Crime: Causes and (lack of) punishment in Somalia’s justice system

6 min read

Somalia suffers daily violent rapes, brutal murders, and attacks against the vulnerable. The spiral of violence is fertilized by the lack of proper functioning police and judicial system. The absence of crime prevention and fighting policies of the previous and current governments and the widely accepted social belief that brute force is a way to solve disagreements have exacerbated the problem. 

The government’s current thinking is to maintain public order through violence, a far-reaching specialization of tasks within the police, and a substantial expansion of the police strength proved insufficient to stop the police’s problems and reduce crime. 

Neglect and poverty are strongly linked with criminality. Therefore, poverty reduction should be a priority. However, stimulating economic growth alone will not necessarily lead to the desired effects on crime reduction. The gap between rich and poor is widening. Especially in Mogadishu and other urban areas, there is a concentration of poor and unemployed in most, if not all, neighbourhoods. Classical criminological theories connect these economic and social disparities with increased crime.  

For example, American Sociologist Robert K. Merton’s “Strain Theory 1938” is an example of a theory linking economic stress to crime. According to Merton, desirable goals are defined in every society and the legal rules to achieve those goals. People in adverse economic conditions experience a significant distance between socially induced expectations and the means to fulfil them. That distance increases the chances of committing crimes. This theory can, in certain situations, interpret these crimes correctly. Crime rates are indeed higher in deprived areas. Criminals who commit serious offences and repeat offenders mainly come from low-income families. The problem with this theory in Somalia’s situation is that most offenders, due to the anarchy in the country, are involved in crime at a young age, long before they are confronted with a lack of opportunity and unemployment. 

According to the “Social opportunity theory” of Cloward and Ohlin, delinquent behaviour is a form of resistance to the lack of opportunity rather than a means to achieve socially accepted goals. Therefore, there must be illegitimate opportunities, such as gang membership, to achieve those goals. Young people join a gang (for example, minority members joining Al-Shabaab) to find the social status they otherwise cannot reach. This theory, therefore, explains not only thefts but also other crimes. Nevertheless, why are there so many young people in poor areas who do not become delinquent? Also, many of these young people have few aspirations, and their social skills are often flawed. 

According to Hirschi’s social control theory, criminal behaviour results from a lack of bonding between the young person and the persons or institutions that encourage or supervise modified behaviour. Hirschi rejected the proposition that economic stress increases the risk of crime among juveniles. Hirschi, however, has based his research on self-report research and this type of research mainly concerns minor forms of delinquent behaviour. While serious crimes such as murder and car theft are strongly linked to economic stress. 

At the root of every rule is a value: a principle that people find essential to pursue. 

The question of why people commit a crime is without an unequivocal answer. Statements can be classified according to the causal focus of criminal behaviour. Some theories are based on the perpetrator himself. These include approaches that seek to explain delinquent behaviour in innate characteristics of the offender, such as psychopathic and antisocial personality traits. Features such as low IQ, impaired executive functions, predisposition to hyperactivity and impulsivity, and limited opportunities for empathy can lead to criminality. Other theories focus on the interactions between the person and their immediate environment. The approaches that focus on the parenting style and affective climate in the family and the consequences for the child’s further development and socialization process are classified. Those explanations highlight the importance of interactions with (deviant) peers. Finally, some theories focus on the situational circumstances of criminal behaviour. 

However, while we theorize why people commit a crime, it is important that criminals are effectively arrested and punished for their offences. It is important to signal that particular behaviour will not be tolerated. Still, it must also be apparent in the intervention which behaviour is desirable through positive reinforcement or how it can be done ‘differently’ and better. 

There is also a connection between crime, corruption in the police force, and instability in Somalia; nonetheless, the government has not rightly identified it as an essential issue. The three problems feed each other to a large extent, which has negative consequences for the safety and security of the country. Occurrences such as bribery, nepotism, and embezzlement are the order of the day. Getting justice involves paying money to officials to access the service. This corruption results in a lack of trust between law enforcers and the communities they serve. This, in turn, limits the flow of crime reports. The degree of confidence in fair treatment by the police is essential. Because trust in the fairness of police action ensures that people perceive the police as legitimate and are more likely to obey the police. On the other hand, the less trust there is in the police, the greater the chance of a serious crime being committed increases strongly, as is present in Somalia. 

Similarly, there is a creeping social acceptance of crime (money), especially those committed by the government. For example, checkpoints encircle Mogadishu city and between cities managed by security forces that harass and force people to pay an illegal levy for using the road. This illicit activity is fueled by an economic crisis (security forces paid insufficient salary), but the government knowingly does not remedy this crime. This illegal extortion charged by the security forces and other government institutions sworn to serve the people does not instil a sense of duty and responsibility in society. When citizens feel the authorities are behaving unlawfully, they will feel unjust and unfairly treated. In this case, they resist. This resistance can come in various forms, from relatively minor resistance, such as not listening to the police, to extreme resistance of disobedience, violence or use of force.  

Respectful and Just treatment of citizens by the government, on the other hand, ensures trust and legitimacy of authority. What matters here is the final result and whether the practice that led to this result was just or unjust. 

As mentioned, combating crime has not received increasing attention in recent years. Missing also required collaboration between municipalities, the police, and the Public Prosecution Service. The accumulation of problems in the country, especially in the urban areas, creates a breeding ground for criminal activities. The method requires an area-oriented approach, to which the fight against crime is integral. Gradually, attention must be paid to aspects of safety and law-breaking. Initially, there should be a discourse of the administrative approach to crime. The police, the Public Prosecution Service, and the local government must actively combat crime, especially violent crimes where victims lose their lives. 

The government policy should be based on the experience that criminal law alone is insufficient to tackle crime effectively. In addition to criminal law, a disciplined and enough paid crime-fighting police force is essential with more knowledge about crime, sufficiently able to anticipate problems that threaten to arise in the future and take a preventive approach now. 

 The local administration must also build and maintain relationships with residents and the social organizations and institutions active in the neighbourhoods to create the conditions for the communities to start fighting crimes through information and providing intel to concerned institutions. By understanding these mechanisms, the government can improve their relationship with the people and restore lost trust in the justice system. 

Dr. Mohamed Hassan Tifow

Cultural Anthropology / Development Sociologist –

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

error: Content is protected !!