Creation Day of the Somali Republic
Somalia, easternmost country of Africa, on the Horn of Africa. It extends from just south of the Equator northward to the Gulf of Aden and occupies an important geopolitical position between sub-Saharan Africa and the countries of Arabia and southwestern Asia. The capital, Mogadishu, is located just north of the Equator on the Indian Ocean.
Somalia is a country of geographic extremes. The climate is mainly dry and hot, with landscapes of thornbush savanna and semidesert, and the inhabitants of Somalia have developed equally demanding economic survival strategies. Apart from a mountainous coastal zone in the north and several pronounced river valleys, most of the country is extremely flat, with few natural barriers to restrict the mobility of the nomads and their livestock. The Somali people are clan-based Muslims, and about three-fifths follow a mobile way of life, pursuing nomadic pastoralism or agropastoralism.
The Republic of Somalia was formed in 1960 by the federation of a former Italian colony and a British protectorate. Mohamed Siad Barre (Maxamed Siyaad Barre) held dictatorial rule over the country from October 1969 until January 1991, when he was overthrown in a bloody civil war waged by clan-based guerrillas. After Siad’s fall from power, warfare continued and the country lacked an effective centralized government—problems that persisted into the 21st century. Moreover, a de facto government declared the formation of an independent Republic of Somaliland in the north in 1991. Similarly, in 1998 the autonomous region of Puntland (the Puntland State of Somalia) was self-proclaimed in the northeast.
The Republic of Somalia experienced fragmentation in the 1990s: the self-proclaimed Republic of Somaliland asserted its independence from Somalia in 1991, and the Puntland State of Somalia declared itself an autonomous region of Somalia in 1998. Neither is internationally recognized.
Decades of civil hostilities have virtually destroyed Somalia’s economy and infrastructure and split the country into areas under the rule of various entities. When Somalia’s tenuous transitional administration handed power to a new government in 2012, the newly declared Federal Republic of Somalia had only limited control over the country. There was, however, hope that the new government would usher in a new era, one in which peace would be achieved and Somalis could focus on rebuilding their country.
Somalia is bounded by the Gulf of Aden to the north, by the Indian Ocean to the east, by Kenya and Ethiopia to the west, and by Djibouti to the northwest. Somalia’s western border was arbitrarily determined by colonial powers and divides the lands traditionally occupied by the Somali people. As a result, Somali communities are also found in Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya, and the border remains a source of dispute.
The Somali peninsula consists mainly of a tableland of young limestone and sandstone formations. In the extreme north, along the Gulf of Aden, is a narrow coastal plain called the Guban, which broadens northward toward the port of Berbera. This gives way inland to a maritime mountain range with a steep north-facing scarp. Near Ceerigaabo (Erigavo) a mountain called Surud Cad reaches the highest elevation in the country, about 7,900 feet (2,408 metres). To the south are the broad plateaus of the Galgodon (or Ogo) Highlands and the Sool and Hawd regions, which drop gradually southward toward the Indian Ocean.
In southern Somalia the crystalline bedrock outcrops to the south of Baydhabo (Baidoa) in the shape of granite formations called inselbergs. These give way farther south to alluvial plains, which are separated from the coast by a vast belt of ancient dunes stretching more than 600 miles (1,000 km) from south of Kismaayo (Chisimaio) to north of Hobyo (Obbia).
The flatness of the Somalian plateaus is interrupted by several deep valleys. Starting in the northeast, these are the Dharoor and Nugaaleed (Nogal) valleys; both are wadis that, in season, have rivers flowing into the Indian Ocean at Xaafuun and Eyl, respectively. In the southwest are the only permanent rivers in Somalia, the Jubba and the Shabeelle (Shebeli). Originating in the Ethiopian highlands, these two streams cut deeply into the plateaus before meandering through the alluvial plains toward the coast. Whereas the Jubba flows directly from north of Kismaayo into the Indian Ocean, the Shabeelle veers southwest immediately to the north of Mogadishu and flows into a large swamp before reaching the Jubba. The Jubba carries more water than the Shabeelle, which sometimes dries up in its lower course in years of sparse rainfall in the Ethiopian highlands. During dry seasons these rivers are a major source of water for people and animals. Because over most of the country the water table is deep or the groundwater has a high mineral content, the conservation of surface runoff is of primary importance.
