Reaching the Nations


By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

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Area: 637,657 square km.  Located in East Africa on the Horn of Africa, Somalia borders Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, the Gulf of Aden, and the Indian Ocean.  Desert covers most the country and some areas experience a seasonal monsoon which moderates temperatures.  Periods between monsoons tend to be hot and humid.  The terrain is flat with some plateaus and small mountains in the north.  Drought, dust storms, and floods are natural hazards.  Environmental issues include famine, contaminated drinking water, deforestation, soil erosion, and desertification.  Somalia is divided into 18 administrative regions. 

Population: 9,832,017 (July 2009) - Note: population estimates vary widely       

Annual Growth Rate: 2.815% (2009)    

Fertility Rate: 6.52 children born per woman (2009)

Life Expectancy: 47.78 male, 51.53 female (2009)


Somali: 85%

Other: 15%

Other ethnic groups consist of Bantu or non-Somali peoples. 

Languages: Somali languages (97%), other (3%).  Somali is the official language.  Arabic, English, Italian, and Swahili are also spoken.  Languages with over one million speakers include Somali (8.34 million) and Maay (1.86 million). 

Literacy: 37.8% (2001)


Since ancient times, Somalia has been a center of trade for East Africa and the Middle East.  The Kingdom of Punt was headquartered in Somalia and traded with many civilization including the Egyptians, Babylonians, and Phoenicians.  Islam quickly arrived to Somalia and Mogadishu became an important center for religion in East Africa.  Although never formally colonized, portions of Somalia were annexed by European powers in the late 19th century.  Britain ruled northern Somalia, named Somaliland, but several decades of civil disorder occurred due to Dervish leaders who sought independence and an end to foreign rule.  The rebellion was not put down until 1920 when the British used aircraft for the first time in a military campaign in Africa.  Italian Somaliland consisted of central and southern Somalia and came under Italian rule in the late 19th century.  During World War II, Italy invaded British Somaliland and united the two regions.  Control of both states fell to the British following the war and Italy regained jurisdiction for Italian Somalia shortly thereafter.  Independence occurred in 1960 as European forces vacated the country and united both British and Italian sections. 

In 1969, a coup brought authoritarian socialist rule which created greater stability until its collapse in the early 1990s.  The United Nations conducted a humanitarian mission from 1993 to 1995 to relieve suffering from famine and the lawlessness that overtook the country.  Increasing anarchy has occurred over the past two decades as Somalia has divided into several smaller autonomous and semi-autonomous states which remain unrecognized by the international community.  The Republic of Somaliland appears the most stable and promising as a full functioning government is in place.  Other de facto states or political powers include Puntland, Xisbul Islam, the Somali Federal Government, and Harakat al-Shabaab Mujahideen.  Pirate attacks on cargo ships, oil tankers, and passenger vessels off the Somali coast occur frequently and are a subject of increasing international concern. 


Sitting at the crossroads of East Africa and the Middle East, Somalia has diverse cuisine and literature.  Somali music possesses many unique characteristics, such as being based on a five-pitch music system instead of the common seven-pitch system.  Many live nomadic lives.  Islam heavily influences daily living.  Laws originate from three different sources: Civil law, Shari'a law, and Xeer (a customary law).  Polygamy is widely practiced. 


GDP per capita: $600 (2009) [1.3% of US]

Human Development Index: N/A

Corruption Index: 1.0

The lack of a central government presents many unique economic conditions.  Local businesses print their own money and many hotels have their own private militias for security.  Agriculture produces and employs most the population.  Many are nomads and heavily depend on their livestock for survival.  Primary agriculture products include bananas, sorghum, corn, and livestock.  Natural resources are scarce; lawlessness has prevented much of the discovery and exploitation mineral, petroleum, and hydropower resources.  Somalia does have a developed telecommunications industry.  Primary trade partners include the United Arab Emirates, Djibouti, and Yemen. 


Muslim: 99%

Other: 1%


Denominations  Members  Congregations

Catholic   100


Nearly all Somalis are Muslim.  There are fewer than 1,000 Christians. 

