The Somali state was created by the partition of the Horn of Africa by Britain, Italy and France, and the Abyssinian empire, during the scramble for Africa in the nineteenth century. Formed by colonial treaties, Somalia’s borders today bear no resemblance to the distribu­tion of the ethnic Somali people who, as well as predominating in Somalia itself, inhabit lands within neighbouring Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti.4 During the colonial period Somalia itself did not exist as a single state, divided as it was between a northern British Somaliland and a southern Italian Somaliland. On 26 June 1960 Britain granted independence to the north and four days later the Italian-administered UN Trusteeship Territory of Somalia achieved independence. On 1 July 1960 the people of the former British and Italian territories united to form the Somali Republic.

Since May 1991 Somalia has again been two countries. To the north is the self-proclaimed Republic of Somaliland where amid the physical wreckage left by conflict, the population is rebuilding and rehabilitating the country. Although its secession is unrecognised internationally – and is contested by many Somalis – Somaliland has its own government and constitution, police force and judicial system, and has enjoyed stability and peace since 1997. The situation is very different in most of the rest of Somalia. A Transitional National Government formed in 2000 struggles to control even the area of Mogadishu in which it is based. Even though the scale of warfare has diminished much of central and southern Somalia remains volatile as warlords compete for resources.5 Kidnappings, rape, banditry and extortion are a constant threat to security.