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CAPITAL: Mogadishu (Muqdisho)

FLAG: The national flag is light blue with a five-pointed white star in the center.

ANTHEM: Somalia Hanolato (Long Live Somalia).

MONETARY UNIT: The Somali shilling (sh) of 100 cents is a paper currency. There are coins of 1, 5, 10, and 50 cents and 1 shilling, and notes of 5, 10, 20, 100, 500, and 1,000 shillings. sh1 = $0.00009 (or $1 = sh11,000; as of 2000).

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system is in use.

HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day, 1 January; Labor Day, 1 May; National Independence Day, 26 June; Foundation of the Republic, 1 July. Muslim religious holidays include 'Id al-Fitr, 'Id al-Adha', 'Ashura, and Milad an-Nabi.

TIME: 3 pm = noon GMT.


Situated on the horn of East Africa, Somalia has an area of 637,657 sq km (246,201 sq mi), extending 1,847 km (1,148 mi) nnessw and 835 km (519 mi) esewnw. Comparatively, the area occupied by Somalia is slightly smaller than the state of Texas. It is bounded on the n by the Gulf of Aden, on the e and s by the Indian Ocean, on the sw by Kenya, on the w and nw by Ethiopia, and on the nw by Djibouti, with a total land boundary of 2,340 km (1,454 mi) and a coastline of 3,025 km (1,880 miles). The boundary with Djibouti has been fixed by international agreement, but the western border with Ethiopia remains in dispute.

Somalia's capital city, Mogadishu, is located on the Indian Ocean coast.


The northern region is somewhat mountainous, containing two main ranges, the Migiurtina and the Ogo, with plateaus reaching between 900 and 2,100 m (3,0007,000 ft). To the northeast there is an extremely dry dissected plateau that reaches a maximum elevation of nearly 2,450 m (8,000 ft). South and west of this area, extending to the Shabeelle River, lies a plateau region called the Mudug Plain whose maximum elevation is 685 m (2,250 ft). The region between the Juba and Shabeelle rivers is low agricultural land, and the area that extends southwest of the Jubba River to Kenya is low pastureland.

The Jubba and Shabeelle rivers originate in Ethiopia and flow toward the Indian Ocean. They provide water for irrigation but are not navigable by commercial vessels. The Shabeelle dries up before reaching the ocean. Despite its lengthy shoreline, Somalia has only one natural harbor, Berbera.


Somalia has a tropical but not torrid climate, and there is little seasonal change in temperature. In the low areas, the mean temperature ranges from about 24°c to 31°c (75° to 88°f). The plateau region is cooler, the southwest warmer. The periodic winds, the southwest monsoon (JuneSeptember), and the northeast monsoon (DecemberMarch) influence temperature and rainfall. Rain falls in two seasons of the year: heavy rains from March to May, and light rains from September to December. Average annual rainfall is estimated at less than 28 cm (11 in). Droughts are not infrequent.


Acacia thorntrees, aloes, baobab, and candelabra trees are native to the semiarid regions. trees that provide frankincense and myrrh are native to the region as well. Southern forests include eucalyptus and mahogany. Mangrove, kapok, and papaya grow along the rivers. Coconut, dune palm, pine, juniper, cactus, and flowering trees such as the flamboyant were imported and have become widespread in the populated areas.

Along with its large livestock herd, Somalia has one of the most abundant and varied stocks of wildlife in Africa. Animal life includes the elephant, lion, wildcat, giraffe, zebra, hyena, hippopotamus, waterbuck, gazelle, dik-dik, lizard, crocodile, turtle, porcupine, baboon, and boar. There is a large variety of snakes, the best known being the puff adder, the spitting cobra, and the krait. Domestic animals are camels, sheep, goats, and cattle. The most common birds are the ostrich, duck, guinea fowl, bustard, partridge, green pigeon, sand grouse, and heron. As of 2002, there were at least 171 species of mammals, 179 species of birds, and over 3,000 species of plants throughout the country.


The increasing aridity of the Somali climate, coupled with excessive timber cutting and overgrazing, has led to deforestation and desertification. In nearly every five-year period, Somalis can anticipate two years of drought. Overgrazing between Mogadishu and Chisimayu has resulted in the gradual movement of coastal sand dunes inland, posing a serious threat to agricultural areas and human habitation. Somalia has about 6 cu km of renewable water resources with 97% of annual withdrawals used for farming, and 3% for urban and domestic use.

The hunting and trapping of antelopes and gazelles for their skins was banned in 1969. However, many species continue to be adversely affected by growing numbers of livestock, exclusion from watering spots by human settlement, and the cutting of bush vegetation and tree cover. According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), the number of threatened species included 15 types of mammals, 13 species of birds, 2 types of reptiles, 16 species of fish, 1 type of mollusk, and 17 species of plants. Threatened species in Somalia include the black rhinoceros, cheetah, Pelzeln's dorcas gazelle, Swayne's hartebeest, several species of shark, and the green sea, hawksbill, and leatherback turtles.


The population of Somalia in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 8,592,000, which placed it at number 88 in population among the 193 nations of the world. However, there has not been an official census since 1987 make reliable population data difficult to obtain. In addition, there is no central government to initiate positive population management policies. According to UN estimates in 2005, approximately 3% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 45% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 98 males for every 100 females in the country. The UN estimated the annual population rate of change for 20052010 to be 2.9%. The projected population for the year 2025 was 14,862,000. The population density was 14 per sq km (35 per sq mi).

The UN estimated that 33% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 5.40%. The capital city, Mogadishu (Muqdisho), had a population of 1,175,000 in that year. Hargeysa (the former capital of British Somaliland), had an estimated 150,000 inhabitants. Other cities included Chisimayu, Berbera, and Merca. Approximately 60% of the population is nomadic.


Since about half of all Somalis are nomadic or seminomadic, there are substantial movements back and forth across the frontiers in the normal range of grazing activities. Within the country there has been a gradual migration toward the south and southwest, especially since the north was drought-stricken in the 1970s and early 1980s. A campaign of political terror began in 1986; so severe were the effects that it was estimated in 1993 that three-quarters of the population had been internally displaced since 1988.

The conflict with Ethiopia led to the influx of many refugees from the Ogaden, most of them ethnic Somalis. In 1990, an estimated 586,000 were being assisted by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in refugee camps. The government claimed the total number in refugee camps exceeded 1.3 million. Yet the political violence in Somalia was so extreme that about 600,000 people fled the country between 1988 and 1991.

After Siyad Barre's regime fell in January 1991, fighting began between 16 different rival factions in Somalia. These clan wars and the long drought led to over 900,000 Somalis fleeing to neighboring nations. Of these, some 400,000 went to Kenya. As of May 1997, there were still 285,000 Somali refugees in Ethiopia, 131,000 in Kenya, 20,000 in Djibouti, and 10,000 in Yemen. The total number of migrants living in Somalia in 2000 was estimated at 22,000. By the end of 2004, Somalis had expanded their search for refugee, and had fled in large numbers ten countries: 153,627 to Kenya; 63,511 to Yemen; 36,700 to the United Kingdom; 31,110 to the United States; 17,331 to Djibouti; 16, 470 to Ethiopia; and the remainder to Denmark, the Netherlands, South Africa, and Norway. More than half of these refugees were assisted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In that same year over 10,000 Somalis applied for asylum in 23 countries, principally in South Africa.

In 2004, there were 357 refugees in Somalia, 334 asylum seekers, and 18,069 returned refugees to Djibouti and Ethiopia. In 2005, the net migration rate was an estimated 5.9 migrants per 1,000 population. This was a significant change from -21.9 per 1,000 in 1990. The government views the migration levels as satisfactory.


The Somalis are classified as a Hamitic people with a Cushitic culture. It is believed that the Somalis descend from people who migrated from the equatorial lakes of Africa to settle in the area of Somalia's two rivers, there to intermix with pastoral groups from the north and migrants from the Arabian Peninsula, the Persian Gulf, and perhaps Southeast Asia.

Ethnic Somalis, who make up about 85% of the population, are divided into two main clan families: the Samaal, which includes the Darod, Isaaq, Hawiye, and Dir clan groups; and the Saab, which includes the Rahanweyn and Digil clans and other smaller clan groups. The Samaal are principally nomadic or seminomadic pastoralists; the Digil and Rahanweyn are primarily farmers and sedentary herders. There are also small Bantu-groups who living along the Shabeelle and Jubba rivers. Other smaller minority groups include the Benadiri, the Rer Hamar, Brawanese, Swahili, Tumal, Yibir, Yaxar, Madhiban, Hawrasmae, Muse Dheryo, and Faqayaqub.

The nonindigenous population consists primarily of Arabs, Italians, Pakistanis, and Indians. The Italians are mainly engaged in teaching, business, and banana production; the Arabs, Pakistanis, and Indians are primarily shopkeepers.


Somali, classified as a lowland Eastern Cushitic language, is spoken by all Somalis, with dialectal differences that follow clan family divisions. Loanwords from Arabic, English, and Italian have been thoroughly assimilated by Somali phonetic rules. Until 1972, the official languages of Somalia were oral Somali, Arabic, English, and Italian. In 1973, a written form of Somali, with a script based on the Latin alphabet, was adopted as the nation's chief official language. This official script largely replaced the use of English and Italian in newspapers and public documents. It is used in all schools. However, Arabic, English, and Italian are all still widely spoken and understood.


The Somalis are primarily Sunni Muslims of the Shafi'i sect. According to tradition, their ultimate ancestors were of the Qurayshitic lineage of the Prophet Muhammad. Except for a small number of urbanites influenced by higher education, all Somalis belong to one of the following brotherhoods: Qadiriyyah, Salihiyyah, Ahmadiyyah, and Rifaiyyah. As Muslims, they adhere to the law of the Shariah whenever it does not conflict with local customary law. A small, extremely low-profile Christian community does exist.

In 2004, a transitional government had not yet adopted a constitution; however, a Transitional Charter has established Islam as the state religion. Christian mission schools closed in 1972 and foreign Protestant missionaries were expelled in 1976. Proselytizing of any religion but Islam is illegal.


Of 22,100 km (13,733 mi) of roads in Somalia in 2002, only 2,608 km (1,621 mi) were paved. A 1,054-km (655-mi) road constructed with Chinese financing and work crew participation, completed in 1978, tied together the northern and southern parts of the country for the first time. Motor vehicles in use in 1995 numbered 24,000, divided equally between passenger cars and commercial vehicles. There are no railways and no commercial water transport facilities.

The ports of Mogadishu, Chisimayu, and Berbera are served by vessels from many parts of the world, as well as by Somali and Arab dhows. Mogadishu in recent years handled more than 70% of Somalia's export and import traffic. In 1995, the state-owned shipping line operated two oceangoing vessels totaling 5,529 GRT. However, by 2005 no merchant marine existed.

In 2004, there were an estimated 60 airports, but only 6 had paved runways as of 2005. The major airfields are in Mogadishu and Berbera. International air service has been provided by the state-owned Somali Airlines (among other carriers), which also has regular flights connecting Mogadishu with regional centers and with Kenya, Djibouti, Saudi Arabia, the Comoros, Yemen, the Persian Gulf states, Frankfurt, Cairo, and Rome.


Somalia was known as the Land of Punt by ancient Egyptians, who came to Somalia's northern shores for incense and aromatic herbs. In the 9th or 10th century, Somalis began pushing south from the Gulf of Aden coast. About this time, Arabs and Persians established settlements along the Indian Ocean coast. During the 15th and 16th centuries, Portuguese explorers attempted without success to establish Portuguese sovereignty over the Somali coast. Meanwhile, the main coastal centers continued to be controlled by Arab merchant families under the nominal suzerainty of the sultanate of Oman, which transferred its seat to Zanzibar in the early 19th century.

After the British armed forces occupied Aden in 1839, they developed an interest in the northern Somali coast. By 1874, Egyptians occupied several points on the shore, but their occupation was short-lived. From 1884 to 1886, the British signed a number of "protectorate" treaties with Somali chiefs of the northern area. The protectorate was first administered by the resident in Aden and later (1907) by the colonial office. From 1899 to 1920, British rule was constantly disrupted by the "holy war" waged by 'Abdallah bin Hasan (generally known in English literature as the "Mad Mullah").

Italian expansion in Somalia began in 1885, when Antonio Cecchi, an explorer, led an Italian expedition into the lower Juba region and concluded a commercial treaty with the sultan of Zanzibar. In 1889, Italy established protectorates over the eastern territories then under the nominal rule of the sultans of Obbia and of Alula; and in 1892, the sultan of Zanzibar leased concessions along the Indian Ocean coast to Italy. Direct administrative control of the territory known as Italian Somaliland was not established until 1905. The Fascist government increased Italian authority by its extensive military operations. In 1925, the British government, in line with secret agreements with Italy during World War I, transferred the Jubaland (an area south of the Jubba River) to Italian control. During the Italo-Ethiopian conflict (193436), Somalia was a staging area for Italy's invasion and conquest of Ethiopia. From 1936 to 1941, Somalia and the Somali-inhabited portion of Ethiopia, the Ogaden, were combined in an enlarged province of Italian East Africa.

In 194041, Italian troops briefly occupied British Somaliland but were soon defeated by the British, who conquered Italian Somaliland and reestablished their authority over British Somaliland. Although the Ogaden was returned to Ethiopia in 1948, British administration over the rest of Italian Somaliland continued until 1950, when Italy became the UN trusteeship authority. A significant impetus to the Somali nationalist movement was provided by the UN in 1949 when the General Assembly resolved that Italian Somaliland would receive its independence in 1960. By the end of 1956, Somalis were in almost complete charge of domestic affairs. Meanwhile, Somalis in British Somaliland were demanding self-government. As Italy agreed to grant independence on 1 July 1960 to its trust territory, the United Kingdom gave its protectorate independence on 26 June 1960, thus enabling the two Somali territories to join in a united Somali Republic on 1 July 1960. On 20 July 1961, the Somali people ratified a new constitution, drafted in 1960, and one month later confirmed 'Aden 'Abdullah Osman Daar as the nation's first president.

From the inception of independence, the Somali government supported the concept of self-determination for the people of the Somali-inhabited areas of Ethiopia (the Ogaden section), Kenya (most of the northeastern region), and French Somaliland (now the Republic of Djibouti), including the right to be united within a greater Somalia. Numerous border clashes occurred between Somalia and Ethiopia, and between Somalia and Kenya. Soviet influence in Somalia grew after Moscow agreed in 1962 to provide substantial military aid.

Abdirashid 'Ali Shermarke, who was elected president in 1967, was assassinated on 15 October 1969. Six days later, army commanders seized power with the support of the police. The military leaders dissolved parliament, suspended the constitution, arrested members of the cabinet, and changed the name of the country to the Somali Democratic Republic. Maj. Gen. Jalle Mohamed Siad Barre, commander of the army, was named chairman of a 25-member Supreme Revolutionary Council (SRC) that assumed the powers of the president, the Supreme Court, and the National Assembly. Siad Barre was later named president.

In 1970, President Siad Barre proclaimed "scientific socialism" as the republic's guiding ideology. This Marxist ideology stressed hard work and public service and was regarded by the SRC as fully compatible with Islam. A number of industries and large firms, especially foreign banks and oil companies, were nationalized. Self-help projects were instituted to clean up the towns and villages, construct roads and sidewalks, dig and maintain wells and irrigation canals, build infirmaries and schools, and stabilize sand dunes. In 1972, the SRC proclaimed the adoption of a Latin script for Somali; in 1973, it inaugurated widespread literacy campaigns. The drought that affected large areas of Africa from 1968 to 1973 became severe in Somalia in late 1974, and in November of that year, the SRC declared a state of emergency, set up relief camps, and initiated food rationing.

Controversy arose in 1975 over US charges that the USSR was developing a military installation at the port of Berbera. Somalia denied the charges and invited inspection by journalists and US congressmen, who reported that they had found evidence of Soviet missile-handling facilities there. Somali officials did acknowledge receipt of Soviet military and technical advisers. Meanwhile, Ethiopia claimed that a Soviet-equipped Somalia represented a threat to its security. That same year, Siad Barre extended formal recognition to the Western Somali Liberation Front in the Ogaden. Somali forces took part in the fighting but were defeated in 1977, soon after the USSR had swung its support to Ethiopia. Late in the year, Siad Barre expelled the Soviets. Relations with the United States warmed, and in 1980, in return for military and economic aid (about $80 million in 1982), Siad Barre agreed to allow the United States use of air and naval facilities at the northern port of Berbera, facilities that had been built by the USSR, and also at Mogadishu.

A new constitution was ratified in 1979. On 30 December 1979, an unopposed list of 171 candidates was elected to the People's Assembly, which, the following month, elected Siad Barre unanimously to a new term of office. (Unopposed elections were again held on 31 December 1984.) In October 1980, Siad Barre declared a state of emergency and reestablished the SRC, responding to the activities of an Ethiopian-backed opposition movement, the Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF). The state of emergency was lifted in March 1982, but at midyear the insurgents, supported by a reported 10,000 Ethiopian troops, invaded Somalia. By December, however, only a small area was in insurgent or Ethiopian hands.

In January 1986, Siad Barre met with Lt. Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam, Ethiopia's head of state, in Djibouti, in an effort to improve relations between the two countries. Two other meetings of Somali and Ethiopian officials were held in May and August, but no agreement was reached. After Barre's unopposed reelection on 23 December 1986the first direct presidential election in SomaliaBarre appointed a prime minister for the first time, Lt. Gen. Mohamed 'Ali Samater, the first vice president and minister of defense. The SSDF had virtually crumbled by the end of 1986, but in 1987 another insurgent group, the Somali National Movement, was conducting operations in the north (the former British Somaliland). In February 1987 relations between Somalia and Ethiopia deteriorated following an Ethiopian attack on six settlements. Growing out of the Soviet shift to the Ethiopian side, American-Somali relations became closer during the administration of US president Ronald Reagan. This included a 10-year agreement providing US forces access to naval and air facilities at Berbera and increasing US military aid to Somalia.

In 1988, both the Ethiopian and Somalian governments, faced by growing internal resistance, pledged to respect their border. But by 1990, the Somali regime was losing control. Armed resistance from the Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF), the Somali Democratic Alliance (SDA), the Somali Democratic Movement (SDM), the Somali National Movement (SNM), the Somali Patriot Movement (SPM), and the United Somali Congress (USC) were turning Somali territory into a death trap. Government forces were no less ruthless. Each was led by a clan leader or local warlord. Donor nations threatened to cut off aid unless the atrocities were ended.

In March 1990, Barre called for dialogue and, possibly, an end to single-party rule, but he was eventually ousted and, in January 1991, he fled Mogadishu. The USC seized the capital, but fighting continued. The SNM controlled much of the north and declared its territory the independent state of "Somaliland." By December, the USC had split in two. One faction was led by Ali Mahdi Muhammad, the interim president, the other by Gen. Muhammad Farrah Aideed. They were from different subclans of the Hawiye clan. The fighting continued and the warring factions prevented people from planting and harvesting crops. Several hundred thousand people died. Far more were threatened by starvation. Over a half-million fled to Kenya. Contagious disease spread through refugee camps inside the country. The starvation and total breakdown of public services was publicized in the western media. Calls for the UN to intervene mounted. Yet, the food relief that was sent was stolen by soldiers and armed looters. Private relief efforts were frustrated and subject to extortion. Late on 3 December 1992, the UN Security Council passed a resolution to deploy a massive US-led international military intervention (UNITAFUnited Task Force) to safeguard relief operations. By the end of December, Aideed and Ali Mahdi had pledged to stop fighting. The UNITAF spread throughout the country. Violence decreased dramatically. But later, gunmen began to appear again.

US forces shifted their mandate toward the UN-Boutros-Ghali position of trying to confiscate arms and "technicals"vehicles with mounted heavy weapons. Although the problem of relief distribution had largely been solved, there was no central government, few public institutions, and local warlords and their forces became increasingly emboldened.

By early 1993, over 34,000 troops from 24 UN members75% from the United Stateswere deployed. Starvation was virtually ended, a modicum of order was restored, and hope had returned. Yet, little was done to achieve a political solution or to disarm the factions. From January 1993 until 27 March, 15 armed factions haggled in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and finally reached agreement to end hostilities and to form a transitional National Council for a two-year period to serve as the political authority in Somalia.

On 4 May 1993, the relief effort, Operation Restore Hope, was declared successful and US force levels were sharply reduced. Command of relief, disarmament, and reconstruction work was assumed by the UN. This effort, UNOSOM II, featured Pakistani, US, Belgian, Italian, Moroccan, and French troops, commanded by a Turkish general. However, on 23 June 1993, 23 Pakistani soldiers were killed in an ambush, and the UN Security Council ordered the arrest of those responsible. Gen. Aideed's forces were blamed and a $25,000 bounty was placed on Aideed's head.

Mogadishu subsequently became a war zone. In early October 1993, 18 US Army Rangers were killed and 75 were wounded in a firefight. American public opinion turned against the effort forcing President Bill Clinton to withdraw US troops. Despite diplomatic overtures by his special envoy, Charles Oakley, and an inclusive UN-, and then Ethiopian-, sponsored set of talks, mediation failed. Kenya's President Daniel Arap Moi also mediated. After the US pullout, some 19,000 UN troops remained. Security Council Resolution (897) redefined the UNOSOM II mandateemphasizing peacemaking and reconstructionbut it was a recognition that the assertive, coercive strategy of the UN had failed and that a more neutral role was necessary.

The United States completed its withdrawal of troops in March 1995, after which Mogadishu again disintegrated into chaos. The last of three major battles was engaged after peace talks between the factions collapsed in November 1996. Some 300 people, many civilians and aid workers, were killed in a month of fighting.

The hope for restored order was rekindled with the death of Gen. Aideed on 1 August 1996. Aideed's rivals declared a ceasefire, although his son and successor, Hussein Muhammad Aideed, vowed revenge and renewed the fight.

Because the factional splits were not based on ideological, religious, or issue differences, but instead were quests for power and riches, there was little hope for the restoration of a central government, and by the year 2000 the country was split into four piecesSomaliland to the far north, Puntland to the northeast, South Mogadishu controlled by Hussein Muhamad Aideed and North Mogadishu dominated by Ali Mahdi. Islamic courts took on the task of establishing law and order.

Despite overtures by Libya to influence the political configuration, clan elders met in neighboring Djibouti, and at the Arta Peace Conference on 26 August 2000 established a three-year Transitional National Government (TNG) with Abdiqassim Salad Hassan as president. The purpose of the TNG was to restore stability. However, the TNG controlled only pockets of the capital and country, and by August 2003 the TNG was due to expire.

Meanwhile, on 14 April 2003 citizens in the self-declared republic of Somaliland, went to the polls to elect a president in Somaliland's first multiparty election. After disputing the results, the Kulmiye party's presidential candidate, Ahmad Muhammad Silanyo, said that the intervention of elders and others had persuaded him to accept the outcome, perhaps with promises for a power-sharing deal. Incumbent president Dahir Riyale Kahin of the Unity of Democrats Party (UDUB) was declared the winner by the Somaliland Election Commission (SEC), a decision that later was confirmed by the constitutional court.

By July 2003, more than 350 delegates had gathered for a national conference held in KenyaSomalia's 14th peace talks in ten yearsto vote on a parliament that would elect an interim president, who would then appoint a prime minister. Delegates, who were to elect a president from among more than 30 candidates, broke through a serious impasse by selecting a federal system of government and nominating a 351-member parliament to serve a four-year term. However, Hassan threatened to withdraw from the talks unless various grievances were resolved including complaints that the parliament was too large, that elders alone should elect the president, and that Arabic must not be considered a second language. Further, the proposal to federate the country according to existing jurisdictions was rejected by Hassan because in his opinion it would dismember Somalia into a collection of small states and deepen existing divisions in the country. Indeed, some counterterrorism experts feared that a federal system would encourage warlordism and provide safe havens for international terrorists. Finally, in late 2004 a new federal transitional parliament (FTP) was formed.

Moving the FTP to Somalia proved a dangerous proposition. The prime minister's first visit to Mogadishu was marred by an explosion at a rally, and in November 2005, six people were killed and 20 injured in an attack on his convoy. That same month, the son of an FTP official was shot and killed, and some 12 people were killed and 21 wounded as the result of fighting triggered by Islamic militias bent on closing cinemas and video stores. In early 2006 clan militias killed some 30 people and wounded 70 more in fighting in the southern port city of Chisimayu and in towns in Mudug and Galguduud.

In December 2005 the peace process was jeopardized further when the Mogadishu faction of the FTP elected a regional council to govern Banaadir (greater Mogadishu). Many of the electees belonged to the Hawiye clan, which surrounds Mogadishu. Some observers viewed this development as a direct affront to the authority of and a formal break with the Jowhar interim government.

The following month, thanks to mediation by Yemen, President Yusuf and Parliament Speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adenthe leader of the Mogadishu factiondeclared that they would cooperate with each other, and in February the FTP met on Somali soil for the first time at a food warehouse in the central town of Baidoa. Some 205 of the 275 MPs attended. Surrounded by heavy security, President Yusuf made strong appeals for peace, unity, and national security. Those not attending the meeting were mostly Mogadishu warlords, who were determined to move the government from Jowar (56 miles north of Mogadishu) back to Mogadishu. They also disagreed over the perceived need for foreign peacekeepers in the country.

According to a report by the International Crisis Group (ICG), international donors were most likely to succeed in promoting peace in Somalia by not backing one faction over another in the divided TFG, and instead support the transitional federal charter, revive the parliament, and establish a government of national unity. This approach, according to ICG, stood the best chance of preventing Somalia from becoming a haven for terrorists.


Somalia is perhaps the world's best-known example of a failed state. Its governments have been as fractured as they have been ineffective, and since independence have only nominally ruled the territory within its borders. Since 1991, there has been no recognized permanent central government, and both Somaliland and Puntlandformally part of Somaliahave declared their autonomy. Puntland, which has exercised self-rule since 1998, has not declared its intention to become independent, while Somaliland seeks international recognition as an independent state.

From July 1961 to October 1969, Somalia was a parliamentary democracy based on the principle of separation of powers. After the army's seizure of power in October 1969, Maj. Gen. Siad Barre was named chairman of the 25-member SRC, which then elected him president. A constitution, approved in January 1979 by the ruling Somali Revolutionary Socialist Party and ratified by popular referendum on 25 August, vested legislative authority in the People's Assembly of 177 members serving five-year terms. This assembly could be dissolved by a two-thirds vote of its members or by the president. The People's Assembly was given the right to elect the president to a six-year, renewable term. (This was changed in 1984 to a direct popular election for a seven-year term.) The president was authorized to appoint members of the cabinet and to act as its chairman. He was declared commander in chief of the armed forces, with the power to declare war and to appoint the president of the Supreme Court. An article of the document allowed him to invoke emergency rule. On 24 October 1980, Siad Barre issued a decree suspending those constitutional provisions that were incompatible with the state of emergency triggered by the conflict with Ethiopia.

Large-scale fighting among clan factions from 1989 to January 1991 brought about the collapse of the Barre regime and his flight from Mogadishu. An interim administration (based on the 1969 constitution) was created by the United Somali Congress, but it collapsed in November 1991 and its two warring factions plunged Somalia into total civil war. The northern province declared its independence on 18 May 1991 as the sovereign state of "Somaliland," the name it bore under British colonial rule. That independence, so far, has brought relatively orderly rule. On 5 May 1993, Mohammed Ibrahim Egal was elected president by members of the central committee.

Barre's overthrow in June 1991 marked the end of viable central government. Some 15 armed factions have been fighting continuously, except for the relatively peaceful early months of UN-US administration from December 1992 until around June 1993. UNOSOM II was technically in control until March 1995, when the UN withdrew the last of its troops from the country. With the UN's departure, the country split into zones controlled by the various factions. Gen. Aideed's death on 1 August 1996 renewed prospects for political stability as rival warlords Osman Ali Atto and Ali Mahdi Muhammed declared a cease-fire. It was also hoped that the moderate Osman Atto, Aideed's clansman and a former advisor, would assume control of Aideed's forces. But Aideed's immediate successor, his son Hussein Muhammad Aideed, renewed the fight against his father's rivals.

As of 2005, Somalia was nominally ruled by a transitional national government (TNG)established October 2000with a president, prime minister, and 91-member cabinet. The president was Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, the prime minister was Ali Mohamed Ghedi. Dahir Riyale Kahin was president of the Somaliland Republic. In September 2004, an interim 275-member Federal Transitional Parliament (FTP) was formed of representatives of Somalia's four major clans, each with 61 seats, while a fifth grouping of minority clans held 31 seats. Somaliland, Puntland, and traditional clan and faction strongholds are beyond the token control of the TNG. New elections were scheduled to take place in 2009 depending on political conditions.

Although not yet recognized as an independent nation, Somaliland maintains an army, a police force, a currency, a judicial system, and levies taxes. It has not been free of the factional fighting that pervades the south, but it enjoys far more stability and less lawlessness. It successfully held parliamentary elections in September 2005, although the opening of the 82-member body was marred by protests outside the building and a brawl inside. Nonetheless, because of concern with extremists and instability in the Horn of Africa, the United States, United Kingdom, and the EU were reported to be leaning toward recognition of Somaliland as an independent state.


Political parties in Somalia may be thought of more accurately as collections of clans and sub-clans vying with each other for political power. Prior to October 1969, Somalia had a nominal multiparty system of government where opposition in parliament came from within the majority party as well as from opposition parties. The Somali Youth League (SYL), the largest party, was formed in 1943 as the Somali Youth Club. Its program included the unification of all Somalis (including those in Kenya, Ethiopia, and French Somaliland); social, political, and economic development; and nonalignment in international affairs. It represented almost all government personnel, entrepreneurs, and skilled and quasi-skilled workers of the southern area, formerly Italian Somaliland. In the first national elections after independence, held on 30 March 1964, the SYL won an absolute majority of 69 of the 123 parliamentary seats. The remaining seats were divided among 11 parties. In general elections held in March 1969, the ruling SYL, led by Mohammed Ibrahim Egal, was returned to power. A total of 64 political parties contested the elections. In October 1969, the Supreme Revolutionary Council (SRC) prohibited all political parties and announced that elections would be held in due course. In 1976, the SRC was abolished and its functions transferred to the leadership of the newly formed Somali Revolutionary Socialist Party (SRSP), which was led by the former SRC members. Siad Barre was general secretary of the SRSP, which remained the sole legal party until his overthrow in January 1991. Subsequently, the Somali National Movement (SNM) seized control of the north and established the independent state of "Somaliland." Since then, armed factions largely identified with clans and sub-clans divided up the territory as they fought and negotiated to expand their influence.

