Somali Republic
Jamhuuriyadda Soomaaliya
جمهورية الصومال
Jumhūriyyat as-Sūmāl
Flag Coat of arms
Anthem: Soomaaliyeey toosoo
("Somalia, Wake Up")
(and largest city)
2°02′N 45°21′E / 2.033°N 45.35°E / 2.033; 45.35
Official language(s) Somali, Arabic[1][2]
Ethnic groups  Somalis (85%), Benadiris, Bantus and other non-Somalis (15%)[2]
Demonym Somali;[2] Somalian[3]
Government Coalition government
 -  President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed
 -  Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali
 -  British Somaliland 1884 
 -  Italian Somaliland 1889 
 -  Union and independence July 1, 1960[2] 
 -  Constitution August 25, 1979[2] 
 -  Total 637,657 km2 (43rd)
246,200 sq mi 
 -  2011 estimate 9,925,640[2] (86th)
 -  Density 16.12[4]/km2 (199)
6.22/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2010 estimate
 -  Total $5.896 billion[2] (158th)
 -  Per capita $600[2] (223nd)
HDI (2010) N/A (Not ranked)
Currency Somali shilling (SOS)
Time zone EAT (UTC+3)
 -  Summer (DST) not observed (UTC+3)
Drives on the right
ISO 3166 code SO
Internet TLD .so
Calling code 252
1 Transitional Federal Charter of the Somali Republic

Somalia (play /sˈmɑːliə/ soh-mah-lee-ə; Somali: Soomaaliya; Arabic: الصومالaṣ-Ṣūmāl), officially the Somali Republic (Somali: Jamhuuriyadda Soomaaliya, Arabic: جمهورية الصومالJumhūriyyat aṣ-Ṣūmāl) and formerly known as the Somali Democratic Republic under Socialist rule, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. Since the outbreak of the Somali Civil War in 1991 there has been no central government control over most of the country's territory.[2] The internationally recognized Transitional Federal Government controls only a small part of the country. Somalia has been characterized as a failed state and is one of the poorest and most violent states in the world.[5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12]

Somalia lies in the eastern-most part of Africa. It is bordered by Djibouti to the northwest, Kenya to the southwest, the Gulf of Aden with Yemen to the north, the Indian Ocean to the east, and Ethiopia to the west. It has the longest coastline on the continent,[13] and its terrain consists mainly of plateaus, plains and highlands.[2] Hot conditions prevail year-round, along with periodic monsoon winds and irregular rainfall.[14]

In antiquity, Somalia was an important centre for commerce with the rest of the ancient world,[15][16] and according to most scholars,[17][18] it is among the most probable locations of the fabled ancient Land of Punt.[19][20] During the Middle Ages, several powerful Somali empires dominated the regional trade, including the Ajuuraan State, the Sultanate of Adal, the Warsangali Sultanate and the Gobroon Dynasty. In the late nineteenth century, the British and Italians gained control of parts of the coast, and established British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland[21] In the interior, Muhammad Abdullah Hassan's Dervish State successfully repulsed the British Empire four times and forced it to retreat to the coastal region,[22] but the Dervishes were finally defeated in 1920 by British airpower.[23] Italy acquired full control of their parts of the region in 1927. This occupation lasted until 1941, when it was replaced by a British military administration. Northern Somalia would remain a protectorate, while southern Somalia became a trusteeship. In 1960, the two regions were united to form an independent Somali Republic under a civilian government.[24] Mohamed Siad Barre seized power in 1969 and established the Somali Democratic Republic. In 1991, Barre's government collapsed as the Somali Civil War broke out.

Since 1991, no central government has controlled the entirety of the country, despite several attempts to establish a unified central government.[25] The northwestern part of the country has been relatively stable under the self-declared, but unrecognized, sovereign state of Somaliland.[26] The self-governing region of Puntland covers the northeast of the country. It declares itself to be autonomous, but not independent from Somalia.[2] The Islamist Al-Shabaab controls a large part of the south of the country. Without a central government, Somalia's inhabitants subsequently reverted to local forms of conflict resolution, either civil, Islamic, or customary law.[2] The internationally recognized Transitional Federal Government controls only parts of the capital and some territory in the centre of the nation, but has reestablished national institutions such as the Military of Somalia, and is working towards eventual national elections in 2012, when the interim government's mandate expires.[27][28] During the two decades of war and lack of government, Somalia has maintained an informal economy, based mainly on livestock, remittance/money transfer companies, and telecommunications.[2][29]



History of Somalia
Laas Geel Culture
Kingdom of Punt
Malaoites  · Oponeans
Kingdom of Ifat
Warsangali Sultanate
Adal Sultanate
Ajuuraan Empire
Early modern
Gobroon Dynasty
Majeerteen Sultanate
Sultanate of Hobyo
Dervish State
Italian Somaliland
British Somaliland
Aden Adde Administration
Shermarke Administration
Communist rule
Recent History
Somali maritime history


Ancient rock art depicting a camel.

Somalia has been inhabited since the Palaeolithic period. Cave paintings said to date back to 9000 BC have been found in the northern part of the country.[30] The most famous of these is the Laas Gaal cultural complex, which contains some of the earliest known rock art on the African continent. Undeciphered inscriptions have also been found beneath each of the cave paintings.[31] During the Stone Age, the Doian and the Hargeisan cultures flourished here with their respective industries and factories.[32]

The oldest evidence of burial customs in the Horn of Africa comes from cemeteries in Somalia dating back to the 4th millennium BC.[33] The stone implements from the Jalelo site in northern Somalia were characterized in 1909 as "the most important link in evidence of the universality in palaeolithic times between the East and the West".[34]

Antiquity and classical era

The Silk Road extending from southern Europe through Arabia, Somalia, Egypt, Persia, India and Java until it reaches China.

Ancient pyramidal structures, tombs, ruined cities and stone walls such as the Wargaade Wall littered in Somalia are evidence of an ancient sophisticated civilization that once thrived in the Somali peninsula.[35] The findings of archaeological excavations and research in Somalia show that this civilization had an ancient writing system that remains undeciphered,[36] and enjoyed a lucrative trading relationship with Ancient Egypt and Mycenaean Greece since at least the second millennium BC, which supports evidence of Somalia being the ancient Land of Punt.[37] The Puntites "traded not only in their own produce of incense, ebony and short-horned cattle, but also in goods from other neighboring regions, including gold, ivory and animal skins."[38] According to the temple reliefs at Deir el-Bahari, the Land of Punt was ruled at that time by King Parahu and Queen Ati.[39]

Ancient Somalis domesticated the camel somewhere between the third millennium and second millennium BC from where it spread to Ancient Egypt and North Africa.[40] In the classical period, the city states of Mossylon, Opone, Malao, Mundus and Tabae in Somalia developed a lucrative trade network connecting with merchants from Phoenicia, Ptolemaic Egypt, Greece, Parthian Persia, Saba, Nabataea and the Roman Empire. They used the ancient Somali maritime vessel known as the beden to transport their cargo.

Ruins of Qa’ableh.

After the Roman conquest of the Nabataean Empire and the Roman naval presence at Aden to curb piracy, Arab and Somali merchants by agreement barred Indian ships from trading in the free port cities of the Arabian peninsula[41] to protect the interests of Somali and Arab merchants in the extremely lucrative ancient Red SeaMediterranean Sea commerce.[42] However, Indian merchants continued to trade in the port cities of the Somali peninsula, which was free from Roman interference.[43]

Ancient cairns in Qombo'ul.

The Indian merchants for centuries brought large quantities of cinnamon from Sri Lanka and Indonesia to Somalia and Arabia. This is said to have been the best kept secret of the Arab and Somali merchants in their trade with the Roman and Greek world. The Romans and Greeks believed the source of cinnamon to have been the Somali peninsula, but in reality, the highly valued product was brought to Somalia by way of Indian ships.[44] Through collusive agreement by Somali and Arab traders, Indian/Chinese cinnamon was also exported for far higher prices to North Africa, the Near East and Europe, which made the cinnamon trade a very profitable revenue generator, especially for the Somali merchants through whose hands large quantities were shipped across ancient sea and land routes.[42]

Birth of Islam and the Middle Ages

Ruins of the Adal Sultanate in Zeila.

The history of Islam in the Horn of Africa is as old as the religion itself. The early persecuted Muslims fled to the port city of Zeila in modern day northern Somalia to seek protection from the Quraysh at the court of the Aksumite Emperor in present-day Ethiopia. Some of the Muslims that were granted protection are said to have settled in several parts of the Horn of Africa to promote the religion.

The victory of the Muslims over the Quraysh in the 7th century had a significant impact on Somalia's merchants and sailors, as their Arab trading partners had then all adopted Islam, and the major trading routes in the Mediterranean and the Red Sea came under the sway of the Muslim Caliphs. Through commerce, Islam spread amongst the Somali population in the coastal cities of Somalia. Instability in the Arabian peninsula saw several migrations of Arab families to Somalia's coastal cities. These clans came to serve as catalysts, forwarding the faith's prevalence in the Somali peninsula.

13th century Fakr ad-Din mosque

Mogadishu became the center of Islam on the East African coast, and Somali merchants established a colony in Mozambique to extract gold from the Monomopatan mines in Sofala. In northern Somalia, Adal was in its early stages a small trading community established by the newly converted Horn African Muslim merchants, who were predominantly Somali according to Arab and Somali chronicles.

The century between 1150 and 1250 marked a decisive turn in the role of Islam in Somali history. Yaqut al-Hamawi and later Ibn Said noted that the Berbers (Somalis) were a prosperous Muslim nation during that period. The Adal Sultanate was now the center of a commercial empire stretching from Cape Guardafui to Hadiya. The Adalites then came under the influence of the expanding Horn African Ifat Sultanate, and prospered under its patronage.

The capital of Ifat was Zeila, situated in northern present-day Somalia, from where the Ifat army marched to conquer the ancient Kingdom of Shoa in 1270. This conquest ignited a rivalry for supremacy between the Christian Solomonids and the Muslim Ifatites that resulted in several devastating wars, and ultimately ended in a Solomonic victory over the Kingdom of Ifat after the death of the popular Sultan Sa'ad ad-Din II in Zeila by Dawit II. Sa'ad ad-Din II's family was subsequently given safe haven at the court of the King of Yemen, where his sons regrouped and planned their revenge on the Solomonids.

Model of a medieval Mogadishan ship.

At the turn of the 16th century, Adal organised an effective army led by Ahmad ibn Ibrihim al-Ghazi that invaded the Ethiopian Empire. This campaign is historically known as the Conquest of Abyssinia or Futuh al Habash, in which Ahmed pioneered the use of cannons supplied by the Ottoman Empire in Horn African warfare against Solomonic forces and the Portuguese army led by Cristóvão da Gama. At its height, the state controlled large parts of Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Eritrea. Many of the historic cities in the Horn of Africa such as Maduna, Abasa, Berbera, Zeila and Harar flourished with courtyard houses, mosques, shrines, walled enclosures, and cisterns during the Adal kingdom's Golden Age.