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index: 25th

The transitional federal charter allows for freedom of religion but this right is restricted in practice.  De facto states range in their tolerance towards non-Muslims but overall Christians are not accepted and are actively persecuted.  The charter claims Islam as the national religion and Somaliland and Puntland also declare Islam as the state religion.  In Puntland, the government does not tolerate the spread of non-Islamic religions and closely monitors religious activities.  The al-Shabaab militia group, which controls southern Somalia, commits acts of violence to enforce a radical interpretation of Islam including beheading, amputations, stoning, and grave desecration.[1] 

Largest Cities

Urban: 37%

Mogadishu, Hargeysa, Berbera, Chisimayu, Jamaame, Baidoa, Burao, Bender Cassim, Afgooye, Galcaio.

Cities listed in bold have no LDS congregation.

No cities have a congregation.  Most the urban population lives in the 10 largest cities. 

LDS History

The Church established a branch in the early 1980s for foreign members living in Somalia, many of whom were assisting the government.  The branch was discontinued after members returned to their home countries.  Church services were held for American military in the early 1990s.  In 1998, Somalia was assigned to the Africa Southeast Area.  An American member thwarted a pirate attack on a cargo ship off the coast of Somalia in 2009.[2]

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: less than 100 (2009)

Somali converts have joined the Church in Kenya.[3]  Some Somali members attended a meeting with President Hinckley in 1998.[4]  The few Somali members either joined the Church when a branch operated in the 1980s or in a country with a Church presence and later returned to their homeland.

Congregational Growth

Branches: 0

As of 2004, there were no organized Church groups in the country.[5]  The Kenya Nairobi Mission appears to administer Somalia.

Activity and Retention

It does not appear that many Somalis joined the Church when there was a Church presence, as prior congregations serviced primarily expatriate members and no active proselytism is known to have occurred. Any LDS members remaining in Somalia likely keep their membership secret in order to avoid persecution and death threats. 

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: Arabic, English, Italian, Swahili

All LDS scriptures are available in Arabic, Italian, and Swahili.  A wide range of ecclesiastic materials are available in Arabic and Italian whereas Church material translations in Swahili include limited unit, priesthood, Relief Society, hymns, and Church proclamations.  Gospel Fundamentals is available in Swahili.  Church materials in Somali are limited to Gospel Principles and The Prophet Joseph Smith's Testimony


Meetings occurred in members' homes or on military compounds when units were organized in Somalia.  No organized LDS meetings occur in Somalia at present.

Health and Safety

Nationwide lawlessness and the violent enforcement of Islamic law create dangerous conditions for Christian missionaries and workers.  Non-government organizations (NGOs) with strictly humanitarian missions have had to evacuate periodically due to threats of violence.  The threat of spreading disease is lower than many African nations and HIV/AIDS has infected 0.5% of the population, although some tropical diseases are endemic, health care infrastructure is extremely limited, and access to medicine is poor or non-existent.  Outsiders become frequent targets of harassment and violence as they are accused of conducting missionary work or spying for Ethiopia.  The United States and many other Western governments strongly advise their citizens against travel to Somalia. 

Humanitarian and Development Work

The Church provided humanitarian relief to Somalia and surrounding countries in the early 1990s due to drought.[6]  Long-term assistance in food donations and rehabilitation were offered by the Church in 1994.[7]

Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

The current state of religious freedom in Somalia along with political collapse, lawlessness, and widespread violence represent major obstacles preventing the establishment of the Church.  Although the charter guarantees religious freedom, most local governments do not protect these rights.  This results in the tolerated abuse and harassment of Christians and other non-Muslims.  Current conditions suggest that any Church presence would be highly sensitive and would require members to meet in private locations in order to avoid lawlessness.  Greater religious freedom occurs in Somaliland and Puntland, but the laws of these de facto states severely limits the functioning of Christian churches, barring any missionary activity. 