Many of the factions bear the titles of political parties; e.g., the Somali Democratic Movement, the Somali National Union, the Somali Patriotic Movement, and the United Somali Congress (USC). In fact, their bases are not national. The USC controlled Mogadishu and much of central Somalia until late in 1991 when it split into two major factions. Aideed's Somali National Alliance (SNA) identified with the Habar Gadir subclan of the Hawiye clan and Ali Mahdi's Somali Salvation Alliance (Abgal subclan of the Hawiyes). Currently the latter exists as the "Group of Twelve" coalition and these are the two dominant claimants to national power.

Aideed was killed on 1 August 1996 and was succeeded by his son, Hussein Muhammad Aideed. Some observers believe he could be displaced by Osman Ali Atto, an elder clansman and former Aideed advisor who was a rival of the general's at the time of the latter's death. Osman Atto is considered more moderate than Aideed, and more receptive to a political solution for Somalia.

The main political factions comprising the FTP are the National Salvation Council (NSC); the Somali Restoration and Reconciliation Council (SRRC); and various civil society and traditional leaders. The 91-member cabinet is split between proponents of locating the government at Jowhar and those who want to move it back to Mogadishu. Somaliland's main parties are the Democratic United National Party (UDUB), led by the president; Kulmiye ("unifier"); and the Justice Party (UCID).


Somalia is divided into 18 regions (gobolka ): Awdal, Bakool, Banaadir, Bari, Bay, Galguduud, Gedo, Hiiraan, Jubbada Dhexe, Jubbada Hoose, Mudug, Nugaal, Sanaag, Shabeellaha Dhexe, Shabeellaha Hoose, Sool, Togdheer, and Woqooyi Galbeed.

Until 1973, the country was divided into eight regions, each headed by an official chosen by the central government. The regions were subdivided into 48 districts, headed by district commissioners also appointed by the government. There were 83 municipalities and sub-municipalities. The powers of the municipal councils included local taxation, town planning, registry and census, public services, and approval of the local budget. The major educational, economic, and social services were financed and maintained by the central government, which also exerted supervisory control over the municipal councils through its power to remove mayors and to dissolve the councils.


Owing to the collapse of national government, no national judicial system exists. However, much of the country has reverted to Shariah with the possibility for appeals; secular courts exist in some localities. The UN operation in Somalia oversaw administration of the Somalia penal code in those areas under UN supervision. Islamic law and traditional mediation continue to be applied to settle disputes over property and criminal offenses. The fear of renewed anarchy interferes with impartial administration of justice, and prosecution of war crimes is difficult.

In 1993, plans were released for a three-tier judicial system with courts of appeals, regional courts, and district courts. In the self-declared Republic of Somaliland, adoption of a new constitution is pending and the pre-1991 penal code is in effect. In North Mogadishu and part of South Mogadishu, the middle Shabelle and the Gedo and Hi'ran regions, court decisions are only based on Shariah law.

Historically, under the 1961 constitution the Supreme Court was the highest juridical organ of the republic, having ultimate jurisdiction over all civil, penal, and administrative matters, and over all rights established by the constitution and by the laws of the state. Other judicial organs were qadi courts (Muslim courts), district courts, provincial courts, and courts of assize. Judicial organs of second instance were a tribunal of qadis, a court of appeals, and an appeals court of assize. Somali citizens participated as jurors in the courts of assize and the appeals court of assize. The Ministry of Justice administered the prison system and the offices and employees of the judicial organs. It prepared projects and regulations dealing with judicial matters and it supervised notaries, the bar, and the Office of State Attorney.

When the SRC assumed all judicial as well as executive and legislative powers in October 1969, it suspended the Supreme Court. However, the court was reopened in December 1969, and the rest of the court system was left much as before. A new National Security Court was empowered to rule on cases involving persons accused of attempting to undermine the independence, unity, and security of the state. The 1979 constitution established the Constitutional Court (composed of the Supreme Court and delegates to the People's Assembly) to decide on the constitutionality of laws. It also empowered the Higher Judicial Council, chaired by the president and composed of high-ranking SRC members, to be responsible for the selection, promotion, and discipline of members of the judiciary.


The regular armed forces disintegrated in the revolution of 1991, leaving the nation awash with Russian, Chinese, and European weapons. Clan gangs armed with these weapons terrorized relief workers during their humanitarian efforts sponsored by international and private organizations, and battled a UN and US expeditionary force to a standstill. Between December 1992 and March 1994 over 100,000 US military personnel served in Somalia. As of late 2005, the national armed forces had not been reconstituted, and the country was torn between the Republic of Somaliland declared by the Somali National Movement in the north and insurgent groups in the south. There was no data on military expenditures for 2005 or on the exact number of armed Somalis.


Somalia, which joined the United Nations on 30 September 1960, participates in ECA and several nonregional specialized agencies, such as the FAO, the World Bank, ILO, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNIDO, and the WHO. It is also a member of the ACP Group, the African Development Bank, the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, the Council of Arab Economic Unity, the Islamic Development Bank, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), the Community of Sahel and Saharan States (CENSAD), G-77, the Arab League, and African Union.

Since 1960, the Somali government has sponsored a policy known as Pan-Somalism that strives for the unification of all Somali populations within the region into a Greater Somalia. This issue has a major impact on relations with Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti and tensions between Somalia and these countries has escalated to violence in the past. Somalia is part of the Nonaligned Movement. In environmental cooperation, Somalia is part of CITES, the Montréal Protocol, and the UN Conventions on the Law of the Sea and Climate Change.


Somalia's economy, one of the poorest in the world, is an agricultural one based primarily on livestock and, to a lesser extent, on farming. Livestock accounts for about 40% of GDP and a large percentage of export earnings, mainly from Saudi Arabia; bananas are the main cash crop and account for nearly 50% of export earnings. Other crops produced for domestic consumption are cotton, maize, and sorghum. There are plans to develop the fishing industry. Northern Somalia is the world's largest source of incense and myrrh. There has been little exploitation of mineral resources, which include petroleum, uranium, and natural gas. Since 1990, the economy has been a shambles, the consequence of drought and of protracted civil strife which has left the country without central authority. By early 1992, virtually all trade, industrial and agricultural activities had stopped, large numbers of people were forced from their homes, and more than six million people were at risk of starvation. In 1993, donors pledged $130 million toward Somalia's reconstruction. The aid, together with good rains and increased stability, helped ease the food situation and few communities were at risk of widespread famine in 1997; however, the lack of rains in spring 2001 caused major food shortages in the south of the country. Continued fighting and the lack of a central authority in 2003 prevented significant improvements in economic conditions. The UN through its various relief agencies is the country's largest employer. Although Somalia was largely still in a state of anarchy in 2003, despite ongoing peace talks, the telecommunications sector was functioning, with most major cities having wireless telephone services. By 2005 Somalia was still a chaotic country with little political stability in sight. According to the US Central Intelligence Agency, Somalia's economic fortunes are driven by its deep political divisions with economic life continuing in part because much activity is local and relatively easily protected.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Somalia's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $4.8 billion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $600. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 2.4%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 65% of GDP, industry 10%, and services 25%.

It was estimated that for the period 1980 to 1990 household consumption grew at an average annual rate of 1.3%.


There are approximately 3.7 million workers in Somalia, with nomadic shepherds and subsistence farmers accounting for 71% of the working population. Industry and services employed the remaining 29.9%. Since the overwhelming majority of the population was engaged in stock herding or agriculture, the number of unemployed was not large, but there was considerable unemployment in the urban centers. There was no further data available on unemployment in Somalia.

Labor codes were enacted in the early 1960s for minimum wages, hours of work, employment of women and children, vacations, and collective bargaining. After the 1969 revolution, the SRC dissolved the existing unions and took action to organize the General Federation of Somali Trade Unions along lines more in keeping with its plans for a Socialist state, but it was believed to have ceased functioning with the collapse of the government in 1992. As of 2001, the recent constitution of Somaliland provided the right to unionize, but no unions had been formed yet. There are no systems in place to implement acceptable work conditions, child labor regulations, workweek standards or wage minimums.


Only 1.7% of Somalia's total land area is cultivated, and 69% is permanent pasture. There are two main types of agriculture, one indigenous and the other introduced by European settlers. The Somalis have traditionally engaged in rain-fed dry-land farming or in dry-land farming complemented by irrigation from the waters of the Shabeelle and Jubba rivers or from collected rainwater. The rainy season lasts from April to June and these rains typically bring about 75% of Somalia's annual cereal production. Corn, sorghum, beans, rice, vegetables, cotton, and sesame are grown by both methods. Bananas and sugarcane have been the main commercial crops, grown on irrigated land along the two rivers. Sugarcane is cultivated at Giohar and Jilib. Somalia is the world's leading producer of frankincense.

Between 1975 and 1991, all land was nationalized. Existing customary rights were generally honored, but the state took over large areas of irrigable land in the river valleys. Plantations had to register to obtain a concession grant, with the value of the land itself excluded from the selling price. In 1993, privatization and assistance from Italy (the main market for banana exports) began to help revitalize the agricultural sector. In 2001, agricultural products accounted for 47% of exports and 17% of imports; there was an agricultural trade surplus of $10.2 million. In 2001 a severe drought affected southern Somalia and the UN appealed for food aid for half a million people.


The majority of Somalis raise livestock; in some areas, particularly in the north, this is the only means of subsistence. During the civil war, herds were looted and killed. The national cattle herd was estimated at 5.3 million head at the end of 2001. At that time, Somalia also had 13.1 million sheep, 12.7 million goats, and 6.2 million camels. Live animals along with hides and skins are significant exports.

Having no official central government, the traditional Somali system of customary law and politics has been instrumental in maintaining economic stability. Somalia's animal herding sector is stronger than that of either of its neighbors, Kenya or Ethiopia. During the 1990s, Somalia accounted for more than 60% of all livestock exports in East Africa. In the northern part of Somalia (Somaliland and Puntland), sheep and goat exports from the major ports of Berbera and Bossaso now exceed pre-1991 levels. By Somali custom, the cross-border livestock trade is facilitated by brokers who certify that traded livestock are not stolen, and thus act as insurance agents for cross-border trading. Fees are lower on the Somali side of the cross-border trade than on the Kenyan side, indicating that rustling may be a more severe problem in Kenya than in Somalia. According to data from the Kenyan government, Somalia's export of cattle to Kenya more than doubled between 1991 and 2000. In 2000, severe drought struck Somalia, and Kenya closed its border to Somali livestock to prevent importing any animals infected with Rift Valley Fever.


Approximately 1% of the population is engaged full-time in fishing. Fish-processing plants produced fish flour, inedible oil, and semirefined edible oil. In 1985, fishtuna, sardines, mackerel, and lobsterand fish products accounted for 10.7% of exports. The catch in 2003 was 18,000 tons. Fisheries exports have declined from about $14.8 million in 1990 to $3.4 million in 2003. In 1993, the yearly potential catch was estimated at 200,000 tons, which could bring in an estimated $26 million in revenue each year. One of the government's aims has been to establish fishing cooperatives; in 1975, thousands of nomads from the drought-affected area were resettled in fishing villages.


Forests cover 12% of Somalia's land area, but only 4% of the land has dense tree stands. Somalia is one of the few areas in the world where frankincense is produced; incense trees of the genus Boswellia are found in the northeast. Gum arabic in small quantities is also produced. In the scant forests along the rivers of the Jubba region, Euphorbia ruspoli is milled and used for the production of banana crates. Roundwood production was estimated at 10,576,000 cu m (373.3 million cu ft), with almost 99% of it burned as fuel.


The Somali minerals sector, which was not a significant economic force before the 1991 overthrow of the government, failed to expand in the ensuing years of political and economic instability. In 2003, small quantities of gypsum, marine salt, and sepiolite (meerschaum) were exploited, and the country also presumably produced clays, sand and gravel, crushed and dimension stone, and limestone (for lime manufacture and/or agriculture). Officially reported mineral and trade data have been unavailable owing to lack of a central government from 1991 to 2000, and the secession of Somaliland and Puntland. In 2003, Somalia's output of gypsum, marine salt and sepiolite were estimated at 1,500 metric tons, 1,000 metric tons and 6 metric tons, respectively. The civil war forced the closure of Somalia's cement plant and oil refinery (a leading industry), and halted exploration for natural gas and other resources. There were unexploited deposits of anhydrite, bauxite, columbite, feldspar, natural gas, iron ore, kaolin, quartz, silica sand, tantalum, thorium, tin, and uranium, and recent discoveries of amethyst, aquamarine, emerald, garnet, opal, ruby, and sapphire. Mining of the gemstones, in Somaliland, has been limited by a lack of modern equipment, civil strife, and damage to the infrastructure; a EU-funded nongovernmental organization was working with Somaliland's government to exploit gemstone resources. Tin was mined by the British before World War II, and charcoal was the fifth-leading export commodity. The outlook showed little change for the short run.


Somalia has no reserves of oil, or coal, nor any refining capacity, but does have modest reserves of natural gas.

Somalia relies on imported petroleum products for the production of its electric energy. Installed capacity in 2002 was 80,000 kW, all of it based on conventional thermal fuels. Total production in that year was 240 million kWh, with domestic demand at 223 billion kWh.

In 2002, Somalia's imports and consumption of refined oil products each averaged 4,800 barrels per day. Although Somalia had proven reserves of natural gas in 2002 of 2.833 billion cu m, there was no production, imports or demand for natural gas in that year. An oil refinery, built with Iraqi assistance, was opened at Gesira, near Mogadishu, in 1978 but has not operated since 1991. There was no demand or imports of coal in 2002. The only immediately exploitable domestic sources of energy are firewood and charcoal.


Before the start of civil war in the early 1990s, the manufacturing sector was beginning to develop. However, all industries suffered major losses during the civil war, accounting in 2000 for only 10% of GDP. Industries mainly serve the domestic market and, to a lesser extent, provide some of the needs of Somalia's agricultural exports, such as the manufacture of crates for packing bananas. Most industries have been looted, however, and many sold for scrap metal.

The most important industries were petroleum refining (as of 2000 shut down), the state-owned sugar plants at Jowhar and Gelib, an oilseed-crushing mill, and a soap factory. Other industries manufactured corrugated iron, paint, cigarettes and matches, aluminum utensils, cardboard boxes and polyethylene bags, and textiles. A cement plant at Berbera was completed in 1985.

The fish- and meat-canning export industries operate below capacity. Textiles are produced at the SOMALTEX plant, which supplies virtually the entire domestic market. Most major enterprises were government-owned, but private plants produce food, beverages, chemicals, clothing, and footwear. There are also plants for milk processing, vegetable and fruit canning, and wheat flour and pasta manufacturing, as well as several grain mills. The country's first pharmaceuticals factory, near Mogadishu, opened in 1986. Local craft industries produce sandals and other leather products, cotton cloth, pottery, baskets, and clay or meerschaum vessels.

The oil refinery at Mogadishu, with a production capacity of 10,000 barrels per day, has been out of operation since 1991. There is one natural gas field, but exploration and exploitation of oil and natural gas has been suspended since political conflict began.


In 1993, the Somali National University in Mogadishu had faculties of medicine, agriculture, veterinary medicine, engineering, geology, and industrial chemistry. Also located in Mogadishu were the Institute for the Preparation of Serums and Vaccines, the Laboratory of Hygiene and Prophylaxy, and the Society of Medicine and Tropical Hygiene. In Mogadishu there is the school of public health and a veterinary college; the Geological Survey Department of the Ministry of Water Development and Mineral Resources and the Survey and Mapping Department of the Ministry of Public Works. A technical college is located in Burao.


Despite the lack of a central government, domestic commerce in Somalia is still active, although on a small scale. Some merchants, using satellite telephones or radios coordinate distribution networks that transport food and other goods between various rival territories. Small shops barter or sell a limited number of such imported and domestic items as tea and coffee, kerosene, sugar, cotton goods, spices, cereals, skins, hides, and ghee. Outside the urban centers, the barter system is often employed. In the urban centers, small traders deal essentially in a cash economy.

Mogadishu is a primary business and commercial center and hosts a large number of shops and markets offering a variety of goods. In the south, at the mouth of the Juba River, Kismayu serves as an important port, particularly for banana exports. Hargeisa serves as a watering and trading center for many of the nation's nomadic herders.

Usual business hours are from 8 am to 12:30 pm and from 4:30 pm to 7 pm, Saturday to Thursday.


Exports consist largely of livestock (camels, sheep, and goats), bananas, hides, and fish. Principal imports are manufactures, petroleum products, food, and petroleum. Imports also include guns, medicine, and khat (a stimulant leaf chewed by Somalis). Foreign trade is handled by local traders who coordinate transactions despite factional fighting and the lack of a central government. Many traders in the north have relocated from Berbera to Bosaso in order to avoid foreign exchange regulations imposed by the self-proclaimed Somaliland government in the northwest. Livestock is normally driven from northeast Ethiopia to ports, and then shipped to Saudi Arabia. In 1998, Saudi Arabia imposed a 16-month ban on the import of livestock because of low health standards. Government revenues fell from $45 million to $25 million in that year. Although the ban was lifted in 1999, it was recently re-imposed in 2005 because of Rift Valley Fever concerns, severely hampering this sector. Remittances from Somalis working abroad constitute one of the Somalia's main sources of foreign exchange, reaching an estimated $500 million in 1999.


Since independence, Somalia has consistently had an unfavorable balance of payments on current accounts, caused by deficits of trade and invisible transactions. In the 1980s, Somalia depended on direct transfers and capital assistance from other governments, and became even more dependent after civil war and ensuing anarchy broke out in 1991. Economic aid reached $192 million in 1995. Total external debt in 2003 was estimated at $2.84 billion.


The Central Bank of Somalia, a government institution with branches in every region, controls the issue of currency and performs the central banking functions of the state. All banks were nationalized in 1970. The Central Bank was set up in 1960. The Commercial and Savings Bank, formed in 1975 from a merger of the National Commercial Bank and the Somali Savings and Credit Bank, was closed in June 1990. The Somali Development Bank was created in 1983, and the Commercial Bank of Somalia was opened in July 1990. The formal banking system no longer functions.

As of 1996, the Somali shilling was still widely in use despite the lack of a government to back the currency, which was holding its value because there were no new notes. In 1999, the mass distribution of counterfeit Somali shillings reduced the value of the shilling against the US dollar from 7.5 to 10,000. The exchange rate was at 2,600 in 2000. Four competing versions of the national currency were reported to be in circulation.

A new bank, the Barakat Bank of Somalia, was established in Mogadishu at the end of October 1996. Initially capitalized at $2 million, the bank intended to use the dollar as its working currency; and to specialize in small loans to Somali traders, foreign currency exchange, and currency transactions abroad. The bank aimed to establish a further 90 branches across the country.

There are no securities exchanges in Somalia.


A small number of European agencies which had acted as agents for foreign insurance companies were replaced by a state-owned insurance company, the National Insurance Co. of Somalia, in 1972.


The Somali budget has been in deficit since the early 1970s. Disintegration of the national economy since 1991 has led to relief and military intervention by the UN. No central government authority existed as of 2006, so there was no functioning system of civil administration to collect and disburse public finances.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that Somalia's total external debt was $3 billion.


Direct taxes are imposed on income and profits, when officials can collect them. In 1986, tax rates on wages and salaries ranged from 018.9%. Income from trade and the professions was taxed at rates of up to 35%. Indirect taxes are imposed on imports, exports, mortgages, vehicle registration, sugar, alcohol, and a number of other goods and services. In 2003, Somalia's sales tax rate was 10%.


Customs and duties are levied primarily to provide income for the state and to offer protection to local industries. Most duties are ad valorem and range from zero to 100%. Unspecified goods are dutiable at 25% ad valorem. A general sales tax of 10% for imported goods is also levied.


Civil strife and the lack of a central government have discouraged foreign investment. Although the UN and associated foreign governments spent $4 billion dollars to restore order to the country, no productive assets remained after their departure in 1995. The only economic spin-off appears to have been contracts issued to local companies to dispose of military debris and trash. Foreign investment in the late 1990s centered around the communications structure in mobile phone technology and energy creation, but continuation of political conflicts well into 2002 drove away investment. For the period 1997 to 2001, annual foreign direct investment (FDI) ranged from $1.1 million in 1997 to a negative divestment of -$800,000 in 1999. Across the five years, net FDI flows were barely positive, at $400,000. However the ongoing chaos and periodic violence in Somalia continue to be a major obstacle to FDI inflows. For example, in 2002, FDI inflows turned negative, offsetting the small momentum registered from the gains of 2000.


Successive Somali governments have sought to stimulate production in all sectors of agriculture, commerce, and industry. However, drought, inflation, civil strife, and the rise of oil prices have severely hampered these programs. Government priorities prior to the civil war included the expansion of the fishing fleet, food self-sufficiency based on the development of the Baardheere dam project, livestock breeding, and meat export programs, and transport and telecommunication improvements.

Clan warfare has left Somalia without a central government since 1991. Economic development at the beginning of the new millennium was expected to be devoted in large part to the rebuilding of the Somali civil administration. Despite a continuing lack of infrastructure in the early 2000s, domestic trade was thriving and the clan system had sufficiently organized the economic system to support the population. The ongoing civil disturbances and clan rivalries have interfered with any broad-based economic development and international aid arrangements. In 2004 and 2005 Somalia's overdue financial obligations to the IMF continued to grow. Experts agree that the return of peace and security to the whole country is essential for viable economic growth. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, the recent influx of armaments in 2005 indicated that increased stability is unlikely, which will further delay any significant resumption of large-scale assistance from the international community.


Since 1989, internal fighting and widespread drought conditions have severely disrupted government and its ability to provide social services. Private humanitarian agencies tried to fill the need but fighting, extortion, and the activities of armed factions and looters chased many of them away. The UN has also tried to help, but it too finds operations difficult. Somalia in effect has no national government, and current data for social services is unavailable.

Although the constitution prohibits discrimination based on sex or ethnicity, societal discrimination and violence against women and children are prevalent. Women play a subordinate role in Somalia's culture and politics. Polygyny is practiced and female genital mutilation is nearly universal. The punishment for murdering a women is half as severe as that for killing a man. Rape is a common occurrence.

Serious human rights violations included suppression of civil and political rights, disappearances, arbitrary detention, and harsh prison conditions. As of 2004, many civilians were still being killed in factional fighting.


In 1972, all health facilities and the services of all private medical personnel were placed under state control. Government policy was eventually to provide free medical treatment for all. One of the self-help projects instituted by the SRC was the construction of local clinics. As of 2004, it was estimated that there were fewer than 5 physicians per 100,000 people, and only 19 nurses, and fewer than one dentist or pharmacist per 100,000 population.

Somalia has a high incidence of tuberculosis, schistosomiasis, and pulmonary disturbances. Malaria and intestinal parasites are endemic. Serious dietary deficiencies are found, particularly in the north. Only 31% of the population had access to pure drinking water, which is rarely available outside the larger cities. Water outside these centers needs to be filtered, boiled, or chemically treated. Somalis, however, take few of these precautions. A very low 17% of the population had adequate sanitation, and only 27% had access to health care services.

As of 2002, the crude birth rate and overall mortality rate were estimated at, respectively, 46.8 and 18 per 1,000 people. Only 1% of married women (ages 15 to 49) have used contraception. Average life expectancy in 2005 was only 48.09 years and the infant mortality rate was 116.70 per 1,000 live births. The maternal mortality rate was a very high 1,100 per 100,000 live births in 1991.

Immunization rates for children up to one year old were: tuberculosis, 31%; diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, 18%; polio, 18%; and measles, 30%. The rates for DPT and measles were, respectively, 18% and 26%. The HIV/AIDS prevalence was 1.00 per 100 adults in 2003. As of 2004, there were approximately 43,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country.


According to the latest available information for 198088, the total number of housing units was 710,000 with 6.8 people per dwelling. However, year's of civil war and the 2004 tsunami took a toll on the nation's housing stock. The war caused internal migration and displacement to the extent that some areas are highly overpopulated while other neighborhoods have been abandoned. In 2005, it was estimated that about 85% of the total population was living in slums or partially destroyed housing. About 40 villages were damaged or destroyed by the tsunami of December 2004, which was generated by a massive earthquake in the Indian Ocean.

Development schemes aided by UN and foreign assistance programs have helped alleviate some housing shortages. Town planning and housing are under the jurisdiction of municipalities, and assistance is given by the central government only when it has approved a project submitted by the municipality. The typical Somali house is either a cylindrical hut with a conical thatched roof or a rectangular hut with an angular roof of thatch or metal.


Private schools were closed or nationalized in 1972 and all education was put under the jurisdiction of the central government. In 1975 primary education was made compulsory. A minimum of eight years of schooling at the primary level is mandatory; however, many prospective students, particularly among the nomadic population, cannot be accommodated. Secondary education lasts for four years.

Primary school enrollment in 1995 was estimated at less than 10% of age-eligible students. The same year, secondary school enrollment was at less than 6% of age-eligible students.

Mogadishu University is the primary source for higher education. All institutions at the higher level had 817 teachers and 15, 672 students in 1986. The adult literacy rate for 2001 was estimated at about 37.8%, with 49.7% for men and 25.8% for women.


The National Museum of Somalia in Mogadishu (3,000 volumes) maintains a highly specialized library dealing primarily with African and Somali culture, government, and history. The National Library, under the supervision of the of the Ministry of Higher Education and Culture, has 9,000 volumes, and the Somali Institute of Public Administration also has a book collection; both are in Mogadishu. The Amoud University Library has about 65,000 volumes. The National Museum in Mogadishu is a restored residence of the viceroy of the sultan of Zanzibar. Besides its comprehensive collection of Somali ethnographic material, the museum has local art objects, fossils, and old coins.


In 2003, there were an estimated ten mainline telephones for every 1,000 people. The same year, there were approximately three mobile phones in use for every 1,000 people.

The transitional government operates Radio Mogadishu. There are several privately owned radio and television stations, many of which are local or regional in range. Most of the country can receive transmissions from British Broadcasting. In 2001, there were three main television stations, two in Mogadishu and one if Hargeisa. In 2003, there were 60 radios and 14 television sets for every 1,000 people. The same year, about nine of every 1,000 people had access to the Internet. There were four Internet hosts in 2004.

In 2004, there were two daily newspapers, one government and one independent. There was also an English language weekly newspaper. And several other small weekly papers. Freedom of speech and the press are severely limited, according to reports. Factional infighting creates an atmosphere of mistrust, and media representatives such as comedians, actors, and journalists have been arrested, detained, or otherwise harassed. Most news comes from foreign broadcasts.


Private organizations that existed in the 1960s have largely been replaced by government-sponsored groups. Among party-controlled groups are the Union of Somali Cooperatives Movement, the Somali Women's Democratic Organization, and the Somali Revolutionary Youth Organization.

There are active sports associations promoting amateur competitions among athletes of all ages in pastimes such as squash, tennis, badminton, dance sport, and weightlifting; some of these, such as the Somalia Football Federation, are affiliated with international organizations as well.

Volunteer service organizations, such as the Lions Clubs International, are also present. There is a national chapter of the Red Crescent Society.


Somalia's modest tourist industry has declined since the civil war began in 1991. Every person entering Somalia is required to have a valid passport and a proper visa. An official certificate showing immunization against yellow fever is necessary if traveling from an infected area.

Before the war, Somalia offered lovely beaches, excellent diving, and numerous species of East African wildlife.


The most important historical figure in Somali history is Muhammad 'Abdallah bin Hasan (known popularly in English literature as the "Mad Mullah"). He was born about 1860 and during his youth devoted himself to religious studies. In August 1899, with his followers of the Salihiyyah confraternity, he declared a holy war against the British, Italians, and Ethiopians. His resistance to the British lasted until his death in November 1920. Muhammad, also known as one of Somalia's greatest poets, was the first to call for Somali unity. Other important historical figures include Sharif Abu Bakr bin 'Abdallah al-'Aydarus (d.1503), who founded the Qadiriyyah confraternity in the Somali region; Sheikh 'Ali Maye Durogba of Marka (d.1917), who founded the Ahmadiyyah sect in Somalia; and Sheikh Muhammad Guled (d.1918), who started the Salihiyyah sect in Somalia.

'Abdullahi 'Issa Mohamed (b.1921) was prime minister during the Italian trusteeship administration (195660) and was Somalia's first foreign minister. Aden 'Abdullah Osman Daar (b.1908) is regarded as the Somali most responsible for bringing about the transition of the Somali territory from dependence to independence; he was the nation's first president. Abdirashid 'Ali Shermarke (191969) was Somalia's first prime minister after independence and the nation's second president. He was assassinated on 15 October 1969 by a member of his bodyguard. Maj. Gen. Jalle Mohamed Siad Barre (192195) was the leader of the bloodless coup that took over the government six days later and established the SRC. He subsequently became president of the Somali Democratic Republic. Mohamed 'Ali Samatar (b.1931), first vice-president and minister of defense, became prime minister in 1986. Mohammed Farah Aidid (193496) was the clan leader that gained control over much of Somalia during the civil war. His son, Hussein Aidid (b.1962), a former US marine, took over after his death. Abdiqasim Salad Hassan (b.1941) was recognized as president in exile in Djibouti in 2000, serving until 2004. In October of that year, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed (b.1934) was named the transitional president of Somalia. Osman Hasan Ali (b.1950) became famous as the wealthy financier of clan militias during the civil war.


Somalia has no territories or colonies.


Abdullahi, Mohamed Diriye. Culture and Customs of Somalia. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2001.

Besteman, Catherine and Lee V. Cassanelli, eds. The Struggle for Land in Southern Somalia: The War Behind the War. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1996.

Clarke, Walter S. and Jeffrey Ira Herbst, eds. Learning from Somalia: The Lessons of Armed Humanitarian Intervention. Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1997.

Mohamoud, Abdullah A. State Collapse and Post-Conflict Development in Africa: The Case of Somalia (19602001). West Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue University Press, 2006.

Mubarak, Jamil Abdalla. From Bad Policy to Chaos in Somalia: How an Economy Fell Apart. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1996.

Mukhtar, Mohamed Haji. Historical Dictionary of Somalia. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow, 2003.

Nnoromele, Salome. Somalia. San Diego, Calif.: Lucent, 2000.

Woodward, Peter. The Horn of Africa: Politics and International Relations. New York: I.B. Tauris, 2003.

Zeilig, Leo and David Seddon. A Political and Economic Dictionary of Africa. Philadelphia: Routledge/Taylor and Francis, 2005.

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Republic of Somalia

Major City:

Other Cities:
Berbera, Hargeisa, Kismayu, Marka


This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report for Somalia. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at for the most recent information available on travel to this country.


