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Somalia ( ; ), officially the Republic of Somalia ( , ) and formerly known as the Somali Democratic Republic, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. It is bordered by Djiboutimarker to the northwest, Kenyamarker to the southwest, the Gulf of Adenmarker with Yemenmarker to the north, the Indian Oceanmarker to the east, and Ethiopiamarker to the west.

In antiquity, Somalia was an important center for commerce with the rest of the ancient world. Its sailors and merchants were the main suppliers of frankincense, myrrh and spices, items which were considered valuable luxuries by the Ancient Egyptians, Phoeniciansmarker, Mycenaeans and Babyloniansmarker with whom the Somali people traded. According to most scholars, Somalia is also where the ancient Kingdom of Punt was situated. The ancient Puntites were a nation of people that had close relations with Pharaonic Egypt during the times of Pharaoh Sahure and Queen Hatshepsut. The pyramidal structures, temples and ancient houses of dressed stone littered around Somalia are said to date from this period. In the classical era, several ancient city-states such as Opone, Mosyllon and Malao that competed with the Sabaeans, Parthians and Axumites for the wealthy Indo-Greco-Roman trade also flourished in Somalia.

The birth of Islam on the opposite side of Somalia's Red Seamarker coast meant that Somali merchants, sailors and expatriates living in the Arabian Peninsula gradually came under the influence of the new religion through their converted Arab Muslim trading partners. With the migration of fleeing Muslim families from the Islamic world to Somalia in the early centuries of Islam and the peaceful conversion of the Somali population by Somali Muslim scholars in the following centuries, the ancient city-states eventually transformed into Islamic Mogadishumarker, Berberamarker, Zeilamarker, Barawamarker and Merkamarker, which were part of the Berberi civilization. The city of Mogadishu came to be known as the City of Islam, and controlled the East African gold trade for several centuries. In the Middle Ages, several powerful Somali empires dominated the regional trade including the Ajuuraan State, which excelled in hydraulic engineering and fortress building, the Sultanate of Adal, whose general Ahmed Gurey was the first African commander in history to use cannon warfare on the continent during Adal's conquest of the Ethiopian Empire, and the Gobroon Dynasty, whose military dominance forced governors of the Omani empiremarker north of the city of Lamumarker to pay tribute to the Somali Sultan Ahmed Yusuf. In the late 19th century after the Berlin conference had ended, European empires sailed with their armies to the Horn of Africa. The imperial clouds wavering over Somalia alarmed the Dervish leader Muhammad Abdullah Hassan, who gathered Somali soldiers from across the Horn of Africa and began one of the longest colonial resistance wars ever.

Somalia was never formally colonized. The Dervish State successfully repulsed the British empire four times and forced it to retreat to the coastal region. As a result of its fame in the Middle East and Europe, the Dervish state was recognized as an ally by the Ottoman Empire and the German empiremarker, and remained throughout World War I the only independent Muslim power on the continent. After a quarter of a century holding the British at bay, the Dervishes were finally defeated in 1920 when Britain for the first time in Africa used aeroplanes when it bombed the Dervish capital of Taleexmarker. As a result of this bombardment, former Dervish territories were turned into a protectorate of Britain. Italymarker similarly faced the same opposition from Somali Sultans and armies and did not acquire full control of parts of modern Somalia until the Fascist era in late 1927. This occupation lasted till 1941 and was replaced by a Britishmarker military administration. Northern Somalia would remain a protectorate while southern Somalia became a trusteeship. The Union of the two regions in 1960 formed the Somali Democratic Republic.

Due to its longstanding ties with the Arab world, Somalia was accepted in 1974 as a member of the Arab League. To strengthen its relationship with the rest of the African continent, Somalia joined other African nations when it founded the African Union, and began to support the ANC in South Africa against the apartheid regime and the Eritrean secessionists in Ethiopiamarker during the Eritrean War of Independence. A Muslim country, Somalia is one of the founding members of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and is also a member of the UN and NAM. Despite suffering from civil strife and instability, Somalia has also managed to sustain a free market economy which, according to the UN, outperforms those of many other countries in Africa.



Somalia has been inhabited by man since the Paleolithic period. Cave paintings dating back as far as 9000 BC have been found in northern Somalia. The most famous of these is the Laas Geel complexmarker, which contains some of the earliest known rock art on the African continent. Inscriptions have been found beneath each of the rock paintings, but archaeologists have so far been unable to decipher this form of ancient writing. During the Stone age, the Doian culture and the Hargeisan culture flourished here with their respective industries and factories.

The oldest evidence of burial customs in the Horn of Africa comes from cemeteries in Somalia dating back to the 4th millennium BC. The stone implements from the Jalelo site in northern Somalia are said to be the most important link in evidence of the universality in Paleolithic times between the East and the West.