Cultural Issues

Somalia has a highly homogenous religious demography, creating greater challenge for the Church to attract converts.  Very few have any background in Christianity, resulting in many misunderstandings about the Bible and Christian theology.  Low literacy rates impede any passive missionary activity as few can read tracts and pamphlets expounding and clarifying the Church's doctrines and practices.  Internet access is extremely limited or nonexistent in most areas.  Lawlessness creates challenges in forming boundaries between opposing clans and pseudo-nation states.  The nomadic lifestyle of many Somalis will render this portion of the population unreached by the Church for many years following any formal Church establishment due to remote locations in which they reside and the transient nature of their lifestyle.  The common practice of polygamy may challenge future mission outreach as those married to a polygamous spouse must end these relations in divorce and be interviewed by a member of the mission presidency to be baptized. 

National Outreach

The entire population of nearly 10 million is unreached by current mission outreach.  Any future organized missionary work will likely occur through the Kenya Nairobi Mission and Africa Southeast Area.  Although missionary work in Somali is presently prohibited by law, lawlessness, violence, and a tiny LDS membership, future endeavors will likely be limited by the large, receptive populations of neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia - which have 39 million and 85 million people, respectively - drawing away limited mission resources and manpower.

Outreach among Somalis in nations with active missionary work may prepare for national outreach in Somalia.  Neighboring Ethiopia has over five million Somalis and Kenya has half a million.  Somali communities are also found in Europe, the United States, Canada, and the Middle East. 

Member Activity and Convert Retention

There is no LDS presence in Somalia, and likely few native members.

Ethnic Issues and Integration

The lack of ethnic diversity allows for fewer ethnic tensions and hostilities.  However clan violence between different Somali groups does occur and may become a source of conflict in the Church once a congregation is reestablished.  Differing political views and allegiances to various militia groups among Somalis may lead some to not pursue learning about the Church if most LDS members belong to one political entity. 

Language Issues

The Church benefits from a population which only speaks Somali languages.  The translation of two Church resources into Somali likely indicates that the Church has had some prior success in attracting converts from Somalia.  At present, LDS outreach to Somalis occurs primarily in Ethiopia and Kenya.


Potential Somali Church leadership may be limited to only a couple individuals.  Greater leadership development will need to occur prior to the establishment of Somali-speaking congregations in Somalia and among Somali diaspora communities. 


 Somalia belongs to the Johannesburg South Africa Temple district.  No temple trips occur from Somalia.  Members face challenges in long distance, airfare, and obtaining visas to visit the temple.

Comparative Growth

Somalia is the only African nation that once had an LDS presence and has no LDS presence at present.  With the exception of North Africa, Somalia was the only African nation with more than 95% of the population adhering to Islam that had an LDS congregation.  Nearby East African nations which are predominantly Christian have an established Church presence.  By the end of 2009, both Kenya and Uganda had over 8,000 members and had experienced rapid membership growth for several years.  Christians do not proselyte in Somalia and most of the mission-oriented denominations have no current presence.  Christian outreach among Somalis has occurred in other nations.   

Future Prospects

The outlook for a future Church presence in Somalia appears unfavorable as the country lacks a central government and Somali de facto states have highly restrictive laws against proselytism and typically tolerate violence towards non-Muslims.  Somali members living in other nations have shown keen interest in bringing the gospel to their native country.  Even if a national government tolerant toward non-Muslims emerges, the Church will face many challenges in its establishment as virtually the entire population is Muslim and suffers from high illiteracy.  The most probable method of an eventual reestablishment of an LDS presence will be through Somali members joining the Church in Ethiopia and Kenya and returning in large enough numbers to justify the recreation of a congregation in Mogadishu. 

[1]  "Somalia," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.

[2]  Caceres, Michelle.  "Prayer, quick thinking thwart pirate attack," LDS Church News, 13 June 2009.

[3]  "McDonald, Hiram.  "Church is growing in east Africa," LDS Church News, 6 September 1997.

[4]  Hart, John L.  "'This work will grow and grow in this land'," LDS Church News, 28 February 1998.

[5]  "Somalia," Deseret News 2010 Church Almanac, p. 575

[6]  "Deadly drought," LDS Church News, 26 September 1992.

[7]  "Church's humanitarian efforts provide relief around the world," LDS Church News, 13 August 1994.