Scramble for Africa
Starting in 1875 the age of imperialism in Europe transformed Somalia. Britain, France, and Italy all made territorial claims on the peninsula. Britain already controlled the port city of Aden in Yemen, just across the Red Sea, and wanted to control its counterpart, Berbera, on the Somali side. The Red Sea was a crucial shipping lane to British colonies in India, and they wanted to secure these “gatekeeper” ports at all costs.
The French were interested in coal deposits further inland and wanted to disrupt British ambitions to construct a north-south transcontinental railroad along Africa’s east coast, by blocking an important section.
Italy had just recently been reunited and was an inexperienced colonialist. They were happy to grab up any African land they didn’t have to fight other Europeans for. They took control of the southern part of Somalia, which would become the largest European claim in the country, but the least strategically significant.
In 1884 Egypt, which had declared independence from the waning Ottoman Empire, had ambitions of restoring its ancient power, and set its sights on East Africa. However, the Sudanese resisted Egypt’s advance and the Mahdist revolution of 1885 ejected the Egyptians from Sudan and shattered Egypt’s hope of a neo-Egyptian empire. The few advance troops that had made it to Somalia had to be rescued by the British and escorted back to their own side of the fence.
Thereafter, the biggest threat to European colonial ambitions in Somalia came from Ethiopian Emperor Menelik II who had successfully avoided having his own country occupied, and was planning to invade Somalia again. By 1900 he had seized the Ogaden region in western Somalia,wich was reconquered by the Mullah during the Dervish colonial resistance war and then ceded to Ethiopia by Britain in 1945. Even today, long after all the Europeans had given up on their relatively valuable colonial possessions, Ogaden, the most barren of Somali provinces, is still frequently fought over by the two bordering nations.