How political parties began in Somalia

How political parties began in Somalia

Civil war has been raging in Somalia on and off since 1991. The present phase of war started in 2009. But in spite of the war, the country has been able to maintain some form of government which for now operates a limited form of democracy given the challenge of insurgency the country is facing.

It was only in 2017 that concrete steps were taken to register political parties after several years of fighting. However, going back to the nation’s history, the Somali Youth League occupies a prominent place as the nation’s first political party. The Somali Youth League (SYL) which used to be known as the Somali Youth Club (SYC), was the first political party in Somalia.

It played a very major role in the country’s journey to independence between the 1940s and 1960s. During World War II, Great Britain occupied Somalia which was then known as Italian Somaliland and administered the territory from 1941 to 1950. With Italy mounting political pressures which were not in the interest of the British and Somali dreams of independence, the Somalis and the British came to view each other as allies.

The Somali Youth Club (SYC) was subsequently founded in 1943 in Mogadishu as the first political party. When the first national elections after independence took place on the 30th of  March 1964, the SYL won the majority of the seats in the parliament, getting 69 out of the 123 seats. Eleven other parties had to be content with sharing the remaining seats. Five years later, the ruling SYL led by Mohammed Ibrahim Egal again emerged victorious in the general elections that were held in March 1969.


Unfortunately, that same year, then President Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke of Somalia was assassinated. A military coup quickly followed on the 21st of October 1969 and Siad Barre assumed leadership of the country. A Supreme Revolutionary Council (SRC) was set up which took up the responsibility of government in Somalia.The country was subsequently renamed the Somali Democratic Republic by the SRC. The nation’s parliament and Supreme court were dissolved and the constitution was also suspended.

The Supreme Revolutionary Council was again re-established in October 1980. The ruling military government became increasingly authoritarian and repressive. Which eventually led to the outbreak of a civil war in 1991 leading to the removal of  Siad Barre from office. The rebellion was led by different militia groups including the Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF), Somali National Movement (SNM), the United Somali Congress (USC),  and the Somali Patriotic Movement (SPM).

Meanwhile, loyalists of Barre established the Somali National Front with the hopes of recapturing the capital which had fallen into the hands of the rebels and reinstating Barre, but they never succeeded and Barre later died in 1995 while on exile in Nigeria. Many of the opposition groups began to compete against one another for supremacy in the power vacuum that followed the fall of Barre’s regime.

Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF) was a political and paramilitary organization in Somalia which was established in 1978 by several army officers. It was one of the foremost and first opposition groups which was set up to overthrow the authoritarian regime of Mohamed Siad Barre. With its power base concentrated in the Majeerteen clan, SSDF representatives along with local traditional elders, intellectuals and business people, were key in the establishment of the autonomous Puntland region in northeastern Somalia in 1998.

Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed was subsequently appointed as the first President. After serving as President of Puntland for two terms, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed was elected in 2004 as President of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG). The TFG was an interim federal administrative body that he had helped establish earlier. The United Somali Congress (USC) was another major rebel organization in Somalia which was established in 1987.

Like the SSDF, it played an important role in the ouster of the government of Siad Barre in 1991.



The group broke into several smaller groups as a result of internal strife. In 2004, when a Transitional National Government (TNG) was set up, some ex-USC leaders were drafted into the new interim administration. General elections are yet to hold in Somalia. The President is usually elected by a parliament whose members are picked by clan elders. Plans for a full election involving all adult Somalis in 2016-2017 were cancelled because of security concerns.

In the 2017 elections, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed was elected President by 328 members of the lower and upper houses of parliament. He is expected to serve a four-year term before fresh elections are held. As part of plans towards a multi-party democracy, an independent electoral commission was created in 2017 to oversee the process of registering political parties in Somalia. The electoral commission has registered more than 57 political parties since then, although most of the registered parties still operate from outside the country for safe reasons.


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