smä´le, country (2005 est. pop. 8,591,000), 246,200 sq mi (637,657 sq km), extreme E Africa. It is directly south of the Arabian peninsula across the Gulf of Aden. Somalia comprises almost the entire African coast of the Gulf of Aden and a longer stretch on the Indian Ocean. It is bounded on the NW by Djibouti, on the W by Ethiopia, on the SW by Kenya, and on the S and E by the Indian Ocean. Mogadishu is the capital.
Arid, semidesert conditions make the country relatively unproductive. In most areas, barren coastal lowland (widest in the south) is abruptly succeeded by a rise to the interior plateau, which is generally c.3,000 ft (910 m) high and stretches toward the northern and western highlands. The Jubba and the Webe Shebele are the only important rivers. In addition to Mogadishu, other important cities are Hargeisa, Berbera (the main northern port), and Kismayo (the principal port of the south).
The vast majority of the republic's population is Somali; they speak a Cushitic language and are Sunni Muslims. They are divided into five principal clans and many subclans. Islam is the state religion. Although Somali is the national tongue, Arabic, Italian, and English are used officially. There are Bantu-speaking ethnic groups in the southwest and numerous Arabs in the coastal towns.
Pastoralism is the dominant mode of life; both nomadic and sedentary herding of cattle, sheep, goats, and camels are carried on. The major cash crops are bananas, mangoes, and sugarcane. Other important crops include sorghum, corn, coconuts, rice, sesame seeds, and beans. There is a small fishing industry. Somalia's most valuable mineral resource is uranium. Iron ore and many other minerals are largely unexploited. Petroleum deposits have been found, and a refinery was built in 1979. However, much industry has been shut down due to civil strife. Agricultural processing constitutes the bulk of Somalian industry, which includes sugar refining, meat and fish (notably tuna) canning, oilseed processing, and leather tanning. Textiles are manufactured. There are no railroads. Remittances from Somalis living abroad are important to the economy. Livestock, bananas, hides and skins, fish, charcoal, and scrap metal are exported. Imports include manufactured goods, petroleum products, foodstuffs, construction materials, and khat. The chief trading partners are the United Arab Emirates, Djibouti, Yemen, and Oman.
Since the fall of Mohammed Siad Barre in 1991, Somalia has no permanent national government. A Transitional Federal Government, was formed in 2004 with a five-year mandate. The 275-seat Transitional Federal Assembly, whose members are chosen from the various clans, elected a interim president in 2004. Administratively, the country is divided into 18 regions.
Between the 7th and 10th cent., immigrant Muslim Arabs and Persians established trading posts along Somalia's Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean coasts; Mogadishu began its existence as a trading station. During the 15th and 16th cent., Somali warriors regularly joined the armies of the Muslim sultanates in their battles with Christian Ethiopia.
British, French, and Italian imperialism all played an active role in the region in the 19th cent. Great Britain's concern with the area was largely to safeguard trade links with its Aden colony (founded 1839), which depended especially on mutton from Somalia. The British opportunity came when Egyptian forces, having occupied much of the region in the 1870s, withdrew in 1884 to fight the Mahdi in Sudan. British penetration led to a series of agreements (1884–86) with local tribal leaders and, in 1887, to the establishment of a protectorate. France first acquired a foothold in the area in the 1860s. An Anglo-French agreement of 1888 defined the boundary between the Somalian possessions of the two countries.
Italy first asserted its authority in the area in 1889 by creating a small protectorate in the central zone, to which other concessions were later added in the south (territory ceded by the sultan of Zanzibar) and north. In 1925, Jubaland, or the Trans-Juba (east of the Juba [now Jubba] River), was detached from Kenya to become the westernmost part of the Italian colony. In 1936, Italian Somaliland was combined with Somali-speaking districts of Ethiopia to form a province of the newly formed Italian East Africa. During World War II, Italian forces invaded British Somaliland; but the British, operating from Kenya, retook the region in 1941 and went on to conquer Italian Somaliland. Britain ruled the combined regions until 1950, when Italian Somaliland became a UN trust territory under Italian control.
In accordance with UN decisions, Italian Somaliland, renamed Somalia, was granted internal autonomy in 1956 and independence in 1960. Britain proclaimed the end of its protectorate in June, 1960, and on July 1 the legislatures of the two new states created the United Republic of Somalia. In the early years of independence the government was faced with a severely underdeveloped economy and with a vocal movement that favored the creation of a Greater Somalia encompassing the Somali-dominated areas of Kenya, French Somaliland (now Djibouti), and Ethiopia. The nomadic existence of many Somali herders and the ill-defined frontiers worsened the problem. Hostilities between Somalia and Ethiopia erupted in 1964, and Kenya became involved in the conflict as well, which continued until peace was restored in 1967. The inhabitants of French Somaliland, meanwhile, voted to continue their association with France.
