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 Jewel of

The African continent is comprised of 54 nations, each with its own independent government and sovereignty, GDP, culture, natural resources, language(s), military, and religion. The treasure trove of mineral and raw material wealth has scarcely been touched and the continent's largely untapped fertile lands could feed the world. Herewith is Jewel of Africa, an interactive adventure in the cradle of mankind, an exploration of nations from A-Z in alphabetical order.


Somalia: Where lasting peace
will yield great promise


Somalia, officially the Federal Republic of Somalia, is located on the Horn of Africa in East Africa. It is bordered by Djibouti to the northwest, Kenya to the southwest, the Gulf of Aden with Yemen Aden with Yemen to the north, the Indian Ocean to the east, and Ethiopia to the west.


Its strategic location—along the southern approaches to Bab el Mandeb and the route through the Red Sea and Suez Canal and near the oilfields of the Middle East—made it the focus of con- tention during the Cold War, with both the Soviet Union and then the US pouring in weapons to maintain their influence, weapons that later fell into the hands of clan warlords when the regime fell.

Ethnic Somali people are divided among different countries (Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia, and northeastern Kenya) that were artificially and some might say arbitrarily partitioned by the former colonial powers. Pan Somalism is an ideology that advocates the unification of all ethnic Somalis under one flag and one nation. The Siad Barre regime actively promoted Pan Somalism, which eventually led to the Ogaden War between Somalia and Ethiopia.


Africa's easternmost country, Somalia is slightly smaller than the state of U.S. state of Texas. Somalia occupies the tip of a region commonly referred to as the Horn of Africa—because of its resemblance on the map to a rhinoceros's horn—that also includes Ethiopia and Djibouti. It is located between the Gulf of Aden on the north and the Indian Ocean on the east. It borders Djibouti on the northwest, Ethiopia on the west, and Kenya to the southwest. Somalia has the longest coastline in Africa, about 1,800 miles. Its location along the southern approaches to Bab el Mandeb and the route through the Red Sea and Suez Canal makes it strategically important.

Natural resources include uranium and largely unexploited reserves of iron ore, tin, gypsum, bauxitecopper, and salt. Somalia's long coastline has been of importance chiefly in permitting trade with the Middle East and the rest of Eastern Africa.


Somalia is a semi-arid country with about two percent arable land. The civil war had a huge impact on the country’s tropical forests by facilitating the production of charcoal with ever-present drought. Somali environmentalist and Goldman Environmental Prize winner Fatima Jibrell became the first Somali to step in and initiate a much-needed effort to save the rest of the environment through local initiatives that organized local communities to protect the rural and coastal habitat.

Somalia's terrain consists mainly of plateaus, plains, and highlands. In the far north, the rugged east-west ranges of the Karkaar Mountains extend from the northwestern border with Ethiopia eastward to the tip of the Horn of Africa, where they end in sheer cliffs. The general elevation along the crest of these mountains averages about 1,800 meters above sea level south of the port town of Berbera, and eastward from that area it continues at 1,800 to 2,100 meters. The country's highest point, Shimber Berris, which rises to 2,407 meters, is located near the town of Erigavo.

Southwestern Somalia is dominated by the country's only two permanent rivers, the Jubba and the Shabelle. With their sources in the Ethiopian highlands, these rivers flow in a generally south- erly direction, cutting wide valleys in the Somali Plateau as it descends toward the sea; the pla- teau's elevation falls off rapidly in this area.


Mogadishu is the capital city and most populous city of Somalia. The city has served as an import- tant port for traders in the Indian Ocean for millennia and has a population of 2.6 million. Mogadishu is located in the coastal Benadir region on the Indian Ocean, which unlike other Somali regions is considered a municipality rather than a federal state. In Hollywood, Mogadishu is associated with the Black Hawk Down incident, a part of Operation Gothic Ser- pent, fought in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993 between forces of the US and Somali militia- men loyal to Moh- Mohamed Farrah Aidid.  

