The region of Somalia was called by the Egyptians "Land
Punt" and there was a lively trade relationship between the
two countries. Centuries later, the Romans called the
country the "land of aromas" when it was there that the
incense originated. According to
this ancient trade tradition was reinforced in the 8th
century when Arab refugees set up several trading stations
on the Somali coast.
Somalis were Islamized and led by immigrants from Yemen.
In the 13th century, they formed the Kingdom of Ifat with
Zeila as its capital. Ifat initially paid taxes to the
Ethiopian empire, but quickly clashed with the Abyssins,
expanded its territory and changed its name to the Sultanate
The country was now developing a comprehensive trade that
was in close contact with the Arab markets and to the south
with the Zandj coast. At the same time, the Sultans sought
to expand the state at the expense of the Ethiopian empire.
The conflict had religious undertones at the same time,
which is why the Ethiopian rulers of 1439 asked for the help
of Christian Europeans. Yet, it was not until 1541 that the
Portuguese government sent a fleet - having learned the
trade in the Indian Ocean, and acknowledged that it would
make sense to monopolize it. Backed by an Ethiopian army,
the navy completely ravaged the city of Zeila, then
destroyed Mogadishu (Muqdisho), Berbera and Brava.
The destruction was not followed by an effective
occupation. Yet the presence of the Portuguese navy hampered
the rebuilding of the region's economy. The Sultanate Adal
decayed and was divided into a number of smaller sultanates,
the northernmost of which was under the influence of Egypt,
which was once again subject to the Ottoman Empire, while
the southerners were attached to the sultanate of Zanzibar -
after the Portuguese were ousted in 1698.
The Suez Canal gave new strategic significance to the
"Horn of Africa". In 1862, the French bought the port city
of Obock, which later became the present Djibouti. The
Italians settled in Aseb ( Ethiopia ), and in 1869 they
continued into Eritrea, while the British in 1885 conquered
the Egyptian possessions of Zeila and Berbera. In
compensation for his defeat to Ethiopia, in 1906 Italy
gained the southern coast of Somalia.
The opposition to foreign domination was particularly
evident in the British colony, where sheik Mohamed bin
Abdullah Hassan organized a revolutionary Islamic movement
that on four occasions defeated the colonial power in the
period 1900-04. It was not until 1920 that the British got
the area under control, and only then by deploying the Air
Force - for the first time in Africa.
After World War II, the Somali Youth Club was formed, the
goal of which was independence and national assembly. In
1960, the British and Italian territories became
independent, and in July they joined together in the Somali
Republic. The new state gained parliamentary rule that
lasted until October 21, 1969, when a group of officers led
by General Siad Barre took power, declared the country
socialist and allied with the Soviet Union.
In July 1976, Somalia invaded the Ethiopian Ogaden
Desert, on the pretext of helping the Front to liberate
Western Somalia. The Ethiopian army, with the support of
Cuban forces and with the sympathy of most African states,
fought back the invasion. As a result, Somalia cut off
diplomatic relations with Cuba and terminated the military
agreements with the Soviet Union.
The war on Ethiopia, the rise in prices of oil and basic
food, and the drought of 1978-79 brought the country to the
brink of chaos. In April, a group of officers tried
unsuccessfully to conduct a coup against Barre. In October
1980, Barre declared the country in a state of emergency,
restoring the Supreme Revolutionary Council, which had been
closed down in 1976.
Somalia previously claimed territorial claims against
Kenya, whose northeastern province is perceived as Somali
territory, but from 1984 relations improved after the
conclusion of trade and technical cooperation agreements.
However, new problems arose in relations with Ethiopia due
to the controversy over Ogaden and the massive influx of
Ethiopian refugees into Somalia - 840,000 in 1988.
Barre was elected president in 1986 with 99% of the vote.
In February 1989, Prime Minister Ali Samater traveled to
London and Washington to publish a comprehensive amnesty for
400 political prisoners.
But with the end of the Cold War, Somalia lost strategic
importance to the United States, reducing its credits and
investments. At the same time, Saudi Arabia almost
completely stopped its cattle purchases. In January 1991,
the opposition formed the United Somali Congress (USC) and
overthrew the president. He was replaced by USC leader Ali
Mahdi Mohammed and businessmen.