History of Somaliland

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Ancient Somaliland[edit]

In the Classical era, the city states of Malao (Berbera) and Mundu (Maydh) prospered, and were deeply involved in the spice trade, selling myrrh and frankincense to The Romans and Egyptians Somaliland and Puntland became known as hubs for spices mainly cinnamon and the cities grew wealthy from it the Periplus of the Erythraean sea tells us that the northern Somaliland and Puntland regions of modern-day Somalia were independent and competed with Aksum for trade.[1]

Early Islamic States[edit]

With the introduction of Islam in the 7th century in what are now the Afar-inhabited parts of Eritrea and Djibouti, the region began to assume a political character independent of Ethiopia. Three Islamic sultanates were founded in and around the area named Shewa (a Semitic-speaking sultanate in eastern Ethiopia, modern Shewa province and ruled by the Mahzumi dynasty, related to Muslim Amharas and Argobbas), Ifat (another Semitic-speaking[2] sultanate located in eastern Ethiopia in what is now eastern Shewa) and Adal and Mora (Gadabursi Clan, Somali, and Harari vassal sultanate of Ifat by 1288, centered around Dakkar and later Harar, with Zeila as its main port and second city, in eastern Ethiopia and in Somaliland's Awdal region; Mora was located in what is now the southern Afar Region of Ethiopia and was subservient to Adal).

At least by the reign of Emperor Amda Seyon I (r. 1314-1344) (and possibly as early as during the reign of Yekuno Amlak or Yagbe'u Seyon), these regions came under Ethiopian suzerainty. During the two centuries that it was under Ethiopian control, intermittent warfare broke out between Ifat (which the other sultantes were under, excepting Shewa, which had been incorporated into Ethiopia) and Ethiopia. In 1403 or 1415[3] (under Emperor Dawit I or Emperor Yeshaq I, respectively), a revolt of Ifat was put down during which the Walashma ruler, Sa'ad ad-Din II, was captured and executed in Zeila, which was sacked. After the war, the reigning king had his minstrels compose a song praising his victory, which contains the first written record of the word "Somali". Upon the return of Sa'ad ad-Din II's sons a few years later, the dynasty took the new title of "king of Adal," instead of the formerly dominant region, Ifat.

The area remained under Ethiopian control for another century or so. However, starting around 1527 under the charismatic leadership of Imam Ahmad ibn Ibrihim al-Ghazi (Gurey in Somali, Gragn in Amharic, both meaning "left-handed), Adal revolted and invaded medieval Ethiopia. Regrouped Muslim armies with Ottoman support and arms marched into Ethiopia employing scorched earth tactics and slaughtered any Ethiopian that refused to convert from Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity to Islam.[4] Moreover, hundreds of churches were destroyed during the invasion, and an estimated 80% of the manuscripts in the country were destroyed in the process. Adal's use of firearms, still only rarely used in Ethiopia, allowed the conquest of well over half of Ethiopia, reaching as far north as Tigray. The complete conquest of Ethiopia was averted by the timely arrival of a Portuguese expedition led by Cristovão da Gama, son of the famed navigator Vasco da Gama. The Portuguese had been in the area earlier in early 16th centuries (in search of the legendary priest-king Prester John), and although a diplomatic mission from Portugal, led by Rodrigo de Lima, had failed to improve relations between the countries, they responded to the Ethiopian pleas for help and sent a military expedition to their fellow Christians. a Portuguese fleet under the command of Estêvão da Gama was sent from India and arrived at Massawa in February 1541. Here he received an ambassador from the Emperor beseeching him to send help against the Muslims, and in July following a force of 400 musketeers, under the command of Christovão da Gama, younger brother of the admiral, marched into the interior, and being joined by Ethiopian troops they were at first successful against the Somalis but they were subsequently defeated at the Battle of Wofla (28 August 1542), and their commander captured and executed. On February 21, 1543, however,a joint Portuguese-Ethiopian force defeated the Somali-Ottoman army at the Battle of Wayna Daga, in which al-Ghazi was killed and the war won.

