Somalia Recent History

The first explorers who set foot in Somalia called it the “Eastern Horn of Africa”. For its characteristic shape, in fact, it looks like a huge horn stretched between the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden.

The maritime exploration of Somalia began in the early 16th century by courageous and already famous navigators of the time, first of all Vasco de Gama. But the real exploration of Somalia began in 1848 with the hydrographic campaign conducted by the ship “Ducouedic” under the orders of Commander Guillaim. Many expeditions followed the expeditions promoted by various countries, but the predominance of exploration belonged to three western countries: France, England and Italy.

According to Abbreviationfinder, an acronym site which also features history of Somalia, politically the Somali peninsula is divided into two territories: the Somali Independent State, comprising the territories that were the Italian and British colonies, and French Somalia.


When Italy began its colonial campaign on the Red Sea, the coasts of Somalia were in the hands, part of the Egyptians, part of the sultans of Migiurtinia, Obbia and Zanzibar. The interior however was the domain of various Somali tribes. After occupying Massaua, Italy sent a warship, the “Barbarigo” (named after the famous Venetian dogi family) to Zanzibar, but for peaceful purposes, so much so that it opened a Consulate and signed with sultan a commercial treaty. It was May 28, 1885.
Then Italy continued its work of colonial conquests to obtain the protectorate on the sultanates of Northern Somalia; and in fact on February 8, 1889 it achieved its purpose and had the protectorate on a part of Migiurtinia. The sultan, however, undertook not to accept the sovereignty of other states in the part of the sultanate that remained under his direct jurisdiction. And this commitment was signed on April 7, 1889.

A year later Italy sent another ship, the “Volta”, to Uarsceich harbor for reconnaissance purposes; but the expedition was attacked and two crewmen were killed. The government of Rome reacted and in February 1891 commissioned the Italian consul in Zanzibar, Captain Filonardi, to occupy in the name of Italy the village of El-Athale, which was later called Itala. After the accomplishment, Italy and Great Britain signed an agreement for the recognition of their areas on May 5, 1894.

Somalia Recent History

While these events were taking place, Italy rented some ports from the sultan of Zanzibar: Brava, Merca, Mogadishu, Uarsceich. The exercise of this concession was entrusted to the Filonardi Company, which encountered many management difficulties due to the complete disinterest of the government and also due to the scarcity of available means.
It was necessary to start from nothing and the human environment was not very favorable. In fact in those areas some tribes operated, the “Vali” who, without any control, abandoned themselves to abuse and devastation, aggravating the situation more and more. Even the means of war were scarce and the Company was soon unable to manage the administration. After the term of the concession expired, a new contract was promoted with the Benadir Company, valid for 48 years. And while all the operations of management were evolving, Consul Cecchi took over the provisional government, flanked by a representative of the new concessionary company.

But on November 26, 1896 in Lafolè, near Mogadishu, the consul and 85 other people, including whites and ascari, were attacked and killed. The captain Giorgio Sorrentino, immediately sent on the spot with a military expedition, bombed the villages of Nimo and Gezira and set some internal villages on fire, in order to discourage any future assaults.

When the new company acquired full management power, it faced some rather serious difficulties as the sultanate of Zanzibar, coexisting with the Italian authorities, allowed Vali to remain in the area. In the early 1900s the Benadir Company began to develop; various public works began, hospitals, roads were built and, in short, the first favorable results were seen. And even the defensive means had been somewhat expanded. And while the Italian forces were all striving to improve the colony, the crusade against the “infidels” began, carried out by Mullah Sayed Mohammed ben Abdullah, and fierce armed assaults were brought against both the Italians and the British. The reaction was immediate and in addition to the Europeans, the Abyssinians also activated. On April 21, 1903 the village of Ilig was razed, and this forced Mullah to come to terms; on March 5, 1905 he signed an agreement with Italy and on the following March 24 with Great Britain, in which he undertook to end all hostilities. Which he did not do because he continued to carry attacks in another area and precisely in the valley of the Uebi Scebeli.

