Peoples of the coast sand hinterland.
Until recent times the history of the Horn of Africa was dominated by
two great themes: the southward
expansion of the Somali from the Gulf of Aden littoral and the development by Arab and Persian Muslim
settlers of a ring of coastal trading towns dating from at least the 10th century AD. By this time Islam was
firmly established in the northern ports of Seylac (Zeila) and Berbera and at Marka, Baraawe, and
Mogadishu on the Indian Ocean coast in the south. These centres were engaged in a lively trade, with
connections as far afield as China. Initially the trend of pressure was from these coastal centres inland,
especially in the north.
Probably by the 10th century the country from the Gulf of Aden coast
inland was occupied first by
Somali nomads and then, to their south and west, by various groups of pastoral Oromo who apparently
had expanded from their traditional homelands in southwestern Ethiopia. To the south of these
Cushitic-speaking Somali and Oromo--the "Berberi" of classical times and of the Arab geographers--the
fertile lands between the Shabeelle and Jubba rivers were occupied, partly at least, by sedentary Bantu
tribes of the Nyika confederacy, whose ancient capital was Shungwaya. Remnants of these Zanj, as they
were known to the Arab geographers, still survive in this region, but their strongest contemporary
representatives are found among the coastal Bantu, of whom the Pokomo live along the Tana River in
northern Kenya. Another smaller allied population consisted of the ancestors of the scattered bands of
hunters of northern Kenya and southern Somalia known as Wa-Ribi, or Wa-Boni, a people whose
appearance and mode of existence recall those of the San of other areas of Africa.
The great Somali migrations.
With this distribution of peoples in the 10th century, the stage was
set for the great movements of
expansion of the Somali toward the south and of the Oromo to the south and west. The first known
major impetus to Somali migration was that of Sheikh Ismail Jabarti, ancestor of the Daarood Somali,
who apparently came from Arabia to settle in the northeastern corner of the Somali Peninsula in the 11th
century. This was followed, perhaps two centuries later, by the settlement of Sheikh Isaq, founder of the
Isaaq Somali. As the Daarood and Isaaq clans grew in numbers and territory in the northeast, they began
to vie with their Oromo neighbours, thus creating a general thrust toward the southwest. By the 16th
century the movements that followed seem to have established much of the present distribution of Somali
clans in northern Somalia. Other Somali pressed farther south, and some, according to the Arab
geographer Ibn Said, had already reached the region of Marka by as early as the 13th century.
In the meantime, farther to the west, a ring of militant Muslim sultanates
had grown up around the
Christian kingdom of Ethiopia, and the two sides were engaged in a protracted struggle for supremacy.
Somali clansmen regularly formed part of the Muslim armies: the name Somali first occurs in an Ethiopian
song of victory early in the 15th century. In the 16th century the Muslim state of Adal, whose port was
Seylac, assumed the lead in the holy wars against the Christian Amhara. The turning point in the struggle
between Christians and Muslims was reached with the Ethiopian victory in 1542, with Portuguese
support, over the remarkable Muslim leader Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi, known to the Ethiopians
as Ahmad Grañ. With his Somali armies, Ahmad had harried Ethiopia almost to the point of collapse.
This victory, which saved Ethiopia, also closed the door to Somali expansion westward and increased the
pressure of the Somali and Oromo thrust southward. With this stimulus the main mass of the Oromo
swept into Ethiopia from the south and southwest and streamed in conquering hordes as far north as the
ancient city of Harer, which was laid to waste in 1567.
This massive invasion left something of a political vacuum in the south
of the Horn, which new Somali
settlers were quick to fill. By the 17th century the influx of new migrants, competing and jostling with
each other, had become considerable. The old Ajuran Somali sultanate, linked with the port of
Mogadishu, was overthrown and Mogadishu itself invaded and split into two rival quarters. Some of the
earlier Somali groups found refuge in northern Kenya. The continuing Somali thrust south--largely at the
expense of Oromo and Zanj predecessors--was ultimately only effectively halted at the Tana River by the
establishment of administrative posts about 1912.
Somali clans and foreigntraders.
