For decades, Somalia has been enshrouded in dystopic peril: famine, violence and extremism persist as major obstacles to daily life. The country’s hardships remain virtually static, despite an influx of well-intentioned aid.

In 1991, several clans in Somalia attempted to overthrow the socialist regime of President Siad Barre. After usurping his leadership, chaos took over. The country dissolved into violent clashes for ultimate power. By late 1992, the bloody turmoil had attracted international attention, resulting in the introduction of various U.S. aid programs that both alleviated and aggravated the violence in Somalia.

In October 1993, the U.S., in its efforts to alleviate the food crisis and restore security in Somalia, attempted to overthrow Mohammed Farah Aideed, a powerful warlord. In retaliation, militants shot down two U.S. black hawk helicopters, killing 18 American soldiers. Violence erupted forcing both the U.S. and the U.N. to leave Somalia by the end of 1995.

As the nation entered the 21st century, two major groups stood in opposition—the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the Islamic Courts Union (ICU). Today, these groups have divided even further, engendering many different factions, including multiple extremist groups. Such disorder has worsened the food crisis in Somalia, in addition to perpetuating Somalian piracy.

Today, a major source of discord in Somalia exists due to the extremist group Al- Shabaab, or “the Youth.” This small group of jihadists maintains close ties with Al-Qaeda, sharing its purpose of forming a fundamental Islamic state in Somalia. Through its militant policies, Al- Shabaab has effectively disbanded the majority of international aid efforts, refusing to allow humanitarian aid to those who need it the most.

Amidst the violence of its past and present, a significant portion of Somali citizens have been forced into neighboring countries like Kenya and Ethiopia as refugees. Thus, in addition to the terrifying realities of a national famine, a significant portion of Somalia is displaced. According to the UN Council on Human Rights, there are 1.4 million internally displaced people in Somalia, in addition to 10, 600 asylum seekers and refugees.

In 2012, Somalia elected its first President since the overthrow of Barre in 1991. President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s election comes after years of turmoil and shaky transitional governments. His appointment signifies major hope for the future of Somalia, despite the continuing presence of major challenges.

On January 17, 2013, President Barack Obama met Mohamud for the first time, and in doing so, the U.S. government acknowledged the legitimacy of the Somalian government for the first time since 1991.

Without political stability, Somalia remains in a precarious position, one in which even the outpour of international aid may not be able to address the on-going issues. However, the success of its recent elections reveals the possibility of a bright future for Somalia, one in which daily life becomes less of a struggle to live.

– Anna Purcell 

Sources: Council on Foreign Relations, Enough Project, UNHCR, White House
Photo: Wooly Days