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November 2008



Africa's easternmost country, Somalia has a land area of 637,657 sq. km., slightly less than that of the state of Texas. Somalia occupies the tip of a region commonly referred to as the Horn of Africa -- because of its resemblance on the map to the horn of a rhinoceros -- that also includes Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Kenya. It comprises Italy's former Trust Territory of Somalia and the former British Protectorate of Somaliland (currently seeking recognition as an independent state). The coastline extends 2,720 kilometers (1,700 mi.). Mogadishu is the capital; other cities include Beledweyne, Kismayo, Baidoa, Jowhar, Merca, Gaalkayo, Bosasso, Hargeisa, and Berbera.

The northern part of Somalia is hilly, and in many places the altitude ranges between 3,000 ft.-7,000 ft. above sea level. The central and southern areas are flat, with an average altitude of less than 600 ft. The Juba and the Shabelle Rivers rise in Ethiopia and flow south across the country toward the Indian Ocean. Major climatic factors are a year-round hot climate, seasonal monsoon winds, and irregular rainfall with recurring droughts.

The 2006 estimated population is 8.8 million, of which an estimated 2 million is in Somaliland. Somali is the major ethnic group, with a small non-Somali minority, consisting of mostly Bantu and Arabs. The country’s major religion is Sunni Muslim (99%).The official language is Somali; other important languages include Arabic, Italian, and English.

Somalia has no national government at present; however, a two-year reconciliation process led by the Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) concluded in 2004 following the formation of a transitional government, the components of which are known as the Somalia Transitional Federal Institutions (TFIs). The TFIs include a transitional parliament, known as the Transitional Federal Assembly (formed in August 2004), as well as a Transitional Federal Government (TFG) that includes a transitional President, Prime Minister and a cabinet known as the "Council of Ministers." For administrative purposes, Somalia is divided into 18 regions; the nature, authority, and structure of regional governments vary, where they exist. Although the U.S. never formally severed diplomatic relations with Somalia, official relations were interrupted by the fall of the government and have not been fully reestablished in the continued absence of a national government. The United States maintains informal contacts with a number of entities in Somalia.

CIA World Factbook; U.S. State Department Background Notes, 11/2008; 10/2008