The situation remained difficult. The concessionary company, as a result of defaults, was de-authorized and the administration of the colony passed directly into the hands of the Italian state which entrusted it to a temporary governor, Mercatelli.

Waiting to give Somalia a definitive structure, the governor was able to manage power and often had to defend the territory from the attacks of the rebels.

In December 1907 a serious accident occurred in Lugh. Some Ethiopian tribes that had been sent to fight against Mullah, instead stopped at the wells of Berdale, where some populations subject to Italy lived. There they indulged in devastation and raids. The Italian army had to intervene, but being fewer than the Abyssinians, they were clearly dominated by them and many lost their lives. Italy asked satisfaction from the negus Menelik who, having recognized this right of the Italians, granted the definition of the borders between Somalia and Ethiopia, a question which was always left open and at that moment reached its conclusion.

After the settlement of this incident, however, many interpellations and protests took place in the Italian Parliament and eventually a suitable military reinforcement was established in Somalia and Major Di Giorgio was appointed to command the army. These had to sustain various fights in all areas of the region, against the Bimal and Somali Dervishes who after various defeats submitted to the Italians. The command of the armed forces then went to Major Rossi who had his work to do against Mullah who, unable to fight against Italians and Englishmen, in compliance with the treaty signed at Ilig, accomplished his destructive work of the colonialists by stirring up the various tribes locals. And at the outbreak of the First World War he allied himself with the young heir to the throne of Ethiopia and tried by all means to intensify the raids and fighting. But the overwhelming forces of the Italian soldiers permanently reduced them to silence.

After the war there was friction with Great Britain over the occupation of African territories and in 1926 a treaty assigned Italy to the region of the Oltre Giuba.

After Mullah’s death, hostilities continued with the sultanates of Obbia and Migiurtini and, again in 1926, Italian sovereignty over Juba (capital Chisimaio), on the Center (Mogadishu), on the Uebi Scebeli (Mahaddei), on the Border ( Oddur) and then Obbia, Nogal and Migiurtini.

In 1935 Italy fought against Abyssinia; another war that saw the victory of General Rodolfo Graziani in 1936, who was decidedly assisted by the air forces, to obtain a brilliant result. Italy was finally able to deal with the colonization and development of Somalia and in fact performed many works of public utility, improved sanitary conditions everywhere, introducing the vaccination system; he developed school policy, built railways, the most important was the one that connected Mogadishu to the Duca degli Abruzzi Village, fixed the roads and reactivated the tracks. Excellent results were also obtained in the agricultural and zootechnical fields; the cattle plague completely disappeared, many hydraulic works were carried out, especially along the Uebi Scebeli; to make the land more fertile, dams were built on the river.

World War II broke out, Somalia was occupied by the British. The Italians were dismissed and the British remained there many years waiting to find a definitive accommodation. And meanwhile the country’s economy gradually disintegrated.

In April 1948, General Drew was governor; Ogaden was again separated from Somalia and administered by a British military government, as “reserved territory” pending to then aggregate it to Ethiopia.

On December 21, 1949, the United Nations General Assembly entrusted the former colony to Italy for ten years with trusteeship. In this period, Italy had to provide for the recovery of the situation by preparing all the political, social and cultural institutions so that the Somali population, at the end of the mandate, was able to govern itself, as an independent state.

First, Italy re-established diplomatic relations with Ethiopia, then wanted to deal with the border problem. A consultative committee of the United Nations supported Italy in the difficult task that was carried out by an administrator, based in Mogadishu.

The territory was divided into six commissariats, which later became regions. At the head of each was a commissioner. Often the administrative staff was completely Italian but then, gradually, Somali elements were added. The administrator also applied the laws and as time went by, a territorial council made up entirely of Somalis also participated in this sector. The Somali Police Corps was established, under the control of the Italian carabinieri, while the Security Corps had decidedly Somali cadres.

