Fast Facts

Population:
8,592,000
Capital:
Mogadishu; 1,175,000
Area:
637,657 square kilometers (246,201 square miles)
Language:
Somali, Arabic, Italian, English
Religion:
Sunni Muslim
Currency:
Somali shilling
Life Expectancy:
46
GDP per Capita:
U.S. $600
Literacy Percent:
38
Flag: Somalia
Map: Somalia

Somalia is a semiarid land in the Horn of Africa, and it is flat in the south, with mountains in the north reaching more than 2,000 meters (6,500 feet). In 1960 northern British Somaliland voted to join southern Italian Somaliland to create Somalia. The Somalis are one of the most homogeneous peoples in Africa, but unity is thwarted by clan-based rivalries. Civil war ended a 21-year dictatorship in 1991, and Somalia has been without a national government since that time. UN efforts from 1992 to 1995 to stop clan fighting failed, and UN and U.S. forces left after suffering high casualties. In southern Somalia the absence of a government means declining health and increasing poverty.

More prosperous is the "Republic of Somaliland," which seceded from the rest of Somalia in 1991—within the old borders of British Somaliland. Somaliland's capital is Hargeysa, and its port, Berbera, provides goods to landlocked Ethiopia. The independence of Somaliland, while widely acknowledged, is not officially recognized by the international community—as efforts continue to reunify Somalia. Somaliland's peace, stability, and democracy have been recently threatened by drought and by regional warlords.

ECONOMY

  • Industry: A few light industries, including sugar refining, textiles, petroleum refining (mostly shut down)
  • Agriculture: Bananas, sorghum, corn, coconuts; cattle; fish
  • Exports: Livestock, bananas, hides, fish, charcoal

—Text From National Geographic Atlas of the World, Eighth Edition

Related Features

  • Photo: Destroyed buildings

    Shattered Somalia

    Mogadishu is ground zero for the failed state of Somalia. Yet to the north, Somaliland is stable and at peace. What happened?

  • Photo: Men riding horses

    Lost in the Sahel

    Along Africa's harsh frontier between desert and forest, crossing some lines can be fatal.

  • Photo: Boat plying through thin waterway

    Dangerous Straits

    The Strait of Malacca. Pirates haunt it. Sailors fear it. Global trade depends on it.

Take a Nat Geo Trip

Select a destination or trip type to find a trip:

See All Trips »

Travel Photos From Your Shot

See More Your Shot Galleries »