Country Listing

Somalia Table of Contents



The Somali environment--both human and ecological--has deteriorated since the collapse of the state in early 1991. The consequent outbreak of intra- and interclan conflicts engulfed the peninsula in a catastrophic civil war that had claimed, by a conservative estimate, more than 200,000 Somali lives by early 1992. The cities of Mogadishu and Hargeysa had been reduced to rubble, with government buildings and homes looted or razed by gangs armed with assault rifles. Even telephone wires had been dug up, stolen, and exported for sale to the United Arab Emirates.

In the fields of education and health, a sharp decline occurred and only minimal services continued to exist. Because of the destruction of schools and supporting services, a whole generation of Somalis faced the prospect of a return to illiteracy. Many people who had fled to the cities initially because of the civil war sought refuge in camps elsewhere, often refugee camps outside Somalia. More than one year of civil war had wiped out most of the intellectual and material progress of the preceding thirty years. In short, Somali society had retrogressed to a collection of warring clans reminiscent of preindustrial times.

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Enrico Cerulli's three-volume work, Somalia: Scritti Vari Editi ed Inediti, remains the most comprehensive study of Somali society: pastoral institutions, history, politics, literature, and language. The classic work on the social and political system of pastoral nomadic Somalis of northern Somalia (based on research done in the 1950s) is I.M. Lewis's A Pastoral Democracy. Peoples of the Horn of Africa: Somalia, Afar, and Saho also by Lewis is a major source on Somali ethnic groups. The dean of Somali studies, Lewis has written numerous articles, several of which deal with Somali Islam and indigenous religion. His "From Nomadism to Cultivation" provides an introduction to the traditional social and political orders of the interriverine sedentary Somalis. Virginia Luling has published some of her findings on one group of sedentary Somalis (the Geledi clan and its neighbors) in "Colonial and Postcolonial Influences on a South Somali Community." David Laitin's Politics, Language, and Thought: The Somali Experience concerns the political aspects of deciding on a written form for the Somali language.

Lee Cassanelli's The Shaping of Somali Society sheds valuable light on the evolution and structure of southern Somali tribes, such as the Geledi and Biyamaal, as well as on Islamic institutions such as the cult of saints. Said S. Samatar's Oral Poetry and Somali Nationalism provides a comprehensive treatment of the intimate interplay between pastoralism and oral poetry and that literary form's uses as a tool in mobilizing public opinion, in mass communication, and in related areas of oratory and rhetoric. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)