Profile - Somalia


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Somalia or Somali Democratic Republic, republic in eastern Africa, bounded on the north by the Gulf of Aden, on the east and south by the Indian Ocean, on the southwest by Kenya, on the west by Ethiopia, and on the northwest by Djibouti. Somalia has been in a state of civil war and anarchy since 1991, when the central government was overthrown. The total area is 637,700 sq km (246,200 sq mi). Mogadishu is the capital and largest city.

Somalia has a long coastline, extending for 3,025 km (1,880 mi), but it has few natural harbors. A sandy coastal plain borders on the Gulf of Aden in the north. A series of mountain ranges, with average elevations between about 915 and 2,135 m (about 3,000 and 7,000 ft), dominates the northern part of the country. To the south, the interior consists of a rugged plateau, ranging in elevation from about 500 m (about 1,640 ft) in the north to less than 180 m (less than 600 ft) in the south. In the south, a wide coastal plain, which has many sand dunes, borders on the Indian Ocean. The country’s two major rivers are found on the southern plateau, the Jubba (Genalç) in the southern part and the Shabeelle (Shebelç) River in the south central section.

A Climate  
The climate of Somalia ranges from tropical to subtropical and from arid to semiarid. Temperatures usually average 28° C (82° F), but may be as low as 0° C (32° F) in the mountain areas and as high as 47° C (116° F) along the coast. The monsoon winds bring a dry season from September to December and a rainy season from March to May. The average annual rainfall is only about 280 mm (about 11 in).

B Vegetation and Animal Life  
Vegetation in Somalia consists chiefly of coarse grass and stunted thorn and acacia trees. Aromatic flora, producing frankincense and myrrh, are indigenous to the mountain slopes. In southern Somalia, eucalyptus, euphorbia, and mahogany trees are found. Wildlife is abundant and includes crocodiles, elephants, giraffes, leopards, lions, zebras, and many poisonous snakes.

C Natural Resources  
Somalia has few natural resources. The grasslands are suitable for grazing livestock, and the fertile land in the river valleys of the Genalç (Jubba) and Shabeelle and in some coastal areas is used for agricultural crops. Mineral resources are relatively diverse but have not been exploited. Known deposits include petroleum, copper, manganese, gypsum, iron, marble, salt, tin, and uranium.

The vast majority of the population consists of Somali, a Cushitic people. A small minority of Bantu-speaking people live in the southern part of the country. Other minority groups include Arabs, Indians, Italians, and Pakistanis. Some 70 percent of the people are nomadic or seminomadic pastoralists. The remainder are either crop farmers or inhabitants of the few urban centers.

A Population Characteristics  
Somalia has a population (1998 estimate) of 6,841,695. The overall population density is 11 persons per sq km (28 per sq mi). The principal cities are Mogadishu, the capital, Hargeysa, Kismaayo, and Marka.

B Religion and Language  
Islam is the state religion in Somalia, and most of the people are Sunni Muslims. The official language is Somali; Arabic, English, and Italian are also used.

C Education  Before Somalia’s government collapsed in 1991 and fighting escalated among clans seeking control of the country, education was free and compulsory for children between the ages of 6) and 14. The literacy rate increased from 5 percent of the adult population in the early 1970s to 24 percent in 1990 following an intensive government-sponsored literacy campaign. As a result of Somalia’s civil war, the educational system collapsed and most schools closed, including the Somali National University (1954-1991) in Mogadishu, which had an enrollment of about 4,600 prior to the war. In 1996 primary schools enrolled only 8 percent of school-aged children, and general secondary schools enrolled a mere 5 percent.

The economy of Somalia is based primarily on livestock raising. Crop farming was of importance only in the south. Efforts to diversify and modernize the economy were directed by the government through a series of development plans, extensively assisted by foreign grants and loans. In the late 1980s the gross national product (GNP) was estimated at only $290 per capita. In the early 1990s, with the Somalian economy in a state of collapse because of the civil war, the GNP had fallen to $36 per capita.

A Agriculture  Livestock raising is the principal occupation in Somalia. The size of livestock herds began to recover in the mid-1990s after falling during the country’s civil war. In 1998 it was estimated that the country had 12.5 million goats, 13.5 million sheep, and 5.2 million cattle. The principal crops were cereal grains (232,000 metric tons), including maize and sorghum; fruits (205,800 metric tons), including bananas; and sugarcane (160,000 metric tons). Each crop showed a significant improvement from yields in the early 1990s.

B Forestry and Fishing  
While most wood is cut for fuel, Somalia’s major forestry export products before the 1990s were frankincense and myrrh. The timber harvest in 1997 was 9 million cu m (319 million cu ft). Fishing provided for local consumption and exports. In 1996, 15,500 metric tons of fish were caught.

C Manufacturing  Before the civil war escalated in the early 1990s, manufacturing in Somalia was in the early stages of development. A cement factory, a cotton gin, a meat and fish cannery, and a textile plant were established. Other industries included oilseed and fruit processing plants, leather and shoe factories, and petroleum and sugar refineries. Most industry shut down in the early 1990s as a result of civil disorder.

