Arab Countries - Somalia

Somalia

The Country & People of Somalia

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Somalia, country (1995 est. pop. 7,348,000), 246,200 sq mi (637,657 sq km), E Africa, directly south of the Arabian Peninsula across the Gulf of Aden, also bordered by Ethiopia and Kenya (W), Djibouti (NW), and the Indian Ocean (E). Mogadishu is the capital; other large cities are Hargeisa, Berbera, and Kismayo. The country is arid and semidesert, with a barren coastal lowland rising to the great interior plateau (generally 3,000 ft/910 m high), which stretches to the northern and western highlands. Pastoralism is the dominant mode of life, and herding (both nomadic and sedentary) of cattle, sheep, goats, and camels is the principal occupation. Livestock, charcoal, bananas, hides, and fish make up the bulk of exports. The major cash crops are bananas, mangoes, and sugarcane; subsistence crops include sorghum and corn. Processing of raw materials constitutes the bulk of the small industry. The most valuable mineral resource is uranium; many other minerals are largely unexploited. Petroleum deposits have been found, and a refinery was built in 1979. However, much industry has been shut down due to civil strife. The Somali, who are the vast majority of the population, are divided into many clans and subclans. There are Italian, Indian, and Pakistani minorities. Islam is the state religion. Somali is the official language, but Arabic, English, and Italian are in wide use.