During the Age of the Ajuuraans, the sultanates and republics of Merca, Mogadishu, Barawa, Hobyo and their respective ports flourished and had a lucrative foreign commerce, with ships sailing to and coming from Arabia, India, Venetia,[45] Persia, Egypt, Portugal and as far away as China. Vasco da Gama, who passed by Mogadishu in the 15th century, noted that it was a large city with houses several storeys high and large palaces in its centre, in addition to many mosques with cylindrical minarets.[46]

In the 16th century, Duarte Barbosa noted that many ships from the Kingdom of Cambaya in modern-day India sailed to Mogadishu with cloth and spices, for which they in return received gold, wax and ivory. Barbosa also highlighted the abundance of meat, wheat, barley, horses, and fruit on the coastal markets, which generated enormous wealth for the merchants.[47] Mogadishu, the center of a thriving textile industry known as toob benadir (specialized for the markets in Egypt, among other places[48]), together with Merca and Barawa, also served as a transit stop for Swahili merchants from Mombasa and Malindi and for the gold trade from Kilwa.[49] Jewish merchants from the Hormuz brought their Indian textile and fruit to the Somali coast in exchange for grain and wood.[50]

Trading relations were established with Malacca in the 15th century,[51] with cloth, ambergris and porcelain being the main commodities of the trade.[52] Giraffes, zebras and incense were exported to the Ming Empire of China, which established Somali merchants as leaders in the commerce between the Asia and Africa[53] and influenced the Chinese language with the Somali language in the process. Hindu merchants from Surat and Southeast African merchants from Pate, seeking to bypass both the Portuguese blockade and Omani meddling, used the Somali ports of Merca and Barawa (which were out of the two powers' jurisdiction) to conduct their trade in safety and without interference.[54]

Early Modern Era and the Scramble for Africa

17th century mosque in Hafun, Somalia.

In the early modern period, successor states of the Adal and Ajuuraan empires began to flourish in Somalia. These included the Warsangali Sultanate, the Bari Dynasties, the Geledi Sultanate (Gobroon Dynasty), the Majeerteen Sultanate and the Sultanate of Hobyo. They continued the tradition of castle-building and seaborne trade established by previous Somali empires.

Sultan Yusuf Mahamud Ibrahim, the third Sultan of the House of Gobroon, started the golden age of the Gobroon Dynasty. His army came out victorious during the Bardheere Jihad, which restored stability in the region and revitalized the East African ivory trade. He also received presents from and had cordial relations with the rulers of neighboring and distant kingdoms such as the Omani, Witu and Yemeni Sultans.

Sultan Ibrahim's son Ahmed Yusuf succeeded him and was one of the most important figures in 19th century East Africa, receiving tribute from Omani governors and creating alliances with important Muslim families on the East African coast. In northern Somalia, the Gerad Dynasty conducted trade with Yemen and Persia and competed with the merchants of the Bari Dynasty. The Gerads and the Bari Sultans built impressive palaces, castles and fortresses and had close relations with many different empires in the Near East.

Somali soldiers board a British naval batilla.

In the late 19th century, after the Berlin Conference (1884), European powers began the Scramble for Africa, which inspired the Dervish leader Muhammad Abdullah Hassan to rally support from across the Horn of Africa and begin one of the longest colonial resistance wars ever. In several of his poems and speeches, Hassan emphasized that the British "have destroyed our religion and made our children their children" and that the Christian Ethiopians in league with the British were bent upon plundering the political and religious freedom of the Somali nation.[55] He soon emerged as "a champion of his country's political and religious freedom, defending it against all Christian invaders."[56]

Hassan issued a religious ordinance stipulating that any Somali national who did not accept the goal of unity of Somalia and would not fight under his leadership would be considered as kafir or gaal. He soon acquired weapons from the Ottoman Empire, Sudan, and other Islamic and/or Arabian countries, and appointed ministers and advisers to administer different areas or sectors of Somalia. In addition, he gave a clarion call for Somali unity and independence, in the process organizing his forces.

Hassan's Dervish movement had an essentially military character, and the Dervish state was fashioned on the model of a Salihiya brotherhood. It was characterized by a rigid hierarchy and centralization. Though Hassan threatened to drive the Christians into the sea, he executed the first attack by launching his first major military offensive with his 1500 Dervish equipped with 20 modern rifles on the British soldiers stationed in the region.

Taleex was the capital of the Dervish State.

He repulsed the British in four expeditions and had relations with the Central Powers of the Ottomans and the Germans. In 1920, the Dervish state collapsed after intensive aerial bombardments by Britain, and Dervish territories were subsequently turned into a protectorate.

The dawn of fascism in the early 1920s heralded a change of strategy for Italy, as the north-eastern sultanates were soon to be forced within the boundaries of La Grande Somalia according to the plan of Fascist Italy. With the arrival of Governor Cesare Maria De Vecchi on 15 December 1923, things began to change for that part of Somaliland known as Italian Somaliland. Italy had access to these areas under the successive protection treaties, but not direct rule.

The Fascist government had direct rule only over the Benadir territory. Fascist Italy, under Benito Mussolini, attacked Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in 1935, with an aim to colonize it. The invasion was condemned by the League of Nations, but little was done to stop it or to liberate occupied Ethiopia. On August 3, 1940, Italian troops, including Somali colonial units, crossed from Ethiopia to invade British Somaliland, and by August 14, succeeded in taking Berbera from the British.

A British force, including troops from several African countries, launched the campaign in January 1941 from Kenya to liberate British Somaliland and Italian-occupied Ethiopia and conquer Italian Somaliland. By February, most of Italian Somaliland was captured and in March, British Somaliland was retaken from the sea. The British Empire forces operating in Somaliland comprised three divisions of South African, West and East African troops. They were assisted by Somali forces led by Abdulahi Hassan with Somalis of the Isaaq, Dhulbahante, and Warsangali clans prominently participating. After World War II, the number of the Italian colonists started to decrease; their numbers had dwindled to less than 10,000 in 1960.[57]


An avenue in downtown Mogadishu in 1963.

Following World War II, Britain retained control of both British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland as protectorates. In November 1949, during the Potsdam Conference, the United Nations granted Italy trusteeship of Italian Somaliland, but only under close supervision and on the condition—first proposed by the Somali Youth League (SYL) and other nascent Somalian political organizations, such as Hizbia Digil Mirifle Somali (HDMS) and the Somali National League (SNL)—that Somalia achieve independence within ten years.[58][59] British Somaliland remained a protectorate of Britain until 1960.[60]

To the extent that Italy held the territory by UN mandate, the trusteeship provisions gave the Somalis the opportunity to gain experience in political education and self-government. These were advantages that British Somaliland, which was to be incorporated into the new Somali state, did not have. Although in the 1950s British colonial officials attempted, through various administrative development efforts, to make up for past neglect, the protectorate stagnated. The disparity between the two territories in economic development and political experience would cause serious difficulties when it came time to integrate the two parts.[61] Meanwhile, in 1948, under pressure from their World War II allies and to the dismay of the Somalis,[62] the British "returned" the Haud (an important Somali grazing area that was presumably 'protected' by British treaties with the Somalis in 1884 and 1886) and the Ogaden to Ethiopia, based on a treaty they signed in 1897 in which the British ceded Somali territory to the Ethiopian Emperor Menelik in exchange for his help against plundering by Somali clans.[63]

Aden Abdullah Osman Daar, the first President of Somalia.

Britain included the proviso that the Somali nomads would retain their autonomy, but Ethiopia immediately claimed sovereignty over them.[58] This prompted an unsuccessful bid by Britain in 1956 to buy back the Somali lands it had turned over.[58] Britain also granted administration of the almost exclusively Somali-inhabited[64] Northern Frontier District (NFD) to Kenyan nationalists despite an informal plebiscite demonstrating the overwhelming desire of the region's population to join the newly formed Somali Republic.[65]

Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, Somalia's first Prime Minister and second President.

A referendum was held in neighboring Djibouti (then known as French Somaliland) in 1958, on the eve of Somalia's independence in 1960, to decide whether or not to join the Somali Republic or to remain with France. The referendum turned out in favour of a continued association with France, largely due to a combined yes vote by the sizable Afar ethnic group and resident Europeans.[66] There was also widespread vote rigging, with the French expelling thousands of Somalis before the referendum reached the polls.[67] The majority of those who voted no were Somalis who were strongly in favour of joining a united Somalia, as had been proposed by Mahmoud Harbi, Vice President of the Government Council. Harbi was killed in a plane crash two years later.[66] Djibouti finally gained its independence from France in 1977, and Hassan Gouled Aptidon, a Somali who had campaigned for a yes vote in the referendum of 1958, eventually wound up as Djibouti's first president (1977–1991).[66]

British Somaliland became independent on June 26, 1960 as the State of Somaliland, and the Trust Territory of Somalia (the former Italian Somaliland) followed suit five days later.[68] On July 1, 1960, the two territories united to form the Somali Republic, albeit within boundaries drawn up by Italy and Britain.[69][70] A government was formed by Abdullahi Issa and other members of the trusteeship and protectorate governments, with Aden Abdullah Osman Daar as President and Abdirashid Ali Shermarke as Prime Minister (later to become President from 1967–1969). On July 20, 1961 and through a popular referendum, the people of Somalia ratified a new constitution, which was first drafted in 1960.[71] In 1967, Muhammad Haji Ibrahim Egal became Prime Minister, a position to which he was appointed by Shermarke. Egal would later become the President of the autonomous Somaliland region in northwestern Somalia.

On October 15, 1969, while paying a visit to the northern town of Las Anod, Somalia's then President Abdirashid Ali Shermarke was shot dead by one of his own bodyguards. His assassination was quickly followed by a military coup d'état on October 21, 1969 (the day after his funeral), in which the Somali Army seized power without encountering armed opposition — essentially a bloodless takeover. The putsch was spearheaded by Major General Mohamed Siad Barre, who at the time commanded the army.[72]

Communist rule

Alongside Barre, the Supreme Revolutionary Council (SRC) that assumed power after President Sharmarke's assassination was led by Major General Salaad Gabeyre Kediye and Chief of Police Jama Korshel. The SRC subsequently renamed the country the Somali Democratic Republic,[73][74] dissolved the parliament and the Supreme Court, and suspended the constitution.[75]

The old parliament building in Mogadishu

The revolutionary army established large-scale public works programs and successfully implemented an urban and rural literacy campaign, which helped dramatically increase the literacy rate. In addition to a nationalization program of industry and land, the new regime's foreign policy placed an emphasis on Somalia's traditional and religious links with the Arab world, eventually joining the Arab League (AL) in 1974.[76] That same year, Barre also served as chairman of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the predecessor of the African Union (AU).[77]

In July 1976, Barre's SRC disbanded itself and established in its place the Somali Revolutionary Socialist Party (SRSP), a one-party government based on scientific socialism and Islamic tenets. The SRSP was an attempt to reconcile the official state ideology with the official state religion by adapting Marxist precepts to local circumstances. Emphasis was placed on the Muslim principles of social progress, equality and justice, which the government argued formed the core of scientific socialism and its own accent on self-sufficiency, public participation and popular control, as well as direct ownership of the means of production. While the SRSP encouraged private investment on a limited scale, the administration's overall direction was essentially communist.[75]

A Somali soldier poses for a photograph during the multinational joint service exercise BRIGHT STAR '85. The Somali–Soviet Union friendship and later partnership with the United States enabled Somalia to build the largest army on the continent.[78]

