Somali parliamentarians vote this Sunday to choose their head of state. This election under close surveillance takes place in a hangar at Mogadishu airport, the most secure place in the capital. Somalia has been confronted for years with the insurrection of the Islamist Shebabs. Among the main candidates is the incumbent President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, known as Farmajo. He faces in particular two former presidents Sharif Cheikh Ahmed and Hassan Cheikh Mohamoud, as well as his former Prime Minister Ali Khaire. Here are five things to learn about this unstable and fragile country.

1A country on the edge of Africa

Larger than France (637,657 km²), somalia is located at the tip of the Horn of Africa, at the eastern end of the continent. To the west and south, it borders Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya, where there are communities of the Somali ethnic group from which 90% of the 15 million Somalis come. With over 3,000 kilometers of coastline, Somalia has the longest coastline in mainland Africa.

Islam is the official and ultra majority religion in the country. Arabic is the second official language, after Somali.

Map of Somalia, a country located in the Horn of Africa.  (GOOGLE MAPS)

Map of Somalia, a country located in the Horn of Africa.  (GOOGLE MAPS)

2A fragmented federation

The Federal Republic of Somalia has five member states and a central government in Mogadishu. A sixth region, Somaliland, declared its independence in 1991, but is not recognized by the international community.

The federal states have relative autonomy, but some, like Puntland and Jubaland, which have significant economic resources (ports, agriculture, etc.), resent any attempt by the central government to influence their affairs. In 2020 and 2021, tensions between these two states and President Farmajo prevented the organization of parliamentary and presidential elections, triggering a political crisis lasting more than a year.

3A clan society

With a nomadic culture, Somali society has functioned for centuries in a clan-like manner. There are five main clans with ramifications in sub-clans, themselves divided into a multitude of sub-groups… They structure many aspects of life, including politics. In particular, they share federal power according to a principle known as “4.5”, which guarantees that four large clans have an equal share in the government, the smallest and minorities sharing the remaining half point.

4Chaos and Islamist insurgency

Created in 1960 from the merger of the colonies of British Somalia (Somaliland, in the north) and Italian Somalia (in the south), Somalia plunged into chaos after the fall in 1991 of the military regime of Siad Barre. Without central authority, the country is then delivered to “warlords” and their clan militias.

In June 2006, the Islamist movement of the Union of Islamic Courts took control of Mogadishu and a large southern half of the country. Their radical fringe, the shebabs (“the young people”), embarked on an insurrection against the federal government in place in Mogadishu, supported by the international community and a force from the African Union (Amisom). Driven out of the capital in 2011, the Shebabs, linked to Al-Qaeda, still control large rural areas, from where they regularly carry out attacks.

5Global warming and drought

Somalia, whose population lives mainly from livestock and agriculture, is considered one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change. In recent years, increasingly extreme droughts and floods have added to the devastation caused by a locust invasion and the Covid-19 pandemic. The country was also affected in 2020 by the most violent cyclone in its history.

The drought that has been raging since the end of 2020 raises the specter of a new famine, eleven years after that of 2011 which killed 260,000 people. More than six million people, or just under half of the population, are affected by this drought which has displaced 760,000 people, according to the UN.


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