Editors Note: From 1989 to press time a brutal civil war rages in Somalia leaving the country with no national government. The capital city of Mogadishu is badly damaged. Since 1992, the U.S. State Department has considered the situation in Somalia to be extremely dangerous. Rival factions continue to fight for control of the country, causing widespread destruction, famine, and death. On December 9, 1992, former President George Bush announced that U.S. troops would be sent to Somalia as part of Operation Restore Hope, an international effort designed to insure that food supplies would be able to reach Somalia's starving population. US forces were reduced in May 1993 and reconstruction work was assumed by the United Nations. UN-sponsored peace talks failed to stop the warring factions. In 1994 the UN redefined its role in Somalia to be less assertive. The United Nations completed its troop withdrawal in March 1995. With the departure of the UN, the country split into zones controlled by the various warlord factions. Most sections of this entry reflect the conditions in Somalia prior to the outbreak of hostilities.

Once known as the Land of Punt, SOMALIA has a rich and ancient history. Famed for its frankincense and myrrh (which it still exports), Somalia today is better known for its pastoral economy, its nomadic population, and its important place in the strategic Horn of Africa.

Somalia possesses beautiful white sand beaches bathed by the waters of the Indian Ocean. Traveling along the coast, one is struck by the stark beauty of the countryside, and the harsh but picturesque desert landscapes.

The coastal cities, in particular, reveal a long contact with foreign influences. Travelers from the Arabian Peninsula, Pakistan, India, and even China, called at the capital city hundreds of years before the Portuguese arrived early in the 16th century. Many old mosques, houses, and intricately carved doors and windows reflect the various cultures which have touched this country.

Before the outbreak of hostilities a favorable social climate existed toward Americans. It was possible to meet and socialize with Somalis and to travel, within limits, within the country.



Mogadishu is Somalia's capital and largest city. It lies on the Indian Ocean about two degrees north of the equator. It extends approximately four miles along the sea and a mile inland on a line of dunes 100 to 200 feet high. Beyond the city limits, the countryside is flat and barren, with vegetation consisting of bushes and thorn trees, and occasional seasonal grassy areas. The prevailing tone of the countryside is a desert gray much of the year, but it turns green during the two to five months of the rainy season.

Mogadishu's rapidly expanding population is estimated to be about 1.2 million. This figure includes a large Yemeni community, and smaller groups of Italians, Indians, and Pakistanis. The largest diplomatic missions in the city are those of Italy, the U.S., and the People's Republic of China. There is also a large United Nations Development Program (UNDP) mission in the city, in addition to several volunteer agencies working under the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Among other foreign agencies engaged in developmental work or assistance in Mogadishu are Africare, OXFAM (Oxford Committee for Famine Relief), Finnish Medical Aid, and the University of Saskatchewan.

New visitors to the city can visit a camel's milk market or the Lido Market where meerschaum craftsmen and straw weavers ply their trades. Hamarweyn is the core of the old city and the location of the Bendair weavers. The National Museum displays past and present items of Somali folk culture.

From the time of its founding by Arab colonists in the eighth century, Mogadishu was an independent town until its occupation in 1871 by the Sultan of Zanzibar. Italy leased its port late in that century, and in 1905, purchased the town and made it the capital of what was then Italian Somaliland. The influence of the Italians remains to this day, and is noticed especially in the use of that language in all walks of official, business, and domestic life.


The American School of Mogadishu was organized as a cooperative venture in 1959, and has a student body in kindergarten through grade eight. The campus is located on the western edge of the city on Afgoi Road, and the buildings include classroom wings, a gymnasium, a 6,000-volume library, and offices. Extensive playing fields surround the school and often are used by community organizations as well as by the students. The present building was started in 1965, and was completed with the help of Agency for International Development (AID) and U.S. State Department grants.

American School offers a fine opportunity to study with an international student body in small and personalized classes; average class size is 20 for grades one through four, and 15 for grades five through eight. Subjects are departmentalized in grades seven and eight. American textbooks and materials are used, and the curriculum is comparable to that offered by schools in the U.S. The school's sports program includes swimming instruction for about eight weeks a year at the nearby International Golf and Tennis Club. Information on the academic program can be obtained by writing to the American Embassy in Mogadishu.

The director and deputy director, both with teaching spouses, are recruited from the U.S., as are two other teaching couples. Other teachers are recruited locally. Most of the present staff is American. The school has been able to provide qualified teachers in every grade and academic standards are high. Students with special learning needs are not accepted due to the lack of trained staff. Accreditation was granted by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools in March 1985.

Emphasis is placed on training the staff in U.S. educational methods and practices. Grades one through eight meet from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., five days a week, Sunday through Thursday. Kindergarten and pre-school hours are 7:30 to 11:30 a.m.

Kindergarten pupils must be four years and nine months old by September, while preschoolers must be three years and nine months old by September of the year of admission. A record of immunization and a birth certificate are required for admission to all grades.

There is no provision for students at the secondary level, and they must attend boarding schools in Europe or the U.S., although limited possibilities for high school exist in Kenya.


The principal outdoor activities in Somalia are swimming, sunbathing, snorkeling, jogging, fishing, tennis, golf, volleyball, badminton, softball, boating, and camping. Spectator sports include soccer and basketball. The Mogadishu Hash House Harriers hold a cross-country run every Sunday afternoon. The Golf and Tennis Club, located in the American Embassy compound and managed by the Recreation and Welfare Association, has a nine-hole sand golf course, four cement-sur-face tennis courts, a large swimming pool with adjacent children's wading pool, and a snack bar.

Mogadishu has good beaches and an abundance of sunshine. Lido, the main city beach, is not used by Americans for swimming because of the shark hazard; The beaches south of town are used mainly for picnics and camping. During much of the year, snorkeling and spearfishing are popular activities. The best snorkeling is at Gezira, a beach area about 10 miles southwest of Mogadishu. A few small sailboats and windsurfers are seen there inside the reef during the quiet season.

The Anglo-American Beach Club and the U.N. Beach Club at Lido Beach are open to the international community. Each clubhouse contains a social room, bar, restaurant, changing and shower rooms, and a sun deck. Circolo Italiano, also at Lido, is a private club offering recreational and cultural activities to its members, mainly from the Italian community.

Besides Lido and Gezira beaches, many other beaches and coves are found up and down the coast. These areas are pleasant for picnicking and camping, but are accessible only by four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Although an environmental or climatic change in or near Mogadishu is impossible, short and interesting side trips may be taken to the sugar plantation and refinery at Johar; the ancient port of Marka; the nearby beaches at Gezira, Warsheikh, and Shark's Bay; the birding area beyond Balad; and the hippo pools between Shalambod and Janale. The nearest place offering a change is Nairobi (Kenya) and its surrounding countryside. There, all the amenities of a modern city can be found, and the environs offer a lush countryside and exciting game reserves.

Outside of Mogadishu, Kismayu, Shalambod, and Hargeisa, few hotels and restaurants exist. When traveling to outlying towns and villages, it is necessary to take food, water, and camping equipment, unless arrangements can be made to stay with someone. Travel overland is restricted during the rainy season, as roads become impassable even for four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Somalia has a wealth of big game and smaller wild animals, although numbers and ranges have been greatly reduced in the last 50 years. Monkeys, hippopotami, elephants, giraffes, rhinoceri, buffaloes, and zebras are found in the southwestern part of the country. Hippos and crocodiles can be found along the Juba and Shabelli Rivers. Antelope, gazelle, kudu, and oryx range throughout the country. Dik-dik and waterbuck are limited to the southwest, and the hartebeest inhabits the Haud in the northeast. Warthogs, dik-dik, monkeys, hippos, and Speakes gazelles (limited to Somalia) can be seen near Mogadishu.

Bird life is profuse and spectacular throughout the country. Waterbirds, including ducks, geese, pelicans, flamingos, cormorants, storks, and osprey, are particularly numerous. Migratory birds from Asia Minor, Europe, and the eastern Mediterranean have winter quarters in Somalia. The ostrich is common in the open plain.


Theater, concerts, opera, and television are not a part of life in Mogadishu. Several local outdoor movie houses show dated films in Italian, Hindi, or Arabic, but most Americans do not frequent these theaters. The French and Italian cultural centers offer regular programs of their films, often with English subtitles.

Social activities among Americans and other expatriates in Mogadishu are relaxed and informal. The American School, its Parent-Teacher Association, the Recreation and Welfare Club, and various other clubs make important contributions to the community's social life. Governed by elected boards, each of these organizations welcomes willing workers and leadership. An amateur dramatics society meets regularly to read plays and give productions. Opportunities for volunteer work are few, but do exist. A sewing group meets weekly to make clothing for a local orphanage. Girl Guide and Boy Scout troops have been formed.


Rich in history, BERBERA was once the Muslim settlement of the state of Adal. Later it was ruled by the Portuguese in 1518, the sharifs of Mocha in the 17th century, and the Egyptians from 1875 until the British took control in 1884. It was the British Somaliland capital until 1941. Due to improved ports, Berbera now exports sheep, hides and skins, gum arabic, myrrh, and frankincense. Some of its 213,000 residents migrate during the hot season to the Ogo Highlands. Berbera is the site of a naval and missile base that was built by the former Soviet Union. The city is situated in northwestern Somalia on the Gulf of Aden.

HARGEISA , with a population of about 231,000 (2002 est.), is a major watering and trading center for nomadic stock herders. The city exports skins, meat, and livestock via Berbera. There is an international airport and a public library in Hargeisa. Hargeisa sustained heavy damage during the civil war. Most of the town was reduced to rubble, and most of the population fled.

Located in southern Somalia near the mouth of the Juba River, KISMAYU is an important seaport. The city was founded in 1872 by the sultan of Zanzibar and taken over by the British in 1887. The city has a large meat-processing plant. Kismayu's estimated population in 2002 was 201,000.

MARKA (also spelled Merca and Merka) is located in southern Somalia on the Indian Ocean. It is nearly 50 miles southwest of Mogadishu. The city was founded by either Arab or Persian traders in the 10th century. The major export is bananas; during the 17th century, trade included slaves, cattle, and ivory. The population is estimated at 173,000.


Geography and Climate

The Republic of Somalia comprises the perimeter of the Horn of Africa, the easternmost point of the continent. It is bounded on the north by the Republic of Djibouti and the Gulf of Aden; on the east and southeast by the Indian Ocean; on the south and southwest by Kenya; and on the west by Ethiopia. The country extends about 1,000 miles along the Indian Ocean, 600 miles along the Gulf of Aden, and about 200 miles inland. The total area is about 246,300 square milesroughly the size of Texas. It is generally flat country in the south, with few areas rising over 1,000 feet. Much of the northern region is plateau, with altitudes reaching 3,000 to 4,000 feet, and occasionally rising to peaks of almost 8,000 feet. Southern Somalia is traversed by two rivers which flow toward the sea from Ethiopia. The Juba flows into the Indian Ocean near the port of Kismayu, and the Shebelli disappears into a marshland near the sea about 200 miles southwest of Mogadishu.

Located two degrees north of the equator, Somalia's climate is tropical, but arid. The year is divided into four seasons: two wet and two dry. The major rainy season, called the Gu, is from late April to late June. It is followed by a dry season, the Haggai, which lasts until late August or early September. The minor rainy season, the Der, generally begins at that time and continues until early December. It is followed by the major dry season, the Jilal, which lasts until the onset of the major rains. Annual rainfall in Mogadishu averages 15 inches. Shade temperatures in Mogadishu seldom exceed 90°F, and generally drop to the mid-70s at night throughout the year. Alternating northwest and southwest monsoon winds blow for most of the year, creating a moderating effect. From mid-December to mid-February, strong wind blows the fine sands about freely. Humidity in Mogadishu averages 80 percent year round. In the interior, the winds are warmer, temperatures higher, and humidity lower. Daylight is usually from about 6 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. throughout the year.


Somalia's population was estimated at 7.5 million (2001). In addition, hundreds of thousands of ethnic Somalis live outside the country, mainly in the Ogaden and Hararghe areas of Ethiopia, but also in the Republic of Djibouti, and in northeastern Kenya. Somalia's annual growth rate is 3.48 percent (2001 est.).

The origin of the Somalis is unknown, but some ethnologists have speculated that they are a mixture of Arabic and African peoples. Their language, which is Cushitic, belongs to the large African-Asian group which includes the Hamitic and Semitic languages. The Somalis settled in what is now Somalia in the relatively recent past, having replaced the Oromo, who had driven out the Bantu peoples. Vestiges of the Oromo and Bantu can still be found in the country. Somalia is a rarity in the African continent, with its common ethnic heritage, culture, religion, and language.

The Somali are generally classified in six major-clan families: the Dir, Hawiya, Darod, Digil, Issak, and Rahanwein. The Digil and Rahanwein are usually found only between the Juba and Shebelli Rivers; those of the other major groups live throughout the country, and in Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Kenya.

Somalis are generally tall and slender, with fine features. They are known for their intense pride, quick minds, and good sense of humor. The men usually wear either Western dress or the colorful sarong-type garment called a ma'awis. The women, who have considerably more freedom than those in many other Muslim countries, wear long, colorful dresses; sometimes young teenagers in town wear slacks. The nomadic Somali wears a two-piece cloth garment that resembles a toga.

The Muslim faith is the state religion, and most Somalis (99 percent) are members of the Sunni sect of Islam.

Traditionally, the majority of Somalis (70 percent or higher) are nomadic or semi-nomadic pastoralists. About 30 percent are settled agriculturalists. There are very few skilled laborers in a work force that numbers nearly 3.7 million.


Until January 1991, Somalia was ruled by Mohammed Siad Barre. Barre, who seized control of Somalia after a 1969 military coup, ruled the country as a dictator. All political parties, except Barre's Somali Revolutionary Socialist Party (SRSP) were banned, political opponents was arrested, and the press tightly controlled. According to several international human-rights organizations, the Barre dictatorship was one of the cruelest regimes on the African continent.

In 1989, a rebel group known as the Somali National Movement (SNM) launched an offensive against government forces in northwestern areas of the country. At roughly the same time two other rebel groups, the United Somali Congress (USC) and the Somali Patriotic Movement (SPM) launched attacks against Barre's troops in central and southern parts of the country respectively. Fighting between the rebel groups and government forces continued throughout Somalia, with the rebels steadily gaining the upper hand. By late December 1990, the rebel groups had completely surrounded Mogadishu. Barre, however, refused to give up his hold on power. In early January 1991, the rebel groups entered Mogadishu. For nearly four weeks, the rebel forces and troops loyal to Barre waged a vicious battle for control of the capital. Much of the city sustained very heavy damage and thousands of civilians were killed. On January 27, Barre fled the city in a tank convoy. The next day a member of the United Somali Congress (USC), Ali Mahdi Mohammed, was named interim president. Mahdi quickly promised that a democratic system of government would be formed and multi-party elections held at a later date.

Despite the removal of Siad Barre, peace did not return to Somalia. The two rebel groups who had fought alongside the USC, the Somali National Movement and Somali Patriotic Movement, refused to accept Mahdi's authority. Both groups were angry that the USC would form an interim government without first consulting them. Bloody battles quickly erupted between the three rebel groups in Mogadishu. The violence between these rival factions soon spread to other parts of Somalia.

Somalia has virtually no working government, police force, or army that can restore order and control the countries warring factions. Mogadishu, the scene of bloody clan fighting, was divided between two rival warlords. Northern portions of Mogadishu were controlled by force loyal to Ali Mahdi. Mogadishu's southern regions were in the hands of supporters of Gen. Mohammed Aidid. Several United Nations-brokered cease-fire attempts in 1992 failed to hold. The break down in law and order and the wealth of available weapons led to a proliferation of heavily armed groups of bandits. These gangs roamed Mogadishu and the country at will, robbing and killing innocent people and ambushing convoys of international food relief destined for Somalia's starving people. As a result, the number of Somalians dying from hunger and disease increased dramatically.

On December 9, 1992, former President George Bush announced that American troops would join an international relief effort to feed Somalia's people. The American troops arrived in Somalia and were warmly received by the Somalis. The troops provided protection for convoys of food and medical relief and established law and order in Mogadishu and several other cities. Food relief convoys were soon able to reach famine relief centers set up by international relief organizations. The number of Somalis dying from hunger and disease decreased after the arrival of American and international troops. American and international troops also captured large amounts of weaponry and disarmed many bandits.

In early 1993, representatives from all of Somalia's warring factions met in Ethiopia. After much discussion, a cease-fire agreement was signed. However, 23 Pakistani soldiers were killed in an ambush in June 1993 and 18 US Army Rangers were killed in October 1993. Subsequent UN-sponsored peace talks failed. In 1994 the UN redefined its role in Somalia to be less assertive. The United Nations completed its troop withdrawal in March 1995. With the departure of the UN, the country split into zones controlled by the various warlord factions.

A transitional government was established in October 2000. Abdiqasim Salad Hassan was appointed president by the interim parliament. A new constitution is to be created and elections are to be held before 2004.

The Somali flag is light blue, with a five-pointed white star in the center.

Arts, Science, Education

A rich oral literature and poetry has traditionally been the most important means of artistic expression among the Somalis. A Latin script adopted for the language in 1972 has made it possible for much of this literature to be preserved, and has encouraged new forms of literary expression. Unfortunately, few new literary works are being published in Somalia.

All private schools were nationalized in 1972 and education is now tuition-free. Formal education is being geared to the country's technical and economic needs. Plans are underway to create comprehensive training centers in 10 regions for nomads. United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is assisting with the development of a national library system.

Local handicrafts are limited, although wood, ivory, and meerschaum carvings, attractive basketry, and a great variety of beautiful shells are available. Tie-dyed cotton cloth is locally made, inexpensive, and useful. Handmade gold and silver jewelry is also for sale, but is not the bargain it once was.

Somalia has an ancient weaving tradition, Some 450 weavers in five major communities along the Benadir coast from Hamarweyn to Brava still produce intricate patterns in narrow cotton fabric. At one time, the coast supported as many as 2,000 weavers who carried on a lively barter trade up and down the east coast of Africa and inland as far as Sudan. The industry was dealt a severe blow in the mid-1800s by the arrival of cheaply produced cloth from America.

In 1972, Somali became the country's sole official language. Nevertheless, English is used predominantly in diplomatic circles and, in Mogadishu, Italian is still the second language. Often, the Italian spelling of the city's name, Mogadiscio, is seen. Arabic, the second official language, is spoken by many Somalis and is taught in the schools from early grades through high school.

In 1990, an estimated 24 percent (male 36%, female 14%) of Somalis age 15 and over could read and write.

Commerce and Industry

Somalia is one of the world's poorest and least-developed countries. Since 1990, the economy has been in shambles, the consequence of drought and protracted civil war. Continued fighting and lack of central authority prevent significant improvements in economic conditions. The country's economy is heavily dependent on agriculture, which accounts for roughly 65 percent of export earnings. Subsistence agriculture predominates in Somalia, with corn, sorghum, and sugarcane grown for domestic consumption. Bananas are the primary export crop. Livestock such as camels, cattle, sheep, and goats are an important economic commodity. Most of the livestock is raised by nomads or semi-nomads, which comprise more than half of the population. The major agricultural region is in the south, particularly in the area between the Juba and Shebelli Rivers. A considerable amount of irrigation occurs along the two rivers, although the Shebelli dries up during the longer of two dry seasons.

Somalia's industrial sector is extremely small and contributes less than 10 percent of GDP most industries are involved in meat and fish processing, sugar refining, textiles and leather goods, and fruit and vegetable canning. Many factories have closed down due to the ongoing civil strife.

Gypsum, feldspar, columbite, iron, sepiolite, and salt deposits exist. Except for salt and gypsum, much of Somalia's mineral resources remain unexploited. Potential oil and gas reserves have been located in northern parts of the country and near Mogadishu. However, these sources are currently untapped.

Livestock, hides and skins, bananas, and fish are Somalia's primary export products. Most of these products are imported by Saudi Arabia, Italy, and Yemen. Somalia imports large quantities of textiles, petroleum products, foodstuffs, transport equipment, and construction materials. Major suppliers of these products are Saudi Arabia, Italy, the United States, Germany, France, and Great Britain.

Somalia's economy is devastated as a result of the 1991 civil war. As of July 1992, the situation in the country was extremely bleak. Because of drought and widespread destruction in agricultural areas, millions of Somalis face starvation. International relief efforts have been severely hampered by continued fighting among various armed factions and banditry.

The Chamber of Commerce in Somalia is at P.O. Box 27, Mogadishu.


All travelers to Somalia arrive by air; the most commonly used routes are the two flights a week via Frankfurt and two via Nairobi. Somali Airlines flies to Rome, Frankfurt, Nairobi, Cairo, Jeddah, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Djibouti, and Moroni. Saudi Airlines flies to Jeddah; Kenya flies to Nairobi; Djibouti Airlines flies to Djibouti. The most reliable connecting flights to major European cities are available through Nairobi or Frankfurt. Flight schedules are subject to immediate changes.

No regularly scheduled passenger ship service is available to Mogadishu. Hard-surfaced roads within the country are limited to a major north-south system, and a few others to larger towns.

The capital city swarms with red and yellow Fiat taxis, which have neither meters nor fixed rates. Bargaining for a rate must be done at the outset. Mogadishu's public bus system is unsatisfactory for regular use.

Most persons find a car essential. Only occasionally can a good used car be found for purchase from another American, or from a member of the international community. A small European vehicle is the most practical for city use, but for driving outside of Mogadishu other than on main roads or to the beaches south and north of town, a four-wheel-drive is preferable. Service is spotty, and parts are in short supply for almost any vehicle, American or foreign, so it is necessary to assemble a supply of spare parts before moving to Somalia.

No unleaded gasoline is available and the overall quality of gasoline is poor. Due to the poor condition of roads and the presence of potholes, a car with a heavy duty suspension system is essential. The main streets in Mogadishu itself are paved, but side streets are a combination of loose sand and rock.

A valid U.S. or international driver's license is needed to obtain a Somali license. Only those 18 and older are eligible under Somali law.


Mogadishu has an automatic, but capricious, telephone system. Service is generally limited to the city proper. Long-distance calls may be placed at any time to Europe or the U.S. by booking them at the Ministry of Posts and Telegraphs. These calls are much more expensive than if booked in the reverse direction. Since all existing internal lines are in use, obtaining a residential telephone is nearly impossible.

The Ministry of Posts and Telegraphs also provides a wireless telegraph service daily to Europe and the U.S., via Rome, from 7 p.m. to 11 a.m. Telex service is available in Mogadishu at the Croce del Sud Hotel and at the American Embassy.

International postal service is limited. Airmail to or from the U.S. takes a minimum of 10 days to two weeks.

Somalia has two radio stations, Radio Mogadishu and Radio Hargeisa, both run by the Ministry of Information and National Guidance. Radio Mogadishu broadcasts 18 hours daily in Somali and Arabic. Thirty-minute foreign-language broadcasts, on the 49 SW band, include English, French, Swahili, Italian, Amharic, Afar, and Oromo. English broadcasts can be heard from 3 to 3:30 p.m. Somali TV, inaugurated in 1983, transmits daily in Somali and Arabic from 8 to 10 p.m., using the European PAL signal. Shortwave radio reception ranges from poor to good. Voice of America (VOA) and British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) are usually strong during early morning and evening. A good shortwave radio is the best source of current news.

The principal locally printed news source for expatriates is the Somali National News Agency (SONNA) bulletin, which offers local and international news summaries in English. Time and Newsweek, a few other English-language periodicals, and a variety of Italian publications are usually available about five to seven days late. Newsstand prices are high, however. Several expatriates subscribe to the International Herald Tribune, which arrives anywhere from two to 20 days late. Only a few local bookstores, which sell mostly used books, operate in Mogadishu.


For illnesses requiring hospitalization, surgery, complicated diagnostic facilities, or drugs, most Westerners go to Nairobi; serious cases are sent to Europe.

Dental care is virtually nonexistent. All dental programs should be taken care of before leaving home.

As a general rule, local pharmacies cannot be depended on to provide adequate service. Patent medicines and current prescriptions should be kept in three-month supply. A copy of one's eyeglass prescription is a must, since replacing glasses in Somalia is difficult, expensive, and time-consuming. Glasses can be made in Nairobi at a price and quality comparable to those in the U.S.

Generally, most Westerners staying in Mogadishu enjoy good health. However, many diseases affect the local population, and the incidence of tuberculosis, syphilis, bilharzia, dengue fever, measles, polio, and malaria is high. With proper health precautions, few resident foreigners are affected by serious diseases; intestinal upsets (diarrhea, amoebic dysentery, or other parasitic infections) are the greatest risk. Fungus and skin infections, including boils and prickly heat, are quite common, particularly during the hot seasons. High humidity also can cause discomfort to those susceptible to sinus ailments or to neuromuscular complaints, such as rheumatism and neuralgia.

Public sanitation practices are not up to U.S. standards, but the hazards are lessened to some degree by the hot African sun and the porous desert sand. Since no sewage disposal system exists, septic tanks are used in most Western-style homes. Flies, ants, mosquitoes, and cockroaches are numerous, especially during the rainy season. While the great numbers of lizards in all households may help to reduce the insect population, householders still need an ample supply of bug sprays in Somalia. In public eating places, food handling and serving standards are poor, and dishes and utensils are usually washed in cold water.

The required immunizations for Americans are those for yellow fever and cholera. Tetanus, polio, and typhoid immunizations should be up-to-date; gamma globulin is recommended every four months. Although Mogadishu is generally malaria free, some nearby areas have malaria cases. Therefore, it is necessary to take suppressants at least one to two weeks before arriving in Mogadishu, during the entire stay, and for at least six weeks after leaving.

Bilharzia (schistosomiasis) is an endemic disease contracted from fresh water where disease-carrying snails breed. Swimming in rivers or lakes is not safe.

The almost constant wind and fine-blowing sand may cause some difficulty for contact lens wearers.

Clothing and Services

Wash-and-wear fabrics are popular among Westerners because of the ease of care, but many are now finding that pure cotton is more comfortable in the heat and humidity. A good supply of all clothing should be included in one's initial wardrobe, since frequent laundering and drying in the sun causes garments to wear out quickly. Sandals are practical for everyday wear, and thong-type sandals manufactured locally are attractive and inexpensive. Some warmer clothing may be needed for trips to Kenya, northern Somalia, or (in the case of a long business assignment in the country) to Europe.

Summer clothing is suitable year round. Standard dress for the office (for men) is lightweight slacks with open-neck, short-sleeved shirts or bush shirts. Sport shirts are worn for most informal evening gatherings; lightweight suits are needed occasionally for special functions. Dinner jackets or tuxedos are never required. Shorts are not worn as street attire, but may be worn jogging, on the beach or tennis courts, or at home.

Women wear dresses of lightweight fabrics, either sleeveless or with short sleeves, for business or other daytime activities. In the evening, either long or short dresses are acceptable. Shorts are not worn as street attire, but are suitable for the beach or tennis courts. Bare sun-dresses often are worn to functions where Somalis are not present. A hat is never needed, except for protection from the sun; scarves are useful in the strong wind. Sometimes the evenings are cool enough for a sweater or a stole. Most women find slacks and hosiery too warm for the climate.

Children spend much of their time outdoors. Their play clothes should be of lightweight material, and they will need several extra bathing suits and beach towels. Sneakers or sandals are usually worn. Jeans, of course, are a favorite with older children.

A variety of local food is available, although with seasonal limitations. Local meats include fair-to-good quality beef, camel, goat, and lamb. Local chickens and small birds are little and tough, but, properly cooked, can be tasty. Pork products are unavailable locally. A variety of fish is sold throughout the year at reasonable prices. Many local species are delicious. Lobster is a seasonal delicacy, obtainable according to biological cycles and the weather, but it can be frozen and is one of the pleasures of life in Mogadishu. Good smoked fish is also available seasonally.

Bananas, limes, grapefruit, and papayas are excellent and sold year round. Good mangos and water-melon are available seasonally. Locally grown vegetables include tomatoes, spinach, lettuce, radishes, potatoes, green beans, peppers, eggplant, zucchini, and parsley. Some are seasonal.

Some pasta is produced locally, but most other foods on the local market, including rice, cheese, processed meats, and canned foods, are imported at high prices from Italy, Kenya, China, and Eastern Europe. Mogadishu has a local dairy, but health standards are questionable, and all fresh milk must be boiled. Powdered whole milk for infants is sold in local shops, but is expensive and may have spent considerable time on the shelf.

Mogadishu has shoe repair shops, a dry cleaner/laundry, and radio and auto repair shops. The quality of dry cleaning is mediocre and prices are high. Washable clothing is more practical, since laundry usually is done by household servants. Appliance repairs and service on American cars are often unsatisfactory. Adequate automobile service facilities (and authorized dealers for American vehicle parts) do not exist. Fiat, Toyota, and Land Rover parts are sometimes available, and always expensive.

Tailoring services are mediocre because tailors lack quality material; most men use tailors only for alterations, but one or two tailors in Mogadishu do adequate work on women's clothing. Some can make copies of dresses in simple patterns. Fabrics, designs, and cuts do not compare with American ready-to-wear clothing. Tailors can also make simple drapes and slip-covers, but notions (drapery hooks, curtain rings, and bindings) are usually not available and, if available, are expensive.

Beauty and barber services are found in town.


As of January 1991, the Department of State was advising all U.S. citizens to avoid all travel to Somalia indefinitely. Hostilities can break out at any time. All U.S. government employees and dependents were evacuated from Somalia and our Embassy there was closed on January 5, 1991. Under the circumstances, the United States Government is unable to offer American citizens in Somalia any type of assistance and protection.

Authorized air routes from the U.S. are London/Nairobi/Mogadishu, Frankfurt/Mogadishu, Rome/Mogadishu, and Frankfurt/Nairobi/Mogadishu. Somali and Kenya Airways each fly from Nairobi to Mogadishu once a week.

A visa, valid passport, and a record of inoculations against cholera and yellow fever are required to enter Somalia. If a visa has not been obtained beforehand in the U.S., it can be applied for at the Somali Embassy either in Rome or Nairobi. The Kenyans also issue visas at Nairobi Airport for incoming tourists. At least 24 photos are needed for the various local forms and visa applications.

Household pets may be imported to Somalia but, because of cargo limitations, it is better to take the animal as accompanied baggage. Dogs and cats must have rabies inoculation certificates signed by a licensed veterinarian, and stamped by the municipality or state, confirming that the animal is free from infectious disease, and that the area of origin has been rabies-free for at least six months. Satisfactory kenneling is available at Nairobi for transiting animals. Mogadishu is a reasonably healthy place for pets; however, during certain seasons, ticks and fleas are endemic. Owners are advised to have an ample supply of appropriate medications, as veterinary service and supplies are limited.

