Foreign policy and defense
The conflict in Somalia affects the entire
region. For its survival, the government of Mogadishu is
dependent on Amisom, the AU force that was sent to
Somalia in 2007, where neighboring countries such as
Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti are now contributing
troops. For both Ethiopia and Kenya, it is a great deal
to try to prevent the unrest in Somalia from spreading
across their borders. However, Uganda still contributes
the most soldiers to Amisom. At the same time, the
United States and many Western countries are worried
that Somalia will act as a sanctuary for international
Relations with Ethiopia and Eritrea
When Ethiopia entered Somalia in 2006 to assist the
then transitional government, it did so with US support.
At the same time, Eritrea helped the Somali Islamists,
mainly with the aim of weakening Ethiopia after the
Eritrea-Ethiopian border war 1998-2000. That the
transitional government relied on Ethiopian support was
a sensitive issue in Somalia. The countries have long
had a tense relationship, much because of a dispute over
the Ethiopian province of Ogaden (see Modern History).
Overview of business holidays and various national observances in Somalia for years of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025.
In 2006, the Ethiopian government denied for the
longest time that it had troops in Somalia. But as the
fighting accelerated in the late autumn, it became clear
that Ethiopia had great forces on Somali land. Behind
the intervention, there were fears that Somali Islamists
would take root among Ethiopia's large Muslim minority.
The military branch of the Somali organization al-Ittihad
al-Islami, which is now disbanded, was accused in the
1990s of having participated in blast attacks in
It is also in Ethiopia's interest that the
neighboring country remains divided and weak and cannot
impose new demands on Ogaden. Ethiopia formally withdrew
its troops from Somalia around the turn of the year
2008/2009, but in 2011 Ethiopian forces again crossed
the border to fight the militant Islamist group al-Shabaab.
In 2014, the Ethiopian soldiers were deployed to Amisom.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who took office
in April 2018, visited Mogadishu in mid-June of the same
year and then negotiated with Somalia's President
Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed on possible financial
cooperation and various investments in infrastructure.
Abiy Ahmed was also said to have submitted an invitation
from the United Arab Emirates for cooperation (see also
below). More sensitive topics such as Ethiopia's
participation in Amisom, or the serious human rights
crimes committed by the paramilitary Liyu force in
Ogaden were not addressed.
Following the peace agreement between Ethiopia and
Eritrea in July 2018, relations between Somalia and
Eritrea also improved, which already decided the same
month to establish diplomatic relations with each other.
President Farmajo called on the UN to lift the sanctions
against Eritrea, which was however controversial,
especially in Somaliland. It was also noted that the
President, in connection with a visit to Eritrea, did
not mention the Eritreans border conflict with Djibouti.
In November 2018, the UN decided to lift sanctions
against Eritrea. Then Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea had
signed a cooperation agreement and the leaders of the
three countries had met in person on three different
Relations with Kenya
Contacts between Somalia and Kenya have been
periodically strained, but the neighboring country
played an important role in the talks leading up to the
peace agreement in 2004. Kenya has also received
hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees.
Kenya entered the military in Somalia in the fall of
2011 after accusing al-Shabaab of kidnapping of foreign
tourists and aid workers on Kenyan territory. Kenya said
it was acting on behalf of the Transitional Government
in Mogadishu. Not long afterwards, the Kenyan force
formally became part of Amisom.
An important reason for Kenya's intervention was that
it wanted to create buffer zones against the Islamists,
so as not to risk being drawn into the Somali conflict.
To achieve this, Kenya is cooperating with local clan
militia in the south. As revenge for Kenya's involvement
in Somalia, al-Shabaab has carried out several acts of
terror on Kenyan soil.
At the beginning of 2019, a dispute arose between the
countries about a sea area equivalent to 100,000 square
kilometers, which is believed to be rich in oil and gas.
The matter was referred to the International Court of
Justice in The Hague (ICJ), but tensions also led to
Kenya calling its ambassador for consultations and
urging Somalia's ambassador to leave Kenya. The
diplomatic contacts resumed after a month and at the end
of the year, however, the countries agreed to do even
more to normalize relations between the countries.
