Somalia has been inhabited since the Paleolithic period. The Doian and Hargeisan civilizations thrived here throughout the Stone Age. Cemeteries in Somalia going back to the fourth millennium BCE provide the earliest evidence of burial practices in the Horn of Africa. The stone tools from the Jalelo site in the north were also identified in 1909 as significant artifacts showing the archaeological universality of the East and West throughout the Paleolithic period.
Linguists believe that the region’s earliest Afroasiatic-speaking people migrated during the Neolithic era from the family’s putative urheimat (“original homeland”) in the Nile Valley or the Near East.
The Laas Geel complex in northern Somalia, on the outskirts of Hargeisa, goes back approximately 5,000 years and has rock art showing both wild animals and painted cows. Other cave paintings, including one of the oldest known representations of a hunter on horseback, may be discovered in the northern Dhambalin area. The rock art dates from 1,000 to 3,000 BCE and is in the unique Ethiopian-Arabian style. Furthermore, Karinhegane, located in northern Somalia between the villages of Las Khorey and El Ayo, is home to many cave paintings of actual and mythological creatures. Each artwork includes an inscription underneath it that has been believed to be approximately 2,500 years old.
Antiquity and classical era
Ancient pyramidical buildings, mausoleums, abandoned towns, and stone walls, such as the Wargaade Wall, are remnants of a once-thriving civilisation on the Somali peninsula. Since the second millennium BCE, this civilisation has maintained a trade connection with ancient Egypt and Mycenaean Greece, lending credence to the theory that Somalia or neighboring areas were the site of the ancient Land of Punt. Through their commercial ports, the Puntites traded myrrh, spices, gold, ebony, short-horned animals, ivory, and frankincense with the Egyptians, Phoenicians, Babylonians, Indians, Chinese, and Romans. An Egyptian expedition conducted to Punt by Queen Hatshepsut of the 18th dynasty is shown on temple reliefs at Deir el-Bahari under the reign of Puntite King Parahu and Queen Ati. Isotopic examination of ancient baboon mummies from Punt sent to Egypt as gifts in 2015 revealed that the specimens were most likely from a region spanning eastern Somalia and the Eritrea-Ethiopia corridor.
The camel is said to have been domesticated in the Horn area during the second and third millennia BCE. It then spread to Egypt and the Maghreb. The northern Barbara city-states of Mosylon, Opone, Mundus, Isis, Malao, Avalites, Essina, Nikon, and Sarapion established a profitable trading network throughout the ancient era, linking with traders from Phoenicia, Ptolemaic Egypt, Greece, Parthian Persia, Saba, Nabataea, and the Roman Empire. They transported their goods in the traditional Somali naval vessel known as the beden.
Following the Roman conquest of the Nabataean Empire and the Roman naval presence at Aden to combat piracy, Arab and Somali merchants agreed with the Romans to prohibit Indian ships from trading in the Arabian peninsula’s free port cities in order to protect Somali and Arab merchants’ interests in the lucrative trade between the Red and Mediterranean Seas. However, Indian merchants continued to trade in the Somali peninsula’s port towns, which were free of Roman intervention.
For ages, Indian traders transported enormous amounts of cinnamon from Ceylon and the Spice Islands to Somalia and Arabia. The origin of cinnamon and other spices is considered to have been the best-kept secret of Arab and Somali traders in their commerce with the Roman and Greek worlds; the Romans and Greeks thought the origin was the Somali peninsula. The collusive agreement between Somali and Arab traders inflated the price of Indian and Chinese cinnamon in North Africa, the Near East, and Europe, making the cinnamon trade a very profitable revenue generator, particularly for Somali merchants, through whose hands large quantities were shipped across sea and land routes.
Birth of Islam and the Middle Ages
Islam was brought to the region early on, soon after the hijra, from the Arabian peninsula. The two-mihrab Masjid al-Qiblatayn in Zeila dates from the 7th century and is the city’s oldest mosque. Al-Yaqubi reported in the late 9th century that Muslims lived along the northern Somali coast. He also stated that the Adal monarchy had its capital in the city, implying that the Adal Sultanate, with Zeila as its capital, dated back to the 9th or 10th century. Local dynasties of Somalized Arabs or Arabized Somalis controlled the state, as did the similarly formed Sultanate of Mogadishu in the Benadir area to the south. From this point on, Adal’s history would be defined by a series of wars with neighboring Abyssinia. The Adal empire ruled over vast swaths of modern-day Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Eritrea at its peak.