Antiquity & the Classical era

Ancient pyramidal structures, tombsmarker, 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. The findings of archaeological excavations and research in Somalia show that this civilization had an ancient writing system that remains undeciphered, and enjoyed a lucrative trading relationship with Ancient Egypt and Mycenaean Greece since at least the second millennium BC, which supports the view of Somalia being the ancient Kingdom of Punt.

The Puntites "traded not only in their own produce of incense, ebony and short-horned cattle, but also in goods from other neighbouring regions, including gold, ivory and animal skins." According to the temple reliefs at Deir el-Bahrimarker, the Land of Punt was ruled at that time by King Parahu and Queen Ati.

Ancient Somalis domesticated the camel somewhere between the third millennium and second millennium BC from where it spread to Ancient Egypt and North Africa. 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 Phoeniciamarker, Ptolemaic Egypt, Greecemarker, Parthian Persia, Sabamarker, Nabataea and the Roman Empire. They used the ancient Somali maritime vessel known as the beden to transport their cargo.
After the Roman conquest of the Nabataean Empire and the Roman naval presence at Adenmarker to curb piracy, a mutual agreement by Arab and Somali merchants barred Indianmarker ships from trading in the free port cities of the Arabian peninsula because of the nearby Romans. However, they continued to trade in the port cities of the Somali peninsula, which was free from any Roman threat or spies. The reason for barring Indian ships from entering the wealthy Arabian port cities was to protect and hide the exploitative trade practices of the Somali and Arab merchants in the extremely lucrative ancient Red SeamarkerMediterranean Seamarker commerce.

The Indian merchants for centuries brought large quantities of cinnamon from Ceylonmarker and the Far East 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. Through 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.

Birth of Islam & the Middle Ages

The history of Islam in the Horn of Africa is as old as the religion itself. The early persecuted Muslims fled to the Axumite port city of Zeilamarker in modern day Somalia to seek protection from the Quraysh at the court of the Axumite Emperor in present day Ethiopiamarker. 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 Mediterraneanmarker and the Red Seamarker 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, who then contributed another significant element to the growing popularity of Islam in the Somali peninsula.
Mogadishumarker became the center of Islam on the East African coast, and Somali merchants established a colony in Mozambiquemarker to extract gold from the Monomopatan mines in Sofalamarker. 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 Kingdom of Ifat, and prospered under its patronage.

The capital of the Ifat was Zeilamarker, situated in in northern present-day Somalia, from where the Ifat army marched to conquer the ancient Kingdom of Shoamarker 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 Yemenmarker, where his sons regrouped and planned their revenge on the Solomonids.
During the Age of the Ajuuraans, the sultanates and republics of Mercamarker, Mogadishumarker, Barawamarker, Hobyomarker and their respective ports flourished and had a lucrative foreign commerce with ships sailing to and coming from Arabia, Indiamarker, Venetia, Persiamarker, Egyptmarker, Portugalmarker and as far away as Chinamarker. Vasco da Gama, who passed by Mogadishu in the 15th century, noted that it was a large city with houses of four or five storeys high and big palaces in its centre in addition to many mosques with cylindrical minarets.

In the 1500s, Duarte Barbosa noted that many ships from the Kingdom of Cambayamarker in modern-day India sailed to Mogadishu with cloths 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. Mogadishu, the center of a thriving weaving industry known as toob benadir (specialized for the markets in Egypt and Syriamarker), together with Merca and Barawa also served as transit stops for Swahili merchants from Mombasamarker and Malindimarker and for the gold trade from Kilwa. Jewish merchants from the Hormuz brought their Indian textile and fruit to the Somali coast in exchange for grain and wood.

Trading relations were established with Malaccamarker in the 15th century with cloth, ambergris and porcelain being the main commodities of the trade. Giraffes, zebras and incense were exported to the Ming Empiremarker of China, which established Somali merchants as leaders in the commerce between the Asia and Africa and influenced the Chinese language with the Somali language in the process. Hindu merchants from Suratmarker and Southeast African merchants from Pate, seeking to bypass both the Portuguesemarker blockade and Omanimarker 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.

Early modern era & the Scramble for Africa

In the early modern period, successor states of the Adal and Ajuuraan empires began to flourish in Somalia. These were the Gerad Dynasty, the Bari Dynasties and the Gobroon Dynasty. 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 neighbouring and distant kingdoms such as the Omanimarker, 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 Yemenmarker and Persiamarker 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.
In the late 19th century, after the Berlin conference, 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 infidels "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. He soon emerged as "a champion of his country's political and religious freedom, defending it against all Christian invaders."

