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Official Name Soomaaliya Al Sumal
Located East Africa: Ethiopia, Kenya
Capital Mogadishu
Head of State Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed

President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed

Area 738,000 sq km
Population 10 million
Growth rate 1.6%
Language Somali, af-maay (Digil and Mirifle), Arabic, Italian & English
Currency Somali shilling
GNP per capita $176
Inflation 25%
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In addition to the destruction of houses, schools and hospitals, Somalia has for years had well over a million refugees, from the war in the Ogaden and its own civil wars. Hundreds of thousands have died of starvation or diseases. Somalia remains a deeply troubled country and one, which will take years to rebuild, should peace ever prevail. A feature of life, in common with Ethiopia and Yemen, is the consumption of qat. The leaves of this bush give a kind of mild amphetamine high when chewed and it is one of the few stimulants sanctioned by Islam.

Somalia is geographically divided into northern desert and southern coastal plains and plateaus. The northern "burned" zone of desert plains rises through a series of hills to the Ogo and Migiurtinia mountains, which reach 2,408 m (7,900 ft) at Surud Ad. The Ogo Plateau extends south from the mountains into the grazing land of the Haud Plateau. In the south the sandy and arid coastal plains lead to the Shebeli-Juba lowlands and plateau with their more temperate climate.

All Somalia's major rivers flow into the Indian Ocean. The main river system is composed of the Juba and Webi Shabeelle rivers, which descend from Ethiopia and flow through the south. The two largest northern streams are the Daror and the Nugaaleed (formerly Nogal); both are ephemeral. Only 13 percent of the land is arable. Evidence suggests the presence of untapped deposits of uranium, thorium, iron ore, tin, zinc, copper, petroleum, and rare earth minerals.

Somalia has an ethnic homogeneity unusual in Africa, with SOMALI constituting 98 percent of the population, but the Somali are divided into six major clans (including the Isaaq of the north, the Ogadeni of the south, and the Hawiye of central Somalia) and thousands of subclans that command people's primary loyalties and exercise power through temporary alliances with other subclans. Traditional clan rivalries were exacerbated by the divide-and-rule policies of Siad Barre, whose regime had one of the world's worst human rights records. About 70 percent of all Somalis are nomads who travel with their herds through Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia. Almost everyone speaks Somali, a written form of which was introduced in 1972. Arabic is also widely used. Nearly all Somalis are devout Sunni Muslims. After MOGADISHU (Somali: Muqdisho), the capital and chief city, the most populous town is Hargeisa. Education is free and officially compulsory, but educational and health facilities are meager, and literacy is low.


Mogadishu has had a long history with many colonial influences. The city is known as Muqdisho in Somali, Maqdishu in Arabic and Mogadiscio in Italian. It was founded in the 10th century by Arab immigrants from the Persian Gulf, and was one of the earliest in the long range of Arab settlements all over the East African coast. The city-state flourished in the 13th century, and the mosque of Fakr al Din and the minaret of the Zgreat Mosque were built then. It's location made Mogadishu attractive to traders, even from across the Indian Ocean with Persia, India and China. It attracted the Portugese during the 16th century. While it was never conquered outright by the Portugese, the city soon began its decline in spite of commercial relations with the Portugese and the Imams of Muscat. In the late 19th century, and the early part of the 20th century, the city came under the influence of Zanzibar and Italy. The civil war in the 1980's and 1990's have caused massive destruction, and much of the city is now in ruins.


Civil unrest has been the primary obstacle to economic policymaking and development. Economic management is also hampered by the country’s reliance on agriculture which is vulnerable to climatic conditions. The nomads' livestock and livestock products are the chief export, with bananas the leading cash crop. Maize and sorghum are the principal food crops. Overgrazing and soil erosion are serious problems. Drought from 1978 to 1981 and again from the mid-1980s, plus the huge regional refugee population created by civil wars in Somalia and Ethiopia, devastated the economy. By late 1992 up to one half of all Somalis had died or faced death by starvation due to drought and civil war, which kept farmers from planting crops. In May 2001, some 300,000 people faced severe food shortages in Somalia's southern regions following a poor rainy season. The UN has appealed to donors for aid to Somali farmers, but insecurity continues to hamper the aid effort.


