Somalia, 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.
II. Land and Resources
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 (Genale) in the southern part and the Shabeelle (Shebele)
River in the south central section.
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 Genale (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 (2000 estimate) of 7,433,922. The overall population
density is 12 persons per sq km (30 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.
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.