D Currency and Banking  The unit of currency is the Somali shilling, consisting of 100 cents (about 7,000 Somali shillings equal U.S.$1; 1996), issued by the Central Bank of Somalia (1960). Somalia is a member of the Islamic Development Bank and the African Development Bank.

E Foreign Trade  Before the war, Somalia’s chief exports were livestock and bananas. Other exports included meat, fish, leather and hides, and wood. The principal imports were foodstuffs, chemicals, machinery, textiles, and petroleum. Major trading partners in the mid-1980s were the United States, Italy, Germany, Kenya, the United Kingdom, and Saudi Arabia. The civil war halted nearly all foreign trade. Once trade resumed in 1994, Somalia exported livestock and fruit to Yemen and Persian Gulf countries. Traders were active in Mogadishu, benefiting from its duty-free status, even as clan fighting continued. In 1996 Somalia’s exports totaled $179 million, and imports were $274 million.

F Transportation and Communications  Somalia has no railroads; of its 22,100 km (13,732 mi) of roads, about 25 percent are paved or gravel. Mogadishu is the leading port. A government-owned airline provides international service. Until the early 1990s, two government-owned radio stations broadcast in Arabic, English, Italian, Somali, and several other languages, but the collapse of Somalia’s infrastructure because of the civil war has caused much of the country’s telecommunications to be disrupted. Three of the competing factions provide some broadcasting.

The ouster of President Muhammad Siad Barre in January 1991 left Somalia in a state of civil war, with no clear central governmental authority. The following six sections describe how the government functioned before the civil war.

A Executive  Under the 1979 constitution, as subsequently amended, executive power was held by a president, who was head of state and leader of the country’s sole legal political party, the Somali Revolutionary Socialist Party. Nominated by the party’s Central Committee, the president was elected to a seven-year term by direct universal vote.

B Legislature and Judiciary  Legislative power was vested in the 177-member People’s Assembly. The president appointed 6 members, and the other 171 were popularly elected; all served five-year terms. The highest civilian courts in Somalia were the Supreme Court, two courts of appeal, and eight regional courts.

C Local Government  For purposes of local administration Somalia is divided into 18 regions and 84 districts.

D Health and Welfare  Hospital and clinic services in Somalia are free, but resources were severely strained by Somalia’s civil war. Although international relief ended a famine crisis in the early 1990s, primary health care remained an urgent need in the countryside. The average life expectancy at birth in 1998 was 46 years; the infant mortality rate was 126 deaths per 1,000 live births.

E Defense  Until the early 1990s military service of 18 months was compulsory for men between the ages of 18 and 40. In 1990 the army had a force of some 60,000; the navy, 1,200; and the air force, 2,500. Since the overthrow of Muhammad Siad Barre in January 1991, there have been no national armed forces, although the clans maintained separate armies.

VI HISTORY  The history of the region now included in Somalia dates from antiquity, when the land was known to the ancient Egyptians as Punt. From the 2nd to the 7th century AD parts of the area belonged to the Ethiopian kingdom of Aksum. Arab tribes in the 7th century settled along the coast of the Gulf of Aden and established the sultanate of Adel, which centered on the port of Zeila. The Somali people began slowly to migrate into this region from Yemen in the 9th century. The sultanate disintegrated during the 16th century into small independent states, many of which were ruled by Somali chiefs. Zeila became a dependency of Yemen, and was then captured by the Ottoman Empire.

A European Colonization  
The first European power in the region was Britain. In order to protect British trade routes and provide safe anchorage for ships, Britain took possession of Aden (now in the Republic of Yemen) on the Arabian coast in 1839. Subsequently, about 1875, Egypt, disregarding Turkish claims, occupied some of the towns on the Somali coast and part of the adjacent interior. When the Egyptian troops left the area in 1882 to help stem the revolt of Muhammad Ahmad (known as the Mahdi) in the Sudan, Britain occupied the territory in order to safeguard the route to India through the Suez Canal, which had been opened in 1869. In 1887 a British protectorate, known as British Somaliland, was proclaimed. The protectorate, initially a dependency of Aden, was placed under the administration of the British Foreign Office in 1898 and of the Colonial Office in 1905.

Italian interest in the Somali coast developed in the late 19th century. By the terms of the treaties with native Somali sultans, and conventions with the United Kingdom, Ethiopia, and Zanzibar, Italy acquired a foothold along the Indian Ocean coast.

British control of the interior of the protectorate was challenged by native revolts between 1899 and 1910. In 1910 the British abandoned the interior and withdrew to the coastal regions. They finally subdued the rebels in 1920. During this period Italy extended control over the area inland from the Indian Ocean coast by the Treaty of London in 1915 and by various postwar agreements. In 1936 Italy merged Italian Somaliland, Eritrea, and the newly conquered Ethiopia into the colonial state of Italian East Africa. After the Italian entrance into World War II (1939-1945) on the side of Germany in 1940, Italian troops invaded British Somaliland and succeeded in expelling the British. the United Kingdom reconquered its protectorate in 1941.