In 1954 there were the first local elections, only for male citizens, held for the appointment of Municipal Councils. In 1956 the first political elections took place, always supported only by male elements, for the appointment of the first Somalis of a Legislative Assembly which replaced the territorial council. The Somali staff was now present in all the structures and, again in 1956, the most important political party, that of the “League of Somali Youth” entered by right to collaborate definitively with the Italian administration.

In March 1959 there were general political elections in which women also participated. On 1 July 1960 Somalia became an independent republic. Head of government was Abdirashid Ali Shermarke.

In 1964 the new elections rewarded the Somali Youth League and the government was formed by Abdirasak Haji Husein. Shermarke returned to the limelight in 1967 when he was elected President of the Republic and chose M. Haji Ibrahim Egal as prime minister.

On October 15, 1969, Shermarke, guilty of having practiced almost dictatorial government management, was assassinated. Taking the opportunity to fly, the army seized power on October 21 and formed a new government presided over by General Siad Barre. There were so many substantial reforms that improved the country in all sectors, from the purely agricultural and basic necessities to the cultural and social ones.

For foreign policy, by giving a sharp cut to what had been the pro-Western aspirations, Somalia turned to the communist countries and established closer relations with the Soviet Union and with China; the latter completed many public works in the country.

With Ethiopia there was a conflict over the possession of Ogaden and in this regard there was also a failed coup in 1978. Somalia increasingly strengthened relations with the Arab countries and with China, which Siad Barre visited in April 1978.

In June 1982 hostilities resumed with Ethiopia and there were serious episodes of war, culminating in 1984 with the air attack by Borama, conducted by the Ethiopian air force.

In 1986 the two heads of state met, Barre and Mangestu, and a special commission was created to settle all matters. In April 1988 a text of understanding was drawn up with which the two states resumed diplomatic relations, withdrew their troops from the borders and exchanged prisoners of war. And of course they pledged to stop using force and threats. Somalia returned to directing its policy towards the West and with the United States, in exchange for an air and naval base in Berbera, obtained a massive program of aid and assistance to Somali military forces.

At the same time, economic conditions proved extremely serious, also due to a terrible drought that had struck Ethiopia, from which many people fled, mainly Somali refugees, who hundreds of thousands returned to Somalia with the hope of surviving. Yet another cause for concern came with Barre’s reaching an age no longer likely to bear the brunt of the government. Many opposition movements had meanwhile formed and a real crisis occurred in July 1989, with the assassination of the bishop of Mogadishu, the Italian S. Colombo. In the streets of the capital there was a real popular uprising and the army, intervened to stop it, caused a very high number of deaths. And for Somalia in 1990 a dark period opened up pervaded by rebellions and guerrillas.

Ali Mahdi Mohammed took command but was fiercely opposed by General Mohammed Farah Aidid and deposed by them. These struggles divided the state into two parts: the northern one controlled by Ali Mahdi and the southern one by Aidid. In December 1992 the United Nations found itself forced to send their troops to try to restore calm to the country.

The Somali people, feeling humiliated by this intrusion of foreigners, tacitly elected to their spiritual leader Aidid who, interpreting this nationalism for the worst, led to daily armed clashes. In July 1993 three Italian soldiers were killed and then the government of Rome, after a harsh criticism of the work of the United States in this circumstance, proposed to settle the whole question through dialogue with all Somali forces, including those of Aidid. And all of this had a positive result because American President Clinton promised the withdrawal of US troops by 1994. And this was done and by 1995 all the other contingent was withdrawn. But Somalia continued ungovernability. In an atmosphere of uncertainty and economic and social difficulties, aggravated by an ever-increasing crime,

The sector of Somalia entrusted to the English protectorate was located north of the peninsula, on the Gulf of Aden, and bordered with Italian and French Somalia.

Britain, however, exercised a more political than economic administration and actually took possession of Zeira, Berbera and Bulhar only in 1884, when these ports were abandoned by the Egyptians, who had helped the Mahdi in his disastrous war in Sudan. From 1888 to 1897, various treaties were completed for the definition of the borders with neighboring states, including Ethiopia, with which these delimitations were operative until 1934.