The Zeila-based King of Adal was assassinated in 1332 during a military effort to stop Abyssinian ruler Amda Seyon I’s march against the city. When Emperor Dawit I assassinated the last Sultan of Ifat, Sa’ad ad-Din II, at Zeila in 1410, his children fled to Yemen before returning in 1415. Adal’s capital was relocated farther inland to Dakkar in the early 15th century, when Sabr ad-Din II, the oldest son of Sa’ad ad-Din II, built a new stronghold following his return from Yemen.
The next century, Adal’s headquarters were moved once again, this time southward to Harar. Adal organized an efficient army commanded by Imam Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi (Ahmad “Gurey” or “Gran”; both meaning “the left-handed”) that attacked the Abyssinian empire from this new capital. The Conquest of Abyssinia is a historical campaign that took place in the 16th century (Futuh al-Habash). During the battle, Imam Ahmad pioneered the use of Ottoman-supplied cannons, which he smuggled via Zeila and used against Abyssinian troops and their Portuguese allies commanded by Cristóvo da Gama. Some historians believe that the employment of guns such as the matchlockmusket, cannon, and arquebus on both sides demonstrated the superiority of firearms over conventional weaponry.
During the Ajuran Sultanate, the sultanates and republics of Merca, Mogadishu, Barawa, and Hobyo, as well as their individual ports, thrived and had a profitable international trade, with ships traveling to and from Arabia, India, Venetia, Persia, Egypt, Portugal, and as far away as China. Vasco da Gama, who visited Mogadishu in the 15th century, observed that it was a huge city with multi-story buildings and magnificent palaces in the center, as well as numerous mosques with cylindrical minarets.
Duarte Barbosa reported in the 16th century that numerous ships from the Kingdom of Cambaya in modern-day India went to Mogadishu carrying fabric and spices, in exchange for gold, wax, and ivory. Barbosa also emphasized the availability of meat, wheat, barley, horses, and fruit on the coastal marketplaces, which resulted in great riches for merchants. Mogadishu, the hub of a flourishing textile industry known as toob benadir (specialized for markets in Egypt, among other locations), served as a transit point for Swahili traders from Mombasa and Malindi, as well as the gold trade from Kilwa, along with Merca and Barawa. In return for grain and wood, Jewish merchants from the Hormuz transported Indian cloth and fruit to the Somali coast.
In the 15th century, trading connections were established with Malacca, with cotton, ambergris, and porcelain being the primary goods of the trade. Somali traders established themselves as leaders in the trade between East Asia and the Horn of Africa by exporting giraffes, zebras, and incense to China’s Ming Empire. To avoid both the Portuguese blockade and Omani intervention, Hindu merchants from Surat and Southeast African merchants from Pate utilized the Somali ports of Merca and Barawa (which were not under the authority of either state) to conduct their commerce in safety and without hindrance.
Early Modern Era and the Scramble for Africa
Successor kingdoms to the Adal Sultanate and Ajuran Sultanate started to develop in Somalia in the early modern era. The Warsangali Sultanate, the Bari Dynasties, the Sultanate of Geledi (Gobroon dynasty), the Majeerteen Sultanate (Migiurtinia), and the Sultanate of Hobyo were among them (Obbia). They carried on the practice of castle construction and seaborne commerce started by earlier Somali rulers.
Sultan Yusuf Mahamud Ibrahim, the third Sultan of the House of Gobroon, inaugurated the Gobroon Dynasty’s golden era. During the Bardheere Jihad, his army triumphed, restoring regional peace and revitalizing the East African ivory trade. He also received gifts from and maintained good ties with the rulers of neighboring and distant countries, including the Omani, Witu, and Yemeni Sultans.
