Facts & figures

Population: 9.8 million (UN, 2012)

Capital: Mogadishu

Area: 637,657sq km (246,201 sq miles)

Major languages: Somali, Arabic, Italian, English

Major religion: Islam

Life expectancy: 50 years (men), 53 years (women)

Monetary unit: 1 Somali shilling = 100 cents

Main exports: Livestock, bananas, hides, fish

GNI per capita: n/a

Internet domain: .so

International dialling code: +252





A relatively new figure in Somali politics, the academic and civic activist Hassan Sheikh Mohamud beat the incumbent Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed in a run-off presidential vote in September 2012.


Visa & travel advice

Visitors to Somalia should register with the embassy representing their country in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia or with their embassy or high commission in Nairobi, Kenya.

Nationals not referred to in the chart above are advised to contact the embassy to check visa requirements for Somalia.

Sea and air ports are under the control of the local government meaning there may be differences in exact requirements.

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office currently advises against all travel to Somalia.

  • Best period:

The best time to visit to Somalia is in the cooler months between June and August and during January to early February. As both these seasons follow the rainy months in Somalia, they tend to experience milder weather with slightly lesser heat and humidity, compared to the rest of the year.

  • Safety:

The northern region of Somalia, Somaliland, is the only area in Somalia considered fit for tourism and travel.


From the 7th to the 10th century, Arab and Persian trading posts were established along the coast of present-day Somalia. Nomadic tribes occupied the interior, occasionally pushing into Ethiopian territory. In the 16th century, Turkish rule extended to the northern coast, and the sultans of Zanzibar gained control in the south.

After British occupation of Aden in 1839, the Somali coast became its source of food. The French established a coal-mining station in 1862 at the site of Djibouti, and the Italians planted a settlement in Eritrea. Egypt, which for a time claimed Turkish rights in the area, was succeeded by Britain. By 1920, a British and an Italian protectorate occupied what is now Somalia. The British ruled the entire area after 1941, with Italy returning in 1950 to serve as United Nations trustee for its former territory.

By 1960, Britain and Italy granted independence to their respective sectors, enabling the two to join as the Republic of Somalia on July 1, 1960. Somalia broke diplomatic relations with Britain in 1963 when the British granted the Somali-populated Northern Frontier District of Kenya to the Republic of Kenya.

On Oct. 15, 1969, President Abdi Rashid Ali Shermarke was assassinated and the army seized power. Maj. Gen. Mohamed Siad Barre, as president of a renamed Somali Democratic Republic, leaned heavily toward the USSR. In 1977, Somalia openly backed rebels in the easternmost area of Ethiopia, the Ogaden Desert, which had been seized by Ethiopia at the turn of the century. Somalia acknowledged defeat in an eight-month war against the Ethiopians that year, having lost much of its 32,000-man army and most of its tanks and planes. President Siad Barre fled the country in late Jan. 1991. His departure left Somalia in the hands of a number of clan-based guerrilla groups, none of which trusted each other.

Arts & Culture

  • Music:

Somalia has a rich musical heritage centered on traditional Somali folklore. Most Somali songs are pentatonic. That is, they only use five pitches per octave in contrast to a heptatonic (seven note) scale such as the major scale. At first listen, Somali music might be mistaken for the sounds of nearby regions such as Ethiopia, Sudan or Arabia, but it is ultimately recognizable by its own unique tunes and styles. Somali songs are usually the product of collaboration between lyricists (midho), songwriters (lahan), and singers ('odka or "voice").

Instruments prominently featured in Somali music include the kaban (oud), often with accompaniment by small drums in the background. Bands such as Waaberi and Horseed have gained a small following outside of the country. Others, like Ahmed Ali Egal and Maryam Mursal, have fused traditional Somali music with rock and roll, bossa nova, jazz, and other modern influences.

  • Literature:

Somali literature refers to the literary tradition of Somalia. It ranges from Islamic poetry and prose produced by the region's scholars and Sheikhs of centuries past to works of fiction from contemporary writers.

  • Film industry:

During the forties and the fifties Somali actors and film technicians cooperated with Italian crews producing Fascist films in Somalia like "Dub aad" & "Soldiers of Bronze". From the late twenties to independence newsreels were shot of key events involving Italians.

The Somali film industry exists since Independence on July 1960. A steady growing number of production and distribution companies as well as actual cinema's were in private ownership form. After the revolution of 1969, the production, importation and distribution of films became completely monopolized by the government. Privately owned cinema's were replaced by State owned cinema's.

  • Famous places:

Las Geel, rock paintings:

One of the main reasons for me to visit Somaliland were the rockpaintings of Las Geel. They are the best rockpaintings at the African continent I ever saw. They have the quality to become an UNESCO World Heritage site. First in 2003 a team of French archaeologists described and cataloged the paintings.


The Independence Monument is actually just a little bit out from the centre of Hargeisa.


The most interesting part of our trip from Berbera to Burao was the Golis escarpment with the Sheikh Pass. It seems to be one of the most dramatic roads in Somaliland.

  • Architecture history:

A nomad camp may be surrounded by a fence made from thorn bushes to keep out predators. Animals are also kept in corrals made from thorn bushes. A prayer area may be set apart within the camp by a circle of stones.

Farmers make permanent homes that are similar to the aqal. Round huts called mundals are made from poles and brush or vines plastered with mud, animal dung, and ashes and covered with a broad, cone-shaped thatched roof. Rectangular huts, often with flat tin roofs, are called arish. Other homes are built from logs, stone, brick, or cement. Farmers have a few pieces of wooden furniture and decorative pottery, gourds, or woven goods.

City dwellers often live in Arab-style whitewashed houses made of stone or brick covered with plaster or cement. These are one-or two-story houses, with a flat roof. Bars cover the lower windows, which rarely have screens or glass. Wealthy Somalis, Europeans, and others may have traditional Western-style homes with tile roofs and walled courtyards. Many Somalis, even in the cities, do not have electricity and running water in their homes.

Somalia's largest cities are the ports of Mogadishu, Merca, Baraawe, and Kismayu on the Indian Ocean, and Berbera on the Gulf of Aden.

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