The types of soil vary according to climate and parent rock. The arid regions of northeastern Somalia have mainly thin and infertile desert soils. The limestone plateaus of the interfluvial area have fertile dark gray to brown calcareous residual soils that provide good conditions for rain-fed agriculture. The most fertile soils are found on the alluvial plains of the Jubba and Shabeelle rivers. These deep vertisols are covered in black soils derived from decomposed lava rocks that are commonly called “black cotton soils” (because cotton often is grown in them). These soils have a high water-retention capacity and are mainly used for irrigation agriculture.
Somalia lies astride the Equator, but unlike typical climates at this latitude, conditions in Somalia range from arid in the northeastern and central regions to semiarid in the northwest and south.
The climatic year comprises four seasons. The gu, or main rainy season, lasts from April to June; the second rainy season, called the dayr, extends from October to December. Each is followed by a dry season—the main one (jilaal) from December to March and the second one (xagaa) from June to September. During the second dry season, showers fall in the coastal zone.
Long-term mean annual rainfall is less than 4 inches (100 mm) in the northeast and about 8 to 12 inches (200 to 300 mm) in the central plateaus. The southwest and northwest receive an average of 20 to 24 inches (500 to 600 mm) a year. While the coastal areas experience hot, humid, and unpleasant weather year-round, the interior is dry and hot. Somalia has some of the highest mean annual temperatures in the world. At Berbera, on the northern coast, the afternoon high averages more than 100 °F (38 °C) from June through September. Temperature maxima are even higher inland, but along the coast of the Indian Ocean temperatures are considerably lower because of a cold offshore current. The average afternoon high at Mogadishu, for example, ranges from the low 80s F (mid- to upper 20s C) in July to the low 90s F (low 30s C) in April.
Plant and animal life
In accordance with rainfall distribution, southern and northwestern Somalia have a relatively dense thornbush savanna, with various succulents and species of acacia. By contrast, the high plateaus of northern Somalia have wide, grassy plains, with mainly low formations of thorny shrubs and scattered grass tussocks in the remainder of the region. Northeastern Somalia and large parts of the northern coastal plain, on the other hand, are almost devoid of vegetation. Exceptions to this are the wadi areas and the moist zones of the northern coastal mountains, where the frankincense tree (Boswellia) grows. The myrrh tree (Commiphora) thrives in the border areas of southern and central Somalia.
Owing to inappropriate land use, the original vegetation cover, especially in northern Somalia, has been heavily degraded and in various places even entirely destroyed. This progressive destruction of plant life also has impaired animal habitats and reduced forage, affecting not only Somalia’s greatest resource, its livestock (chiefly goats, sheep, camels, and cattle), but also the wildlife. There are still many species of wild animals throughout the country—especially in the far south: hyenas, foxes, leopards, lions, warthogs, ostriches, small antelopes, and a large variety of birds. Unfortunately, giraffes, zebras, oryx, hippopotamuses, rhinoceroses, and, above all, elephants have been decimated (chiefly by ivory poachers). Measures to protect endangered species were taken with the creation of nature reserves and national parks, although those areas have been neglected since the collapse of the central government in 1991.
People - Ethnic groups
The Somali people make up the overwhelming majority of Somalia’s population. They are divided into numerous clans, which are groups that trace their common ancestry back to a single father. These clans, which in turn are subdivided into numerous subclans, combine at a higher level to form clan families. The clan families inhabiting the interfluvial area of southern Somalia are the Rahanwayn and the Digil, which together are known as the Sab. Mainly farmers and agropastoralists, the Sab include both original inhabitants and numerous Somali groups that have immigrated into this climatically favourable area. Other clan families are the Daarood of northeastern Somalia, the Ogaden, and the border region between Somalia and Kenya; the Hawiye, chiefly inhabiting the area on both sides of the middle Shabeelle and south-central Somalia; and the Isaaq, who live in the central and western parts of northern Somalia. In addition, there are the Dir, living in the northwestern corner of the country but also dispersed throughout southern Somalia, and the Tunni, occupying the stretch of coast between Marca and Kismaayo. Toward the Kenyan border the narrow coastal strip and offshore islands are inhabited by the Bagiunis, a Swahili fishing people.
One economically significant minority is the several tens of thousands of Arabs, mainly of Yemenite origin. Another economically important minority is the Bantu population, which is mainly responsible for the profitable irrigation agriculture practiced on the lower and middle reaches of the Jubba and Shabeelle rivers. Many Bantu are the descendants of former slaves, and socially they are regarded as inferior by other groups in Somalia. The result is a strict social distinction between the “noble” Somali of nomadic descent and the Bantu groups. There is also a small Italian population in Somalia.
