Somalia is a country located in the Horn of Africa which is bordered by Kenya to the southwest, the Gulf of Aden and Yemen to the north, the Indian Ocean to the east, Ethiopia to the west, and Djibouti to the northwest.
Somalia’s ties to the Arab world allowed it to be accepted into the Arab League in 1974. Somalia also belongs to the African Union, the Organization of Islamic Conference, and the U.N. It supported anti-apartheid groups and Eritrean secessionists. The country has maintained a free market economy despite its instability.
Humans have inhabited Somalia since the Paleolithic period. Northern Somalia has cave paintings dating to 9000 BC. The Laas Geel complex is the most famous of these and contains some of Africa’s earliest rock art. While these paintings carry inscriptions, archeologists have not been able to decipher their meaning. Doian and Hargeisan cultures thrived here during the Stone Age.
There are cemeteries in Somalia that date to the 4th millennium BC and show the area’s ancient burial customs. The Jalelo site in northern Somalia is important to the study of Paleolithic times.
Antiquity and the Classical Era
Ancient tombs, ruins, and walls such as the Wargaade Wall are evidence of a sophisticated civilization that was once present in the Somali peninsula. This civilization had an ancient writing system that is still not deciphered. This, and the fact that they traded with the Ancient Egyptians and Greeks, supports the view that this was the ancient Kingdom of Punt.
Camels were domesticated between the third millennium and second millennium BC. From Somalia, they spread to Ancient Egypt and North Africa. A lucrative trade network developed between the states of Opone, Mossylon, Mundus, Malao, and Tabae. This connected with traders from Egypt, Greece, Phoenicia, Saba, Persia, Nabataea, and Rome.
After Rome conquered the Nabataean Empire, Arab and Somali merchants stopped Indian ships from trading in the Arabian Peninsula. This has done to hide the lucrative trade in the Red Sea.
Indians brought cinnamon from the Far East to Somalia. The Romans believed the cinnamon came from Somalia. The spice was then exported to North Africa at much higher prices.
Birth of Islam and the Middle Ages
Early Muslims fled persecution to the port city of Zeila in Somalia, which was controlled by the Axumite Emperor. Those given protection settled in the Horn of Africa and promoted the religion.
When the Muslims defeated the Quraysh in the 7th century, there was a significant effect on Somalia’s traders because their trading partners were Muslim and controlled the routes. Commerce allowed the religion to spread through the Somali population in the coastal cities. Arabs fled to Somalia due to instability in their region, further growing Islam’s popularity.
On the East African Coast, Mogadishu became Islam’s center. Adal in northern Somalia was becoming a trading community as well.
From 1150 to 1259, Islam made an important turn in Somalia’s history. Islam flourished with the Berbers and the Adalites, who prospered in the region. The Adalites came under the Kingdom of Ifat’s influence.
Zeila was the Ifat capital and was situated in northern Somalia. From here, the Ifat army conquered the Kimgdom of Shoa in 1270. This started a fight for supremacy between Solomonids, who were primarily Christian, and Ifatites, who were Muslim. This led to several wars and an eventual Solomonic victory. After the popular Ifat ruler Sultan Sa’ad ad-Din II, his family was given protection in the Kingdom of Yemen. His sons plotted their revenge on the Solomids.
The Republics of Merca, Mogadishu, Hobyo, and Barawa flourished during the Age of the Ajuuraans. There was lucrative foreign trade between the area and India, Arabia, Venetia, Egypt, Persia, Portugal, and China.
Duarte Barbosa noted in the 1500s that ships from kingdoms in modern India sailed to Mogadishu with spices and clothes and received gold, ivory, and wax in return. The area was also the center of toob benadir, a thriving weaving industry.
The Somali region established trade relations with Malacca in the 15th century. Exotic animals were exported to the Ming Empire in China, which influenced both cultures and languages. Hindu merchants used the areas ports as well in order to trade without interference from countries like Portugal.
Early Modern Era and the Scramble for Africa
The Adal and Ajuuraan successor states grew in the area and included the Gerad, Bari, and Gobroon Dynasties. They continued the trade and castle-building of the previous empires.
The Gobroon Dynasty’s Golden age was started by Sultan Yusuf Mahamud Ibrahim. During the Bardheere Jihad, his army came out victorious and restored regional stability.
His son, Ahmed Yusuf succeeded him and became an important figure in the 1800s. The Gerad Dynasty traded in northern Somalia with Yemen and Persia. Bari and Gerad sultans built castles, palaces, and fortresses.