Special note: Muslim doctrine prohibits contact with dogs, and Somalis are generally unfriendly to them. Dogs must be restrained in public places, or when Somali guests are present. Servants working in the American community usually tolerate dogs, although they do not particularly like them.

As a general rule, no weapons should be taken to Somalia. Rare exceptions are made.

Mogadishu has Roman Catholic churches but, except for two English-language masses a week, all masses are in Italian. A service is held on Saturday at 6:15 p.m. at the Sacred Heart Church (at Fiat Circle) and on Sunday at 5:15 p.m. at the Cathedral. An interdenominational Protestant service is held once a week on Saturday evening in one of the Catholic churches.

The time in Somalia is Greenwich Mean Time plus three.

The currency is the Somali shilling, written So. Shs. The units are shillings and centesimi : 100 centesimi equal one shilling. All banks in the country are nationalized. The Somali Commercial and Savings Bank currently has five branches in Mogadishu, one in Hargeisa, and others in smaller cities; these branches, however, do not accept personal dollar checks unless an account is maintained with the bank.

Somalia uses the metric system of weights and measures.

The U.S. Embassy in Somalia is located on Corso Primo Luglio, Mogadishu. Note: The American Embassy in Somalia was closed on January 5, 1991, due to deteriorating conditions in the country. The embassy has not been reopened.


May 1 Labor Day

June 26 Independence Day (Northern Region)

July 1 Independence Day (Southern Region)

Oct. 21 Revolution Day


Id al-Fitr*

Id al-Adah*

Mawlid an Nabi*



The following titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country:

Baez, Joan, Sr. One Bowl of Porridge: Memoirs of Somalia. Santa Barbara. CA: J Daniel, 1986.

Beachey, R.W. The Warrior Mullah. London: Bellew Publications, 1990.

Burton, Sir R.F. First Footsteps in East Africa. New York: Dover Publications, 1987.

. Sir Richard Burton's Travels in Arabia and Africa. San Marino, CA: Huntington Library Publications, 1990.

DeLancey et al. Somalia. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio, 1988.

Godbeer, D. Let's Visit Somalia. New York: Macmillan, 1988.

. Somalia. New York: Chelsea House, 1988.

Latin, D.D. Somalia. Boulder, CO:Westview Press, 1987.

Lefebvre, J.A. Arms for the Horn. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1991.

Lewis, Ioan M. A Modern History of Somalia: Nation & State in the Horn of Africa. Rev. ed. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1988.

Luling, Virginia. Somali-English Dictionary. Wheaton, MD: Dun-woody Press, 1988.

Massey, G. Subsistence and Change. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1987.

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Somalia, formerly known as the Somali Democratic Republic, is a coastal country covering a land area of 637,657 square kilometers (246,199 square miles) and a water area of 10,320 square kilometers (3,985 square miles), with a land-bordered circumference of 2,366 kilometers (1,470 miles). It has a coastline of 3,025 kilometers (1,880 miles) stretching along the Indian Ocean to the southeast and along the Gulf of Aden in the southern mouth of the Red Sea to the north. These coastal features give the region the name the Horn of Africa. To the north, Somalia faces the Arabian Peninsula with which it has had centuries of commercial and cultural interaction. To the northwest it shares a border with the Republic of Djibouti (58 kilometers, or 36 miles), to the west by Ethiopia (1,626 kilometers, or 1,010 miles) and southwest by Kenya (682 kilometers, or 424 miles).

The capital is Mogadishu, which in 1987 had a population of 1 million, followed by the other major towns of Hargeysa, with 400,000; Kismaayo, with 200,000;Marka, with 100,000; and Berbera, with less than 100,000. Since the 1991 outbreak of civil strife, the northern regionformerly a British colonyhas formed an internationally unrecognized de facto autonomous country, Somaliland, with Hargeysa as its capital.

Somalia is principally desert. There is a monsoon in the northeast from December to February, with moderate temperatures in the north but very hot in the south. From May to October the southwest monsoon brings irregular rainfall. Between monsoons it is generally very hot and humid. Somalia is divided into 3 main topo-graphical regions. The northern region is somewhat mountainous with high plateaus ranging from 900 meters (2,953 feet) above sea level to peaks at 2,450 meters (8,038 feet) above sea level in the northeast. The second region extends south and west to the Shabeelle river and hosts a plateau elevated to a maximum of 685 meters (2,247 feet) above sea level. The third region lies between the Jubba and Shabeelle rivers and is a low agricultural land that also extends into a low pastureland lying southwest of the Jubba river toward the Kenyan border. The country's main drainage is provided by the Shabeelle and Jubba rivers, which originate in Ethiopia and flow toward the Indian Ocean, although the Shabeelle dries before reaching the ocean. These rivers are not navigable by commercial vessels, but they do supply irrigation. Despite its long coastal shoreline, Somalia has only 1 natural harbor, at Berbera.


Determining the population of Somalia has long been a difficult task. According to the February 1975 population census, the population of Somalia was 3,253,024 (excluding adjustment for undercounting), while the February 1986 census recorded it at 7,114,431, implying a doubling of the population over the decade. According to the United Nations (UN) estimates, the mid-year population increased from 7,875,000 in 1985 to 10,217,000 in 1997. However, the CIA World Factbook estimated the population in 2000 as 7,253,137. All such estimates were derived by extrapolating from official censuses taken in 1975 and 1986 by the Somali government. Such estimates are complicated by the large number of nomads and by refugee movements in a country that has been racked by war and famine for a decade.

Nearly 50 percent of the population are nomadic, moving mainly in the central and northern areas, where drought is an ever-present threat. Almost all the nomadic clans are accustomed to grazing on both sides of the border with Ethiopia. About 28 percent of the population are settled farmers, mostly in the southern areas between the Jubba and Shabeelle rivers. The population profile was estimated in 2000 as 44 percent in the 0-14 years age group, 53 percent between 15 and 64 years, and 3 percent in the 65 years and over age group.

Before the 1991 civil conflict, population density averaged 12 people per square kilometer (31 per square mile) but was unevenly distributed. The areas of greatest rural density were the settled zones adjacent to the Jubba and Shabeelle rivers, a few places between them, and several small areas in the northern highlands. The most lightly populated zones were in northeastern and central Somalia, but there were some other sparsely populated areas in the far southwest along the Kenyan border.


Most economic activity was disrupted by the breakdown of the Somali state in 1991. Before this disaster, Somalia was one of the world's poorest countries, but it had been making modest progress despite the absence of mineral or hydro resources and limited fertile agricultural land. The breakdown of the state and the immersion of the country in nearly a decade of civil war has devastated the economy and distanced the country from the international community.

Agriculture is the country's most important sector, comprising some 60 percent of the GDP, with livestock accounting for about two-thirds of the value of agricultural output and about two-thirds of export earnings. Livestock is produced mainly by nomadic groups who make up perhaps 50 percent of the total population. Bananas are also exported. Sugar, sorghum, and corn are the other main agricultural crops. Fish are harvested by small-scale methods for local consumption. The industrial sector has always been small, at around 10 percent the GDP, and its output has probably contracted faster than the rest of the economy, so it now produces perhaps 5 percent of the GDP. It comprises some agricultural processing, but the simple manufactures, such as soap, soft drinks, and consumer goods , have almost all closed down as the result of the ongoing conflict. The lack of security has impeded international aid programs, and there is continual fear of food shortages throughout the country and famine when harvests fail through drought. In normal circumstances the people are industrious and enterprising, and many Somalis have fled to neighboring countries where they have established successful enterprises, particularly in the transport sector, remitting money back to Somalia, which has been an important feature of the population's survival over the past decade.

Somalia was formerly a socialist -oriented economy that was undergoing market-oriented structural adjustments until 1991. These policies were designed to allow more sectors of the economy to have production, sales, and prices determined by the market, rather than regulated by the government. Major features of the program were to allow the exchange rate to be determined by supply and demand for foreign exchange, to allow banks to set interest rates for both depositors and borrowers, to end controls on prices of commodities, and to transfer state-owned enterprises to private ownership. Privatization of wholesale-trade and financial sectors was largely completed by 1991, and although economic growth was sporadic and uneven across the sectors, average living standards were being maintained in the face of a population growth rate of around 2.9 percent a year. Since the overthrow of President Siad Barre in 1991, however, the country has had no viable central government, and national economic planning has been haphazard or nonexistent.


The Somali people have a strongly established common culture, but the Somalis are divided into a number of clans. Most Somalis identify themselves first with their clan and then with the Somali people. These divided loyalties have given rise to Somalia's current problems.

The Somali Republic was formed on 1 July 1960 as the result of a merger of British Somaliland, which became independent from the United Kingdom on 26 June 1960, and Italian Somaliland, which became independent from an Italian-administered United Nations trusteeship on July 1, 1960. A coalition government was formed by the Somali Youth League (SYL) and the 2 leading northern political parties, with Dr. Abd ar-Rashid Ali Shir-make, a leading SYL politician and member of the Darod clan, as first prime minister, and a single legislative body.

The initial problems of combining the previous colonial administrations were eased by shared Somali cultural ties, and for the first years of the country's existence internal conflicts among clans were secondary to ongoing efforts to extend the boundaries of the new state to include Somali communities in Ethiopia, French Somaliland (present-day Djibouti) and northern Kenya. Liberation movements were established for this cause in each of the neighboring territories. It soon became obvious that these efforts were bound to fail, however, and political efforts turned to addressing the problems of Somali peoples resident in other countriesand to internal conflict.

Abd ar-Rashid Ali Shirmake was elected president in 1967, but in October 1969 he was assassinated in the course of factional violence, leading to a coup d'etat. A Supreme Revolutionary Council (SRC) formed an army and police officers announced that it had acted to preserve democracy and justice and to eliminate corruption and clanism and that the country was to be renamed the Somali Democratic Republic to symbolize these aims. Army commander and president of the SRC Major General Jalle Mohamed Siad Barre became head of state. For nearly 30 years Barre led Somalia as a socialist state, but economic stability was continually disrupted by internal dissent and by troubled relations with neighboring Ethiopia. On 27 January 1991, the United Somali Congress (USC) ousted the regime of Siad Barre, and the country descended into anarchy and widespread banditry based on clan feuding.

Since the overthrow of the Barre regime, politics in the country have been in a state of chaos. Clan-based political parties have seized different areas of the country and have fought each other over control of disputed regions. No one clan has a national base of support. While chaos has been the norm in much of Somalia throughout the decade, some orderly government has been established in the northern part. In May 1991, the elders of clans in former British Somaliland established the independent Republic of Somaliland, which, although not recognized by any government, maintains a stable existence, aided by the overwhelming dominance of the ruling clan and the economic infrastructure left behind by British, Russian, and American military assistance programs. In 1998 neighboring Puntland, in the northeast of the country, declared its autonomy and has also made progress towards reconstructing a legitimate, representative government.

Over the course of Somalia's troubled decade, several foreign relief efforts have been attempted in the country. From 1993, a 2-year UN humanitarian effort (primarily in the south) was able to alleviate famine conditions, but when the UN withdrew in 1995, having suffered significant casualties, order still had not been restored. In February 1996, the European Union (EU) agreed to finance the reconstruction of the port of Berbera in Somaliland. Since then, other aid projects have been undertaken by the EU and by an Italian non-government organization.

In August 2000, delegates at a 3-month peace conference in Djibouti formed the National Transitional Assembly and elected Abdulkasim Sala Hassan as the new president of Somalia. Although the new administration has made progress in creating the beginnings of an army to establish law and order and has taken up residence in Mogadishu, Somalia still faces real difficulties. The war-lords of the various feuding clans are unwilling to give up their positions as powerful and feared leaders controlling substantial resources gathered through protection, looting, and extortion. They are heavily armed, and they need to be offered a way to show support for the fledgling government. Another challenge for the new government is the problem of its relations with the administrations in Somaliland and Puntland. An agreement to allow these areas to secede would allow them to gain international recognition and thus aid, while allowing the rest of former Somalia to the south to concentrate on its internal security problems.

Somalia once had a 4-tier court system based on Western models. Under Barre, separate National Security Courts operated outside the ordinary legal system and under direct control of the executive and were given broad jurisdiction over offenses defined by government as affecting state security. These were abolished in 1991, and no organized court system exists in the country. The Republic of Somaliland uses the pre-1991 penal code.

With no effective government, there is no formal taxation. However, warlords exact payments from businesses in return for not harassing them and provide some protection against the predations of others. Surprisingly, some observers report that the lack of government has contributed to positive developments in the economy, as entrepreneurs have been freed to develop their business free from government intervention and bureaucracy. Most economic transactions are conducted in U.S. dollars, thus easing the problems of the utter instability of the Somali shilling.


Somalia has a deteriorating infrastructure that has seen little improvement in the last decade. One paved road extends from Berbera in north through Mogadishu to Kismaayo. Roads of all categories totalled 22,100 kilometers (13,733 miles) in 1996, of which 2,608 (1,621 miles) kilometers were paved. Many of the improved earth roads were frequently impassable in rainy seasons. Highway infrastructure is insufficient to open up isolated areas or to link the regions. The country has no railroads.

Somalia has 8 paved civilian airfields and fewer than 20 additional widely-scattered gravel airfields. The international airport is at Mogadishu. In 1990 a domestic service linked Mogadishu with 7 other Somali cities

Country Telephones a Telephones, Mobile/Cellular a Radio Stations b Radios a TV Stations a Televisions a Internet Service Providers c Internet Users c
Somalia N/A N/A AM 0; FM 0;shortwave 4 470,000 1 135,000 1 200
United States 194 M 69.209 M (1998) AM 4,762; FM 5,542;shortwave 18 575 M 1,500 219 M 7,800 148 M
Dem. Rep. of Congo 21,000 8,900 AM 3; FM 12;shortwave 1 (1999) 18.03 M 20 (1999) 6.478 M 2 1,500 (1999)
Ethiopia 157,000 4,000 (1999) AM 5; FM 0;shortwave 2 (1999) 11.75 M 25 (1999) 320,000 1 7,200
aData is for 1997 unless otherwise noted.
bData is for 1998 unless otherwise noted.
cData is for 2000 unless otherwise noted.
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [Online].

served, in part, by Somali Airlines, which owned 1 Airbus 310 in 1989. There was no scheduled service in existence in 1992.

Electricity is produced entirely from diesel and petrol powered generators, with all the fuel imported. In 1998, it was estimated that 265 million kilowatt hours (kWh) were supplied, all from privately-owned generators. There is some hydroelectric potential on Somalia's rivers, but thus far it has remained unexploited and is likely to remain so until Somalia's security and stability become better established. Poor people, and most of the population outside the towns, rely on wood for cooking and kerosene oil-lamps for light.

There are 4 major portsdeepwater facilities at Berbera, Mogadishu, and Kismaayo and a lighterage (for transportation of goods on flat-bottomed barges) port at Markaand a minor port at Maydh. A port modernization program that was launched in the latter half of 1980s with U.S. aid significantly improved cargo handling capabilities at Kismaayo and increased the number of berths and deepened the harbor at Berbera.

The public telecommunications system was completely destroyed or dismantled by the civil war factions; all relief organizations depend on their own private systems. Recently, local cellular telephone systems have been established in Mogadishu and in several other population centers. International connections are available from Mogadishu by satellite.


Somalia's economy is mainly based on subsistence agriculture comprising livestock herding and to a lesser extent a simple form of hoe-agriculture. Attempts to introduce modern techniques of animal husbandry and agriculture have been only partially successful. Agriculture was estimated to comprise of 59 percent of the GDP in 1995with livestock alone contributing 41 percent of the GDPservices 31 percent, and industry 10 percent. Current estimates are that a higher proportion of GDP comes from agriculture, with services slightly reduced, and a much diminished role for industry.


The Somali economy is traditionally based principally on the herding camels, sheep, and goats, with cattle more prevalent in the southern region. Agriculture still provides for the subsistence needs of 75 percent of the population and furnishes a substantial export trade in live animals, skins, clarified butter, and canned meat. After independence in 1960, exports of these items rose dramatically and, until 1988, outstripped the other main export, bananas, which accounted for 40 percent of the total value of exports in that year. In 1982 exports of livestock products accounted for about 80 percent of Somalia's total export earnings. In 1989, livestock products accounted for 49 percent of the GDP. However, Somali agriculture is at the mercy of periodic droughts, the worst of which have led to high levels of famine and starvation.

Before 1972 fishing along the Somali coast was mainly a small-scale subsistence activity, but by 1980 it was coming to be recognized as one of the country's leading economic activities. During the 1974-75 drought, some 12,000 nomads were settled and encouraged to organize themselves into fishing co-operatives, which showed considerable promise. Although fish production more than doubled, fish was still not a significant feature of the Somali diet.


Prior to 1991, there was a small manufacturing sector, based primarily on the processing of agricultural products, and consisting of a few large state enterprises, hundreds of medium-sized private firms, and thousands of small-scale informal operations. Large-scale enterprises were dedicated mainly to the processing of sugar, milk, and hides and skins. Overall manufacturing output declined during 1980s as a result of inefficient state enterprises failing under market conditions. Manufacturing activity was further curtailed by civil war and collapse of the Somali state. By 1990 manufacturing ceased to play a significant role in economy and is currently about 5 percent of GDP.

At 0.3 percent of the GDP in 1988, mining's contribution to the economy was negligible, despite substantial deposits of gypsuman hydrite, quartz and piezoquartz, uranium, and iron ore. Gold deposits are suspected but not confirmed.


In the south of the country banking is re-emerging in the form of private ventures. The Barakaat Bank of Somalia, for example, was established in Mogadishu in October 1996 by a group of small businessmen who also run a telephone company and postal and computer services. Similarly, the Somalia-Malaysian Commercial Bank was opened in Mogadishu in April 1997 by a group that also runs the Somali Telecommunications Service. In most other parts of the country financial services are provided by less formalized money-changers.

Somalis living outside the country are currently the most significant source of foreign investment. In Somaliland, a central bank has been established (Central Bank of Somaliland), but no other formal financial institutions exist. Informal facilitators typically charge 5-10 percent commission on transfers from abroad. In August 1999 the Central Bank of Puntland became operational in Boosaaso.

Somalia's retail trade, which was hit hard by the civil war, is supplied largely by the informal sector . Mogadishu's main market, Bakara, offers a wide range of consumer goods and weaponry. Tourism is non-existent.


Up-to-date reliable information on the international trade of Somalia is hard to discover, thus much of what is presented here is based on the structure before 1991. Somalia's foreign trade deficit , which was almost entirely financed by foreign aid, increased to around US$300 million in 1987. The trade balance remained negative throughout 1980s and early 1990s. The last reliable reported figures were for 1990, when exports were US$130 million and imports US$360 million. Surprisingly, there has not been much material change in the decade since those statistics were released: estimates for 1998 were that exports were US$87 million and imports US$327 million. The main difference is that prior to 1991, the trade deficit was met by aid receipts, while currently it is covered by remittances from the Somali diaspora.

Export composition has remained largely unchanged, consisting of mainly agricultural raw materials and food products with livestock and bananas the principal items, followed by hides and skins, fish and fish products, and myrrh. The major destination for Somali exports is Saudi Arabia, with 57 percent, followed by the United Arab Emirates (15 percent), Italy (12 percent), and Yemen (8 percent) in 1997.

Somalia's principal imports are food, transportation equipment, heavy machinery, manufactured consumer goods, cement and building materials, fuels, iron and steel. Djibouti was the main supplier of imported goods in 1997 with 20 percent, followed by Kenya (11 percent), Belarus (11 percent), India (10 percent), Saudi Arabia (9 percent), and Brazil (9 percent).


The Somali shilling is the currency issued by the government prior to 1991. It has depreciated sharply since then: in 1989 the rate was SH252 to US$1, and by 1999 the rate was SH2,600 to US$1. It is most surprising that the currency is still in circulation at all as, until 2000, there has been no government to enforce the currency as legal tender (the acceptance of the currency in making payments). U.S. dollars are widely used for anything other than small transactions.

Exchange rates: Somalia
Somali shillings per US$1
Nov 2000 11,000
Jan 1999 2,620
Nov 1997 7,500
Jan 1996 7,000
Jan 1995 5,000
Jul 1993 2,616
Note: The Republic of Somaliland, a self-declared independent country notrecognized by any foreign government, issues its own currency, the Somaliland shilling.
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].
GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000
Somalia 600 N/A 600 600 600
United States 28,600 30,200 31,500 33,900 36,200
Dem. Rep. of Congo 400 N/A 710 710 600
Ethiopia N/A 530 560 560 600
Note: Data are estimates.
SOURCE: Handbook of the Nations, 17th,18th, 19th and 20theditions for 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999 data; CIA World Factbook 2001 [Online] for 2000 data.

The self-declared Republic of Somaliland started issuing its own currency, the Somaliland shilling (SoSh), in January 1995, which was set at SoSh80 to US$1.


Without official data or coordinated collection and collation of available information, it is hard to give realistic indications of the situation. However, the UN Development Program 's 1994 Human Development Report ranked Somalia 165th out of 173 countries in terms of its Human Development Index, which combines income levels with educational attainments and life expectancy. According to the World Bank, health standards in Somalia before the 1991 were among the worst in the world. It was estimated that there was 1 doctor for every 20,000 people (in the United States it was 1 doctor for every 470 people), and 1 nurse for every 1,900 persons (in the United States it was 1 nurse for every 70 persons). Only 2 percent of births were attended by a health professional, whereas in the United States nearly 100 percent of births were so attended. In 1990 average life expectancy at birth was 46 years, the infant mortality was about 123 per 1,000 live births (in the United States it is 7 per 1,000). The adult literacy rate was 27 percent.


Despite a series of wage increases over the previous 3 years, in January 1990 salaries for the highest-grade public employees were still only SH8,000 (US$16) per month and the lowest grade received SH1,200 (US$2.40). Consequently all civil servants needed additional sources of income to meet their basic needs. In the absence of a central government, the civil service has ceased to function after 1991.

Subsequently the 75 percent of the population in the rural areas were engaged in a desperate struggle to survive. Those in the urban areas were better off, and the thugs involved in the looting and extortion that go hand-in-hand with clan fighting have enjoyed relatively high living standards, albeit accompanied by high risks.


1840. European colonization of the Horn of Africa begins, and the traditional area of the Somali people is divided among 5 states: the British Somaliland protectorate, Italian Somalia, French Somalia (present day Djibouti), the Ethiopian province of Ogaden, and northeastern Kenya.

1886. Britain declares a protectorate over northern Somalia.

1936. Italy establishes a colony in the southern region, Italian Somaliland.

1941. The Italian colony is captured by British forces and placed under military administration during World War II.

1950. Italian Somaliland becomes the UN Trust Territory of Somalia and is placed under Italian administration for a 10-year transitional period prior to independence.

1959. The Trust Territory's first general elections based on universal adult suffrage are held. The Somali Youth League (SYL) wins 83 of the 90 seats in the Legislative Assembly.

1960. British Somaliland becomes independent on 26 June. On 1 July the former Italian Somaliland unites with the former British Somaliland as the Somali Republic. A coalition government is formed by the SYL and the 2 leading northern parties, with Dr. Abd ar-Rashid Ali Shirmake, a leading SYL politician and member of the Darod clan, as the first prime minister.

1964. SYL secures majority seats in Assembly elections. However, a split in the party leads to appointment of a new Darod prime minister, Abd ar-Razak Hussein, leaving the party seriously divided.

1967. Shirmake is elected president and forms a government.

1969. Shirmake is assassinated in the course of factional violence; Major General Mohamed Siad Barre of the Supreme Revolutionary Council (SRC) becomes president.

1972. Mass literacy campaign is launched, leading to the adoption of Somali as the national language.

1974. Somalia joins Arab League.

1975. Land is nationalized : farmers receive holdings on 50-year renewable leases from the state.

1976. Under Soviet influence, the Somali Socialist Party is established. Siad Barre restructures the Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF) and allows it to operate inside Ethiopia in an effort to claim Ethiopian territory.

1977. Somalia and the Soviet Union break off relations when the Soviet Union backs Ethiopia in the ongoing conflict between Somalia and Ethiopia. Somali forces retreat from Ethiopia, and Somalia seeks to align itself with Western countries.

1980. The United States is permitted to use air and naval facilities at Berbera.

1986. Siad Barre is re-elected president, but his regime is soon faced with unrest in the northeast and northwest of the country.

1989. Forces opposed to Barre form the United Somali Congress (USC) in exile, in Rome, Italy. The USC military wing, headed by Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed, sets up base in Ethiopia. Siad Barre announces that opposition parties can contest elections scheduled before the end of 1990 and that he would relinquish power.

1990. After an insurgency in the northwest, the USC captures Mogadishu. Siad Barre flees with the remnants of his army and the USC attempt to take power, but the country descends into clan-based civil war. The self-declared "Republic of Somaliland" declares independence.

1991. A UN force led by the United States tries to establish peace in Mogadishu.

1994. United States withdraws troops after a gunbattle with Somali gunmen leaves hundreds dead or wounded.

1995. The United Nations withdraws from Somalia. General Aideed is elected president by his USC faction but is not recognized by anyone else. Somaliland introduces its own currency.

1996. Aideed is killed by cross-fire during a skirmish. Leadership of USC passes to Aideed's son, Hussein Mohamed Aideed.

1997. Autonomy is declared for the northeastern province of Puntland.

2000. Delegates (excluding any official representatives form Somaliland and Puntland) meet in Djibouti, form a National Transitional Assembly, and elect Abdulkasim Sala Hassan as president, but clan-based fighting continues in Mogadishu.


Economic progress in Somalia depends on the reestablishment of peace, security, and stability. Otherwise there will be no significant investment, qualified and talented Somalis will continue to make their lives elsewhere, and the bulk of the population will continue in a wretched struggle for survival.

There are some international observers who argue that the relatively stable areas of Somaliland and Punt-land in the north should be allowed to secede and receive recognition from the international community so that they can receive aid and begin to make steady progress. There is great opposition to this move, however, in the south, and it seems that such acts will only be internationally acceptable if they are agreed to by all parties (as with the secession of Eritrea from Ethiopia). The priority of the new government will be to establish its authority in the south, and the autonomy of Somaliland and Puntland will be allowed to continue in the immediate future. But the future of Somaliland and Puntland in the new Somalia will have to be addressed at some stage.

Despite the creation of a new army, it will be immensely difficult for the new government of President Hassan to establish law and order in the face of hostility from the clan-based militias, who have declared that they do not recognize the new government. The militias cannot be crushed by force, and some place must be found for them in the new order in Somalia if peace is to be established. As of 2001 the country remains in a state of terrible disorder.


Somalia has no territories or colonies.


Cousin, Tracey L. "Somalia: The Fallen Country." ICE Case Studies. <>. Accessed September 2001.

Economist Intelligence Unit. Country Profile: Somalia. London: Economist Intelligence Unit, 2001.

Hodd, M. "Somalia." The Economies of Africa. Aldershot:Dartmouth, 1991.

Samatar, S. S. Somalia: A Nation in Turmoil. Manchester:Minority Rights Group International, 1995.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. World Factbook 2000. <>. Accessed August 2001.

U.S. Department of State. Background Notes: Somalia, July 1998. < bgn.html>. Accessed September 2001.

Allan C. K. Mukungu




Somali shilling (SH). One shilling equals 100 cents. There are coins of 1, 5, 10, and 50 cents and 1 shilling, and notes of 5, 10, 20, 100, 500, and 1,000 shillings. The self-declared Republic of Somaliland introduced its own currency, the Somaliland shilling, in 1995. U.S. dollars are the most widely used currency.


Livestock, bananas, fish, hides and skins, myrrh.


Petroleum products, foodstuffs, fertilizers, machinery and parts, transport equipment, manufactured goods.


US$4.3 billion (purchasing power parity, 1999 est.).


Exports: US$187 million (f.o.b., 1998 est.). Imports: US$327 million (f.o.b., 1998 est.).

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Basic Data
Official Country Name: Somali Democratic Republic
Region: Africa
Population: 7,253,137
Language(s): Somali, Arabic, Italian, English
Literacy Rate: 24%
Number of Primary Schools: 1,224
Compulsory Schooling: 8 years
Educational Enrollment: Primary: 196,496
  Higher: 2,040
Teachers: Primary: 10,338
  Higher: 324

History & Background

The Somali Democratic Republic is located in northeast Africa, in the region known as the Horn of Africa. Its neighbors include Djibouti to the northwest, Ethiopia to the west, and Kenya to the southwest. To the north, the Gulf of Aden separates it from the Arabian peninsula, and the Indian Ocean borders its eastern and southern regions. There are about 8 million Somalis, 60 percent of whom are pastoral nomads. The Somalis are united by a common language, a common culture, and the Islamic religion, but they are deeply divided among various clans. Inter-clan hostility has always been a source of conflict for the country and is responsible for a seven-year civil war (1991-1998) that completely disabled the nation and its educational system. As of the year 2001, efforts are still being made by concerned Somalis and international organizations to reestablish a central government in Somalia and, by influence, its educational system.

Somalia has had a long and complex educational history. Prior to outside influence, Somalis had an informal mode of education in which the elderly transmitted social and cultural values to the young through examples and storytelling. Somalis preserved their histories orally, as each generation committed genealogical, as well as historical, information to memory. The young learned how to survive in their world as nomads and as tribal warriors. Colonization by the Arabs, Italians, French, and British at various points in Somali history would leave their marks on the country's educational institutions. The origin of Arab influence in Somalia dates to 700 A.D. when a group of Muslim Arabs brought their religion into the region and spread it with great fervor. By 1300 A.D. nearly all Somalis had converted to the Islamic faith, and several towns, including Zeila and Berbera, emerged as centers of Islamic culture and learning. Mosques and theological schools were built to teach Muslims about the Qu'ran (the Islamic holy book) and the Arabic language, which is the official language of Islam. Although the Arab control of Somaliland waned when the Europeans entered the picture during the eighteenth century, Islam remained an integral aspect of Somali culture and society. The Islamic educational institution was very influential, as many Qu'ranic schools were opened and, sometimes, subsidized by the colonial powers and recognized as the only form of formal education available to many Somalis. Religious leaders traveled with nomads, teaching their children how to read, write, and memorize the Qu'ran. Pupils used wooden slates to copy and learn verses of the Qu'ran, and some, though not all, learned to be proficient in the Arabic language. Islamic teachers were paid in the form of sheep, cattle, camels, and other foodstuff.

Treaties reached by the international community in 1888 officially partitioned Somaliland among three competing European powers: Britain, Italy, and France. The French occupied the northwest region, which is modern Djibouti; the British controlled the northern and southeastern regions, and the Italians took the regions in the south to the northeast. At its independence from these forces in 1960, British and Italian Somalilands were joined to form present-day Somalia. French Somaliland chose to remain autonomous and form a separate nation under the name of Djibouti.