The Somali language belongs to the Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family. Despite several regional dialects, it is understood throughout the country and is an official language. The second official language is Arabic, which is spoken chiefly in northern Somalia and in the coastal towns. Owing to Somalia’s colonial past, many people have a good command of English and Italian, which, in addition to Somali, are used at the country’s colleges and universities. Swahili also is spoken in the south. In 1973 Somalia adopted an official orthography based on the Latin alphabet. Until then, Somali had been an unwritten language.
Roughly two-fifths of the Somali population live permanently in settled communities; the other three-fifths are nomadic pastoralists or agropastoralists. The sedentary population chiefly occupies climatically and topographically favourable regions in southern and northwestern Somalia, where rain-fed agriculture is possible and irrigation agriculture can be practiced along the rivers. Their settlements consist of large clustered villages near the rivers and in the central interfluvial area, as well as small hamlets farther away. The population is also concentrated in the old trading centres on the coast, including Kismaayo, Baraawe (Brava), Marca, Mogadishu, Berbera, and Boosaaso (Bosaso).
Heavy migration from rural areas into towns has caused enormous urban expansion, especially in Mogadishu. However, only about two-fifths of the population is urban. As a result of increased market-oriented and extrapastoral activities, more nomads are tending to adopt a semisettled way of life and economy. This has led to a great number of permanent nomad settlements, chiefly along the roads and tracks of the country’s interior.
The population of Somalia increased annually by about 3 percent in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The country has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world. The Somali population has an average life expectancy of about 50 years, considerably lower than that of neighbouring countries. Somalia has a relatively young population, more than two-fifths being under age 15.
A high migration rate into the towns, chiefly by young men, has led to a disproportionately large percentage of older people in most rural areas and to high unemployment in the towns. Also, after the Ogaden conflict of 1977–78 (in which Somalia invaded and occupied Ethiopia’s Ogaden region but was then defeated and driven out), hundreds of thousands of Somali from Ethiopia fled to Somalia. Civil war in Somalia erupted shortly after the end of the Ogaden conflict, and since then more than one million Somali have sought shelter in neighbouring countries; several hundred thousand more have been internally displaced.
Economy of Somalia
About three-fifths of Somalia’s economy is based on agriculture; however, the main economic activity is not crop farming but livestock raising. Between 1969 and the early 1980s, Mohamed Siad Barre’s military government imposed a system of “Scientific Socialism,” which was characterized by the nationalization of banks, insurance firms, oil companies, and large industrial firms; the establishment of state-owned enterprises, farms, and trading companies; and the organizing of state-controlled cooperatives. In the end, this experiment weakened the Somalian economy considerably, and, since the collapse of the military regime, the economy has suffered even more as a result of civil war. In the early 21st century, the country remained one of the poorest in the world, and its main sources of income came from foreign aid, remittances, and the informal sector.
Agriculture, forestry, and fishing
By far the most important sector of the economy is agriculture, with livestock raising surpassing crop growing fourfold in value and earning about three-fifths of Somalia’s foreign exchange. Agriculture in Somalia can be divided into three subsectors. The first is nomadic pastoralism, which is practiced outside the cultivation areas. This sector, focused on raising goats, sheep, camels, and cattle, has become increasingly market-oriented. The second sector is the traditional, chiefly subsistence, agriculture practiced by small farmers. This traditional sector takes two forms: rain-fed farming in the south and northwest, which raises sorghum, often with considerable head of livestock; and small irrigated farms along the rivers, which produce corn (maize), sesame, cowpeas, and—near towns—vegetables and fruits. The third sector consists of market-oriented farming on medium- and large-scale irrigated plantations along the lower Jubba and Shabeelle rivers. There the major crops are bananas, sugarcane, rice, cotton, vegetables, grapefruit, mangoes, and papayas.
The acacia species of the thorny savanna in southern Somalia supply good timber and are the major source of charcoal, but charcoal production has long exceeded ecologically acceptable limits. More efficient and careful handling of frankincense, myrrh, and other resin-exuding trees could increase yields of aromatic gums.
The country’s small fishing sector revolves around the catch and canning of tunny (tuna) and mackerel in the north. Sharks are often caught and sold dried by artisanal inshore fishers. In southern Somalia choice fish and shellfish are processed for export. In the early 21st century, Somalia’s fishing industry was affected by climate change, overfishing, and increasing incidents of piracy along the coasts.