Somalia - History

Somalia History 1280
Photo by: Tony Baggett

Somalia was known as the Land of Punt by ancient Egyptians, who came to Somalia's northern shores for incense and aromatic herbs. In the 9th or 10th century, Somalis began pushing south from the Gulf of Aden coast. About this time, Arabs and Persians established settlements along the Indian Ocean coast. During the 15th and 16th centuries, Portuguese explorers attempted without success to establish Portuguese sovereignty over the Somali coast. Meanwhile, the main coastal centers continued to be controlled by Arab merchant families under the nominal suzerainty of the sultanate of Oman, which transferred its seat to Zanzibar in the early 19th century.

After the British armed forces occupied Aden in 1839, they developed an interest in the northern Somali coast. By 1874, Egyptians occupied several points on the shore, but their occupation was short-lived. From 1884 to 1886, the British signed a number of "protectorate" treaties with Somali chiefs of the northern area. The protectorate was first administered by the resident in Aden and later (1907) by the Colonial Office. From 1899 to 1920, British rule was constantly disrupted by the "holy war" waged by 'Abdallah bin Hasan (generally known in English literature as the "Mad Mullah").

Italian expansion in Somalia began in 1885, when Antonio Cecchi, an explorer, led an Italian expedition into the lower Juba region and concluded a commercial treaty with the sultan of Zanzibar. In 1889, Italy established protectorates over the eastern territories then under the nominal rule of the sultans of Obbia and of Alula; and in 1892, the sultan of Zanzibar leased concessions along the Indian Ocean coast to Italy. Direct administrative control of the territory known as Italian Somaliland was not established until 1905. The Fascist government increased Italian authority by its extensive military operations. In 1925, the British government, in line with secret agreements with Italy during World War I, transferred the Jubaland (an area south of the Jubba River) to Italian control. During the Italo-Ethiopian conflict (1934–36), Somalia was a staging area for Italy's invasion and conquest of Ethiopia. From 1936 to 1941, Somalia and the Somali-inhabited portion of Ethiopia, the Ogaden, were combined in an enlarged province of Italian East Africa.

In 1940–41, Italian troops briefly occupied British Somaliland but were soon defeated by the British, who conquered Italian Somaliland and reestablished their authority over British Somaliland. Although the Ogaden was returned to Ethiopia in 1948, British administration over the rest of Italian Somaliland continued until 1950, when Italy became the UN trusteeship authority. A significant impetus to the Somali nationalist movement was provided by the UN in 1949 when the General Assembly resolved that Italian Somaliland would receive its independence in 1960. By the end of 1956, Somalis were in almost complete charge of domestic affairs. Meanwhile, Somalis in British Somaliland were demanding self-government. As Italy agreed to grant independence on 1 July 1960 to its trust territory, the UK gave its protectorate independence on 26 June 1960, thus enabling the two Somali territories to join in a united Somali Republic on 1 July 1960. On 20 July 1961, the Somali people ratified a new constitution, drafted in 1960, and one month later confirmed Aden 'Abdullah Osman Daar as the nation's first president.

From the inception of independence, the Somali government supported the concept of self-determination for the people of the Somali-inhabited areas of Ethiopia (the Ogaden section), Kenya (most of the northeastern region), and French Somaliland (now the Republic of Djibouti), including the right to be united within a greater Somalia. Numerous border clashes occurred between Somalia and Ethiopia, and between Somalia and Kenya. Soviet influence in Somalia grew after Moscow agreed in 1962 to provide substantial military aid.

Abdirashid 'Ali Shermarke, who was elected president in 1967, was assassinated on 15 October 1969. Six days later, army commanders seized power with the support of the police. The military leaders dissolved parliament, suspended the constitution, arrested members of the cabinet, and changed the name of the country to the Somali Democratic Republic. Maj. Gen. Jalle Mohamed Siad Barre, commander of the army, was named chairman of a 25-member Supreme Revolutionary Council (SRC) that assumed the powers of the president, the Supreme Court, and the National Assembly. Siad Barre was later named president.