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 Turkeymarker, Sudanmarker, 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 modem rifles on the British soldiers stationed in the region.
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 Britainmarker, and Dervish territories were subsequently turned into a protectorate.

The dawn of fascism in the early 1920s heralded a change of strategy for Italymarker, 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 Berberamarker 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.

The State of Somalia

Following World War II, although Somalis aided the Allied powers in their struggle against the Axis powers, Britain retained control of both British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland as protectorates. In November 1949, 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 Somali political organizations, such as Hizbia Digil Mirifle Somali (HDMS) (which later became Hizbia Dastur Mustaqbal Somali) and the Somali National League (SNL), that were then agitating for independence—that Somalia achieve independence within ten years. British Somaliland remained a protectorate of Britain until 1960.

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 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.

Meanwhile, in 1948, under pressure from their World War II allies and to the dismay of the Somalis, 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 Ogadenmarker 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. Britain included the proviso that the Somali nomads would retain their autonomy, but Ethiopia immediately claimed sovereignty over them. This prompted an unsuccessful bid by Britain in 1956 to buy back the Somali lands it had turned over. Britain also granted administration of the almost exclusively Somali-inhabited 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.

A referendum was held in neighbouring Djiboutimarker (then known as French Somalilandmarker) 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. However, 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. Djibouti finally gained its independence from Francemarker in 1977 and Hassan Gouled Aptidon, a French-groomed Somali who campaigned for a yes vote in the referendum of 1958, eventually wound up as Djibouti's first president (1977–1991).
British Somaliland became independent on June 26, 1960, and the former Italian Somaliland followed suit five days later. On July 1, 1960, the two territories united to form the Somali Republic, albeit within boundaries drawn up by Italy and Britain. A government was formed by Abdullahi Issa 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 Somali people ratified a new constitution, which was first drafted in 1960.

However, inter-clan rivalry persisted. 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 Somalilandmarker region in northwestern Somalia.

In late 1969, following the assassination of President Shermarke, a military government assumed power in a coup d'état led by Major General Salaad Gabeyre Kediye, General Siad Barre and Chief of Police Jama Korshel. Barre became President and Korshel vice-president. The revolutionary army established large-scale public works programmes and successfully implemented an urban and rural literacy campaign, which helped dramatically increase the literacy rate from 5% to 55% by the mid-1980s. However, struggles continued during Barre's rule. At one point he assassinated a major figure in his cabinet, Major General Gabeyre, and two other officials.
It was in July 1976 when the real dictatorship of the Somali military commenced with the founding of the Somali Revolutionary Socialist Party (Xisbiga Hantiwadaagga Kacaanka Soomaaliyeed, XHKS). This party ruled Somalia until the fall of the military government in December 1990–January 1991. It was violently overthrown by the combined armed revolt of the Somali Salvation Democratic Front (Jabhadda Diimuqraadiga Badbaadinta Soomaaliyeed, 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).

In 1977 and 1978, Somalia invaded its neighbour Ethiopia in the Ogaden War, in which Somalia aimed to unite the Somali lands that had been partitioned by the former colonial powers, and to win the right of self-determination for ethnic Somalis in those territories. Somalia first engaged Kenya and Ethiopia diplomatically, but this failed. Somalia, already preparing for war, created the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF, then called the Western Somali Liberation Front, WSLF) and eventually sought to capture Ogaden. Somalia acted unilaterally without consulting the international community, which was generally opposed to redrawing colonial boundaries, while the Soviet Unionmarker and the Warsaw Pact countries refused to help Somalia, and instead, backed Communist Ethiopia. Still the USSR, finding itself supplying both sides of a war, attempted to mediate a ceasefire.

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 continues 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 Jijigamarker and put heavy pressure on Dire Dawamarker, threatening the train route from the latter city to Djibouti. After the siege of Hararmarker, a massive unprecedented Soviet intervention consisting of 20 thousand Cubanmarker forces and several thousands Soviet experts came to the aid of Ethiopia. The Somali Army was forced to withdraw and consequently Somalia sought the help of the United Statesmarker. Although the Carter Administration had expressed interest in helping Somalia, it later declined, as did American allies in the Middle East and Asia.
By 1978, the moral authority of the Somali government had collapsed. Many Somalis had become disillusioned with life under military dictatorship and 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.

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 Kenyamarker, 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.

The Somali Civil War

1991 saw great changes in Somalia. President Barre was ousted by combined northern and southern clan-based forces all of whom were backed and armed by Ethiopia. And 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 recognised by any foreign government.

In January 1991, President Ali Mahdi Muhammad was selected by the 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 Toor and the Somali Patriotic Movement leader Col 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) on the one hand and within the USC forces. This led 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 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." 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). UNOSOM's use of force was limited to self-defence and it was soon disregarded by the warring factions.