In July 1977, the Ogaden War broke out after Barre's government sought to incorporate the predominantly Somali-inhabited Ogaden region into a Pan-Somali Greater Somalia. In the first week of the conflict, Somali armed forces took southern and central Ogaden and for most of the war, the Somali army scored continuous victories on the Ethiopian army and followed them as far as Sidamo. By September 1977, Somalia controlled 90% of the Ogaden and captured strategic cities such as Jijiga and put heavy pressure on Dire Dawa, threatening the train route from the latter city to Djibouti. After the siege of Harar, a massive unprecedented Soviet intervention consisting of 20,000 Cuban forces and several thousand Soviet experts came to the aid of Ethiopia's communist Derg regime. By 1978, the Somali troops were ultimately pushed out of the Ogaden. This shift in support by the Soviet Union motivated the Barre government to seek allies elsewhere. It eventually settled on the Soviets' Cold War arch-rival, the United States, which had been courting the Somali government for some time. All in all, Somalia's initial friendship with the Soviet Union and later partnership with the United States enabled it to build the largest army in Africa.[78]

A new constitution was promulgated in 1979 under which elections for a People's Assembly were held. However, Barre's Somali Revolutionary Socialist Party politburo continued to rule.[74] In October 1980, the SRSP was disbanded, and the Supreme Revolutionary Council was re-established in its place.[75] By that time, the moral authority of Barre's government had collapsed. Many Somalis had become disillusioned with life under military dictatorship. The regime was weakened further in the 1980s as the Cold War drew to a close and Somalia's strategic importance was diminished. The government became increasingly totalitarian, and resistance movements, encouraged by Ethiopia, sprang up across the country, eventually leading to the Somali Civil War. Among the militia groups were the Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF), United Somali Congress (USC), Somali National Movement (SNM) and the Somali Patriotic Movement (SPM), together with the non-violent political oppositions of the Somali Democratic Movement (SDM), the Somali Democratic Alliance (SDA) and the Somali Manifesto Group (SMG).

During 1990, in the capital city of Mogadishu, the residents were prohibited from gathering publicly in groups greater than three or four. Fuel shortages caused long lines of cars at petrol stations. Inflation had driven the price of pasta, (ordinary dry Italian noodles, a staple at that time), to five U.S. dollars per kilogram. The price of khat, imported daily from Kenya, was also five U.S. dollars per standard bunch. Paper currency notes were of such low value that several bundles were needed to pay for simple restaurant meals. Coins were scattered on the ground throughout the city being too low in value to be used.

A thriving black market existed in the centre of the city as banks experienced shortages of local currency for exchange. At night, the city of Mogadishu lay in darkness. The generators used to provide electricity to the city had been sold off by the government. Close monitoring of all visiting foreigners was in effect. Harsh exchange control regulations were introduced to prevent export of foreign currency and access to it was restricted to official banks, or one of three government-operated hotels.

Although no travel restrictions were placed on foreigners, photographing many locations was banned. During the day in Mogadishu, the appearance of any government military force was extremely rare. Alleged late-night operations by government authorities, however, included "disappearances" of individuals from their homes.

Somali Civil War

Prior to the civil war, Mogadishu was known as the "White pearl of the Indian Ocean".[79]

1991 was a time of great change for Somalia. The Barre administration was ousted that year by a coalition of clan-based opposition groups, backed by Ethiopia's then-ruling Derg regime and Libya.[80] Following a meeting of the Somali National Movement and northern clans' elders, the northern former British portion of the country declared its independence as Somaliland in May 1991. Although de facto independent and relatively stable compared to the tumultuous south, it has not been recognized by any foreign government.[81][82]

In January 1991, President Ali Mahdi Muhammad was selected by the Somali Manifesto Group as an interim state president until a conference between all stakeholders to be held in Djibouti the following month to select a national leader. However, United Somali Congress military leader General Mohamed Farrah Aidid, the Somali National Movement leader Abdirahman Ahmed Ali Tuur and the Somali Patriotic Movement leader Colonel Ahmed Omar Jess refused to recognize Mahdi as president.

This caused a split between the SNM, USC and SPM and the armed groups Manifesto, Somali Democratic Movement (SDM) and Somali National Alliance (SNA) and within the USC forces. This led to efforts to remove Barre who still claimed to be the legitimate president of Somalia. He and his armed supporters remained in the south of the country until mid 1992, causing further escalation in violence, especially in the Gedo, Bay, Bakool, Lower Shabelle, Lower Juba, and Middle Juba regions. The armed conflict within the USC devastated the Mogadishu area.

The civil war disrupted agriculture and food distribution in southern Somalia. The basis of most of the conflicts was clan allegiances and competition for resources between the warring clans. James Bishop, the United States's last ambassador to Somalia, explained that there is "competition for water, pasturage, and... cattle. It is a competition that used to be fought out with arrows and sabers... Now it is fought out with AK-47s."[83] The resulting famine (about 300,000 dead) caused the United Nations Security Council in 1992 to authorise the limited peacekeeping operation United Nations Operation in Somalia I (UNOSOM I).[84] UNOSOM's use of force was limited to self-defense and, although originally welcomed by both sides,[85] it was soon disregarded by the warring factions.

Propaganda leaflet depicting a white dove of peace being crushed by a fist labeled "USC/SNA" ("United Somali Congress/Somali National Alliance").

In reaction to the continued violence and the humanitarian disaster, the United States organized a military coalition with the purpose of creating a secure environment in southern Somalia for the conduct of humanitarian operations. This coalition, (Unified Task Force or UNITAF) entered Somalia in December 1992 on Operation Restore Hope and was successful in restoring order and alleviating the famine. In May 1993, most of the United States troops withdrew and UNITAF was replaced by the United Nations Operation in Somalia II (UNOSOM II).

However, Mohamed Farrah Aidid saw UNOSOM II as a threat to his power and in June 1993 his militia attacked Pakistan Army troops, attached to UNOSOM II, (see Somalia (March 1992 to February 1996)) in Mogadishu inflicting over 80 casualties. Fighting escalated until 19 American troops and more than 1,000 civilians and militia were killed in a raid in Mogadishu during October 1993.[86][87] The UN withdrew Operation United Shield in 3 March 1995, having suffered significant casualties, and with the rule of government still not restored. In August 1996, Aidid was killed in Mogadishu.

Following the outbreak of the civil war, many of Somalia's residents left the country in search of asylum. At the end of 2009, about 678,000 were under the responsibility of the UNHCR, constituting the third largest refugee group after war-afflicted Iraq and Afghanistan, respectively. Due to renewed fighting in the southern half of the country, an estimated 132,000 people left in 2009, and another 300,000 were displaced internally.[88] Former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali[89] and Ahmedou Ould Abdallah, UN special envoy to Somalia[90] have referred to the killing of civilians in the Somalian Civil War as a "genocide".

Puntland Coast Guard officials meeting with NATO Maritime Group 1 (NATO SNMG1) representatives to discuss human intelligence gathering, capacity building and counter piracy cooperation between NATO and Puntland authorities.

In mid 2011, two consecutive missed rainy seasons precipitated the worst drought in the Horn of Africa seen in 60 years. Belated and sub-average harvests, high food, water and fuel prices, and depleted grazing and farm lands caused by an estimated 25% drop in rainfall have led to a large movement of peoples from the conflict-stricken parts of southern Somalia to relief centers in neighboring countries. On July 20, 2011, the United Nations officially declared a famine in two regions of southern Somalia, Lower Shabelle and Bakool, warning that the food crisis could spread to the rest of southern Somalia within two months if humanitarian aid remains inadequate. A temporary ban on relief supplies imposed by Islamist militants has also reportedly exacerbated the situation. Full recovery from the drought's effects are not expected until 2012, with long-term strategies by the national government in conjunction with development agencies believed to offer the most sustainable results.[91] To this end, the Transitional Federal Government has set up a national committee consisting of several federal-level ministers that is tasked with assessing and addressing the needs of the drought-impacted segments of the population.[92]

A consequence of the collapse of governmental authority that accompanied the civil war has been the emergence of a significant problem with piracy in the waters off of the coast of Somalia.[93][94] Piracy arose as a response by local fishermen from littoral towns such as Eyl, Kismayo and Harardhere to illegal fishing by foreign trawlers.[95][96][97] An upsurge in piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean has also been attributed to the effects of the December 26, 2004 tsunami that devastated local fishing fleets and washed ashore containers filled with toxic waste that had been dumped by European fishing vessels.[97][98] In August 2008, a multinational coalition took on the task of combating the piracy by establishing a Maritime Security Patrol Area (MSPA) within the Gulf of Aden.[99] Additionally, the regional Puntland government in northeastern Somalia committed itself to eradicating piracy and has so far made progress in its campaign, having apprehended numerous pirates in 2010, including a prominent leader.[100] The autonomous region's security forces also reportedly managed to force out the pirate gangs from their traditional safe havens such as Eyl and Gar'ad, with the pirates now primarily operating from Hobyo, El Danaan and Harardhere in the neighboring Galmudug region.[101] By the first half of 2010, these increased policing efforts by Puntland government authorities on land along with international naval vessels at sea reportedly contributed to a drop in pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden from 86 a year prior to 33, forcing pirates to shift attention to other areas such as the Somali Basin and the wider Indian Ocean.[100][102][103]

In October 2011, a coordinated operation between the Somalian military and the Kenyan military began against the Al-Shabaab group of insurgents in southern Somalia.[104][105] The mission is officially being led by the Somalian army, with the Kenyan forces providing a support role.[105] Both parties have sought international assistance for the operation,[104] which is believed to represent one of the final stages in the Islamist insurgency of the civil war.[106]


Current political situation in Somalia

Transitional Federal Institutions

The Transitional Federal Institutions (TFIs) are the key foundations of the central government of Somalia. Created in 2004, they include the Transitional Federal Charter (TFC), the Transitional Federal Government, and the Transitional Federal Parliament. The Transitional Federal Charter outlines a five-year mandate leading toward the establishment of a new constitution and a transition to a representative government after national elections.

The Transitional Federal Government (TFG) is the current internationally recognized federal government of Somalia. It constitutes the executive branch of government. The TFG is the most recent attempt to restore national institutions to Somalia after the 1991 collapse of the Siad Barre regime and the ensuing Somali Civil War.[2]

The Transitional Federal Parliament (TFP) is the parliament of Somalia. Formed in 2004, it constitutes the legislative branch of government. The TFP elects the President and Prime Minister, and has the authority to propose and pass laws. It is also in charge of governance and administration of Mogadishu. Each of the four major clans hold 61 seats, while an alliance of minority clans hold 31 seats. After an alliance with the Islamic Courts Union and other Islamist groups was formed, the Islamists were awarded 200 seats. Representatives of citizens' groups and representatives of the Somali diaspora hold 75 seats. By law, at least 12% of all representatives must be women. Members of parliament are selected through traditional clan leaders or shura councils.