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The western part of the Ogo plateau region is crossed by numerous shallow valleys and dry watercourses. Annual rainfall is greater than in the east, and there are flat areas of arable land that provide a home for dryland cultiva- tors. Most important, the western area has permanent wells to which the predominantly nomadic population ret- urns during the dry seasons. The western plateau slopes gently southward and merges imperceptibly into an area known as the Haud, a broad, undulating terrain that constitutes some of the best grazing lands for Somali nomads, despite the lack of appre- ciable rainfall more than half the year. Enhancing the value of the Haud are the natural depressions that during periods of rain become temporary lakes and ponds.


The Haud zone continues for more than sixty kilometers into Ethiopia, and the vast Somali Plateau, which lies between the northern Somali mountains and the highlands of southeast Ethiopia, extends south and eastward through Ethiopia into central and southwest Somalia. The portion of the Haud lying within Ethiopia was the subject of an agreement made during the colonial era permitting nomads from British Somaliland to pasture their herds there. After Somali independence in 1960, it became the subject of Somali claims and a source of considerable regional strife.

The adjacent coastal zone, which includes the lower reaches of the rivers and extends from the Mudug Plain to the Kenyan border, averages 180 meters above sea level. The Jubba River enters the Indian Ocean at Kismaayo. The Shabeelle River is perennial only to a point southwest of Mogadishu; thereafter it consists of swampy areas and dry reaches and is finally lost in the sand. During the flood seasons, the Shabeelle River may fill its bed. Favorable rainfall and soil conditions make the entire riverine region a fertile agricultural area and the center of the country's largest sedentary population.


The weather is hot throughout the year, except at the higher elevations in the north. Rainfall is sparse, and most of Somalia has a semiarid to arid environment suitable only for the nomadic pastoralism practiced by well over half the population. Only in limited areas of moderate rainfall in the northwest, and particularly in the southwest, where the country's two perennial rivers are found, is agriculture practiced to any extent. Major climatic factors are a year-round hot climate, seasonal monsoon winds, and irregular rainfall with recurring droughts. Mean daily maximum temperatures range from 85-105 degrees Fahrenheit, except at higher elevations and along the east coast. Mean daily minimums usually vary from about 60-85 degree Fahrenheit. The southwest monsoon, a sea breeze, makes the period from about May to October the mildest season at Mogadishu.

The December-February period of the northeast monsoon is also relatively mild, although prevailing climatic con- ditions in Mogadishu are rarely pleasant. The "tangambili" periods that intervene between the two monsoons (October-November and March-May) are hot and humid. Temperatures in the south are less extreme. Coastal readings are usually five to ten degrees cooler than those inland. The coastal zone's relative humidity usually remains about 70 percent even during the dry seasons.

Climate is the primary factor in much of Somali life. For the large nomadic population, the timing and amount of rainfall are crucial determinants of the adequacy of grazing and the prospects of relative prosperity. There are some indications that the climate has become drier in the last century and that the increase in the number of people and animals has put a growing burden on water and vegetation.


In most of northern, northeastern, and north-central Somalia, where rainfall is low, the vegetation consists of scattered low trees, including various acacias, and widely scattered patches of grass. This vegetation gives way to a combination of low bushes and grass clumps in the highly arid areas of the northeast and along the Gulf of Aden. As elevations and rainfall increase in the maritime ranges of the north, the vegetation becomes denser denser. Aloes are common, and on the higher plateau areas are woodlands. At a few places above 1,500 meters, the remnants of juniper forests (protected by the state) and areas of candelabra euphorbia (a chandelier-type spiny plant) occur. In the more arid highlands of the northeast, Boswellia and Commiphora trees are sources, respectively, of the frankincense and myrrh for which Somalia has been known since ancient times.

