History of Somaliland



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The History of Somaliland encompasses a wide range of historical Somali issues and archaeological sources which date back to Prehistoric times. It is widely regarded in Somaliland as an important factor and a key significance in the Culture of Somaliland.

The region that today encompasses Somaliland was home to the earliest civilization in Somalia. However, unlike the present day inhabitants of the region, the people who occupied northern Somalia were not at the time Muslims since Islam was first introduced to the region in the 7th century.

The most salient feature of this ancient civilization is thought to be the Laas Geel Neolithic cave paintings, which are among the oldest such rock art in Africa. These cave paintings are located in a site outside Hargeisa, the capital of the Somaliland region, and were untouched and intact for nearly 10,000 years until their recent discovery. The paintings show an indigenous people worshiping cattle. There are also paintings of giraffes, domesticated canines and wild antelopes, with images of cows wearing ceremonial robes while next to them are some of these people prostrating in front of the cattle. The caves were discovered by a French archaeological team during November and December 2002. Hence, the Las Geel cave paintings have become a major tourist attraction and a national treasure.

The Land of Punt

Somalia together with Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti (collectively known as the Horn of Africa) were known to the Ancient Egyptians as the Land of Punt. The earliest definite record of contact between Ancient Egypt and Punt comes from an entry on the Palermo stone during the reign of Sahura of the Fifth Dynasty around 2250 BCE. It says that, in one year, 80,000 units of myrrh and frankincense was brought to Egypt from Punt as well as other quantities of goods that were highly valued in Ancient Egypt. From the Thirteenth to the Seventeenth Dynasty, the contact between Egypt and Punt was broken. This was due to the fact that Egypt was invaded by the Hyksos. The fifth ruler in the Eighteen Dynasty of Egyptian Pharaohs was Queen Hatshepsut, daughter of Tutmose III. She became Queen in the year 1493 BCE and made a landmark expedition to the land of Punt which is recorded on the walls of the Deir ci-Bahari temple located in Alexandria. Her eight ships sailed to Puntland and came back with cargoes of fine woods, ebony, myrrh, cinnamon and incense trees to plant in the temple garden.

The roman emperor Augustus sent an expedition to conquer actual Yemen. During that military expedition the roman fleet of Gaius Gallus destroyed the port of Aden in order to open a safe sea route to India and to the Punt for the roman merchants.

Ancient Somaliland

In the Classical era, the city states of Malao (Berbera) and Mundu (Maydh) prospered, and were deeply involved in the spice trade, selling myrrh and frankincense to The Romans and Egyptians Somaliland and Puntland became known as hubs for spices mainly cinnamon and the cities grew wealthy from it the Periplus of the Erythraean sea tells us that the northern Somaliland and Puntland regions of modern-day Somalia were independent and competed with Aksum for trade.

Early Islamic States in Western Somaliland (AWDAL)

With the introduction of Islam in the 10th century in what are now the Afar-inhabited parts of Eritrea and Djibouti, the region began to assume a political character independent of Ethiopia. Three Islamic sultanates were founded in and around the area named Shewa (a Semitic-speaking sultanate in eastern Ethiopia, modern Shewa province and ruled by the Mahzumi dynasty, related to Muslim Amharas and Argobbas), Ifat (another Semitic-speaking sultanate located in eastern Ethiopia in what is now eastern Shewa) and Adal and Mora (Gadabursi Clan, Somali, and Harari vassal sultanate of Ifat by 1288, centered around Dakkar and later Harar, with Zeila as its main port and second city, in eastern Ethiopia and in Somaliland's Awdal region; Mora was located in what is now the southern Afar Region of Ethiopia and was subservient to Adal).

At least by the reign of Emperor Amda Seyon I (r. 1314-1344) (and possibly as early as during the reign of Yekuno Amlak or Yagbe'u Seyon), these regions came under Ethiopian suzerainty. During the two centuries that it was under Ethiopian control, intermittent warfare broke out between Ifat (which the other sultantes were under, excepting Shewa, which had been incorporated into Ethiopia) and Ethiopia. In 1403 or 1415 (under Emperor Dawit I or Emperor Yeshaq I, respectively), a revolt of Ifat was put down during which the Walashma ruler, Sa'ad ad-Din II, was captured and executed in Zeila, which was sacked. After the war, the reigning king had his minstrels compose a song praising his victory, which contains the first written record of the word "Somali". Upon the return of Sa'ad ad-Din II's sons a few years later, the dynasty took the new title of "king of Adal," instead of the formerly dominant region, Ifat.

