The Mogadishu-based transitional national government, setup in 2000, is the only body in Somalia claiming to represent the country as a whole, though it controls only a limited portion of the national territory.

Geography

Somalia is on the east coast of Africa, next to Ethiopia and Djibouti, often referred to as the Horn of Africa. It has a land area of 627,337 sq km.

Historical background

The early history of the Somali people dates back to an Arab sultanate, which was founded in the seventh century CE by Koreishite immigrants from Yemen.

Several coastal towns of the present Somali territory were also ruled by Portuguese traders during the 15th and 16th centuries.  In the late 19th century Somalia was occupied by British and Italian forces.

Modern political history

The modern history of Somalia is marked at the era of Major General Muhammad Siad Barre, who seized power in a bloodless coup on 21 October 1969.

When Barre's government was ousted in January 1991, turmoil, factional fighting and anarchy followed.

During the 23 months following Barre's overthrow an estimated 300,000 people died of starvation as it became impossible to distribute food in the war-ravaged nation.

In December 1992, a contingent of US marines landed near Mogadishu, under a UN peacekeeping mandate to assist in humanitarian aid.
 
The UN mission became mired as it evolved from one of relief to fighting the various clan groups. A US force targeted powerful Somali leader Muhammad Farah Aidid, however clashes between his faction and the US soldiers resulted in an estimated 2000 killed, many of them civilians.

When 17 US marines were killed in a disastrous mission gone awry (targeting Aidid), the US withdrew from the country and the UN mission collapsed.

Meanwhile, northern clans had declared an independent republic of Somaliland and although not recognised by any government, this entity has maintained a stable existence.

In 2000, a transitional national government was established under a constitution adopted originally in 1979.

With little central authority Somalia has some nominal local government authorities divided into 18 regions with 84 districts.

Official name: Somali Democratic Republic
Capital: Mogadishu
Form of government: In transition 
Gained independence: 1 July 1960

Economy

Somalia lacks natural resources and faces major development challenges with an economy depending mainly on agriculture.

Currency: Shilling (SOS) - 1 USD = (app) 2,7 SOS
Natural resources: Uranium, iron ore, tin, gypsum, bauxite, copper, salt, natural gas, oil reserves 
Major industries: A few light industries, including sugar-refining, textiles, wireless communication
GDP: $4,361bn (2003 est)
GDP annual growth rate: NA
Per capita GDP: $500 (2003 est)
Imports: NA
Exports: NA

Military

The Somali government's downfall led to the dissolution of the national armed forces. Efforts by the Transitional National Government to reestablish a regular armed force have failed.

Military budget: $15m (2002 est)
Army size: Nil

Culture

Somali people are culturally and linguistically homogeneous, divided along clan lines.

The majority of Somalis are still nomadic pastoralists sparsely scattered over a harsh and dry land caused by drought that impairs both agricultural and livestock production.

Population: 9,890,000 
Languages: Somali and Arabic (both official), Italian, English
Religions: Sunni Muslim (official)
Ethnic diversity: Somali 85%, Bantu and other 15%
Literacy rate: 37.8% (2001 est)
Important media: Qaran (Mogadishu), Xog-Ogaal (Mogadishu), Jamhuuriya (Somaliland), Somaliland Times (Hargeisa, English weekly), Riyaaq (Puntland), Yamayska (Puntland weekly), Somali Telemedia Network (STN) (private, rebroadcasts Al-Jazeera TV and CNN programmes), Somaliland TV (Hargeisa), Somali Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) (private, Puntland), Radio Mogadishu, Voice of the Republic of Somalia (FM station operated by transitional government), Radio HornAfrik (widely-listened-to private FM station in Mogadishu, rebroadcasts BBC programmes)

Sources: World Bank, countryreports.org, MSN Encarta, politinfo.com, The World Almanac