THE TURMOIL IN SOMALIA: PART IA

History Until Independence in 1960

Canberra, 27 August 2012

Somalia, located in the Horn of Africa, is one of the poorest and most violent failed states in the world—it ranks first in a survey of 177 nations that took into account a number of factors that contributed to a nation becoming a failed state. It shares borders with Ethiopia in the west, Kenya to the southwest, and Djibouti to the northwest while also having coastlines on the Gulf of Aden in the north and the Indian Ocean in the East. The terrain is mainly plateaus and plains and the country has a year-round hot climate with irregular monsoonal rains. Its location in the eastern most part of Africa with a long coastline has meant that it has been a traditional part of the ancient trade and commerce network. Somalia was colonised by Britain and Italy early in the 20th century and in 1941 became a full British colony. It gained independence in 1960. In 1991, the Somali Civil War broke out, bringing down the incumbent regime. Thereafter the nation has not been ruled by a central government with complete control of the entire nation although in the past week, a legislative committee has been appointed and election of a president is likely to take place in the near future.  
Antiquity
There is clear evidence that Somalia has been inhabited from the earliest recorded periods. Cave paintings said to date back to 9000 BC have been discovered in the north, making them some of the earliest rock art yet to be uncovered in Africa. Some burial sites, that are considered the oldest in the Horn of Africa, have also been found in the country. There is sufficient evidence, in the form of ruined cities, scattered stone walls and tombs that point towards the Somali Peninsula having been the home of a thriving and sophisticated ancient civilisation. Archaeological excavations have discovered evidence that this civilisation carried out lucrative trade with Ancient Egypt and Mycenaean Greece around 2000 BC and also had developed a writing system that has not yet been deciphered. This evidence supports the belief that Somalia was the ancient Land of Punt, which is mentioned as a rich nation situated at the crossroads of trade and commerce at that time. Herodotus, the Greek historian, mentions ‘Macrobians’—a people and kingdom located in present day Somalia around 1000 BC. The Macrobians were reported as being ‘tall and handsome’ and the empire is also mentioned in the annals of the Persian Emperor Cambyses II after his conquest of ancient Egypt. Somalia continued to thrive as a commercial hub through the period of the Roman conquest of the Nabataea Empire (around 33 BC), trading in spices brought to its ports by Indian merchants with the Roman and Greek empires.
Middle Ages
Islam came to the area early and there is written evidence of Muslims living along the northern seaboard from the late-800s. It is thought that a number of Muslims who were being persecuted came to the area to seek the protection of the Auxumite Emperor of Ethiopia. The spread of Islam within the Arab community directly affected the Somali merchants since they were partners in trade. The Somali population, especially in the coastal areas, embraced the religion over a period of time—a classic case of a young religion spreading through commerce. Mogadishu was the preeminent city in what was referred to by the Arabs as Bilad-al-Barbar (Land of the Berbers), the term used to indicate the lands of the Horn of Africa. In a short time the Sultanate of Mogadishu became the nucleus of Islam in the east coast. Around the same time, Somali merchants established Adal in the north as a small trading community and by about 1150 AD it had become a thriving commercial empire—the Adal Sultanate.   
The Adal dynasty was primarily of Arab stock, but sufficiently localised to be considered Somalis and their rule was characterised by a number of battles fought against Abyssinia to the west. At the height of its power, the Adal kingdom controlled large tracts of land in modern-day Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti. Although powerful in their own right, the Adal kingdom was under the patronage of the Kingdom of Ifat and benefitted from the Ifat conquest of the ancient Kingdom of Shoa in 1270 AD. However, this conquest sowed the seeds of dispute between the Christian Solomonids and Muslim Ifatites, leading to a number of wars between them and the ultimate victory of the Solomonids. Between 1405 and 1415 AD the Sultanate of Adal was conquered by Emperor Yeshaq I and the Adal Sultan, Sa’ad ad-Din II, was captured and executed (the date is put as 1415 in the Walashma Chronicles). The victory song composed at this time contains the first written reference to ‘Somali’.   