Thus, by the latter part of the 19th century the coastal and hinterland
traditions had merged, and the
centre of pressure had swung from the coast to the interior. In the north the ancient ports of Berbera and
Seylac, much reduced in prosperity and importance, were now controlled by Somali nomads, and the
position with the old ports of Marka, Baraawe, and Mogadishu was very similar. These towns had all
been penetrated by various Somali clans, and the dominant political influence became that exercised by
the Geledi clan ruling the lower reaches of the Shabeelle. Commercial and political links that provided an
opening for European infiltration had, however, also been forged between these two coasts and the
outside world. Part of the northern Somali coast including Seylac was then nominally under Turkish
suzerainty, the Turkish claim going back to the 16th century, when Turkish forces had aided Ahmad
Grañ in his campaigns against Ethiopia. The southern coastal towns, on the other hand, acknowledged the
overlordship of the sultan of Zanzibar, although the latter's authority was slight in comparison with that
exercised locally by the Geledi Somali.
From Success to the Fall Of the Somalis
The Somali Republic.
Independence and union.
During World War II the British protectorate was evacuated (1940) but
was recaptured with Italian
Somalia in 1941, when Ethiopia also was liberated. With the exception of French Somaliland, all the
Somali territories were then united under British military administration. In 1948 the protectorate reverted
to the Colonial Office; the Ogaden and the Hawd were gradually surrendered to Ethiopia; and in 1950 the
Italians returned to southern Somalia with 10 years to prepare the country for independence under a
United Nations trusteeship.
Taking advantage of the modest progress that the British military administration
had effected, the Italians
rapidly pursued social and political advancement, although economic development proved much more
difficult. The British protectorate, in the event, became independent on June 26, 1960. On July 1, Italian
Somalia followed suit, and the two territories joined as the Somali Republic.
The politics of the new republic were conditioned by clan allegiances,
but the first major problems arose
from the last-minute marriage between the former Italian trust territory and the former British
protectorate. Urgent improvements in communication between the two areas were necessary, as were
readjustments in their legal and judicial systems. The first independent government was formed by a
coalition of the southern-based Somali Youth League (SYL) and the northern-based Somali National
While modest developments were pursued internally with the help of mainly
Western aid, foreign policy
was dominated by the Somali unification issue and by the campaign for self-determination of adjoining
Somali communities in the Ogaden, French Somaliland, and northern Kenya. The Somalian government
strongly supported the Kenyan Somali community's aim of self-determination (and union with Somalia);
when this failed in the spring of 1963, after a commission of inquiry endorsed Somali aspirations,
Somalia broke off diplomatic relations with Britain and a Somali guerrilla war broke out in northern
Kenya, paralyzing the region until 1967. By the end of 1963 a Somali uprising in the Ogaden led to a
brief confrontation between Ethiopian and Somalian forces. Since the United States and the West
provided military support to Ethiopia and Kenya, Somalia turned to the Soviet Union for military aid.
Nevertheless, the republic maintained a generally neutral, but pro-Western, stance, and, indeed, a new
government formed in June 1967 under the premiership of Maxamed Xaaji Ibrahiim Cigaal (Muhammad
Haji Ibrahim Egal) embarked on a policy of détente with Kenya and Ethiopia, muting the Pan-Somali
The era of "Scientific Socialism."
In March 1969 more than 1,000 candidates representing 64 parties (mostly
clan-based) contested the 123
seats in the National Assembly. After these chaotic elections, all the deputies (with one exception) joined
the SYL, which became increasingly authoritarian. The assassination of President Cabdirashiid Cali
Sherma`arke (Abdirashid Ali Shermarke) on Oct. 15, 1969, provoked a government crisis, of which the
military took advantage to stage a coup d'état on October 21.
The overthrow of Cigaal brought to power as head of state and president
of a new Supreme
Revolutionary Council the commander of the army, Major General Maxamed Siyaad Barre (Muhammed
Siad Barre). At first the new regime concentrated on consolidating its power internally. Siyaad quickly
adopted "Scientific Socialism," which, he claimed, was fully compatible with his countrymen's traditional
devotion to Islam. Leading a predominantly military administration, Siyaad declared a campaign to liberate
the country from poverty, disease, and ignorance. The president was soon hailed as the "Father" of the
people (their "Mother" was the "Revolution," as the coup was titled). Relations with socialist countries
(especially the Soviet Union and China) were so greatly strengthened at the expense of Western
connections that, at the height of Soviet influence, slogans proclaiming a trinity of "Comrade Marx,
Comrade Lenin, and Comrade Siyaad" decorated official Orientation Centres throughout the land.