Islamic Courts Union and Ethiopian intervention

In 2006, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), an Islamist organization, assumed control of much of the southern part of the country and promptly imposed Shari'a law. The Transitional Federal Government sought to reestablish its authority, and, with the assistance of Ethiopian troops, African Union peacekeepers and air support by the United States, managed to drive out the rival ICU and solidify its rule.[107]

On January 8, 2007, as the Battle of Ras Kamboni raged, TFG President and founder Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, a former colonel in the Somali Army and decorated war hero, entered Mogadishu for the first time since being elected to office. The government then relocated to Villa Somalia in the capital from its interim location in Baidoa. This marked the first time since the fall of the Siad Barre regime in 1991 that the federal government controlled most of the country.[108]

Following this defeat, the Islamic Courts Union splintered into several different factions. Some of the more radical elements, including Al-Shabaab, regrouped to continue their insurgency against the TFG and oppose the Ethiopian military's presence in Somalia. Throughout 2007 and 2008, Al-Shabaab scored military victories, seizing control of key towns and ports in both central and southern Somalia. At the end of 2008, the group had captured Baidoa but not Mogadishu. By January 2009, Al-Shabaab and other militias had managed to force the Ethiopian troops to retreat, leaving behind an under-equipped African Union peacekeeping force to assist the Transitional Federal Government's troops.[109]

Due to a lack of funding and human resources, an arms embargo that made it difficult to re-establish a national security force, and general indifference on the part of the international community, President Yusuf found himself obliged to deploy thousands of troops from Puntland to Mogadishu to sustain the battle against insurgent elements in the southern part of the country. Financial support for this effort was provided by the autonomous region's government. This left little revenue for Puntland's own security forces and civil service employees, leaving the territory vulnerable to piracy and terrorist attacks.[110][111]

On December 29, 2008, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed announced before a united parliament in Baidoa his resignation as President of Somalia. In his speech, which was broadcast on national radio, Yusuf expressed regret at failing to end the country's seventeen year conflict as his government had mandated to do.[112] He also blamed the international community for its failure to support the government, and said that the speaker of parliament would succeed him in office per the Charter of the Transitional Federal Government.[113]

Coalition government

The battle flag of Al-Shabaab, an Islamist group waging war against the federal government.

Between May 31 and June 9, 2008, representatives of Somalia's federal government and the moderate Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS) group of Islamist rebels participated in peace talks in Djibouti brokered by the former United Nations Special Envoy to Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah. The conference ended with a signed agreement calling for the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops in exchange for the cessation of armed confrontation. Parliament was subsequently expanded to 550 seats to accommodate ARS members, which then elected Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, the former ARS chairman, to office. President Sharif shortly afterwards appointed Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, the son of slain former President Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, as the nation's new Prime Minister.[2]

Embassy of Somalia in Paris, France.

With the help of a small team of African Union troops, the coalition government also began a counteroffensive in February 2009 to assume full control of the southern half of the country. To solidify its rule, the TFG formed an alliance with the Islamic Courts Union, other members of the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia, and Ahlu Sunna Waljama'a, a moderate Sufi militia.[114] Furthermore, Al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islam, the two main Islamist groups in opposition, began to fight amongst themselves in mid-2009.[115]

As a truce, in March 2009, Somalia's coalition government announced that it would re-implement Shari'a as the nation's official judicial system.[116] However, conflict continued in the southern and central parts of the country. Within months, the coalition government had gone from holding about 70% of south-central Somalia's conflict zones, territory which it had inherited from the previous Yusuf administration, to losing control of over 80% of the disputed territory to the Islamist insurgents.[108]

During the coalition government's brief tenure, Somalia topped the Fund For Peace's Failed States Index for three consecutive years. In 2009, Transparency International ranked the nation in last place on its annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI),[117] a metric that purports to show the prevalence of corruption in a country's public sector. In mid-2010, the Institute for Economics and Peace also ranked Somalia in the next-to-last position, in between war-afflicted Iraq and Afghanistan, on its Global Peace Index. During the same period, the UN International Monitoring Group (IMG) published a report claiming that the Somali government's security forces were ineffective and corrupt, and that up to half of the food aid that was destined for the conflict-stricken parts of the country was being misdirected. It also accused Somali officials of collaborating with pirates, UN contractors of helping insurgents, and the Eritrean government of still supporting rebel groups in southern Somalia despite earlier sanctions imposed on the former. Somalia's government and local businessmen, as well as United Nations officials and the Eritrean government all emphatically rejected the report's claims.[118][119]

Flag of Somaliland, an unrecognised self-declared sovereign state that is internationally recognised as an autonomous region of Somalia.

In 2010, reports surfaced linking the secessionist government of the northwestern Somaliland region with the Islamist extremists that are currently waging war against the Transitional Federal Government and its African Union allies. Garowe Online reported in October that Mohamed Said Atom, an arms-smuggler believed to be allied with Al-Shabaab and who is on U.S. and U.N. security watch-lists, was hiding out in Somaliland after being pursued by the neighboring Puntland region's authorities for his role in targeted assassination attempts against Puntland officials as well as bomb plots.[120][121] Several of Atom's followers were also reportedly receiving medical attention in the region, after having been wounded in a counter-terrorism raid in the Galgala hills by Puntland security personnel.[120]

According to Puntland government documents, the Somaliland region's Riyale government in 2006 both financed and offered military assistance to Atom's men as part of a campaign to destabilize the autonomous territory via proxy agents and to distract attention away from the Somaliland government's own attempts at occupying the disputed Sool province. The Puntland Intelligence Agency (PIA), a covert organization supported and trained by U.S. counter-terrorism agencies based in Djibouti, also indicated that over 70 salaried Somaliland soldiers had fought alongside Atom's militiamen during the Galgala operation, including one known Somaliland intelligence official who died in the ensuing battle.[121][122] The following month, the Puntland government issued a press release accusing the incumbent Somaliland administration of providing a safe haven for Atom and of attempting to revive remnants of his militia.[123] Several top commanders in the Al-Shabaab group, including former leader Ahmed Abdi Godane ("Moktar Ali Zubeyr"), are also reported to hail from the Somaliland region, with Godane quoted as saying that Al Shabaab insurgents "should not interfere in Somaliland until Puntland is destabilized first."[120][124]


Somalia's coalition government enacted numerous political reforms since taking office in 2009, with an emphasis on transparency and accountability. One of its first changes involved ensuring that all government institutions, which had previously been spread out in various areas throughout the country, were now based in Mogadishu, the nation's capital. The Central Bank of Somalia was also re-established, and a national plan as well as an effective anti-corruption commission were put into place.[125] In July 2009, Somalia's Transitional Federal Government hired global professional services firm Pricewaterhousecoopers to monitor development funding and serving as a trustee of an account in Mogadishu for the security, healthcare and education sectors.[126] This was followed in November of that year with a $2 million agreement between the government and the African Development Bank (AfDB), which saw Somalia re-engage with the AfDB after nearly two decades of interruption. The grant is aimed at providing financial and technical assistance; specifically, to develop a sound legal framework for monetary and fiscal institutions and human and institutional capacity building, as well as to establish public financial systems that are transparent.[125]

Similarly, the autonomous Puntland region's new administration, which took office in early 2009, has also implemented numerous reforms such as the expansion and improvement of its security and judicial sectors. According to Garowe Online, to bolster the region's justice system, numerous new prosecutors, judges and other court personnel as well as additional prison guards were hired and trained. In July 2010, the Puntland Council of Ministers unanimously approved a new anti-terrorism law to more efficiently handle terror suspects and their accomplices; a special court is also expected to be established within the region's existing criminal courts system to facilitate the task.[127] Fiscally, a transparent, budget-based public finance system was established, which has reportedly helped increase public confidence in government. In addition, a new regional constitution was drafted and later passed on June 15, 2009, which is believed to represent a significant step toward the eventual introduction of a multi-party political system to the region for the first time;[128] such a system already exists in the adjacent Somaliland region.[129] More modest reforms were also put into motion in the social sector, particularly in the education and healthcare fields. The regional government has hired more healthcare workers and teachers, with major plans underway for school and hospital renovations.[128] One of the most significant new reforms enacted by the incumbent Puntland administration is the launching in May 2009 of the Puntland Agency for Social Welfare (PASWE), the first organization of its kind in Somali history. The agency provides medical, educational and counseling support to vulnerable groups and individuals such as orphans, the disabled and the blind. PASWE is overseen by a Board of Directors, which consists of religious scholars (ulema), businesspeople, intellectuals and traditional elders.[130]

New government

On October 14, 2010, diplomat Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (Farmajo) was appointed the new Prime Minister of Somalia. The former Premier Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke resigned the month before following a protracted dispute with President Sharif over a proposed draft constitution.[131]

Foreign Minister of Somalia Mohamed Abdullahi Omaar in a meeting with UNDP Administrator Helen Clark and other diplomats at the UN headquarters in New York.

Per the Transitional Federal Government's (TFG) Charter,[132] Prime Minister Mohamed named a new Cabinet on November 12, 2010,[133] which has been lauded by the international community.[134][135] As had been expected, the allotted ministerial positions were significantly reduced in numbers, with only 18 administrative posts unveiled versus the previous government's bloated 39 portfolios.[133][136] Only two Ministers from the previous Cabinet were reappointed: Hussein Abdi Halane, the former Minister of Finance and a well-regarded figure in the international community, was put in charge of a consolidated Ministry of Finance and Treasury; and Dr. Mohamud Abdi Ibrahim was reassigned to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.[137] Ahlu Sunna Waljama'a, a moderate Sufi group and an important military ally of the TFG, was also accorded the key Interior and Labour ministries.[136][137] The remaining ministerial positions were largely assigned to technocrats new to the Somali political arena.[138]

In its first 50 days in office, Prime Minister Mohamed's new administration completed its first monthly payment of stipends to government soldiers, and initiated the implementation of a full biometric register for the security forces within a window of four months. Additional members of the Independent Constitutional Commission were also appointed to engage Somali constitutional lawyers, religious scholars and experts in Somali culture over the nation's upcoming new constitution, a key part of the government's Transitional Federal Tasks. In addition, high level federal delegations were dispatched to defuse clan-related tensions in several regions. According to the prime minister of Somalia, to improve transparency, Cabinet ministers fully disclosed their assets and signed a code of ethics.[139]

An Anti-Corruption Commission with the power to carry out formal investigations and to review government decisions and protocols was also established so as to more closely monitor all activities by public officials. Furthermore, unnecessary trips abroad by members of government were prohibited, and all travel by ministers now require the Premier’s consent.[139][140] A budget outlining 2011’s federal expenditures was also put before and approved by members of parliament, with the payment of civil service employees prioritized. In addition, a full audit of government property and vehicles is being put into place. On the war front, the new government and its AMISOM allies also managed to secure control of 60% of Mogadishu, where 80% of the capital’s population now lives. According to the African Union and Prime Minister Mohamed, with increasing troop strength the pace of territorial gains is expected to greatly accelerate.[139][141]

On June 19, 2011, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed resigned from his position as Prime Minister of Somalia. Part of the controversial Kampala Accord's conditions, the agreement would also see the mandates of the President, the Parliament Speaker and Deputies extended until August 2012, after which point new elections are to be organized.[142] Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, Mohamed's former Minister of Planning and International Cooperation, was later named permanent Prime Minister.[27]

The Transitional Federal Government continues to reach out to both Somali and international stakeholders to help grow the administrative capacity of the Transitional Federal Institutions and to work toward eventual national elections in 2012,[28] when the interim government's mandate expires.[27]


Following the outbreak of the civil war and the ensuing collapse of the central government, Somalia's residents reverted to local forms of conflict resolution, either secular, traditional or Islamic law, with a provision for appeal of all sentences. The legal structure in Somalia is thus divided along three lines: civil law, religious law and customary law.[2]

Civil law

While Somalia's formal judicial system was largely destroyed after the fall of the Siad Barre regime, it has been rebuilt and is now administered under different regional governments such as the autonomous Puntland and Somaliland macro-regions. In the case of the Transitional Federal Government, a new interim judicial structure was formed through various international conferences.