A broad plateau encompassing the northern city of Hargeysa, which receives comparatively heavy rainfall, is covered naturally by woodland (much of which has been degraded by overgrazing) and in places by extensive grasslands. Parts of this area have been under cultivation since the 1930s, producing sorghum and maize; in the 1990s it constituted the only significant region of sedentary cultivation outside southwestern Somalia. Other veg- etation includes plants and grasses found in the swamps into which the Shabelle River empties most of the year


With a land area of miles, Somalia's terrain consists mainly of plateaus, plains and highlands. Its coastline is more than 2,071 miles in length, the longest of mainland Africa. It has been described as being roughly shaped "like a tilted number seven."


Agriculture is an important economic activity in Somalia not only in terms of meeting the food needs of the pop- ulation but also in terms of generating income through crop sales and agricultural labor opportunities.  With roughly 50 percent of the  pop ulation’s cereal require- ments are met through dom- estic production, Agriculture is a major component particu- larly for two of the main rural livelihood systems in the Horn of Africa country: Agro-pastoralist, mix of agriculture and livestock production based livelihood and Agri- culturalist, agriculture based livelihood.

   Crop production perform- ance and its potential is deter- mined by the bi-modal rainfall. The two main agricultural seasons are: Gucrop produc- tion,  from April to June and Deyr crop production is from October to December. Due to on and off armed conflict, natural disasters, such as floods and drought, disease outbreaks and very limited access to basic services and humanitar- ian space, Somali households increasingly face challenges to maintain a food

secure and well-nourished household. As a result agricul- ture has suffered most. Poor rains in this semi-arid nation have also often contributed to poor har- vests and significant cereal shortfalls. Reduced access to quality health care, education services and poor childcare practices are direct results of the conflict. As a result, Somalia also has some of the world’s highest levels of malnutrition accord- ing to the World Health Organization,


Somalia: Where peace yields promise.

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and in other large swamps in the course of the lower Jubba River. Mangrove forests are found at points along the coast, particularly from Kismaayo to near the Kenyan border. Uncontrolled exploitation appears to have caused some damage to forests in that area. Other mangrove forests are located near Mogadishu and at a number of places along the northeastern and northern coasts.


Somalia contains a variety of mammals due to its geographical and climatic diversity. Wild animals are found in every region. Among the latter are the lion cheetah,  giraffe, babooncivetservalAfrican bush elephant, bush elephantbush pigSoemmerring's gazelleantelopeibexkududik-dikoribireedbuckSomali wild assGrévy's zebrahyenaElephants were also found in Somalia. Since elephants are migratory, they are found in a variety of habitats, such as woodland, savanna, and tropical forests. Somalia is home to a diverse variety of fauna, from birds, primates, large cats, and reptiles large and small. The yellow-spotted rock hyrax, which is found in savanna and rocky areas, looks much like a large rodent, but is actually related to elephants.


In October 2011, a coordinated operation, Operation Linda Nchi between the Somali and Kenyan militaries and multinational forces began against the Al-Shabaab group of insurgents in southern Somalia. A joint communiqué was issued indicating that Somali forces were leading operations. By September 2012, Somali, Kenyan, and Raskamboni forces had managed to capture Al-Shabaab's last major stronghold, the southern port of Kismayo. In July 2012, three European Union operations were also launched to engage with Somalia: EUTM Somalia, EU Naval Force Somalia Operation Atalanta off the Horn of Africa, and EUCAP Nestor.

As part of the official "Roadmap for the End of Transition," a political process that provided clear benchmarks leading toward the formation of permanent democratic institutions in Somalia, the Transitional Federal Govern- ment's interim mandate ended on August 20, 2012. The Federal Parliament of Somalia was concurrently inaugurated. By 2014, Somalia was no longer at the top of the fragile states index, dropping to second place behind South Sudan. UN Special Representative to Somalia Nicholas Kay, European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton and other international stakeholders and analysts have also begun to describe Somalia as a "fragile state" that is making some progress towards stability. In August 2014, the Somali government-led Operation Indian Ocean was launched against insurgent-held pockets in the countryside. The war continues.


