The historical Impact of Western Colonial and Imperial Policies and Interventions on Conflict and Internal Displacement in Somalia

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Melissa Fellin, PhD


This article uses a historical analysis to examine the effects of geopolitics on population displacement within Somalia and Somali-inhabited territories over time, specifically focusing on colonialism (18971960), Syiad Barre’s presidency (19691991), famine and the United Nations humanitarian operations in Somalia (19911993), and America’s “War on Terror” (20012012). Drawing on an extensive review of the historical literature on Somalia and based on fieldwork in North America (20082011) that included participation in Somali political meetings and events, such as meetings of the Somali Cause and Somali Canadian Diaspora Alliance (2008, 2009) and research during Somalia’s Independence Day commemorations (2011), this article builds upon the arguments put forth by Chimni (1998) who suggests that internalist explanations place the blame of conflict in countries in the global South and the resulting displacements solely on the refugee producing state, which obfuscates the responsibility of external interventions that contribute to conflicts. Through linking colonialism and imperialism, I show the effects of imperialist policies on the dislocation of individuals, families, and groups within Somalia’s borders. Using Mamdani’s (2004) argument and concept “Culture Talk,” I deconstruct Cold War narratives of premodern Africans and post-Cold War narratives of antimodern Muslims are both generally used to explain the ongoing civil war in Somalia and argue that Western historical narratives ignore the role of colonial and neocolonial policies in shaping local and global Somali societies and politics.

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Melissa Fellin, PhD, Centre for Research on Migration and Ethnic Relations, The University of Western Ontario, London, Ontar

Post-Doctoral Fellow, Centre for Research on Migration and Ethnic Relations, The University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada