Somali Poetry

In Somalia, poetry is more than just an art form; it’s a medium of communication, news-sharing, and persuasion, drawing on history, culture and politics. Poetry is also used in inter-clan disputes, where a poet composes a poem insulting another tribe. The highly respected Somali poet is tasked with composing verses to commemorate every significant event in his clan, thereby recording his people’s history and preserving the feelings around those events. The poems are then memorized by others and passed down through the generations.


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See also: Somalia

The Ogaden

The Ogaden is a pastoral region within southeastern Ethiopia named for the Ogadeeni, a prominent Somali clan. Though claimed by Somalis, the region was granted to Ethiopian Emperor Menelik II in 1897 by the British after he had taken it in military conquest in 1887. The region was later annexed to Italian Somaliland in 1936, then returned to Ethiopia by the British in 1948 over the protest of some of its inhabitants, which was deeply upsetting to Somali nationalists.

The Ogaden is the site of ongoing conflict between the Ethiopian military and Ogadeeni separatist movements,...

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See also: Somalia

Failed State

The concept of a Failed State denotes a nation lacking effective government and legal structures. The term was first used in the early 1990s post-Cold War context as western developed nations—especially the United States—sought to empower themselves and the United Nations to intervene in underdeveloped nations guided by principles of democracy, global security, and a human rights agenda. The term lacks a clear definition and has been criticized by some as representing power relations associated with neocolonialism, which ultimately stigmatizes those states to which the term is applied. The...

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See also: Somalia

Black Hawk Down

Black Hawk Down or the Battle of Mogadishu was a military incident that took place on October 3-4, 1993 between United States and African Union (UNISOM) forces and Somali militias under the leadership of General Mohammad Aideed. The battle was named for the two American Black Hawk helicopters shot down by Aideed’s militiamen. The military operation to rescue the downed servicemen led to the death of 18 American troops, one Pakistani and one Malaysian soldier, as well as hundreds of Somalis, both combatants and noncombatants. Public reception...

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See also: Somalia


Al-Shabaab is a radical Islamist militant movement in Somalia that emerged following the United States supported Ethiopian conflict that brought down the Islamic Courts Union in 2006. Al-Shabaab has affiliated itself with, and receives support from, the transnational radical Islamist organization al-Qaeda. It is not a defined or clearly-organized movement, but rather al-Shabaab represents a network of clan-militias, foreign fighters attracted to...

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See also: Somalia

Al-Itihaad al-Islamiya

Al-Itihaad al-Islamiya (AIAI) is an Islamist militant organization that was founded in opposition to the Siad Barre regime, formed from an assortment of various Wahhabi groups. It took a strong political and military stance against Ethiopia and sought to regain the Ogaden region for Somalia. Some members of the AIAI leadership emerged as prominent leaders in the Islamic Courts Union, including...

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See also: Somalia

The Islamic Courts Union

The Islamic Courts Union (ICU) was a legal and political organization founded by Muslim clerics from the Abgal subclan of the powerful Hawiye clan that operated from 2000 to 2006 in Mogadishu. These Islamic courts adjudicated personal status and criminal law matters according to Islamic law (shari’a). Because they were backed by clan-based ICU militias, they were extremely effective in maintaining order. Abgal clerics did not start the courts in a desire because they...

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See also: Somalia


Al-Islaah is a moderate Islamist movement that formed in the 1970s and is affiliated with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. It evolved from a postwar social service network, recognized for the quality of its hospitals and schools (including the University of Mogadishu), to a political movement with broad support from students, professionals, and business people. It has rejected violence.

Damul Jadiid (DJ)—“New Blood”—is a faction within al-Islaah that broke with the organizational rejection of violence and joined the Islamic Courts Union in 2006. Current president Hassan Sheikh...

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See also: Somalia

Sayyid Muhammad 'Abdille Hassan

Sayyid Muhammad 'Abdille Hassan (1856-1920) was militant leader, a Sufi sheikh, and a renowned poet who led the most significant anti-colonial campaign against the colonial British. He is remembered as a nationalist hero by contemporary Somalis, many of whom can recite his poetry by heart. He was a member of two powerful pastoral warrior Darod subclans.

In 1895 he embarked on the pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj) and while there, studied with Sheikh...

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See also: Somalia

Maj. General Siad Barre

Maj. Gen. Siad Barre (1910-1995) was a military leader and the president of Somalia who led a coup following the assassination of President Abdirashid Ali Shermake. He is remembered as a brutal dictator whose regime fostered conditions leading to the 1991 civil war. A member of the Marehan Darod subclan, he was raised an orphan in Italian Somaliland, working in the police force and later becoming chief inspector under the British. At the time of independence, Barre was a colonel in the Somali National Army, and within the decade was made commandant of the army.

Following the coup,...

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See also: Somalia

General Mohamed Farah Aideed

General Mohamed Farah Aideed (d. 1996) was an Italian-trained military leader, often described as a warlord, who played a leading role in the coup against President Siad Barre in 1990. He was a member of the Habr Gidr subclan of the Hawiye, and leader of the United Somali Congress and later Somali National Alliance. Aideed’s clan-based militias comprised one of the major forces in control of parts of Mogadishu and southern Somalia during the...

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See also: Somalia

Sufism in Somalia

Sufism (tasawwuf) is an Islamic modality that emphasizes self-purification and the attainment of spiritually advanced states through the assumption of specific practices and disciplines, typically through affiliation with a particular brotherhood and its leader, a sheikh. Most Somalis today are at least nominal members of a Sufi order and members of the same Sufi order may come from opposing—even warring—clans. Devout members often gather together in residential communities around their sheikh known as jamaat (sing. jamaa’). ...

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See also: Somalia, Islam


Somalis form the largest ethnic group in Somalia and constitute large minorities in neighboring countries. The Somali language was made the official state language upon independence in 1960. Somalis are predominantly pastoral nomads who organize themselves into lineage-based clan and subclan groups; the largest include the nomadic Darod, Isaq, Hawiye, and Dir, and the agriculturalist Rahanwayn and Digil.

See also: Somalia, East Africa