, MOGADISHU, May 02 – Somalia, where almost 260,000 people — half of them young children — died of hunger in a 2010-2012 famine, according to a UN report on Thursday, is an impoverished country in the Horn of Africa.
It has been ravaged by a civil war since the fall of the regime of Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991:
– GEOGRAPHY: Somalia is 637,657 square kilometres (246,200 square miles) in area, including the autonomous northern states of Puntland and Somaliland.
Situated on the “horn” of Africa, it forms the continent’s easternmost tip jutting out into the Indian Ocean, has Africa’s longest coastline and borders Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya.
– POPULATION: Estimated at 9.5 million.
– CAPITAL: Mogadishu
– LANGUAGES: Somali, Arabic, Italian, English
– RELIGION: Muslim.
– HISTORY: Today’s Somalia can be traced to a 7th century AD Arab sultanate.
Its modern history started in the 19th century when European powers vied for control, and Britain eventually established authority over northern Somalia in 1886 and created the protectorate of Somaliland.
Italy later established a colony in southern and central Somalia.
In November 1949, the UN granted independence to Italian Somalia but placed it under an Italian-led trusteeship.
On 26 June 1960, the northern protectorate of Somaliland won independence from Britain. Five days later, Italian Somalia became fully independent and merged with Somaliland.
In 1969, Mohamed Siad Barre seized power and thrust the country into the cold war, siding with the Soviet Union.
After deadly wars with Ethiopia, Barre was eventually ousted in 1991, ushering in a period of civil war that destroyed most state institutions.
From 1992 to 1995 the international community intervened and sought to help victims of famine and restore peace.
The transitional administration, put in place in 2004 and backed since 2007 by an African Union force has been confronted by an uprising by radical Islamist Shebab, linked to Al-Qaeda.
Since late 2011, Kenya and Ethiopia launched military operations in Somalia against insurgents. The latter, driven from the capital in August 2011, have lost almost all their bastions but still control large parts of the south and centre of the country, and have stepped up their guerrilla activities and attacks.
In August 2012 a provisional constitution was adopted and a new parliament sworn in in Mogadishu. The election by parliament of Hassan Sheikh Mohamud as president in September capped a long and complex political process, backed by the UN, and designed to give Somalia a real central government.
– ECONOMY AND RESOURCES: Somalia is one of the poorest countries in the world and regularly ravaged by drought. The armed conflict has destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure.
According to a UN report published on Thursday, nearly 260,000 Somalis, half of them young children, died of famine between October 2010 and April 2012 during a devastating drought which hit the Horn of Africa.
The livestock sector contributes 40 percent of Somalia’s income, and 80 percent of its foreign currency earnings.
Since 2007 an international naval force has been deployed off the coast of Somalia to fight against acts of piracy, which according to the World Bank are at their lowest level for three years.