During the colonial regime, the different powers established different educational systems to suit the economic goals for its region. Italians were interested in training Somalis to become farmers or unskilled workers to be used on their banana plantations. This was to minimize the migration of Italians into the region and the depletion of human resources at home. The British needed natives who could help administer colonial policies and maintain law and order. Elementary and low-level specialized education was offered by both the British and the Italians to meet these needs. In 1947, in both the British and Italian Somalilands, there were a total of 32 elementary schools, a police academy, and a school of health for the Somalis. The percentage of Somalis who had the opportunity to attend these educational institutions was minimal. In Italian Somaliland, 1,265 students (less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the population) were enrolled. Somalis in British Somaliland did not fare better, with a total enrollent of 1,200 students. The low enrollment level resulted from a lack of space and from the Somalis' perception that colonial education was an instrument for oppression that should be resisted.

In the years prior to independence (1950-1960), Somalia was placed under a U.N. trusteeship, and a genuine effort was then made to provide public education for all Somalis. The U.N. trusteeship agreement required both Britain and Italy to expand primary and post-primary educational services in Somalia. This was to cultivate the Somali nationals to whom the reign of power would be handed at independence. The Somalis, who had previously resisted colonial education, embraced the mandate as a vehicle for modern development, a building block to national unity and progress. Italy expanded its elementary schools to admit more Somalis. During the 1957-1958 school year, nearly 14,000 Somalis were enrolled in primary schools, a jump from the 1,265 Somalis who had been enrolled before the trusteeship agreement. Italy also set up three secondary schools, a vocational training institute, and a university institute in Mogadishu to train students in public administration, which would eventually become the Somali National University in 1970. In British Somaliland, the school system was also expanded to provide better educational opportunities for the Somalis. By 1960, there were 38 elementary schools, 12 intermediate schools, 3 secondary schools, and 2 vocational schools, with a total enrollment of 3,429 students. A teacher training institute was established to cultivate future teachers. However, as David Laitin has argued, even though more students were given the opportunity for education in British and Italian Somalilands, the effort was marginal.

The policy of limiting education to the primary level continued, as secondary education remained closed to a majority of the Somalis due to limited resources. In Italian Somaliland, school curriculum was parochial, rules lax, and students, as a whole, lacked the discipline necessary for learning. And although the British had a clearer educational policy than the Italians, it reached fewer Somalis. Further complicating the educational effort was the fact that each region adopted a different language for its school system. Those admitted to Italian-run schools were taught in Italian, and those in British Somaliland were taught in English. At independence in July 1960, there were three languages of instruction in Somalia, including the Arabic used in Qu'ranic schools.

Somali leaders faced the challenge of harmonizing the educational systems, the curriculum, and the language of instruction. There was a need to develop an official script for the Somali language, which was still only a spoken language at independence. The need would be unmet for the next 12 years and not before a military takeover of the government in 1969. In power, the military, under the leadership of Said Barre, established a "scientific socialist" state whose goal was to wipe out clan conflict and ignorance through the mass education of its people. Thus, the development of a written Somali language was imperative to achieving those ideologies. A commission was formed to study and decide on a script for the Somali language. Within a year, the commission concluded its study, recommending the adoption of the Latin script. The recommendation was accepted in January 1972 with a military decree that made Somali the language of official business and instruction for the country. Teachers were given three months to be proficient in the language. Textbooks and curriculum were developed to reflect the values and ideals of the Somali society, and a mass literacy campaign was launched to teach every Somali how to read and write. There is no question that the adoption of Somali as the language of education in Somalia had positive effects on the school system. At least, for the first time in its history, students across the country were taught in the same language, using the same textbooks. But the progress education was making in Somalia was halted by the civil war that lasted from 1991 to 1998. Educational and other public facilities were the first casualties of the war. In 2001 (10 years after the war began), Somalia was still struggling to rebuild its nation and its educational system. The country is divided into three administrative parts. The secession of the northwest in 1991 created the Somaliland Republic. In 1998, the northeast proclaimed a separate government under the name of Puntland. The south is ruled by various warlords. Available education is offered through private institutions and international organizations. Any effort to sustain a stable, public educational system will remain, at best, minimal until the country once again finds the courage to become a nation.

Constitutional & Legal Foundations

The real move for modern secular education in Somalia came with a U.N. mandate in 1950. Article four of the trusteeship agreement stipulated that Britain and Italy must establish a formal educational system that would prepare the Somalis for independence in 10 years. Education was recognized as a base upon which to build the future Somali society. It stated:

The Administering Authority, recognizing the fact that education in its broadest sense is the only sure foundation on which any moral, social, political, and economic advancement of the inhabitants of the Territory can be based, and believing that national independence with due respect for freedom and democracy can only be established on this basis, undertakes to establish a sound and effective system of education, with due regard to Islamic culture and religion. The Administering Authority therefore undertakes to establish as rapidly as possible a system of public education which shall include elementary, secondary, vocational (including institutions for the training of teachers), and technical schools, to provide free of charge at least elementary education, and to facilitate higher and professional education and cultural advancement in every possible way. (qtd. in Laitin 65-66)

The agreement, in addition to encouraging the creation of primary, secondary, and vocational schools, mandated that the authorities establish teacher-training institutions to train nationals who would teach in the schools. It further advocated the facilitation of higher and professional education by sending an adequate number of university students to study abroad. Britain and Italy made haphazard efforts to honor the agreement. At independence, most Somalis were still illiterate, and not every child had the opportunity to attend school.

Independence brought significant reforms to the educational system. Education became the responsibility of the Ministry of Education, under the secretary of state for education. The ministry aimed at enhancing the quality of education by improving the curricula and providing a uniform educational system throughout the republic. Of prime importance was developing a single language of education for the country. In 1970, Somalia was declared a "Socialist state" after a military takeover. The Supreme Revolutionary Council (SRC) outlined new goals for education. Among these were expanding access to education, reduction of illiteracy, promotion of technical studies, increase in female enrollment, and the introduction of a Somali-oriented curriculum. The first charter of the Revolution, however, was to make the Somali language written and then adopted as the language of education and official business. This was achieved in 1972, and accelerated efforts were made to modify the educational system to meet governmental policies. All schools, including private, were brought under the administration of the government. Qu'ranic schools were phased out, and Islamic instruction became part of public education. Many elementary, secondary, and vocational schools were built to increase access to education. In 1975 the government established free, universal, primary education. The University Institute in Mogadishu became the Somali National University in 1971. The Ministry of Higher Education and Culture was created to administer the school. Before the war broke out, the University, although plagued by a high dropout rate, had a population of about 5,000 students.

Educational SystemOverview

Although the school system was still undergoing reforms in 1990, it had four basic levels: preprimary, primary, secondary/vocational, and higher. The Ministry of Education controlled primary and secondary education. Postsecondary education was under the administration of the Ministry of Higher Education and Culture. Somali's reliance on a pastoral nomadic lifestyle, however, adversely affected its educational system. Children in the rural areas rarely had the opportunities to go to school; while those who lived in the cities were more likely to attend, few did beyond the elementary grades. Before the country's civil war, about 50 percent of Somali children were enrolled in the elementary schools, a mere 7 percent were enrolled in high school, and less than 1 percent were in institutions of higher learning. The literacy level was 25 percent.

Preprimary & Primary Education

Until the mid-1970s, primary education consisted of four years of elementary school, followed by fours years of intermediate schooling. A proficiency exam was given at the end of the elementary level to move on to the intermediate level. However, in 1972, elementary and intermediate levels were combined to form one continuous program; promotion from elementary to intermediate was made automatic. When the government established free, universal, primary education in 1975, primary education was reduced from eight to six years. However, during the 1978-1979 school year, the eight-year primary school system was reintroduced because the six-year program had proven unsatisfactory. Primary schooling theoretically began at age six, even though many children began later. Girls were less likely to attend school and dropped out after completing four years, which was the elementary level. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the government provided a three-year education program for nomadic children. For six months of each year, when the seasons permitted, large numbers of nomads aggregated so that their children could attend school; the rest of the year the children accompanied their families. Nomadic families who wanted their children to attend school throughout the year boarded them in a permanent settlements or sent them to boarding schools in the south. The primary curriculum included reading, writing, and arithmetic. Arabic was taught as a secondary language, and social studies courses were taught using textbooks that focused on Somali issues.

Secondary Education

Few Somalis attended secondary schools. There was limited access to secondary schools because there were very few schools, and they were located in urban centers; most were boarding schools in the south. There were vocational schools for students who wanted to obtain technical skills in the areas of agriculture, mechanics, masonry, or forestry. In 1975, the military government made an effort to increase the number of vocational schools, especially in the rural areas, to cultivate the skilled labor needed for the developing economy. In post-civil war Somalia, there are 11 secondary schools, 3 in Somaliland and 8 in Mogadishu, all operated by private organizations. Because of limited resources, however, only about 10 percent of those who enter primary school graduate from secondary school.

Higher Education

The Somali National University in Mogadishu, created in 1972, was the nation's highest institution of higher learning; this was the old university created by the Italians under the Trusteeship. Under its new name, the institution consisted of 13 faculties, offering studies in agriculture, economics, education, engineering, geology, law, medicine, sciences, veterinary science, languages, journalism, and Islamic studies. The college of education, which prepared secondary-school teachers in a two-year program, was also part of the university. Prior to 1991, the university had a teaching staff of 700 and a student enrollment of about 5,000. In addition to the Somali National University, there was also a teacher-training institute, a school of Polytechnics, and a school of nursing. There were also opportunities for higher education abroad. Few Somalis, however, took advantage of these educational opportunities. Since the civil war, efforts have increasingly been made to reestablish institutions of higher learning in Somalia. Two institutions were opened in 1999, Mogadishu University and Amoud University in Boroma. Both have a student population of about 250 and are committed to the goal of training enough professionals to meet the growing needs of Somalis for educators and other professional fields. The mission statement for Amoud University recognizes that "the training of professionals is the first step to revitalize [sic] the educational system of country." Admission is given to those with a secondary school certificate or the equivalent and to those who pass an entrance examination. A third university is scheduled to be opened in the town of Hargeisa.

Administration, Finance, & Educational Research

Prior to 1991, in spite of the campaign for literacy, Somalia's educational budget remained one of the lowest in Africa. In 1980 and 1986, education represented 8.7 and 2.8 percent of the national budget, respectively. The shares of the primary, secondary, and tertiary levels of education were about 62.4 percent, 25.8 percent, and 11.8 percent. In post-war Somalia, most of the available educational institutions were funded by private Somalis and international humanitarian organizations.

Nonformal Education

Many attempts have been made to address the problem of illiteracy in Somalia both before and after the civil war. In 1957 a UNESCO-funded technical assistance program permitted a group of teachers to go out into the Somali rural areas to organize a literacy campaign. The teachers recruited only 20 students and taught them in Italian, one day a week, for three months. This worked only during the dry season; when the rains came, the students disappeared, returning to the call of their pastoral way of life. Coupled with the nomadic lifestyle of the Somalis, the lack of a written Somali language posed a major problem for literacy training. Adult Somalis faced the daunting task of learning how to read and write in a foreign language. Few welcomed the opportunity. Adult education, however, gained a new life after the adoption of the Latin script for the Somali language in 1972. In March 1973, President Said announced a "cultural revolution" that would bring literacy to all Somalis by 1975. During the 1974-1975 school year, secondary schools were closed and students and volunteers were sent to rural areas to teach adults how to read. At the end of the campaign, the government claimed that nearly 2 million Somalis had learned to read and write, a significant number for a country of 6 million people at the time. A permanent Literacy Campaign became part of Somali life after the Rural Development Campaign, and many adult education evening classes were established to continue the vision. The National Adult Education Center, a branch of the Ministry of Education, was responsible for the implementation of adult education. The civil war disrupted the attempt to educate Somali adults. In the post civil war Somalia, private efforts are being made to continue adult education both on-site and through distance learning.

Teaching Profession

The first school for teachers was built in 1957 in British Somaliland to train nationals to staff the elementary schools. In 1972, a two-year course for primary teachers was established at the National Teachers' Education Center. A third school for primary teachers was built in 1974 in Hargeisa. In 1963, the Lafole College of Education, 40 miles from Mogadishu, was built to train secondary teachers. In the late 1960s, the length of the training at Lafole was three years; it was later reduced to two years and a summer in the 1970s, and it was increased to three years in 1980s. The Technical Teacher Training College (TTTC) in Mogadishu was created in 1978 to prepare teachers for vocational and technical education. The duration of its courses is three years. The college of education at the Somali National University also prepared secondary school teachers in a two-year program. These teachers training colleges, including the Somali National University, were destroyed by the civil war.


The future of education in Somalia remains dim. Divided into three political regions, violence continues in Somalia, and children remain its chief victims. With no national government and no educational system, boys as young as 14 or 15 years of age live out their lives on the streets as thugs and gang members. Those who attend schools find that they have few resources. Schools at all levels lack textbooks and decent facilities. Teachers are poorly trained and poorly paid. The literacy rate is 25 percent. Many Somalis call upon the international community to help its children and rehabilitate its educational system, but there is no doubt that the Somalis must first find a way to reform their nation.


Abdi, A. Ali. "Education in Somalia: History, Destruction, and Calls for Reconstruction." Comparative Education 34, no. 3 (1998): 327-340.

International Handbook of Universities. 15th ed. New York: Grove's Dictionaries Inc., 1998.

Laitin, David D. Politics, Language, and Thought: The Somali Experience. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1977.

Lewis, I. M. Blood and Bone, The Call of Kinship in Somali Society. Lawrenceville, NJ: The Red Sea Press, 1994.

Metz, Helen Chapin. Somalia, A Country Study (book online). Washington, DC: Federal Research Division, 1992. Available from

Nnoromele, Salome C. Somalia. San Diego: Lucent Books, 2000.

U.S. Department of State. Human Rights Reports for 1999-Somalia. Washington, DC: Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (U.S. Department of State), 25 February 2000. Available from

Salome C. Nnoromele

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ETHNONYMS: Samaale, Soomaali


Identification. The Muslim Somalis of the Horn of Africa speak the Somali language and live in the Somali Democratic Republic (Somalia). There are also substantial numbers of Somalis in neighboring countries: the southern half of Djibouti, the eastern part of Ethiopia, and the northeastern part of Kenya. There are large stable settlements of Somalis in the north of Tanzania and in the Yemeni city of Aden. Although Somalis regard themselves as ethnically one people, there are several subgroups based on patrilineal descent. The term "Somali" is popularly held to derive from the expression so maal, or "come and milk," an expression used among nomads, which alludes to the pastoral subsistence and the Somali ideal of hospitality.

Location. Somalia is located between 1°30 S and 1l°30 N and 41°00 and 51°25 E; it extends over an area of 638,000 square kilometers. Somalia has a warm climate: daytime temperatures range from 25° C to 35° C. There is high humidity along the coastal plains. The country is traversed by two perennial rivers, the Jabba and the Shabelle. Average annual rainfall is less than 60 centimeters. There are two rainy seasons, gu' (April to June) and dayr (October to November).

Demography. In 1994 the population of Somalia was officially estimated to be 6.67 million. The average population density varies between 9.4 and 13.3 persons per square kilometer; however, density is substantially higher along the riverbanks. A rapid urbanization rate has brought 20 percent of the population to urban centers, with the bulk of this population living in the capital, Mogadishu. With an average life expectancy of about 46 years (1975), more than 58 percent of Somalis are below 20 years of age.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Somali language, Af-Soomaali, belongs to the East Cushitic Branch of Afroasiatic languages. It is closely related to languages of some of the neighboring peoples: the Oromo, the Rendille, and the Boni. These languages are sometimes referred to as the "Sam" languages. The Afar language, too, has many similarities with Somali. The Somali people also share many important cultural traits with these linguistically related groups. Somali has adopted a substantial amount of vocabulary from Arabic, but, since 1972, the Latin alphabet has been used for writing. The language has a number of different dialects, most of which are mutually intelligible. The dialects that standard Somali speakers find most difficult to comprehend are the Af-May dialects that are spoken in the south.

History and Cultural Relations

There are two major versions of how the Somali people came into possession of their current territory. Some oral-historical evidence suggests that Somalis gradually spread from the north of the country toward the west and, pushing Oromo and Bantu peoples ahead of them, appeared in the south only during the last millennium. According to another version that possibly relates to movements of a much earlier date, the "Sam"-language speakers first emerged east of Lake Turkana in Kenya. Proto-Somali speakers spread to the northeast from the Tana River and into the Somali Peninsula. Neither of the versions can draw support from archaeological finds. There is evidence that two northern port towns, Zeila and Berbera, were already flourishing in 100 b.c. During the first half of the current millennium, the coastal settlements along the southern shore, in the Benadir region, became established as important commercial centers, with trade networks extending along substantial parts of the East African coast and into the interior of the Horn. During the nineteenth century, Benadir ports came under the dominion of the Omani sultanate, and southern Somali agriculture received an influx of imported slave labor. In the late nineteenth century southern Somalia became an Italian colony; the northern part of country was colonized by the British. After the Italians were defeated during World War II, they were granted their former colony in United Nations trusteeship from 1950 until the independence and unification of the two former colonies in 1960. The frail parliamentary democracy that was installed was overthrown in a 1969 coup d'état that brought Major General Mohammed Siad Barre to power. During some two decades of military rule, the Soviet Union and the United States succeeded one another as Somalia's chief ally. In 1977-1978 Somalia sought unsuccessfully to take from Ethiopia the Ogaden region, which is inhabited primarily by ethnic Somalis. The final resolution of that conflict was not reached until the spring of 1988. In the late 1980s a bloody civil war between Somali government troops and several resistance groups led to a mass exodus of at least 400,000 northern Somalis to Ethiopia.


There are two major types of Somali villages. One is the densely clustered nomadic encampment, with portable huts (sing. aqal ) occupied by five to ten families that stay in the vicinity of the pastures of their herds. Another type of village is found among sedentary cultivators and agro-pastoralists. These are permanent settlements, with an average of five hundred inhabitants and about one hundred mud huts (sing. mundul ) with thatched roofs. An increasingly common type of building is the tin-roofed mud house (baraako ). Settlement in these villages may be more dispersed than in the nomadic encampments and may also seasonally include some of the villagers' nomadic kin. The permanent villages are surrounded by farms, and in the center of each village a mosque and a market can often be found. In the grazing areas, small groups of young herders often reside in the open.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Animal husbandry is traditionally the major subsistence activity, and the only one in large parts of northern and central Somalia. A wealthy household in the north may have several hundred camels and also considerable numbers of cattle, sheep, and goats. The commercialization of the livestock sector has made livestock and livestock products into the single most important contributor to the gross national product. The total number of camels in Somalia was estimated to be 6.4 million in 1987. Herd management continues to be carried on according to traditional methods, with transhumance between water holes and suitable pastures. In the south, nomadic pastoralism is often mixed with rain-fed agriculture, primarily of sorghum and maize. Other crops include vegetables, fruits, and sesame. With the exception of large foreign-owned banana plantations, agriculture is largely unmechanized, and most crops are planted, weeded, and harvested with hoes and knives. The consumption of fish is increasing, but the 3,300 kilometers of seashore remain little exploited. Hunting is generally seen as defiling and is left to groups that most other Somalis see as inferior.

Industrial Arts. Every one of the larger Somali villages has inhabitants who specialize in the manufacture of iron goods, pottery, and leatherwork. Often such artisans belong to groups that are considered inferior. Larger villages may also host some tailors and, in the riverine zones, sesame-mill operators.

Trade. Although the bulk of agricultural production is for family consumption, the sale of surplus in small-scale markets provides important income for most families. Both crops and animal produce are traded. Women have come to play increasingly important roles in commercial activities.

Division of Labor. Polygynously formed households assume specialized functions within the larger family economy. One wife and her children may be chiefly responsible for the camels, whereas another such sibling group is assigned the agricultural work. The herding and milking of camels is the exclusive domain of men, but women and children usually tend the small stock. Both men and women engage in farm work. Child rearing and household chores are the tasks of women and their elder daughters. Somali men often express embarrassment if they stay for a long period in the home.

Land Tenure. Pastoral territorial control of rangelands is primarily centered on the water sources that are available within an area. Thus, although there exists some association between a clan group and a certain tract of land, more definite property rights are articulated regarding wells and other water points. Pastoral territorial feuding is most marked where routes of migration conflict with the interests of cultivators. Agricultural territory belongs to the person who has cleared or inherited the land, and, theoretically, it may be sold or rented as that person sees fit. In colonial times, a form of community control was exercised; members of the same village or kin group were given the first option to buy farmland. The military regime has since introduced a system of centralized farm registration, and there have been reports that wealthy urban settlers use the system to appropriate rural estates from small-scale farmers.


Kin Groups and Descent. The Somali system of patrilineal descent embraces the whole nation in a genealogical grid and claims ultimate descent from the Qurayshitic lineage of the prophet Mohammed. At the level of residential groupings, a set of patrilineally related kinsmen will form the nucleus of a kin group, to which other people are joined by ties of affinity or matrilaterality. For practical purposes, the genealogical depth of a residential kin group rarely goes beyond four or five generations; however, in matters such as feuding and payment of blood-wealth, the range of agnatically related kinsmen who are involved is greatly expanded.

Kinship Terminology. Parental siblings are referred to by bifurcate-collateral terms. Cousin terms are either Sudanese or Hawaiian. Where the latter prevails, it is usually for reasons of politeness, just as any stranger of approximately the same age as Ego may be addressed as "brother/sister." Seniority is emphasized in the use of intragenerational terms. Many intergenerational terms are used self-reciprocally, so that, for instance, a man addresses his son as "father."

Marriage and Family

Marriage. In northern Somalia, marriages were traditionally contracted between previously nonrelated families, explicitly to enable the establishment of new alliances. In the south, the favorite spouse is a patrilateral parallel cousin, real or classificatory. As a Muslim, each Somali man has the right to be married to four women. Although viri-patrilocal and neolocal residence are characteristic of both endogamous and exogamous marriages, several clans practice an initial period of uxorilocal residence that, lasting as it occasionally does for many years, may develop into a permanent residence. The divorce rate is high. In one southern study, half of all rural women in their fifties had been married more than once.

Domestic Unit. The principal domestic unit is the uterinesibling group (bah ), but it is not a closely bounded unit; many such groups have more distant relatives living with them, sometimes for extended periods. The descendants of a man, divided into several uterine-sibling groups, are collectively called a reer. This term means "people" and is, in principle, applicable to any level of agnatic grouping.

Inheritance. Sons generally receive an equal share of the father's property, whereas the rights of the daughters are less secure. Although daughters theoretically should inherit half the share that is allotted to each of their brothers, they have in several areas traditionally been allowed to inherit neither camels nor landed property. The ambitious 1975 family-law reform, stipulating that daughters should have equal rights to inheritance, has had little impact in either rural or urban areas.

Socialization. The duties of child rearing are essentially the mother's, although the father will take part in Quranic and religious education. The mother is usually aided in her task by both her sisters and her elder daughters. The values of respect for both seniority and the integrity of others are constantly emphasized. Small children are rapidly taught their position within the age hierarchy, but it is noteworthy how often parents will treat seriously even the most inchoate statement of a younger child.

Sociopolitical Organization

Somalia, constitutionally a socialist republic, is divided into regions, districts, and subdistricts. At each of these administrative levels, there is an elected body of officials and a parallel assembly of members of the Socialist party. The traditional form of sociopolitical organization, based on clan membership, was formally abolished and condemned as "tribalism" in 1971, yet clans and agnatic groupings remain the focus of articulation of all important societal matters. The modern administrative system is in many parts of the country only superimposed upon the old system of segmentary lineages, and it has by no means replaced that system.

Social Organization. The Somali people are divided into six major clusters of patrilineal clans, usually labeled clanfamilies, that are internally segmented. For most purposes, the largest social unit is a clan (qabiil ) or a subclan that may vary in size between a few thousand and a hundred thousand members. Based on the reckoning of agnatic descent, clans are internally divided into lineages and sublineages, the size of which rarely exceeds a few hundred to a thousand members. In the north, there are additional small scattered groups of despised artisans and serfs that are collectively known as sab. In the south, there are large numbers of such small groups of peoplesome of whom are descendants of former slaveswho are frequently called in as farm labor. Known collectively as boon (inferior), they are regarded and treated as second-class citizens. Marriage with members of these groups is not permitted. In the southern regions of Somalia, it is possible to be "adopted"given full membershipin a clan, even though one is the descendant of another clan. The sedentary villages in the south often have a leadership that is independent from that of the clan.

Political Organization. Interclan and interlineage affairs are handled by committees of clan elders, supervised by the clan chief, the suldaan or ugas. In the north, there exists a system of contractual agreements between different agnatic groupings, and the fines that are to be exacted for different breaches of customary law are specified. These agreements also specify the range of solidarity within the different contracting segmentary lineages. In the south, the lineages that constitute a clan are less likely to contract such agreements on their own, but the clan as a whole will agree on blood-wealth size, grazing rights, and other arrangements with other clans. Political life in rural Somali society has always been marked by negotiation, counseling, and free debatefeatures that inspired Ioan M. Lewis to title his major work on the northern Somali "A Pastoral Democracy" (1961).

Social Control. The traditional means of social control are closely linked with the clanship system. Lineage elders and chiefs are expected to ensure that the conduct of lineage members conforms to customary law, both in internal dealings and in affairs with other agnatic groups. Traditional cooperatives and associations, such as water-hole (war) maintenance groups, have their own sets of rules to guide their internal affairs, and they elect headmen to be responsible for doing so. Nowadays the police force is involved in most rural affairs and will often act together with local leaders. The guulwada, or "victory-carriers," a paramilitary militia, are frequently relied upon to implement government decisions. Another government agency, the National Security Service (NSS), has also had a high degree of presence, even in remote rural settings.

Conflict. Feuding and armed conflicts over grazing and water rights are not uncommon. In the past, conflicts often emerged following cattle or camel raids. In the war zones in the north of the country and along the Ethiopian border, a considerable supply of submachine guns and other light weaponry exists.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Somalis are Sunni Muslims, the vast majority of whom follow the Shafi rite. Islam probably dates as far back as the thirteenth century in Somalia. In the nineteenth century Islam was revitalized, and popular versions of it developed following the proselytizing of shuyukh (sing. shaykh ) belonging to different Sufi orders.

The Muslim faith forms an integral part of daily social life. The activities of Catholic and Protestant missionaries have never been successful. Somali scholars debate the extent to which Somali Muslims may have incorporated elements of a pre-Islamic religion. Some of the terms for "God" (e.g., Wag) are also found among the neighboring non-Muslim peoples. In urban areas, groups have appeared that, inspired by the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (Akhiwaan Muslimin), propagate a more orthodox Islam and criticize the government on moral grounds.

A variety of spiritual beings are believed to inhabit the world. The jinny, the only category of spirits that Islam recognizes, are generally harmless if they are left undisturbed. Other categories of spirits, such as ayaamo, mingis, and rohaan, are more capricious and may bring illness by possessing their victims. Groups of those who are possessed often form cults seeking to soothe the possessing spirit.

Religious Practitioners. The Somali culture distinguishes between a religious expert (wadaad ) and a person who is preoccupied with worldly matters. There is no formal hierarchy of clergy, but a wadaad may enjoy considerable respect and may assemble a small party of followers with whom to settle in a rural community. The five standard Muslim prayers are generally observed, but Somali women have never worn the prescribed veils. Villagers and urban settlers frequently turn to the wadaad for blessings, charms, and advice in worldly matters.

Ceremonies. Somalis do not worship the dead, but they do perform annual commemorative services at their graves. Pilgrimages (sing. siyaaro ) to the tombs of saints are also prominent events in ritual life. The Muslim calendar includes the celebration of ʿIid al Fidr (the end of Ramadan), Araafo (the pilgrimage to Mecca), and Mawliid (the birthday of the Prophet). Among the non-Muslim ceremonies, the dab -shiid (the lighting of the fire), at which all household members jump across the family hearth, is most widely performed.

Arts. Somalis enjoy a broad variety of alliterated oral poetry and songs. Famous poets may come to enjoy nationwide prestige.

Medicine. Illnesses are attributed both to abstract entities and emotions and to tangible causes. Somali nomads discovered the role of mosquitoes in the spread of malaria long before this connection was scientifically proven. The medical system is a plural one: patients have a free choice between herbal, religious, and Western medicines.

Death and Afterlife. Although graves are insignificant looking, the symbolic dimensions of funerals are considerable. The corpse is seen as harmful and must be disposed of rapidly. Within the local community, relations with the deceased must be cleared of grievances, and his or her passage from "this world" (addunnyo ) to the "next world" (aakhiro ) ensured. Funerals serve as a reminder to the living of the return of the Prophet and the approaching day of judgment (qiyaame ), when the faithful will have nothing to fear, but sinners will be sent to hell.


Cassanelli, Lee V. (1982). The Shaping of Somali Society: Reconstructing the History of a Pastoral People, 1600-1900. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Heiander, Bernhard (1990). The Slughtered Camel: Coping with Fictitious Descent among the Hubeer of Southern Somalia. Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis.

Lewis, Ioan M. (1961). A Pastoral Democracy: A Study of Pastoralism and Politics among the Northern Somali of the Horn of Africa. London: Oxford University Press.


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Somalia (sōmä´leə), country (2005 est. pop. 8,591,000), 246,200 sq mi (637,657 sq km), extreme E Africa. It is directly south of the Arabian peninsula across the Gulf of Aden. Somalia comprises almost the entire African coast of the Gulf of Aden and a longer stretch on the Indian Ocean. It is bounded on the NW by Djibouti, on the W by Ethiopia, on the SW by Kenya, and on the S and E by the Indian Ocean. Mogadishu is the capital.

Land and People

Arid, semidesert conditions make the country relatively unproductive. In most areas, barren coastal lowland (widest in the south) is abruptly succeeded by a rise to the interior plateau, which is generally c.3,000 ft (910 m) high and stretches toward the northern and western highlands. The Jubba and the Webe Shebele are the only important rivers. In addition to Mogadishu, other important cities are Hargeisa, Berbera (the main northern port), and Kismayo (the principal port of the south).

The vast majority of the republic's population is Somali; they speak a Cushitic language and are Sunni Muslims. They are divided into five principal clans and many subclans. Islam is the state religion. Although Somali is the national tongue, Arabic, Italian, and English are used officially. There are Bantu-speaking ethnic groups in the southwest and numerous Arabs in the coastal towns.


