About Somalia

People happily waving handsCredit: UN photo.

Early in the 13th century, Somalia had already been recognised as an ideal stopover for British ships travelling to India and other places. Italy and France had also set up coaling stations for their ships in the northern parts of the country. Later in the century, the British, Italians and French began to compete over Somali territory. Around then, neighbouring Ethiopia also took interest in taking over parts of Somalia.
A string of treaties with Somali clan leaders resulted in the establishment of the British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland. Around the same time, Egypt tried to claim rights in selected areas of the country. Following a long struggle in 1920, British and Italian protectorates occupied Somalia. In 1941, a British military administration took over the country. As a result, north-western Somalia remained a protectorate, while north-eastern and South and Central Somalia became a UN Trusteeship in April 1950, with a promise of independence after ten years.

A British protectorate, British Somaliland in the North-west became independent on 26 June 1960. Less than a week later, the Italian protectorate gained independence on 1 July 1960. The two states merged to form the Somali Republic under a civilian government. However, Somalia was far from stable. In 1969, a coup d’état took place and President Abdi Rashid Ali Shermarke was assassinated. Mohammed Siad Barre, who led this overthrowing of the government, took charge as the President of Somalia, and tried to reclaim Somali territory from Ethiopia during his tenure. His attempts were unsuccessful.

The people of Somalia expressed their dissatisfaction with Siad Barre, which led to the overthrow of his regime and a civil war in 1991. This prompted Siad Barre to flee the country, after which clan-based guerrilla groups took over South and Central Somalia.

While the south-central regions plunged into instability, up north, Somaliland seceded from Somalia, declaring independence in 1991. In the North-east, Puntland became an autonomous state within the Somalia federal structure in 1998. Both Somaliland and Puntland have enjoyed some levels of stability.


Worst drought of the century

In 1992, the world witnessed the worst drought of the century in Somalia and neighbouring Ethiopia, where hundreds of thousands were killed and affected by severe famine. Later that year, the United States of America sent in troops to oversee food delivery. In May 1993, the United Nations (UN) intervened, attempting to take control of relief efforts and the delivery of food. However, Mohamed Farah Aideed, a warlord in Somalia, led the ambush of UN troops, humiliating them and driving them away.

For years after 1991, Somalia was gripped by anarchy. Natural disasters kept unfolding in different parts of the country, leaving their mark on an already vulnerable society. In what seemed like a déjà-vu of 1991, Somalis faced another famine in 2012 that once more took hundreds of thousands of lives.


A new beginning

Since the civil war, Somalis and the international community have made fifteen attempts to help Somalia establish an environment of peace and stability. More recently, despite insecurity and other issues, Somalis and the International Community developed a New Deal for Somalia. The New Deal emphasizes Somali-owned and Somali-led development and effective aid management as well as delivery that mirrors these development needs among other principles. This fresh commitment is guiding our work and strengthening our partnerships in Somalia.


Find an overview on Somalia's key statistics here and current challenges here.