Despite some significant political differences between them, all of these administrations share similar legal structures, much of which are predicated on the judicial systems of previous Somali administrations. These similarities in civil law include: a) a charter which affirms the primacy of Muslim shari'a or religious law, although in practice shari'a is applied mainly to matters such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, and civil issues. The charter guarantees respect for universal standards of human rights to all subjects of the law. It also assures the independence of the judiciary, which in turn is protected by a judicial committee; b) a three-tier judicial system including a supreme court, a court of appeals, and courts of first instance (either divided between district and regional courts, or a single court per region); and c) the laws of the civilian government which were in effect prior to the military coup d'état that saw the Barre regime into power remain in force until the laws are amended.[143]


Islamic shari'a has traditionally played a significant part in Somali society. In theory, it has served as the basis for all national legislation in every Somali constitution. In practice, however, it only applied to common civil cases such as marriage, divorce, inheritance and family matters. This changed after the start of the civil war, when a number of new shari'a courts began to spring up in many different cities and towns across the country. These new shari'a courts serve three functions; namely, to pass rulings in both criminal and civil cases, to organize a militia capable of arresting criminals, and to keep convicted prisoners incarcerated.[143]

The shari'a courts, though structured along simple lines, feature a conventional hierarchy of a chairman, vice-chairman and four judges. A police force that reports to the court enforces the judges' rulings, but also helps settle community disputes and apprehend suspected criminals. In addition, the courts manage detention centers where criminals are kept. An independent finance committee is also assigned the task of collecting and managing tax revenue levied on regional merchants by the local authorities.[143]

In March 2009, Somalia's newly established coalition government announced that it would implement shari'a as the nation's official judicial system.[116]


Somalis have for centuries practiced a form of customary law, which they call Xeer. Xeer is a polycentric legal system where there is no monopolistic institution or agent that determines what the law should be or how it should be interpreted.

The Xeer legal system is assumed to have developed exclusively in the Horn of Africa since approximately the 7th century. There is no evidence that it developed elsewhere or was greatly influenced by any foreign legal system. The fact that Somali legal terminology is practically devoid of loan words from foreign languages suggests that Xeer is truly indigenous.[144]

The Xeer legal system also requires a certain amount of specialization of different functions within the legal framework. Thus, one can find odayaal (judges), xeerbogeyaal (jurists), guurtiyaal (detectives), garxajiyaal (attorneys), markhaatiyal (witnesses) and waranle (police officers) to enforce the law.[145]

Xeer is defined by a few fundamental tenets that are immutable and which closely approximate the principle of jus cogens in international law: These precepts include:

  • A) payment of blood money (locally referred to as diya) for libel, theft, physical harm, rape and death, as well as supplying assistance to relatives.
  • B) assuring good inter-clan relations by treating women justly, negotiating with "peace emissaries" in good faith, and sparing the lives of socially protected groups "Birr Magaydo," (e.g. children, women, the pious, poets, messengers, sheikhs, and guests).
  • C) family obligations such as the payment of dowry, and sanctions for eloping.
  • D) rules pertaining to the management of resources such as the use of pasture land, water, and other natural resources.
  • E) providing financial support to married female relatives and newlyweds.
  • F) donating livestock and other assets to the poor.[143]

Regions and districts

Jubbada Hoose Jubbada Dhexe Gedo Bay Somalia Bakool Shabeellaha Hoose Shabeellaha Dhexe Banaadir Hiiraan Galguduud Mudug Nugaal Bari Somalia Sool Sanaag Togdheer Woqooyi Galbeed AwdalA clickable map of Somalia exhibiting its eighteen administrative regions.
About this image

Somalia is officially divided into eighteen regions (gobollada, singular gobol),[2] which in turn are subdivided into districts. The regions are:

1 Jubbada Hoose
2 Jubbada Dhexe
3 Gedo
4 Bay
5 Bakool
6 Shabeellaha Hoose

7 Banaadir
8 Shabeellaha Dhexe
9 Hiiraan
10 Galguduud
11 Mudug
12 Nugaal

13 Bari
14 Sool
15 Sanaag
16 Togdheer
17 Woqooyi Galbeed
18 Awdal

On a de facto basis, northern Somalia is now divided up among the autonomous regions of Puntland (which considers itself an autonomous state) and Somaliland (a self-declared but un-recognized sovereign state). In central Somalia, Galmudug is another regional entity that emerged just south of Puntland.[2]


The Cal Madow mountain range in northern Somalia features the nation's highest peak, Shimbiris.

Somalia is bordered by Djibouti to the northwest, Kenya to the southwest, the Gulf of Aden with Yemen to the north, the Indian Ocean to the east, and Ethiopia to the west. It lies between latitudes 2°S and 12°N, and longitudes 41° and 52°E. Strategically located at the mouth of the Bab el Mandeb gateway to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, the country occupies the tip of a region that, due to its resemblance on the map to a rhinoceros' horn, is commonly referred to as the Horn of Africa.[2][146]

Somalia has the longest coastline on the continent,[13] with a seaboard that stretches 3,025 kilometers.[2] Its terrain consists mainly of plateaus, plains and highlands. The nation has a total area of 637,657 square kilometers (246,201 sq mi) of which constitutes land, with 10,320 square kilometers (3,980 sq mi) of water.[2] Somalia's land boundaries extend to about 2,366 kilometers (1,470 mi) of that is shared with (58 kilometers, or 36 miles) with Djibouti, (682 kilometers, or 424 miles) with Kenya, and {1,626 kilometers, or 1,010 miles} with Ethiopia. Its maritime claims include territorial waters of 200 nautical miles (370 km; 230 mi).[2]

In the north, a scrub-covered, semi-desert plain referred as the Guban lies parallel to the Gulf of Aden littoral. With a width of twelve kilometers in the west to as little as two kilometers in the east, the plain is bisected by watercourses that are essentially beds of dry sand except during the rainy seasons. When the rains arrive, the Guban's low bushes and grass clumps transform into lush vegetation.[146] This coastal strip is part of the Ethiopian xeric grasslands and shrublands ecoregion.

Cal Madow is a mountain range in the northeastern part of the country. Extending from several kilometers west of the city of Bosaso to the northwest of Erigavo, it features Somalia's highest peak, Shimbiris, which sits at an elevation of about 2,416 metres (7,927 ft).[2] The rugged east-west ranges of the Karkaar Mountains also lie to the interior of the Gulf of Aden littoral.[146] In the central regions, the country's northern mountain ranges give way to shallow plateaus and typically dry watercourses that are referred to locally as the Ogo. The Ogo's western plateau, in turn, gradually merges into the Haud, an important grazing area for livestock.[146]

Somalia has only two permanent rivers, the Jubba and the Shabele, both of which begin in the Ethiopian Highlands. These rivers mainly flow southwards, with the Jubba River entering the Indian Ocean at Kismayo. The Shabele River at one time apparently used to enter the sea near Merca, but now reaches a point just southwest of Mogadishu. After that, it consists of swamps and dry reaches before finally disappearing in the desert terrain east of Jilib, near the Jubba River.[146]


Arabian horses, referred to as faras, seen here in the arid plains of Dhahar.

Due to Somalia's proximity to the equator, there is not much seasonal variation in its climate. Hot conditions prevail year-round along with periodic monsoon winds and irregular rainfall. Mean daily maximum temperatures range from 30 to 40 °C (86 to 104 °F), except at higher elevations along the eastern seaboard, where the effects of a cold offshore current can be felt. In Mogadishu, for instance, average afternoon highs range from 28 °C (82 °F) to 32 °C (90 °F) in April. Some of the highest mean annual temperatures in the world have been recorded in the country; Berbera on the northwestern coast has an afternoon high that averages more than 38 °C (100 °F) from June through September. Nationally, mean daily minimums usually vary from about 15 to 30 °C (59 to 86 °F).[146] The greatest range in climate occurs in northern Somalia, where temperatures sometimes surpass 45 °C (113 °F) in July on the littoral plains and drop below the freezing point during December in the highlands.[14][146] In this region, relative humidity ranges from about 40% in the mid-afternoon to 85% at night, changing somewhat according to the season.[146]

Climate chart (explanation)
Average max. and min. temperatures in °C
Precipitation totals in mm
Source: FAO-SWALIM[147]
Climate chart (explanation)
Average max. and min. temperatures in °C
Precipitation totals in mm
Source: FAO-SWALIM[147]

Unlike the climates of most other countries at this latitude, conditions in Somalia range from arid in the northeastern and central regions to semiarid in the northwest and south. In the northeast, annual rainfall is less than 4 inches (100 mm); in the central plateaus, it is about 8 to 12 inches (200 to 300 mm). The northwestern and southwestern parts of the nation, however, receive considerably more rain, with an average of 20 to 24 inches (510 to 610 mm) falling per year. Although the coastal regions are hot and humid throughout the year, the hinterland is typically dry and hot.[146]

There are four main seasons around which pastoral and agricultural life revolve, and these are dictated by shifts in the wind patterns. From December to March is the Jilal, the harshest dry season of the year. The main rainy season, referred to as the Gu, lasts from April to June. This period is characterized by the southwest monsoons, which rejuvenate the pasture land, especially the central plateau, and briefly transform the desert into lush vegetation. From July to September is the second dry season, the Xagaa (pronounced "Hagaa"). The Dayr, which is the shortest rainy season, lasts from October to December.[146] The tangambili periods that intervene between the two monsoons (October–November and March–May) are hot and humid.[146]


Until the collapse of the federal government in 1991, the organizational and administrative structure of Somalia's healthcare sector was overseen by the Ministry of Health. Regional medical officials enjoyed some authority, but healthcare was largely centralized. The socialist government of former President of Somalia Siad Barre had put an end to private medical practice in 1972.[148] Much of the national budget was devoted to military expenditure, leaving few resources for healthcare, among other services.[149]

Edna Adan Maternity Hospital in Hargeisa, one of Somalia's many new private healthcare facilities.

Somalia's public healthcare system was largely destroyed during the ensuing civil war. As with other previously nationalized sectors, informal providers have filled the vacuum and replaced the former government monopoly over healthcare, with access to facilities witnessing a significant increase.[150] Many new healthcare centers, clinics, hospitals and pharmacies have in the process been established through home-grown Somali initiatives.[150] The cost of medical consultations and treatment in these facilities is low, at $5.72 per visit in health centers (with a population coverage of 95%), and between $1.89–$3.97 per outpatient visit and $7.83–$13.95 per bed day in primary through tertiary hospitals.[151]

Comparing the 2005–2010 period with the half-decade just prior to the outbreak of the conflict (1985–1990), life expectancy actually increased from an average of 47 years for men and women to 48.2 years for men and 51.0 years for women.[152][153] Similarly, the number of one-year-olds fully immunized against measles rose from 30% in 1985–1990 to 40% in 2000–2005,[152][154] and for tuberculosis, it grew nearly 20% from 31% to 50% over the same period.[152][154] In keeping with the trend, the number of infants with low birth weight fell from 16 per 1000 to 0.3, a 15% drop in total over the same timeframe.[152][155] Between 2005–2010 as compared to the 1985–1990 period, infant mortality per 1,000 births also fell from 152 to 109.6.[152][153] Significantly, maternal mortality per 100,000 births fell from 1,600 in the pre-war 1985–1990 half-decade to 1,100 in the 2000–2005 period.[152][156] The number of physicians per 100,000 people also rose from 3.4 to 4 over the same timeframe,[152][154] as did the percentage of the population with access to sanitation services, which increased from 18% to 26%.[152][154]

According to United Nations Population Fund data on the midwifery workforce, there is a total of 429 midwives (including nurse-midwives) in Somalia, with a density of 1 midwife per 1,000 live births. Eight midwifery institutions presently exist in the country, two of which are private. Midwifery education programs on average last from 12 to 18 months, and operate on a sequential basis. The number of student admissions per total available student places is a maximum 100%, with 180 students enrolled as of 2009. Midwifery is regulated by the government, and a license is required to practice professionally. A live registry is also in place to keep track of licensed midwives. In addition, midwives in the country are officially represented by a local midwives association, with 350 registered members.[157]

A Somali boy receiving a polio vaccination.