Somalia is a parliamentary representative democracy republic where the President of Somalia is head of state, and commander-in-chief of the Somali Armed Forces and a selected Prime Minister as head of government. The Federal Parliament of Somalia is the national parliament of Somalia, the bicameral National Legislature, consisting of House of Representatives (lower house) and senate (upper house). whose members are elected to serve four-year terms, The parliament elects the President, Speaker of Parliament and Deputy Speakers. It also has the authority to pass and veto laws.

The Judiciary of Somalia is defined by the Provisional Constitution of the Federal Republic of Somalia. Adopted in August 2012 by a National Constitutional Assembly in Mogadishu, Banaadir, the document was formulated by a committee of specialists chaired by attorney and incumbent Speaker of the Federal Parliament, Mohamed Osman Jawari. It provides the legal foundation for the existence of the Federal Republic and source of legal authority.

The national court structure is organized into three tiers: the Constitutional Court, Federal Government level courts and State level courts. A nine-member Judicial Service Commission appoints any Federal tier member of the judiciary. It also selects and presents potential Constitutional Court judges to the House of the People of the Federal Parliament for approval. If endorsed, the President appoints the candidate as a judge of the Constitutional Court. The five-member Constitutional Court adjudicates issues pertaining to the constitution, in addition to various Federal and sub-national matters.


Mogadishu is the capital of Somalia, but in 2006, its territory fell under the control of the Islamic Courts Union. While the Transitional Federal Government had its seat in Baidoa, it too was considered a capital. In Decem- ber 2006, troops of the UN-backed interim government rolled into Mogadishu unopposed, putting an end to six months of domination of the capital by a radical Islamic movement. Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Ghedi declared that Mogadishu had been secured, after meeting with local clan leaders to discuss the peaceful hand-over of the city. Yet as of August 2007, the federal transitional government and its Ethiopian allies with AU support were still coping with daily attacks in Mogadishu from a Somali Islamic insurgency.

Foreign relations

Following the collapse of the Siad Barre regime, the foreign policy of the various entities in Somalia, including the Transitional Federal Government, has centered on gaining international recognition, winning international support for national reconciliation, and obtaining international economic assistance. Although the United States never formally severed diplomatic relations with Somalia, the US Embassy in Somalia has been closed since 1991. The US maintains regular dialog with the Transitional Federal Government and other key stakeholders in Somalia through the US Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya.


Since the collapse of the state, Somalia has transformed from what Mohamed Siad Barre referred to as "Scientific Socialism" to a free market economy. Somalia has few natural resources and faces major development challenges and recent economic reverses have left its people increasingly dependent on remittances from abroad. Its econ- omy is pastoral and agricultural, with livestock—principally camelscattlesheep, and goats—representing the main form of wealth.

Livestock exports in recent years have been severely reduced by periodic bans, ostensibly for concerns of animal health, by Arabian Peninsula states. Drought has also impaired agricultural and livestock production. Because rainfall is scanty and irregular, farming generally is limited to certain coastal districts, areas near Hargeisa, and the Juba and Shabelle River valleys. The agricultural sector of the economy consists mainly of banana plantations located in the south, which has used modern irrigation systems and up-to-date farm machinery.

A small fishing industry exists in the north, although production is seriously affected by poaching. Aromatic woods—frankincense and myrrh—from a small and diminishing forest also contribute to the country's exports. Minerals, including uranium and likely deposits of petroleum and natural gas, are found throughout the country but have not been exploited commercially.

Petroleum exploration efforts have ceased due to insecurity and instability. Illegal production in the south of char- coal for export has led to widespread deforestation. With the help of foreign aid, small industries such as textiles, handicrafts, meat processing, and printing are being established.

