Week 26: Focus Somalie

Every crumb of life must be used to conquer dignity!
Fatou Diome (Le ventre de l’Atlantique)

Official name: Somalia

Superficie: 637 657 km²

Population: 12 163 465 habitants

Capitale: Mogadiscio

Villes principales: Beledweyne, Baidoa, Hargeisa, Beled Hawo

Langue officielle: Somali, arabe

Langues courantes: Somali, arabe, Italien, Anglais

Monnaie: Shilling somali (SOS)

Religions: 1 % chrétiens ; 99,8 % musulmans,  – de 1%  religions traditionnelles.

Fête nationale: 1er juillet (indépendance de 1960)

Fuseau horaire: UTC + 3

Hymne nationale: Louange au drapeau


Before colonization

The history of the present territory of Somalia dates back to ancient times, when the region was known to the ancient Egyptians. But between the 2nd and 7th centuries AD, several parts of the territory were attached to the Ethiopian kingdom of Axum. Soon after, Arab tribes settled in the 7th century along the coast of the Gulf of Aden and founded a sultanate on the coast, centered on the port of Zeila. At the same time, the country became Islamized under the influence of the Shiites from Iran. However, the inhabitants did not Arabize and retained their ancestral languages.

From the 13th century, Somalis, nomadic pastoralists settled in the north of the Horn of Africa, began to migrate to the region of present-day Somalia; previously, the Oromo, pastoralists and farmers, had already started a slow climb to the Ogaden and the Abyssinian plateau. All these Cushitic peoples settled permanently on the territory. Arab peoples tried to appropriate the territory and many Somalis were pushed outside, especially in Ethiopia.

Colonial penetration

Great Britain was the first European power in the region. In 1839, she took possession of Aden (today in Yemen), a stopover on the route to India. After the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, the strategic importance of the Horn of Africa and Somalia increased. In the mid-1870s, the Turco-Egyptians occupied some towns on the Somali coast and part of the adjacent interior region. Then, when Egyptian troops left the region in 1882, Great Britain occupied this territory, in order to stem the Mahdi revolt in Sudan.

In 1887, a British protectorate was proclaimed over British Somaliland. This protectorate, originally a dependency of Aden, was placed under the administration of the British Foreign Office in 1898, then the Colonial Office in 1905. British control over the interior of the protectorate was contested by the revolt of the nationalist religious movement of the dervishes, led by Muhammad Abdullah Hassan, known as Mad Mullah (the “mad mullah”) by the British, between 1899 and 1910, which again tried to unify the country. In 1910, the British abandoned the inland, retreated to the coastal regions, and did not subdue the rebels until 1921.

As for Italy’s interest in the Somali coast, it also grew at the end of the 19th century. By treaties made in 1905 with the Somali sultans and conventions with Great Britain, Ethiopia and Zanzibar, the region bordering the Indian Ocean coast in the south of the country became Italian. Following the Treaty of London of 1915, Italy extended its control over the interior of the country. In 1936, Italy united its territories of Somalia, Eritrea and the newly conquered Ethiopia to form the colonial empire of East Africa Italiana. After Italy entered the war alongside Germany in 1940, Italian troops invaded British Somaliland. However, the British succeeded in reclaiming their protectorate in 1941. At that time, there were only 17 public primary schools for all Somalis. Under the 1947 peace treaty, Italy renounced its African possessions.

Responsibility for its colonies was entrusted to the four Allies (United States, Great Britain, France and USSR). In 1948, the Allies, failing to reach an agreement, took the matter to the United Nations General Assembly. During this period, there were two languages ​​for the government: English in the British zone (to the north) and Italian for the Italian zone (to the south). Over time, English became dominant in the school system and in government administration, which developed conflicts between Somali elites between North and South. Those who knew English enjoyed significant advantages in gaining access to public service positions, at the expense of those who spoke Italian or Somali. There was no school where people taught in Somali; Somalis who did not attend British or Italian schools went to Koranic schools where classical Arabic was the language of instruction.

Somalia’s independence

In November 1949, the UN granted independence to Italian Somalia, but on condition of a prior ten-year trusteeship exercised by the UN. On April 1, 1950, the United Nations Assembly placed the country, dubbed Somalia, under the administration of Italy. Then, in accordance with the decisions of 1949, Somalia gained independence on July 1, 1960, and soon after merged with the former British protectorate of Somaliland, which had been independent since June 26.
At the international level, the various powers which will succeed one another have the more or less avowed objective of bringing together in a “Greater Somalia” all the Somalis living in Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti.
The country’s first president, Aden Abdullah Osman Daar, elected in 1960, was defeated in 1967 by former prime minister Ali Shermake, who was himself assassinated on October 15, 1969. A group of soldiers led by General Muhammad Siyad Barre took power and proclaimed the Democratic Republic of Somalia. In 1970, Barre, supported by the USSR, chose the socialist path for his country and, in the years that followed, nationalized most of the country’s modern economic sectors. He led a literacy campaign based on the transcription of Somali into the Latin alphabet and tried to reduce the clan hold over Somali society. The drought in 1974 and 1975 caused widespread famine which prompted Somalia to join the Arab League.