The Somalis form the chief ethnic group they
are one of the largest single ethnic blocks in Africa. Ethnically and culturally
the Somali belong to the Hamitic ethnic group. Their closest kinsmen are
the surrounding Cushitic people of the Ethiopian lowlands and Eritrea.
Their immediate neighbours to the north are the pastoral ‘Afar and who
extend into Eritrea and Ethiopia. To the west, in Ethiopia, the Somali
are bounded by the cultivating and pastoral Galla; and in the south by
the Boran Galla of Kenya.
Although there is much variation amongst them, the physical features which immediately strike the eye and seem most generally characteristic of the Somali people as a whole, are their tall stature, thin and strong bone structure and decidedly long narrow heads. Skin colour shows a wide range from a light coppery brown to a dusky black. Traditionally Somali set most store by their Arabian connections and delight in vaunting those traditions which proclaim their decent from noble Arabian lineage’s. These claims dismissed by Somali nationalists today as fanciful, are nevertheless part and parcel of the traditional and profound Somali attachment to Islam. They commemorate many centuries of contact between the Somali and Arabian coasts that have brought Islam and many other elements of Muslim Arab culture to Somalia.
Approximately one half of the Somali population leads a nomadic life raising livestock. They travel to Kenya and Ethiopia to graze their herds. The settled cultivators and herdsmen are largely in the southern part of the country. Permanent settlements are small and widely scattered. Somali and Arabic are the official languages, but English and Italian are also spoken. Islam is the official religion, all the Somalis are Sunnite Muslims which constitute 99% of the population. The remaining 1% are Christians from neighbouring Ethiopia. Population in 1995 was around 10,173,000. The population density is about 16 persons per sq. km (41 per sq. mi.).
Somalia's economy is largely based on livestock
and agriculture, though about 31 percent of the land are available for
crops. Bananas, the chief commercial and export crop, are grown along the
Juba and Wabi Shebelle rivers. Other crops include Sugarcane, Sorghum,
Corn (Maize), Sesame Seeds, Rice, Millets, Cotton, Wheat, Citrus Fruits,
Mangoes, Peaches, Pears, Grapes, Dates, Fodder Crops and Vegetables. Somalia
is also a producer of frankincense and myrrh. Poultry farming are common;
the poultry stock consists of huge numbers of Ducks, Geese, Pigeons, and
Chickens. Fisheries were developed beginning in the mid-1970s, and the
fishing industry has considerably expanded. The country’s mineral resources
are relatively diverse but have not been exploited. Known deposits include
Natural Gas, Uranium, Copper, Chromite, Sulphur, Coal, Manganese, Gypsum,
Bauxite, Limestone, Marble, Salt, Tin, and largely unexploited reserves
of Iron-ore and Petroleum.
Large-scale meat and fish processing plants, textile and shoe factories, and leather tanneries dominate the huge manufacturing sector. There are also petroleum refineries. Large-scale industries are state-owned. Imports include textiles, cement, steel, and machinery. Exports include livestock products, minerals, skins and hides and crops, particularly bananas.