Agriculture is the most important sector of Somalia’s economy. Yet the country on the Horn of Africa is the biggest recipient of food aid in the world. 


Map of Somalia



Official languages

Somali, Arabic


637,657 km²


10.8 million

Population growth

1.92 %

Rural population

approx. 70%

Gross domestic product

5.95 billion US dollars

Annual income per capita

555.90 US dollars

Severity of hunger according to the Global Hunger Index

insufficient data, cause for significant concern

Human Development Index

0.514 / Ranking: 160 out of 188

Somalia – a failed state?

Somalia, known as the Horn of Africa, sticks out from the most easterly point of the continent as if wedged into the Indian Ocean, while its northern coastline is flanked by the Gulf of Aden. In terms of area, it is about 1.8 times the size of Germany. The country has long since been considered the epitome of a failed state. After civil war broke out following the fall of the dictator, Siad Barreim, in 1991, there was no functioning central government in Somalia for more than twenty years. It was not until 2012 that another president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, was elected, only to be succeeded in February 2017 by the former head of government, Abdullahi Mohamed. In reality, though, the Government only controls a small part of the country. The region of Somaliland has broken away from Somalia, and Puntland and Jbaland in the north are semi-autonomous, while the south is controlled by the radical Islamist militia, al-Shabaab.


One of the most serious problems, besides an often precarious security situation, has been the drought which has left the whole of eastern Africa fighting a famine. According to data from the United Nations, 6.2 million people in Somalia are dependent on humanitarian aid (effective April 2017). In February 2017 the Government declared a state of emergency.


Existence threatened by loss of livestock

Agriculture is the most important sector of Somalia’s economy. Around 70 per cent of the population work in agriculture, mostly in the nomadic breeding of livestock, which consists primarily of camels, sheep and goats. Some also engage in seasonal arable farming. On the banks of the rivers Djuba and Webi Shebeli in particular, the soils are suitable for growing profitable cultivated plants such as sugar, maize and bananas. The country's most important source of income, though, is livestock farming, which earns 40 per cent of the gross domestic product and 65 per cent of export revenue. Other exported goods are bananas, dates and incense. But this is not enough to ensure a stable economy. Somalia has been dependent on emergency aid from abroad for decades, and is thought to be the biggest recipient of food aid in the world.


Somalia is the biggest recipient of food aid in the world.


The drought has brought the situation to a head, as large swathes of land have dried up and, according to the Save the Children organisation, three quarters of all livestock have perished. The latest harvest is down 75 per cent on the previous year. The situation has been further exacerbated by the rising costs of food and water, with livestock prices falling at the same time. There are outbreaks of diseases such as pneumonia, skin diseases, diarrhoea and typhus. At the beginning of March 2017 alone, almost 70 people died of cholera. Children and the elderly are affected most of all. According to the United Nations, at least 360,000 children in Somalia are severely malnourished, and around 70,000 of these are critically ill. UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, warned recently of a situation as in 2011, when 250,000 Somalis died of starvation as a result of drought.


The most corrupt country in the world

The catastrophic situation is causing a large refugee migration. Somalia ranks third among refugees’ countries of origin, immediately behind Syria and Afghanistan. In 2016 approximately 1.1 million people sought refuge in neighbouring countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Yemen – at least as many again are thought to have been displaced at home. Most of them live in the capital, Mogadishu, in appalling conditions. A direct consequence of this is the high unemployment rate, with youth unemployment at 67 per cent. As a result, young people are very often the victims of recruitment by extremist groups.


Somali society is divided into clans, which every Somali belongs to according to his or her paternal line of descent. This clan structure has led to violent power struggles – particularly during periods when there was no central government – and, according to experts, is partly responsible for the country’s political instability and widespread corruption. Thus Somalia was in last place in last year’s Corruption Perceptions Index.


AT LUNCHTIME YOU SHOULD BE FULL Lunch, known as qado, is the most important mealtime in Somalia. As far as the miserable conditions permit it, what is put on the table here is whatever the kitchen can provide. Rice dishes called baaris, seasoned with cumin, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and sage, are very popular with the Somalis. In the south, iskudhexkaris (mixed rice with vegetables) is a popular lunch. There are also numerous stews called maraq.

Help is slow in arriving

The new President, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, is not short of challenges. The public purse is empty, the country is deep in debt and corruption is rife. The Government’s main tasks are the same as they have been for decades: pressing ahead with security reforms, reconciliation, establishing institutions, constitutional reform and democratisation. However, during the present emergency it is difficult to find an effective way of approaching these tasks. Somalia in highly dependent on international aid. The United Nations and aid agencies calculate that it needs 800 million euros. But the flow of money is slow. So far only two fifths of this have been pledged.



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