Pastoralism is the dominant mode of life; both nomadic and sedentary herding of cattle, sheep, goats, and camels are carried on. The major cash crops are bananas, mangoes, and sugarcane. Other important crops include sorghum, corn, coconuts, rice, sesame seeds, and beans. There is a small fishing industry. Somalia's most valuable mineral resource is uranium. Iron ore and many other minerals are largely unexploited. Petroleum deposits have been found, and a refinery was built in 1979. However, much industry has been shut down due to civil strife. Agricultural processing constitutes the bulk of Somalian industry, which includes sugar refining, meat and fish (notably tuna) canning, oilseed processing, and leather tanning. Textiles are manufactured. There are no railroads. Remittances from Somalis living abroad are important to the economy. Livestock, bananas, hides and skins, fish, charcoal, and scrap metal are exported. Imports include manufactured goods, petroleum products, foodstuffs, construction materials, and khat. The chief trading partners are the United Arab Emirates, Djibouti, Yemen, and Oman.


Since the fall of Mohammed Siad Barre in 1991, Somalia has no permanent national government. A Transitional Federal Government, was formed in 2004 with a five-year mandate. The 550-seat (275-seat before Jan., 2009) Transitional Federal Assembly, whose members are chosen from the various clans, elects the interim president. Administratively, the country is divided into 18 regions.


Early and Colonial Periods

Between the 7th and 10th cent., immigrant Muslim Arabs and Persians established trading posts along Somalia's Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean coasts; Mogadishu began its existence as a trading station. During the 15th and 16th cent., Somali warriors regularly joined the armies of the Muslim sultanates in their battles with Christian Ethiopia.

British, French, and Italian imperialism all played an active role in the region in the 19th cent. Great Britain's concern with the area was largely to safeguard trade links with its Aden colony (founded 1839), which depended especially on mutton from Somalia. The British opportunity came when Egyptian forces, having occupied much of the region in the 1870s, withdrew in 1884 to fight the Mahdi in Sudan. British penetration led to a series of agreements (1884–86) with local tribal leaders and, in 1887, to the establishment of a protectorate. France first acquired a foothold in the area in the 1860s. An Anglo-French agreement of 1888 defined the boundary between the Somalian possessions of the two countries.

Italy first asserted its authority in the area in 1889 by creating a small protectorate in the central zone, to which other concessions were later added in the south (territory ceded by the sultan of Zanzibar) and north. In 1925, Jubaland, or the Trans-Juba (east of the Juba [now Jubba] River), was detached from Kenya to become the westernmost part of the Italian colony. In 1936, Italian Somaliland was combined with Somali-speaking districts of Ethiopia to form a province of the newly formed Italian East Africa. During World War II, Italian forces invaded British Somaliland; but the British, operating from Kenya, retook the region in 1941 and went on to conquer Italian Somaliland. Britain ruled the combined regions until 1950, when Italian Somaliland became a UN trust territory under Italian control.

Independence and Its Aftermath

In accordance with UN decisions, Italian Somaliland, renamed Somalia, was granted internal autonomy in 1956 and independence in 1960. Britain proclaimed the end of its protectorate in June, 1960, and on July 1 the legislatures of the two new states created the United Republic of Somalia. In the early years of independence the government was faced with a severely underdeveloped economy and with a vocal movement that favored the creation of a "Greater Somalia" encompassing the Somali-dominated areas of Kenya, French Somaliland (now Djibouti), and Ethiopia. The nomadic existence of many Somali herders and the ill-defined frontiers worsened the problem. Hostilities between Somalia and Ethiopia erupted in 1964, and Kenya became involved in the conflict as well, which continued until peace was restored in 1967. The inhabitants of French Somaliland, meanwhile, voted to continue their association with France.

In 1969 President Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke was assassinated. The new rulers, led by Maj. Gen. Mohammed Siad Barre, dissolved the national assembly, banned political parties, and established a supreme revolutionary council with the power to rule by decree pending adoption of a new constitution. The country's name was changed to the Somali Democratic Republic.

Under Barre's leadership Somalia joined the Arab League (1974) and developed strong ties with the Soviet Union and other Communist-bloc nations. In the late 1970s, however, after Somalia began supporting ethnic Somali rebels seeking independence for the disputed Ogaden region of Ethiopia, the Soviet Union sided with Ethiopia, and Somalia won backing from the United States and Saudi Arabia. Somalia invaded the disputed territory in 1977 but was driven out by Ethiopian forces in 1978. Guerrilla warfare in the Ogaden continued until 1988, when Ethiopia and Somalia reached a peace accord.

Warfare among rival factions within Somalia intensified, and in 1991 Barre was ousted from his power center in the capital by nationalist guerrillas. Soon afterward, an insurgent group in N Somalia (the former British Somaliland) that had begun its rebellion in the 1980s announced it had seceded from the country and proclaimed itself the Republic of Somaliland. In Mogadishu, Mohammed Ali Mahdi was proclaimed president by one group and Mohammed Farah Aidid by another, as fighting between rival factions continued. Civil war and the worst African drought of the century created a devastating famine in 1992, resulting in a loss of some 220,000 lives.

A UN-brokered truce was declared and UN peacekeepers and food supplies arrived, but the truce was observed only sporadically. Late in 1992, troops from the United States and other nations attempted to restore political stability and establish free and open food-aid routes by protecting ports, airports, and roads. However, there was widespread looting of food-distribution sites and hostility toward the relief effort by heavily armed militant factions.

Efforts to reestablish a central government were unsuccessful, and international troops became enmeshed in the tribal conflicts that had undone the nation. Failed attempts in 1993 by U.S. forces to capture Aidid, in reaction to an ambush by Somalis in which 23 Pakistani peacekeepers were killed, produced further casualties. Clan-based fighting increased in 1994 as the United States and other nations withdrew their forces; the last UN peacekeepers left the following year. Aidid died in 1996 from wounds suffered in battle.

The country was devastated by floods in 1997 and in the late 1990s was still without any organized government. Mogadishu and most of the south were ruled by violence. The breakaway Somaliland Republic, although not recognized internationally, continued to maintain a relatively stable existence, with Mohammed Ibrahim Egal (1993–2002), Dahir Riyale Kahin (2002–10), and Ahmed Mohamud Silanyo (2010–) as presidents; extensions of Riyale's term beginning in 2007 led to confrontations between the government and opposition. Somaliland had a growing economy and in the late 1990s began receiving aid from the European Union. The northeast (Puntland) section of the country also stablilized, with local clan leadership providing some basic services and foreign trade being carried on through its port on the Gulf of Aden. Both Puntland and Jubaland (in S Somalia) declared their independence in 1998. Although Jubaland was subsequently the scene of clan and sectarian fighting and ceased to have a separate existence, Puntland both retained its own government and participated in attempts to establish a Somali federal government.

In 2000 a five-month conference of mainly southern Somalis that had convened in Djibouti under the sponsorship of that nation's president established a national charter (interim constitution) and elected a national assembly and a president, Abdikassim Salad Hassan, who had been an official in Barre's regime. The new president flew to Mogadishu in August. A number of militias refused to recognize the new government, and officials and forces of the government were attacked several times by militia forces, and the government exercised minimal authority in the capital and little influence outside it. The establishment (Mar., 2001) of the Somali Reconciliation and Restoration Council by opposition warlords supported by Ethiopia, an overwhelming vote (June, 2001) in the Somaliland region in favor of remaining independent, and a declaration of independence (Apr., 2002) by Southwestern Somaliland, the fourth such regional state to be proclaimed, were further obstacles to the new government's acceptance.

In Oct., 2002, a cease-fire accord that also aimed at establishing a federal constitution was signed in Kenya by all the important factions except the Somaliland region. Fighting, however, continued in parts of the country. The sometimes stormy talks that followed the cease-fire were slow to produce concrete results, but a transitional charter was signed in Jan., 2004. Meanwhile, the mandate of the essentially symbolic interim government expired in Aug., 2003, but the president withdrew from talks, refused to resign, and had the prime minister (who remained involved in the talks) removed from office. In Sept., 2004, after many delays, a 275-member parliament was convened (in Kenya) under the new charter, and a new president, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, a former general who had served as president of Puntland, was elected in October. Somaliland remained a nonparticipant in the transitional government (and held elections for its own parliament later, in Oct., 2005). Coastal areas of Somalia, particularly in Puntland, suffered damage and the loss of several hundred lives as a result of the Dec., 2004, Indian Ocean tsunami.

The new government was slow to move to Somalia, delayed by disputes over who would be in the cabinet, whether nations neighboring Somalia would contribute troops to African Union peacekeeping forces, and whether the government would be initially established in the capital or outside it. The disputes in Kenya boiled over into fighting in Somalia in March and May, 2005, where the forces of two warlords battled for control of Baidoa, one of the proposed temporary capitals. Some government members, allied with the speaker of the parliament, meanwhile relocated to Mogadishu.

In June the president returned to his home region of Puntland, and in July he announced plans to move south to Jowhar, the other proposed temporary capital. A coalition of Mogadishu warlords announced that they would attack Jowhar if the president attempted to establish a temporary capital there, but the president nonetheless did so. The year also saw a dramatic increase in piracy and ship hijackings off the Somalia coast, including the hijacking of a UN aid ship and an attack on a cruise ship, and in subsequent years pirate attacks for ransom off the coast were a significant problem. By 2010 Somali pirates were ranging across much of the NW Indian Ocean. The pirates were mainly based in S Puntland, around the port of Eyl; the government of Puntland was accused of colluding with them. By 2012, however, antipiracy measures in the shipping lanes had led to a large drop in ship seizures.

In Jan., 2006, the disputing Somali factions agreed to convene the parliament at Baidoa, Somalia, and the following month it met there. There were outbreaks of fighting in Mogadishu in Feb.–Mar., 2006, between militia forces aligned with unofficial Islamic courts and militias loyal to several warlords. In April, Baidoa was officially established as Somalia's temporary capital. Fighting re-erupted in Mogadishu in April and by July the Islamist militias had won control of Mogadishu and, through alliances, much of S Somalia, except for the Baidoa region. A truce in June between the government and the Islamist was not generally honored. In Aug., 2006, Galmudug was established as an autonomous region just S of Puntland.

The Islamists, who were split between moderates and hardliners, established the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) and imposed Islamic law on the area under their control. In some areas their rule recalled that of the Taliban in Afghanistan. They were accused of having ties to Al Qaeda, which they denied, but there was apparent evidence of non-Somali fighters in the militia. Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, a hardliner who became leader of the UIC shura [council], had led an Islamist group ousted from Puntland by President Yusuf, and was regarded as a threat by Ethiopia for having accused that nation of "occupying" the Ogaden.

As the UIC solidified its hold over S Somalia, taking control of the port of Kismayo in September, hundreds of Somalis fled to NE Kenya. Also in September there was an attempt to assassinate President Yusuf. There were increased tensions between the UIC and Ethiopia over the presence of Ethiopian troops in Somalia in support of the interim government, a situation that Ethiopia denied until October, when it said they were there to train government forces. Eritrea was accussed of supplying arms to the UIC, raising the specter of a wider war involving Ethiopia and Eritrea.

In Oct., 2006, government and UIC forces clashed several times over Bur Hakaba, a town outside Baidoa on the road to Mogadishu. A number of attempts over the summer to restart talks between the government and the UIC stalled over various issues. The interim government was split between those who favored negotiations with UIC and the prime minister, who strongly objected to any negotiations. In addition, the government objected to the Islamists' seizure of additional territory since the June truce, and the UIC objected to the presence of Ethiopian forces in Somalia.

After increasing tension and clashes between the two sides in November, the UIC demanded that Ethiopian troops leave or face attack. Major fighting erupted late in December, and Somali government forces supported by Ethiopian forces soon routed the Islamists, who abandoned Mogadishu and then Kismayo, their last stronghold, by Jan. 1, 2007. Fighting continued into early 2007 in extreme S Somalia. The United States launched air strikes (using carrier aircraft offshore) against suspected Al Qaeda allies of the UIC, and U.S. special forces also conducted some operations in S Somalia. The government assumed control over the capital, declared a state of emergency, and called for the surrender of private weapons. Several warlords surrendered arms and merged their militias into the army, but concern over the warlords' forces remained.

Ethiopian and government forces soon found themselves fighting militias opposed to disarmament and motivated also by interclan distrust and anti-Ethiopian sentiment and Islamist guerrillas. Fierce battles in March and April in the capital caused hundreds of thousands to flee, and hundreds died. The presence of African Union peacekeepers, who began arriving in March and were stationed in Mogadishu, did little initially to alter the situation, but the situation quieted after the government largely established control in late April. Sporadic antigovernment attacks continued, however, occasionally erupting into more intense fighting. Also in April, some prominent members and former members of the government formed an anti-Ethiopian alliance with members of the UIC; the alliance subsequently included Ethiopian rebel groups as well.

A national reconciliation conference in July–Aug., 2007, was boycotted by Islamists and some clans. Divisions in the government between the president and Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi over their respective powers led to Gedi's resignation in October. That same month, tension and clashes between Somaliland and Puntland over the disputed border town of Los Anod erupted into significant fighting. In November, Nur Hassan Hussein, the head of the Somali Red Crescent, was named prime minister. By the end of 2007, some 600,000 had fled the capital due to the fighting there.

In Jan., 2008, the government officially returned to Mogadishu, but the ability of the Islamists during the year to seize and towns in S and central Somalia, including the ports of Kismayo in August and Merka (55 mi/90 km S of Mogadishu) in November, and the continuing fighting in the capital belied the government's gesture toward establishing its authority. A peace agreement was negotiated between the government and more moderate Islamist insurgents in June, 2008; in August both sides agreed to a joint police force and a phased Ethiopia pullback, and in November a power-sharing agreement was signed. More militant Islamists, however, rejected the agreements, which did not diminish violence in Somalia. Radical Islamists continued to make gains, and there was fighting between the radicals and more moderate Islamists; government control was restricted mainly to Mogadishu and Baidoa.

President Yusuf attempted to dismiss Prime Minister Nur in December and replace him, but Nur retained the support of the parliament. Yusuf, who was seen by many as an obstacle to the power-sharing agreement with the moderate Islamists, subsequently resigned. In Jan., 2009, Ethiopian forces withdrew from Somalia, although occasional incursions occurred in subsequent months and years; moderate Islamists joined the government the same month. Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, a moderate Islamist, was elected president; Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, son of the country's first president, became prime minister the following month.

Hardline Islamists continued their attacks, however, capturing Baidoa in January and other towns in the following months, gaining control of most of S and central Somalia. Fighting also occurred in the Mogadishu, becoming heavy beginning in May when hardliners seized large areas in the capital (though the government, defended primarily by AU peacekeepers, retained control of key buildings and infrastructure); fighting, at times heavy, has continued off and on in Mogadishu since then. In May, 2009, the interim government officially adopted Islamic law.

By July, 2009, an estimated 1.2 million Somalis had been displaced within Somalia by the fighting; some 300,000 were in border areas in Kenya. Tensions between hardline allies turned violent in Sept.–Oct., 2009, when two groups briefly fought for control of Kismayo, and fighting between some hardline factions has continued sporadically in S Somalia. Divisions within the hardliners have been outweighed, however, by the weakness and corruption of the interim government, which in 2010 experienced a power struggle between the president and prime minister. Tensions between the prime minister and parliament led the president to dismiss Sharmarke in May, 2010, but the prime minister denounced the move as unconstitutional and ultimately remained in office. In Sept., 2010, however, amid worsening power struggles in the government, the prime minister resigned; Mohamed Abdullahii Mohamed, a former diplomat succeeded him in October.

In July, 2010, meanwhile, Somali hardline Islamists mounted suicide bomb attacks in Kampala, Uganda, in retaliation for Uganda's participation in the peacekeeping forces in Somalia. A failed militant offensive in August to seize control of Mogadishu and divisions within the dominant militant group, Al Shabab, led to some territorial gains in the capital by African Union forces that continued into 2011. In Dec., 2010, the two main hardline Islamist groups, Al Shabab and Hizbul Islam, announced that they had merged.

In Feb., 2011, the transitional parliament voted to extend its term, which was due to expire in Aug., 2011, by three years; in March, the mandate of the government, due to expire at the same time, was extended for a year. In June, 2011, however, an agreement negotiated by Uganda between the president and the parliament speaker called for extending presidential and legislative terms until Aug., 2012, when new leaders would be chosen. Additionally, the agreement called for the resignation of the prime minister and the formation of a new government, and in June, Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, a Somali-American economist, became prime minister.

By mid-2011, food shortages due to drought had become a problem in parts of Somalia, which was hit by its worst drought in 60 years. The drought was especially dire in areas controlled by hardline Islamists, who had banned international aid groups in 2010. Some 260,000 people died and 1.5 million people migrated to the capital as a result of the famine, which ended early in 2012.

In Aug., 2011, hardline forces withdrew from most areas of Mogadishu, but their control over much of S and central Somalia was unaffected by the move, and fighting recurred in sections of the capital at times. In October, Kenyan forces invaded S Somalia to attack hardline Islamists, whom Kenya held responsible for a series of attacks in Kenya. Kenya agreed in December to incorporate its troops into the African Union forces operating in Somalia, and an offensive by government-aligned Somali forces in conjunction with AU, Kenyan, and Ethiopian troops continued into 2012. At the same time, however, the government remained divided and largely ineffective, and outside the capital a number of self-proclaimed autonomous regions and warlords sought to exercise power in areas no longer under hardline Islamist control.

In Feb., 2012, the hardline Islamist al-Shabab publicly proclaimed that it had joined its movement to Al Qaeda; the group suffered a series of setbacks in the first half of 2012, losing control in Mogadishu and other other towns. By July, many of its fighters had retreated north or toward Kismayo in the south; Kismayo was the most important urban area still under al-Shabab control. In August, a national constituent assembly approved and adopted a provisional constitution to replace the Transitional Federal Charter and a parliament was chosen by clan elders; the following month, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, a moderate Islamist and academic, was elected president. In October, Abdi Farrah Shirdon Said, a businessman, was named prime minister.

Also in October, a Somali-Kenyan offensive took control of Kismayo as al-Shabab withdrew. Al-Shabab remained in control of many rural areas in S Somalia, and at times returned to areas from which they had been expelled after government-aligned forces withdrew. In the first half of 2013 several clan militia leaders claimed to head a new government for Jubaland in S Somalia. The formation of Jubaland, seen as a potential buffer region between central Somalia and Kenya, was supported supported by Kenyan forces but opposed by the Somali government. Subsequently control of the region was contested by the rival militias. A leader allied with Kenyan forces but opposed by the Somalia government gained power in Kismayo after fighting broke out in mid-2013, and then was recognized as the region's interim leader.

In June, 2013, there was a split in Al-Shabab that subsequently led to fighting between hardline Islamists. The president survived an apparent assassination attempt unharmed in Sept., 2013; there was a significant attack on the presidential palace in Feb., 2014, but the president was unharmed. Disputes between the president and prime minister led to the latter's removal in Dec., 2013, by a no-confidence vote. Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed, a development economist, was then appointed prime minister, but he resigned a year later after conflicts with the president. In early 2014 Somali and UN peacekeeping forces mounted an offensive against Al-Shabab, dislodging them from strongholds in regions near the Ethiopian border and around the capital, and in October the group lost control of the port of Barawe, its last coastal stronghold. The group was nonetheless able to mount of number of attacks against the government in the capital in 2014. In Dec., 2014, former prime minister Sharmarke was appointed to a second term in the office.


See R. L. Hess, Italian Colonialism in Somalia (1966); D. D. Laitin and S. S. Samatar, Somalia (1985); I. M. Lewis, A Modern History of Somalia (1988); A. I. Samatar, The State and Rural Transformation in Northern Somalia (1989).

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Basic Data

Official Country Name: Somali Democratic Republic
Region (Map name): Africa
Population: 7,253,137
Language(s): Somali, Arabic, Italian,English
Literacy rate: 24%

Background & General Characteristics


Most press activity in Somalia is centered in Mogadishu. Newspapers and magazines are published in English, Somali, and Italian. Different sources claim two to nine daily newspapers operating in Somalia; unfortunately, each report may be accurate depending upon the day figures were gathered and the political situation. These newspapers have limited readershipmost under 10,000and inconsistent circulations due to the conflicts.

The Ministry of Information and National Guidance publishes a variety of weekly and monthly publications, and Xiddigta Oktobar (October Star), a daily Somali language paper. One privately owned newspaper managed to open in 1991, Al Majlis (The Council) and several others have opened between 1997 and 2002. There are many factional papers that are photocopied and have small distributions.

Audience and Language

Though Somali is the official language of the state, Arabic, Italian, and English are also spoken. According to the U.S. Department of State, most of Somalia's 7 million citizens (85 percent) are ethnic Somali; 15 percent are Bantu and Arab. Ninety-nine percent of the population is Sunni Muslim. The work force is 3.7 million: 60 percent pastoral nomads and forty percent agriculture, government, trading, fishing, industry-related to agricultural production, handicrafts, and other areas.

The 1973 introduction of an official Somali orthography based on the Latin alphabet, replacing several older systems, allows the Somali language, with three main dialects and standard usage of Common Somali, to be used throughout the nation. Where language-based prejudice and economic injustice were prevalent prior to 1973, the adoption of an official language allows for wider economic and educational access.

Economic Framework

Somalia is one of the poorest, least developed countries in the world. Agriculture is the most important segment of the economy. A majority of the population is nomadic or semi-nomadic and dependent on livestock. A small sector of the economy processes agricultural products such as sugar, corn, and sorghum; however, the civil war has forced the closing of many of these facilities. There is a small fishing industry on the coast. Livestock and bananas are the main exports.

The advancement and development of Somalia's economy is largely dependent on international assistance because of the internal problems and a significant lack of skilled, literate, and educated workers.

Press Laws

Somalia's Transitional National Government (TNG) had yet to adopt a constitution as of June 2002. The effort to establish a strong federal government is supported by various groups and clans in Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea, and Arab states; the TNG is opposed by Somalia Reconciliation and Restoration Council (SRRC).

The Somali Republic has adopted through referendum a constitution based on Islamic Shari'a (law), which means the citizens and government must abide by Islamic law found in the Quran. The constitution implies freedom of expression; however, Section 3 of Article 32 shows the conflict and contradiction: " All acts to subjugate them [media] are prohibited, and a law shall determine their regulation." This regulation of the media undoes any attempts at a free press, and the acts of violence and censorship against journalists are clear examples of how the leadership of the State of Puntland does not support a free press.

According to Amnesty International's 2000 Report, Somaliland and Puntland, which have some stable government systems, are not recognized in the international community because of poorly functioning judicial systems, primarily based on clan courts, that do not meet international standards. These courts tend to rubber-stamp whatever charges are made against citizens; these are the courts trying journalists.


While Somalia enjoyed a brief period when the country's press was free, the press has been heavily censored or under government control since 1969. The poverty and refugee status of most Somalis has left the issue of freedom of expression to be argued by a small few who often face harassment, attacks, beatings, abductions, and other forms of interference with their work. The Barre government commonly shut down newspapers, confiscated copies, and was responsible for arresting and imprisoning journalists. In 1991, the short-lived provisional government lifts all bans and censorship; by mid 1991, however, journalists are facing a return to the problems of censorship as well as physical harassment from war-lords and political groups.

The 2000 establishment of the TNG at peace talks in Djibouti offers a glimmer of hope for freedom of expression and the press. The Republic of Somaliland and the State of Puntland have been the biggest twenty-first century problems for reporters committed to the journalistic ethic of exposing the truth, including wrongdoings by authorities. Journalists working in these regions are arrested and imprisoned for criticizing the government or presenting a negative view of any issue facing the country: military actions, attacks on free press, food distribution, desertification, and environmental degradation have all resulted in censorship or harassment of some kind for journalists. In fact, several journalists have been prosecuted for saying the Somaliland and Puntland governments do not support press freedom.

State-Press Relations

While newspapers were previously representative of political parties, all independent publications were closed after Mohamed Siad Barre took power in 1969. For 22 years, most media outlets were government owned and censorship is commonplace.

The 1991 bloodless coup forced Barre and his supporters to flee Mogadishu, and left Somalia with no central government and many political and clan-based militia groups battling for power. The civil war left most Somalis uneducated and illiterate, living in poverty, and struggling for survival on a daily basis. According to the United States Committee for Refugees (USCR), many Somalis are still internally displaced or refugees in 2001. These numbers are a marked improvement over 1992, the height of the violence. Along with the human costs of war come the destruction of Somalia's telecommunications infrastructure, educational institutions, and libraries.

In 2000, the TNG was given three years to hold election, ratify a constitution, and unite southern Somalia and the breakaway Republic of Somaliland and State of Punt-land. Somalia's press system has struggled under this political legacy.

Attitude toward Foreign Media

One of the major issues for all Somalis is the way Somalia is presented in the international community as a wasteland and failure. Somali journalists, literary scholars and writers cite a long oral tradition and a sense of pride in the nation's culture that leaves them feeling protective of Somalia's image; simultaneously, these intellectuals are trying to present the truth of their nation's struggles. All journalists, foreign and local, face danger and censorship.

News Agencies

The Somali National News Agency (SONNA) reports the government's point of view on the country to foreign news bureaus.

Broadcast Media

Before the fall of the central government, two radio stationsRadio Mogadishu and Radio Hargeysa offered a variety of news and entertainment in several languages. The provisional government had no control of Radio Hargeysa, and in May 1991, the SNM-run station was renamed Voice of the Republic of Somaliland. There were three radio stations in 2002, including one in Galkayo; estimates for 1997 show 470,000 radios.

In 1983, the first Somali television station, which is state-run, began broadcasting two hours per day from Mogadishu ("Somalia: Mass Media"). This television service was disrupted in the 1990s. In 2002 two stations broadcast, in Mogadishu and Hargeisa, broadcasting to 135,000 televisions by 1997 estimates.

Electronic News Media

There is one Internet Service Provider (ISP) in Somalia and approximately 200 Internet users. Many Somali newspapers are available online.

Education & Training

Formerly a nation with a free, compulsory education system, the 1991 coup and subsequent civil war has led to the destruction of educational institutions and infrastructures. According to UNICEF, only 14 percent of school-age children attended college in 2001 (USCR). Most children born since 1985 have grown up with no formal education, and literacy rates have plummeted with an estimated 24 percent of the population able to read and write at age 15 or older in 2002.

No university-level journalism programs existed in 2002. However, in 2001 the BBC sponsored training programs throughout Somalia. The BBC also published a book, So What's Your View, in English and Somali. This first basic handbook for sahafi (journalists) fills a void where no journalistic training materials exist in Somali and only limited texts are available in English or Arabic. Maria Frauenrath and Yonis Ali Nur based the text on 21 months of journalism experience in Somalia.

In 2001 UNESCO funded the establishment of a Web site for the East Africa Media Women's Association (EAMWA), an organization sponsored by Open Society Institute and Freedom Forum. EAMWA seeks to educate and support the efforts of women working in the media in East Africa.


As long as Somalia lacks a unified federal government and civil war continues, it seems that only incremental growth and change will occur in the press, or the country as a whole. International support for Somalia is necessary for significant growth in the economy, educational institutions, and media outlets. If the groups desiring an Islamic state are victorious, it can be assumed that the media will continue to be measured by Islamic Shari'a, and limits and censorship will continue to dominate the press. Perhaps as more Somali journalists are trained and able to take a leadership role in the press system, these individuals will become advocates to improve the literacy and economic situation of the general population.

Significant Dates

  • 2000: Peace talks establish the Transitional National Government (TNG); radio commentator Ahmed Kafi Awale is shot by thieves while covering Mogadishu's Bakara Market (
  • 2001: In June the first privately owned radio station began broadcasting in Puntland.


Amnesty International. Annual Report 2000: Somalia. 4 June 2002. Available from

ArabNet. Somalia: Overview. Available from

BBC Somali Service. News Bulletins. Available at:

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). World Factbook 2001. 2002. Available at

Frauenrath, Maria, and Yonis Ali Nur. What's Your View. Available at:

International Journalists' Network. Somalia. Available at:

United States Committee for Refugees. "Current Country Update: Somalia," Worldwide Refugee Information. Available from

United States Library of Congress. Somalia: Communications. Available from

United States Library of Congress. Somalia: Language and Education. Available from

United States Library of Congress. Somalia: Mass Media. Available from

World Press Freedom Review. Somalia: 2001. Available from

Suzanne Drapeau Morley

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POPULATION: More than 7 million

LANGUAGE: Maxaad tiri; Arabic

RELIGION: Islam (Sunni)


In the late nineteenth century, the northern half of Somalia became a British protectorate. The southern half of Somalia was an Italian colony until 1960. In that year, it was united with the northern half to become an independent republic. Since the early 1990s, Somalia has suffered from a civil war between rival clans.

Unlike most African nations, Somalia has only one ethnic group, divided into various clans. However, the Somalis are all united by a common language and a reliance on raising animals. They also have a shared Islamic heritage. In addition, they believe they are descended from a common ancestor. Somali-speakers living in parts of Kenya, Ethiopia, and Djibouti, as well as Somalia, are all considered to be part of one Somali nation.


Somalia is located on what is commonly called the Horn of Africa. Two long, sandy plains dominate the coastal areas along the Indian Ocean to the east. The interior includes a series of moderate mountain ranges in the north, and a large rugged plateau in the south. The total area of the country is about 250,000 square miles (647,500 square kilometers).


The language spoken by the vast majority of the Somali people is referred to as Maxaad tiri. However, various dialects are spoken by different clans. Maxaad tiri and Arabic are the official languages of Somalia. Many older people in the south also speak Italian. Government officials in the cities often speak English.


Ceremonial feasts among the Somali people always include the telling of heroic tales of ancestors. Much Somali folklore revolves around ancestors on the father's side of the family. They are regarded as "family heroes."


The official state religion of Somalia is Islam. Almost 100 percent of the Somali population is Sunni Muslim (branch of Islam). The Somali follow the practices associated with Islam. They pray five times a day and do not eat pork products or drink alcohol. Men may have up to four wives at one time. However, Somalis are not as traditionally religious as Muslims in many other cultures. For example, women do not practice purdah, or seclusion. They do not wear veils or cover their entire bodies when outside the home.

Somalis incorporate a belief in a spirit world into their religious system. These spirits, or jinns, can be either good or evil. They are believed to cause illness, loss of property, marital problems, infertility, and even death. There are specialists who "fight" jinns through special ceremonies resembling exorcisms.


Ramadan is a month-long fast during which Muslims do not eat or drink during daylight hours. Ramadan ends with the feast of Eid al-Adha. Believers are expected, at least once in their lives, to make a hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca during the month of Ramadan. Muhammad's birthday, Mowluud, is celebrated with feasting.


