- The state of Somalia was born in 1960, when British Somaliland and what had formerly been Italian Somaliland united and declared independence.
In 1969, General Mohamed Siad Barre took control in a coup and formed a socialist state backed by the Soviet Union. But when Barre invaded the Ogaden, an ethnically Somali region of Ethiopia, a coalition of Ethiopian, Soviet, and Cuban troops forced the Somalis out. Barre then discarded his allegiance to the Soviets and began to receive funding from the United States.
Armed opposition groups overthrew Barre’s regime in 1991, and Somalia descended into civil war and anarchy. A UN peacekeeping mission failed to bring stability.
In 2006, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) took control of much of central and southern Somalia, imposing a strict interpretation of sharia law over the areas it ruled.
A radical offshoot of the ICU called al-Shabab, now affiliated with al-Qaeda, controls much of southern Somalia, although African Union troops have recently seen major victories against al-Shabaab.
Somalia’s economy relies largely on agriculture; staples include bananas, rice, sorghum, and livestock. With its 3,000 km of coastline, longer than any other African country, fishing is a major source of livelihood. Remittances sent from Somalis living abroad also comprise a substantial portion of Somalia’s GDP. In recent years, piracy has also become big business: Somali pirates have attacked hundreds of boats in the Indian Sea, and demanded ransoms for kidnapped sailors.
- Somalia is reported to have large, untapped reserves of many natural resources, including iron ore, uranium, and tin. Many also suspect Somalia is sitting on top of oil and natural gas reserves.