No Electricity, Running Water, and Almost No Medical Supplies

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No Electricity, Running Water, and Almost No Medical Supplies


By: David Turnley

Date: ca. August-September 1992

Source: © David Turnley/Corbis.

About the Photographer: This photograph is part of the Corbis collection of images, a worldwide source of visual content to advertisers, broadcasters, designers, magazines, new media organizations, newspapers, and producers. David Turnley is a Pulitzer Prize-winning independent photographer.


Somalia is a country in Eastern Africa that borders the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean on the east and Ethiopia on the west. When it gained its independence in 1960 after a legacy of English and Italian colonization, Mohamed Siad Barre assumed power as a dictator. His regime faced constant internal challenges, however. In the late 1960s, he jailed Mohamed Farah Aideed for plotting a coup, and in the Ogaden War (1977–1978) with Ethiopia, endured a devastating defeat.

Barre ruled by dividing citizens along clan lines—alliances and coalitions of families, friends, and neighbors. In this system of polygamy and segmentary lineage, a man's children born of different mothers will turn on one another, and continual infighting easily emerges. Barre used clan alliances to divide the populace, and the conflicts detracted attention from his dying regime.

In the 1980s, the Somali civil war began. Majeerteen clans in southern Somalia began fighting Barre's regime, known as the Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF). Isaaq clans in the north, known as the Somali National Movement (SNM), also initiated an uprising. Barre fought back, using his militia to engage in torture, mutilation, and murder. Whole villages were exterminated. Women were raped, a double crime that produced "unpure" children. By May 1988, the fighting had destroyed Hargeysa, the country's second-largest city, and Burao, the provincial capital. A year later, the Hawiye clans began yet another rebellion as the United Somali Congress (USC). Soon, six distinct political groups were fighting Barre and each other. When Barre's regime finally fell in 1991, Mohamaed Farak Aideed and the USC took charge.

Western media accounts showed images of malnourished Somali children forced into the conflict as both combatants and victims. In 1991, the United Nations opened an office in the Somali capital, ostensibly to supply food and other forms of aid; in 1992, it began sending peacekeeping troops as well. American troops arrived in December 1992 to protect food and humanitarian relief shipments. Many Somalis, however, saw the troops as a threat to their independence and feared becoming a UN trustee.

Even with international aid, the violence in Somalia continued to escalate. Militia groups continued to torture and kill civilians and hijacked desperately needed supplies intended for the general populace. The fighting, destruction of land, and food shortages created a severe famine.


No Electricity, Running Water, and Almost No Medical Supplies

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In the summer of 1993, several Pakistani UN peacekeepers were killed, and an American helicopter mistakenly fired on a group of Somali civilians. In October 1993, U.S. forces seeking Aideed's senior officials were caught in a shootout that left eighteen American soldiers and hundreds of Somali civilians dead. The body of a dead American solider was dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. In March 1994, UN troops withdrew from Somalia, and much of the fighting temporarily ceased. Aideed died in August 1996 from a gunshot wound, and his son, a former U.S. Marine, was chosen to take his place.

In 1996, the Ethiopian government brought most of the clans together, but Aideed's son boycotted the conference. A year later, clan representatives met in Cairo to discuss Somalia's future but made little headway. In August 2000, they elected Addigasim Salad Hasan as Somalia's new president; he was sworn in on August 27, 2000. Hasan's election was a ray of hope for Somalia, but as of 2006, the country was still in a state of political chaos.

According to the Central Intelligence Agency, the government of Somalia remains unstable. The United Nations has deemed the country too hostile for humanitarian aid shipments, and as a result, the country lacks a sufficient food supply. In 2006, Somalia suffered one of the most devastating droughts in over a decade.



Little, Peter D. Somalia: Economy Without State. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2003.

Peterson, Scott. Me Against My Brother: At War in Somalia, Sudan and Rwanda. New York: Routledge, 2001.

Physicians for Human Rights. No Mercy in Mogadishu: The Human Cost of the Conflict and the Struggle for Relief. Boston: Physicians for Human Rights; New York: Africa Watch, c1992.


Besteman, Catherine. "Representing Violence and 'Othering' Somalia." Cultural Anthropology. 11, no.1 (February 1996): 120-133.

Klarevas, Louis J. "Trends: The United States Peace Operation in Somalia." The Public Opinion Quarterly. 64.4 (Winter 2000): 523-540.

Web sites

Laitin, David D., Columbia International Affairs Online. "Somalia: Civil War and International Intervention." February 1997. 〈〉 (accessed May 4, 2006).