Life events among the Somali are celebrated by feasting. Birth is always an important event. Sheep or goats are killed to celebrate the birth of either a boy or girl. Death is also marked by feasting. The status of the deceased dictates the type and number of animals killed (a goat for a young child, one or more camels for the death of an old, wealthy male).

Marriage is viewed as a bond between two families, rather than between two individuals. It is marked by a series of exchanges and ceremonies. A bride price (meher) of camels, cattle, sheep, or goats is given to the family of the bride. The bride's family supplies items for everyday life: the aqal (a portable house), a bed, cooking utensils, mats, ropes, and skins.


There is a strong tradition of hospitality that obligates individuals to welcome close kin-folk, clan members, and even strangers with tea and food. The most common greetings are Maalin wanaagsan (Good day) and Nabad myah? (How are you?). For men, these greetings are followed by an extended shaking of hands. Women greet each other less formally.

There is nothing resembling dating in the rural areas of Somalia. Even in urban areas, the contact between unmarried men and women is limited. Unmarried men in their twenties will flirt with women by dancing together as a group.


The vast majority (90 percent) of the Somali people live in small villages scattered throughout the rural areas of the country. Few of them have electricity, clean running water, paved roads, or public services. There are two types of rural housing: mundals and aqals. Mundals are permanent structures made of a mud and dung mixture. It is spread over a wooden frame and then topped with a thatched roof. These houses are occupied by a husband and wife, with their children. An aqal is a mobile house made of wooden sticks and hides. It can be transported on the back of a camel. Every married woman owns an aqal. She is responsible for setting up and dismantling it as nomadic camps are moved.

The standard of living in urban areas has declined since the civil war of the early 1990s. Before the war, the residents of the capital city of Mogadishu, Hargeysa, and other cities had access to electricity, running water, and paved roads. Most urban dwellers lived in single-family houses.


Family structure is based on descent through the father's lineage (patrilineal descent). Men belong to their father's clans, and inheritance (wahaad) passes from father to son. As Muslims, men are allowed as many as four wives at one time. Divorce is easy and common. Thus, some men may have had ten or more wives in the course of a lifetime. After marriage, women live in the village or camp of their husband.


Somalis dress for comfort in the hot, dry climate. Men have traditionally worn a long piece of lightweight cloth (mawhees) as a wraparound skirt. A lightweight shirt is usually worn, as well. Women traditionally wear a dress that covers their entire body from shoulders to ankles. They generally wear a shawl for covering their heads when in the presence of nonfamily males.

Young girls usually wear a simple dress made of a lightweight fabric. Young boys wear shorts and, most recently, imported T-shirts with logos of American and European sports teams.


Meat is the most valued food among the Somalis. Camel meat is the most popular. Cattle, goats, sheep, and chickens are also killed and eaten. Grains and vegetables are the everyday staple, with sorghum the most common grain. Maize (corn) and rice are available in urban areas. All grains are cooked as a porridge and traditionally eaten from a common bowl.

Food delicacies include camel's hump, sheep's tail, goat's liver, and camel's milk.


The civil war of the 1990s virtually destroyed the educational system. Almost all government-run schools closed. Koran schools (where teaching is based on the Muslim holy scriptures, the Koran) provide the only schooling available for the majority of children. These schools are usually attended only by boys and traditionally emphasize memorization of the Koran. However, many are now providing a broader education.


At feasts, men tell heroic tales about their ancestors, and recite passages from the Koran. They also recall past events that affected themselves and their animals. Dancing, accompanied by singing, is usually only performed by unmarried males in their twenties. These dances are intended mostly to attract a mate. In the course of the dance, the men prove their bravery by slashing their arms and legs with large knives.


Raising animals (animal husbandry) is the most common activity in Somalia. Somalis do this to feed themselves, and earning just enough money from their animals to get by. The main animals kept are camels, cattle, sheep, and goats. Agriculture is practiced between the country's two major rivers. Sorghum, maize (corn), and other crops are raised.

Somalis practice a clear division of labor based on gender. Men and boys tend to the animals. Women and girls prepare meals and undertake other domestic tasks. In areas where crops can be grown, women and children are largely responsible for tending, weeding, and harvesting them.


Soccer is the most popular and widely played sport in Somalia. However, it is played primarily in the cities and larger towns.

In rural areas, children take on responsibilities at an early age. Boys, especially, have little time for organized sport.


Most entertainment among rural Somalis occurs in ceremonies associated with major life transitions. It includes storytelling and recounting the exploits of one's kinfolk and ancestors.

Television is nonexistent in Somalia, although before the civil war the government did provide a radio service. Many urban and rural Somalis listen regularly to BBC radio broadcasts. Before the civil war of the 1990s, movie theaters also operated in all major cities and towns, before the outbreak of widespread fighting


The Somali produce fine wooden utensils, leather goods, woven mats and ropes, knife blades, and arrow points. Much of the craft work is done by ordinary villagers for their own use.


The complete breakdown of the government since the early 1990s has brought public services to a halt. Civil warfare began in late 1991 and lasted for over two years. Agriculture and livestock-raising were disrupted. Approximately 400,000 people died of starvation. Another 50,000 people died in the fighting. As of the late 1990s, United Nations' efforts to reestablish a stable central government had failed.


Burton, Richard F. First Footsteps in East Africa. London, England: Routledge & K. Paul, 1966.

Cassanelli, L. V. The Shaping of Somali Society. Philadelphia: The University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982.

Hassig, Susan M. Somalia, Cultures of the World. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 1997.

Jardine, D. The Mad Mullah of Somaliland. West-port, Conn.: Negro Universities Press, 1969 (orig. 1924).

Loughran, Katheryne S. et al., eds. Somalia in Word and Image. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986.

Metz, Helen Chapin, ed. Somalia, A Country Study, 4th ed. Washington, D.C.: Headquarters, Dept. of the Army, 1993.


ArabNet. [Online] Available, 1998.

World Travel Guide, Somalia. [Online] Available, 1998.

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Official name: Somalia

Area: 637,657 square kilometers (246,201 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Mount Shimbiris (2,416 meters/7,927 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sea level

Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern

Time zone: 3 p.m. = GMT

Longest distances: 1,847 kilometers (1,148 miles) from north-northeast to south-southwest; 835 kilometers (519 miles) from east-southeast to west-northwest

Land boundaries: 2,366 kilometers (1,470 miles) total boundary length; Djibouti 58 kilometers (36 miles); Ethiopia 1,626 kilometers (1,010 miles); Kenya 682 kilometers (424 miles)

Coastline: 3,025 kilometers (1,880 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 370 kilometers (200 nautical miles)


Somalia is located on the Horn of Africa, a peninsula on the eastern coast of Africa that separates the Gulf of Aden to the north and the Indian Ocean to the east and south. The country also shares borders with Kenya, Ethiopia, and Djibouti. With an area of about 637,657 square kilometers (246,201 square miles), the country is slightly smaller than the state of Texas. Somalia is divided into eighteen administrative regions.


In the northwest, along the Gulf of Aden, the Republic of Somaliland, with some 3.5 million people, declared its independence from Somalia in 1991. This claim of independence has yet to be recognized internationally, however. While Somaliland does have a functioning government of its own, it is still officially considered to be a part of Somalia.


Somalia has an arid or semiarid climate. In normal years there are four seasons, two with rain and two essentially without rain. December through March, the time of the northeast monsoon winds, is a very dry season, with moderate temperatures in the north and hot temperatures in the south. April through June is a spring-like rainy season with hot temperatures. July through September, the time of the southwest monsoon winds, is a dry and hot season. October and November is a humid, sporadically rainy season.

Somalia's average temperature is between 25°C and 28°C (77°F and 82°F). Temperatures fall as low as 0°C (32°F) in the mountains of the north and reach as high as 47°C (117°F) on the coasts.

In non-drought times, Somalia's average annual rainfall is only 28 centimeters (11 inches). Droughts can strike Somalia when rainfall decreases even slightly. Their effects are worsened by factors such as over-grazing, erosion, disruptions of nomadic routes, and breakdowns in water access and food distribution. These problems can also cause severe flooding. Major droughts ravaged Somalia in 1974-75, 1984-85, 1992, 1999, and 2001. Flooding caused damage in 1997 and 2002.


The land of Somalia consists mostly of plateau regions that rise to hills in the northern part of the country. Somalia is predominantly scrubland and desert. Only 13 percent of the land is arable, and there are few rivers or other dependable sources of fresh water. Somalia faces daunting food and water management issues that have often reached a state of crisis.


Seacoast and Undersea Features

The Gulf of Aden, an inlet of the Indian Ocean, lies to the north of Somalia and separates the country from Yemen. Because it leads to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, the Gulf of Aden is a crucial shipping lane, particularly for petroleum vessels. The eastern coast of Somalia directly faces the Indian Ocean.

Sea Inlets and Straits

There are no major inlets on Somalia's coastline.

Islands and Archipelagos

The Bajuni is a 125-kilometer- (77-mile-) long coral reef chain of several small islands and many islets or rocks. It includes Coiama (Somalia's largest island, covering 6 square kilometers/2.5 square miles), Ngumi, the Ciovai pair, Ciula (inhabited), Daracas, and Ciandra. Most of the islands are barren and without permanent settlement.

Coastal Features

Somalia has the second-longest coastline in Africa (only South Africa's is longer.) The northern coast, along the Gulf of Aden, begins on the west at the border of Djibouti. Sandy beaches are interspersed with rocky cliffs, and the north coast has no reefs. Ras Caseyr (Cape Guardafui) is a rugged headland where the north and east coasts meet. Due south of the Cape, the Point Xaafuun (Ras Hafun) promontory juts out. From there, the Indian Ocean coast runs south in a succession of sandy beaches with little indentation. Along the southern stretch, from Mogadishu to the Kenya border, coral reefs form a barrier to the shore, which lacks natural harbors.


Somalia does not have any permanent lakes. In the Haud, some basins are filled by rains and intermittent floodwater, creating temporary ponds. Somalia also has artificial ponds designed to capture precious seasonal waters for irrigation and drinking. Wells and springs are of great importance to Somalia's water supply.


Somalia's two permanently flowing rivers, the Jubba (Gestro) and Shabeelle, are used for irrigation but are not navigable by large boats. The Jubba and Shabeelle Rivers both have their sources in Ethiopia and run south through Somalia towards the Indian Ocean. The Jubba River is approximately 1,610 kilometers (1,000 miles) long. The Shabeelle River, the country's longest river, has a total length of 2,011 kilometers (1,250 miles), of which only 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) run through Somalia. The Jubba River empties directly into the Indian Ocean in southern Somalia. To its north, the Shabeelle River flows towards the coast, then turns southeast following the coast, dwindling to its end in marshlands and sand flats. In times of heavy rain, the Shabeelle waters can meet those of the Jubba. The area between the two rivers is Somalia's most fertile region.

The Jubba/Shabeelle river system and the seasonal watercourses found in badly eroded, deforested, and desert terrain are highly vulnerable to sporadic flooding.

The wetlands of Somalia surround the outlet of the Jubba River and the lower reaches of the Shabeelle River, where swamp basins are the habitat of birds and reptiles. Some mangrove forests are still found in Somalia, especially along the Jubba outlet, but most have been destroyed by cutting for fuel and fodder.

The two largest watercourses in northern Somalia are the seasonal Daror and Nugaaleed stream systems. Both are usually dry.


About 25 percent of Somalia is desert, usually consisting of sand or gravel mixed with some vegetation. The deserts run along most of Somalia's northern and central coasts and extend into the interior. Desertification is steadily claiming grassland and wooded areas across Somalia.

On the Gulf of Aden coast, the Guban Desert is a hot, dry plain with a system of sandy seasonal watercourses. The arid Hobyo region extends north from Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, along the Indian Ocean coast. It is a desert with low vegetation that is a habitat for birds, reptiles, and antelopes. Over-grazing of the grasses that anchored the dunes in place has destabilized areas of sand dunes along the Indian Ocean coast.


Up to 70 percent of Somalia is a scrubland ecosystem of coarse grass-patches and shrubs. This terrain is especially pervasive in the Haud Plateau region of the north and throughout the south. The scrub vegetation receives minimal rain, but it is resilient. Where there is water, as in the area between the Jubba and Shabelle Rivers, good pastureland results.

Nomadic Somalis pasture their herds of camels, cattle, goats, and sheep on the scrub grasslands. Much of Somalia's grassland is being lost to desertification as a result of over-grazing and the cutting of fodder grass for export to neighboring countries.

Somalia has only 1 percent of its forest cover remaining, mainly located in the far south. Trees are cut for fuel, fodder, and livestock shelters, and there is very little reforestation. The southern forest includes eucalyptus, tall cactus, and mahogany. Trees that provide myrrh and frankincense are also native to Somalia. The north has some acacia scrub and savannah forest.

In the northern region called the Ogo, limestone hills at elevations of 900 to 1,200 meters (2,953 to 3,937 feet) distinguish a rough terrain dissected with dried-up streambeds. The hills are covered with scrub vegetation, which provides grazing for livestock and antelopes.


Somalia's only mountains, the Migiurtinia and Ogo ranges, are in the north, extending from Ethiopia and following the Gulf of Aden coast with a high escarpment until the cliffs form the tip of the Horn of Africa. Somalia's highest peak, Mount Shimbiris, rises 2,416 meters (7,927 feet) at the center of the northern range.


Throughout Somalia, soil erosion has caused gullies and canyons to appear. A lack of roads has led to trucks being driven across pastures, eroding gullies in the dry soil. Seasonal watercourses also carve deep ravines into the landscape.


South of the mountains, the dry Somali Plateau continues from eastern Ethiopia's Ogaden region to become the Ogo Plateau, the Mudug Plain, and the Haud region of central/southwest Somalia. These plateau regions vary in height from 1,829 meters (6,000 feet) in the Ogo to 500 meters (1,640 feet) in the Haud.


There are no major man-made structures affecting the geography of Somalia.



D'Haem, Jeanne. The Last Camel: True Stories About Somalia. Lawrenceville, NJ: Red Sea Press, 1997.

Fox, Mary Virginia. Somalia. New York: Children's Press, 1996.

Hassig, Susan M. Somalia. Cultures of the World. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 1998.

Nnoromele, Salome. Somalia. San Diego, CA: Lucent Books, 2000.

Web Sites

The United Nations: Agencies in Somalia. (accessed March 20, 2003).

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637,660sq km (246,201sq mi)



capital (population):

Mogadishu (1,183,100)



ethnic groups:

Somali 98%, Bantu, Arab 1%


Somali and Arabic (both official), English, Italian


Sunni Muslim 99%


Somali shilling = 100 cents

Republic in e Africa. Somalia occupies part of the e Horn of Africa. A narrow, mostly barren, coastal plain borders the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden. The capital, Mogadishu, is also Somalia's major port. In the interior, the land rises to a plateau, nearly 1000m (3300ft) high. In the n is a highland region. The s contains the only rivers, the Juba and the Scebeli.

Climate and Vegetation

Rainfall is light; the wettest regions are in the far s and n highlands. Drought is a persistent problem. Temperatures on the plateaux and plains regularly reach 32°C (90°F). Much of Somalia is dry grassland or semi-desert. There are areas of wooded grassland, with trees such as acacia and baobab. Plants are most abundant in the the lower Juba valley.

History and Politics

In the 7th century, Arab traders established coastal settlements and introduced Islam. In c.900, Mogadishu was founded as a trading centre. The interest of European imperial powers increased after the opening of the Suez Canal (1869). In 1887, Britain established a Protectorate in what is now n Somalia. In 1889, Italy formed a Protectorate in the central region, and extended its power to the s by 1905. In 1896, France established a colony in modern-day Djibouti. In 1936 Italian Somaliland united with the Somali regions of Ethiopia to form Italian East Africa. During World War 2, Italy invaded (1940) British Somaliland. In 1941, British forces reconquered the region, and captured Italian Somaliland. In 1950, Italian Somaliland returned to Italy as a UN Trust Territory.

In 1960, both Somalilands gained independence and joined to form the United Republic of Somalia. The new republic faced pan-Somali irredentists' calls for the creation of a ‘Greater Somalia’ to include the Somali-majority areas in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti. In 1969, the army, led by Siad Barre, seized power and formed a socialist, Islamic republic. During the 1970s, Somalia and Ethiopia fought for control of the Ogaden Desert, inhabited mainly by Somali nomads. In 1978 Ethiopia forced Somalia to withdraw, but resistance continued, forcing one million refugees to flee to Somalia. In 1991, Barre was overthrown and the United Somali Congress (USC), led by Ali Mahdi Muhammad, gained power. Somalia disintegrated into civil war between rival clans. The Ethiopia-backed Somali National Movement (SNM) gained control of nw Somalia, and seceded as the Somaliland Republic in 1991. An attack from the Somali National Alliance (SNA), led by General Muhammad Aideed, shattered Mogadishu. War and drought resulted in a devastating famine that claimed thousands of lives. The UN was slow to provide relief and, when aid arrived, it was unable to secure distribution. US marines led a taskforce to secure food distribution, but became embroiled in conflict with Somali warlords, and destroyed the headquarters of General Aideed.

In 1994, 30 US marines died in the fighting and US forces withdrew. Civil strife continued, and in 1996 Aideed was killed. The Cairo Declaration (December 1997), signed by 26 of the 28 warring factions, including Ali Mahdi Muhammad and Aideed's son Hussein Aideed, held out hope of an end to factional feuding. In 2000, clan leaders elected Abdulkassim Salat Hassan as president, but factional fighting continued.


Somalia is one of the world's poorest countries, stricken by drought and civil war (2000 GDP per capita, US$600). Many Somalis are nomadic herdspeople. Live animals, hides, and skins are major exports. Bananas grow in the south.

Political map

Physical map



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Culture Name


Alternative Names

Somali Democratic Republic, Soomaaliya (in Somali)


Identification. Somalia was known to the ancient Egyptians as the Land of Punt. They valued its trees which produced the aromatic gum resins frankincense and myrrh. Punt is also mentioned in the Bible, and ancient Romans called it Cape Aromatica. Somalia is named for the legendary father of the Somali people, Samaal (or Samale).

The Somali people share a common language, Somali, and most are Muslims of the Sunni sect. Somalis also live in northern Kenya; in the Ogaden region of eastern Ethiopia; and in Djibouti, to the northwest of Somalia. In spite of national boundaries, all Somalis consider themselves one people. This unity makes them one of Africa's largest ethnic groups.

Location and Geography. Somalia is on the outer edge of the Somali Peninsula, also called the Horn of Africa, on the East African coast. It is bordered on the north by the Gulf of Aden, on the east by the Indian Ocean, on the southwest by Kenya, and on the west and northwest by Ethiopia and Djibouti.

At approximately 246,200 square miles (637,658 square kilometers), Somalia is about the size of Texas. Its coastline extends about 1,800 miles (2,896 kilometers). Somalia is hot for much of the year, with two wet and two dry seasons. Vegetation is generally sparse, except in the area between the Jubba and the Shabeelle Rivers in south-central Somalia.

A semiarid plain called the Guban runs parallel to the northern coast of Somalia. The Karkaar Mountains extend from Somalia's northwestern border to the eastern tip of the Horn of Africa, with the highest point, Shimber Berris, at 7,900 feet (2,408 meters). South of the mountain ranges, a central plateau known as the Haud extends to the Shabeelle River and westward into the Ogaden region of eastern Ethiopia. During the rainy seasons, from April to June and from October to November, this area provides plenty of water and grazing lands for livestock.

Somalia's two rivers, the Jubba and the Shabeelle, flow from the Ethiopian highlands into southeastern Somalia. The Shabeelle (Leopard) River does not enter the Indian Ocean but instead turns parallel to the coast and runs southward for 170 miles (274 kilometers) before drying up in marshes and sand flats. The Jubba flows year-round into the Indian Ocean.

The port city of Mogadishu, in southeastern Somalia on the Indian Ocean, is the largest city and the traditional capital of Somalia. Mogadishu was largely destroyed in the fighting between clans during the civil war of the 1990s. In 2000 a Somali assembly voted to make Mogadishu the new president's base but to move other government functions to the city of Baidoa, northwest of Mogadishu, until the capital could be rebuilt.

Demography. No census was taken in Somalia until 1975, and those figures were not reported. The large number of nomads makes it difficult to get an accurate population count. Population estimates have been made based on the 19861987 census, which recorded a population of 7.1 million. In spite of the death toll due to famine and civil war in the 1990s, 2000 population estimates range from 9 million to 14.5 million. About three-quarters of the people live in rural areas and one-quarter in the cities. Ethnic Somalis make up about 95 percent of the population. The remainder are Indians, Pakistanis, other Asians, Arabs, Europeans, and groups of mixed ancestry.

Linguistic Affiliation. All Somalis speak Somali, the official language. In the Afro-Asiatic family of languages, Somali is an Eastern Cushitic language. Somali did not become a written language until January 1973. Common Somali is the most widely spoken dialect, but Coastal Somali and Central Somali also are spoken. Somalis frequently use wordplay and humor in everyday communication.

Arabic, the language of the Qur'an, is spoken and read for religious purposes. A small percentage of Somalis also speak Italian, and a growing number speak English. Educated young adults from well-to-do urban families may speak five or more languages.

Symbolism. The most widely recognized symbol is the camel, because it provides transportation, milk, meat, income, and status to a majority of Somalis.

Other symbols of Somalia are the five-pointed white star on the Somali flag and the crescent, which represents the new moon and is a universal symbol of the Islamic faith. Each point of the star represents a land that is home to Somali people: the portion within the national boundaries, once divided into two territories, Italian and British; the Ogaden region of Ethiopia; the Northern Frontier District of Kenya; and Djibouti. Somalis hope that one day all these territories can become a unified Somali nation.

The leopard is considered the national symbol of Somalia. Two African leopards adorn the national emblem, a five-pointed white star on a light blue shield with a gold border.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. The origin of the Somali people is uncertain. Current theory suggests that the Somali originated in the southern Ethiopian highlands and migrated into northern Kenya during the first millennium b.c.e. They then gradually migrated northward to populate the Horn of Africa by c.e. 100.

The Somalis are tall and wiry in stature, with aquiline features, elongated heads, and light brown to black skin. Somali women are known for their beauty.

Arabs introduced the Islamic faith to Africa beginning in the seventh century. By the tenth century, Arab trading posts thrived in southern Somalia, along the Indian Ocean. These included Mogadishu, established as the first Arab settlement in East Africa. The city was at the height of its influence and wealth during the thirteenth century, when it controlled the gold trade on the East African coast.

Most Somalis converted to Islam by about 1100. They joined with the Arabs in fighting the Islamic holy wars against Ethiopian Christians in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. By the eighteenth century the Somalis had defeated the Oromo people, who had threatened both Muslims and Christians in Ethiopia and Somalia. The Somalis became the dominant people in the land.

Europeans became interested in Somalia during the nineteenth century, beginning with its exploration by British adventurer Sir Richard Burton in 1854. Interest grew when the Suez Canal opened in 1869, and in 1887 Britain declared the northern Somalia coast a protectorate, known as British Somaliland. The French claimed the far western coast (now Djibouti) at about the same time, naming it French Somaliland. Italy took control of southern Somalia, including Mogadishu, in 1889, naming it Italian Somaliland.

In 1899 Somali Islamic teacher Muhammad Abdullah Hasan (18561920), known to the British as "the Mad Mullah," gathered an army. They hoped to gain the Ogaden region of Ethiopia for Somalis and to drive out the non-Islamic Europeans. Hasan and his army, called Dervishes, fought the Ethiopians and later the British from 1900 to 1920. The British bombed the Dervish capital in 1920 and Hasan escaped, but he died later that year, ending the resistance movement.

At the beginning of World War II the Italians drove the British from northern Somalia. The British recaptured Somalia and drove out the Italians in 1941. In 1949 the United Nations (U.N.) General Assembly awarded Italy administrative control over southern Somalia as a trust territory for a ten-year period that would then lead to Somalia's independence. British Somaliland was awarded its independence on 26 June 1960 and united with Italian Somaliland to establish the Somali Republic on 1 July 1960. After independence, parliamentary leader Aadan Abdullah Usmaan was appointed president by the legislature. He appointed Abdirashiid Ali Shermaarke the first prime minister of Somalia.

National Identity. Although united as one nation in 1960, northern and southern Somalia had for years functioned as two separate countries, with separate school systems, taxes, currencies, police, and political and legal administrations. As early as December 1961, northern Somali military leaders pushed for separation of the north and the south. At the same time, most Somalis wanted to unite the regions outside of Somalia that were populated with many Somalisthe Ogaden, the NFD in Kenya, and Djibouti. In the 1960s, a guerrilla warfare campaign by Somali shiftas (bandits) in Kenya and skirmishes over the Ogaden region resulted in a mutual defense agreement against the Somalis by Kenya and Ethiopia.

Former prime minister Shermaarke was elected president in 1967, and his prime minister, Muhammad Ibrahim Egal, focused on internal development and restoration of peace with Ethiopia and Kenya.

Shermaarke was assassinated by a bodyguard on 15 October 1969. Somali military took control of Mogadishu in a coup d'état on 21 October 1969.

The new government, called the Supreme Revolutionary Council (SRC), chose army commander Major General Muhammad Siad Barre as president and renamed Somalia the Somali Democratic Republic. Based on principles of Marxism as well as on the Qur'an and on Siad Barre's ideas about self-reliance for the Somali people, this new political ideology for Somalia was known as "scientific socialism."

Somalia was engaged in the Ogaden War with Ethiopia in 19771978. Defeated, Somalia suffered an economic decline, and there was growing national opposition to Siad Barre's leadership, nearly a one-man government by 1982. Siad Barre was severely injured in a car accident on 23 May 1986, and a power struggle for control of the government began between political leaders and clan leaders. Siad Barre recovered and was nominated for another seven-year term, but various clans whose members had been terrorized by Siad Barre's Red Berets (a military terrorist unit from his own clan, the Mareehaan) rose up against him.

In 1990, members of the Hawiye clan of south-central Somalia formed the United Somali Congress (USC), and in December they stormed Mogadishu and defeated the Red Berets. Siad Barre escaped to Nigeria. The USC's leader, Muhammad Ali Mahdi, was appointed president, but Hawiye subclan leader General Muhammad Farah Aidid, of the Habir Gedir subclan, also claimed power. The two disagreed on forming a central government for Somalia, and civil war began.

Somali civilians suffered the most in the unstable years that followed. It was estimated that some three hundred thousand Somalis died between 1991 and mid-1993. Although international relief organizations sent food and supplies, much was stolen by bandits and warring clan members before it could reach those who needed it most.

U.N. secretary-general Boutros Boutros-Ghali arranged a truce between Mahdi and Aidid in December 1992, but clan members continued to fight. The United States led Operation Restore Hope in 1992, and U.N. countries sent food and supplies, along with soldiers to ensure that they reached the people. In mid-1993 the U.N. Security Council resolved to turn the operation into a "nation-building" effort that would include disarming militias and restoring political and civil institutions. The operation deteriorated as Somalis and U.N. troops committed acts of violence against one another. U.S. troops were pulled out of Somalia in early 1994, and the last U.N. troops left in March 1995.

Aidid died in the fighting in Mogadishu in August 1996, but his son, Hussein Muhammad Aidid, took his place and continued his father's mission to put their subclan in control of Somalia.

After U.N. aid slowed and troops were withdrawn, the situation gradually improved in Somalia. Farmers returned home and produced a good harvest in 1995. Although clan fighting continued in 1997 and 1998 and no central government was established, local governments continued to function.

In August 2000, after twelve failed attempts to organize a central government, some two thousand Somalis representing the clans and subclans met in Djibouti to discuss forming a government for Somalia.

During the clan wars of the early 1990s, northern Somalia declared itself the independent Somaliland Republic, appointed former Somali prime minister Muhammad Ibrahim Egal as its president, wrote a constitution, developed an assembly, and governmental institutions, and began to function successfully apart from the warring to the south. Although it has not been recognized as a separate nation, the Somaliland Republic continues to declare itself independent. Members of the Murjateen clan in northeastern Somalia also formed their own government during the 1990s, calling their territory Puntland, although they agreed to rejoin Somalia if a central government was formed.

Ethnic Relations. Some 95 percent of the people of Somalia are ethnic Somalis, and relations with the small percentage of Arabs, Indians, Pakistanis, Asians, Europeans, and mixed groups living in Somalia are generally peaceful. With a history of colonization by the British, French, and Italians, the Somalis are said to be wary of foreigners, even fearful of possible renewed colonization. Somali civilians, however, welcomed U.N. troops arriving during Operation Restore Hope in the early 1990s, and most Somalis welcome the international relief workers who have become a part of daily life in post-civil war Somalia.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Nomadic herders spend nearly all of their time outdoors. A large shade tree might provide a meeting place or a classroom.

The traditional shelter of the herders is the aqal, a dome-shaped, collapsible hut made from poles covered by hides, woven fiber mats, or sometimes cloth or tin. Easy to break down and reassemble, the aqal is carried on a camel's back and set up by the women of the family once a new camp is made. A bed made from wooden stakes covered with hides is the only furniture in the aqal. Nomads have few possessions, and each item has practical uses. Cooking utensils, storage boxes, stools, woven mats, and water bags are among the family's only household goods.

A nomad camp may be surrounded by a fence made from thorn bushes to keep out predators. Animals are also kept in corrals made from thorn bushes. A prayer area may be set apart within the camp by a circle of stones.

Farmers make permanent homes that are similar to the aqal. Round huts called mundals are made from poles and brush or vines plastered with mud, animal dung, and ashes and covered with a broad, cone-shaped thatched roof. Rectangular huts, often with flat tin roofs, are called arish. Other homes are built from logs, stone, brick, or cement. Farmers have a few pieces of wooden furniture and decorative pottery, gourds, or woven goods.

City dwellers often live in Arab-style whitewashed houses made of stone or brick covered with plaster or cement. These are one-or two-story houses, with a flat roof. Bars cover the lower windows, which rarely have screens or glass. Wealthy Somalis, Europeans, and others may have traditional Western-style homes with tile roofs and walled courtyards. Many Somalis, even in the cities, do not have electricity and running water in their homes.

