Dervish resistance

June 19, 2007 at 6:54 am | Posted in Dervish resistance | Leave a comment

Dervish resistance


Mohammed Abdullah Hassan's Fort Taleh.

Mohammed Abdullah Hassan’s Fort Taleh.

Somali resistance to foreign powers began in 1899 under the leadership of religious scholar Sayyid Mohammed Abdullah Hassan, Ogaden sub-lineage of the Darod tribe and his mother was Dulbahante sub-lineage of the Darod tribe.

Their primary targets were their traditional enemies the Ethiopians, and the British who controlled the most lucrative ports and were squeezing tax money from farmers who had to use the ports to ship their livestock to customers in the Middle East and India. Hasan was a brilliant orator and poet with a very strong following of Islamic fundamentalist dervishes all of which came from the Dulbahante tribe, these relentless and well organized warriors were Hasan’s maternal relatives. They waged a bloody guerrilla war.

This war lasted over two decades until the British Royal Air Force, having honed their skills in World War I, led a devastating bombing campaign against dervish strongholds in 1920, which caused Hasan to flee (he died of pneumonia soon after). The dervish struggle was one of the longest and bloodiest anti-Imperial resistance wars in sub-Saharan Africa, and cost the lives of nearly a third of northern Somalia’s population: the Dulbahante lost half of their population during this era and there were heavy casualties on the Ethiopian and British sides as well.

This was mainly due to the Dulbahante’s refusal to sign the Protectorate Treaty and submit to British colonial rule. The Isaaq, the Issa, the Warsangali as well as the Gadabuursi signed the treaty with the British without any loss of life. The Dulbahante viewed themselves as the sole protector of greater Somalia, and resented the signatory tribes. After the long Anglo-dervish wars the British colonial leaders did not trust the Somalis; therefore, immediately after the Isaaq, the Issa, the Warsangali, and the Gadabuursi signed the treaty, they invoked article 7 of the treaty, sub-section 3(a)(j)(k) of which allowed the British Colonial Authority to enforce segregation rule and a head tax. It also subjected the children of the tribes that signed the treaty to CCTP (Children under Colonial Power under sub-section 3k). CCTP dictated separating a percentage of the children from their mothers for special education, although the actual intent was to instill fear into the treaty members to enforce law and order. This caused some of the aforementioned tribal leaders to regret signing the treaty and wish they had resisted as the Dulbahante had done.

While the British were bogged down by Mohammed Abdullah Hassan (known to the British as ‘The Mad Mullah’), the French made little use of their Somalian holdings, content that as long as the British were stymied, their job was done. This attitude may have contributed to why they were more or less left alone by the Dervishes. The Italians, though, were intent on larger projects and established an actual colony to which a significant number of Italian civilians migrated and invested in major agricultural development. By this time Mussolini was in power in Italy. He wanted to improve the world’s respect for Italy by expert economic management of Italy’s new colonies, upstaging the British and their various embarrassing problems with the Somalis.

Due to the constant fighting the British were afraid to invest in any expensive infrastructure projects that might easily be destroyed by guerillas. As a result, when the country was eventually reunited in the 1960s, the north, which had been under British control, lagged far behind the south in terms of economic development, and came to be dominated by the South. The bitterness from this state of affairs would be one of the sparks for the future civil war.


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