After the Berlin conference in the late 1800s, the powers of Europe began the scramble for Africa. Dervish leader Muhammad Abdullah Hassan rallied support from across the Horn of Africa to resist the colonialists. Hassan decreed that Somalis not accepting the goal of unity would be considered as gaal or kafir. Turkey, Sudan, and other Arabic countries provided him with weapons.
Hassan Dervish state was built on the Salihiya brotherhood model and was essentially military. There was centralization and rigid hierarchy. He fist fought the British soldiers stationed in the area and repulsed four British expeditions. Hassan established relations with the Germans and Ottomans. The Dervish nation collapsed in 1920 after British aerial bombing and its territories became a protectorate.
Italy changed its strategy with the dawn of fascism in the 1920s. The area known as Italian Somaliland changed with the arrival of Governor Cesare Maria De Vecci in 1923. The Italians directly ruled the Benadir territory and attacked Abyssinia in modern day Ethiopia in 1935. The League of Nations condemned the attack but did nothing to stop it. In 1940, Italian troops invaded British Somaliland from Ethiopia and took Berbera from the British in less than two weeks. In 1941, the British launched a force, along with troops from African countries, from Kenya to take back the territories and liberate Italian colonies. British Somaliland was retaken and Italian Somaliland was captured.
The State of Somalia
After World War II, Britain retained control of British and Italian Somaliland despite Somali help to the allies. In 1949, the U.N. allowed Italy a trusteeship of Italian Somaliland. This was granted on the condition that the country would be granted independence within 10 years. This condition was proposed by the Somali Youth League (SYL), Hizbia Digil Mirifle Somali (HDMS), and the Somali National League (SNL). British retained its portion of Somaliland until 1960 as a protectorate.
The U.N. trusteeship allowed the Somalis to gain political experience. British Somaliland did not have the advantages of the Italian portion. Britain attempted to make up for past neglect but the area stagnated. This disparity would cause problems when the two parts became integrated.
In 1948, Britain gave an important Somali grazing area to Ethiopia based on an 1897 treaty. Despite the British including a provision that Somali nomads could retain autonomy, Ethiopia claimed sovereignty over them. In response, Britain attempted to purchase the area back in 1956.
Djibouti held a referendum in 1958 to decide whether or not to join Somalia or remain with France. The vote ended up in favor of continued French association. Those voting no were Somalis seeking a united Somalia. In 1977, Djibouti gained its independence.
On June 26, 1960, British Somaliland became independent and Italian Somaliland did so five days later. On July 1, 1960, the two untied to become the Somali Republic. Adan Abdullah Osman Daar became the President and Abdirashid Ali Shermarke became the Prime Minister. Shermarke later became president. A new constitution was ratified on July 20, 1961. Muhammad Haji Ibrahim Egal became the Prime Minister in 1967. He would later become the president of the autonomous Somaliland region.
After President Shermarke was assassinated in 1969, a military government took power led by Salaad Gabeyre Kediye, Siad Barre, and Jama Korshel. Barre became President and Korshel Vice-President. The military government implemented reforms and increased the literacy rate. Unrest continued during the time and at one point, Barre assassinated one of his cabinet members and two other officials.
A true military dictatorship began in 1976 when the Somali Revolutionary Socialist Party was formed. It ruled the country until 1990, when it was overthrown by an armed revolt by the Somali Salvation Democratic Front, the United Somali Congress, the Somali National Movement, and the Somali Patriotic Movement along with other non-violent groups.
Somalia invaded Ethiopia in the Ogaden War in 1977. The war’s aim was to unite Somali lands that were partitioned by former colonial powers. The Soviet Union refused to support Somalia and assisted Ethiopia instead. Since the U.S.S.R. ultimately supplied both sides, it was able to broker a cease fire.
By September 1977, Somalia occupied 90 percent of the Ogaden. After the Harar siege, the Soviets intervened on behalf Ethiopia. This forced the Somalis to withdraw and seek U.S. help, which was eventually declined.
Somalis became weary of life under a military dictatorship. As the Cold War ended, Somalia’s strategic importance diminished. The increasingly totalitarian government, and resistance movements encouraged by Ethiopia, led to the Somali Civil War.
The Somali Civil War
Ethiopian backed clan forces ousted President Barre in 1991. After meeting with the Somali National Movement and clan elders, the northern part of the country declared independence as Somaliland in 1991. Despite being stable compared to the south, no foreign government has recognized Somaliland.
President Ali Mahdi Muhammad was selected as interim state president. Several other groups’ leaders refused to recognize Mahdi as interim president. This caused a split between the groups and led to efforts to remove Barre who still claimed the presidency. Barre and his supporters remained in the south, causing the violence to escalate.
