Currency unit

Somali shilling





East Africa















The Somali people speak one of the Afro-Asiatic languages related distantly to Coptic and Berber.

They are traditionally camel-herders and cultivators, many of them being nomadic. Until the end of the 19th century Somalia was impenetrable by outsiders except for the occasional disguised visitor, like Richard Burton, because of the hostility of the people. This condition seems to have been reestablished in recent times. The language was unwritten until the 1970s. For occasions where literacy was needed Arabic was used. Somalia is a member of the Arab League, even though the Somalis are not Arabs and their language only distantly related to the Semitic group.

In the colonial period it was split between Italy which had the southern part, based on Mogadishu, and the British who controlled the north, with Hargeisa as their capital. The two were united on independence in 1960. Part of Kenya was transferred to Somalia before the independence of both territories.

Since independence there have been wars with Ethiopia over Somali grazing territory in the Ogaden in 1963 and 1977, and with Kenya over the Northern Frontier District of Kenya where nomadic Somalis have been grazing. As with other nomadic peoples it is difficult to define the frontiers. Somalis claim large areas of Ethiopia and Kenya as well as Djibuti . Their traders can be found all over east, central and southern Africa. Somali seamen can be found in many ports, including London and Liverpool. In pre-colonial times there was no state structure, other than for the city states.

There have also been civil wars between different Somali clans. In 1969 power was seized by a former colonial policeman, Siad Barre, who ruled with brutality until 1991 when he was overthrown during a civil war led by the Hawiye tribe. His government was dominated by his clan from the south and has been fighting other clans in the north. He received support and large amounts of arms from the Soviet Union.

While Ethiopia was allied with the United States, Somalia was allied with the Soviet Union. On the fall of the Emperor of Ethiopia, Somalia switched, in a maneuver reminiscent of George Orwell's "1984" , to being an ally of the United States - from 1978-1988. However, Somalia is now largely isolated from the outside world with a collapsed economy in a desert which seems to be becoming increasingly dry, perhaps due to long term climatic change or population increase accompanied by over-grazing. But there are still large amounts of Soviet and American weapons.

The northern rebels said that they wished to split the country again into the parts which existed in colonial times. The immediate future of the country looks as bad as any territory in Africa.

In January 1991 Siad Barre's government fell: to be replaced with chaos. Famine is already affecting the people.

In May 1991 a separate Republic of Somaliland was proclaimed in parts of the former British territory by the Ishaq clan. Neither government seems to have much control of the territory, though the northerners claim they have a consultative assembly and relative peace.

As well as Somaliland there is an area generally called Puntland in the northern half of the former Italian colony. This is the area where the pirates operate. It has a very weak government, whose main income is probably from the money collected by the pirates as ransoms for the ships they capture.

In the south there is more than one party disputing control, including the clan of the former president Barre. The northern state has not been recognized by any other state.

A state of complete absence of the rule of law, even more extreme than in Lebanon at the height of the civil war exists. Weapons are as widely dispersed as in the United States, but more lethal. No recognizable government functions are being performed. All schools have been destroyed.

Somalia may represent the future of a number of territories in these troubled times. (click Lawless) These have experienced all or part of the problems of total political collapse, the condition of a State of Nature described by Thomas Hobbes in "Leviathan" when the state is absent and there is a war of every man against every other and "the life of man is nasty, brutish and short" . The probable result of all this will be the death of several million people of starvation and gunshot. Possibly the land can only support, on its own produce, a smaller population.

30,000 US and other troops under UN resolution landed during December 1992, ostensibly to supervise the safe distribution of relief food. Would they restore civic order? They withdrew after being attacked by the locals. To restor order might require a UN administration as in Cambodia (not an encouraging model). UN withdrew in March 1995, leaving clan warfare as before.

In 2007 an invasion by Ethiopian troops, probably supported and instigated by the United States drove out a government of the Islamic Courts Union.

There are African Union Peacekeepers, mainly from Uganda. They donŐt seem to be very effective in protecting the official government.



an Afro-Asiatic language










Politics is still about clan dominance. The government at any time consists of the clan which has seized the capital. In pre-colonial times there was no state of the whole area. At most there were the rulers of cities, such as Mogadishu, Berbera and Kismayu, who exercised influence for a varying distance around. Otherwise there were the clans.

The government of former president Siad Barre was composed of his own clan and had no support outside his home area, the south. At first he was able to control the whole country by force but gradually he lost it to various rebels belonging to rival clans. The country was in a state of civil war for some years and it is doubtful how much of the country the government controlled in the last couple of years before it fell. But at the same time no coherent opposition movement existed so that any succeeding government is likely to have the same problems of being non-representative.

In May 1991 a group - the Somali National Movement - proclaimed a separate republic in the north, in the former British area.