Ahmed al-Ghazi's widow married Nur ibn Mujahid in return for his promise to avenge Ahmed's death, who succeeded Imam Ahmad, and continued hostilities against his northern adversaries until he killed the Ethiopian Emperor in his second invasion of Ethiopia, Emir Nur died in 1567. The Portuguese, meanwhile, tried to conquer Mogadishu but according to Duarta Barbosa never succeeded in taking it.[5] The Sultanate of Adal disintegrated into small independent states, many of which were ruled by Somali chiefs.

Rose of the Sultans[edit]

In the east, a completely different political dynamic existed. The Warsangeli and Dhulbahante Sultanates under the Garad dynasty emerged a few centuries after the Three Sultanates of the west, and rose to prominence in Somaliland's Sool, Sanaag and Togdheer by the 13th century. Unlike Adel, which was a direct successor of Axumite civilization with a wildly diverse ethnic makeup and a political system entirely based on Islam, the Garad Sultanates were very much Somali clan-based states who happened to be Muslim. This is not to say the Warsangeli and Dhulbahante were not as pious as the Adel, as records show that their warriors formed a significant percentage of the army that invaded Ethiopia under Ahmed Gragn. After the Majerteen Sultanate formed and Adel collapsed in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Garad state became much more of an eastern-oriented state.

One interesting factor in the collapse of Adel is the flow of cultural influence reversed, flowing from the rest of Somalia into Adel, and the areas occupied by the Ottoman Empire became heavily Somalilized, while the previous, strongly Afar and Axumite identity faded away. This created the current cultural make up of the region.

Ottoman Somaliland[edit]

In 1548, the port city of Zeila was annexed by the Ottoman Empire. The reason for this was that Zeila is situated in a stragetic location on the Red Sea because it is near the Bab el Mandeb strait; a key area for trade with the East. For 300 years, Zeila enjoyed trade with other countries and was home to Arab, Persian and even Indian merchants. On 1884, when the empire was on the brink of collapse; Egypt, an Ottoman vassal at that time, occupied western parts of Somaliland, the other regions being controlled by Somali clans. Then, During the Scramble for Africa era, the region now claimed by Somaliland was the British Somaliland Protectorate. The city of Berbera host numerous buildings from the Ottoman era. The Ottoman also built a drinking water system in Berbera around 1800.

British Somaliland[edit]

Main article: British Somaliland
Map of invasion route of the Italian conquest of British Somaliland in August 1940

The British Somaliland protectorate was initially ruled from British India (though later on by the Foreign Office and Colonial Office), and was to play the role of increasing the British Empire's control of the vital Bab-el-Mandeb strait which provided security to the Suez Canal and safety for the Empire's vital naval routes through the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

Resentment against the British authorities grew: Britain was seen as excessively profiting from the thriving coastal trading and farming occurring in the territory.[citation needed] Beginning in 1899, religious scholar Mohammed Abdullah Hassan began a campaign to wage a holy war.[6] Hassan raised an army united through the Islamic faith[7] and established the Dervish State, fighting Ethiopian, British, and Italian forces,[8] at first with conventional methods but switching to guerilla tactics after the first clash with the British.[6] The British launched four early expeditions against him, with the last one in 1904 ending in an indecisive British victory.[9] A peace agreement was reached in 1905, and lasted for three years.[6] British forces withdrew to the coast in 1909. In 1912 they raised a camel constabulary to defend the protectorate, but the Dervishes destroyed this in 1914.[9] In the First World War the new Ethiopian Emperor Iyasu V reversed the policy of his predecessor, Menelik II, and aided the Dervishes,[10] supplying them with weapons and financial aid. Germany sent Emil Kirsch, a mechanic, to assist the Dervish Forces as an armourer at Taleh[11] from 1916–1917,[9] and encouraged Ethiopia to aid the Dervishes while promising to recognise any territorial gains made by either of them.[12] The Ottoman Empire sent a letter to Hassan in 1917 assuring him of support and naming him "Emir of the Somali nation".[11] At the height of his power, Hassan led 6000 troops, and by November 1918 the British administration in Somaliland was spending its entire budget trying to stop Dervish activity. The Dervish state fell in February 1920 after a British campaign led by ariel bombing.[9]

Sporadic uprisings were to occur for decades afterwards, however on a much reduced scale with improved British infrastructural spending and a more benign, less paternalistic set of public policy.

