Somalia Encyclopedia Online

By | December 15, 2021

Somalia, State Democratic Republic of East Africa, located in the northeastern section of the Horn of Africa. It faces the Gulf of Aden to the N, the Indian Ocean to the E; it borders to the NW with Djibouti, to the West with Ethiopia, to the South and SW with Kenya.

Physical characteristics

The geological and structural characteristics of the territory do not correspond at all to the political borders of the country, the result of international agreements, which represents the marginal strip of the Ethiopian region. From the morphological point of view, two natural regions can be identified: the first, northern and mountainous (with maximum altitudes around 2000 m), extends over the prolongation of the Ethiopian Plateau, up to the Gulf of Aden; the second, central-southern, develops on a low plateau (with maximum altitudes around 800 m). The high, rocky coasts, with an irregular N contour, take on a uniform and straight course towards Somalia

● The hydrography of the northern region is limited to short torrential rivers (uidian), which have only liquid flows during the rains, while the southern region has a more stable and orderly network, among which the two main rivers stand out, which flow just S of Jamaame: the Juba and the Uebi Scebeli. The latter, the longest in East Africa, does not reach the sea due to the ridge of coastal dunes, but is lost in the Balli marshes. For Somalia 2008, please check

● The climatic conditions are fairly uniform: the average temperature is 26 ° C on the coasts and 31 ° C in inland areas, with very limited diurnal and annual temperature variations. From November to February the NE monsoon blows, bringing dry continental air; from April to October the SW monsoon, humid, oceanic, bringing rain. Due to the orientation of the coasts along the direction in which the monsoons blow, rainfall is modest, ranging between 200 mm per year in the northern area and 500 mm in the southern area. The climatic regime determines a vegetation cover of the Sahelian type, which prevails throughout the territory. On the northern hills trees and shrubs grow; in the southern flat areas the wooded savannah dominates; the typical vegetation of the oases appears along the smaller watercourses, while the gallery forests are present along the larger ones; finally, in the southern coastal strip a xerophilous vegetation develops with umbelliferous acacias, which constitute modest barriers between the sea and the inland plains.


The persistent political precariousness that afflicts the country makes it difficult to define the demographic picture, given the difficulty of obtaining reliable results from the estimates made. Generally speaking, Somalia has a very high birth rate (43.7 ‰, 2009 estimate) and a growth rate of around 2.8% (but which in the past has also had significant decreases in correspondence with the famines due to recurrent drought), combined with one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world (109.1 ‰) and a life expectancy of less than 50 years. These data indicate a very low level of socio-economic development and extremely difficult living conditions, made even dramatic by the civil war. The population thickens along the rivers and where it is easier to find water, that is, in the southern valleys and on the northern plateaus; in recent years, however, over a million people have fled the countryside taking refuge in cities to escape famine and war, bringing urban settlement to 37% of the total population. In addition to the capital, the main cities of the country are Marka, Chisimaio, and the two cities of Somaliland, Hargheysa and Berbera.

● The illiteracy rate is very high, affecting over 80% of the population.

● The most widespread religion is Sunni Islam, but in the north of the country an Islam with strong nationalistic features is emerging.

Economic conditions

Even with regard to the country’s economic situation, recent reliable data is very scarce. The combined effects of the long civil war and recurrent climatic anomalies have undermined agriculture, an activity which forms the traditional basis of the country’s economy and which still employs over 70% of the active population. The main resource is breeding (sheep, goats and cattle), practiced in a semi-nomadic form. Consistent exports of live animals and livestock products, mainly directed to Saudi Arabia. Subsistence agriculture, which however fails to satisfy internal consumption, provides sorghum, corn, sesame, beans, dates and wheat, while plantation agriculture, imposed in the colonial period and mainly aimed at exports, it is centered on tropical fruit (especially bananas, absorbed by the Italian market and subsequently directed to the countries of the Near East), on sugar cane, on cotton, on peanuts and on agave. The valleys of Uebi Scebeli and Giuba are the most productive agricultural areas. Spontaneous products are incense (in Migiurtinia), myrrh and gum arabic. Good income comes from fishing, especially tuna. The most important mineral resources are the salt pans of Gezira and the gypsum deposits near Berebera; there are also modest deposits of coal, iron, manganese, gold, copper and uranium, not yet exploited industrially. The manufacturing activities, which before the civil war included food, textile, chemical, footwear, cement companies, mainly concentrated in the capital area, are today, due to the absence of a stable government and the lack of foreign investments, almost completely paralyzed. Political chaos and the disappearance of all forms of authority have produced the proliferation of spontaneous petty trade, based mainly on bartering and payment in foreign currency, given the difficulty of resorting to the local currency which has now lost all value. With production activities severely compromised, the trade balance in heavy deficit, the very high foreign debt and the continuing fragmentation of the country, the Somali economy finds itself heavily dependent on measure of humanitarian aid, emigrant remittances and illegal trafficking which also contribute to hindering its recovery.

● Communications, in addition to being made difficult by the political situation, are completely inadequate: there is no railway and road network (22,100 km) only 12% is asphalted. Among the seaports, Mogadishu is the first for the import and export of bananas, while Berbera holds the primacy of the export of livestock to Arabia.


Somali is one of the most widespread Cushitic languages ​​(from Djibouti to eastern Kenya); it has more divergent dialectal varieties in Benadir and in the region of the Uebi Scebeli and Giuba rivers. Phonologically conservative due to the presence of pharyngals, it has a tonal accent with a predominantly morphological function, nominal flexion to four cases and, like many Cushitic languages, a verbal system of great complexity. Peculiar are the development of a system of particles to indicate the focus (or emphasis), and the transformation of the old postpositions into a group of morphemes in charge of the verb or the nominal predicate.

● Somali gave birth to one of the richest oral literatures in sub-Saharan Africa, divided into different genres such as gabay and geeraar used mainly in social, political and religious debate, or the buraambur reserved for female poetry. In modern times, the oral tradition was accompanied by a rich theatrical activity and a small, but relevant, written narrative production.


The scarce artistic and architectural pre-existence of the Islamic and colonial period (➔ Mogadishu), is matched by a persistence of craft traditions in wood and stone processing, in particular for architectural decoration, in ceramics, fabrics, weaving and processing metal art. The traditional huts of nomadic shepherds made with thin and flexible wooden structures (aqal), still in use, are associated, from the beginning of the 20th century, with urbanized areas characterized by architecture of European and Italian influence (private residences and some buildings public). After the Second World War the variety of modern architecture, at the hands of Western architects, has further influenced indigenous vernacular architecture (arish, i.e. buildings on a rectangular plan of Arab and European inspiration, with branched walls sealed with mud and dung, covered with sloping roofs of straw or metal; or the baraca, houses of similar development but with walls made of wooden planks, generally on foundations of stone or concrete and, if in brick, known by the name of casa matoni). ● The visual arts have suffered less from Western influence, apart from some official monuments. Public cultural institutions (Somali Garesa National Museum in Mogadishu, 1934; Hargeysa Provincial Museum, damaged in 1988) have, on the other hand, aimed at encouraging and enhancing ethnographic traditions.