Cooperation with the United States
After the terrorist attacks against the United States
in 2001, Somalia ended up in the spotlight as a possible
hiding place for international terrorists. Islamists
increased influence in the United States, especially
given the strategic position of Somalia. When the UIC /
SSICC was forced out of power, the United States bombed
targets in Somalia where it was suspected that people
who participated in the terrorist attacks against US
embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 were. Even
later, the United States, with Somalia's approval, made
raids into the country and killed suspected Islamist
leaders (see Political system ).
In 2014, the United States sent five military
advisers to Somalia, the first in the country since
1994. In May 2015, the US Embassy in Mogadishu reopened,
in connection with the then US Secretary of State John
Kerry visiting the country for a few hours. A permanent
mission was opened in Mogadishu in the fall of 2019.
Following the change of power in Washington 2017,
when Donald Trump became US President, the US defense
was given a boost to increase its efforts against al-Shabaab
and the Islamic State (IS), and carry out air raids
without first obtaining permission from the White House.
They are also allowed to cooperate with Somali special
forces on the ground.
The US was reported in October 2017 to have 400 men
in Somalia. The US military has performed over 100
airstrikes in the country from June 2017 to March 2019
(the number continued to increase in 2019). There are
fears that the attacks, which occur both from manned
aircraft and with the help of drones, can counteract
their purpose by risking increased support for jihadist
groups in the country. The United States has said that
no civilian casualties have been claimed, while Amnesty,
which investigated five of the raids, claims that at
least 14 civilians have been killed (see Calendar). Read
more about it here (article in English from the BBC).
In recent years, Turkey has also become more active
in Somalia. In 2011, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip
Erdoğan became the first foreign head of government to
visit the country since the early 1990s. The Turks also
launched a series of projects to improve the
infrastructure in Mogadishu, by building schools and
hospitals and more. The work soon led to visible
improvements in Mogadishu.
Turkey also started a scholarship program for Somalis
who want to study at Turkish universities. Turkish
relief workers, at least initially, were able to move
fairly freely in Mogadishu. At the end of May / June
2012, Turkey organized a large conference on Somalia.
At the same time, there were observers who warned
that the Turks were at risk of being exploited by
powerful business interests and various warlords.
Several Turkish companies were also active in
Somalia, where one of them operated the port of
Mogadishu. In 2017, Turkey opened a military base in
Mogadishu, where 200 Turkish soldiers would assist the
government in training Somali soldiers (1,500 at a
As security in Mogadishu improved from 2011, several
countries, including Britain, Kenya, Iran and Uganda,
have opened embassies in the Somali capital.
China opened an embassy in Somalia in 2014. The
Chinese government has promised to increase trade
exchanges between the countries and support the
reconstruction of Somalia.
Somalia has for a long time had extensive trade with
the countries of the Persian Gulf. The country has good
contacts with both Saudi Arabia, which is its main
trading partner among the states of the Persian Gulf,
and Qatar, and is trying to maintain its neutrality in
the conflict that broke out in 2017 between the two Gulf
states. This is despite the fact that the government of
Mogadishu from June 2017 was put under intense pressure
from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to sever
all relations with Qatar. President Mohamed Abdullahi
Mohamed still allowed Qatari planes to fly through
Somali airspace in late summer 2017. He was also said to
have refused no extra support of $ 81 million from the
United Arab Emirates if Somalia agreed to break contact
with Qatar. Both Saudi Arabia and Qatar withdrew their
budget support to the Somali government in the fall of
2017 (the Saudis must have paid $ 50 million to
Mogadishu before). At the same time, the United Arab
Emirates strengthened its position in Somaliland and
Puntland, which is in opposition to the Mogadishu
government. Companies from the United Arab Emirates,
among others, have strong interests in the port of
Bossasso in Puntland, and in Berbera in Somaliland.
The United Arab Emirates has also participated in the
training of the Somali Army (SNA). These forces are,
according to the American think tank Stratfor, the most
reliable in the SNA. However, the collaboration was
suspended in April 2018 after Somali security forces
pledged $ 10 million that would have gone to soldiers'
salaries. Hundreds of weapons were stolen from the
facility when it was closed. The UAE has also closed a
hospital that offered free care.