By the terms of the Italian peace treaty adopted in 1947, Italy was forced to renounce title to the possessions in Africa, and responsibility for disposition of these colonies was allocated to the so-called Big Four (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or USSR). In 1948 the Big Four, having failed to reach an agreement on disposition, referred the matter to the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN). A plan granting independence to Italian Somaliland after ten years as a UN trust territory under Italian administration was approved by the General Assembly in November 1949. On April 1, 1950, after Italy had accepted the terms of a UN trusteeship agreement, the British military government was replaced by a provisional Italian administration. The territory was named Somalia.

B Independence  
On July 1, 1960, by agreement with the UN Trusteeship Council, Somalia was granted independence. It merged thereupon with the former British protectorate, to which the United Kingdom, by prearrangement, had given independence on June 26. The first president, Aden Abdullah Osman Daar, elected in 1960, was defeated for reelection in 1967 by the former premier Abdi Rashid Ali Shermarke. On October 15, 1969, Shermarke was assassinated, and days later a military group, led by Major General Muhammad Siad Barre, seized power. In 1970 Barre declared Somalia a socialist state, and in the following years most of the modern economy of the country was nationalized. A drought in 1974 and 1975 caused widespread starvation.

In mid-1977 ethnic Somalis in the adjacent Ogadçn region of Ethiopia initiated open warfare aimed at ending Ethiopian control of the area. The rebels were armed by Somalia, which also contributed troops to the effort. The Somalis captured most of the Ogadçn by late 1977, but Ethiopia, aided by Cuba and the USSR, reasserted control over the region in early 1978, as Somalia’s army suffered heavy losses. Subsequent fighting in the Ogadçn precipitated a flood of refugees into Somalia; the number of homeless in 1981 was estimated at close to 2 million. The United States gave both humanitarian and military aid and was in return granted use of the naval facilities at Berbera, previously a Soviet base.

Opposition to Barre’s rule began to coalesce in 1981 after Barre chose members of his own Marehan clan for government positions while excluding members of the Mijertyn and Isaq clans. Insurgent groups from those clans initiated clashes with government troops beginning in 1982. A peace accord ended hostilities with Ethiopia in 1988, but the civil war intensified, despite Barre’s attempts to placate insurgents by proposing a multiparty government. By 1989 only Mogadishu and portions of Hargeysa and Berbera were firmly in government control. In 1990 the clans opposing Barre formed a united front to fight the war. Barre was forced to flee the capital in January 1991, and was eventually accepted for asylum in Lagos, Nigeria, where he died of a heart attack in 1995.

C Civil War  
While the clans had been successful in coordinating their efforts to depose Barre, forming a coalition to govern the country proved more difficult. During the 23 months following Barre’s overthrow about 50,000 people were killed in factional fighting, and an estimated 300,000 died of starvation as it became impossible to distribute food in the war-ravaged nation. On December 9, 1992, a contingent of U.S. Marines landed near Mogadishu, the vanguard of a UN peacekeeping force sent to restore order. International agencies soon resumed food distribution and other humanitarian aid, interrupted in 1993 by sporadic outbreaks of violence. The UN mission became mired as it evolved from one of relief to that of rebuilding a Somali government. The UN force targeted powerful clan leader Mohammad Farrah Aidid, viewing him as the biggest threat to the establishment of a transitional government, but repeatedly failed to capture him. Clashes between Somali factions and UN troops became frequent, and an estimated 1,000 Somali were killed. Troops from the United States, which had withdrawn in March 1994 after 30 of its members were killed and 175 wounded, returned in February 1995 to cover the departure of the remaining UN peacekeeping force in March. Despite failing to restore peace, an estimated 300,000 lives had been saved from famine by the international relief effort.

As Somalia descended into chaos in 1991 the northern region of Somaliland (former British Somaliland) declared itself an independent republic. While independent Somaliland is not recognized by the UN, it has its own president, legislature, currency, and constitution. Southern Somali warlords have attacked Somaliland, and the breakaway republic also suffers from internal fighting and economic stagnation.

Aidid declared himself president of Somalia in June 1995, though this position was not recognized by rival clans. In late 1995 and early 1996 battles, Aidid’s forces captured strategic territory in the south and parts of Mogadishu. Aidid died in July 1996 from gunshot wounds received in a street battle and was succeeded as nominal president by his son Hussein Mohammad Aidid. Several successive cease-fires between factions were declared in late 1996 and early 1997 in hopes of holding a clan leader summit to work out a national government. Renewed fighting, in August and November 1996 and May 1997, disrupted each of these agreements. Heavy flooding in southern Somalia in late 1997 killed hundreds and ruined the region’s crops. The main clan leaders met in Cairo, Egypt, in December 1997 and agreed to a plan to convene a conference of hundreds of rival clan members to elect a new national government. However, clan fighting continued throughout 1998 and early 1999, and the planned conference was repeatedly postponed.

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