The Somali state has virtually ceased to exist. Technically, the country is governed by the Ethiopian-backed Transitional Federal Government, but its actual control is minimal. There are no effective political parties, and the political process is driven largely by clan loyalty. As Ethiopian forces completed their withdrawal from the country in January 2009, Somalia's transitional parliament was expanded to include opposition factions, and the new body elected moderate Islamist leader Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed as president. Despite high hopes, his government remains without effective control over the country and continues on the verge of collapse as it comes under attack from radical Islamist groups. A December suicide bombing at a graduation ceremony for medical students killed four cabinet ministers and several other officials. Here, residents of Mogadishu cheer as they watch a bulldozer seized from government forces by the al-Shabaab rebels.
Africa's largest country has been embroiled in nearly continuous civil wars since independence from Britain and Egypt in 1956. President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, on the Khartoum billboard above, who came to power in a 1989 military coup, was the target of an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court in 2009 on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his government's role in the killing of hundreds of thousands of people in the western region of Darfur since 2003. The country held elections in April that were widely considered to be highly flawed. Despite objections surrounding his right to rule, however, the international community is relieved that Bashir's party and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement of South Sudan have agreed on a renewed unity government in Khartoum, which is part of a 2005 peace accord. South Sudan will hold an independence referendum in early 2011 that could split the country apart.