Sultan Ibrahim’s son Ahmed Yusuf succeeded him and became one of the most powerful individuals in 19th-century East Africa, receiving tribute from Omani rulers and forging connections with powerful Muslim families along the East African coast. The Gerad Dynasty competed with the merchants of the Bari Dynasty in northern Somalia by conducting commerce with Yemen and Persia. The Gerads and Bari Sultans built magnificent palaces and castles and maintained close ties with a variety of Near Eastern powers.
After the Berlin conference in 1884, European powers launched the Scramble for Africa, inspiring Dervish leader Mohammed Abdullah Hassan to gather support from throughout the Horn of Africa and launch one of the longest colonial resistance battles in history. Hassan stressed in many of his songs and speeches that the British “had ruined our religion and made our children their children,” and that Christian Ethiopians working with the British were intent on stealing the Somali nation’s political and religious independence. He quickly established himself as “a defender of his country’s political and religious independence, protecting it against all Christian intruders.”
Hassan published a religious edict stating that any Somali citizen who did not embrace the objective of Somalia’s unification and refused to fight under his command would be deemed kafir, or gaal. He quickly obtained weaponry from the Ottoman Empire, Sudan, and other Islamic and Arabian nations, and selected ministers and advisors to govern various regions or sectors of Somalia. In addition, he issued a rallying cry for Somali unity and independence, while also gathering his troops.
Hassan’s Dervish movement was primarily militaristic in nature, and the Dervish kingdom was modeled around a Salihiya brotherhood. It was distinguished by a strict hierarchy and centralization. Though Hassan vowed to push the Christians into the sea, he launched the first assault by launching his first major military onslaught against the British troops stationed in the area with his 1500 Dervish armed with 20 modern weapons. He defeated the British in four missions and maintained ties with the Ottoman and German Central Powers. The Dervish kingdom fell in 1920 as a result of heavy aerial bombing by Britain, and the Dervish lands were later converted into a protectorate.
The rise of fascism in the early 1920s signaled a shift in Italy’s policy, since the north-eastern sultanates were soon to be pushed inside the borders of La Grande Somalia under Fascist Italy’s plan. Things started to change for that portion of Somaliland known as Italian Somaliland with the advent of Governor Cesare Maria De Vecchi on December 15, 1923. Under various protection accords, Italy enjoyed access to these regions, but not direct control.
Only the area of Benadir was directly under the control of the Fascist administration. Fascist Italy, led by Benito Mussolini, launched an invasion of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in 1935 with the intention of colonizing it. The League of Nations denounced the invasion, but nothing was done to halt it or free occupied Ethiopia. Italian forces, including Somali colonial battalions, crossed from Ethiopia on 3 August 1940 to attack British Somaliland, and by 14 August, had taken Berbera from the British.
In January 1941, a British army led by soldiers from various African nations began a campaign from Kenya to free British Somaliland and Italian-occupied Ethiopia, as well as capture Italian Somaliland. The majority of Italian Somaliland had been captured by February, while British Somaliland had been retaken from the sea in March. The British Empire’s soldiers in Somaliland were divided into three divisions: South African, West African, and East African troops. They were aided by Somali troops commanded by Abdulahi Hassan, with notable Somalis from the Isaaq, Dhulbahante, and Warsangali clans taking part. After WWII, the number of Italian Somalis started to decrease, with less than 10,000 surviving in 1960.
Following WWII, Britain maintained protectorate authority over both British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland. During the Potsdam Conference in 1945, the United Nations granted Italy trusteeship of Italian Somaliland as the Trust Territory of Somaliland, on the condition that Somalia achieve independence within ten years, as first proposed by the Somali Youth League (SYL) and other nascent Somali political organizations such as Hizbia Digil Mirifle Somali (HDMS) and the Somali National League (SNL). British Somaliland was a British protectorate until 1960.
The trusteeship rules allowed Somalis to acquire experience in Western political education and self-government while Italy controlled the area under UN mandate. These were advantages that British Somaliland, which was to be absorbed into the new Somali state, lacked. Although British colonial authorities tried to compensate for previous neglect via different administrative development initiatives in the 1950s, the protectorate remained stagnant. The difference in economic growth and political experience between the two regions would eventually create significant problems in merging the two sections.