Somalia's largest cities are the ports of Mogadishu, Merca, Baraawe, and Kismayu on the Indian Ocean, and Berbera on the Gulf of Aden. Other significant cities are Hargeisa and Burao in the north and Baidoa in the south. Mogadishu's oldest sector, Hammawein, contains the mosque of Fakr al-Din as well as many old Arab-style buildings. Italian occupants also built their own neighborhoods in Mogadishu. Much of this architecture was heavily damaged in the civil war, along with modern Somali government buildings such as Parliament House and Somali National University. The former palace of the sultan of Zanzibar still stands, although in poor condition, as a museum in Mogadishu. A few statues and monuments were erected in Mogadishu but several were destroyed, among them an equestrian statue of Muhammad Abdullah Hasan, erected after Somalia's independence in 1960. A monument to independence also was built in Mogadishu. The city's oldest mosque, the mosque of Sheik Abdul Aziz, built in 1238, survived the civil war, along with a Roman arch built in the early twentieth century.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Milk from camels, goats, and cows is a major food for Somali herdsmen and nomadic families. Young men tending camel herds during the rainy season may drink up to ten quarts of milk a day. Aging camels may be slaughtered for their meat, especially when guests are expected for a celebration, and the fatty camel's hump is considered a delicacy. Meat, including liver, from sheep and goats also is popular, but meat is served only a few times a month, usually on special occasions. Durra (a grain sorghum), honey, dates, rice, and tea are other food staples for nomads. Farmers in southern Somalia grow corn, beans, sorghum, millet, squash, and a few other vegetables and fruits. Boiled millet and rice are staples, but rice must be imported. The most popular bread is muufo, a flat bread made from ground corn flour. Somalis season their food with butter and ghee, the clear liquid skimmed from melted butter. They also sweeten their food with sugar, sorghum, or honey. A holdover from Italian occupation in the south is a love for pasta and marinara sauce. Although fish is plentiful in the waters off the Somali coast, Somalis generally do not like fish. In accordance with the Muslim faith, they do not eat pork or drink alcohol. Milk, tea, coffee, and water are favorite drinks. Carbonated drinks are available in cities.

Among nomads and farmers, cooking is usually done over a wood or charcoal fire outdoors or in a communal cooking hut, because homes are large enough only for sleeping. Grain is ground by hand, using primitive tools.

Restaurants are popular in cities, but women seldom dined out with men until the late 1990s. Arab cuisine is popular fare in many restaurants, Italian at others. Especially in Mogadishu, international restaurants serve Chinese, European, and sometimes American foods.

At home it is customary for women to serve the men first, and then eat with their children after the men have finished. Rural Somalis eat by scooping food from a bowl with the first three fingers of their right hand or with a spoon (as in many other Muslim and African cultures, the left hand is considered unclean because it is used for washing the body). A rolled banana leaf also may be used for scooping. Urban Somalis may use silverware when they dine, but many still enjoy eating with their fingers.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Weddings, births, circumcisions, and Islamic and secular holidays call for celebrations involving food. Families slaughter animals, make bread, and prepare food for guests and for the poor, who are often invited to join the celebration.

Basic Economy. Somalia is one of the world's poorest countries, and many gains made during the years after independence were lost in the destruction brought about by civil war in the 1990s. However, in 2000, individuals had begun to help rebuild cities through independent businesses. Among the factors hindering economic development is lack of adequate transportation. The country has no railroads, only one airline, and few paved roads. Financial assistance from the United States helped improve Somalia's major seaports and Mogadishu International Airport during the 1980s. Telecommunication systems were largely destroyed during the civil war. However, in 1999, independent businessmen in some towns established satellite telephone systems and electricity, and Somali livestock traders and other entrepreneurs conducted much of their business by telephone. Banking networks also were being established.

The basic monetary unit is the Somali shilling, with one hundred cents equal to one shilling. A large amount of the income received by Somalis comes from Somalis who have migrated to other countries to find work and send money and goods home to relatives.

Land Tenure and Property. In precolonial times, land claims were made by families and through bargaining among clan members. During European colonization, Italians established plantations in the riverine area and settled many poor Italian families on the land to raise crops. Since independence much of this land has been farmed by Somalis.

Somali nomads consider pastureland available to all, but if a family digs a water well, it is considered their possession. Under Siad Barre's socialist regime there was an effort to lease privately owned land to government cooperatives, but Somalis resented working land they did not own. Some land was sold in urban areas, but grazing land continued to be shared.

Commercial Activities. In the colonial era Italians developed banana, sugarcane, and citrus fruit plantations in southern Somalia. These again thrived in the late twentieth century with Italian assistance after a decade of decline due to high government taxation of exports in the 1980s. Livestock and animal products make up a large portion of the goods produced in Somalia.

The country's few natural resources, such as gypsum-anhydrite, quartz, uranium, iron ore, and possibly gold, have not been widely exploited.

Major Industries. Although Somalia is not an industrialized nation, there are some industries, such as fish and meat canneries, milk-processing plants, sugar refineries, leather-tanning factories, and pharmaceutical and electronics factories. Many of these were built with the help of foreign nations such as the former Soviet Union. Some mining and petroleum exploration has been done, with the help of Middle Eastern countries.

Trade. Transportation equipment, machinery, cement and other building materials, iron, and steel are major imports of Somalia. Most of the imports come from Italy, Ethiopia and Kenya, China, Saudi Arabia, India and Pakistan, the United States, and Great Britain. Livestock is the country's main export, especially camels, which are sold to Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations. Animal hides also are exported. Bananas are the chief crop export. Coffee, cotton, peanuts, mangoes, citrus fruits, and sugarcane are other important crops. Fishing and the export of frankincense and myrrh add to the economy.

Division of Labor. More than half of all Somalis are self-employed, as herders, farmers, or independent business owners. In the cities, some workers once held government jobs, and in 2000 a growing percentage of workers had factory, plantation, or fishing-industry jobs. Among rural Somalis of the Saab clan-family, lower castes still provide certain types of goods and services.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. The Samaal believe that their clan-family is superior to the Saab. The Saab clan-family developed a caste system that awards status to different groups based on their heritage or occupation. Lower-class groups among the Digil and Rahanwayn were identified by occupation. The largest group was the midgaan (a derogatory name), who served as barbers, circumcisers, and hunters. The Tumaal were blacksmiths and metalworkers. The Yibir served as fortune-tellers and makers of protective amulets and charms. In the late twentieth century, many from these groups found work in towns and cities and raised their status, and the old arrangements whereby they served certain clans had largely disappeared by the 1990s.

A small percentage of the peoples of the riverine and southern coastal area are descendants of a pre-Somali people who lived in the Horn of Africa. Added to this group are descendants of Africans once enslaved by the Somalis. These cultural groups are called habash. While not poorly treated, habash are considered inferior by the Somalis. Most habash are Muslims and speak Somali, although some, such as the coastal groups Bajuni and Amarani, speak Swahili.

Symbols of Social Stratification. Among the nomads, wealthier men were traditionally those who owned more camels and other livestock. Warriors and priests were considered to have the most prestigious vocations. In some Rahanwayn and Digil settlements, members are divided between Darkskins and Lightskins, with those of darker skins having slightly more prestige in ceremonies, although the two are considered equal in other ways.

By 2000, education, income, and the ability to speak foreign languages had become standards by which status was attained among urban Somalis.

Political Life

Government. During most of the 1990s there was no central government in Somalia. However, some of the fifty districts and eight regional councils formed at the Addis Accords of March 1993 survived into 2000.

In August 2000, Somalis met in a representative council in Djibouti and took the first steps toward reestablishing a government for Somalia. A 245-member assembly made up of men and women representing all clans chose a new president and wrote a transitional constitution. The assembly was to function as a transitional government for three years. It appointed a new Somali president, Abdikassim Salad Hassan, a leader of the Habir Gedir subclan in the Mogadishu region. Allied with the Islamic courts and Somali businessowners, Salad proposed unity, peace, and prosperity for all of Somalia. After three years under the transitional government, national elections were to be held.

Leadership and Political Officials. Somalis are traditionally an independent and democratic people but are fiercely loyal to their clan and its associated political party. Ceremonial clan leaders are called sultans, or bokor in Somali, a term referring to binding the people together. Actual rule and enforcement of clan laws usually fall to the elders and a council made up of the clan's adult males.

Somalia's first modern political party, the Somali Youth Club (SYC), was formed in Mogadishu in 1943, at the urging of British colonial officials. A multiclan organization that favored Somali unity, it was renamed the Somali Youth League (SYL) in 1947. Throughout Somalia's modern history it remained the strongest political party.

During Siad Barre's dictatorship, political parties were prohibited in Somalia, but several organized outside the country and sought to overthrow the regime. Among them was the Somali National Movement (SNM), a militant party organized by Isaaq clan members living in London. In alliance with the rebel United Somali Congress (USC) and the Somali Patriotic Movement (SPM), it was able to overthrow Siad Barre in 1991.

After ousting the dictator, however, disagreements and fighting broke out among the three parties as well as the clans, subclans, and various guerrilla groups, plummeting the nation into civil war that lasted throughout the 1990s.

Social Problems and Control. Under the central government formed at independence, Somalia developed a Western-style judicial system, with a penal code, a code of criminal court procedures, and a four-tiered court system. Islamic law (Shari'a ) and Somali customary law (heer ) were retained in many civil and interclan matters. The Somali Police Force evolved from forces organized during colonial administration by the Italians and the British. The most common crimes committed are shootings, robbery and theft, looting, and kidnapping for ransom.

Somali clans have a traditional means of compensating for lives lost in interclan disputes, thereby discouraging violence and encouraging peaceful settlement. The clan responsible for the death pays the victim's clan a fine, called dia, traditionally a set number of camels or other livestock. A certain percentage of the diacalled jiffo is paid by the immediate relatives of the one responsible for the death to the immediate family of the deceased. Dia is also paid, in a lesser amount, for other crimes, such as rape, adultery, and theft. Dia-paying groups are formed by agreement among closely related clan members. Enforcement of dia customs falls to the elders and the clan council. If a matter cannot be settled peacefully, fighting breaks out between clans, followed by another peace council.

Military Activity. The Somali National Army (SNA) was formed at independence from military groups created under British and Italian colonial rule. Somalia was allied with the Soviet Union during the 1960s, receiving both military training and weapons from the Soviets, as well as from Egypt and other Muslim states. Before the Ogaden War of 19771978, Somalia's military was one of the largest and best-armored and mechanized in sub-Saharan Africa. After it lost the war and the Soviets withdrew support, however, the Somali military declined.

During the early 1980s it received training and weapons from the United States, France, Italy, and Saudi Arabia. However, when the Western world learned of human-rights violations under Siad Barre, it withdrew military support. After Siad Barre's fall, the Somali military ceased to exist.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

Probably the largest efforts at social welfare and change in Somalia came during the 1960s and 1970s, the years after independence, and the early years of Siad Barre's socialist regime. Barre attempted to do away with the clan system and create a heterogeneous society. Some nomads were settled as farmers, ranchers, or fishermen. Under Barre the status of women improved, a written alphabet was created for Somalia, and there were increased efforts in the areas of literacy and education.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

Associations active in providing relief to the starving and the ill in Somalia during the late 1980s and 1990s were the International Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, the Red Crescent, the United Nations (U.N.) World Food Program, Save the Children Service, Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere, Inc. (CARE), Irish Concern, and many others. Somalis provided a large portion of this care as well.

In 2000 and 2001, a dozen U.N. agencies, among them the World Health Organization (WHO), the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF), and the U.N. Development Program (UNDP), provided all types of aid to Somalia. They continue to be assisted by NGOs both from around the world and within Somalia.

In 1994 a group of Somali women educated in Western countries returned to their homeland to help Somali women who were striving to rebuild the economy by starting their own businesses. The group, called the Somali Women's Trust, also helped establish girls' schools and women's health centers, and helped reestablish refugees in Somalia. Another Somali women's group, Candlelight, provides similar services.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. In traditional Samaal clans, men and older boys do the important work of tending camels and cattle, the most valuable animals. Girls and young boys tend sheep and goats. Somali men are considered warriors (waranle ), except for those few who choose the religious life. Adult men are also expected to serve on their clan-family council. Urban men may work as businessmen, blacksmiths, craftsmen, fishermen, or factory workers.

Women in nomadic clans are responsible for caring for children, cooking, and moving the family aqal. Women and girls in farming clans are responsible for planting and harvesting crops, caring for children, and cooking. Urban women may hold jobs in shops or offices or may run their own business.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Somali women are expected to submit to men and to fulfill their duties as daughters, wives, and mothers. Although they do not wear the Muslim veil, they generally do not socialize with men in public places. Somali women living in the cities, especially those educated in other countries, dress and behave more like Western women.

Given the right to vote in newly independent Somalia, women began to take an active interest in politics and served on government committees and the People's Assembly. They served in military units and played sports. Opportunities for secondary and higher education had increased for women before the collapse of the government in 1991.

With many Somali men killed during the civil war or lost to diseases such as tuberculosis, women have learned to fend for themselves. They have shown remarkable adaptability and a talent for business. The United Nations and other international organizations launched campaigns in the late 1990s to help Somali women and girls get better health care, an education, and job skills training. Somali natives who have been educated abroad are returning to help with these endeavors. Several programs have been started to promote nomadic women's enterprises, such as the collecting of henna leaves for grinding into natural cosmetics. Women in urban areas sell wares in the streets or marketplaces or run their own shops.

In spite of condemnation by the United Nations and by modern Muslim leaders, nearly all Somali girls are forced to undergo the dangerous and disfiguring circumcision rite known to the United Nations as "female genital mutilation" (FGM). Somalia also has one of Africa's highest maternal mortality rates; approximately sixteen mothers die for every one thousand live births. Widespread efforts to correct unsafe practices in reproductive health are expected to improve these conditions in the twenty-first century.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Somali marriages have traditionally been considered a bond between not just a man and a woman but also between clans and families. Until very recently, most Somali marriages were arranged, usually between an older man with some wealth and the father of a young woman he wished to wed. These customs still hold true in many rural areas in the twenty-first century. The man pays a bride priceusually in livestock or moneyto the woman's family. Samaal traditionally marry outside their family lineage, or, if within the lineage, separated from the man by six or more generations. Saab follow the Arab tradition of marrying within the father's family lineage, with first cousins often marrying. A Somali bride often lives with her husband's family after marriage, with her own parents providing the home and household goods. She keeps her family name, however.

Weddings are joyous occasions, but the couple often signs an agreement giving the bride a certain amount of property should the couple divorce, which is common in Somalia. The husband holds the property in trust for her. Tradition calls for the wife to relinquish her right to the property if she initiates the divorce.

Islamic law permits a man to have up to four wives if he can provide them and their children with equal support. If a man repeats three times to his wife, "I divorce you," the couple is considered divorced. The wife is given a three-month grace period, however, in case she should be pregnant.

Today many urban Somalis choose a mate based on love and common interests rather than accepting an arranged marriage.

Domestic Unit. The Somali domestic unit consists of a man, his wife or wives, and their children. Elderly or unmarried relatives may live with the family. In homes with more than one wife, each wife usually lives with her children in her own house, and the husband and father divides his time among them. In the case of a divorce, children usually remain with their mother. The male is considered the head of the household, except where it is headed by a divorced or widowed woman.

Inheritance. Inheritance passes from father to son in Somali families. A wife remains a part of her father's lineage, while her children belong to her husband's lineage.

Under Islamic law, daughters are entitled to inherit half of what sons get, but in Somali society daughters usually did not receive valuable animals or land. Under Siad Barre's regime, social reforms included equal inheritance rights for women, although this was opposed by some Islamic leaders.

Kin Groups. Somali society is based on a clan-family structure. The two major clan groups are the Samaal (or Samale) and the Saab (or Sab), named for two brothers who are said to have been members of the prophet Muhammad's tribe, the Quraysh of Arabia. Many Somalis believe that their ancestor from Old Testament times was Noah's son Ham.

The Samaal, which make up about three-quarters of the Somali population, are divided into four main clan-families: the Dir, Daarood, Isaaq, and Hawiye. The Saab are divided into the Digil and Rahanwayn clan-families. Major clans can have thousands of members, each claiming descent from a common ancestor. These clans are subdivided into subclans and into primary lineage groups. Somali men trace their membership in a particular clan-family through their patrilineage, going back a dozen or more generations. Clan groups with the longest ancestry have the most prestige. Clans and subclans are associated with the territory they occupy for most of the year.


Child Rearing and Education. Somali children are raised with much love but are also disciplined and taught to work from age five or six, with little time for play. In spite of numerous hardships, Somali children are known for their sense of joy and abundant laughter. Children are taught independence and self-reliance and to carefully observe the world around them.

Both boys and girls are circumcised during a ceremony and celebration. Boys and girls are kept separated, according to Islamic law, and traditionally do not date, although a group of teenage males do a courtship dance for girls of marriageable age.

Because of the high incidence of divorce, many children grow up with only one parent, usually the mother, although boys may stay with their father and his wives. Multiple wives make for family groups with many children.

Education for Somali children in all but the wealthiest urban families was practically nonexistent, except for training in reading the Qur'an, before the early 1970s. Boys in rural areas attended outdoor schools where they learned Arabic using wooden slates. Before independence some attended Roman Catholic schools, where they learned Arabic or Italian. Under Siad Barre, a Latin-based alphabet was created for the Somali language, which previously had no written form. The leader undertook a massive literacy campaign in Somalia and achieved some success, although many nomadic children still did not attend school, and many others, especially girls, dropped out after four years of primary school.

Students learned reading, writing, and arithmetic as well as Arabic, animal husbandry, and agriculture. A lack of trained teachers, materials, and schools, however, made secondary-school classes inadequate, and only about 10 percent of students went on to secondary school.

When civil war broke out, most secular education stopped, as schools were bombed and the government, which had hired teachers, collapsed. However, some dedicated teachers struggled on during the 1990s, often without pay. Students continued to come, eager to learn even when there were no chairs or desks and no roof on the school. In the absence of a government, parents contributed what they could toward supplies so their children could continue to get an education.

Higher Education. Somali National University in Mogadishu, founded in 1970, was the nation's principal university before the civil war. Courses were offered in education, sciences, law, medicine, engineering, geology, economics, agriculture, and veterinary science. The National Adult Education Center was established in the late 1970s to combat a relapse in literacy among the adult nomadic population.

In 1981 the Nomad Education Program was created by the Barre government, which established boarding schools in ten regions and selected students from various clan-families to attend school for sixty days. Students ranged in age from fourteen to fifty, but most were in their twenties. After completing the course, they went home and taught what they had learned to other members of the clan-family. The most relevant courses for the nomad students were those related to geography and the environment. Other valuable classes were those in personal hygiene, nutrition, first aid, and midwifery for female students. The Nomad Education Program, like so many others, died during the civil war.

Somali National University was largely destroyed in the fighting in Mogadishu. University professors and Somali intellectuals began working in 1993 to establish a private university in Mogadishu. The new Mogadishu University was finally opened in September 1997. It offers programs in Shari'a and Law, Education, Arts, Business and Economics, and Computer Science. Somaliland also opened a private university, Amoud University, in 1997. It is largely supported by international funding and by Somalis living in the United Arab Emirates.


In the Somali language soo maal, a common greeting of welcome, refers to the act of milking, offering a guest the opportunity to milk an animal and get himself something to drink. Somalis offer a milky tea and burn incense to welcome visitors.

Somalis greet one another by saying, "Maalin wanaagsan" (Good day) or "Nabad myah?" (How are you?). Men of the same clan-family then share a long handshake. Women greet one another informally and may hug and kiss one another on the cheek. Members of unrelated clan-families do not shake hands or exchange intimacies. Somalis also use certain Arab hand gestures to communicate.


Religious Beliefs. Religion is a major influence on the lives of Somalis. They are Sunni Muslims of the Shafi'ite rite, with great interest in Sufi spiritualism, characterized by chanting, whirling, chewing qat, (a narcotic leaf), and falling into a trance as a way of communing with Allah. They also include the veneration of Somali saints in religious worship.

Added to the daily practice of Islam is a belief in mortal spirits called jinn, said to be descended from a fallen heavenly spirit. According to folk beliefs, jinn can cause misfortune and illness or can help humans.

Somalis believe the poor, weak, or injured have special spiritual powers given by Allah, so Somalis are always kind to the less fortunate in hopes that they will not use this power for evil against them.

Religious Practitioners. Unlike other Muslims, Somalis believe that both their religious and secular leaders have the power to bless and to curse people. This power, believed to be given by Allah, is called baraka. Baraka is believed to linger at the tombs of Somali saints and to help cure illness and resolve other troubles upon a visit to the tomb. Islamic teachers and mosque officials make up a large portion of religious practitioners (Islam has no priests).

Somali followers of Sufiism, given the name Dervishes, dedicate themselves to a life of religion by preaching Islam and giving up all possessions. The Sufi are also known for the farming communities and religious centers they established in southern Somalia, called jamaat.

Among nomads, a respected male leader or religious devotee might be appointed wadad. His duties are to lead prayers and to perform ritual sacrifices on religious holidays and special occasions. He also learns folk astronomy, which is used for healing, divination, and to determine times for migration.

Other religious practitioners include the Yibir clan of the Saab. Yibir practitioners are called on to exorcise spirits and restore health, good fortune, or prosperity to individuals through prayers and ceremonies, including animal sacrifice.

Rituals and Holy Places. Mosques can be found in all Somali cities and towns. Nomads worship wherever they are, with men and women praying and studying the Qur'an separately. In accordance with Islam, Somalis are to pray five times each day, facing Mecca. They should recite the creed of Islam and observe zakat, or giving to the poor, if able. They should make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once and should observe the fast of Ramadan.

Tombs of the Somali holy men or sheiks, venerated as saints, have become national shrines. Pilgrims visit on the saint's annual feast day, usually in the month of his birth, when his power is believed to be the strongest.

Religious holidays include the Islamic holidays of Ramadan (the month of fasting); Id al-Fitr (the Little Feast); the First of Muharram (when an angel is said to shake the tree of life and death); Maulid an-Nabi (the birth of the prophet Muhammad); and Id al-Adha (commemorating the story of Abraham and his son Ishmael). Islamic holidays fall at different times of year according to the Islamic calendar. Holidays are celebrated with feasting and storytelling, visiting graves, giving to the poor, parades, plays, and ceremonies.

Death and the Afterlife. Somalis hold the Muslim view that each person will be judged by Allah in the afterlife. They also believe that a tree representing all Muslims grows at the boundary between Earth and Heaven (some believe the boundary is on the Moon). Each person is represented by a leaf on the tree. When an angel shakes the tree on the first day of the new year, in the Islamic month of Muharram, it is said that those whose leaves fall off will die within the coming year. Muslims also believe that a person who dies while fasting during Ramadan is especially blessed by Allah.

When a Somali dies, feasting and celebration are held, as they are at a birth. A Somali wife must mourn her husband's death in seclusion at home for four months and ten days, according to Islamic practice.

Medicine and Health Care

Before the civil war of the 1990s, Somalia's Ministry of Health regulated all medical practices and personnel, but with the breakdown of the government and the destruction of most hospitals and clinics, Somalia's health care system has declined. There are few doctors and hospitals, and many unqualified persons practice a form of medicine at private facilities, especially in Mogadishu and other cities. The absence of regulation carries over to prescription drugs, which are often improperly dispensed by pharmacies. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), along with international and Somali nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), provide much of the health care and health information services in Somalia. Most health care is free, but some hospitals charge patients a fee to help recover costs.

Tuberculosis and malaria are the two major causes of illness and death in the nation. Somalia had one of the world's highest tuberculosis rates in 2000, but it also had one of the highest cure rates, thanks to U.N. and other international organizations and their Somali health workers. In 2000 these organizations launched an aggressive program to fight malaria. They have also conducted ongoing polio, measles, and tetanus vaccination campaigns.

Cholera and other gastrointestinal diseases had become endemic in Mogadishu and other areas by 2000, largely because of the piles of rubbish and poor sanitation conditions resulting from civil war. Malnutrition and starvation, schistosomiasis, tetanus, leprosy, venereal disease, and skin and eye infections claim life and limb unnecessarily. Somalia is estimated to have a low prevalence of HIV and AIDS, compared with other African countries. In late 1999 studies showed from 8 to 9 percent of the subjects were HIV positive. Health workers are being trained in prevention and management of sexually transmitted diseases.

Somali folk medicine is often practiced by nomads and farmers who have no immediate access to medical care. Somalis believe that some kinds of illnesses are caused by possession of the body by spirits, which can be exorcised through ritual.

Secular Celebrations

Somalis celebrate Independence Day on 26 June, the date in 1960 when British Somaliland gained its independence. They celebrate the Foundation of the Republic on 1 July. At the beginning of August they hold a secular New Year celebration called Dab-Shid (Fire-Lighting) when they light a stick and jump over the fire.

The Arts and Humanities

Literature. Somalia has long been known as a nation of poets. A people with few possessions and no written language until the 1970s, Somalis developed an oral tradition of poetry and storytelling, that has been passed down through generations. Many of these poems and stories were written down in the late twentieth century. A popular new genre of song on the radio in the late twentieth century was heello, taken from Somali poetry. Some themes of Somali poetry are history, philosophy, and clan politics, as well as praise or ridicule of humans or animals. Probably the best-known Somali poet is spiritual and military leader Muhammad Abdullah Hasań, leader of the Muslim Dervishes.

Islamic poetry is also a Somali tradition; many poets were great religious leaders and are now considered saints. Somali Islamic poetry is written in Arabic, often in the form of prayer. Although Somali poets have been writing since at least the twelfth century, the most well-known Somali Islamic poets of recent times are Seylici (d. 1882), "Sheik Suufi" (d. 1905), and Sheik Uweys Maxamed (18691905).

Somali Islamic prose written in Arabic is called manqabah. Writers record the deeds and virtues of Somali sheiks, or religious leaders, some with miraculous powers. Somalis also read Arabic religious classics.

Modern Somali novelist Nuruddin Farah (b. 1945) has become internationally famous for his novels about African women's issues and the struggle for human rights in postcolonial Africa. His novels include From a Crooked Rib (1970), Maps (1986), and Gifts (1992). He was awarded the Neustadt International Prize for Literature in 1998.

Performance Arts. Somali plays were performed in the late twentieth century at the National Theater in Mogadishu and at small theaters in other cities. Somalis began to write plays under the influence of British and Italian colonists. Somali plays are now written in Somali, Arabic, English, and Italian. A well-known modern Somali playwright is Hassan Mumin (Leopard Among the Women, 1974; Contes de Djibouti, 1980).

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

Astronomy has been a popular career for Somalis; astronomer Muusa H. Galaal wrote The Terminology and Practice of Somali Weather Lore, Astronomy, and Astrology (1968). Science and engineering students who might have studied in Somalia if not for civil war have emigrated to other countries to study, where they have successful careers in medicine and the physical and social sciences. Some have returned to Somalia to help their people. In the late twentieth century, telecommunications and computer science became popular areas of study and enterprise for Somalis as they sought to rebuild their war-torn country and keep pace with new technology. In 2000 Somalia had one of Africa's most well developed telecommunications systems, as well as Internet service for its expanding computer networks.


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Andrzejewski, B. W. "Islamic Literature of Somalia." Hans Wolff Memorial Lecture at Indiana University, 1983.

Brook, Diane L., and Brook, George A. "Social Studies for Somali Nomads." The Social Studies 84 (1): 5, 1993.

D'Haem, Jeanne. The Last Camel: True Stories of Somalia, 1997.

Ditmars, Hadani. "Women Rebuild Shattered Economy." African Business December 1994, p. 31.

"A Failed State That Is Succeeding in Parts." The Economist 28 August 1999, p. 33.

Fisher, Ian. "Somalis Get Leader; Now They Need a Nation." New York Times 31 August 2000, p. A1.

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Fox, Mary Virginia. "Somalia." In Mary Reidy, ed., Enchantment of the World, 1996.

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Web Sites

Bower, Hilary. "World Health Organization Somalia Health Update."

United Nations Development Programme Somalia. "Somalia: A Health System in Crisis."

Ann H. Shurgin

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So·ma·li / səˈmälē; sō-/ • n. (pl. same or -lis ) a member of a mainly Muslim people of Somalia. ∎  the Cushitic language that is the official language of Somalia, also spoken in Djibouti and parts of Kenya and Ethiopia. ∎  a native or national of Somalia. • adj. of or relating to Somalia, the Somalis, or their language. DERIVATIVES: So·ma·li·an / -lēən/ adj. & n.

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Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.




The people of Somalia are called Somalis. About 98 percent of the population trace their descent to Somalia. The nonnative population consists primarily of immigrants.

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"Somalia." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . 9 Jul. 2018 <>.

"Somalia." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . (July 9, 2018).

"Somalia." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Retrieved July 09, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.


SomaliAli, alley, Allie, Ally, bally, dally, dilly-dally, farfalle, galley, Halley, mallee, Mexicali, pally, Raleigh, rally, reveille, sally, tally, valley •Chablis • brambly •badly, Bradley, Hadlee, madly, sadly •scraggly •dangly, gangly •crackly • Shankly • Bramley •Manley, manly, Osmanli, Stanley •slatternly •Langley, tangly •amply • Ashley •Attlee, fatly, patly •aptly • shilly-shally •Bali, barley, Cali, Carly, Charlie, Dali, Diwali, finale, gnarly, Gurkhali, Kali, Kigali, Mali, Marley, marly, Pali, parley, snarly, Somali, Svengali, tamale •Barclay, Berkeley, clerkly, sparkly •Darnley • ghastly • Hartley • Barnsley •blackguardly

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"Somali." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . 9 Jul. 2018 <>.

"Somali." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . (July 9, 2018).

"Somali." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved July 09, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.


Somaliamyalgia, nostalgia •sporangia •florilegia, quadriplegia •Phrygia • Thuringia • loggia • Borgia •apologia, eulogia •Perugia •Czechoslovakia, Slovakia •Saskia •clarkia, souvlakia •rudbeckia •fakir, Wallachia •Ischia •Antalya, espalier, pallia, rallier •shilly-shallyer • Somalia •hotelier, Montpellier, sommelier, St Helier •Australia, azalea, bacchanalia, Castalia, dahlia, echolalia, genitalia, inter alia, Lupercalia, Mahalia, marginalia, paraphernalia, regalia, Saturnalia, Thalia, Westphalia •Amelia, camellia, Celia, Cordelia, Cornelia, Delia, Elia, epithelia, Karelia, Montpelier, Ophelia, psychedelia •bougainvillea, Brasília, cilia, conciliar, familiar, haemophilia (US hemophilia), Hillier, juvenilia, memorabilia, necrophilia, paedophilia (US pedophilia), sedilia •chanticleer •collier, volleyer •cochlea • haulier •Anatolia, magnolia, melancholia, Mongolia •Apulia, dulia, Julia, peculiar •nuclear, sub-nuclear, thermonuclear •buddleia

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Somalia." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . 9 Jul. 2018 <>.

"Somalia." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . (July 9, 2018).

"Somalia." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved July 09, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.