In 1969, President Abd-i-rashid Ali Shermarke was assassinated. The new rulers, led by Maj. Gen. Mohammed Siad Barre, dissolved the national assembly, banned political parties, and established a supreme revolutionary council with the power to rule by decree pending adoption of a new constitution. The country's name was changed to the Somali Democratic Republic.
Under Barre's leadership Somalia joined the Arab League (1974) and developed strong ties with the Soviet Union and other Communist-bloc nations. In the late 1970s, however, after Somalia began supporting ethnic Somali rebels seeking independence for the disputed Ogaden region of Ethiopia, the Soviet Union sided with Ethiopia, and Somalia won backing from the United States and Saudi Arabia. Somalia invaded the disputed territory in 1977 but was driven out by Ethiopian forces in 1978. Guerrilla warfare in the Ogaden continued until 1988, when Ethiopia and Somalia reached a peace accord.
Warfare among rival factions within Somalia intensified, and in 1991 Barre was ousted from his power center in the capital by nationalist guerrillas. Soon afterward, an insurgent group in N Somalia (the former British Somaliland) that had begun its rebellion in the 1980s announced it had seceded from the country and proclaimed itself the Somaliland Republic. In Mogadishu, Mohammed Ali Mahdi was proclaimed president by one group and Mohammed Farah Aidid by another, as fighting between rival factions continued. Civil war and the worst African drought of the century created a devastating famine in 1992, resulting in a loss of some 300,000 lives.
A UN-brokered truce was declared and UN peacekeepers and food supplies arrived, but the truce was observed only sporadically. Late in 1992, troops from the United States and other nations attempted to restore political stability and establish free and open food-aid routes by protecting ports, airports, and roads. However, there was widespread looting of food-distribution sites and hostility toward the relief effort by heavily armed militant factions.
Efforts to reestablish a central government were unsuccessful, and international troops became enmeshed in the tribal conflicts that had undone the nation. Failed attempts in 1993 by U.S. forces to capture Aidid, in reaction to an ambush by Somalis in which 23 Pakistani peacekeepers were killed, produced further casualties. Clan-based fighting increased in 1994 as the United States and other nations withdrew their forces; the last UN peacekeepers left the following year. Aidid died in 1996 from wounds suffered in battle.
The country was devastated by floods in 1997 and in the late 1990s was still without any organized government. Mogadishu and most of the south were ruled by violence. The breakaway Somaliland Republic, although not recognized internationally, continued to maintain a stable existence, with Mohammed Ibrahim Egal (1993–2002) and Dahir Riyale Kahin (2002–) as presidents. It had a growing economy and in the late 1990s began receiving aid from the European Union. The northeast (Puntland) section of the country also had stablilized, with local clan leadership providing some basic services and foreign trade being carried on through its port on the Gulf of Aden. Both Puntland and Jubaland (in S Somalia) declared their independence in 1998. UN agencies and other humanitarian organizations also continued to deliver food aid in some areas of the country.
In 2000 a five-month conference of mainly southern Somalis that had convened in Djibouti under the sponsorship of that nation's president established a national charter (interim constitution) and elected a national assembly and a president, Abdikassim Salad Hassan, who had been an official in Barre's regime. The new president flew to Mogadishu in August. A number of militias refused to recognize the new government, and officials and forces of the government were attacked several times by militia forces, and the government exercised minimal authority in the capital and little influence outside it. The establishment (Mar., 2001) of the Somali Reconciliation and Restoration Council by opposition warlords supported by Ethiopia, an overwhelming vote (June, 2001) in the Somaliland region in favor of remaining independent, and a declaration of independence (Apr., 2002) by Southwestern Somaliland, the fourth such regional state to be proclaimed, were further obstacles to the new government's acceptance.
In Oct., 2002, a cease-fire accord that also aimed at establishing a federal constitution was signed in Kenya by all the important factions except the Somaliland region. Fighting, however, continued in parts of the country. The sometimes stormy talks that followed the cease-fire were slow to produce concrete results, but a transitional charter was signed in Jan., 2004. Meanwhile, the mandate of the essentially symbolic interim government expired in Aug., 2003, but the president withdrew from talks, refused to resign, and had the prime minister (who remained involved in the talks) removed from office. In Sept., 2004, after many delays, a 275-member parliament was convened (in Kenya) under the new charter, and a new president, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, was elected in October. Yusuf, a former general who had served as president of Puntland, and the parliament are to serve for five years. Somaliland remained a nonparticipant in the transitional government (and held elections for its own parliament later, in Oct., 2005). Coastal areas of Somalia, particularly in Puntland, suffered damage and the loss of several hundred lives as a result of the Dec., 2004, Indian Ocean tsunami.