Somalia has been without a central government since the overthrow of former president Siad Barre on 27 January 1991. Self-declared administrations have been set up in both the northwest (Somaliland) and northeast (Puntland). In August 2000, after months of negotiations between various Somali civil society groups in neighboring Arta, Djibouti, a Somali Transitional National Government was selected for an interim 3-year period, with a President, Prime Minister, and Transitional National Assembly which began work in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu in October 2000.


In the 7th century Arabs and Persians developed a series of trading posts along the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. In the 10th century the area was peopled by Somali nomads and pastoral GALLA from southwest Ethiopia. For the next 900 years Somalis spread throughout the Horn of Africa. Britain and Italy occupied different parts of the territory in the 1880s, and until World War II, Somalia remained under colonial control. In 1941, Britain occupied Italian Somaliland and in 1948 gave the OGADEN region to Ethiopia, although it was populated largely by Somalis. By 1950 the United Nations had voted to grant independence to Somalia, and in 1960 the two former colonies were united to form the Somali Republic.

The Somali Republic was created in 1960 when the former Italian Somaliland merged with British Somaliland. Despite its initial coalition government, Somalia’s political stability was soon threatened by increasing ethnic tensions. Following an unsuccessful war with Ethiopia in 1963-64 and two presidential assassinations, the army, under General Mohamed Siad Barre, seized power in October 1969. However, the General's autocratic rule gave rise to increased government opposition and fighting which eventually forced Barre to flee from Mogadishu in late 1990. The ensuing power vacuum triggered an intense battle between the interim president, Mr. Ali Mahdi, and General Mohamed Farah Aideed, which later escalated into a full-blown civil war that has lasted throughout most of the decade. In December 1992, a UN Task Force, led by the US, re-established a fragile peace in the capital of Mogadishu. This was the UN's first military operation for purely humanitarian purposes. Although the self-styled Somaliland Republic, in the north, declared independence on May 16th 1991, it has never been recognized by any foreign powers. As for the rest of the country, it remained under the control of a patchwork of political clans and their associated militias for most of the 1990s. Since 1991, Somalia has not had an internationally-recognized government. However, a few neighboring states have sought to establish mutual political, economic, and trade ties with Somalia. In August 2000, a peace conference held in Djibouti chose the new leaders of Somalia, including a new president, Abdikassim Salad Hassan. More than 2,000 Somalis, a cross-section of every clan, had gathered in Djibouti for five months of difficult negotiations to select the president and write a national charter. The president will be based in Mogadishu, with other parts of the government northwest of there, in Baidoa. Mr. Salad's transitional government must deal with the opposition of some clan leaders, as well as the two autonomous regions of Somaliland and Puntland which did not participate in the Djibouti peace conference. These regions have been able to establish relatively peaceful self-sufficient economies beyond the violence of Mogadishu.

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LONDON, 1 December 2001: The USA has asked Great Britain to help prepare military strikes against Somalia in the next phase of the global campaign against terrorism. Last week, President Bush indicated that Somalia, Yemen and Sudan were likely to be the next targets in the war on terrorism because of their links to al-Qaeda, the network of prime terror suspect Osama bin Laden. According some publications, the request came as it emerged that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was funding a number of terrorist training camps in Somalia used by a militant Islamic group with close links to al-Qaeda. Hussein has agreed to help out the al-Itihaad group in return for assistance from the Somali authorities in avoiding UN sanctions, the Sunday Telegraph said, quoting Iraqi dissident groups based in London. Bin Laden's network is known to have several training camps in southern Somalia and there has been speculation that he might head there if forced to flee Afghanistan. Western intelligence agencies told the paper that members of al-Itihaad had been trained at al-Qaeda camps and that members of the group are suspected of involvement in the 1998 bombing of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Pentagon officials have confirmed that US naval ships have been stationed off the Somali coast to prevent bin Laden gaining access to the country by sea, the paper said.

Last update: 7 August 2009

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