Meanwhile, in 1948, under pressure from their World War II allies and much to the chagrin of the Somalis, the British “returned” the Haud (an important Somali grazing area presumably protected by British treaties with the Somalis in 1884 and 1886) and the Ogaden to Ethiopia, citing a treaty signed in 1897 in which the British ceded Somali territory to the Ethiopian Emperor Menelik in exchange for compensation.
Britain added a stipulation that the Somali people maintain their autonomy, but Ethiopia quickly asserted control over the region. This led Britain to launch an unsuccessful effort in 1956 to reclaim the Somali territories it had given up. Kenyan nationalists were also given control of the nearly entirely Somali-populated Northern Frontier District (NFD) by Britain. Despite a referendum in which nearly all of the territory’s ethnic Somalis supported joining the newly established Somali Republic, according to a British colonial commission.
On the eve of Somalia’s independence in 1960, a referendum was conducted in neighboring Djibouti (then known as French Somaliland) to determine whether to join the Somali Republic or stay with France. The referendum resulted in a continuation of the country’s affiliation with France, owing mainly to a combined yes vote by a sizable Afar ethnic minority and resident Europeans. There was also extensive vote manipulation, with the French removing hundreds of Somalis before to the referendum.
The majority of those who voted ‘no’ were Somalis who firmly supported an unified Somalia, as suggested by Mahmoud Harbi, Vice President of the Government Council. Two years later, Harbi was killed in an aircraft accident. Djibouti achieved independence from France in 1977, and Hassan Gouled Aptidon, a Somali who advocated for a “yes” vote in the 1958 referendum, became the country’s first president (1977–1991).
The two territories merged on July 1, 1960, to create the Somali Republic, although within borders set up by Italy and Britain. Abdullahi Issa and Muhammad Haji Ibrahim Egal, along with other trusteeship and protectorate government members, formed a government, with Haji Bashir Ismail Yusuf as President of the Somali National Assembly, Aden Abdullah Osman Daar as President of the Somali Republic, and Abdirashid Ali Shermarke as Prime Minister (later to become President from 1967 to 1969). Somalia’s people approved a new constitution, originally written in 1960, in a public vote on July 20, 1961. Shermarke nominated Muhammad Haji Ibrahim Egal to the post of Prime Minister in 1967. Egal would eventually become the President of Somaliland, a self-governing territory in northern Somalia.
Somalia’s then-President Abdirashid Ali Shermarke was assassinated by one of his own bodyguards on October 15, 1969, while visiting the northern town of Las Anod. His murder was soon followed by a military coup d’état on 21 October 1969 (the day after his burial), in which the Somali Army took control without meeting violent resistance – a bloodless takeover. Major General Mohamed Siad Barre, who controlled the army at the time, led the putsch.
Somali Democratic Republic (1969–1991)
Along with Barre, the Supreme Revolutionary Council (SRC) that took control after the murder of President Sharmarke was headed by Lieutenant Colonel Salaad Gabeyre Kediye and Chief of Police Jama Korshel. Kediye was formally dubbed the “Father of the Revolution,” and Barre took over as President of the SRC soon after. Following that, the SRC renamed the nation Somali Democratic Republic, disbanded the parliament and Supreme Court, and suspended the constitution.
The revolutionary army launched large-scale public works projects and effectively conducted an urban and rural literacy campaign, resulting in a significant rise in literacy rates. In addition to nationalizing industry and land, the new regime’s foreign policy emphasized Somalia’s historic and religious ties with the Arab world, with the country ultimately joining the Arab League (AL) in 1974. That same year, Barre presided over the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the forerunner of the African Union (AU).
In July 1976, Barre’s SRC was dissolved, and the Somali Revolutionary Socialist Party (SRSP) was formed in its stead, a one-party government founded on scientific socialism and Islamic principles. By adapting Marxist principles to local conditions, the SRSP attempted to reconcile the official state ideology with the official state religion. The government emphasized the Muslim principles of social progress, equality, and justice, which it claimed formed the foundation of scientific socialism, as well as its own emphasis on self-sufficiency, public participation, and popular control, as well as direct ownership of the means of production. While the SRSP supported some private investment, the administration’s main orientation was communist.
