I. Introduction

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.

A. Climate

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.

III. Population

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.

C. Education

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.