Agriculture and food distribution were disrupted in southern Somalia. Due to the violence and the humanitarian problems, the U.S. organized a military coalition to secure the southern region and allow humanitarian aid to be delivered. In December 1992, the task force entered the country and restored order. In 1993, most U.S. troops withdrew and were replaced by a U.N. force.
After casualties were inflicted on the forces, including 80 Pakistani troops and 19 Americans, the U.N. withdrew on March 3, 1995.
After the civil war, the Tanade and Harti clans declared a self-governing area they named Puntland. They declared it would take part in reconciliation and a new central government. Southwestern Somalia declared its own autonomy in 2002.
Inner conflict weakened the Rahanweyn military in 2006, the southwest area was central to the TFG based in Baidoa.
The TFG met in Kenya and published a charter for the nation’s government in 2004. Baidoa is the TFG’s current capital. Rivalry between clans continued in 2006 when the Jubaland state declared independence. This region did not want full independence, but federal autonomy.
In 2006, fighting broke out between Mogadishu warlords, known as the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism, and militia loyal to the Islamic Court Union, who were seeking to establish Sharia law.
During the fighting, several hundred were killed. The ICU alleged the U.S. CIA was involved in the conflict, which the agency denied.
The ICU controlled Mogadishu by June, 2006. The ARPCT forces were defeated in their last stronghold and forced to flee to Ethiopia.
The Transitional Government, supported by Ethiopia, called for peacekeeping intervention, which the ICU opposed. The ICU took control of southern Somalia, primarily through negotiation with clan chiefs.
The ICU did steer clear of the Ethiopian border due to the Ethiopians statements that it would protect the Transitional Government there is threatened. After the ICU took Kismayo, the last port in the transitional government’s hands, Ethiopia invaded.
In November, 2006, peace talks broke down and international groups fear full scale war. In December, fighting broke out again. Later that month, Ethiopians launched air strikes against the ICU forces. Ethiopia claimed to be entering the war to protect its sovereignty.
After Ethiopian assaults, the ICU forces fell back toward Mogadishu. Ethiopian forces entered the city on December 28, 2006. Despite claims of security, the transitional government and Ethiopia face frequent attacks from Islamic forces.
The ICU forces retreated south and were followed by the Ethiopian and government forces. In January, 2007, the U.S. sent gunships to attack ICU positions, largely defeating the ICU. Other Islamist groups formed in 2007 and 2008 and continued to fight. They recaptured large portions of the country. Ethiopian troops retreated in 2009. The ICU does not exist and is now part of the transitional government.
Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed announced his resignation as president in 2008. The parliament speaker, Aden Mohamed, succeeded him in office. In 2009, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed was elected president. In return for becoming part of the government the ICU was given 200 seats in parliament.
Hassan Sheikh Mohamud is the incumbent president who took office in 2012, as the country’s first since the dissolution of the Transitional Federal Government. Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed was appointed as Prime Minister in December 2013.
Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, is the 9th and current President of Somalia since 16 February 2017.
There are three legal structures in Somalia which are civil, religious, and traditional clan law.
The legal system was mostly destroyed but has now been reconstructed and administered under regional governments. There is a charter which affirms the primacy of Islamic law, but mainly this is applied to civil and family issues. Human rights are guaranteed as is judicial independence. The system has three tiers, which are a supreme court, court of appeals, and courts of first instance.
Islamic law has played a part in Somali society and has been the basis for all Somali constitutions. Islamic law is technically the primary system in Somalia.
Customary law, called Xeer, has been practiced for centuries. In this system, no single agent determines what the law is or how it should be interpreted. It is truly indigenous to the Horn of Africa and dates from the 7th century.
Regions and Districts
Before the civil war, the country was divided into 18 regions, which were further divided into districts. Somalia is now divided among the quasi-independent states of Somaliland, Puntland, and Galmudug.
Geography and Climate
Somalia has a total area of 637,549 sq. km. It occupies what is known as the Horn of Africa. It has Africa’s longest coastline.
A mountain range, Cal Madow, is in the northeast. The Karkaar Mountains lie off the Gulf of Aden coast.
The mildest season in Mogadishu is from May to October. The periods between the two monsoons are hot and humid.
The southwest monsoon, a sea breeze, makes the period from about May to October the mildest season in Mogadishu. 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.
The Ministry of Health oversaw the healthcare sector until the government’s collapse in 1991. Despite the destruction of much of the system, living conditions have generally improved. Informal providers have filled the gap left by the government.
