Country Listing

Somalia Table of Contents



Population: Estimates vary; United Nations 1991 estimate shows population of 7.7 million not including Ethiopian refugees but other estimates place at 8.4 million in mid-1990. Until early 1990s, predominantly nomadic pastoralisto and seminomadic herders made up about three-fifths of total; cultivators about one-fifth; town dwellers (vast majority in Mogadishu) about one-fifth. Pattern of residency dramatically altered by civil war in late 1980s onward, raising urban population of Mogadishu to 2 million.

Languages: Somali (script officially introduced January 1973) predominates. Several dialects; Common Somali most widely used; Coastal Somali spoken on the Banaadir Coast; Central Somali spoken in the interriverine area. English and Italian used by relatively small proportion (less than 10 percent) of urban population. Somali and Italian used at university level; Somali used at all school levels below university. Arabic used in religious contexts. Indigenous languages include various dialects of Afar and Boni.

Ethnic Groups: Overwhelming majority of nationals ethnic Somalis; and two agricultural clan-families (Digil and Rahanwayn). In 1991 centralized state disintegrated into its constituent lineages and clans.

Religion: Former Somali state officially Islamic; overwhelming majority of nationals Sunni Muslims (less than 1 percent Christian). Activist Islamism increasing in some areas.

Education and Literacy: Until 1991 modern public education offered free at all levels; nationally owned educational facilities closed after collapse of Somali state; school attendance grew rapidly in settled areas in 1970s; primary education extended to nomadic children in early 1980s. Literacy campaigns resulted in substantial increases in 1970s but less than government's estimate of 60 percent, with relapse among nomads by 1977; United Nations estimate shows 24 percent literacy rate in 1990.

Health: Improvement in numbers of health care personnel and facilities during 1970s offset by civil war, refugee burden, and failure to expand services beyond urban areas; weak modern medical infrastructure deteriorated dramatically after 1991 collapse of central government. High incidence of pulmonary tuberculosis, malaria, tetanus, parasitic and venereal infections, leprosy, and a variety of skin and eye ailments; relatively low incidence of human immunovirus (HIV) (less than 1 percent) through 1992; general health severely affected by widespread malnutrition and famine in 1992.