A provisional president, Ali Mahdi, was installed in August 1991 in Mogadishu. However he had no authority or actual power. The northern separatists of the Somali National Movement remain separate. In November 1991 General Mohammed Farah Aidid tried to seize power but in fact he represented a rival clan. Both were still fighting each other in July 1992. After UN intervention Aidid continued to resist and no progress had been made by March 1995 when the UN left.

In practice politics in Somalia is the world of Los Angeles teenage street gangs - with no adult police force and government to limit it. A number of feudal domains occupy the country, with no government.

After a UN mediated peace agreement a 'government' was set up, but controls only a part of Mogadishu.

A Transitional Federal Government has been set up following a conference arranged by the UN in 2004. However, at present (February 2005) it is based in Nairobi. There are proposals for its Prime Minister to visit Somalia, and perhaps be based in a place other than Mogadishu which is considered ungovernable. It would need a force of troops from the African Union to keep order. In practice it was made up of the war lords and its "parliament" was appointed rather than elected.

The TFG moved to Baidoa.

However, the Islamic Courts Union has formed a militia and has occupied Mogadishu and seems likely to gain control of most of the country, making the TFG seem irrelevant.

A Transitional Federal Government has been set up following a conference arranged by the UN in 2004. However, at present (February 2005) it is based in Nairobi. There are proposals for its Prime Minister to visit Somalia, and perhaps be based in a place other than Mogadishu which is considered ungovernable. It would need a force of troops from the African Union to keep order.

A possible source of hope was that a group of Islamic judges established areas of order in some rural areas, independent of the Clans and warlords. There are reports in early June 2006 that, as the Islamic Courts Union, they gained control of Mogadishu from the warlords, after battles.

Some claim that the US government had been supporting warlords as part of its "war on terror" . Did the US think the Islamic judges were terrorists?

By 23 June 2006 the Islamic Courts Union had agreed to discuss cooperation with the Transitional Government but in November 2006 it was clear these talks had broken down.

Ethiopia then sent troops to assist the TG forces and occupied much of the country, including Mogadishu. The US role in this is not entirely clear but it is assumed by many commentators that the Ethiopians are receiving assistance from the US and would not have moved without permission.

The latest information is that the Ethiopian troops withdrew after being under attack from guerrillas. However, in February the Ethiopians captured and occupied Baidoa, one of the main centers of the Al Shabab.

The Government in Mogadishu still has little influence in the country, for example over the pirates.

Interesting reading

Thomas Hobbes - Leviathan - the classic argument of the need for a State.

Richard Burton

First Footsteps in East Africa; Or, an Exploration of Harar: v. 1 and 2 in 1vol

First Footsteps In East Africa, Or An Exploration Of Harar

I.M.Lewis - Modern History of the Somali

A Modern History of Somalia: Nation and State in the Horn of Africa

Jay Bahadur - The world of the Somali Pirates

The Pirates of Somalia: Inside Their Hidden World
Somalia - One week in hell







The economy is in a state of collapse as all economic activities including the traditional grazing have been suspended due to the war.

The main problem of Somalia is that there has been a very weak modern economy (now destroyed) as there are few resources other than very arid grazing. Thus the traditional grazing by nomadic clans remains the basis of Somali life. Other Somalis it is true engage in trading and a few can be found scattered over large areas of Africa as traders. But there is no productive base in the country. If solar energy ever becomes an important activity Somalia might have a useful industry - but people would have to stop shooting.

The cynical would say that as there is no oil or other product of interest to the west the people will be allowed to starve, unaided, but delivering aid, even from the UN, is almost impossible.

One interesting aspect of the situation is the existence of a currency in the area. Who issues it? When there was a government there was a central bank which issued the Somali shilling, a descendant of the East African Shilling. There is now no central bank.

The major industry - at least in Puntland - is piracy. Boarding ships in the Indian Ocean, taking them to the coast and demanding ransoms from the ship owners makes at least some of the people of the north east well-off. Ransoms seem to be of the order of millions of dollars.

Drilling exploratory oil wells in Puntland has been announced in January 2012. There is believed to be a large oil province - a continuation of the oil in Yemen.







The country suffers from a long drought. The population is increasing and the ground water supplies are being used up. The grazing thus suffers from desertification. Is this the real cause of the war? Famine again (Aug95) and again in 2001. Even more serious in 2011 with thousands of refugees into northern Kenya.

A future possibility is to use the arid area for solar energy and carbon capture through a mixture of Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion plants to produce non-carbon emitting energy, fresh water and hydroponics. This might give the country an economic base to bring the constant fighting to an end. It might be a good site for the Sahara Project.






Human Rights

There has been no rule of law because no law and no government.

Climate effects

Increasing drought is likely.

Last revised 23/02/12

East Africa


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