In 1898 British Somalia passed under the administration of the Foreign Office and then in 1905 of the Colonial Office. In 1899, however, a movement of protests and rebellions began, led by Mohammed Ben Abdulla, whom the British called “Mad Mullah”, that is, the “mad Mullah”, for his uncontrollable ferocious guerrilla actions. There were various events in what became a real war, with great effort from the English forces, who were often overwhelmed by those of Mullah.

The government of Italian Somalia, after allowing British troops to settle in their territories, offered to mediate peace and in 1905 an agreement was reached. The Mullah obtained a part of the Italian territory, that of the Nogal, and undertook to respect the peace agreement. He respected the agreements but only for three years; in 1909 the armed struggle resumed and the British withdrew the administration to the centers of the coast. A fratricidal struggle immediately began between various tribes that aspired to seize power. Then the Mullah resumed hostilities against the British who were bitterly beaten in Dul Medove, in the middle Nogal.

In March 1914, following episodes of barbarism by a group of dervishes, the British armed forces were reorganized and were able to storm the forts of Shimber Berris.

During the First World War, being England engaged in Europe, the dervishes took advantage to conduct attacks on the English populations, also helped by the negus Ligg Iasu, allied with Mullah. When Britain was able to devote itself more seriously to the war against the dervishes, it definitively defeated them and in 1920 the Mullah, forced to flee first to Gorrahei in the Ogaden, then to Imi, in the medium Scebeli, died on November 23. And with him the rebel movement that he had always headed disappeared, and a period of relative tranquility began, in which the much needed improvements could be started. The British called this territory Somaliland.

World War II came. On August 3, 1940 Somaliland was invaded by Italian troops, arranged in three columns.

These went to Berbera, Adadleh and Sheikr respectively, but found barriers represented by semi-permanent works that the British had already built in 1936. The Italian columns managed to overcome obstacles and to settle in Lafaruk and Berbera for the August 19. And they stayed there until March 1941 when British troops re-occupied Somaliland. This territory remained under British administration until 1948 when it returned under the control of the Colonial Office.

In February 1955, the wooded part of the border that had come under British control as a consequence of the war was returned to Ethiopia. When in December 1949 the United Nations General Assembly entrusted Italy with the “trustee” administration for ten years on the former colony, Great Britain also set about applying measures and principles in preparation for self-government in Somaliland. to the future independence of the Somali people, until then always administered. Thus education was expanded, political parties were formed of which the most important was the “Somaliland National League”, very close as an ideology to the “Young Somali League”, which arose in Italian Somalia.

In February 1960 this party had a majority in the elections and on June 26 Somaliland proclaimed its independence. On July 1st it was called the Republic and was divided into 8 regions. In October of the same year, with the unification of the two former colonial territories, the vicissitudes of the now united Somali Democratic Republic began.

France’s occupation of Somalia occurred only when Italy and England began their colonial actions. Before, there had been only verbal agreements with the negio dello Scioà, since the times of King Louis Philippe.

After accessing the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden in Italy and Great Britain, the French also activated themselves by occupying the port of Obock, thus making the Convention operative, already signed on March 11, 1862 between the Foreign Minister of France and the sultan of Tadjoura.

The colonial mission in Somalia was entrusted to M. Lagarde who arrived there in July 1884 and after a very short time he entered into specific agreements with the sultans of Raheita, Tadjoura and Gobad, who immediately became French protectorate.

From 1884 to 1888 intense penetration work took place and Obock and Djibouti were the most interested centers. In 1897 the convention for the delimitation of the borders with Italian Somalia, the English one and with Ethiopia was completed. And after 1900 the French missions in the internal territories, even the Ethiopian ones, intensified to strengthen the commercial treaties already in place.

When Italy was able to annex Ethiopia in 1936, new economic and commercial agreements were concluded between the two countries. In 1937 the activities of the port of Djibouti were defined even frantic. Then the Second World War broke out and it came to June 24, 1940 when France came to the armistice with Germany. Somali territories remained under French sovereignty and remained loyal to Marshal Petain.

