Somalia is an African country that exists solely in a de jure capacity. Somalia has no recognized central government authority, president, national currency, or any other feature associated with a well-established nation state. De facto authority is in the hands of small groups of rival warlords who lead small opposing governments.
Intermittent civil war has been a fact of life in Somalia since 1977. In 1991, the northern portion of the country declared its independence as Somaliland; although de facto independent and relatively stable compared to the tumultuous south, it has not been recognized by any foreign government.
Beginning in 1993, a two-year UN humanitarian effort (primarily in the south) was able to alleviate famine conditions, but when the UN withdrew on March 3, 1995, having suffered significant casualties, order still had not been restored.
Yet again another secession from Somalia took place in the northeastern region. The secessionist state took the name Puntland after declaring independence in 1998.
A third succession led by the Rahanweyn Resistance Army (RRA) took place in 1999. That seccesion was reasserted in 2002.
This led to the autonomy and independence of Southwestern Somalia.
The RRA had originally set up an autonomous administration over the Bay and Bakool regions of south and central Somalia in 1999.
Somalia has no effective national government. In the northwest, there is a breakaway republic of Somaliland. In the rest of the country there are various warlords, cf. Puntland and Southwestern Somalia. The internationally-recognised government is the Transitional National Government headed by Abdulkassim Salat Hassan, which controls only part of the capital, Mogadishu.
Somalia is located on the east coast of Africa on and north of the Equator between the Gulf of Aden on the north and Indian Ocean on the west. Together with Ethiopia and Djibouti it is often referred to as the Horn of Africa. It borders to Djibouti on northwest, to Ethiopia on the west, and to Kenya on southwest. Somalia comprises Italy's former Trust Territory of Somalia and the former British Protectorate of Somaliland (now seeking recognition as an independent state). The coastline extends 2,720 kilometers (1,700 mi.).
The northern part of the country is hilly, and in many places the altitude ranges between 900 and 2,100 meters (3,000 ft.-7,000 ft.) above sea level. The central and southern areas are flat, with an average altitude of less than 180 meters (600 ft.). The Juba and the Shebelle Rivers rise in Ethiopia and flow south across the country toward the Indian Ocean. The Shebelle, however, does not reach the sea.
Major climatic factors are a year-round hot climate, seasonal monsoon winds, and irregular rainfall with recurring droughts. Mean daily maximum temperatures range from 30°C to 40°C (85° F-105°F), except at higher elevations and along the east coast. Mean daily minimums usually vary from about 15°C to 30°C (60°F-85°F). The southwest monsoon, a sea breeze, makes the period from about May to October the mildest season at Mogadishu. The December-February period of the northeast monsoon also is 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.
One of the world's poorest and least developed countries, Somalia has few resources. Moreover, much of the economy has been devastated by the civil war. Agriculture is the most important sector, with livestock accounting for about 40% of GDP and about 65% of export earnings. Nomads and semi-nomads, who are dependent upon livestock for their livelihood, make up a large portion of the population. After livestock, bananas are the principal export; sugar, sorghum, maize, and fish are products for the domestic market. The small industrial sector, based on the processing of agricultural products, accounts for 10% of GDP; most facilities have been shut down because of the civil strife. Moreover, in 1999, ongoing civil disturbances in Mogadishu and outlying areas interfered with any substantial economic advance and with international aid arrangements.
As early as the seventh century A.D., indigenous Cushitic peoples began to mingle with Arab and Persian traders who had settled along the coast. Interaction over the centuries led to the emergence of a Somali culture bound by common traditions, a single language, and the Islamic faith.
Today, about 60% of all Somalis are nomadic or semi-nomadic pastoralists who raise cattle, camels, sheep, and goats. About 25% of the population are settled farmers who live mainly in the fertile agricultural zone between the Juba and Shebelle Rivers in southern Somalia. The remainder of the population (15%-20%) is urban.
Sizable ethnic groups in the country include Bantu agricultural workers, several thousand Arabs and some hundreds of Indians and Pakistanis. Nearly all inhabitants speak the Somali language, which remained unwritten until October 1973, when the Supreme Revolutionary Council (SRC) proclaimed it the nation's official language and decreed an orthography using Latin letters. Somali is now the language of instruction in schools, to the extent that these exist. Arabic, English, and Italian also are used extensively.