Italian Somaliland

June 22, 2007 at 7:20 pm | Posted in New Book | 1 Comment

SOMALIA – Past & Present Chapter 7: Italian Somaliland

Italy started colonisation of Africa around 1885. By then Britain and France were already in the North of Somalia. The coast of Benadir, the port of Kisimayo, Brava, Merca, Mogadishu and Warsheikh were the dependencies of the Sultan of Zanzibar. The rest of the territories were divided among the various Somali tribes. The sovereignty of the Sultan of Zanzibar over these ports was recognized by Germany, France and Great Britain in June 1886.

The Italian intervention began with the signing of the commercial treaty of 28 May 1885, precisely few weeks after the Italian occupation of Massawa on 5 February of the same year, when the ship Barbarigo was sent to Zanzibar for the purpose of visiting the coastal territories which were under the Sultan and to explore the outlet of Giuba River.

1| On 17 March 1886 in London the German Ambassador Count Hatzfeldt verbally informed the British Foreign Office that on 6 September 1885 the German East African Company had signed a treaty with the principal Chief of the Mijerteyn Somalis, the Sultan Osman Mahamoud Youssouf at Alula. Under this treaty the whole Somali territory from the east of the town of Berbera to Cape (Ras) Asurad was ceded to the German company. The representative of the company had also signed a treaty with the Sultan Yussuf Ali Yussuf, the Ruler of the Somali town of Obbia (Hobbiah), whereby the company acquired the entire territory between Obbia and the town of Warshaikh with all the sovereign rights. The territory belonged to the Sultan of Zanzibar and was on the one side between the Indian Ocean and the Galla frontier and about twenty-five days’ journey inland on the other. Count Hatzfeldt informed that on the strength of these treaties, the German East African Company had asked the German Government to undertake the Protectorate over the Somali coast, and make sure that no encroachment by England was made on their rights.

Four months later, Sultan Yusuf Ali visited Aden and met with the British Consul, Major F.M. Hunter. The latter discussed with the Sultan about the agreement German claimed to have concluded with the Mijerteyn Chief. During the meeting the two sides discussed bilateral agreement. Afterward the British official reported to his Government that Sultan Yusuf Ali made the following statement:

“I was not present when the agreement was made between Sultan Osman and the German, but I have seen the Arabic copy.
“I do not recollect what the preamble said as to the actual parties making the agreement, whether it was on behalf of themselves or of their Governments.

“The substance was that the German were to be allowed to trade and were entitled to protection; the consideration was 1,000 dollars payable to the Sultan and 1,000 dollars to myself annually. There was no mention of sovereignty or territorial rights, or flag. When the second time the Germans came I was present; they asked for the Sultan’s flag to fly on their boat for protection. They also wanted to build a house and fly their own flag over it. Both these requests were refused. We have not received any portion of the annual stipend, but we have accepted presents of cloth.

“Since I arrived at Aden, I visited the German Agent Max Winter here and showed him the paragraph from the “Standard” about his Company having annexed the Somali country from near Berbera to Warsheikh; he declared he knew nothing of any such intimation having been published.”

The British themselves claimed to have already established contact with the Chiefs of the Mijerten and signed agreement with the Chief of Alula in March 1879. In October 1880, Acting Political Resident, Aden, Major G.R. Goodfellow, was sent to Alula to deliver the ratified copy of the agreement to Sultan Yusuf Ali. But the Sultan was out of town.

In a letter to C. Gonne, Chief Secretary to Government of Bombay, dated Aden Residency, 15 October 1880, Major Goodfellow reported:

“I regret to say that in consequence of the Sultan’s absence from Mareyeh, in the interior, his representatives there would not receive the treaty, or amount of subsidy due, from Commander Byle, R.N. A local copy of the Convention was delivered to Yousuf Ali, who accepted it. A sum of dollars 150 was expended in presents, for which the sanction of Government is solicited.”

On 16 January 1883, Brigadier-General J. Blair, V.C., British Political Resident at Aden, wrote the following letter to the Sultan Othman Mahmoud:

“It is not hid from you, oh, friend, that in March 1879 you and the other Chiefs of the Mijerteyn entered into an agreement with Major Goodfellow, and that this agreement has been ratified by the Governor General of India. We now send you our Acting First Assistant Resident, Captain Sealy, who will deliver to you the copy of the ratified agreement.
“It is also known to you that the arrears of the stipend mentioned in the said agreement are due to you and Captain Sealy is authorized to pay you the same, amounting to 720 dollars, to March 1882.”

