Country Governance

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POGAR > Countries > Country Theme: Civil Society: Somalia
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Laws of Associations

During the civil war that followed the ouster of the Siad Barre regime in 1991, hundreds of international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), United Nations agencies and other regional organizations came to Somalia to help the victims of the war and provide assistance to thousands of displaced people who were in desperate need of food, medicine and water. These international bodies needed local partners to help them with the distribution of humanitarian aid and arrange local security and logistics. In this context, hundreds of civil society organizations (CSOs) were formed to meet the increased demand for local partners.

Although many of these organizations withered away, some remained and are still functioning. In addition to the emerging private sector, a range of entities of the civil society at large, elders, Islamic courts, business groups, women associations, and local NGOs have emerged in Somalia to play a variety of roles in defining community priorities and making resource allocation decisions.

There is no effective central government in Somalia. Political loyalties are based on clan and region, rather than party. The Somali society is highly fragmented, which makes the sustainability of a centralized political system difficult. Various clans struggle for political power. Throughout the 1990s the country was under the fragmented control of about twelve contending clans.

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Political Parties

The United Somali Congress (USC) initiated the coup that removed Siad Barre from power. Infighting between Mohammed Aideed and Ali Mahdi soon split this organization into two factions, the Somali National Alliance (SNA) and the Somali Salvation Alliance (SSA). In 1998, leaders of the main warring factions signed an agreement to set up a joint authority, the Benadir Administration. Other key faction leaders disagreed with this arrangement and the fighting continued until 2000, when a peace conference in Djibouti produced a new central government, the transitional national government (TNG). Though the TNG included members of multiple political organizations, some of the major warlords have treated the TNG as though it were another faction vying for control. The National Salvation Council (NSC) was formed by several leaders in favor of the TNG. Members of the SNA and four other organizations, including the Rahanwein Resistance Army (RRA), united in opposition to the TNG in February 2001, forming the Somali Reconciliation and Reconstruction Council (SRRC). The SRRC has become a major player in subsequent negotiations, signing the transitional federal charter along with the TNG and others in September 2003.

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Associations and Unions

The Agricultural Development Corporation, the Chamber of Commerce, Industry, and Agriculture, and the National Agency of Foreign Trade are the important umbrella organizations in the country. Trade unions are legal, but none exist in Somalia due to the prevailing climate of uncertainty and violence.

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Media and Government Regulations

The transitional federal charter guarantees freedom of the press, but the political situation in Somalia does not currently provide any framework for regulation or protection of these freedoms. The government-owned Xiddigta Oktobar is the main daily newspaper. The paper is published by the Ministry of Information and National Guidance. The ministry also publishes a variety of weekly and monthly magazines. Radio Mogadishu is owned by the government. Several political factions have their own newspapers. Three Somalis returning from the diaspora in 1999 founded HornAfrik, an independent media corporation broadcasting on radio and television. In the breakaway administrations of Puntland and Somaliland, press freedom is constitutionally guaranteed, but has been restricted by the respective governments.

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