Country Listing

Somalia Table of Contents


Foreign Trade

Somalia's major exports consisted of agricultural raw materials and food products. Livestock was the principal export, with sheep and goats representing the leading categories, followed by cattle and camels. Banana exports rose sharply in the 1980s and by 1986 occupied second place, followed in descending order by hides and skins, fish and fish products, and myrrh (see table 8, Appendix).

The largest single import was food, with 1986 food imports reflecting the effects of the drought being experienced in the area (see table 9, Appendix). Transportation equipment was in second place among imports, followed by nonelectrical machinery, mineral fuels, cement and building materials, and iron and steel.

In 1990 Italy was the leading importer of Somali goods, having narrowly replaced Saudi Arabia. Other Arab states, such as Yemen and the United Arab Emirates, were also important customers for Somali products. In 1990 Italy was the primary country of origin for goods imported into Somalia, with other nations such as Norway, Bahrain, and Britain distant sources of imports. Somalia consistently experienced an overall negative trade balance, which contributed to its balance of payments deficit (see table 10, Appendix).

In summary, with the 1991 overthrow of Siad Barre's government, Somalia faced a new era. Past economic experience had taught valuable lessons. First, the Somali people have for millennia been able to survive and even prosper in a harsh environment, whether it be natural or political. Second, grand economic strategies, whether from Benito Mussolini, Karl Marx, or the IMF, have not provided Somalia with a means to live beyond the subsistence level. Third, the handful of successful projects in the colonial, postindependence, socialist, and IMF-led economies suggest that a nondoctrinaire combination of approaches could promote a richer economy.

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Sources on the Somali economy remain scarce. The most perceptive study of the economy is a journal article by Vali Jamal, "Somalia: Understanding an Unconventional Economy." Jamal has worked in Somalia as part of an International Labour Organisation team that published Economic Transformation in a Socialist Framework. Two books written in the 1980s provide excellent background information and interpretation. Abdi Ismail Samatar's The State and Rural Transformation in Northern Somalia, 1884-1986 focuses on government economic policy, largely as it has affected the northern region. Garth Massey's Subsistence and Change: Lessons of Agropastoralism in Somalia provides an insightful and carefully researched examination of the agropastoral economy in the interriverine area. David Laitin and Said Samatar have written a chapter on the economy in their text, Somalia: Nation in Search of a State, which forms the basis of the analysis in this chapter. Statistical data are available in various publications of the Ministry of National Planning and Jubba Valley Development: Somalia in Figures; Annual Development Plan, 1986; National Accounts Aggregates, 1977-1988; and Performance of the Somali Economy, 1988. Further data for this chapter have been culled from Ravi Gulhati's The Making of Economic Policy in Africa and the World Bank's World Development Report. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)