The British official also said:

“You will also recollect that the Great Government was pleased with your kind treatment of the crew of the wrecked steamer Fleur Castle, last year, and we have much pleasure to informing you that Captain Sealy is commissioned to deliver to you 500 dollars, which the Great Government desires to give you as a mark of appreciation of the services rendered by you on that occasion. This is quite separate from the payment mentioned in the agreement.

“We rely on your friendship to meet the wishes of the Great Government in the above matters. May you be preserved”.
Sultan Osman Mohamud sent a letter dated 19 February 1883 to the British Political Resident in which he said:

“We received your kind letter, and the same day we visited Captain Sealy, on which occasion he delivered to us 500 dollars, which the Government had ordered to be given to us as recompense for the treatment shown by us to the steamer wrecked at Ras Asir.

“As regards the agreement, we are willing to agree to all terms in it except the lighthouse. God willing, we will send some men to you on our behalf. On meeting together we will converse and salutation.”

Three years later in 1889, the German Government asked the British Government for the permission to recruit, within the British Protectorate on the Somali Coast, a small force of as it said of blacks that were indented to serve as police in the territories of the German Company at Zanzibar. But the British considered it “extremely undesirable to accustom the Somalis to the use of firearms.”

The British Political Resident at Aden, Brig. General A.G.F. Hogg, reported in a letter dated 24 April 1889 that in accordance with the instructions received from the Secretary of State for India (Foreign Office, London) September last, the Italians were permitted to enlist Somalis for service at Massawah. About 150 men were regularly trained in the use of firearms during the last six months, and have now been sent back to Aden.

The Political Resident argued: “If foreign nations are thus permitted to train the Somalis to the use of firearms, and then send them back to their own country, most undesirable results will ensue; and I trust that future permission may be refused to any foreign nation for their enlistment as soldiers of Somalis within our Protectorate.”

“Possession by the Arabs of rifles, is becoming very common indeed, and if Somalis receive a military training, they are certain to use every endeavour to obtain possession of firearms which are now almost unknown in their country”, he said.

At the end of 1888, the Sultan of Obbia requested Italy for protection. The “Acceptance Act” was signed in Obbia on 8 February 1889 by Italian Consul Cavaliere V. Filonardi and Sultan Yusuf Ali. With this treaty all the possession of the Sultan from El-Marek to Ras Auad passed under the protection of the Government of Italy. Italian Foreign Minister Rudini informed the Italian Parliament that the treaty of protection placed the Sultan and his possessions under the protection of the Italian Government, undertaking not to make, without the consent of the latter, treaties or contracts with any other Government or person whatever. In compensation, an annuity of 1,200 dollars was granted to Sultan Yusuf Ali Yusuf.

The Minister told the Parliament, “Being a region bordering the sea, the Protectorate over the Sultanate of Obbia was notified to the Powers in the telegram of the 3 March and the Circular of the 11 May 1889, according to Article XXXIV of the General Act of the Berlin Conference.”

The Sultan of the Mijerteyn reached an agreement with Italy on 7 April 1889 at Bender Alula. The Agreement placed under the Italian protection the Sultan’s possession on the Indian Ocean from Ras Auad to Ras el Kyle, including Nogal Valley, promising that he would not enter into further treaties with other Powers for the remaining territories in his possession.
The Acts relative to this Protectorate were ratified on 7 April 1889. They bear on the part of the Italian Government the signatures of Cavaliere Filonardi and the Commanders of the Royal ships Rapido and Staffetta and the other contracting party emissary of Sultan Osman Mahmud.

3 The way the colonial powers acted showed that they consulted with each other well before taking over a territory. They decided among themselves which power takes what. Before taking over the Somali territory, the Italian Government asked the British whether they had any objection to the Italian occupation. The British Secretary of State informed the British Viceroy in India on 3 January 1889 that Italy “proposes to occupy or protect territories from eastern limit of British protectorate of the Somali Coast as far as the border of Zanzibar and asked whether “India (British Authority) has anything to say against the proposal.” The answer came within two days saying that, “They had no objection.”