The life expectancy is 49.58 years for males, and 53.65 years for females, with an infant mortality rate of 100.14 deaths for every 1,000 live births.
After the civil war began, local communities took over school administration. Access by rural children is a large problem. The country is trying to put policies in place to reconstruct the system.
Most higher education is private. Despite harsh environments, several universities are ranked as some of the best in Africa.
Qu’ranic schools are the main system for religious instruction. They are widely supported in the community. These schools are often the only ones accessible to rural children
Somalia’s economy is projected to grow at an annual rate of 3–4 percent, according to the third Somalia Economic Update (SEU) published by the World Bank. Titled “Rapid Growth in Mobile Money: Stability or Vulnerability?”, the SEU assesses Somalia’s vibrant mobile money market, and provides concrete recommendations on introducing mobile money regulation that can boost a secure system for widespread financial inclusion.
There is a healthy informal economy in Somalia. It mostly relies on livestock, telecommunications, and money transfer companies. Statistics are difficult to locate. Private investment is occurring and is replacing the government run industrial sector that was in place before the civil war.
Per capita GDP is at at $600, with a 2.6 percent growth rate. Agriculture, the most important sector, accounts for nearly 60 percent of GDP, with services accounting for 33.5 percent. There is a trade deficit with import exceeding exports. Many Somalis live overseas and send money back to the country.
There is a modest industrial sector that is based on agricultural products. There are private airline firms that operate commercial flights to international locations.
The Central Bank is in the process of assuming the tasks of monetary policy in Somalia.
The US dollar is accepted widely due to a lack of confidence in the local currency. Inflation is a problem, but this is expected to end once the Central Bank takes control of monetary policy.
Private money transfer firms, hawalas, are a large Somalian industry. Somalis overseas use this system to transfer money back to the country. Once the Central Bank assumes control, some of the companies are expected to attempt to be licensed as full banks.
Energy and Resources
Privatizing electrical supply has allowed the private sector to provide cities with electricity.
There are underdeveloped reserves of iron ore, uranium, tin, bauxite, gypsum, copper, salt, and natural gas. Due to neighboring country’s oil reserves, Somalia is believed to be a potential oil source.
The Buurhakaba region has large reserves of uranium. No long term mining has taken place.
Telecommunications and Media
The country’s internet and telecommunications are some of the most advanced in the world. The phone services, set up with help from China, Europe, and Korea, are affordable and more advanced than those in most other parts of the continent. Internet access is easy to locate.
Prior to the civil war, Somalia’s military was the largest in Africa due to its partnership with both the U.S.S.R. and the U.S.
Local organizations have been founded to promote awareness about ecological problems. Bans on ivory and charcoal exports were implemented in the past.
There are approximately 15,513,213 million (2018) people in Somalia. Ethnic Somalis are 85 percent of the total. Other ethnic groups are the Benadiri, Bantus, Bravanese, Banjuni, Ethiopians, Indians, Persians, Italians, and Britons.
The population growth stands at 1.75 percent. The infant mortality rate is 100.14 deaths for every 1,000 live births. Life expectancy is 49.58 years for males, and 53.65 years for females.
Somali is the official language. It is part of the Cushitic branch in the Afro-Asiatic language. Saho and Afar are its closest relatives. There are three main dialects, which are northern, Benadir, and Maay. Somali does not have a writing script, so other systems have been used to transcribe the language.
Arabic is an additional official language and many Somalis speak it due to the countries close ties with the Arab World.
For all practical purposes, all Somalis are Muslims with few exceptions. Most belong to the Sunni branch, but there are some Shia Muslims. Sufism is also well established. Islam is set forth in the constitution as the official state religion.
Somalis cuisine varies by region. All food is served halal in that there is no pork, alcohol, or blood. Rice is the main dish and is typically basmati. Spices are used to aromatize the rice. Xalwo or halva is a confection that is popular at special occasions.
Most songs are pentatonic, in that they use five pitches per octave. While it sounds similar to the music of other countries in the region, it is ultimately distinct.
There are a number of contemporary writers, including Nuruddin Farah. Farah Mohamed Jama Awl wrote a Dervish-era novel called Ignorance is the Enemy of Love.
The country has a rich and diverse architectural tradition. There are examples of a fusion between Occidental and Somalo-Islamic designs. In ancient times, taalo, or pyramid structures were popular for burial. Hundreds of these are in the country today. Houses were constructed as they were in ancient Egypt with stone construction and courtyards with stone walls.