The absence of central government authority, as well as profiteering from counterfeiting, has rapidly debased Somalia's currency. The self-declared Republic of Somalia issues its own currency, which is not accepted outside the self-declared republic. The European Community and the World Bank jointly financed construction of a deep-water port at Mogadishu, which has since closed. The Soviet Union improved Somalia's deep-water port at Berbera in 1969. Facilities at Berbera were further improved by a U.S. military construction program completed in 1985, but they have since become dilapidated. During the 1990s the United States renovated a deep-water port at Kismayo that serves the fertile Juba River basin and is vital to Somalia's banana export industry.

GDP per capita GDP (2005 est.) is $600. Somalia's surprisingly innovative private sector has continued to function despite the lack of a functioning central government since 1991. Types of industry include telecommunications, livestock, fishing, textiles, transportation, and limited financial services.

The main exports are livestock, bananas, hides, fish, charcoal, and scrap metal, with the major markets the United Arab EmiratesYemen, and Oman. Somalia imports food grains, animal and vegetable oils, petroleum products, construction materials, manufactured products, and the narcotic herb qat, primarily, India, United Arab Emirates, Oman, DjiboutiKenya, and Brazil. The primary aid donors are the US, Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Ger- manyItalyJapanNetherlandsNorwaySwedenSwitzerland, and the UK.


The estimated 2006 population (no census exists) is 8.8 million, of which two million live in Somalia. The Cushitic populations of the Somali Coast in the Horn of Africa have an ancient history. Known by ancient Arabs as the Berberi, archaeological evidence indicates their presence in the Horn of Africa by C.E. 100 and possibly earlier. As early as the seventh century C.E., the indigenous Cushitic peoples began to mingle with Arab and Persian traders who had settled along the coast. Interaction over the centuries led to the emergence of a Somali culture bound by common traditions, a single language, and the Islamic faith.

The Somali-populated region of the Horn of Africa stretches from the Gulf of Tadjoura in modern Djibouti through Dire Dawa, Ethiopia, and down to the coastal regions of southern Kenya. Unlike many countries in Africa, the Somali nation extends beyond its national borders. Since gaining independence in 1960, the goal of Somali nationalism has been the unification of all Somali populations, forming a Greater Somalia. This issue has been a major cause of past crises between Somalia and its neighbors, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti.

Today, about 60 percent of all Somalis are nomadic or semi-nomadic pastoralists who raise cattle, camels, sheep, and goats. About 25 percent of the population are settled farmers who live mainly in the fertile agricultural zone between the Juba and Shabelle Rivers in southern Somalia. The remainder of the population (15-20 percent) is urban. Sizable ethnic groups in the country include Bantu agricultural workers, several thousand Arabs, Pakis- tanis, and Indians.

Somalia continues to have one of the highest child mortality rates in the world, with 10 percent of children dying at birth and 25 percent of those surviving birth dying before age five. On the other hand, Somalia also has one of the lowest HIV infection rates in Africa: only 1.5-2 percent of the adult population. There is little reliable statistical information on urbanization in Somalia. However, rough estimates have been made indicating an urbanization rate of between 5 and 8 percent per annum, with many towns rapidly growing into cities. Currently, 34 percent of the Somali population lives in towns and cities, with the percentage rapidly increasing.

Because of the civil war, the country has a large diaspora community—one of the largest on the continent. There are over a million Somalis outside of Africa, and this excludes those who have inhabited Ogaden province, north- eastern Kenya, and Djibouti.


Nearly all inhabitants speak the Somali language, which remained unwritten until October 1973, when the Supreme Revolutionary Council (SRC) proclaimed it the nation's official language and decreed an orthography using Latin letters. Somali is the language of instruction in schools. Minority languages do exist, such as Af-Maay, which is spoken in areas in south-central Somalia by the Rahanweyn tribes, as well as variants of Swahili, which are spoken along the coast by Arabs.

