Population: Estimates vary; United Nations 1991
estimate shows population of 7.7 million not including Ethiopian
refugees but other estimates place at 8.4 million in mid-1990.
Until early 1990s, predominantly nomadic pastoralisto and
seminomadic herders made up about three-fifths of total;
cultivators about one-fifth; town dwellers (vast majority in
Mogadishu) about one-fifth. Pattern of residency dramatically
altered by civil war in late 1980s onward, raising urban
population of Mogadishu to 2 million.
Languages: Somali (script officially introduced January
1973) predominates. Several dialects; Common Somali most widely
used; Coastal Somali spoken on the Banaadir Coast; Central Somali
spoken in the interriverine area. English and Italian used by
relatively small proportion (less than 10 percent) of urban
population. Somali and Italian used at university level; Somali
used at all school levels below university. Arabic used in
religious contexts. Indigenous languages include various dialects
of Afar and Boni.
Ethnic Groups: Overwhelming majority of nationals
ethnic Somalis; and two agricultural clan-families (Digil and
Rahanwayn). In 1991 centralized state disintegrated into its
constituent lineages and clans.
Religion: Former Somali state officially Islamic;
overwhelming majority of nationals Sunni Muslims (less than 1
percent Christian). Activist Islamism increasing in some areas.
Education and Literacy: Until 1991 modern public
education offered free at all levels; nationally owned
educational facilities closed after collapse of Somali state;
school attendance grew rapidly in settled areas in 1970s; primary
education extended to nomadic children in early 1980s. Literacy
campaigns resulted in substantial increases in 1970s but less
than government's estimate of 60 percent, with relapse among
nomads by 1977; United Nations estimate shows 24 percent literacy
rate in 1990.
Health: Improvement in numbers of health care personnel
and facilities during 1970s offset by civil war, refugee burden,
and failure to expand services beyond urban areas; weak modern
medical infrastructure deteriorated dramatically after 1991
collapse of central government. High incidence of pulmonary
tuberculosis, malaria, tetanus, parasitic and venereal
infections, leprosy, and a variety of skin and eye ailments;
relatively low incidence of human immunovirus (HIV) (less than 1
percent) through 1992; general health severely affected by
widespread malnutrition and famine in 1992.