According to a 2005 World Health Organization estimate, about 97.9% of Somalia's women and girls have undergone female circumcision,[158] a pre-marital custom mainly endemic to Northeast Africa and parts of the Near East that has its ultimate origins in Ancient Egypt.[159][160] Encouraged by women in the community, it is primarily intended to deter promiscuity and to offer protection from assault.[161] About 93% of Somalia's male population is also reportedly circumcised.[162]

Somalia has one of the lowest HIV infection rates on the continent. This is attributed to the Muslim nature of Somali society and adherence of Somalis to Islamic morals.[163] While the estimated HIV prevalence rate in Somalia in 1987 (the first case report year) was 1% of adults,[163] a more recent estimate from 2007 now places it at only 0.5% of the nation's adult population despite the ongoing civil strife.[2]

Although healthcare is now largely concentrated in the private sector, the country's public healthcare system is in the process of being rebuilt, and is overseen by the Ministry of Health. The current Minister of Health is Qamar Adan Ali.[164] The autonomous Puntland region maintains its own Ministry of Health, which is headed by Dr. Mohamed Bashir Ali Bihi,[165] as does the Somaliland region in northwestern Somalia, with its Ministry of Health led by Osman Bile Ali.[166]

Some of the prominent healthcare facilities in the country are East Bardera Mothers and Children's Hospital, Abudwak Maternity and Children's Hospital, Edna Adan Maternity Hospital and West Bardera Maternity Unit.


Following the outbreak of the civil war in 1991, the task of running schools in Somalia was initially taken up by community education committees established in 94% of the local schools.[167] Numerous problems had arisen with regard to access to education in rural areas and along gender lines, quality of educational provisions, responsiveness of school curricula, educational standards and controls, management and planning capacity, and financing. To address these concerns, educational policies are being developed which are aimed at guiding the scholastic process.[clarification needed] In the autonomous Puntland region, the latter includes a gender sensitive national education policy compliant with world standards, such as those outlined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).[168] Examples of this and other educational measures at work are the regional government's enactment of legislation aimed at securing the educational interests of girls,[169] promoting the growth of an Early Childhood Development (ECD) program designed to reach parents and care-givers in their homes as well as in the ECD centers for 0–5 year old children,[170] and introducing incentive packages to encourage teachers to work in remote rural areas.[171]

The Hammar Jab Jab School in Mogadishu

The Ministry of Education is officially responsible for education in Somalia, and oversees the nation's primary, secondary, technical and vocational schools, as well as primary and technical teacher training and non-formal education. About 15% of the government's budget is allocated toward scholastic instruction.[172] The autonomous Puntland and Somaliland macro-regions maintain their own Ministries of Education.

In 2006, Puntland was the second territory in Somalia after Somaliland to introduce free primary schools, with teachers now receiving their salaries from the Puntland administration.[173] From 2005/2006 to 2006/2007, there was a significant increase in the number of schools in Puntland, up 137 institutions from just one year prior. During the same period, the number of classes in the region increased by 504, with 762 more teachers also offering their services.[174] Total student enrollment increased by 27% over the previous year, with girls lagging only slightly behind boys in attendance in most regions. The highest class enrollment was observed in the northernmost Bari region, and the lowest was observed in the under-populated Ayn region. The distribution of classrooms was almost evenly split between urban and rural areas, with marginally more pupils attending and instructors teaching classes in urban areas.[174]

Entrance to Amoud University in Borama.

Higher education in Somalia is now largely private. Several universities in the country, including Mogadishu University, have been scored among the 100 best universities in Africa in spite of the harsh environment, which has been hailed as a triumph for grass-roots initiatives.[175] Other universities also offering higher education in the south include Benadir University, the Somalia National University, Kismayo University and the University of Gedo. In Puntland, higher education is provided by the Puntland State University and East Africa University. In Somaliland, it is provided by Amoud University, the University of Hargeisa, Somaliland University of Technology and Burao University.

Qu'ranic schools (also known as duqsi) remain the basic system of traditional religious instruction in Somalia. They provide Islamic education for children, thereby filling a clear religious and social role in the country. Known as the most stable local, non-formal system of education providing basic religious and moral instruction, their strength rests on community support and their use of locally made and widely available teaching materials. The Qu'ranic system, which teaches the greatest number of students relative to other educational sub-sectors, is often the only system accessible to Somalis in nomadic as compared to urban areas. A study from 1993 found, among other things, that about 40% of pupils in Qur'anic schools were girls. To address shortcomings in religious instruction, the Somali government on its own part also subsequently established the Ministry of Endowment and Islamic Affairs, under which Qur'anic education is now regulated.[176]


Air Somalia Tupolev Tu-154 in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. Somalia today has a thriving private airline industry.

According to the CIA and the Central Bank of Somalia, despite experiencing civil unrest, Somalia has maintained a healthy informal economy, based mainly on livestock, remittance/money transfer companies and telecommunications.[2][29] Due to a dearth of formal government statistics and the recent civil war, it is difficult to gauge the size or growth of the economy. For 1994, the CIA estimated the GDP at $3.3 billion.[177] In 2001, it was estimated to be $4.1 billion.[178] By 2009, the CIA estimated that the GDP had grown to $5.731 billion, with a projected real growth rate of 2.6%.[2] According to a 2007 British Chambers of Commerce report, the private sector also grew, particularly in the service sector. Unlike the pre-civil war period when most services and the industrial sector were government-run, there has been substantial, albeit unmeasured, private investment in commercial activities; this has been largely financed by the Somali diaspora, and includes trade and marketing, money transfer services, transportation, communications, fishery equipment, airlines, telecommunications, education, health, construction and hotels.[179] Libertarian economist Peter T. Leeson attributes this increased economic activity to the Somali customary law (referred to as Xeer), which he suggests provides a stable environment to conduct business in.[149]

The Central Bank of Somalia indicates that the country's GDP per capita is $333, which is lower than that of Kenya at $350, but better than that of Tanzania at $280 as well as Eritrea at $190 and Ethiopia at $100.[29] However, the CIA puts Somalia's GDP per capita at $600.[2] About 43% of the population live on less than 1 US dollar a day, with about 24% of those found in urban areas and 54% living in rural areas.[29]

Cans of Las Qoray brand tuna fish made in Las Khorey.

As with neighboring countries, Somalia's economy consists of both traditional and modern production, with a gradual shift in favor of modern industrial techniques taking root. According to the Central Bank of Somalia, about 80% of the population are nomadic or semi-nomadic pastoralists, who keep goats, sheep, camels and cattle. The nomads also gather resins and gums to supplement their income.[29]

Agriculture is the most important economic sector. It accounts for about 65% of the GDP and employs 65% of the workforce.[179] Livestock contributes about 40% to GDP and more than 50% of export earnings.[2] Other principal exports include fish, charcoal and bananas; sugar, sorghum and corn are products for the domestic market.[180] According to the Central Bank of Somalia, imports of goods total about $460 million per year, surpassing aggregate imports prior to the start of the civil war in 1991. Exports, which total about $270 million annually, have also surpassed pre-war aggregate export levels. Somalia has a trade deficit of about $190 million per year, but this is exceeded by remittances sent by Somalis in the diaspora, estimated to be about $1 billion.[29]

With the advantage of being located near the Arabian Peninsula, Somali traders have increasingly begun to challenge Australia's traditional dominance over the Gulf Arab livestock and meat market, offering quality animals at very low prices. In response, Gulf Arab states have started to make strategic investments in the country, with Saudi Arabia building livestock export infrastructure and the United Arab Emirates purchasing large farmlands.[181] Somalia is also a major world supplier of frankincense and myrrh.[182]

Bosaso port.

The modest industrial sector, based on the processing of agricultural products, accounts for 10% of Somalia's GDP.[2] Up to 14 private airline firms operating 62 aircraft now also offer commercial flights to international locations, including Daallo Airlines. With competitively priced flight tickets, these companies have helped buttress Somalia's bustling trade networks.[175][179] In 2008, the Puntland government signed a multi-million dollar deal with Dubai's Lootah Group, a regional industrial group operating in the Middle East and Africa. According to the agreement, the first phase of the investment is worth Dhs 170 m and will see a set of new companies established to operate, manage and build Bosaso's free trade zone and sea and airport facilities. The Bosaso Airport Company is slated to develop the airport complex to meet international standards, including a new 3.4 km runway, main and auxiliary buildings, taxi and apron areas, and security perimeters.[183]

Prior to the outbreak of the civil war in 1991, the roughly 53 state-owned small, medium and large manufacturing firms were foundering, with the ensuing conflict destroying many of the remaining industries. However, primarily as a result of substantial local investment by the Somali diaspora, many of these small-scale plants have re-opened and newer ones have been created. The latter include fish-canning and meat-processing plants in the northern regions, as well as about 25 factories in the Mogadishu area, which manufacture pasta, mineral water, confections, plastic bags, fabric, hides and skins, detergent and soap, aluminum, foam mattresses and pillows, fishing boats, carry out packaging, and stone processing.[175] In 2004, an $8.3 million Coca-Cola bottling plant also opened in the city, with investors hailing from various constituencies in Somalia.[184] Foreign investment also included multinationals like General Motors and Dole Fruit.[185]

Airspace over Somalia is controlled by the UN, with the $275 per plane going to the UN rather than the Somali government. The TFG is trying to obtain control of the airspace, but it is not known if they will be able to maintain it effectively.[186]

Payment system

The Central Bank of Somalia is the official monetary authority of Somalia.[29] In terms of financial management, it is in the process of assuming the task of both formulating and implementing monetary policy.[187]

A Dahabshiil franchise outlet in Columbus, Ohio

Owing to a lack of confidence in the local currency, the US dollar is widely accepted as a medium of exchange alongside the Somali shilling. Dollarization notwithstanding, the large issuance of the Somali shilling has increasingly fueled price hikes, especially for low value transactions. According to the central bank: "This inflationary environment, however, is expected to come to an end as soon as the Central Bank assumes full control of monetary policy and replaces the presently circulating currency introduced by the private sector."[187]

Although Somalia has had no central monetary authority for more than 15 years between the outbreak of the civil war in 1991 and the subsequent re-establishment of the Central Bank of Somalia in 2009, the nation's payment system is fairly advanced primarily due to the widespread existence of private money transfer operators (MTO) that have acted as informal banking networks.[188]

These remittance firms (hawalas) have become a large industry in Somalia, with an estimated $1.6 billion USD annually remitted to the region by Somalis in the diaspora via money transfer companies.[2] Most are members of the Somali Money Transfer Association (SOMTA), an umbrella organization that regulates the community's money transfer sector, or its predecessor, the Somali Financial Services Association (SFSA).[189][190] The largest of the Somali MTOs is Dahabshiil, a Somali-owned firm employing more than 2000 people across 144 countries with branches in London and Dubai.[190][191]

As the reconstituted Central Bank of Somalia fully assumes its monetary policy responsibilities, some of the existing money transfer companies are expected in the near future to seek licenses so as to develop into full-fledged commercial banks. This will serve to expand the national payments system to include formal cheques, which in turn is expected to reinforce the efficacy of the use of monetary policy in domestic macroeconomic management.[188]


The World Bank reports that electricity is now in large part supplied by local businesses, using generators purchased abroad. By dividing Somalia's cities into specific quarters, the private sector has found a manageable method of providing cities with electricity. A customer is given a menu of choices for electricity tailored to his or her needs, such as evenings only, daytime only, 24 hour-supply or charge per lightbulb.[179]

Oil blocks in Puntland.

