June 22, 2007 at 7:03 pm | Posted in New Book | Leave a comment

SOMALIA – Past & Present PREFACE


The history of Somali people goes back to thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians spoke of Somalia as land of God (Land of Punt). The Chinese merchants frequented its coast and carried on lucrative trade long before the arrival of the European powers in their quest for empires.

The Somali were (and still are) mostly nomadic people and did not live within clearly defined boundaries. However, it should be noted that the modern state emerged only after the decline of the Roman Empire. And that too took many yearsto materialise. Somali nomadic tribes moved over the land in search of green pastures. Nonetheless Somali people had a clear identity of their own. There were magnificent cities built by them. Ibn Battuta, the well known Arab traveler and historian, visited Mogadishu in 1330 (1328). He arrived at Zaila and then headed for Mogadishu. He has described the city as a town of enermous size. Certainly, Mogadishu existed as a maginificent city long before Ibn Battutanoted its existence. For want of a written script for Somali language much of its history has passed into oblivion. What we do have is recorded by others which do not give the Somali perspective of their history. Somalia’s ancient history lives in oral traditions and folklore.

The records documenting history remain fragmentary. As a result the present work suffers from the limitations imposed by these conditions. It concentrates its effort to present the Somali perspective on the struggle of the Somali people to regain controlover their own destiny.

The first important encounter between the Somalis and the Europeans began when Vasco da Gama on his way back from India in 1499 assailed Mogadishu. But he failed to capture the city. Even Da Cunha in 1507 did not succeed in occupying the town. Twenty-five years later, 1532, Dom Estavam da Gama, Vasco da Gama’s son, visited Mogadishu to buy a ship. On 5 December 1700 a British squadron men-of-war stopped near Mogadishu in what could be considered with the intent to threaten, but they did not land and a few days the moved on probably to India.

In the first half of the ninteenth century, Sultan Bargash bin Sa’id of Zanzibar occupied Mogadishu and ruled the town by means of a Wali. The conflict between those who wanted to establish their dominance over Somalia is illustrated by the incident of occupation of Mogadishu and other towns on the Somali coast by Sef b. Sultan, Imam of Oman, who had to fight a war against the Portuguese. After a little hile the Imam ordered his troops to return back to Oman.

Although there is no record to indicate that Germans ever were in occupation of the Somali territories, in 1855 the German officials claimed that German East African Company had signed a Treaty with the Mijerteyn Chief under which the Somali territory from the east of the town of Berbera to Cape (Ras) Asurad had been ceded to the German company. They also claimed to have entered into a Treaty with the Ruler of Obbia, whereby the Comapny acquired sovereign rights over the entire territory between Obbia and the town of Warsheikh.

In 1889, the Sulatn of Zanzibar leased the town of Mogadishu to the Italian Government, which in 1906 bought all the settlements of Zanzibar on the Somali coast. The Italians stayed in the of Somalia they were defeated in the Second World War and Britain, which was the victor, took over the administration.

In the north of Somalia the British maneuver started from 1825 with a visit to Berbera. Following the Scramble of Africa in 1884, Britain signed friendship treaties and later on Protectorate treaties with the Somalis. It stayed in the country until 1960.

France also occupied part of Somali territories from 1862 until the territory of Djibouti obtained its independence in 1977 and became the Republic of Djibouti.

I have written in detail about this phase of the history of Somalia in my earlier work “The Scramble in the Horn of Africa” (Mogadishu 2001). A briefer version is included in the present work.

Somalia is the only country in Africa that many European colonial powers have conquered and divided in as many as five pieces, and if one includes Socotra, which is distinctly a Somali Island presently with Yemen, six. Somali territories were gifted to other countries by the colonial powers, before the scramble of Africa and after. This continued even after Somalia obtained its independence in 1960.

Two parts of Somalia, former British Somaliland and former Italian Somaliland won their independece respectively on 26 June 1960 and 1 July 1960 and formed the Republic of Somalia. Nine years later, the army took overin a “Bloodless Revolution”. It remained in power for two decades before being deposed by opposition groups in a bloody civil war.

The counter coup which ousted the military regime was spearheaded by the opposition groups-the USC and others in the south and SNM in the north. The groups in the south failed to organize an orderly take over of power, instead its militias went in rampage, looting private and public properties, and indiscriminately killing innocent citizens. Millions were forced to flee to neighbouring countries in search of safety.

Although there were some conflicts, in the North the SNM managed to bring relative peace through dialogue. In 1993, it declared a unilateral secession from the rest of the Somali Republic and established “the Republic of Somaliland” which so far no country has officially recognized. The leadership there has been praised for bringing the relative calm that the people are enjoying today. While in the South, the never-ending quarrel between the groups who claim powerand the lack of solution is generating more fear in the minds of the people. This may lead to a new conflict that might cause more bloodshed.

Somaliahas been a victimof bloody conflicts. It is the misfortuneof the nation that people are not united in the pursuit of national interest. And some blindly support, due to tribal loyalties, selfish leaders who indulge in divisive politics in their self interest to the detrimentof national interst. The nation is suffering for the lack of viable system of administration. This is the only country on earth that for over a decade has no central government to look after national interest.

To be a leader is to be able to deliver good things to the nation and not to abuse the nation’s rights.

As early as the end of the 17th century, the founder of Toubenan movement, Nasir al-Din, in Senegal, proclaimed,

God does not permitkings to pillage, kill or eslave their peoples. He appointed them, on the contrary, to preserve their subjects and protect them from enemies. Peoples were not made for kings, but kings for people.

The subject of this book is not new to the students of history of Somalia, but I hope that it would be of use to many others who are interested in understanding the history of the country from the beginning of the colonial intervention to the present crisis.


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