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Cultural Profiles

Somalia

  • Somalia, one of East Africa’s poorest countries continues to experience humanitarian crisis.
  • Since the overthrow of president Siad Barre in 1991, Somalia has lacked a central government. The country has been divided into various insurgent groups controlled by rival militia. A violent territorial war has continued for over two decades.
  • According to UN estimates, at least 2.4 million Somalis need help across Somalia
  • In 2005, the WHO estimated that 97.9% of Somalia’s females have experienced circumcision. Female circumcision is a pre-marital custom which is largely based in Northeast Africa.
  • Key Somali issues for the family physician include: female circumcision, HIV, malaria, child soldiers, PTSD.

Geography and Social Climate:

Officially known as the Somali Republic, Somalia is a country located in the Horn of Africa, a peninsula in Northeast Africa jutting Eastward into the Arabian Sea. Somalia is the Eastern most projection of Africa.

Somalia is bordered by Djibouti (northwest), Kenya (southwest), Yemen (north), the Indian Ocean (east), and the Gulf of Aden (north).

Somalia continues to be known as one of the poorest and most violent countries in the world. In 1991 Somali civil war broke out. Since this time there has been no central government control over most of the country's territories. A small part of the country is controlled by the Transitional Federal Government. War over all other locations is ongoing.

Factuals:

Capital: Mogadishu
Official Language(s):
Somali, Arabic
Ethnic Groups:
Somalis (85%) Benadiris, Bantus & other non-Somalis (15%)
Population:
9, 359, 000 (2010 estimate)
Currency:
Somali shilling (SOS)
Religion:
Sunni Muslim

Socio-Political Timeline:

  • Summer of 1960, The Somali Republic is formed as an independent union. Originally there are two sectors, British Somaliland (which became independent on June 26th, 1960) and Italian Somaliland with independence on August 1 st1960.
  • Autonomous government is formed.
  • October 1969 – Somalia’s president is assassinated. Shortly after a coup d'etat is staged, Somali army seizes power without opposition.
  • Supreme Revolutionary Council (SRC) assumes power after the assassination. Somalia is subsequently renamed the Somali Democratic Republic. The constitution is suspended.
  • 1976, the SRC replaces itself with the Somali Revolutionary Socialist Party (SRSP). This is a single party government which operates under socialist principles. The overall direction of the government is communist.
  • July 1977, Ogaden War breaks out over the Ogaden region (a Southeastern portion of Ethiopia) which Somali government aspires to incorporate into Greater Somalia
  • By 1978 Somali troops are pushed out of the Ogaden region
  • 1980's, the military regime weakens. Elections for a People's Assembly are held. The SRSP is disbanded while the Supreme Revolutionary Council is re-established in its place. The government becomes increasingly totalitarian. Anti-government resistance increases across the country.
  • 1990, Somali civil war breaks out. Militia groups include Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF), United Somali Congress (USC), Somali National Movement (SNM) and Somali Patriotic Movement (SPM). Other non-violent groups include Somali Democratic Movement (SDM), Somali Democratic Alliance (SDA), Somali Manifesto Group (SMG).
  • 1991, President Barre is ousted by Somali forces with backing from armed Ethiopian supporters.
  • Africa's worst drought of the century occurs in 1992. Coupled with the devastation of civil war, Somalia plunges into famine.
  • Civil war disrupts agriculture and food distribution in southern Somalia. According to the United Nations Security Council in 1992 approximately 300, 000 are killed of famine. In 1992 a peacekeeping operation United Nations Operation in Somalia I (UNOSOM I) is launched.
  • 2000, the Somalia National Peace Conference (SNPC) held in Djibouti results in the formation of an interim government: The Transitional National Government (TNG). When the TNG fails to establish adequate security or governing institutions, the Government of Kenya, leads a subsequent peace process. In October 2004 elections are held, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed is elected President of a second interim government, known as the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of the Somali Republic.

Armed Conflict:

Violent armed conflict for over two decades

  • Escalated particularly since late 2006
  • 1/6 Somalis internally displaced now
  • Capital Mogadishu, particularly unstable
  • Ethiopian forces intervene December 2006
  • Forces are withdrawn early 2009
  • Fighting erupts again May 2009
  • In 2010 over 1000 civilians are killed dueto destruction of civilian areas
  • Daily fighting between forces of Transitional Federal Government (TFG), its partners and insurgent groups

Internal Displacement: Overview of Trends and Developments – 2010

  • Number of IDPs – 1,500,000
  • Percentage of total population – 16%
  • Internal displacement began in 1988 when tensions initially began to rise
  • 170 000 newly internally displaced persons in the first half of 2010 due to fighting (according to the population movement tracking system of the international humanitarian agencies in Somalia)
  • Further 105, 000 displaced July 2010 – October
  • IDPs have taken refugees in camps across the country
  • Largest camp in Somalia in Afgooye, hosted 500,000 IDPs (some say this is the largest camp in the world)
  • United Nations Food Security & Nutrition Analysis:
    • Unit showed food security in IDP camps deteriorating
    • Poor sanitation
    • Limited access to clean water

Refugee Locations:

As of March 2011 – Total number of refugees – 684, 475.

The following is a 2009 UNHCR source describing Somali locations worldwide, including Europe and the United States.