Somalia has untapped reserves of numerous natural resources, including uranium, iron ore, tin, gypsum, bauxite, copper, salt and natural gas.[2] Due to its proximity to the oil-rich Gulf Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and Yemen, the nation is also believed to contain substantial unexploited reserves of oil. A survey of Northeast Africa by the World Bank and U.N. ranked Somalia second only to Sudan as the top prospective producer.[192] American, Australian and Chinese oil companies, in particular, are excited about the prospect of finding petroleum and other natural resources in the country. An oil group listed in Sydney, Range Resources, anticipates that the Puntland province in the north has the potential to produce 5 billion barrels (790×10^6 m3) to 10 billion barrels (1.6×10^9 m3) of oil.[193] As a result of these developments, the Somali Petroleum Company was created by the federal government.

According to surveys, uranium is also found in large quantities in the Buurhakaba region. A Brazilian company in the 1980s had invested $300 million for a uranium mine in central Somalia, but no long-term mining took place.[194]

Additionally, the Puntland region under the Farole administration has since sought to refine the province's existing oil deal with Range Resources. The Australian oil firm, for its part, indicated that it looked forward to establishing a mutually beneficial and profitable working relationship with the region's new government.[195][196]

In mid-2010, Somalia's business community also pledged to invest $1 billion in the national gas and electricity industries over the following five years. Abdullahi Hussein, the director of the just-formed Trans-National Industrial Electricity and Gas Company, predicted that the investment strategy would create 100,000 jobs, with the net effect of stimulating the local economy and discouraging unemployed youngsters from turning to vice. The new firm was established through the merger of five Somali companies from the trade, finance, security and telecommunications sectors. The first phase of the project is scheduled to start within six months of the establishment of the company, and will train youth to supply electricity to economic areas and communities. The second phase, which is slated to begin in mid-to-late 2011, will see the construction of factories in specially designated economic zones for the fishing, agriculture, livestock and mining industries.[197][198]

According to the Central Bank of Somalia, as the nation embarks on the path of reconstruction, the economy is expected to not only match its pre-civil war levels, but also to accelerate in growth and development due to Somalia's untapped natural resources.[29]

Telecommunications and media

The Hormuud Telecom building in Mogadishu

Somalia now offers some of the most technologically advanced and competitively priced telecommunications and Internet services in the world.[191] After the start of the civil war, various new telecommunications companies began to spring up and compete to provide missing infrastructure. Funded by Somali entrepreneurs and backed by expertise from China, Korea and Europe, these nascent telecommunications firms offer affordable mobile phone and Internet services that are not available in many other parts of the continent. Customers can conduct money transfers and other banking activities via mobile phones, as well as easily gain wireless Internet access.[199]

After forming partnerships with multinational corporations such as Sprint, ITT and Telenor, these firms now offer the cheapest and clearest phone calls in Africa.[200] These Somali telecommunication companies also provide services to every city, town and hamlet in Somalia. There are presently around 25 mainlines per 1,000 persons, and the local availability of telephone lines (tele-density) is higher than in neighboring countries; three times greater than in adjacent Ethiopia.[175] Prominent Somali telecommunications companies include Golis Telecom Group, Hormuud Telecom, Somafone, Nationlink, Netco, Telcom and Somali Telecom Group. Hormuud Telecom alone grosses about $40 million a year. Despite their rivalry, several of these companies signed an interconnectivity deal in 2005 that allows them to set prices, maintain and expand their networks, and ensure that competition does not get out of control.[199]

"Investment in the telecom industry is one of the clearest signs that Somalia's economy has continued to grow despite the ongoing civil strife in parts of the southern half of the country".[199] The sector provides important communication services, and in the process thus facilitates job creation and income generation.[175]

Somalia also has several private television and radio networks.[201] Prominent media organizations in the country include the state-run Radio Mogadishu, as well as the privately-owned Horseed Media, Garowe Online and Radio Laascaanood.


A Spoon Rest A (P-12) early warning radar unit, part of radar installation operated by Somali troops at the Berbera airport.

Prior to the outbreak of the civil war in 1991 and the subsequent disintegration of the Armed Forces, Somalia's friendship with the Soviet Union and later partnership with the United States enabled it to build the largest army in Africa.[78] The creation of the Transitional Federal Government in 2004 saw the re-establishment of the Military of Somalia, which now maintains a force of 10,000 troops. The Ministry of Defense is responsible for the Armed Forces.

After almost 2 decades of absence, 500 marines were being trained in 2010 as a first start to re-establish the Somali Navy.[202] In addition, there are plans for the re-establishment of the Somali Air Force, with six combat and six transport planes already purchased.[citation needed] A new police force was also formed, with the first police academy to be built in Somalia for several years opening on December 20, 2005 at Armo, 100 kilometers south of Bosaso, the commercial capital of the northeastern Puntland region.[203] Additionally, construction began in May 2010 on a new naval base in the town of Bandar Siyada, located 25 km west of Bosaso. The new naval base is funded by the Puntland administration in conjunction with Saracen International, a UK-based security company. It will include a center for training recruits, and a command post for the naval force.[204]


Somalia's coral reefs, ecological parks and protected areas.

Somalia is a semi-arid country with about 1.64% arable land.[2] The first local environmental organizations were Ecoterra Somalia and the Somali Ecological Society, both of which helped promote awareness about ecological concerns and mobilized environmental programs in all governmental sectors as well as in civil society. From 1971 onwards, a massive tree-planting campaign on a nationwide scale was introduced by the Siad Barre government to halt the advance of thousands of acres of wind-driven sand dunes that threatened to engulf towns, roads and farm land.[205] By 1988, 265 hectares of a projected 336 hectares had been treated, with 39 range reserve sites and 36 forestry plantation sites established.[146] In 1986, the Wildlife Rescue, Research and Monitoring Centre was established by Ecoterra Intl., with the goal of sensitizing the public to ecological issues. This educational effort led in 1989 to the so-called "Somalia proposal" and a decision by the Somali government to adhere to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which established for the first time a worldwide ban on the trade of elephant ivory.

Later, Fatima Jibrell, a prominent Somali environmental activist, mounted a successful campaign to salvage old-growth forests of acacia trees in the northeastern part of Somalia.[206] These trees, which can grow up to 500 years old, were being cut down to make charcoal since this so-called "black gold" is highly in demand in the Arabian Peninsula, where the region's Bedouin tribes believe the acacia to be sacred.[206][207][208] However, while being a relatively inexpensive fuel that meets a user's needs, the production of charcoal often leads to deforestation and desertification.[208] As a way of addressing this problem, Jibrell and the Horn of Africa Relief and Development Organization (Horn Relief), an organization of which she is a co-founder and Executive Director, trained a group of adolescents to educate the public on the permanent damage that producing charcoal can create. In 1999, Horn Relief coordinated a peace march in the northeastern Puntland region of Somalia to put an end to the so-called "charcoal wars." As a result of Jibrell's lobbying and education efforts, the Puntland government in 2000 prohibited the exportation of charcoal. The government has also since enforced the ban, which has reportedly led to an 80% drop in exports of the product.[209] Jibrell was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2002 for her efforts against environmental degradation and desertification.[209] In 2008, she also won the National Geographic Society/Buffett Foundation Award for Leadership in Conservation.[210]

Following the massive tsunami of December 2004, there have also emerged allegations that after the outbreak of the Somali Civil War in the late 1980s, Somalia's long, remote shoreline was used as a dump site for the disposal of toxic waste. The huge waves which battered northern Somalia after the tsunami are believed to have stirred up tons of nuclear and toxic waste that might have been dumped illegally in the country by foreign firms.[211]

The European Green Party followed up these revelations by presenting before the press and the European Parliament in Strasbourg copies of contracts signed by two European companies — the Italian Swiss firm, Achair Partners, and an Italian waste broker, Progresso — and representatives of the then "President" of Somalia, the faction leader Ali Mahdi Mohamed, to accept 10 million tonnes of toxic waste in exchange for $80 million (then about £60 million).[211]

According to reports by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the waste has resulted in far higher than normal cases of respiratory infections, mouth ulcers and bleeding, abdominal haemorrhages and unusual skin infections among many inhabitants of the areas around the northeastern towns of Hobyo and Benadir on the Indian Ocean coast — diseases consistent with radiation sickness. UNEP adds that the current situation along the Somali coastline poses a very serious environmental hazard not only in Somalia, but also in the eastern Africa sub-region.[211]


A Somali girl

Somalia has a population of around 10 million inhabitants.[2] About 85% are ethnic Somalis,[2] who are traditionally nomadic pastoralists and have historically inhabited the northern part of the country.[212] The total population according to the 1975 census was 3.3 million.[213] Civil strife in the early 1990s greatly increased the size of the Somali diaspora, as many of the best educated Somalis left for the Middle East, Europe and North America.[214]

Non-Somali ethnic minority groups make up the remainder of the nation's population, and are largely concentrated in the southern regions.[212] They include Benadiri, Bravanese, Bantus, Bajuni, Ethiopians, Indians, Persians, Italians and Britons. Most Europeans left after independence.

