Located in eastern Africa, Somalia was under Portuguese and British rule from the 15th through the 19th centuries. During World War II, Italian troops overran Somalia, though the British took the country back after the end of the war and helped Somalia move toward independence. Somalia gained its independence as a united nation in 1960 and adopted its first constitution in 1961. It was originally forged as a democratic government with a parliamentary system, but in 1969. President Abdirashid Ali Shermake was assassinated in 1969 and a military coup installed Muhammad Siad Barre as president. This led to decades of repression and war.
Lay of the Land: Somalia forms part of the Horn of Africa on the east coast of that continent because of its resemblance to a rhinoceros’ horn. This easternmost country of Africa is bordered on the north by the Gulf of Aden, on the east by the Indian Ocean, and on the south by Kenya. Ethiopia juts into Somalia’s belly in the west and the northwestern tip of the country abuts Djibouti. The terrain consists mostly of plateaus, plains and highlands and it also has the longest coastline on the continent. Most of Somalia is desert, characterized as arid and harsh, with damaging droughts and the civil war leaving a devastating affect on the country’s tropical forests. This climate is the primary factor for Somali lifestyles. The majority of the population lives at subsistence level, tilling infertile soil or herding camels, goats, sheep, and other animals through the inhospitable desert. Numerous domestic grazing animals are increasing the desertification of the country. Agriculture is only practiced in a few areas of limited rainfall in the northwest and southwest where the country’s two perennial rivers are found.
The country of Somalia developed from an Arab Sultanate in the 7th century. Koreishite immigrants from Yemen traveled to this region and established settlements.
Throughout much of the 1970s, Somalia was allied with the Soviet Union, and its relations with the United States were strained. Largely because the Soviet Union sided with Ethiopia in the Ogaden War, a United States-Somali rapprochement began in 1977 and culminated in a military access agreement in 1980 that permitted the United States to use naval ports and airfields at Berbera, Chisimayu, and Mogadishu, in exchange for military and economic aid.
US President George Bush’s administration in 2006 launched a new policy in Somalia, putting the State Department in charge after secret CIA efforts failed to prevent Islamic fundamentalists from seizing power in Mogadishu. The Islamists had expanded their hold on the southern part of the country, while a largely powerless, US-backed rump government remains divided and isolated in the southern town of Baidoa. Al-Qaeda established itself as a presence in the Somali capital, according to US officials, who view Somalia as a growing risk that will become a new haven for terrorists to launch attacks beyond its borders.
U.S. imports from Somalia totaled $1.33 million from 2005 to 2009. Imports from Somalia saw an increase from 2005-2009 in food oils and oilseeds going from $8,000 to $25,000, and numismatic coins going from $2,000 to $55,000.
Mogadishu fighting leaves 19 dead
Somalia remains buried in conflict between the (Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and opposition groups that are in control of most of the country. The capital of Mogadishu has been a strategically important area and host to many armed conflicts over the years, while much of Somalia has experience relative peace. Patterns of abuse have plagued Somalis both within the Mogadishu and in the surrounding, relatively more peaceful areas.
How Should the U.S. Deal with Somalia?
Note: The Embassy in Mogadiscio (now Mogadishu) was established on Jul 1, 1960, with Andrew G. Lynch as Chargé d’Affaires.
In 1969, Elmi Ahmed Duale was elected to the Parliament of Somalia and was then selected to be Foreign Minister in the government. Duale became the Permanent Representative of Somalia to the UN in 2005.
Somalia does not maintain an embassy in the US, and Somalia’s interests in the US are represented through their ambassador to the UN.
Michael E. Ranneberger was sworn in as the new United States Ambassador to Kenya on July 31, 2006. Ranneberger obtained a BA from Towson State University in Baltimore and an MA in history from the University of Virginia.