Shebelle River

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Shebelle River
Map of the Jubba/Shebelle drainage basin
Physical characteristics
 • locationnear
 • coordinates7°13′12″N 39°27′59″E / 7.2201°N 39.4665°E / 7.2201; 39.4665
 • location
occasionally continues into the Jubba River, usually dries up near
 • coordinates
0°09′57″N 42°46′22″E / 0.1659°N 42.7727°E / 0.1659; 42.7727Coordinates: 0°09′57″N 42°46′22″E / 0.1659°N 42.7727°E / 0.1659; 42.7727

The Shebelle River (Somali: Webi Shabeelle, Arabic: نهر شبيلي‎, Amharic: እደላ, Italian: Uebi Scebeli) begins in the highlands of Ethiopia, and then flows southeast into Somalia towards Mogadishu. Near Mogadishu, it turns sharply southwest, where it follows the coast. Below Mogadishu, the river becomes seasonal. During most years, the river dries up near the mouth of the Jubba River, while in seasons of heavy rainfall, the river actually reaches the Jubba and thus the Somali Sea.

The Shebelle river's name is derived from the Somali term Webi Shabeelle, meaning "Leopard River". The Somali administrative regions consisting of Middle Shebelle and Lower Shabeelle are also named after the river.


The Shebelle has a number of tributaries, both seasonal and permanent rivers. They include:

The Fafen only reaches the Shebelle in times of heavy rainfall; its stream usually ends before reaching the main river.


Ajuran Empire[edit]

The Shebelle River has a rich history of a once-booming sophisticated civilization and trade network conducted by the powerful Somalis that held sway over the Shebelle river.

During the middle ages, Shebelle river was under the Ajuran Empire of the Horn of Africa which utilized the Shebelle River for its plantations and was the only hydraulic empire in Africa. A hydraulic empire that rose in the 13th century AD, Ajuran monopolized the water resources of the Jubba and Shebelle Rivers. Through hydraulic engineering, it also constructed many of the limestone wells and cisterns of the state that are still operative and in use today. Its rulers developed new systems for agriculture and taxation, which continued to be used in parts of the Horn of Africa as late as the 19th century.[1]

Through their control of the region's wells, the Garen rulers effectively held a monopoly over their nomadic subjects as they were the only hydraulic empire in Africa during their reign. Large wells made out of limestone were constructed throughout the state, which attracted Somali and Oromo nomads with their livestock. The centralized regulations of the wells made it easier for the nomads to settle disputes by taking their queries to government officials who would act as mediators. Long-distance caravan trade, a long-time practice in the Horn of Africa, continued unchanged in Ajuran times. Today, numerous ruined and abandoned towns throughout the interior of Somalia and the Horn of Africa are evidence of a once-booming inland trade network dating from the medieval period.[2]

With the centralized supervision of the Ajuran, farms in Afgooye, Bardhere and other areas in the Jubba and Shabelle valleys increased their productivity. A system of irrigation ditches known locally as Kelliyo fed directly from the Shebelle River and Jubba rivers into the plantations where sorghum, maize, beans, grain and cotton were grown during the gu (Spring in Somali) and xagaa (Summer in Somali) seasons of the Somali calendar. This irrigation system was supported by numerous dikes and dams. To determine the average size of a farm, a land measurement system was also invented with moos, taraab and guldeed being the terms used.

The urban centers of Mogadishu, Merca, Barawa, Kismayo and Hobyo and other respective ports became profitable trade outlets for commodities originating from the interior of the State. The Somali farming communities of the hinterland from Jubba and Shebella valleys brought their crops to the Somali coastal cities, where they were sold to local merchants who maintained a lucrative foreign commerce with ships sailing to and coming from Arabia, Persia, India, Venice, Egypt, Portugal, and as far away as Java and China.[3]

Modern period[edit]

The source of the Shebelle River is cultivated by the Arsi Oromo, Sidamo and mostly Somalis, respectively. It is surrounded by a sacred enclosure wooded with juniper trees, which as of 1951 was under the protection of a Muslim member of the Arsi.[4]

In 1989, with the help of Soviet engineers, the Melka Wakena dam was built on the upper reaches of the Shebelle River in the Bale Mountains. Producing 153 megawatts, this dam is Ethiopia’s largest hydroelectric generator.[5]

The recent history of the Shabelle is marked by frequent destructive flash floods. The Shabelle is said to have flooded every other year prior to the 1960s; that decade had only two devastating floods, the hidigsayley in 1965, and the soogudud in 1966. In the 1970s, the most devastating flood was the kabahay of 1978.[6] In 1996, floods devastated three woredas in Ethiopia. On 23 October 1999, the river unexpectedly flooded in the middle of the night, destroying homes and crops in 14 out of the 117 kebeles in Kelafo woreda, as well as 29 of the 46 kebeles in neighboring Mustahil woreda. According to the local authorities, 34 people and an estimated 750 livestock died, with 70,000 affected by the floods and in need of assistance.[7] Two more recent floods were the dawdle in 2003, when about 100 livestock and 119 people were washed away, and the flood of April 2005, when about 30,000 persons were surrounded by floodwaters and 2000 camels and 4000 shoats were washed away by the floods; some locals consider this the worst flood in 40 years.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Njoku, Raphael Chijioke (2013). The History of Somalia. p. 26. ISBN 9780313378577. Retrieved 2014-02-14.
  2. ^ Cassanelli (1982), p. 149.
  3. ^ Journal of African History pg.50 by John Donnelly Fage and Roland Anthony Oliver
  4. ^ J. Spencer Trimingham, Islam in Ethiopia (Oxford: Geoffrey Cumberlege for the University Press, 1952), p. 260.
  5. ^ Lulseged Ayalew, "Something that We Need to Know about Our River’s Hydropower Potential" Archived 2006-05-22 at the Wayback Machine. Accessed 20 April 2006
  6. ^ a b Ayele Gebre-Mariam, The Critical Issue of Land Ownership, Working Paper No. 2 (Bern: NCCR North-South, 2005), pp. 35f (accessed 19 January 2009)
  7. ^ "Drought and Floods: Stress Livelihoods and Food Security in the Ethiopian Somali Region" UNDP Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia report, dated November 1999 (accessed 28 December 2008)

External links[edit]