In reaction to the continued violence and the humanitarian disaster, the United States organised 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 ) in Mogadishu inflicting over 80 casualties. Fighting escalated until 19 American troops and more than 1,000 Somalis were killed in a raid in Mogadishumarker during October 1993. 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.


Current situation in Somalia

Following the civil war the Harti and Tanade clans declared a self-governing state in the northeast, which took the name Puntlandmarker, but maintained that it would participate in any Somali reconciliation to form a new central government. Then in 2002, Southwestern Somalia, comprising Baymarker, Bakoolmarker, Jubbada Dhexemarker (Middle Juba), Gedomarker, Shabeellaha Hoosemarker (Lower Shabele) and Jubbada Hoosemarker (Lower Juba) regions of Somalia declared itself autonomous. Although initially the instigators of this, the Rahanweyn Resistance Army, which had been established in 1995, was only in full control of Bay, Bakool and parts of Gedo and Jubbada Dhexe, they quickly established the de facto autonomy of Southwestern Somalia.

Although conflict between Hasan Muhammad Nur Shatigadud and his two deputies weakened the Rahanweyn militarily from February 2006, the Southwest became central to the TFG based in the city of Baidoamarker. Shatigadud became Finance Minister, his first deputy Adan Mohamed Nuur Madobe became Parliamentary Speaker and his second deputy Mohamed Ibrahim Habsade became Minister of Transport. Shatigadud also held the Chairmanship of the Rahanwein Traditional Elders' Court.

In 2004, the TFG met in Nairobimarker, Kenya and published a charter for the government of the nation. The TFG capital is presently in Baidoa. Meanwhile Somalia was one of the many countries affected by the tsunami which struck the Indian Oceanmarker coast following the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquakemarker, destroying entire villages and killing an estimated 300 people. In 2006, Somalia was deluged by torrential rains and flooding that struck the entire Horn of Africa affecting 350,000 people. The inter-clan rivalry continued in 2006 with the declaration of regional autonomy by the state of Jubaland, consisting of parts of Gedo, Jubbada Dhexe, and the whole of Jubbada Hoose. Barre Adan Shire Hiiraale, chairman of the Juba Valley Alliance, who comes from Galguduudmarker in central Somalia is the most powerful leader there. Like Puntland this regional government did not want full statehood, but some sort of federal autonomy.

Conflict broke out again in early 2006 between an alliance of Mogadishu warlords known as the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism (or "ARPCT") and a militia loyal to the Islamic Courts Union (or "I.C.U."), seeking to institute Sharia law in Somalia. Social law changes, such as the forbidding of chewing khat, were part of moves by the ICU to change behaviours and impose strict social morals. It was widely reported that soccer playing was being banned, as well as viewing of broadcasts of soccer games, but there were also reports of the ICU itself denying any such bans. The Islamic Courts Union was led by Sheikh Sharif Ahmed. When asked if the ICU plans to extend its control to the rest of Somalia, Sheikh Ahmed responded in an interview: "Land is not our priority. Our priority is the people's peace, dignity and that they could live in liberty, that they could decide their own fate. That is our priority. Our priority is not land; the people are important to us."
Somalia at the height of I.C.U. power, December 2006
Several hundred people, mostly civilians caught in the crossfire, died during this conflict. Mogadishu residents described it as the worst fighting in more than a decade. The Islamic Courts Union accused the U.S. of funding the warlords through the Central Intelligence Agency and supplying them with arms in an effort to prevent the Islamic Courts Union from gaining power. The United States Department of Statemarker, while neither admitting nor denying this, said the U.S. had taken no action that violated the international arms embargo of Somalia. A few e-mails describing covert illegal operations by private military companies in breach of U.N. regulations have been reported by the UK Sunday newspaper The Observer.

By early June 2006 the Islamic Militia had control of Mogadishu, following the Second Battle of Mogadishu, and the last A.R.P.C.T. stronghold in southern Somalia, the town of Jowharmarker, then fell with little resistance. The remaining A.R.P.C.T. forces fled to the east or across the border into Ethiopia and the alliance effectively collapsed.

The Ethiopian-supported Transitional Government then called for intervention by a regional East African peacekeeping force. The I.C.U. meanwhile were fiercely opposed to foreign troops—particularly Ethiopians—in Somalia. claiming that Ethiopia, with its long history as an imperial power including the occupation of Ogaden, seeks to occupy Somalia, or rule it by proxy. Meanwhile the I.C.U. and their militia took control of much of the southern half of Somalia, normally through negotiation with local clan chiefs rather than by the use of force.