On June 9, 1941, when the British occupied Addis Ababa, General Wavell ordered French Somalia to join the “Free France” movement led by General De Gaulle, under penalty of total blockade of the territory. In December 1942 the governor of French Somalia, Nouailhetas, flew back to France and left the post to the provisional governor Dupont, who hastened to sign an agreement with the British general Fowkes and the representative of “Combatant France”, Chancel.

When the war was over, De Gaulle restored diplomatic ties between France and Ethiopia, but due to a divergence that arose over the Djibouti railway, operated by a French company, Ethiopia did not initially appoint a representative to Paris. Then, in September 1945, having resolved this difficulty with the restitution of the entire railway network to Ethiopia, the situation between the two countries normalized and trade was restored.

In 1945 the “Conseil Representatif de la Còte Française des Somalis et Dependances” was formed, divided into two equal parts; one comprising French representatives and the other Somali, Dancali and Arab ones. Other political institutions maintained representations within the two governments, French and Somali, and after the approval of the new French Constitution, which took place on September 28, 1958, the “Conseil” decided to keep the state of Somalia as “Overseas Territory” : it was 11 December 1958.

On April 16, 1960, with the merger of the territories already belonging to Italy and Great Britain, independence was proclaimed.

Not even Aidid’s election as president for three years managed to restore the country to calm and true national pacification.

The opponents, led by Ali Mahdi and Ali “Ato”, Aidid’s former right-hand man, began their disturbing actions by invalidating the state’s control over the production and trade of bananas, Somalia’s main source of wealth. And since the proceeds of this trade were largely used to strengthen Aidid’s army, they prevented their expeditions by garrisoning the port of Mogadishu.

Therefore during 1996 the forces of Aidid and those of Ali “Ato” came to arms. In one of these clashes Aidid was seriously injured and after a short time, precisely in August of that year, he died. Provisional president became his son Hussein Muhammed, who continued paternal politics, although his powers were significantly limited.

The leaders of the various organizations finally decided to seriously reach a peace agreement, so in October 1996 in Nairobi, Kenya, Hussein Aidid, Ali Mahdi and Ali “Ato” met and agreed to lay down their arms. The truce, very short, was followed by other clashes but finally in January 1997 in Sodere, Ethiopia, the main warring factions concluded a pact and created a National Salvation Council, which had the task of temporarily assuming the government of the country, elaborate and complete the peace process.

The talks in Cairo began in March 1997 and all hostilities finally ceased in December. A transitional government was formed immediately, charged with preparing general consultations within three years.

Meanwhile, a certain armed movement took place by some Rahanuin rebels, who had tried to occupy the city of Baidoa, quite close to Mogadishu.

The peace plan went on. The airport and port of the capital could be reopened; the administrative situation was settled; but some difficulties met in July 1998 for the granting of an autonomous government to three territories north west of the country, called Puntland. The arrangement in this sense took place in the following month of September.

But 1999 was the year of the upsurge of violence. Fighting took place everywhere and many hundreds of people lost their lives. To aggravate the picture, there was also a large cholera epidemic in southern Somalia and many thousands were the victims.


But in addition to all the struggles sustained by the various factions, episodes of war occurred in other areas throughout the 1990s and for various reasons. In what had been the area protected by the British, that is Somaliland, in 1991 there had been the self-proclamation of independence. The president of this autonomous state, Mohammed Ibrahim Egal, elected in May 1993, had to face bitter struggles against Abd-ar-Rahman Ahmed Ali “Tur”, a former secessionist leader, and now in favor of the link with Somalia. The armed conflict between the two began in the second half of 1994 and continued in the first half of 1995. This resulted in a mass exodus towards December 1994; in fact, three quarters of the population had abandoned the capital Hargeisa and had started towards Ethiopia.

Here too there was a peace negotiation that resulted in the formation of a provisional Constitution, made operational in February 1997. Egal was elected President for 5 years and in the meantime all the secessionist groups had definitively agreed to surrender.