The Ogaden War erupted in July 1977, after Barre’s government used the national unity card to justify aggressive incorporation of Ethiopia’s predominantly Somali-inhabited Ogaden region into a Pan-Somali Greater Somalia, along with the rich agricultural lands of south-eastern Ethiopia, infrastructure, and strategically important areas as far north as Djibouti. Somali armed forces seized southern and central Ogaden in the first week of the battle, and throughout the majority of the war, the Somali army won consecutive wins against the Ethiopian army and pursued them as far as Sidamo. By September 1977, Somalia had seized 90 percent of the Ogaden and had placed significant pressure on Dire Dawa, threatening the railway line from the latter city to Djibouti. Following the siege of Harar, a huge unprecedented Soviet incursion consisting of 20,000 Cuban troops and several thousand Soviet specialists came to Ethiopia’s communist Derg regime’s assistance. By 1978, Somali forces had been driven out of the Ogaden. The Soviet Union’s change in support prompted the Barre administration to seek friends abroad. It ultimately decided on the Soviet Union’s Cold War adversary, the United States, which had long courted the Somali government. Overall, Somalia’s alliance with the Soviet Union and subsequent cooperation with the United States allowed it to create Africa’s biggest army.
In 1979, a new constitution was enacted, and elections for a People’s Assembly were conducted. However, the politburo of Barre’s Somali Revolutionary Socialist Party remained in power. The SRSP was dissolved in October 1980, and the Supreme Revolutionary Council was re-established in its place. Barre’s administration had grown extremely unpopular by that point. Many Somalis have become disillusioned with life under military rule.
The government was further undermined in the 1980s as the Cold War ended and Somalia’s strategic significance waned. The administration grew more dictatorial, and resistance groups sprouted up throughout the nation, aided by Ethiopia, ultimately culminating to the Somali Civil War. The Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF), United Somali Congress (USC), Somali National Movement (SNM), and Somali Patriotic Movement (SPM) were among the militia groups, as were the nonviolent political oppositions of the Somali Democratic Movement (SDM), Somali Democratic Alliance (SDA), and Somali Manifesto Group (SMG).
During the 1990s, inhabitants of Mogadishu’s capital city were banned from meeting in public in groups larger than three or four. Due to fuel shortages, lengthy queues of vehicles formed at gas stations. Pasta (ordinary dry Italian noodles, a staple at the period) had reached five dollars a kilogram due to inflation. The price of khat, which was imported from Kenya on a daily basis, was likewise five dollars per normal bunch. The value of paper currency notes was so low that many bundles were required to pay for basic restaurant meals.
As banks ran out of local money to exchange, a flourishing illicit market flourished in the city center. Mogadishu was completely black at night. All international visitors were being closely monitored. To restrict the export of foreign money, strict exchange control rules were enacted. Although there were no limitations on foreigners’ travel, photographing numerous sites was prohibited. During the day, the presence of any government armed force in Mogadishu was very uncommon. However, alleged late-night activities by government officials included “disappearances” of people from their houses.
Somali Civil War
The Barre government was overthrown in 1991 by a combination of clan-based opposition organizations supported by Ethiopia’s then-ruling Derg dictatorship and Libya. In May 1991, the northern former British part of the nation proclaimed independence as Somaliland after a meeting of the Somali National Movement and northern clan leaders. Despite being de facto autonomous and relatively peaceful in comparison to the volatile south, it is not recognized by any foreign authority.
Many of the opposition organizations then competed for influence in the power vacuum left by the demise of Barre’s government. Armed groups headed by USC leaders General Mohamed Farah Aidid and Ali Mahdi Mohamed, in particular, fought in the south as each attempted to assert control over the city. In neighboring Djibouti, a multi-phased international conference on Somalia was convened in 1991. Aidid protested by boycotting the first meeting.
Because of the legitimacy conferred on Muhammad by the Djibouti conference, he was later acknowledged as the new President of Somalia by the world community. Countries that have formally recognized Muhammad’s government include Djibouti, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Italy. He was unable to extend his power beyond the confines of the city. Instead, power was shared with other faction leaders in Somalia’s southern half and with independent subnational entities in the north. Following the Djibouti conference, 15 political stakeholders signed two abortive agreements for national reconciliation and disarmament: an agreement to hold an Informal Preparatory Meeting on National Reconciliation, and the 1993 Addis Ababa Agreement made at the Conference on National Reconciliation.