However, the Islamic militia stayed clear of areas close to the Ethiopian border, which had become a place of refuge for many Somalis including the Transitional Government itself, headquartered in the town of Baidoa. Ethiopia said it would protect Baidoa if threatened. On September 25, 2006, the I.C.U. moved into the southern port of Kismayomarker, the last remaining port held by the transitional government.Ethiopian troops entered Somalia and seized the town of Buur Hakaba on October 9, and later that day the I.C.U. issued a declaration of war against Ethiopia.
On 1 November 2006, peace talks between the Transitional Government and the ICU broke down. The international community feared an all-out civil war, with Ethiopian and rival Eritreanmarker forces backing opposing sides in the power-struggle. Fighting erupted once again on 21 December 2006 when the leader of ICU, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys said: "Somalia is in a state of war, and all Somalis should take part in this struggle against Ethiopia", and heavy fighting broke out between the Islamic militia on one side and the Somali Transitional Government allied with Ethiopian forces on the other.

In late December 2006, Ethiopia launched airstrikes against Islamic troops and strong points across Somalia. Ethiopian Information Minister Berhan Hailu stated that targets included the town of Buurhakabamarker, near the Transitional Government base in Baidoa. An Ethiopian jet fighter strafed Mogadishu International Airportmarker (now Aden Adde International Airport), without apparently causing serious damage but prompting the airport to be shut down. Other Ethiopian jet fighters attacked a military airport west of Mogadishu.Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi then announced that his country was waging war against the ICU to protect his country's sovereignty. "Ethiopian defence forces were forced to enter into war to the protect the sovereignty of the nation and to blunt repeated attacks by Islamic courts terrorists and anti-Ethiopian elements they are supporting," he said.

Days of heavy fighting followed as Ethiopian and government troops backed by tanks and jets pushed against Islamic forces between Baidoa and Mogadishu. Both sides claimed to have inflicted hundreds of casualties, but the Islamic infantry and vehicle artillery were badly beaten and forced to retreat toward Mogadishu. On 28 December 2006, the allies entered Mogadishu after Islamic fighters fled the city. Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Ghedi declared that Mogadishu had been secured, after meeting with local clan leaders to discuss the peaceful hand-over of the city. Yet as of April 2008, the Transitional Federal Government and its Ethiopian allies still face frequent attacks from an Islamic insurgency.

The Islamists retreated south, towards their stronghold in Kismayo, fighting rearguard actions in several towns. They abandoned Kismayo, too, without a fight, claiming that their flight was a strategic withdrawal to avoid civilian casualties, and entrenched around the small town of Ras Kambonimarker, at the southernmost tip of Somalia and on the border with Kenya. In early January, the Ethiopians and the Somali government attacked, resulting in the Battle of Ras Kamboni, and capturing the Islamic positions and driving the surviving fighters into the hills and forests after several days of combat. On January 9, 2007, the United States openly intervened in Somalia by sending Lockheed AC-130 gunships to attack ICU positions in Ras Kamboni. Dozens were killed and by then the ICU were largely defeated. During 2007 and 2008, new Islamic militant groups organized, and continued to fight against transitional government Somali and Ethiopian official troops. They recovered effective control of large portions of the country. Ethiopian forces retreated in 2009. The ICU no longer exists as an organized political group, and is now part of the Transitional Federal Government.
On December 29, 2008, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed announced before a united parliament in Baidoamarker 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. He also blamed the international community for its failure to support the government, and said that the speaker of parliament, Aden "Madobe" Mohamed, would succeed him in office per the charter of the Transitional Federal Government. On January 31, 2009, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed was elected as president at the Kempinski hotel in Djiboutimarker.

In 2009, the Islamic Courts Union was absorbed into the Transitional Federal Government, along with the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia, a collection of moderate Islamist groups. The Islamists were awarded with 200 seats in parliament. Former Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein of the Transitional Federal Government and Sharif Sheikh Ahmed also signed a power sharing deal in Djibouti that was brokered by the United Nations. According to the deal, Ethiopian troops were to withdraw from Somalia, giving their bases to the transitional government, African Union (AU) peacekeepers and moderate Islamist groups led by the ARS. Following the Ethiopian withdrawal, the transitional government expanded its parliament to include the opposition and elected Sheikh Ahmed as its new president on January 31, 2009. Sheikh Ahmed then appointed Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, the son of slain former President Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, as the nation's new Prime Minister.


The legal structure in Somalia is divided along three lines: civil law, religious law, and traditional clan law.

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 Puntlandmarker and Somalilandmarker macro-regions. In the case of the Transitional Federal Government, a new 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 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.

  • 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.


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:

  • To pass rulings in both criminal and civil cases.

  • To organize a militia capable of arresting criminals.

  • To keep convicted prisoners incarcerated.

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.