In 1970, President Siad Barre proclaimed "scientific socialism" as the republic's guiding ideology. This Marxist ideology stressed hard work and public service and was regarded by the SRC as fully compatible with Islam. A number of industries and large firms, especially foreign banks and oil companies, were nationalized. Self-help projects were instituted to clean up the towns and villages, construct roads and sidewalks, dig and maintain wells and irrigation canals, build infirmaries and schools, and stabilize sand dunes. In 1972, the SRC proclaimed the adoption of a Latin script for Somali; in 1973, it inaugurated widespread literacy campaigns. The drought that affected large areas of Africa from 1968 to 1973 became severe in Somalia in late 1974, and in November of that year, the SRC declared a state of emergency, set up relief camps, and initiated food rationing.

Controversy arose in 1975 over US charges that the USSR was developing a military installation at the port of Berbera. Somalia denied the charges and invited inspection by journalists and US congressmen, who reported that they had found evidence of Soviet missile-handling facilities there. Somali officials did acknowledge receipt of Soviet military and technical advisers. Meanwhile, Ethiopia claimed that a Soviet-equipped Somalia represented a threat to its security. That same year, Siad Barre extended formal recognition to the Western Somali Liberation Front in the Ogaden. Somali forces took part in the fighting but were defeated in 1977, soon after the USSR had swung its support to Ethiopia. Late in the year, Siad Barre expelled the Soviets. Relations with the United States warmed, and in 1980, in return for military and economic aid (about $80 million in 1982), Siad Barre agreed to allow the US use of air and naval facilities at the northern port of Berbera, facilities that had been built by the USSR, and also at Mogadishu.

A new constitution was ratified in 1979. On 30 December 1979, an unopposed list of 171 candidates was elected to the People's Assembly, which, the following month, elected Siad Barre unanimously to a new term of office. (Unopposed elections were again held on 31 December 1984.) In October 1980, Siad Barre declared a state of emergency and reestablished the SRC, responding to the activities of an Ethiopian-backed opposition movement, the Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF). The state of emergency was lifted in March 1982, but at midyear the insurgents, supported by a reported 10,000 Ethiopian troops, invaded Somalia. By December, however, only a small area was in insurgent or Ethiopian hands.

In January 1986, Siad Barre met with Lt. Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam, Ethiopia's head of state, in Djibouti, in an effort to improve relations between the two countries. Two other meetings of Somali and Ethiopian officials were held in May and August, but no agreement was reached. After Barre's unopposed reelection on 23 December 1986—the first direct presidential election in Somalia—Barre appointed a prime minister for the first time, Lt. Gen. Mohamed 'Ali Samater, the first vice president and minister of defense. The SSDF had virtually crumbled by the end of 1986, but in 1987 another insurgent group, the Somali National Movement, was conducting operations in the north (the former British Somaliland). In February 1987 relations between Somalia and Ethiopia deteriorated following an Ethiopian attack on six settlements. Growing out of the Soviet shift to the Ethiopian side, American-Somali relations became closer during the administration of US president Ronald Reagan. This included a 10-year agreement providing US forces access to naval and air facilities at Berbera and increasing US military aid to Somalia.

In 1988, both the Ethiopian and Somalian governments, faced by growing internal resistance, pledged to respect their border. By 1990, the Somali regime was losing control. Armed resistance from the Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF), the Somali Democratic Alliance (SDA), the Somali Democratic Movement (SDM), the Somali National Movement (SNM), the Somali Patriot Movement (SPM), and the United Somali Congress (USC) were turning the Somali territory into a death trap. Government forces were no less ruthless. Each was led by a clan leader or local warlord. Donor nations threatened to cut off aid unless the atrocities were ended.