Somalia has taken a stand for Saudi Arabia in the
country's war in Yemen.
When the AU sent the first soldiers to Somalia, many
believed that the force would soon be replaced by UN
troops. But that has not happened. Instead, Amisom has
gradually grown, from a few thousand Ugandan and
Burundian soldiers in 2007 to over 22,000 men in the
fall of 2015. In the beginning, there was a clause that
forbade neighboring countries from contributing troops,
but it was abandoned when the Kenyan soldiers were
included in Amisom in 2012. Sierra Leone also has
soldiers in Somalia. A large part of the effort is
funded by the EU, which has, however, set a ceiling for
its contribution to the AU force. In 2016, the funding
was reduced by one fifth.
According to reports in June 2016, many AU soldiers
had received no salary for six months. Kenya threatened
to leave the AU force unless other actors pushed for
more money. Kenya had also declared that the country
would close two camps for Somali refugees. As a reason,
both lack of security and financial concerns were
stated. Some analysts saw the Kenyan government's play
as a way to get more money from the international
community. In late May, Kenyan Interior Minister Joseph
Nkaisserry said that the largest of the Dadaab camps
would be closed in November 2016, and that the decision
would not be reconsidered. However, the measure was
halted after a court decision.
At the same time, it is hard to believe that Kenya,
and Ethiopia, would be prepared to leave Somalia
completely, given the risks it would pose to security in
its own country, if the situation in the neighboring
In the fall of 2017, Amisom announced that the force
will be reduced by 1,000 men by the end of the year,
which was a first step towards winding it up until
December 2020. Since then, however, the UN Security
Council has pushed for this, as the Somali defense
forces have not was considered ready to assume
responsibility for security in the country. In May 2019,
Amisom's mandate was extended to February 28, 2020. It
could then amount to a maximum of 19,626 people.
Amisom has helped increase security in the country,
but the force is also accused of being ineffective. Many
times, the AU soldiers have been able to enter a city
after al-Shabaab left without a fight. Sometimes the
Islamists have destroyed wells and other important
infrastructure, sometimes not.
Coordination between units from different countries
is often lacking. Many of the soldiers do not have the
training or equipment they need. There are no statistics
on how many Amisom soldiers have been killed in Somalia,
but it may be a few thousand.
Somalia's national army (SNA), has been built with
support from, among others, the US and the EU. But
soldiers are too few to allow the Somalis themselves to
take over responsibility for security in the country.
Soldiers' training shortages and wages are low and it
can take a long time between payments. As a result, some
of the soldiers raise money by selling weapons and
ammunition on the black market. At the same time, the
bill is increasing because the payroll also includes
names of non-existent soldiers. Alongside the SNA there
is also a police force and a military intelligence
AU soldiers have also been accused of corruption as
well as brutality against the civilian population. In
several cases, Ugandan soldiers have been sentenced for
this. According to analysts, this does not mean that the
Kenyan or Ethiopian troops are behaving better, but
rather that their countries are not making any major
efforts to hold them accountable.
In the fight against al-Shabaab, more moderate Muslim
groups such as Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca, who have close ties
to Ethiopia, are also participating (see Political
system). Several private security companies are also
active in the country, among other things to assist the
government, Amisom and private business interests, and
not least to intervene against pirates.
Despite the 1992 UN arms embargo, there have always
been plenty of weapons in Somalia. In 2013, the UN
Security Council eased the trade ban and allowed the
government side to make purchases of light weapons and
grenades. But in a secretly-labeled 2014 report, the UN
Monitoring Group for Somalia and Eritrea called on the
Security Council to sharpen the arms embargo again. This
is because new weapons have landed in the hands of clan
militia or sold at private arms markets in Mogadishu. An
adviser to the president is suspected of having prepared
arms deliveries to al-Shabaab. The government rejected
Puntland and Somaliland have their own defense
forces. The Poundland Army receives money from the
United States to fight al-Shabaab, and a coastguard
force is funded by the United Arab Emirates.
FACTS - DEFENSE
19 800 men (2017)
Military expenditure's share of GDP
1.5 percent (1989)