The country's population is expanding at a growth rate of 2.809% per annum and a birth rate of 43.33 births/1,000 people.[2] Most local residents are young, with a median age of 17.6 years; about 45% of the population is between the ages of 0–14 years, 52.5% is between the ages of 15–64 years, and only 2.5% is 65 years of age or older.[2] The gender ratio is roughly balanced, with proportionally about as many men as women.[2]

There is little reliable statistical information on urbanization in Somalia. However, rough estimates have been made indicating a rate of urbanization of 4.2% per annum (2005–10 est.), with many towns quickly growing into cities.[2] Many ethnic minorities have also moved from rural areas to urban centers since the onset of the civil war, particularly to Mogadishu and Kismayo.[215] As of 2008, 37% of the nation's population live in towns and cities, with the percentage rapidly increasing.[2]

Cities of the Republic of Somalia
Rank Core City Division Pop. view · talk · edit
1 Mogadishu Banadir Ca. 2,000,000 [216]
2 Hargeisa W.Galbeed Ca. 2,000,000 [217]
3 Bosaso Bari Ca. 950,000 [218]
4 Galkayo Mudug Ca. 545,000 [219]
5 Berbera W.Galbeed Ca. 232,500 [220]
6 Merca Shabeellaha Hoose Ca. 230,100 [220]
7 Jamame Jubbada Hoose Ca. 224,700 [220]
8 Kismayo Jubbada Hoose Ca. 183,300 [220]
9 Baidoa Bay Ca. 157,500 [220]
10 Burao Togdheer Ca. 120,400 [220]
11 Afgooye Shabeellaha Hoose Ca. 79,400 [220]
12 Beledweyne Hiiraan Ca. 67,200 [220]
13 Qoryoley Shabeellaha Hoose Ca. 62,700 [220]
14 Garowe Nugaal Ca. 57,300 [220]
15 Jowhar Shabeellaha Dhexe Ca. 57,100 [220]
16 Bardera Gedo Ca. 51,300 [220]
17 Qardho Bari Ca. 47,400 [220]
18 Borama Awdal Ca. 39,100 [220]


Somali and Arabic are the official languages of Somalia, while English and Italian are designated "second languages" by the Transitional Federal Charter of the Somali Republic. The Somali language is the mother tongue of the Somali people, the nation's most populous ethnic group.[1][2] It is a member of the Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family, and its nearest relatives are the Afar and Saho languages.[221] Somali is the best documented of the Cushitic languages,[222] with academic studies of it dating from before 1900.

The Osmanya writing script

Somali dialects are divided into three main groups: Northern, Benadir and Maay. Northern Somali (or Northern-Central Somali) forms the basis for Standard Somali. Benadir (also known as Coastal Somali) is spoken on the Benadir coast, from Cadaley to south of Merca including Mogadishu, as well as in the immediate hinterland. The coastal dialects have additional phonemes which do not exist in Standard Somali. Maay is principally spoken by the Digil and Mirifle (Rahanweyn) clans in the southern areas of Somalia.[223]

Since Somali had long lost its ancient script,[224] a number of writing systems have been used over the years for transcribing the language. Of these, the Somali alphabet is the most widely used, and has been the official writing script in Somalia since the government of former President of Somalia Siad Barre formally introduced it in October 1972.[225]

The script was developed by the Somali linguist Shire Jama Ahmed specifically for the Somali language, and uses all letters of the English Latin alphabet except p, v and z. Besides Ahmed's Latin script, other orthographies that have been used for centuries for writing Somali include the long-established Arabic script and Wadaad's writing. Indigenous writing systems developed in the 20th century include the Osmanya, Borama and Kaddare scripts, which were invented by Osman Yusuf Kenadid, Sheikh Abdurahman Sheikh Nuur and Hussein Sheikh Ahmed Kaddare, respectively.[226]

In addition to Somali, Arabic, which is also an Afro-Asiatic tongue,[227] is an official national language in Somalia.[1] Many Somalis speak it due to centuries-old ties with the Arab world, the far-reaching influence of the Arabic media, and religious education.[227][228][229]

English is widely used and taught. Italian used to be a major language, but its influence significantly diminished following independence. It is now most frequently heard among older generations.[227] Other minority languages include Bravanese, a variant of the Bantu Swahili language that is spoken along the coast by the Bravanese people, as well as Kibajuni, another Swahili dialect that is the mother tongue of the Bajuni minority ethnic group.


Most Somalis are Muslims,[230] the majority belonging to the Sunni branch of Islam and the Shafi'i school of Islamic jurisprudence, although some are adherents of the Shia Muslim denomination.[231] Sufism, the mystical dimension of Islam, is also well-established, with many local jama'a (zawiya) or congregations of the various tariiqa or Sufi orders.[232] The constitution of Somalia likewise defines Islam as the religion of the Somali Republic, and Islamic sharia as the basic source for national legislation.[233]

Eid celebrations at the Mosque of Islamic Solidarity in Mogadishu (2006).

Islam entered the region very early on, as a group of persecuted Muslims had, at Prophet Muhammad's urging, sought refuge across the Red Sea in the Horn of Africa. Islam may thus have been introduced into Somalia well before the faith even took root in its place of origin.[234]

In addition, the Somali community has produced numerous important Islamic figures over the centuries, many of whom have significantly shaped the course of Muslim learning and practice in the Horn of Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and well beyond. Among these Islamic scholars is the 14th century Somali theologian and jurist Uthman bin Ali Zayla'i of Zeila, who wrote the single most authoritative text on the Hanafi school of Islam, consisting of four volumes known as the Tabayin al-Haqa’iq li Sharh Kanz al-Daqa’iq.

Christianity is a minority religion in Somalia, with no more than 1,000 practitioners (about 0.01% of the population).[235] According to estimates of the Diocese of Mogadishu (the territory of which coincides with the country) there were only about 100 Catholic practitioners in Somalia in 2004.[236]

In 1913, during the early part of the colonial era, there were virtually no Christians in the Somali territories, with only about 100–200 followers coming from the schools and orphanages of the few Catholic missions in the British Somaliland protectorate.[237] There were also no known Catholic missions in Italian Somaliland during the same period.[238] In the 1970s, during the reign of Somalia's then Marxist government, church-run schools were closed and missionaries sent home. There has been no archbishop in the country since 1989, and the cathedral in Mogadishu was severely damaged during the civil war.

Some non-Somali ethnic minority groups also practice animism, which represents (in the case of the Bantu) religious traditions inherited from their ancestors in southeastern Africa.[239]



Various types of popular Somali dishes.

The cuisine of Somalia varies from region to region and consists of an exotic mixture of diverse culinary influences. It is the product of Somalia's rich tradition of trade and commerce. Despite the variety, there remains one thing that unites the various regional cuisines: all food is served halal. There are therefore no pork dishes, alcohol is not served, nothing that died on its own is eaten, and no blood is incorporated. Qaddo or lunch is often elaborate.

Varieties of bariis (rice), the most popular probably being basmati, usually serve as the main dish. Spices like cumin, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and sage are used to aromatize these different rice dishes. Somalis serve dinner as late as 9 pm. During Ramadan, dinner is often served after Tarawih prayers – sometimes as late as 11 pm.

Xalwo or halva is a popular confection served during special occasions such as Eid celebrations or wedding receptions. It is made from sugar, corn starch, cardamom powder, nutmeg powder and ghee. Peanuts are also sometimes added to enhance texture and flavor.[240] After meals, homes are traditionally perfumed using frankincense (lubaan) or incense (cuunsi), which is prepared inside an incense burner referred to as a dabqaad.


Somali singer Aar Maanta performing with his band.

Somalia has a rich musical heritage centered on traditional Somali folklore. Most Somali songs are pentatonic; that is, they only use five pitches per octave in contrast to a heptatonic (seven note) scale such as the major scale. At first listen, Somali music might be mistaken for the sounds of nearby regions such as Ethiopia, Sudan or the Arabian Peninsula, but it is ultimately recognizable by its own unique tunes and styles. Somali songs are usually the product of collaboration between lyricists (midho), songwriters (laxan) and singers (codka or "voice").[241]


Somali scholars have for centuries produced many notable examples of Islamic literature ranging from poetry to Hadith. With the adoption of the Latin alphabet in 1972 as the nation's standard orthography, numerous contemporary Somali authors have also released novels, some of which have gone on to receive worldwide acclaim. Of these modern writers, Nuruddin Farah is probably the most celebrated. Books such as From a Crooked Rib and Links are considered important literary achievements, works which have earned Farah, among other accolades, the 1998 Neustadt International Prize for Literature.[242] Faarax M.J. Cawl is another prominent Somali writer who is perhaps best known for his Dervish era novel, Ignorance is the enemy of love.


Eyl castle

Somali architecture is a rich and diverse tradition of engineering and designing multiple different construction types such as stone cities, castles, citadels, fortresses, mosques, temples, aqueducts, lighthouses, towers and tombs during the ancient, medieval and early modern periods in Somalia, as well as the fusion of Somalo-Islamic architecture with Occidental designs in contemporary times.

In ancient Somalia, pyramidical structures known in Somali as taalo were a popular burial style, with hundreds of these drystone monuments scattered around the country today. Houses were built of dressed stone similar to the ones in Ancient Egypt,[243] and there are examples of courtyards and large stone walls such as the Wargaade Wall enclosing settlements.

The adoption of Islam in the early medieval era of Somalia's history brought Islamic architectural influences from Arabia and Persia, which stimulated a shift from drystone and other related materials in construction to coral stone, sundried bricks, and the widespread use of limestone in Somali architecture. Many of the new architectural designs such as mosques were built on the ruins of older structures, a practice that would continue over and over again throughout the following centuries.[244]

See also


  1. ^ a b c According to article 7 of The Transitional Federal Charter of the Somali Republic: The official languages of the Somali Republic shall be Somali (Maay and Maxaatiri) and Arabic. The second languages of the Transitional Federal Government shall be English and Italian.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an Central Intelligence Agency (2011). "Somalia". The World Factbook. Langley, Virginia: Central Intelligence Agency. Retrieved 2011-10-05. 
  3. ^ Paul Dickson, Labels for locals: what to call people from Abilene to Zimbabwe, (Merriam-Webster: 1997), p.175.
  4. ^ CIA World Factbook 2011 – Population density
  5. ^ Bronwyn E. Bruton. Somalia: A New Approach. Volume 52 of Council Special Report. Council on Foreign Relations, 2010
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  • Somalia — Somalía es un país ubicado en el llamado Cuerno de África, al este del continente africano. * * * (Dālka Sōmālída) ► Península del E de África formada por el extremo oriental de Etiopía y casi todo el territorio de Somalia. (Jamhuuriyadda… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Somalia — country named for the indigenous Somali people, whose name is of unknown origin …   Etymology dictionary

  • Somalia — [sō mä′lē ə, səmä′lē ə; sōmäl′yə] country of E Africa, on the Indian Ocean & the Gulf of Aden: formed by the merger of British Somaliland & Italian Somaliland (1960): 246,201 sq mi (637,658 sq km); pop. 9,200,000; cap. Mogadishu Somalian adj., n …   English World dictionary

  • Somalia — Somalian, adj., n. /soh mah lee euh, mahl yeuh/, n. an independent republic on the E coast of Africa, formed from the former British Somaliland and the former Italian Somaliland. 9,940,232; 246,198 sq. mi. (637,653 sq. km). Cap.: Mogadishu.… …   Universalium

  • Somalia — Flagge Wappen Staatsoberhaupt kein Staatoberhaupt Die internationale Gemeinscha …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Somalia — Soomaaliya الصومال As Sūmāl Somalia Somalia …   Wikipedia Español

  • Somalia — <p></p> <p></p> Introduction ::Somalia <p></p> Background: <p></p> Britain withdrew from British Somaliland in 1960 to allow its protectorate to join with Italian Somaliland and form the new nation… …   The World Factbook

  • Somalia — So|ma|lia; s: Staat in Ostafrika. Dazu: So|ma|li|er, der; s, ; So|ma|li|e|rin, die; , nen; so|ma|lisch <Adj.>. * * * Somalia,     …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Somalia — noun a republic in extreme eastern Africa on the Somali peninsula; subject to tribal warfare • Derivationally related forms: ↑Somalian • Members of this Region: ↑al Itihaad al Islamiya, ↑al Itihaad al Islamiya, ↑Islamic Unity, ↑AIAI • …   Useful english dictionary

  • Somalia Italiana — Colonia italiana …   Wikipedia Español

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