In March 1990, Barre called for dialogue and, possibly, an end to single-party rule, but he was eventually ousted and, in January 1991, he fled Mogadishu. The USC seized the capital, but fighting continued. The SNM controlled much of the north and declared its territory the independent state of "Somaliland." By December, the USC had split in two. One faction was led by Ali Mahdi Muhammad, the interim president, the other by Gen. Muhammad Farrah Aideed. They were from different subclans of the Hawiye clan. The fighting continued and the warring factions prevented people from planting and harvesting crops. Several hundred thousand people died. Far more were threatened by starvation. Over a half-million fled to Kenya. Contagious disease spread through refugee camps inside the country. The starvation and total breakdown of public services was publicized in the western media. Calls for the UN to intervene mounted. Yet, the food relief that was sent was stolen by soldiers and armed looters. Private relief efforts were frustrated and subject to extortion. Late on 3 December 1992, the UN Security Council passed a resolution to deploy a massive US-led international military intervention (UNITAF-United Task Force) to safeguard relief operations. By the end of December, Aideed and Ali Mahdi had pledged to stop fighting. The UNITAF spread throughout the country. Violence decreased dramatically. But later, gunmen began to appear again.

US forces shifted their mandate toward the UN-Boutros-Ghali position of trying to confiscate arms and "technicals"—vehicles with mounted heavy weapons. Although the problem of relief distribution had largely been solved, there was no central government, few public institutions, and local warlords and their forces became increasingly emboldened.

By early 1993, over 34,000 troops from 24 UN members— 75% from the US—were deployed. Starvation was virtually ended, a modicum of order was restored, and hope had returned. Yet, little was done to achieve a political solution or to disarm the factions. From January 1993 until 27 March, 15 armed factions met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to haggle and finally reach agreement to end hostilities and to form a transitional National Council for a two-year period to serve as the political authority in Somalia.

On 4 May 1993, Operation Restore Hope, as the relief effort was labeled, was declared successful, and US force levels were sharply reduced. Command of relief, disarmament, and reconstruction work was assumed by the UN. This effort, UNOSOM II, featured Pakistani, US, Belgian, Italian, Moroccan, and French troops, commanded by a Turkish general. On 23 June 1993, 23 Pakistani soldiers were killed in an ambush, and the UN Security Council ordered the arrest of those responsible. Gen. Aideed's forces were blamed and a $25,000 bounty was placed on Aideed's head.

Mogadishu became a war zone. In early October 1993, 18 US Army Rangers were killed and 75 were wounded in a firefight.

American public opinion and politicians pressured President Bill Clinton to withdraw US troops. He established a 31 March 1994 deadline and instructed his special envoy, Charles Oakley, to return to Somalia and begin a new diplomatic initiative. Efforts at inclusive UN-sponsored, and then Ethiopian-sponsored, talks failed. Later discussions in Kenya and in Mogadishu reached agreements that teetered on collapse as the factions jockeyed for advantage. By this time, Aideed's forces were called the Somali National Alliance (SNA) and Ali Mahdi led the "Group of Twelve." Kenya's President Daniel arap Moi mediated. After the US pullout, some 19,000 UN troops remained to try to maintain order. A 4 February 1994 Security Council Resolution (897) redefined the UNOSOM II mandate, emphasizing peacemaking and reconstruction. In effect, it was a recognition that the assertive, coercive strategy of the UN had failed and that a more neutral role was necessary.

The United States completed its withdrawal of troops in March 1995, after which Mogadishu again disintegrated into chaos. The last of three major battles was engaged after peace talks between the factions collapsed in November 1996. Some 300 people, many civilians and aid workers, were killed in a month of fighting.

The hope for restored order was rekindled with the death of Gen. Aideed on 1 August 1996. Aideed's rivals declared a cease-fire, although his son and successor, Hussein Muhammad Aideed, vowed revenge and renewed the fight.