The area remained under Ethiopian control for another century or so. However, starting around 1527 under the charismatic leadership of Imam Ahmad ibn Ibrihim al-Ghazi (Gurey in Somali, Gragn in Amharic, both meaning "left-handed), Adal revolted and invaded Ethiopia. Regrouped Muslim armies with Ottoman support and arms marched into Ethiopia employing scorched earth tactics and slaughtered any Ethiopian that refused to convert from Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity to Islam. Moreover, hundreds of churches were destroyed during the invasion, and an estimated 80% of the manuscripts in the country were destroyed in the process. Adal's use of firearms, still only rarely used in Ethiopia, allowed the conquest of well over half of Ethiopia, reaching as far north as Tigray. The complete conquest of Ethiopia was averted by the timely arrival of a Portuguese expedition led by Cristov„o da Gama, son of the famed navigator Vasco da Gama. The Portuguese had been in the area earlier in early 16th centuries (in search of the legendary priest-king Prester John), and although a diplomatic mission from Portugal, led by Rodrigo de Lima, had failed to improve relations between the countries, they responded to the Ethiopian pleas for help and sent a military expedition to their fellow Christians. a Portuguese fleet under the command of EstÍv„o da Gama was sent from India and arrived at Massawa in February 1541. Here he received an ambassador from the Emperor beseeching him to send help against the Muslims, and in July following a force of 400 musketeers, under the command of Christov„o da Gama, younger brother of the admiral, marched into the interior, and being joined by Ethiopian troops they were at first successful against the muslims but they were subsequently defeated at the Battle of Wofla (28 August 1542), and their commander captured and executed. On February 21, 1543, however,a joint Portuguese-Ethiopian force defeated the Muslim army at the Battle of Wayna Daga, in which al-Ghazi was killed and the war won.

Ahmed al-Ghazi's widow married Nur ibn Mujahid in return for his promise to avenge Ahmed's death, who succeeded Imam Ahmad, and continued hostilities against his northern adversaries until he killed the Ethiopian Emperor in his second invasion of Ethiopia, Emir Nur died in 1567; the Ethiopians sacked Zeila in 1660. The Portuguese, meanwhile, tried to conquer Mogadishu but according to Duarta Barbosa never succeeded in taking it. The sultanate of Adal disintegrated into small independent states, many of which were ruled by Somali chiefs.

Eastern Somaliland under the Garad

In the east, a completely different political dynamic existed. The Warsangeli and Dhulbahante Sultanates under the Garad dynasty emerged a few centuries after the Three Sultanates of the west, and rose to prominence in Somaliland's Sool, Sanaag and Togdheer by the 13th century. Unlike Adel, which was a direct successor of Axumite civilization with a wildly diverse ethnic makeup and a political system entirely based on Islam, the Garad Sultanates were very much Somali clan-based states who happened to be Muslim. This is not to say the Warsangeli and Dhulbahante were not as pious as the Adel, as records show that their warriors formed a significant percentage of the army that invaded Ethiopia under Ahmed Gragn. After the Majerteen Sultanate formed and Adel collapsed in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Garad state became much more of an eastern-oriented state.

One interesting factor in the collapse of Adel is the flow of cultural influence reversed, flowing from the rest of Somalia into Adel, and the areas occupied by the Ottoman Empire became heavily Somali-ized, while the previous, strongly Afar and Axumite identity faded away. This created the current cultural makeup of the region.

Colonial period

Ottoman Somaliland

On 1548 CE,the port city of Zeila was annexed and became part of the vast Ottoman Empire. The reason for this was that Zeila is situated in a stragetic location on the Red Sea because it is near the Bab el Mandeb strait; a key area for trade with the East. For 300 years, Zeila enjoyed trade with other countries and was home to Arab, Persian and even Indian merchants. On 1884, when the empire was on the brink of collapse; Egypt, an Ottoman vassal at that time, occupied western parts of Somaliland, the other regions being controlled by Somali clans. Then, During the Scramble for Africa era, the region now claimed by Somaliland was the British Somaliland Protectorate.