Sa’ad ad-Din’s sons, who went into exile in Yemen following the defeat, continued the fight against the Solomonids and were able to re-establish a smaller kingdom, this time with an inland capital in Dakkar. The warring states continued to have mixed success with neither nation able to win decisive victory. The Adal kingdom changed hands at frequent interval either due to the incumbent ruler dying of natural causes, being captured and killed during battle, or being assassinated by disloyal relatives. Around 1460 AD, the Adal Sultan, Muhammad ibn Badlay concluded a peace treaty with his Solomonid rival, Baeda Mayam paving the way for an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity.       
At the turn of the 16th century, Adal was a powerful nation. In 1527 AD it was able to invade and conquer half of Abyssinia with an army led by Imam Ahmed ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi who pioneered the use of cannons and other firearms in the region. During this campaign the first European, Portuguese, intervention took place in the Horn of Africa. Until this time the coastal cities of the region had been used by the Europeans only as ports of call for trade and replenishment of their ships. A fundamental aspect of the intervention was the religious flavour of the intervention with the Portuguese throwing their weight in favour of a ‘fellow Christian’ kingdom, that of Abyssinia. While European intervention in other parts of the world was almost always oriented towards ensuring commercial success, all interventions were as far as possible aligned to support Christianity—either to defend or spread it. This approach was a combination of pragmatism tinged with ‘spirituality’. The Adal invasion was stopped before the entire nation of Abyssinia could be conquered by the intervention of a Portuguese expedition led by Cristovao da Gama, the son of the famed explorer Vasco da Gama who had earlier passed through the area and had also discovered the route to India in 1498. Although the combined Portuguese and Abyssinian forces suffered initial defeat—Battle of Wofla on 28 August 1542, where the Portuguese Commander was captured and executed—they decisively defeated the Adal army on 21 February 1543 at the Battle of Wayna Daga in which Ahmed al-Ghazi was killed. This victory however, did not result in the culmination of the war between the two nations; the state of war continued and gradually evolved into a Somali-Portuguese war in the Horn of Africa.
This situation increased the already existing geo-political tensions between the Ottoman Empire, who supported the Adal Kingdom and Portugal who were, at that time, one of the predominant powers of Europe. The Ottoman-Somali collaboration against the Portuguese saw concerted attacks against a number of coastal cities in which the Portuguese held sway and on Portuguese colonies in Southeast Africa. These attacks on Portuguese interests culminated with a Portuguese armada from India retaking all lost territory and re-establishing their strong position in the Horn of Africa and further south.            
The European Division of North-Eastern Africa
In the early modern period a number of successor kingdoms of the Adal Empire—the Warsangli Sultanate, the Bari Dynasties, the Gobroon Dynasty—continued its tradition of seaborne trade and commerce, and flourished in Somalia. The ruling dynasties maintained cordial relations with neighbouring as well as distant kingdoms, created alliances with important rulers in the East African coast and by and large were also benevolent rulers. The early part of the 19th century was one of relative stability in the region that encouraged the revitalisation of lucrative trade and commerce leading to overall prosperity. However, later in the century, after the Berlin Conference in 1884, European powers began to colonise Africa in unseemly haste and with no consideration for the then-ruling dynasties. This is again repeated theme in the global history of colonisation, where the lawful rights of indigenous rulers and their people were not considered to be of any consequence, the local population was treated as ‘savages’ purely because their customs and traditions were not the same as that of the Europeans and annexation of kingdoms were considered the God-given right of the colonial power. The fact that some of the civilisations that were subdued were far more evolved and sophisticated than the conquering forces do not normally find a mention in most of the narratives. It is only now, many years after the colonial independence movement has been achieved, that researchers are trying to put together the viewpoint of the local people who were conquered.    
The European colonisation, with all the cultural and religious disruption that it entails, resulted in the Dervish leader Muhammad Abdullah Hassan garnering support and leading a long-drawn anticolonial resistance. Hassan based his revolt on the prevalent anti-Christian feeling and emphasised at every opportunity that Islam was at risk at the hands of the invaders. He was supported by the Ottoman Empire and other Islamic and Arab countries with the supply of firearms finances. He also envisaged Somali unity and independence and his movement was of a military nature with him becoming the acknowledged champion of his country’s political and religious freedom. During his resistance Hassan managed to repulse four British expeditions and even established contact with the German government.