Because the factional splits were not based on ideological, religious, or issue differences, but instead were quests for power and riches, there was little hope for the restoration of a central government, and by the year 2000 the country was split into four pieces—Somaliland to the north, Puntland to the northeast, South Mogadishu controlled by Hussein Muhamad Aideed and North Mogadishu dominated by Ali Mahdi. Islamic courts took on the task of establishing law and order.

Despite overtures by Libya to influence the political configuration, clan elders met in neighboring Djibouti, and at the Arta Peace Conference on 26 August 2000 established a three-year Transitional Government (TNG) with Abdiqassim Salad Hassan as president. The purpose of the TNG was to restore stability. However, the TNG controlled only pockets of the capital and country, and by August 2003 the TNG was due to expire.

Meanwhile, on 14 April 2003 citizens in the self-declared republic of Somaliland, went to the polls to elect a president in Somaliland's first multiparty election. After disputing the results, the Kulmiye party's presidential candidate, Ahmad Muhammad Silanyo, said that the intervention of elders and others had persuaded him to accept the outcome, perhaps with promises for a power-sharing deal. Incumbent President Dahir Riyale Kahin of the Unity of Democrats Party (UDUB) was declared the winner by the Somaliland Election Commission (SEC), a decision that later was confirmed by the constitutional court.

By July 2003, more than 350 delegates had gathered for a national conference held in Kenya—Somalia's 14th peace talks in ten years—to vote on a parliament that would elect an interim president, who would then appoint a prime minister. Delegates, who were to elect a president from among more than 30 candidates, broke through a serious impasse by selecting a federal system of government and nominating a 351-member parliament to serve a four-year term. However, Abdiqassim threatened to withdraw from the talks unless various grievances were resolved including complaints that the parliament was too large, that elders alone should elect the president, and that Arabic must not be considered a second language. Further, the proposal to federate the country according to existing jurisdictions was rejected by Abdiqassim because in his opinion it would dismember Somalia into a collection of small states and deepen existing divisions in the country. Indeed, some counterterrorism experts feared that a federal system would encourage warlordism and provide safe havens for international terrorists.

Although there was no deadline for the establishment of the new government, at a minimum it appeared that delegates had approved a successor transitional government to that of Abdiqassim.

User Contributions:

This Article Has Helped Me Understand The History Of Somalia.
Abdulkader Musa
I am very pleased to get this information about my country history and it's political changes.
thank you
wow, this really helped!, i truely understand everything thoroughly now!
Daud Mohamed Abdi
the notes given here in are actually facts that are educative but are brief, precise. i suggest that you further expound on this article,citing major history, political changes since independence as as the ways forward for the current political challenges.
thanks alot
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Thank you sooooo much , this has been a great help!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Am so grateful this page has given me some of the information i need am doing a documentary about unearthing untold truth on Eithiopia occupation in the Ogaden Region...the history of Somalia and its neighbors is timely.
This history had help me find exactly what ive been looking for
This is a very good article. It has helped me in a lot of things.
First this article is helpful to search country history and what happened in the ground all these steps followed one an other but the Question here is why this country going on like this world worst manner of life and dark can't international community solve like this case why every step have taken by any one getting worse and worse ???
This article is very informative and educating, but is and extremely summarized history of Somalia. Many important facts and events were either glossed over or not mentioned. I'd advise including things such as the reasons/motives different parties had for overthrowing the first president, and the role the ICU played in bringing peace to Somalia.
There are a lot of documents regarding to the Somali envasion to the Jubaland, and to know this please red to the Darood invasion written by the British and there is a particular book on this case tiltled, British miitary expediisition on East Africa. In 1925, the Italians have made an agreement between the Darood calans of Kablaha who had clashes during the British rule ( The Kablaha & Harti)
i am so happy that i found some information abt this article, because i had a project to do base on somalia.
The Proud German
Thank you for these information, I didn't know Somalia's past history
Mohamed Mohamoud Mohamed
I want to know more information about the history of Somalia.such as land and it originated.

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