Italy took possession of the Somali territories on the coast of Benadir from the Sultan of Zanzibar through a treaty signed on 12 August 1892 and it was presented before the Italian Parliament by the Minister of Foreign Affairs on 1 June 1896 and was approved as Law No. 373 of 11 August 1896.
Article I of the Treaty stated;

“the Government of H.M. the Sultan of Zanzibar accords to the Government of H.M. the King of Italy, all the ports which he possesses on the cities and ports of Benadir namely Brava, Merka and Mogadishu, with a radius towards the interior of 10 maritime miles, Warshaikh, a radius of 5 maritime miles, besides the islands and the nearby small islands, to be administered politically and juridically in the name of the Government of H.M. the Sultan of Zanzibar and under the protection of his flag; but is agreed that the Government of the H.M. of the Sultan will neither be responsible nor called to regulate the administration or others such as what might come as a result of the conflict of price of blood nor any complain that may arise.”

According to the Treaty, the Italian Government and its representatives had the right to buy and to dispose the public lands only within the limits of the above territories. The Sultan granted to the Italian Government the right to establish a bank or more banks in the cities which were subject of the Convention, with exclusive privilege to issue bank-notes or gold currencies, silver and of copper.
Article VII of the Treaty stated said:

“All the above-mentioned powers, rights and privileges are accorded to H.M. the King of Italy or to his representatives for the period of 25 European years which will start from the day in which the present concession will be approved by the Government of H.M. the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, the Empress of India and by the H.M. the King of Italy.” At the end of the 25 years the agreement was renewable for the same period and on the same conditions and with a simple declaration to this effect by the Government of the King of Italy.

By Article VIII Italy pledged to pay to the Sultan of Zanzibar the sum of 40,000.- Rupees as initial payment when the Italian administration took over the ports, the cities and the territories. At the expiry of each quarter of the European year a sum of Rupees 40,000 was to be paid.
On 10 October 1892 the Sultan of Obbia wrote to Filonardi, the architect of the Italian colonial administration in Somalia:
“We inform that this year we have been abandoned and there was no steamboat that has come to us, as it was the practice.
Nobody has brought to us the woods and we have neither food nor cartridges.

There was a serious war this year. The inhabitants of the desert have rebelled against us and there was a fighting in which some of ours have been killed.

After the departure of the steamboat Esfita we hoped some one would come from your side, but until now nobody came.
On the date of this letter Abu Bakr bin Auad has arrived bringing to us the payment of the year 1891.

We hope you will help us with food and the supply of war material, because we are under your protection and your flag.
We would not think that you have abandoned us.

Now we wish your arrival together with what we have requested. Abu Bakr bin Auad will give full information.

We hope that you come soon; this year to negotiate together.
Now we have two countries: Obbia and Fil Hur and we have many soldiers different than before.

Those of our friends killed are 11.

Our saia (boat) has broken down this year at Obbia with some of our properties on board. We need money and we are without boat. You are our friend and we do not know other Christians besides you, and we defend your flag..

On October 19, 1892 (27 Rabi El Aual, 1310), the Sultan of Majerteyn, Osman Mohamud Jusuf, similarly wrote the following letter from Alula, to Signor Filonardi:

“Since long we have not seen you and we have a great desire to see you.

You are our friend and we do not know why you have abandoned us.

The steam boat Esfita has arrived this year, but without you. Now we hope to have the pleasure of seeing you, because friendship and affection exist between us.

Kindly bring to us the rifles and the cartridges of which we have spoken about with you last year, because the rebellion has increased around us. We expect assistance from you because you are our friend and you will do it.

On the date of this (letter) Abu Bakr has arrived here bringing to us the salary of the year; we have recommended him to give detailed information.

When you come here we will understand each other.

We want barut (gun powder) for the ofiat, the seats and the other furniture.

We wish to construct a stone house in your name. For you we wish to work and we shall agree at which site the house will be built.

The tone of these two letters show that instead of behaving like Sultans that they were, they wrote like humble subordinates begging for money, guns and bullets for use against those who were opposed to their rule. They even offered themselves to work for Filonardi who was just a junior officer. The Italians were behaving like the Lords of the land. In July 1893 Filonardi issued a bank note for the denomination of Rupees 5……continued


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