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


Somalis for centuries have practiced a form of customary law which they call Xeer. Xeer is a polycentric legal system where there is no monopolistic 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.

The Xeer legal system also requires a certain amount of specialization of different functions within the legal framework. Thus, one can find odayal (judges), xeer boggeyaal (jurists), guurtiyaal (detectives), garxajiyaal (attorneys), murkhaatiyal (witnesses) and waranle (police officers) to enforce the law.

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

  • Payment of blood money (locally referred to as diya) for libel, theft, physical harm, rape and death, as well as supplying assistance to relatives.

  • Assuring good inter-clan relations by treating women justly, negotiating with "peace emissaries" in good faith, and sparing the lives of socially protected groups (e.g. children, women, the pious, poets and guests).

  • Family obligations such as the payment of dowry, and sanctions for eloping.

  • Rules pertaining to the management of resources such as the use of pasture land, water, and other natural resources.

  • Providing financial support to married female relatives and newlyweds.

  • Donating livestock and other assets to the poor.


Regions and districts

Prior to the civil war, Somalia was divided into eighteen regions (gobollada, singular gobol), which were in turn subdivided into districts. The regions are:

On a de facto basis, northern Somalia is now divided up among the quasi-independent states of Puntlandmarker, Somalilandmarker, and Galmudug. The south is at least nominally controlled by the Transitional Federal Government, although it is in fact controlled by Islamist groups outside Mogadishu. Under the de facto arrangements there are now 27 regions.

Geography and climate

Africa's easternmost country, Somalia has a land area of 637,540 square kilometers. It 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. Somalia has the longest coastline on the continent. Its terrain consists mainly of plateaus, plains, and highlands.

Cal Madow is a mountain range in the northeastern part of the country, extending from several kilometers west of the city of Bosasomarker to the northwest of Erigavomarker. The rugged east-west ranges of the Karkaar Mountains lie at varying distances from the Gulf of Adenmarker coast.

Major climatic factors are a year-round hot climate, seasonal monsoon winds, and irregular rainfall. Mean daily maximum temperatures range from to , except at higher elevations and along the east coast. Mean daily minimums usually vary from about to .

The southwest monsoon, a sea breeze, makes the period from about May to October the mildest season in Mogadishumarker. The December to February period of the northeast monsoon is also relatively mild, although prevailing climatic conditions in Mogadishu are rarely pleasant. The tangambili periods that intervene between the two monsoons (October–November and March–May) are hot and humid.


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


The Ministry of Education is officially responsible for education in Somalia, with about 15% of the government's budget being spent on academic instruction. In 2006, the autonomous Puntlandmarker region in the northeast was the second territory in Somalia after the Somalilandmarker region to introduce free primary schools, with teachers now receiving their salaries from the Puntland administration. 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. 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.

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. 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 oftentimes 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.


Despite civil unrest, Somalia has maintained a healthy informal economy, based mainly on livestock, remittance/money transfer companies, and telecommunications. According to a 2003 World Bank study, the private sector grew impressively, particularly in the areas of trade, commerce, transport, remittance and infrastructure services, in addition to the primary sectors, notably livestock, agriculture and fisheries. In 2007, the United Nations reported that the country's service industry is also thriving. Anthropologist Spencer Heath MacCallum attributes this increased economic activity to the Somali customary law, which provides a stable environment to conduct business in.

Agriculture is the most important sector, with livestock accounting for about 40% of GDP and about 65% of export earnings. Other principal exports include fish, charcoal, and bananas; sugar, sorghum, and maize are products for the domestic market. At nearly 3 million heads of goat and sheep in 1999, the northern ports of Bosasomarker and Berberamarker accounted for 95% of all goat and 52% of all sheep exports of East Africa. The Somalilandmarker region alone exported more than 180 million metric tons of livestock and more than 480 million metric tons of agricultural products. Somalia is also a major world supplier of frankincense and myrrh.
The small industrial sector, based on the processing of agricultural products, accounts for 10% of GDP. According to a 2005 World Bank report, the "private airline business in Somalia is now thriving with more than five carriers and price wars between the companies."

With the help of the Somali diaspora, mobile phone companies, internet cafés and radio stations have been established. In 2004, a new Coca-Cola bottling plant also opened in Mogadishu, representing a sign of growing business confidence.

In addition, funds transfer services have become a large industry in the country, with an estimated $2 billion USD annually remitted to Somalia by Somalis in the diaspora via money transfer companies. The largest of these informal value transfer system or hawala dealers is Dahabshiil, a Somali-owned firm employing more than 1000 people across 40 countries with branches in Londonmarker and Dubaimarker.

Americamarker and Chinesemarker oil companies are also excited about the prospect of oil and other natural resources in Somalia. An oil group listed in Sydneymarker, Range Resources, anticipates that the Puntlandmarker province in the north has the potential to produce 5 billion to 10 billion barrels of oil.

