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  • Writer's pictureNicky, Digital Researcher, Africa Analyst

Somalia (A brief history)

Somalia, officially known as the Federal Republic of Somalia and formerly known as the Somali Democratic Republic, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. Somalia is bordered by the Indian Ocean to the east, Ethiopia to the west, the Gulf of Aden to the north, Djibouti to the northwest and Kenya to the southwest.

The country has the longest coastline on the African mainland, and Mogadishu is the capital and largest city of Somalia.

Ethnic Groups of Somalia

Somalia is said to be one of the most culturally homogeneous country in Africa, and almost 85% are of the Somali ethnic group inhabiting the northern area of the country. The few other ethnic groups in the country are found in the southern region of Somalia. Somali and Arabic are the official languages of the country.

Early History of Somalia

Right from the Neolithic period Somalia has been inhabited. Cemeteries dating back to the 4,000 BCE have been excavated in the area now known as Somalia. Also, archaeological excavations of ruined cities, stone walls, mausoleums, etc provide strong indication that an old civilization once flourished in Somalia. Somalia is widely believed by some archaeologist to be the famous Land of Punt, an ancient kingdom that traded gold, Ivory, Ebony, Myrrhs, Frankincense, and other spices with ancient countries such as Egypt, Greece, Babylon, Rome, China and India.

In the classical era, the ancestors of the Somali people established a powerful kingdom that had control over a very vast portion of a present-day Somalia. This ancient Somalis were called the Macrobians, and were mostly warrior-herders and seafarers. They were reputed for their impressive physical stature, beauty wealth, and longevity. The Macrobian kingdom was so rich in gold that it was reported that it shackles prisoners with gold chains. Camels were believed to have been domesticated first in Somalia before spreading out to Egypt and other Mediterranean countries.

In the year 622, the early Muslims of Mecca fleeing prosecutions took refuge in the Somali kingdom, and thus introducing the Islamic religion. They built the very first mosque in Zeila, and lived along the northern seaboard of Somalia.

In the Middle Ages, several Somali states and port towns were actively involved in the regional trade of the era; particularly, the Mogadishu, Adal, Ajuran and Ifat sultanates, as well as the port towns of Marca, Barawe and Berbera.

Arrival of Europeans in Somalia

By the early modern era the sultanates have been established as states and they continued their seaborne trade and castle-building traditions.

When European powers began the Scramble for Africa after the Berlin conference of 1985, Muhammad Abdullah Hassan, a dervish leader, mobilized support across the Somali territories and began one of the strongest and longest standing resistance to European colonization. He fought to defend the religious and political integrity, and freedom of Somali. Hassan appointed ministers to administer different sectors and regions of Somalia. He also acquired weapons from Sudan, the Ottoman Empire, Arabia and other Islamic countries and launched several offensive against British soldiers stationed in Somalia borders, successfully repulsing four British expeditions.

Britain began intensive aerial bombardment against Hassan military, and in 1920 the Dervish movement collapsed and their territories were made a Protectorate.

The sultanates in the northeastern region of Somalia were claimed and dominated by fascist Italy. Italy forced the region into its protection and made it a protectorate, the Italian Somaliland. However, Italy had no direct rule over the territories, except over Benadir.

In August 1940, Italian troops invaded British Somaliland and succeeded in capturing Berbera, the capital of the protectorate. The next year, 1941, Britain mobilized troops from all over its African colonies and launched a campaign to recover British Somaliland and to capture Italian Somaliland. Britain succeeded, and by the beginning of the Second World War the number of Italian Somalis had diminished to less than 10,000.

Independence of Somalia

Britain continued administering the British Somaliland and the Italian Somaliland even after the Second World War. In 1945, Italy was granted trusteeship of Italian Somaliland on the conditions, demanded by various Somali socio-political groups, that the territory be granted independence within the next ten years. Within the period that Italy held administration of the territory by United Nations mandate, the Somalis acquired much experience in political education and government.

In the other hand, British Somaliland lacked the political experience the Italian Somalis had and were politically backwards. This disparity between the two territories posed a great challenge to the integration of both as a singular republic.

In 1948, Britain returned some parts of Somalia to Ethiopia on the conditional provisions that the Somali residents would retain their autonomy. Ethiopia instantly claimed sovereignty over the land, and a perplexed Britain tried to buy back the Somaliland but without success.

In 1958, a referendum was held in Djibouti, a French colony in the Somali coast, to decide whether to join the Somali Republic or remain under France. The referendum which was reportedly marred with irregularities and disenfranchisement of thousands of Somalis, turned out in favour of remaining under France. Although Djibouti will later gain independence from France in 1977.

On 1 July 1960 the Italian and British Somalilands where united to form the Somali Republic with Abdullah Osman Daar as president and Abdirashid Ali Shermarke as prime minister. The constitution, earlier drafted in 1960, was ratified.

In October 1969, Shermarke, who was the then president, was assassinated by a policeman. A military coup d'etat followed; with Mohamed Siad Barre the commander of the Somali army assuming power under the Supreme Revolutionary Council (SRC).

Somali Democratic Republic

The SRC later renamed the country, the Somali Democratic Republic suspended the constitution and dissolved the parliament and Supreme Court. Barre's regime did a great job of increasing the literacy rate of the nation and introduced programs that helped to improve the various sectors of the republic.

The Ogaden War of 1977 broke out when Barre's government tried to incorporate a region of Ethiopia predominantly inhabited by Somali citizens.

However, by the 1980s Barre's military regime had become unpopular with many Somalis craving for a change in government. With Ethiopia's support many resistance movement sprang up across the country, eventually culminating in the Somali Civil War.

Barre's government eventually collapsed in 1991 and the national army disbanded afterwards. UN had to embark on a peacekeeping mission into the country, but would later withdraw their troops following the Battle of Mogadishu which left many casualties.

Economy of Somalia

In spite of the civil unrest that has plagued the country since Independence, Somalia has maintained a healthy informal economy. Livestock farming, telecommunications, money transfer services and transportation continue to generate much internal revenues for the country.

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