As an aside, Hassan was dubbed the ‘Mad Mullah’ by the British and they used the newly formed Royal Air Force (RAF) to attack his forts and to reinforce the large Army contingent that was involved in trying to contain the ‘rebellion’. In January 1920, the RAF used light bombers to attack Hassan’s followers and inflicted heavy casualties, which put them to flight. In the following three weeks, the army, supported by the RAF bombing hounded Hassan across the border to Ethiopia, where he is alleged to have succumbed to decease almost immediately. Obviously, lacking charismatic leadership and faced with unaccustomed aerial bombardment, the Dervish state collapsed and Somalia (called Somaliland at that time) was turned into a British protectorate.
Between 1920 and 1923, the north-eastern Sultanates of Somalia were forced to join Italian Somaliland under protective treaties although the Italians did not enforce direct rule. However, with the rise of Fascism in Italy, the Italian Governor of the region, Cesare Maria De Vecchi, was instructed on 10 July 1925 to abrogate all treaties and to take over the north-eastern sultanates. However, the takeover was not easily achieved because (a) the Italians did not have sufficient forces in country and therefore, had to start creating a force to carry out the annexation, (b) they did not have sufficient knowledge of the terrain and the functioning of the sultanates to enforce their writ, and (c) two of the sultanates, the first ones to be asked to disarm and surrender, joined together to resist the takeover that they considered to be a in breach of the treaties—which it indeed was. Another kingdom, the Sultanate of Hobyo an ancient and large kingdom founded in the middle of the 19th century, also resisted the takeover from the beginning. Although they suffered setbacks in the beginning of the Italian invasion in October 1925, they were able to defeat the Italian forces (combined troops of Italians and locally recruited Somalis called the Zapaties) in a number of encounters. By 15 November 1925, the Italian forces had retreated to Bud Bud in Abyssinia.
However, with reinforcements from Eritrea and fighting under a new commander, the Italian forces overran the capital of Hobyo, El Buur, on 26 December 1925. Fighting, however, continued for another year and it was only early in 1927 that the Italians were able to fully subdue the entire area. There are a few noteworthy factors that standout in this campaign. One, the Sultanate forces were comparatively ill-equipped and reliant on the supply from the Ottoman Empire for their firearms. Two, typical of the local forces, they were fierce fighters but tended to be an incoherent force as an entity with limited overall command and control. Three, the Italian force by this time was overwhelming in their numbers, was not a mix of locals and Italian troops as was the case in the beginning, and had enormous advantage in firepower. Four, the Italians had the advantage of having battleships standing off the coast to blockade and bombard the coastal areas with the Sultanate’s response being extremely feeble. Considering these facts it is to the great credit of the Sultanate to have continually defied and defeated the Italian forces for as long as they did.
In 1935, Italy under Benito Mussolini attacked Ethiopia with the aim of colonising the nation and although the League of Nations condemned the action, no action was initiated by any other European nation to liberate the occupied Ethiopian territory. On 9 May 1936, Mussolini declared the creation of the Africa Orientale Italiana (Italian Empire of Africa) that consisted of Ethiopia, Eritrea and Italian Somaliland. Mogadishu became the administrative capital and by early 1940 there were more than 22,000 Italians living in this ‘empire’. It must also be mentioned that Somalia was the most developed of all colonies in East Africa with the standard of living of both the colonisers and the colonised being the highest in comparison to other European colonies in the area. In fact the Italian Somaliland also had the beginnings of agriculture oriented small industries like sugar mills etc.   
