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Somalia: Country Profile

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Basics:

Official country name: Somalia.
Area: 246,201 sq miles (637,657 sq km).
Population: 9 million (2007 est.).
Median age: 17.6
Ethnic Groups: Somali, 85 percent; Bantu and others, 15 percent.
GDP and GDP per capita: $2 billion and $226

Government and Politics:

Somalia has no effective central government. Since the overthrow of President Siad Barre in 1991, the country attempted 14 times to reestablish a central authority, failing every time. A transitional government backed militarily by Ethiopia has less power than factional warlords. The Union of Islamic Courts' insurgency overran the heart of the country in 2006 until a counter-offensive drove insurgents out of Mogadishu, the capital, in December 2006. Lawlessness prevails since. The northern provinces of Somaliland and Puntland declared themselves autonomous in the early 1990s and have since enjoyed relative calm.

Religion:

Somalia is virtually entirely Sunni Muslim. The national constitution declares Islam to be the state religion and forbids the promotion of any other religion. A small minority of Christians thrived in Somalia until the late 20th century, when Christian schools were forced shut and most Christians left the country.

Economy:

Somalia is one of the poorest countries in the world, ranking 161st out of 163 countries on the United Nations’ Human Development Index in 2001. Somalia did not appear on the 2006 index for lack of data. About 40 percent of Somalis live in extreme poverty (on less than $1 a day). Livestock agriculture, once a mainstay, has been devastated by war and by the refusal of Saudi Arabia, formerly a primary trading partner, to import Somali livestock over health concerns. Fishing, piracy, banditry, gun-running and limited foreign aid sustain what little economic activity.

Military:

Somalia’s sizeable military of 10 divisions broke up after the 1991 overthrow of President Siad Barre and hasn’t reconstituted since.

Human Rights, Civil Rights and Media:

: “Over the past year,” Sam Zarifi of Human Rights Watch told the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on Oct. 3, 2007, “we have seen an already volatile region become even more violent and unstable, with hundreds of thousands of civilians suffering massive crimes. There has been little or no response from important voices in the international community, including the United States.” Somalia is in a state of virtual anarchy. There is no free press. Reporters are routinely detained and occasionally murdered.

Early History:

Contrary to earlier assumptions, scholars now believe the Arab origins of Somalis to be marginal, compared with the South-to-North influx of migrants from the Ethiopian highlands and the grazing plains of Kenya. The "Samaale," as Somalis were originally known, settled what’s known as Somalia today by 100 A.D. Early Muslims fleeing the Arab peninsula in the 7th century were granted refuge in Somalia and Ethiopia, facilitating Somalia’s relatively peaceful conversion to Islam.

Modern History:

Britain, France, Italy, Egypt, and Ethiopia competed for colonial influence in Somalia beginning in the late 18th century. Italy and Britain had split the country between them by the early 20th century. Somalia gained independence in 1960, ushering in a decade of freedom and democracy. That ended with the 1969 by the Supreme Revolutionary Council, which banned political parties and triggered decades of war with Ethiopia, civil war at home, famine and fracture. American and United Nations interventions in the early 1990s failed to mend Somalia’s conflicts.

Current Issues:

Somalia is a land broken by famine, disease and war. The United States is backing Ethiopian incursions into Somalia, and American warplanes have raided Somalia three times in 2007 alone, allegedly in attempts to keep al-Qaeda militants from taking hold in the country. Somalia’s long-standing dispute with Ethiopia over the vast Ogaden, a 125,000 square mile (200,000 sq km) triangular region west of Somalia’s midsection, continues.
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