The new government was slow to move to Somalia, delayed by disputes over who would be in the cabinet, whether nations neighboring Somalia would contribute troops to African Union peacekeeping forces, and whether the government would be initially established in the capital or outside it. The disputes in Kenya boiled over into fighting in Somalia in March and May, 2005, where the forces of two warlords battled for control of Baidoa, one of the proposed temporary capitals. Some government members, allied with the speaker of the parliament, meanwhile relocated to Mogadishu.
In June the president returned to his home region of Puntland, and in July he announced plans to move south to Jowhar, the other proposed temporary capital. A coalition of Mogadishu warlords announced that they would attack Jowhar if the president attempted to establish a temporary capital there, but the president nonetheless did so. The year also saw a dramatic increase in piracy and ship hijackings off the Somalia coast, including the hijacking of a UN aid ship and an attack on a cruise ship.
In Jan., 2006, the disputing Somali factions agreed to convene the parliament at Baidoa, Somalia, and the following month it met there. There were outbreaks of fighting in Mogadishu in Feb.–Mar., 2006, between militia forces aligned with unofficial Islamic courts and militias loyal to several warlords. In April, Baidoa was officially established as Somalia's temporary capital. Fighting re-erupted in Mogadishu in April and by July the Islamist militias had won control of Mogadishu and, through alliances, much of S Somalia, except for the Baidoa region. A truce in June between the government and the Islamist was not generally honored.
The Islamists, who were split between moderates and hardliners, established the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) and imposed Islamic law on the area under their control. In some areas their rule recalled that of the Taliban in Afghanistan. They were accused of having ties to Al Qaeda, which they denied, but there was apparent evidence of non-Somali fighters in the militia. Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, a hardliner who became leader of the UIC shura [council], had led an Islamist group ousted from Puntland by President Yusuf, and was regarded as a threat by Ethiopia for having accused that nation of occupying the Ogaden.
As the UIC solidified its hold over S Somalia, taking control of the port of Kismayo in September, hundreds of Somalis fled to NE Kenya. Also in September there was an attempt to assassinate President Yusuf. There were increased tensions between the UIC and Ethiopia over the presence of Ethiopian troops in Somalia in support of the interim government, a situation that Ethiopia denied until October, when it said they were there to train government forces. Eritrea was accussed of supplying arms to the UIC, raising the specter of a wider war involving Ethiopia and Eritrea.
In Oct., 2006, government and UIC forces clashed several times over Bur Hakaba, a town outside Baidoa on the road to Mogadishu. A number of attempts over the summer to restart talks between the government and the UIC stalled over various issues. The interim government was split between those who favored negotiations with UIC and the prime minister, who strongly objected to any negotiations. In addition, the government objected to the Islamists' seizure of additional territory since the June truce, and the UIC objected to the presence of Ethiopian forces in Somalia.
After increasing tension and clashes between the two sides in November, the UIC demanded that Ethiopian troops leave or face attack. Major fighting erupted late in December, and Somali government forces supported by Ethiopian forces soon routed the Islamists, who abandoned Mogadishu and then Kismayo, their last stronghold, by Jan. 1, 2007. Fighting continued into early 2007 in extreme S Somalia. The United States launched air strikes (using carrier aircraft offshore) against suspected Al Qaeda allies of the UIC, and U.S. special forces also conducted some operations in S Somalia. The government assumed control over the capital, declared a state of emergency, and called for the surrender of private weapons. Several warlords surrendered arms and merged their militias into the army, but concern over the warlords' forces remained.
Ethiopian and government forces soon found themselves fighting militias opposed to disarmament and motivated also by interclan distrust and anti-Ethiopian sentiment and Islamist guerrillas. Fierce battles in March and April in the capital caused hundreds of thousands to flee, and hundreds died. The presence of peacekeepers, who began arriving in March, did little initially to alter the situation, but the situation quieted after the government largely established control in late April. Sporadic antigovernment attacks continued, however. Also in April, some prominent members and former members of the government formed an anti-Ethiopian alliance with members of the UIC; the alliance subsequently included Ethiopian rebel groups as well.