Siyaad's authoritarian rule was reinforced by a national network of vigilantes called Victory Pioneers, by a
National Security Service headed by his son-in-law, and by National Security Courts notorious for
ruthless sentencing. Rural society was integrated into this totalitarian structure through regional
committees on which clan elders (now renamed "peace-seekers") were placed under the authority of a
chairman, who was invariably an official of the state apparatus. Clan loyalties were officially outlawed,
and clan-inspired behaviour became a criminal offense. Of the government's many "crash programs"
designed to transform society, the most successful were mass literacy campaigns in 1973 and 1974, which
made Somali a written language (in Latin characters) for the first time.
After 1974 Siyaad turned his attention to external affairs. Somalia
joined the Arab League, gaining
much-needed petrodollar aid and access to political support from those Persian Gulf states to which
Somali labour and livestock were exported at a growing rate. Following Haile Selassie's overthrow in
September 1974, Ethiopia began to fall apart, and guerrilla fighters of the Western Somali Liberation
Front (WSLF) in the Ogaden pressed Siyaad (whose mother was an Ogaadeen) for support. When in
June 1977 France granted independence to Djibouti (under a Somali president), the WSLF, backed by
Somalia, immediately launched a series of fierce attacks on Ethiopian garrisons. By September 1977 the
war was at the gates of Harer. Then the Soviet Union turned to fill the superpower vacuum left in
Ethiopia by the gradual withdrawal of the United States. In the spring of 1978, with the support of Soviet
equipment and Cuban soldiers, Ethiopia reconquered the Ogaden, and hundreds of thousands of Somali
refugees poured into Somalia.
This terrible reversal strained the stability of the regime as the country
faced a surge of clan pressures. An
abortive military coup in April 1978 paved the way for the formation of two opposition groups: the Somali
Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF), drawing its main support from the Majeerteen clan of the Mudug
region in central Somalia, and the Somali National Movement (SNM), based on the Isaaq clan of the
northern regions. Formed in 1982, both organizations undertook guerrilla operations from bases in
Ethiopia. These pressures, in addition to pressure from Somalia's Western backers, encouraged Siyaad to
improve relations with Kenya and Ethiopia. But a peace accord (1988) signed with the Ethiopian leader,
Mengistu Haile Mariam, obliging each side to cease supporting Somali antigovernment guerrillas, had the
ironic effect of precipitating civil war in Somalia.
Threatened with the closure of their bases in Ethiopia, the SNM attacked
government forces in their
home region, provoking a bitter conflict that left ghost towns in the hands of government forces while
Ogaadeen Somali, who had been progressively absorbed into the army and militia, felt betrayed by the
peace agreement with Ethiopia and began to desert, attacking Siyaad's clansmen. Siyaad became
preoccupied with daily survival and consolidated his hold on Mogadishu. Clan-based guerrilla opposition
groups multiplied rapidly, following the example of the SSDF and SNM. In January 1991, forces of the
Hawiye-based United Somali Congress (USC) led a popular uprising that overthrew Siyaad and drove him
to seek asylum among his own clansmen. Outside Mogadishu, all the main clans with access to the vast
stores of military equipment in the country set up their own spheres of influence. In May 1991 the SNM,
having secured control of the former British Somaliland northern region, declared an independent
"Somaliland Republic." Government in the south had largely disintegrated and existed only at the local
level in the SSDF-controlled northeast region. In Mogadishu the precipitate appointment of a USC interim
government triggered a bitter feud between rival Hawiye clan factions. The forces of the two rival
warlords, General Maxamed Farax Caydiid (Muhammad Farah Aydid) and Cali Mahdi Maxamed (Ali
Mahdi Muhammad), tore the capital apart and battled with Siyaad's regrouped clan militia, the Somali
National Front, for control of the southern coast and hinterland. This brought war and devastation to the
grain-producing region between the rivers, spreading famine throughout southern Somalia. Attempts to
distribute relief food were undermined by systematic looting and rake-offs by militias. In December 1992
the United States led a multinational force of more than 35,000 troops, which imposed an uneasy peace
on the principal warring clans and pushed supplies into the famine-stricken areas. The military operation
provided support for a unique effort at peacemaking by the United Nations. In January and March 1993,
representatives of 15 Somali factions signed peace and disarmament treaties in Addis Ababa, but by June
the security situation had deteriorated. American and European forces, suffering an unacceptable number
of casualties, were withdrawn by March 1994. The UN force was reduced to military units from mainly
Third World countries, and the clan-based tensions that had precipitated the civil war remained