Transitional Federal Institutions:

  • Transitional federal institutions, created in 2004, constitute the central government of Somalia. These include 1) the Transitional Federal Charter (TFC), 2) Transitional Federal Government (TFG), and 3) Transitional Federal Parliament. This is the first attempt to restore federal institutions in Somalia since the beginning of civil war in 1991.
  • The TFG is the internationally recognized government of Somalia. The transitional federal charter constitutes a five year plan for the establishment of a new constitution and national election.

Health and Education:

  • Before the federal government collapse in 1991, health care was largely centralized. The public health care system has been significantly destroyed over years of conflict. Now, informal systems have arisen, with private providers filling the void replacing former government systems.
  • According to the WHO, Maternal Mortality per 100, 000 = 1, 100 (2000 – 2005)
  • Infant Mortality per 1, 000 births 109.6 (2005 – 2010)
  • In 2005, the WHO estimated that 97.9% of Somalia’s females have experienced circumcision. Female circumcision is a pre-marital custom which is largely based in Northeast Africa.
  • Life expectancy at birth (male/female), estimate in years = 54/56
  • HIV adult prevalence: 0.7% (2009 estimate)
  • Number living with HIV: 34,000 (2009 estimate)
  • Literacy definition: age greater than or equal to 15, can read and write

Literacy within total population: 37.8%
male: 49.7%
female: 25.8% (2001 estimate)

Somalia and HIV:

Source: UNAIDS/WHO, 2008


Source: UNAIDS/WHO, 2008

Somalia and Malaria:

54% of Somali residents are living in designated high risk malaria zones. The intensity of transmission is variable depending on location. Some areas such as Puntland and Somaliland are considered ‘unstable’ and epidemic-prone by the WHO. During 2007-2009 28,900 confirmed cases of malaria in Somalia are caused by P. Falciparum. The Global Fund currently spends more than 6.8 US dollars per 2 years to fund malaria control in Somalia.

Retrieved from the WHO, 2009 estimates

Culture:

  • The dominant ethnic group within Somalia is Somali, making up 85% of the population. All Somalis share the same language, religion and culture. The universal language of Somalia is Somali. The majority of Somalis are Muslim. Thus, Arabic is the most commonly spoken second language.
    Minority groups within Somalia include Arabs, Southeast Asians, and Bantus. Somali includes two regional dialects including AfMaay and AfMaxaa.
    Prior to 1972 the Somali government did not operate in the Somali language. Thus, those educated in previous times may also speak French, Italian, English or Swahili.
  • Naming convention in Somali involves three names. Somali’s traditionally use 1) a given name, 2) the name of their father, and 3) the name of their grandfather. Women do not change their names at the time of marriage.

Greetings & Social Structure:

  • The common mannerof greeting in Somalia is to say asalamualaykum (peace be with you).

  • The family is highly valued in Somali culture, eating together and sleeping in close quarters. About one fifth of the population lives in polygamous family units. These units are seen as useful because they help achieve clan alliances. Marriages are typically arranged; however this is changing over time.

Child Soldiers in Somalia:

  • According to the United Nations Somalia's use of child soldiers continues to climb. Escalating tensions since January 2011 have led to increasing recruitment.
  • The Transitional Federal Government (TGF) and their allies are involved in the recruitment, according to UN sources.
  • Some NGOs report that the Al Shabab (the largest armed opposition within Somalia) is most in favour of child recruitment.
  • An official from an NGO monitoring the state of children in Somalia said “We have noticed a major increase in the recruitment of children since January of 2011. It coincided with the current escalation of fighting in Mogadishu and parts of south and central Somalia”. This quote has been posted by the UN refugee agency.
  • Though numbers of child soldiers in Somalia is unknown, some NGO's within the country estimate there are between 2 to 3 thousand children working for various armed militia.
  • UNICEF representative to Somalia, RozanneChorlton, reports that enlisting children under the age of 15 is considered a war crime within Somalia under international law.
  • Displaced families have sent their children to refugee camps in Kenya for fear of recruitment.
  • April of 2010 – UN research from June 2009 confirms that recruitment of children is more wide spread than initially anticipated. Report confirms all parties involved, and that recruitment is systematic.

Links to Interesting and Credible Resources:

Articles from the UN Refugee Agency:

Interested in the WHO Health Profile of Somalia?

Interested in Maternal Health in Somalia?

References:

http://www.usaid.gov/our_work/democracy_and_governance/regions/afr/somal...

Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), Internal Displacement: Global Overview of Trends and Developments in 2010 - Somalia, 23 March 2011,available at: http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/4d932e151e.html [accessed 5 April 2011]

Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Somalia: Recruitment of child soldiers on the increase, 21 March 2011,available at: http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/4d884f431a.html [accessed 5 April 2011]

UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Somali Refugees in the Region (as of March 2011), 24 March 2011, available at: http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/4d8afdec2.html [accessed 5 April 2011]

The people of Mogadishu protest corruption of international aid distribution: April 2011 http://www.raxanreeb.com/?p=90996

"Prevalence of FGM".Who.int. 2010-12-09.Retrieved 2010-12-30.

WHO Profile – Somalia, http://www.who.int/malaria/publications/country-profiles/profile_som_en.pdf

 

Contact for corrections or updates: elena DOT paraskevopoulos AT gmail DOT com

Written by Elena Paraskevopoulos MD (May 9, 2011)

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