A History of Governance: The Conquest of The Sultanates

The Italian and British conquest of the Sultanates  (in 1920-1927) suppressed the peoples’ resistance and destroyed all political, economic and commercial structures. The Italian fascist authorities were more repressive than the British, as reflected by the economic policies they applied to the northeastern regions. For instance, import-export trade and all the commercial transactions with the previously mentioned traditional markets were suspended and forcibly replaced with Italian trade companies, which imported consumer goods from Italy and exported salt, frankincense, hides, skin and agricultural cash crops (banana and cotton) to Italy through Mogadishu.


Italian flag being hoisted in following the bombing and destruction of Bargal
Hoisting of the Italian flag following the destruction and capture of Bargal.

The Fall of the Sultanates

Boqor Osman Mahamuud, Illustration
Italian depiction of the capture of Boqor Osman Mahamuud by Italian and allied forces in 1927.

The suspension of trade markets and political structures of the former Sultanates by the colonial authorities had a devastating effect on the livelihood security, famine coping mechanism and employment/income earning opportunities of the northeastern communities. This time period saw the migration of large numbers pastoralists, merchants and fishermen to the southern regions of Somalia, as well as to the nearby Arab states and East Africa in order to seek employment and trading opportunities. Furthermore, the Sultan of The Warsangali was exiled to the Seychelles Island by the British authorities and the Sultan of Obbia and the Boqor of Migiurtinia, their families, relations and key collaborators (such as the traditional elders) were forcibly deported by the Italians to Mogadishu.

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The deportation and exile of the Sultans, the compulsory conscription of more than 25,000 pastoralists (Italo-Ethiopian war of 1935-36) and destruction of economic, trade and political structures were all aimed to prevent or repress internal resistance & rebellion and to deplete & weaken the manpower resources of the conquered regions.

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Colonial Era

Due to its location, Hafun (Dante) was selected as the capital of Italian Somaliland. The once bustling capital was later reduced to ruins through heavy shelling by the British in 1942 (during the Second World War), destroying most of the historical buildings.

In 1943, the Somali Youth League ( then known as the Somali Youth Club), the political party that brought Somalia to independence in 1960, was founded by Yasin Haji Osman Sharmarke. Sharmarke was the son of a noble chief from the Sultanate of Obbia and cousin of Abdirashid Ali Shermarke who would later became President of Somalia. Timiro Cukaash Guuleed ( Timiro Ukash), who many believe the fictional character ‘Hawo Tako was based off of, was the first female member of the Somali Youth League. A poet and freedom fighter, Cukaash would play an integral part of the Somali independence movement. The Italian colonial masters murdered her husband and arrested a pregnant Cukaash, forcing her to give birth to her first child in prison. She spent the next two years behind bars.

In 1947, Ali Mire Awale wrote “Soomaaliyeey toosoo”. A few years later in 1954, Mohammed Awale Liban created the Somali flag after he had been selected by the Somali labour trade union to come up with a design in preparation for independence. It was officially adopted on October 12, 1954.

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The five-pointed white Star of Unity in its center represents the Somali ethnic group found in Djibouti, the Ogaden region in Ethiopia, the North Eastern Province in Kenya, and the former British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland territories ( present-day Somalia).

The flag’s light blue backdrop was originally influenced by the flag of the United Nations, in recognition of the United Nation’s role in Somalia’s transition to independence during the trusteeship period.

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