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Spotlight on Culture

People that call this area Home

New Americans

Refugees from other areas of the world


Cultural Profile of their country of origin- Somalia


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POPULATION: Estimated population of around 15 million, of which over 2 million live in the capital and largest city Mogadishu, it has been described as Africa's most culturally homogeneous country. Around 85% of its residents are ethnic Somalis, who have historically inhabited the country's north. Ethnic minorities are largely concentrated in the south.

Somalia, officially the Federal Republic of Somalia (Somali: Jamhuuriyadda Federaalka Soomaaliya; Arabic: جمهورية الصومال الفيدرالية), is a country in the Horn of Africa. The country is bordered by Ethiopia to the west, Djibouti to the northwest, the Gulf of Aden to the north, the Indian Ocean to the east, and Kenya to the southwest. They have the longest coastline on Africa's mainland. Its terrain consists mainly of plateaus, plains, and highlands. Hot conditions prevail year-round, with periodic monsoon winds and irregular rainfall.

The country is mostly flat and has only two rivers – the Jubba and the Shabeelle. The higher area is along the northern coast, where mountains rise to some 2,000 meters. Somalia has an arid and tropical climate influenced by monsoons. There are two wet seasons from March to May and October to November, alternating with two dry seasons, from December to March, and the other from June to August, which is the hottest season. Some cities have average annual temperatures above 88 F.

The name Somalia originated from two words in their language, SOO and MAAL, which together roughly mean “Go and Milk it” . The use of this phrase to name their country reflects the way that the original Somali people lived, and some still continue to live, mostly rural and populated by nomadic herders that moved from place-to-place seeking good grazing land.

The official languages of Somalia are Somali and Arabic. Most people in the country are Muslims, the majority of them Sunni. Somali has various dialects that follow clan divisions. It belongs to the Cushitic language family, which is a part of the Afro-Asiatic language group. Many people also speak Arabic, and educated Somalis usually speak either English or Italian as well. This language had no written form until 1972, when Somali script was developed based on the Roman alphabet and was adopted by the government. Before that time, English and Italian were utilized as the written languages for government use and education.

EDUCATION: Instruction for Somali children in all but the wealthiest urban families was practically non-existent, except for training in reading the Quran, before the early 1970s. The civil war of the 1990s also caused a lot of damage to secular education, which made higher education after age 17 affordable only to those who could pay to attend private schools and colleges.

Following the outbreak of the civil war in 1991, the task of running schools in Somalia was initially taken up by community education committees established in 94% of the local schools. Numerous problems had arisen with regard to access to education in rural areas and along gender lines, quality of educational provisions, responsiveness of school curricula, educational standards and controls, management and planning capacity, and financing. To address these concerns, educational policies are being developed that are aimed at guiding the scholastic process.

The Ministry of Education is officially responsible for education in the country, overseeing the nation's primary, secondary, technical and vocational schools, as well as primary and technical teacher training and non-formal education. About 15% of the government's budget is allocated toward scholastic instruction nowadays. The autonomous Puntland and Somaliland macro-regions maintain their own Ministries of Education.

In 2006, Puntland was the second territory in Somalia after Somaliland to introduce free primary schools, with teachers now receiving their salaries from their administration. From 2005/2006 to 2006/2007, there was a significant increase in the number of schools in Puntland, up 137 institutions from just one year prior. During the same period, the number of classes in the region increased by 504, with 762 more teachers also offering their services. Total student enrollment increased by 27% over the previous year, with girls lagging only slightly behind boys in attendance in most regions. The highest class enrollment was observed in the northernmost Bari region, and the lowest was observed in the under-populated Ayn region. The distribution of classrooms was almost evenly split between urban and rural areas, with marginally more pupils attending and instructors teaching classes in urban areas.

Higher education in Somalia is largely private. Several universities in the country, including Mogadishu University, have been scored among the 100 best universities in Africa in spite of the harsh environment, which has been hailed as a triumph for grass-roots initiatives. Other universities also offering higher education in the south include Benadir University, the Somalia National University, Kismayo University and the University of Gedo. In Puntland, higher education is provided by the Puntland State University and East Africa University. In Somaliland, it is provided by Amoud University, the University of Hargeisa, Somaliland University of Technology and Burao University.

Qu'ranic schools (also known as dugsi quran or mal'aamad quran) remain the basic system of traditional religious instruction in Somalia. They provide Islamic education for children, filling a religious and social role in the country. Known as the most stable local, non-formal system of education providing basic religious and moral instruction, their strength rests on community support and their use of locally made and widely available teaching materials. The Qu'ranic system, which teaches the greatest number of students relative to other educational sub-sectors, is often the only system accessible to Somalis in nomadic communities, compared to communities settled in urban areas. A study from 1993 found, among other things, that about 40% of pupils in Qur'anic schools were female. To address shortcomings in religious instruction, the Somali government established the Ministry of Endowment and Islamic Affairs, under which Qur'anic education is now regulated.

