Arid, semidesert conditions make the country relatively unproductive. In most areas, barren coastal lowland (widest in the south) is abruptly succeeded by a rise to the interior plateau, which is generally c.3,000 ft (910 m) high and stretches toward the northern and western highlands. The Jubba and the Webe Shebele are the only important rivers. In addition to Mogadishu, other important cities are Hargeisa, Berbera (the main northern port), and Kismayo (the principal port of the south).
The vast majority of the republic's population is Somali; they speak a Cushitic language and are Sunni Muslims. They are divided into five principal clans and many subclans. Islam is the state religion. Although Somali is the national tongue, Arabic, Italian, and English are used officially. There are Bantu-speaking ethnic groups in the southwest and numerous Arabs in the coastal towns.