment is to find these life-supporting resources through adopting sustainable strategies that are relevant within the social and cultural context. Unsustainable utilization of the common and scarce resources could result competition between various users within the society, which can probably leads the society to a difficult situation forcing them to fight between themselves over these resources. For instance, wells are not only source of life for rural communities but also a source of social conflict, which in most cases lead local communities to fight over the scarce resource. This natural but avoidable resource scarcity forced however many rural people to restructure their approach for survival.

The modern history of Somali Plateau reveals that there is a tendency showing Somali population movement towards the south, escaping from more arid areas of the country and seeking refuge in southern regions. The single issue that moves these people is environmental resource scarcity in terms av water scarcity and lack of productive land. Many have abandoned their life style based on pastoralism livestock raising because of the lack of water and grassland and the recurrent severe droughts killings their animals, the source of life. The hardest droughts in last century, just to name view, are Xaraame-cune in 1911, Siiga-cadde in 1945, Saddex-shillinleey 1947, Daba-dheer in 1974-75, Caga-barar in 1992. It is natural that people move from areas with little water to areas where there is too much of it in order to survive. Environmental resource scarcity-driven migrations from rural areas into urban environment, but more importantly from water-scarce areas to relatively water-abundant regions are therefore significant, as people's socio-economic activities are suffering from water scarcity creating serious inter-community conflicts or inter-regional imbalances.

During the last several decades, we have learned how the powerful pastoral communities, who traditionally use to hate cultivation and despise the people who do so, adapted new strategies of changing their livestock-based socio-economic activities to cultivation in southern Somalia. This became evident since the arrival of colonial powers in the late 19th century but has been intensified since then. The inter-river land contains not only the best agricultural areas in the whole Somali populated areas in the Horn of Africa, but also in comparison with the rest of the country receivs the most rains. Since the independence in 1960, most Somalis realized the productivity of the land between and along the two rivers.

During the civilian rule between 1960-69, water has been an election issue, and candidates to the National Assembly (the Parliament) use to dig wells for the rural communities to attract and secure their votes. During the military rule (1969-1991), General Mohamed Siad Barre used land registration in southern Somalia as a part of his strategy to enrich his constituents to gain political support.

In the Holy Qur'aan, Allah (SWJ) said that He will reward pious and righteous persons, after this life, His Paradise which He 55 times described as Gardens beneath which rivers flow. This is a clear indication that the life on or near the river is the best, at least in the eyes of humans in this world and having farmland under which river is flowing is the best a person can possess and live on, as it may be a sustainable source of food and financial capital. From the dawn of civilization, people have liked to settle close to water source. Rivers is where the civilization and human development are born, and the birth and death of civilization have always been related to the availability of water.

On the onset of the civil war in 1991, the selfish power-hunger militia-armed warlords have also taken advantage of these livelihood resource scarcity problems experienced by the pastoral rural communities to manipulate divisions within communities segmenting along lines of clans. Powerful warlords that encouraged their fellow militia to occupy the fertile land along and between the two southern rivers, the Jubba and Shabelle, which receives relatively high rainfall seized through the power of the gun control of the resource base and use it to their exclusive advantage. This resource availability in the inter-river land might the reason behind the persistence and concentration of armed conflict in southern Somalia during the last 12 years. Many different groups are now competing over the accessibility of the easily available resources in that area. Although there are natural resources everywhere on the Earth that could sustain the human life, but the people always prefer to occupy in areas where easily available and utilizable resources exist such as near and along the rivers. This process often produces violence and breaksdown of traditional sustainable system of survival and institutional mechanism of the local people. It also violates the tradional property rights and the sustainable utilization of the land resources.

The strong and fundamental idea of the powerful new arrivers in southern Somalia is to seize the political power through military force in order to then gain control and achieve the necessary economic resources such as land and water resources. These new communities are strongly driven by their clan-based ideologies but resource capture is their only goal. Although the basic traditional ideology of the nomadic pastoral communities is to rely on the number of men who belong to them, it is evident that this is changed somewhat so they also rely on the land available for them in terms of production, so the increasing number of people could be supplied with food.

One of the main reasons behind the Somali civil war is therefore lack of socially acceptable system of natural resources management and development, including water and productive land. This is to say that water, which is the major factor determining the fragile system of life of the rural communities, was not developed and managed to the required extent. As livestock raising and subsidence farming are the two major traditional socio-economic activities of the country, water play a vital role in the existence of their life. Somalia State collapsed, among other things, because of the way it treated these environmental resources.

As a result of drier climatic conditions, breakdown in traditional governance mechanism, lack of central system of government and increasing number of people, conflict over water resources are now becoming a common occurrence in the rural areas. Due to unregulated resource use, overgrazing and deforestation resulting desertification and soil erosion, competition over water and grazing land became rampant, which in turn result loss of life and occupation.

Struggle for land with water resources has since the independence been the economic ambitions of the most political figures. This struggle for productive land in southern Somalia, which is described to be the war behind the ongoing civil war, is evident as the current armed political confrontations are concentrated in the areas between or along the two rivers in southern Somalia, while the other drier areas are relatively peaceful. In the future, even when contending political factions reach political settlements, this struggle over productive land in southern Somali will continue, because such resources represent the economic opportunities for whichever regime emerge. Finding meaningful solution for that struggle is likely one of the major determinant factors and impediments for bringing Somalia into a long-lasting peace and social co-existence. The hypothesis in this article is that the socio-political crisis has elements of resource scarcity impeding any solution.

SCWE has no difficulties if all Somalis reside and occupy the productive land between the rivers, and we are aware of that there are different groups interested in those areas, but our concern is the long-term utilisation of the resources which requires to be sustainable. SCWE believe that the available resources in the inter-riverine land are enough for the needs of all Somalis, but NOT for everyone's greedy. Apart from the human displacement caused by that voilatent process, the greatest damage done during the struggles for productive land in southern Somalia have been the adverse environmental effects that seem to be unmanageable and irreversible even long after when solution if found for the crisis. These damages are certain to affect the social stability of the present and future generations as well as the required development for resource exploitations.

The aforementioned analysis made by the SCWE concluded that one of the major root cause of the current conflict is, among other things, strongly linked to the lack of productive land with reliable water resources. In contrary to what Dr. Abdirashid Ali Shermarke, the first Prime Minister of independent Somalia State and its second President, believed, our misfortunes stem evidently among other things from the unproductiveness of largest portion of our soil, located in dry climate with extremely low rainfall. It is then safe to say that the Somali crisis is mainly caused the avoidable poverty resulted from resource scarcity fueled by the widespread social injustice and mismanagament since the independence. In the opinion of the SCWE, the widely perceived tribalism can not be the cause of the current conflict but could be defined as a traditional tool for survival and interest group identification and alliance in this harsh environment of resource scarcity.

In conclusion, scarcity of environmental resources, particularly water and grass, in Somalia have a key role in the ongoing political and social crisis and its future solution, if one could be found.



The Role of Environmental Resource

Scarcity in the Somali Political Crisis