Somalia was labeled a “failed state” in the early 1990s owing to its prolonged absence of a stable central government. According to political scientist Ken Menkhaus, evidence indicated that the country had already reached failed state status by the mid-1980s, while Robert I. Rotberg agrees that the state collapse predated the Barre administration’s demise. Hoehne (2009), Branwen (2009), and Verhoeven (2009) utilized Somalia as a case study during this time period to criticize different elements of the “state failure” concept.
UN Security Council Resolutions 733 and 746 resulted in the establishment of UNOSOM I, the first operation to offer humanitarian assistance and assist in the restoration of order in Somalia after the collapse of its central government. On December 3, 1992, the United Nations Security Council overwhelmingly endorsed Resolution 794, which authorized a coalition of United Nations troops headed by the United States. The coalition, which formed the Unified Task Force (UNITAF), was entrusted with ensuring security until humanitarian operations aimed at stabilizing the situation were handed to the UN. The United Nations peacekeeping coalition began the two-year United Nations Operation in Somalia II (UNOSOM II) in 1993, mainly in the south. The initial mission of UNITAF was to employ “all necessary measures” to ensure the delivery of humanitarian assistance in line with Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, and it was considered a success.
Aidid viewed UNOSOM II as a danger to his authority, and in June 1993, his militia assaulted Pakistan Army soldiers assigned to UNOSOM II in Mogadishu, killing more than 80 people. Fighting erupted to the point that 19 American soldiers, as well as over 1,000 civilians and militiamen, were killed in a raid on Mogadishu in October 1993. The United Nations abandoned Operation United Shieldon on March 3, 1995, having incurred heavy fatalities and with government authority still not restored. Aidid was assassinated in Mogadishu in August 1996. Former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali and UN Special Envoy to Somalia Ahmedou Ould Abdallah have both called the deaths of people during the war “genocide.”
As part of the peace process, a number of further national reconciliation conferences were conducted under the auspices of the UN, AU, Arab League, and IGAD. Among these summits were the 1997 National Salvation Council in Sodere, Ethiopia, the 1997 Cairo Peace Conference / Cairo Declaration, the 2000 Somalia National Peace Conference in Arta, Djibouti under the newly established Transitional National Government, the 2002 Somali Reconciliation Conference in Eldoret, Kenya, and the 2003 National Reconciliation Conference in Nairobi, Kenya, when the Transitional National Government was still in place.
Following the beginning of the civil war, many Somalis fled to seek refuge in other countries. As of 2016, the UNHCR reported that there were about 975,951 registered refugees from the nation in neighboring states. In addition, 1.1 million people were domestically displaced (IDPs). The bulk of IDPs were Bantus and other ethnic minorities from the southern areas, including those who had been displaced in the north. Children made up about 60% of the IDPs. Armed conflict, drought, and other natural catastrophes, as well as diverted assistance supplies, contributed to the IDPs’ inability to obtain secure housing and resources. South-central Somalia has the highest concentration of IDP settlements (893,000), followed by northern Puntland (129,000) and Somaliland (84,000). In addition, Somalia had about 9,356 registered refugees and 11,157 registered asylum seekers. After the Houthi uprising in Yemen in 2015, the majority of these foreign nationals fled to northern Somalia. The bulk of immigrants to Somalia, on the other hand, are Somali expats who have returned to Mogadishu and other metropolitan centers in search of investment possibilities and to participate in the continuing post-conflict rebuilding effort.
The rise of piracy in the unpatrolled Indian Ocean seas off the coast of Somalia was a result of the breakdown of state authority that followed the civil war. The issue developed as a result of local fishermen attempting to defend their livelihood from illegal fishing by foreign trawlers. In August 2008, a multinational coalition took on the mission of fighting piracy in the Gulf of Aden by creating a Maritime Security Patrol Area (MSPA). A maritime police unit was subsequently established in the Puntland area, and ship owners followed best management practices such as employing private armed guards. These combined efforts resulted in a significant decrease in occurrences. Pirate assaults have fallen to a six-year low by October 2012, with just one ship targeted in the third quarter of 2012, compared to 36 during the same time in 2011.