Somalia is located in Eastern Africa, bordering the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, east of Ethiopia. It comprises Italy's former Trust Territory of Somalia and the former British Protectorate of Somaliland. In 1960, British Somaliland and Italian Somalia joined to form an independent Somalia. In 1961, Somalia adopted its first national constitution in a countrywide referendum, which provided for a democratic state with a parliamentary form of government based on European models. In 1969, a coup headed by Mohamed Siad Barre ushered in an authoritarian socialist rule, bringing an abrupt end to the process of constitutional democracy in Somalia. In 1991, President Siad Barre was overthrown by opposing clans who failed to agree on a replacement and plunged the country into lawlessness and clan warfare.
It should be noted that Somalia has had no real central government since 1991. In recent years, despite the establishment of a fragile transitional government, the country has been controlled by various political and regional factions, as well as local warlords. Islamic militias have also held sway and were driven from the capital in 2006 following an intervention by Ethiopian troops into Somali territory on behalf of the weak transitional government.
Since that time, resurgent Islamists, known as al-Shabab, have been launching a violent insurgency and now control significant swaths of the country's territory. A ceasefire pact between the government and insurgent forces in June 2008 has had little positive effect since some factions did not sign onto the deal. Indeed, in 2010, al-Shabab -- which is allied with the notorious terror enclave al-Qaida -- was carrying out a violent offensive aimed at overthrowing the government, and even carrying out terrorist acts outside national borders. Indeed, al-Shabab was responsible for two deadly bombings in Uganda in July 2010, indicating an increasingly jihadist orientation, in which attacks do not stop at the national borders. In August 2011, al-Shabab forces were said to be withdrawing from the capital city of Mogadishu; however, that exit did not augur an end to violence and terrorism as indicated by the October 2011 attack on the Mogadishu government compound.
From the start of the insurgency in 2007, although no official figures are available, estimates suggest that tens of thousands have died and hundreds of thousands have been made homeless by the fighting in Mogadishu. As people have been forced to flee their homes in search of safety, there are now as many as one million people are internal refugees in Somalia. With the state of lawlessness increasing in Somalia, a dire security situation plaguing the country, and the mass scale of population displacement, the United Nations warned that half the entire Somali population has been in need of humanitarian aid since the second half of 2008. As of 2011, the situation can be characterized as both a political and human crisis, manifest most expressly by a crippling famine and drought crisis.
It should be noted that, as chaos reigns supreme in the heartland of Somalia, there are also two "republics" in the north. The former British colony of Somaliland---consisting of five districts in the northwest---declared independence in 1991, and the northeastern region---known as Puntland---declared autonomy in 1998. Neither is recognized as a sovereign independent state.