During the East African Campaign of WWII, the protectorate was occupied by Italy in August 1940, but recaptured by the British in summer 1941. Some Italian guerrilla fighting (Amedeo Guillet) lasted until 1942.

The conquest of British Somaliland was Italy's only victory (without the cooperation of German troops) in WWII against the Allies.


The MiG monument in Hargeisa commemorating the Somaliland region's breakaway attempt from the rest of Somalia during the 1980s. It serves as a symbol of struggle for the province's residents.[13]

On May 18, 1991, after the collapse of the central government in Somalia in the Somali Civil War, the territory asserted its independence as the self-described Republic of Somaliland. However, the region's self-declared independence remains unrecognized by any country or international organization.[14][15]

Map of modern Somaliland - borders claimed by the Somaliland government. Note that eastern parts of the claimed area are not under control of the Somaliland government.


  1. ^ http://www.buzzle.com/articles/ancient-harbours-of-northern-somalia-and-colonial-anti-african-historiography.html
  2. ^ Pankhurst, Richard. The Ethiopian Borderlands: Essays in Regional History from Ancient Times to the End of the 18th century (Asmara, Eritrea: The Red Sea, Inc., 1997)
  3. ^ Al-Maqrizi gives the former date, while the Walashma chronicle gives the latter.
  4. ^ Somalia: From The Dawn of Civilization To The Modern Times: Chapter 8: Somali Hero - Ahmad Gurey (1506-43) CivicsWeb
  5. ^ J. Makong’o & K. Muchanga ;Peak Revision K.C.S.E. History & Government, Page 50
  6. ^ a b c Abdi Ismail Samatar, The State and Rural Transformation in Northern Somalia, 1884-1986, page 38-39
  7. ^ Mohamoud, Abdullah A (2006). State collapse and post-conflict development in Africa: the case of Somalia (1960-2001) (illustrated ed.). Purdue University Press. p. 71. ISBN 1557534136. 
  8. ^ Pecastaing, Camille (2011). Jihad in the Arabian sea. Hoover Press. ISBN 0817913769. 
  9. ^ a b c d Omissi, David E (1990). Air Power and Colonial Control: The Royal Air Force, 1919–1939. Manchester University Press. pp. 14–15. ISBN 0719029600. 
  10. ^ Foster, Mary LeCron; Rubinstein, Robert A (1986). Peace and war: cross-cultural perspectives. Transaction Publishers. p. 139. ISBN 0887386199. 
  11. ^ a b Lewis, Ioan M. (2002). A modern history of the Somali: nation and state in the Horn of Africa (illustrated ed.). James Currey. pp. 78–79. ISBN 9780821414958. With the not-disinterested support of the Turkish and German Consuls in Ethiopia, the new Emperor conceived the aim of creating a vast Muslim Empire in NE Africa. To this end he entered into relations with Sayyid Muhammad, supplying him with financial aid and arms, and arranged for a German mechanic called Emil Kirsch to join the Dervishes and work for them as an armourer at their new headquarters at Taleh where a formidable ring of fortresses had been built by Yemeni masons. Before his pathetically unsuccessful bid for freedom from his exacting masters, Kirsch served the Dervishes well...In 1917, the Italian Administration of Somalia intercepted a document from the Turkish government which assured the Sayyid of support and named him Emir of the Somali nation. 
  12. ^ Shinn, David Hamilton; Ofcansky, Thomas P; Prouty, Chris (2004). Historical Dictionary of Ethiopia (illustrated ed.). Scarecrow Press. p. 405. ISBN 0810849100. 
  13. ^ "Close Residents of Somaliland sit under a war memorial of a MiG fighter jet in the centre of town in Hargeisa". Reuters. 19 May 2013. Retrieved 11 February 2014. 
  14. ^ Lacey, Marc (5 June 2006). "Hargeysa Journal; The Signs Say Somaliland, but the World Says Somalia". The New York Times. p. 4. Archived from the original on 30 May 2011. 
  15. ^ UN in Action: Reforming Somaliland's Judiciary