A considerable amount of Somalis speak Arabic due to religious reasons and ties with the Arab world and media. English is also widely used and taught; Italian was once a major language but due to the civil war and lack of education only the older generation speaks it.


The Somalis are almost entirely Sunni Muslims. Christianity's influence was significantly reduced in the 1970s when church-run schools were closed and missionaries sent home. There has been no archbishop of the Catho- lic cathedral in the country since 1989. The cathedral in Mogadishu was severely damaged in the civil war of January-February 1992.

The Somali constitution discourages the promotion and propagation of any religion other than Islam. Loyalty to Islam is what reinforces distinctions that set Somalis apart from their immediate African neighbors, many of whom are either Christians (particularly the Amhara people and others of Ethiopia and Kenya) or adherents of indigenous African faiths.


With the collapse of the central government in 1991, the education system became private. Primary schools have risen from 600 before the civil war to 1,172 schools today, with an increase of 28 percent in primary school enrollment over the last three years. In 2006, Puntland, an autonomous state, was the second in Somalia (after Somaliland) to introduce free primary schools with teachers receiving salaries from the Puntland  administration.

In Mogadishu, Benadir University, Somalia National University, and Mogadishu University are three of the eight universities that teach higher education in southern Somalia. In Puntland, higher education is provided by the Puntland State University and East Africa University. In Somaliland, it is provided by Amoud University, Hargeisa University, and Burao University. Three Somali universities are ranked in the Top 100 of Africa.

Qur'anic schools remain the basic system of instruction for religion in Somalia. They provide Islamic education for children, thereby filling a clear religious and social role in the country. Known as the most stable, local, and non-formal education, providing basic religious and moral instruction, their strength rests on community support and their use of locally made and widely available teaching materials.

The Qur'anic system, which teaches the greatest number of students relative to the other education sub-sectors, is the only system accessible to nomadic Somalis compared to the urban Somalis who have easier access to educ- ation. In 1993, a survey by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) was conducted in which it found, among other things, that about 40 percent of pupils in Qur'anic schools were girls. This is quite amazing compared to secular education, where gender disparity is much greater.


Somalia produced a large amount of literature through Islamic poetry and Hadith from Somali scholars of past centuries. Since the adoption of the Latin script in 1973 numerous Somali authors have released books over the years that received widespread success, Nuruddin Farah being one of them. His novels From a Crooked Rib and Links are considered important literary achievements, earning him the 1998 Neustadt International Prize for



Somalia has the distinction of being one of only a handful of African countries that are composed almost entirely of one ethnic group, the Somalis. Traditional bands like Waaberi Horseed have gained a small following outside the country. Others, like Maryam Mursal, have fused Somali traditional music with rock, bossa nova, hip hop, and jazz influences. Most Somali music is love-orientated, but some recall life in Somalia prior to the civil war, while some sing of Somalis coming together in unity and restoring the country to its former glory.

Toronto, where a sizable Somali community exists, has replaced Mogadishu (due to the instability) as the center of the Somali music industry; it's also present in London, Minneapolis, and Columbus, Ohio. One popular musician from the Somali diaspora is K'naan, a young rapper from Toronto, whose songs speak of the struggles of life in Somalia during the outbreak of the civil war.


The cuisine of Somalia varies from region to region and it encompasses different styles of cooking. One thing that unites the Somali food is that it is Halal. Therefore, there are no pork dishes, alcohol is not served, nothing that died on its own is eaten and no blood is incorporated. Somali's serve dinner as late as 9 p.m. During Ramadan, it is often eaten after Tarawih prayers—sometimes as late as 11 p.m.


Cambuulo is one of Somalia's most popular dishes and is enjoyed throughout the country as a dinner meal. The dish is made of well-cooked azuki beans, mixed with butter and sugar. The beans, which by themselves are called digir, are often left on the stove for as many as five hours, on low heat, to achieve optimum flavor.

Jarrette Fellows, Jr. / Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 License 

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