British Somaliland

The British Somaliland protectorate was initially ruled from British India (though later on by the Foreign Office and Colonial Office, and was to play the role of increasing the British Empire's control of the vital Bab-el-Mandeb strait which provided security to the Suez Canal and safety for the Empire's vital naval routes through the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

Resentment against the British authorities grew: Britain was seen as excessively profiting from the thriving coastal trading and farming occurring in the territory. A full-blown guerrilla war had begun by 1899 under the leadership of religious scholar Mohammed Abdullah Hassan. By 1920, with the help of aerial support from the British Royal Air Force, the situation in Somaliland had stabilised and the British had re-established their dominance over the territory. Sporadic uprisings were to occur for decades afterwards, however on a much reduced scale with improved British infrastructural spending and a more benign, less paternalistic set of public policy.

During the East African Campaign of WWII, the protectorate was occupied by Italy in August 1940, but recaptured by the British in summer 1941. Some Italian guerrilla fighting (Amedeo Guillet) lasted until 1942.

The conquest of British Somaliland was Italy's only victory (without the cooperation of German troops) in WWII against the Allies.

Independence & Post-independence

Shortly after gaining independence from Great Britain as the State of Somaliland on 26 June 1960, Somaliland merged with Italian Somaliland on July 1, 1960 to form the Somali Republic. The Prime Minister of the State of Somaliland, Ibrahim Egal, became a minister in the new Somalia. He became Prime Minister in 1967 but a coup deposed him in 1969. The coup elevated General Muhammed Siad Barre to power. Siad Barre instituted a Marxist regime, and became a close ally of the Soviet Union.

Although initially enthusiastic about forming a union with Italian Somaliland, the euphoria quickly changed to disenchantment as many in the north-west of Somalia felt increasingly marginalized in government and other sectors of society. While the authoritarian government of Siad Barre was becoming increasingly unpopular with Somalis, nowhere was the regime more resented than in the north-west.

Following an unsuccessful attempt by Somalia to capture the Ogaden region of eastern Ethiopia in 1977, Somalis from the north-west (primarily the Issaq clan) living in the United Kingdom formed the Somali National Movement in 1981. The SNM was one of a growing number of groups which aimed to topple Siad Barre.

As the 1980s unfolded, the Siad Barre regime became increasingly unstable, and the SNM expanded its control in the north-west region. Mogadishu responded by instituting draconian measures in the north-west to suppress the SNM. When these failed, the government indiscriminately used raids and bombing campaigns to assert control. Nonetheless, by the end of the 1980s, the SNM controlled virtually all of the north-west, including the major towns of Hargeisa and Burao. The Siad Barre regime was on the verge of collapse.

The region, like the rest of Somalia, was marred by political instability and differences in culture, both due to regional feuds and the markedly different societies created by the British and Italian colonial authorities.



On May 18, 1991, after the collapse of the central government in Somalia in the Somali Civil War, the territory asserted its independence as the self-described Republic of Somaliland. However, the region's self-declared independence remains unrecognized by any country or international organization.

The economic infrastructure left behind by British, Soviet Union, and American funding and military assistance programs has been largely destroyed by war. The Somaliland-based Somali National Movement had rebelled against the Siad Barre regime in Mogadishu which prompted a massive reaction by the government. By 1992, aerial bombing by the federal authorities had reportedly left 50,000 dead in the city alone. However, the reconstruction began shortly thereafter.

Abdurahman Ahmed Ali Tur was sworn as the first president of Somaliland, although he died just a year later. Muhammad Haji Ibrahim Egal was elected president in 1993, re-elected in 1998 and remained in power until his death on May 3, 2002. The vice president Dahir Riyale Kahin was declared the new president shortly afterwards.

Since independence Somaliland has been trying to extend its domination to include the Sanaag and Sool regions. This has led to conflict with neighboring Puntland's armed forces, as the the latter macro-region also claims that territory.

Somaliland is trying to declare independence but without Sanaag and Sool it lacks the land needed to make the state economically viable.