Media and telecommunications

In Somalia, dozens of private newspapers, radio and television stations mushroomed in the last decade, (Mogadishumarker has two fiercely competing TV stations), with private radio stations or newspapers in almost all of the major towns. Large media companies include the Shabelle Media Network, Radio Gaalkacyo and Radio Garowe.

Internet usage in Somalia increased 44,900% from 2000 to 2007, registering the highest growth rate in Africa. Somali information technology companies currently compete for a market with more than 500,000 Internet users. The country has 22 established ISPs and 234 cyber cafes with a growth of 15.6% per year. Internet over the satellite services are also offered, especially in remote areas and cities that have no dialup or wireless Internet services. Major clients include UN, NGOs, financial institutions particularly the remittance companies and Internet Cafes. Currently over three hundred satellite terminals connected to various teleports in Europe and Asia are available throughout the country. This type of service has shown a stable growth of 10–15% per year.

Somalia has one of the best telecommunications systems on the continent: several companies such as Golis Telecom Group, Hormuud Telecom, Somafone, Nationlink, Netco, Telecom and Somali Telecom Group provide crystal-clear service, including international long distance, for about $10 USD a month. Dial up internet services in Somalia are the fastest growing internet services in Africa, as the nation enjoys landline growth of more than 12.5% per year compared to other countries in the Horn and eastern Africa at large, where landline is experiencing a serious decline due to vandalism and an increase in the cost of copper cables in the international market. Installation time for a landline is just three days in Somalia, while in neighboring Kenya waiting lists are many years long.


Prior to the outbreak of the civil war in 1991 and the subsequent disintegration of the Armed Forces, Somalia's friendship with the Soviet Unionmarker and later partnership with the United Statesmarker enabled it to build the largest army in Africa. 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. The Somali Navy is also being re-established, with 500 Marines currently training in Mogadishu out of an expected 5,000-strong force. In addition, there are plans for the re-establishment of the Somali Air Force, with two combat planes already purchased. A new police force was also formed to maintain law and order, with the first police academy to be built in Somalia for several years opening on December 20, 2005 at Armo, 100 kilometres south of Bosasomarker.


Somalia is a semi-arid country with about 2% arable land. The civil war had a huge impact on the country’s tropical forests by facilitating the production of charcoal with ever-present, recurring, but damaging droughts. From 1971 onwards, a massive tree-planting on a nationwide scale was introduced by the Siad Barre government to halt the progress of advancing sand dunes. First environmental organizations were ECOTERRA Somalia and then the Somali Ecological Society, which created awareness about environmental concerns and mobilized environmental programmes in all governmental sectors as well as civil society. In 1986, the Wildlife Rescue, Research and Monitoring Centre was established by ECOTERRA Intl. The sensitization led in 1989 to the so-called "Somalia proposal" and a decision by the state parties to CITES, which established for the first time a worldwide ban on the trade of elephant ivory. Later, activist and Goldman Environmental Prize winner Fatima Jibrell created local initiatives in her home area Buran that organised local communities to protect the rural and coastal habitat. Jibrell trained a team of young people to organise awareness campaigns about the irreversible damage of unrestricted charcoal production. She also joined the Buran rural institute that formed and organised the Camel Caravan program in which young people loaded tents and equipment on camels to walk for three weeks through a nomadic locale, and educate the people about the careful use of fragile resources, health care, livestock management and peace.
Fatima Jibrell has consistently fought against the burning of charcoal, logging and other man-induced environmental degradation. Her efforts have born fruits to the local communities across Somalia and international recognition when she won the prestigious Environmental Goldman award from San Franciscomarker. Jibrell is also the executive director of Horn Relief and Development Organisation.

Following the massive tsunami of December 2004marker, 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 tonnes of nuclear and toxic waste that was illegally dumped in the country by several European firms. The European Green Party followed up these revelations by presenting before the press and the European Parliamentmarker in Strasbourgmarker 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). 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 Hobyomarker and Benadir on the Indian Oceanmarker coast—diseases consistent with radiation sickness. UNEP continues 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.


Somalia has a population of around 9,832,017 inhabitants, about 85% of whom are ethnic Somalis. 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.

Non-Somali ethnic minority groups make up the remainder of the nation's population and include Benadiri, Bravanese, Bantus, Bajuni, Indiansmarker, Persians, Italians, and Britons. Most Europeans left after independence.

There is little reliable statistical information on urbanization in Somalia. However, rough estimates have been made indicating an urbanization of 5% and 8% per annum, with many towns quickly growing into cities. Currently, 34% of the country's population live in towns and cities, with the percentage rapidly increasing.