HEALTH: Until the collapse of the federal government in 1991, the structure of Somalia's healthcare sector was overseen by the Ministry of Health. Regional medical officials enjoyed some authority, but healthcare was largely centralized. The socialist government of former President of Somalia Siad Barre had put an end to private medical practice in 1972. Much of the national budget was devoted to military expenditure, leaving few resources for healthcare, among other services. The civil war also caused a decline in health care services which were then provided through the World Health Organization and the United Nations' Children’s Fund along with other NGOs.

Somalia's public healthcare system was largely destroyed during their civil war. As with other previously nationalized sectors, informal providers filled the vacuum and replaced the government monopoly over healthcare, with access to facilities witnessing a significant increase. Many new healthcare centers, clinics, hospitals and pharmacies have in the process been established through home-grown Somali initiatives. The cost of medical consultations and treatment in these facilities is low, at $5.72 per visit in health centers (with a population coverage of 95%), and $1.89–3.97 per outpatient visit and $7.83–13.95 per bed day in primary through tertiary hospitals.

Comparing the 2005–2010 period with the half-decade just prior to the outbreak of the conflict (1985–1990), life expectancy increased from an average of 47 years for men and women to 48.2 years for men and 51 years for women. Similarly, the number of one-year-olds fully immunized against measles rose from 30% in 1985–1990 to 40% in 2000–2005, and for tuberculosis, it grew nearly 20% from 31% to 50% over the same period. The number of infants with low birth weight fell from 16 per 1,000 to 0.3, a 15% drop in total over the same time frame. Between 2005 and 2010 as compared to the 1985–1990 period, infant mortality per 1,000 births also fell from 152 to 109.6. Significantly, maternal mortality per 100,000 births fell from 1,600 in the pre-war 1985–1990 half-decade to 1,100 in the 2000–2005 period. The number of physicians per 100,000 people also rose from 3.4 to 4 over the same time frame, as did the percentage of population with access to sanitation services, which increased from 18% to 26%.

According to a 2005 World Health Organization estimate, about 97.9% of Somalia's women and girls underwent Female genital mutilation, a pre-marital custom mainly endemic to the horn of Africa and parts of the Near East that has no health benefits, and it harms girls and women in many ways. It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female tissue, and interferes with the natural functions of girls' and women's bodies. By 2013, UNICEF in conjunction with the Somali authorities reported that the prevalence rate among 1- to 14-year-old girls in the autonomous northern Puntland and Somaliland regions had dropped to 25% following a social and religious awareness campaign. About 93% of Somalia's male population is also reportedly circumcised. The practice is illegal in the US.

Somalia has one of the lowest HIV infection rates on the continent. This is attributed to the conservative nature of Somali society and adherence to Islamic morals.

Healthcare is now largely concentrated in the private sector, and the country's public healthcare system is in the process of being rebuilt.

ECONOMY: According to the CIA and the Central Bank of Somalia, despite experiencing civil unrest, Somalia has maintained a healthy informal economy, based mainly on livestock, remittance/money transfer companies and telecommunications.

The lack of formal government statistics and as a result of the recent civil war, it is difficult to gauge the size or growth of the economy.

For 1994, the CIA estimated the GDP at $3.3 billion. In 2001, it was estimated to be $4.1 billion. By 2009, the CIA estimated that the GDP had grown to $5.731 billion, with a projected real growth rate of 2.6%. According to a 2007 British Chambers of Commerce report, the private sector also grew, particularly in the service sector. Unlike the pre-civil war period when most services and the industrial sector were government-run, there has been substantial, unmeasured, private investment in commercial activities; this has been largely financed by the Somali diaspora, and includes trade and marketing, money transfer services, transportation, communications, fishery equipment, airlines, telecommunications, education, health, construction and hotels. Libertarian economist Peter Leeson attributes this increased economic activity to the Somali customary law (referred to as Xeer), which he suggests provides a stable environment to conduct business in.

According to the Central Bank of Somalia, the country's GDP per capita as of 2012 is $226, a slight reduction in real terms from 1990. About 43% of the population lives on less than 1 US dollar a day, with around 24% of those found in urban areas and 54% living in rural areas.

Somalia's economy consists of both traditional and modern production, with a gradual shift toward modern industrial techniques. Somalia has the largest population of camels in the world. According to the Central Bank of Somalia, about 80% of the population are nomadic or semi-nomadic pastoralists, who keep goats, sheep, camels and other types of cattle. The nomads also gather resins and gums to supplement their income.

Agriculture is the most important economic sector. It accounts for about 65% of the GDP and employs 65% of the workforce. Livestock contributes about 40% to GDP and more than 50% of export earnings. Other principal exports include fish, charcoal and bananas; sugar, sorghum and corn are products for the domestic market.

With the advantage of being located near the Arabian Peninsula, Somali traders have increasingly begun to challenge Australia's traditional dominance over the Gulf Arab livestock and meat market, offering quality animals at very low prices. In response, Gulf Arab states have started to make strategic investments in the country, with Saudi Arabia building livestock export infrastructure and the United Arab Emirates purchasing large farmlands. The US dollar is widely accepted as currency alongside the Somali shilling.

Somalia is also a major world supplier of frankincense and myrrh.

Stay tuned for more information on Somalia, and more places and their people in future posts. Our area is blessed to be called home by many people of many cultures, and they deserve to be acknowledged.