History
Muslim Arabs and Persians established trading posts along Somalia's coasts from the 7th to 10th cent., and Somali warriors joined Muslim sultanates in their battles with Christian Ethiopia in the 15th and 16th cent. Britain, France, and Italy began to dominate the region in the 19th cent. Britain established a protectorate in 1887 and concluded an agreement with France in 1888 defining their Somali possessions. Italy created a small protectorate in 1889, added territory in the south, and in 1925 detached Jubaland from Kenya. Somali-speaking districts of Ethiopia were combined with Italian Somaliland in 1936 to form Italian East Africa. Britain conquered Italian Somaliland in World War II, and renamed Somalia, it gained internal autonomy in 1956 and independence and unification with British Somaliland in 1960. The presence of some 350,000 Somalis in neighboring countries stirred demands for a Greater Somalia, and fighting erupted with Ethiopia in 1964 over the Ogaden region, which Somalia claims.
In 1969 a coup led by Maj. Gen. Muhammad Siyad Barre resulted in a socialist state.
In 1977 the corrupt and repressive regime broke with the USSR over Soviet aid to Ethiopia and received aid during the 1980s from the U.S. The Somali army invaded the Ogaden region in 1977 but was defeated (1978) by Ethiopian forces; skirmishes continued into the early 1980s. Barre was ousted (1991) by rebels after intense and bloody fighting. The Somali National Movement gained control of the north, the old British Somaliland, and proclaimed it the Somaliland Republic. The north remained relatively peaceful, although clan-based fighting has occurred.
In Mogadishu and most of the south the United Somali Congress achieved control, but savage warfare erupted between rival subclans. Almost a quarter of the population faced starvation because of the fighting. UN food supplies and peacekeepers arrived in 1992 and were soon joined by troops from the U.S. and other nations to assure distribution of food aid. A national cease-fire was signed, but no central government was formed. Fighting again erupted (1993) in Mogadishu as the UN unsuccessfully attempted to arrest Gen. Mohammed Farah Aidid. The U.S. and other nations withdrew their troops in 1994 and the last UN forces were withdrawn in 1995. That year some factions again proclaimed Aidid president, but the country remained divided into spheres of influence with no central government. Aidid died from battle wounds in 1996, and his faction chose his son, former U.S. Marine Hussein Mohammed Farah, to succeed him.
The country was devastated by floods in 1997, and in the late 1990s was still without any organized, internationally recognized government.
Breakaway states were declared in Puntland (NE) and Jubaland (S) in 1998.
In 2000 a S Somali conference in Djibouti established a national charter and elected a 225-national assembly and a president, Abdikassim Salad Hassan. Salad returned to Somalia in August, but several militias have refused to recognize the new government (which has little real authority).
Somaliland voted (2001) to remain independent, and in 2002 warlords in SW Somalia formed another breakaway government in Baidoa.
A cease-fire accord (Oct. 2002) among all major factions except Somaliland failed to halt all fighting, and subsequent talks failed to produce significant results. Meanwhile, the mandate of the essentially symbolic interim government expired in Aug., 2003, but the president withdrew from talks, refused to resign, and had the prime minister (who remained involved in the talks) removed from office.
In Sept., 2004, after many delays, a 275-member parliament was convened (in Kenya) under the new charter, and a new president, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, was elected in October. Yusuf, a former general who had served as president of Puntland, and the parliament are to serve for five years. Somaliland remained a nonparticipant in the transitional government (and held elections for its own parliament later, in Oct., 2005). Coastal areas of Somalia, particularly in Puntland, suffered damage and the loss of several hundred lives as a result of the Dec., 2004, Indian Ocean tsunami.
In June the president returned to his home region of Puntland, and in July he announced plans to move south to Jowhar, the other proposed temporary capital. A coalition of Mogadishu warlords announced that they would attack Jowhar if the president attempted to establish a temporary capital there, but the president nonetheless did so. The year also saw a dramatic increase in piracy and ship hijackings off the Somalia coast, including the hijacking of a UN aid ship and an attack on a cruise ship.
In Jan., 2006, the disputing Somali factions agreed to convene the parliament at Baidoa, Somalia, and the following month it met there. There were outbreaks of fighting in Mogadishu in Feb.–Mar., 2006, between militia forces aligned with unofficial Islamic courts and militias loyal to several warlords. The Islamists, who were split between moderates and hardliners, established the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) and imposed Islamic law on the area under their control. In some areas their rule recalled that of the Taliban in Afghanistan. They were accused of having ties to Al Qaeda, which they denied, but there was apparent evidence of non-Somali fighters in the militia. Also in September there was an attempt to assassinate President Yusuf. There were increased tensions between the UIC and Ethiopia over the presence of Ethiopian troops in Somalia in support of the interim government, a situation that Ethiopia denied until October, when it said they were there to train government forces.
Fighting continued into early 2007 in extreme S Somalia. The United States launched air strikes (using carrier aircraft offshore) against suspected Al Qaeda allies of the UIC, and U.S. special forces also conducted some operations in S Somalia. The government assumed control over the capital, declared a state of emergency, and called for the surrender of private weapons. Several warlords surrendered arms and merged their militias into the army, but concern over the warlords’ forces remained. Fierce battles in March and April in the capital caused hundreds of thousands to flee, and hundreds died. The presence of peacekeepers, who began arriving in March, did little initially to alter the situation, but the situation quieted after the government largely established control in late April. Sporadic antigovernment attacks continued, however, occasionally erupting into more intense fighting. A national reconciliation conference in July–Aug., 2007, was boycotted by Islamists and some clans. Divisions in the government between the president and Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi over their respective powers led to Gedi’s resignation in October. That same month, tension and clashes between Somaliland and Puntland over the disputed border town of Los Anod erupted into significant fighting. In November, Nur Hassan Hussein, the head of the Somali Red Crescent, was named prime minister. By the end of 2007, some 600,000 had fled the capital due to the fighting there.
In Jan., 2008, the government officially returned to Mogadishu, but the ability of the Islamists during the year to seize and towns in S and central Somalia, including the ports of Kismayo in August and Merka (55 mi/90 km S of Mogadishu) in November, and the continuing fighting in the capital belied the government's gesture toward establishing its authority. A peace agreement was negotiated between the government and more moderate Islamist insurgents in June, 2008; in August both sides agreed to a joint police force and a phased Ethiopia pullback, and in November a power-sharing agreement was signed. More militant Islamists, however, rejected the agreements, which did not diminish violence in Somalia. Radical Islamists continued to make gains, and there was fighting between the radicals and more moderate Islamists; government control was restricted mainly to Mogadishu and Baidoa. President Yusuf attempted to dismiss Prime Minister Nur in December and replace him, but Nur retained the support of the parliament. Yusuf, who was seen by many as an obstacle to the power-sharing agreement with the moderate Islamists, subsequently resigned.
In Jan., 2009, Ethiopian forces withdrew from Somalia; moderate Islamists joined the government the same month. Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, a moderate Islamist, was elected president; Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, son of the country's first president, became prime minister the following month. Hardline Islamists continued their attacks, however, capturing Baidoa in January and other towns in the following months, gaining control of most of S and central Somalia. Fighting also occurred in the Mogadishu, becoming heavy beginning in May when hardliners seized large areas in the capital (though the government, defended primarily by AU peacekeepers, retained control of key buildings and infrastructure); fighting, at times heavy, has continued off and on in Mogadishu since then.
In May, 2009, the interim government officially adopted Islamic law. By July, 2009, an estimated 1.2 million Somalis had been displaced within Somalia by the fighting; some 300,000 were in border areas in Kenya. Tensions between hardline allies turned violent in Sept.-Oct., 2009, when two groups briefly fought for control of Kismayo, and fighting between some hardline factions has continued sporadically in S Somalia. Divisions within the hardliners have been outweighed, however, by the weakness and corruption of the interim government, which in 2010 experienced a power struggle between the president and prime minister. Tensions between the prime minister and parliament led the president to dismiss Sharmarke
in May, 2010, but the prime minister denounced the move as unconstitutional and ultimately remained in office.
In Sept., 2010, however, amid worsening power struggles in the government, the prime minister resigned; Mohamed Abdullahii Mohamed, a former diplomat succeeded him in October.
In July, 2010, meanwhile, Somali hardline Islamists mounted suicide bomb attacks in Kampala, Uganda, in retaliation for Uganda's participation in the peacekeeping forces in Somalia. A failed militant offensive in August to seize control of Mogadishu and divisions within the dominant militant group, Al Shabab, led to subsequent territorial gains in the capital by African Union forces.

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Copyright (c) 2003 Columbia University Press.
Used by permission of Columbia University Press.

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About Somalia

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Books

Here is a selection of books, CDs and videos that will eventually cover various subjects related to Somalia.
Click on the book title for full details and reviews.

Recommended reading:


Me Against My Brother
At War in Somalia, Sudan and Rwanda

By Scott Peterson

Culture and Customs of Somalia
By Mohamed Diriye Abdullahi

Aman
The Story of a Somali Girl

By Virginia Lee Barnes, Janice Boddy

Desert Dawn
By Waris Dirie, Cathleen Miller

Somali-English, English-Somali
Dictionary and Phrasebook

By Nicholas Awde, C. Quadir, M. Orwin, Nicholas Ande

Somalia Map
By Jack Smart, Frances Altorfer

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Created 1 November 2000. Last updated 23 February 2011
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