The Somali language is the official language of Somalia. It is a member of the Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family, and its nearest relatives are the Afar and Oromo languages. Somali is the best documented of the Cushitic languages, with academic studies of it dating from before 1900.

Somali dialects are divided into three main groups: Northern, Benaadir and Maay. Northern Somali (or Northern-Central Somali) forms the basis for Standard Somali. Benaadir (also known as Coastal Somali) is spoken on the Benadir coast from Cadale to south of Mercamarker, including Mogadishumarker, 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.

Since Somali had long lost its ancient script, 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. 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 twentieth 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.

In addition to Somali, Arabic is an official national language in Somalia. Many Somalis speak it due to centuries-old ties with the Arab World, the far-reaching influence of the Arabic media, and religious education.

English is also 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.

Other minority languages include Bravanese, a variant of Swahili that is spoken along the coast by the Bravanese people.


With few exceptions, Somalis are entirely Muslims, the majority belonging to the Sunni branch of Islam and the Shafi`i school of Islamic jurisprudence, although some are also adherents of the Shia Muslim denomination. The constitution of Somalia defines Islam as the religion of the Somali Republic, and Islamic sharia as the basic source for national legislation. Islam entered the region very early on, as a group of persecuted Muslims had, at Prophet Muhummad's urging, sought refuge across the Red Seamarker 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. In addition, the Somali community has produced numerous important Islamic figures over the centuries, many of whom have significantly shaped the course of Islamic 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 Zeilamarker, 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 in a population of eight million inhabitants. There is one diocese for the whole country, the Diocese of Mogadishu, which estimates that there were only about about 100 Catholic practitioners in Somalia in 2004. 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. There were also no known Catholic missions in Italian Somaliland during the same period. 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, the latter of which, in the case of the Bantu, represents religious traditions inherited from their ancestors in southeastern Africa.



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, cornstarch, cardamom powder, nutmeg powder, and ghee. Peanuts are also sometimes added to enhance texture and flavor. 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 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. Farah Mohamed Jama Awl is another prominent Somali writer who is perhaps best known for his Dervish era novel, Ignorance is the enemy of love.


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 Ethiopiamarker, Sudanmarker or Arabia, but it is ultimately recognizable by its own unique tunes and styles. Somali songs are usually the product of collaboration between lyricists (midho), songwriters (lahan), and singers (odka or "voice").

See also


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  79. A software tool for research in linguistics and lexicography: Application to Somali
  80. Ministry of Information and National Guidance, Somalia, The writing of the Somali language, (Ministry of Information and National Guidance: 1974), p.5
  81. Economist Intelligence Unit (Great Britain), Middle East annual review, (1975), p.229
  82. David D. Laitin, Politics, Language, and Thought: The Somali Experience, (University Of Chicago Press: 1977), pp.86-87
  83. Middle East Policy Council - Muslim Populations Worldwide
  84. Mohamed Diriye Abdullahi, Culture and Customs of Somalia, (Greenwood Press: 2001), p.1
  85. The Transitional Federal Charter of the Somali Republic, Article 8, p.6.
  86. A Country Study: Somalia from The Library of Congress
  87. Catholic Church in Somalia
  88. Charles George Herbermann, The Catholic encyclopedia: an international work of reference on the constitution, doctrine, discipline, and history of the Catholic church, Volume 14, (Robert Appleton company: 1913), p.139.
  89. Charles Henry Robinson, History of Christian Missions, (READ BOOKS: 2007), p. 356.
  90. Refugees Vol. 3, No. 128, 2002 UNHCR Publication Refugees about the Somali Bantu
  91. Barlin Ali, Somali Cuisine, (AuthorHouse: 2007), p.79
  92. Diriye, pp.170-171


  • Hadden, Robert Lee. 2007. "The Geology of Somalia: A Selected Bibliography of Somalian Geology, Geography and Earth Science." Engineer Research and Development Laboratories, Topographic Engineering Center, Alexandria, VA. Abstract.
  • Hess, Robert L. Italian Colonialism in Somalia. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1966. *Fitzgerald, Nina J. Somalia. New York: Nova Science, Inc., 2002.
  • Lewis. I.M. Pastoral Democracy: A study on Pastoralism and Politics among the Northern Somali clans. Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1958. ISBN 978-3825830847.
  • Mwakikagile, Godfrey. The Modern African State: Quest for Transformation, Chapter Four: Somalia: A Stateless State - What Next?, pp. 109–132, Nova Science Publishers, Inc., Huntington, New York, 2001.
  • Tripodi, Paolo. The Colonial Legacy in Somalia. New York: St. Martin's P Inc., 1999.

External links


General information
  • Somalia from UCB Libraries GovPubs



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