On 3 August 1940, Italian troops that included Somali colonial units invaded British Somaliland and captured Berbera. The British launched a counter attack in January 1941 from Kenya to recapture the lost areas with the campaign further aimed at capturing the entire Italian Somaliland as well as the Italian-occupied Ethiopia. By mid-February, this had been achieved. For the rest of the War, the captured lands remained with the British.  Following World War II, Briton retained control of both British and Italian Somaliland as protectorates. However, the Potsdam Conference held in 1945 granted Italy ‘trusteeship’ of erstwhile Italian Somaliland with the caveat that the territory be granted independence within ten years. During this interim rule the Italian government provided the Somalis with opportunities to gain political education and experience in self-government. In contrast the British protectorate, which was to eventually be incorporated into the independent Somalia, was not provided similar opportunities. This disparity in collective understanding of the functioning of a government between the two protectorates in turn would evolve into a challenge for the newly independent nation.
The British rule of Somaliland, under whatever guise it was perpetuated, was marred by economic and political stagnation and the region languished at the poverty level. Further, in 1948, the British ceded the Haud and Ogden territories to Ethiopia in an arbitrary move that contravened the Treaties of 1884 and 1886 with the Somalis. Haud was a crucial grazing area for Somalis and the ‘giving away’ of their sovereign territory to placate Britain’s other allies was viewed with disbelief by them. Although the handover of territory was done with the proviso that the Somalis would continue to exercise their right to graze in the ceded areas, Ethiopia denied these rights almost immediately on taking control of the region. Britain also handed over the Somali Northern Frontier District to the Kenyan administration although the entire region was almost exclusively populated by Somalis who had expressed their desire to join the ‘soon to be independent’ Somali Republic.
This is a recurring theme in the colonial history of Britain, especially closer to the time of granting independence to a colony. The British colonial administration has always displayed a clearly discernible penchant or proclivity to give away large tracts of land, that were never theirs in the first place to rule let alone give away, with no scant regard being paid to the sanctity of ownership, treaty obligations, the concerns of the people inhabiting the land and their requirements, or the repercussions of their actions. Such actions have invariably degenerated over the years into creating contested areas that have been the trigger for civil wars and insurgencies that have bedevilled newly independent nations across the post-colonial world. In addition, there is no acknowledgement at the moral or material level, of the acceptance of the responsibility for being the root cause of a large number of conflicts raging across the globe even now.
There is a school of thought that the repercussions that stem from the past deeds of a nation should not be foisted onto the shoulders of the current government and generation of people. A nation must take responsibility for its actions of the immediate past, of this there is no doubt. The question to be asked is what should be considered the immediate past and what the historical past; at what point in the past should the dividing line be drawn? Where the demarcating line should be drawn is open to debate, but surely that point cannot be a mere 50 odd years in the past. Further, there has to be at least an acceptance of past misdeeds, even historical ones, so that the affected parties, people and nations can have what could be termed a collective closure of trauma and mental anguish. However, it has to be sadly acknowledged, that in the real world today such acceptances will remain utopian dreams of persons who will be considered removed from reality.  
British Somaliland became independent on 26 June 1960 as the State of Somaliland, followed by the former Italian Somaliland five days later with the two states merging on 1 July 1960 to form the Somali republic. Prior to this, neighbouring Djibouti (then known as French Somaliland) had through a referendum in 1958 opted to remain with France, finally gaining independence only in 1977 and thereby not becoming part of the newly independent Somalia. On 20 July 1961, the newly drafted constitution was ratified by the people through a popular referendum. The new nation seemed to be on the cusp of better days that would be the harbinger of peace, democracy and stability. There was the upbeat mood of independence, which was common to all post-colonial nations, with the general public in alignment with the new leaders most of whom had been leaders in the agitation for independence from colonial rule. These leaders, many of whom had paid great personal price for the struggle, were now embarking on a journey to salvage the pride and status of their nations.
[to be continued…]     

About Sanu Kainikara

Sainik School Kazhakuttam (Kerala), National Defence Academy 39/A, 108 Pilot's Course IAF, fighter pilot, QFI, FCL, psc, HACC, Voluntary Retirement as Wing Commander. Canberra-based Defence Analyst specialising in air power and national security. PhD in International Politics from University of Adelaide Executive Masters in Public Adminsitration (ANZSOG) Adjunct Professor, University of New South Wales, Distinguished Fellow Institute For Regional Security (IFRS) Distinguished Fellow Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)

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