Somalia has been without an effective central government since President Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991.
Years of fighting between rival warlords and an inability to deal with famine and disease have led to the deaths of up to one million people.
Comprised of a former British protectorate and an Italian colony, Somalia was created in 1960 when the two territories merged. Since then its development has been slow. Relations with neighbours have been soured by its territorial claims on Somali-inhabited areas of Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti.