Farther east on the Majeerteen (Bari)
coast, by the middle of the nineteenth century two
tiny kingdoms emerged that would play a significant
political role on the Somali Peninsula prior to colonization.
These were the Majeerteen Sultanate of Boqor Ismaan
Mahamuud, and that of his kinsman Sultan Yuusuf Ali
Keenadiid of Hobyo (Obbia). The Majeerteen Sultanate
originated in the mid eighteenth century, but only
came into its own in the nineteenth century with the
reign of the resourceful Boqor Ismaan Mahamuud.Ismaan
Mahamuud's kingdom benefited from British subsidies
(for protecting the British naval crews that were
shipwrecked periodically on the Somali coast) and
from a liberal trade policy that facilitated a flourishing
commerce in livestock, ostrich feathers, and gum arabic.
While acknowledging a vague vassalage to the British,
the sultan kept his desert kingdom free until well
Boqor Ismaan Mahamuud's sultanate
was nearly destroyed in the middle of the nineteenth
century by a power struggle between him and his young,
ambitious cousin, Keenadiid. Nearly five years of
destructive civil war passed before Boqor Ismaan Mahamuud
managed to stave off the challenge of the young upstart,
who was finally driven into exile in Arabia. A decade
later, in the 1870s, Keenadiid returned from Arabia
with a score of Hadhrami musketeers and a band of
devoted lieutenants. With their help, he carved out
the small kingdom of Hobyo after conquering the local
Hawiye clans. Both kingdoms, however, were gradually
absorbed by the extension into southern Somalia of
Italian colonial rule in the last quarter of the nineteenth
THE NORTH-EASTERN SOMALILAND SULTANATES
The north-eastern sultanates of Majeerteen
and Hobyo developed a very effective political organization
with diversified measures of centralized authority
over relatively large territories. Italy, Britain,
Germany and France had been trying to solicit them
into their sphere of influence since the early days
of their competition for the Somali peninsula. In
the closing decades of the 1880s Germany was the first
colonial power to have built a special relationship
with the Majeerteen. To the other colonial powers'
surprise however, on 7 April 1889, it was Italy who
concluded a treaty of protection with the Majeerteen
sultanate, having only a few months before, in December
1888, signed a similar treaty with the Hobyo sultanate.
The protectorate agreements were renewed by the Majeerteen
on 7 April 1895 and on 11 April 1895 by the Hobyo.
The treaty terms clearly stipulated
that Italy was not to interfere in the internal affairs
of the sultanates, and in order to promote the Italian
Government and the sultanates' interests, Italy agreed
to send commissioners to both sultanates.
By accepting Italy's protection in
December 1888, Sultan Yusuf Ali of Hobyo was planning
to use Italy's support in his dispute with the Sultan
of Zanzibar over the border region north of Warsheekh.
He was also interested in using this support against
Boqor Osman of the Majeerteen Sultanate with whom
he contested control over the Nugaal Valley. As a
countermove against Sultan Yusuf Ali, Boqor Osman
Mahamud also accepted Italy's protection. They had
both signed the protectorate agreements for their
own expansionist objectives, and, by exploiting the
conflicting interests among competing powers, to avoid
direct occupation of their territories by force.
However, the relationship between
Hobyo and Italy was complicated when Sultan Yusuf
Ali refused the Italian proposal to sanction a British
contingent of troops to disembark at Hobyo to pursue
their battle with the Daraawiish (see above) in April
1903. Because of this controversy, Sultan Yusuf Ali
and his son Yusuf Ali were eventually deposed by the
Italians and deported to Assab in Eritrea.
Conflict of Interest
The sultanate of Majeerteen lay on
the utmost tip of the Horn. To the north was the Red
Sea, in the east there was the Indian Ocean. To the
south of Majeerteenia stretched the Nugaal Valley.
To the west British Somaliland.
To define their zone of influence,
the Italian and British administrations signed the
Anglo-Italian Treaty of 5 May 1894 which defined the
Majeerteen Sultanate as being east of the 490 Meridian.
The line fell to the east of Taleh and Baran. In 1906
Cavalier Pestalozza and General Swaine signed an agreement
recognising Baran as under the Majeerteen sultanate.
Among other things, the Anglo-Italian treaty stipulated
that the Italian government be responsible for any
act committed by the Majeerteen against the people
under British protection.0 All these dealings were
taking place behind the backs of the peoples concerned.
In March 1901, Boqor Osman extended
his border by capturing two small towns in the Mudug
region. The Mudug was an area regarded as Sultan Yusuf
Ali's realm. As both sultans were under Italian protection,
the contention prompted Giulio Pestalozza, the Italian
Consul at Aden, to sail to Baargaal, the seat of the
Majeerteen court, to press Boqor Osman to retreat
and respect the treaties. Boqor Osman refused to give
The matter worried Italy and it reasoned
that unless Boqor Osman was brought under their directive
they feared they could not control the sultanate.
Misunderstanding and distrust was in the making. The
conflict of interest was leading to confrontation
as each side began accusing the other.
Whilst the situation was still in
confusion, the Italian Minister in Cairo intercepted
a letter from Boqor Osman seeking Ottoman protection
over what the latter termed the "Independent
Majeerteen Somali". Furthermore, Italy learned
about the sultanate's arms build-up. Before it was
too late, Italy decided to breach the treaty and to
bring Boqor Osman to his knees. The Volta ship bombarded
the coastal villages of Bareeda and Bender Khassim
(Boosaaso), crippling the sultanate's modest arms
and ammunition warehouses. Boqor Osman fled to the
interior, while Italian troops captured the sea towns
of Alula, Bender Khassim, Bareeda and Muranyo. Boqor
Osman had been taken by surprise, and had attempted
unsuccessfully to counter the Italians in too many
Things were further complicated by
other developments in the region: the Italo-British
arrangements for confining the Daraawiish to the Nugaal
area was growing untenable. The British had failed
to secure peace with the Daraawiish and were in retreat.
The good relationships which in the past Boqor Osman
had had with Sayid Mahamed ended after persistent
Daraawiish scorched earth raids on Majeerteen settlements.
Initially Boqor Osman had repulsed invasions
of his Sultanate by the Daraawiish. But armed confrontation
with the Italians had made him vulnerable to the Daraawiish
attacks. He turned to the Italians for an "honourable
Because of the Daraawiish threat
to their Benaadir colony and the weakness of control
afforded by the existing treaty with the Majeerteen,
the Italians opted to open a dialogue with Boqor Osman.
After long negotiations, in March 1910, they signed
a renewal of the treaty but with a more rigid and
effective protectorate powers and in their own interpretation.
From Sovereign to Subject: The Elimination
of the North-Eastern Sultanates
The dawn of fascism in the early
1920s heralded a change of strategy for Italy as the
north-eastern sultanates were soon to be forced within
the boundaries of La Grande Somalia according to the
plan of fascist Italy. With the arrival of Governor
Cesare Maria De Vecchi on 15 December 1923 things
began to change for that part of Somaliland. Italy
had access to these parts under the successive protection
treaties, but not direct rule. The fascist government
had direct rule only over the Benaadir territory.
Given the defeat of the Daraawiish
movement in the early 1920s and the rise of fascism
in Europe, on 10 July 1925 Benito Mussolini gave the
green light to De Vecchi to start the takeover of
the north-eastern sultanates. Everything was to be
changed and the treaties abrogated.
The real principles of colonialism
meant possession and domination of the people, and
the protection of the country from other greedy powers.
Italy's interpretation of the treaties of protection
with the north-eastern sultanates was comparable to
her view of the Treaty of Uccialli with Abyssinia,
and meant absolute control of the whole territory.
Never mind that the subsequent tension between Abyssinia
and Italy had culminated in 1896 in the battle of
Adwa in which the Italians were overwhelmed and outmanoeuvred.
The Italians had not learned their lesson, they were
committing the same historical mistake.
Governor De Vecchi's first plan was
to disarm the sultanates. But before the plan could
be carried out there should be sufficient Italian
troops in both sultanates. To make the enforcement
of his plan more viable, he began to reconstitute
the old Somali police corps, the Corpo Zaptié,
as a colonial force.
Preparations for the Invasion
In preparation for the plan of invasion
of the sultanates, the Alula Commissioner, E. Coronaro
received orders in April 1924 to carry out a reconnaissance
on the territories targeted for invasion. In spite
of the forty year Italian relationship with the sultanates,
Italy did not have adequate knowledge of the geography.
During this time, the Stefanini-Puccioni geological
survey was scheduled to take place, so it was a good
opportunity for the expedition of Coronaro to join
Coronaro's survey concluded
that the Majeerteen Sultanate depended on sea traffic,
therefore, if this were blocked any resistance which
could be mounted came after the invasion of the sultanate
would be minimal. As the first stage of the invasion
plan Governor De Vecchi ordered the two Sultanates
to disarm. The reaction of both sultanates was to
object, as they felt the policy was in breach of the
protectorate agreements. The pressure engendered by
the new development forced the two rival sultanates
to settle their differences over Nugaal possession,
and form a united front against their common enemy.
The First Casualty: Hobyo
The Sultanate of Hobyo was different
from that of Majeerteen in terms of its geography
and the pattern of the territory. It was founded by
Yusuf Ali in the middle of the nineteenth century
in central Somaliland. The jurisdiction of Hobyo stretched
from El-Dheere through to Dusa-Mareeb in the south-west,
from Galladi to Galkayo in the west, from Jerriiban
to Garaad in the north-east, and the Indian Ocean
in the east.
By 1st October, De Vecchi's plan
was to go into action. The operation to invade Hobyo
started in October 1925. Columns of the new Zaptié
began to move towards the sultanate. Hobyo, El-Buur,
Galkayo, and the territory between were completely
overrun within a month. Hobyo was transformed from
a sultanate into an administrative region. Sultan
Yusuf Ali surrendered. Nevertheless, soon suspicions
were aroused as Trivulzio, the Hobyo commissioner,
reported movement of armed men towards the borders
of the sultanate before the takeover and after. Before
the Italians could concentrate on the Majeerteen,
they were diverted by new setbacks. On 9 November,
the Italian fear was realised when a mutiny, led by
one of the military chiefs of Sultan Ali Yusuf, Omar
Samatar, recaptured El-Buur. Soon the rebellion expanded
to the local population. The region went into revolt
as El-Dheere also came under the control of Omar Samatar.
The Italian forces tried to recapture El-Buur but
they were repulsed. On 15 November the Italians retreated
to Bud Bud and on the way they were ambushed and suffered
While a third attempt was in the
last stages of preparation, the operation commander,
Lieutenant-Colonel Splendorelli, was ambushed between
Bud Bud and Buula Barde. He and some of his staff
were killed. As a consequence of the death of the
commander of the operations and the effect of two
failed operations intended to overcome the El-Buur
mutiny, the spirit of Italian troops began to wane.
The Governor took the situation seriously, and to
prevent any more failure he requested two battalions
from Eritrea to reinforce his troops, and assumed
lead of the operations. Meanwhile, the rebellion was
gaining sympathy across the country, and as far a
field as Western Somaliland.
The fascist government was surprised
by the setback in Hobyo. The whole policy of conquest
was collapsing under its nose. The El-Buur episode
drastically changed the strategy of Italy as it revived
memories of the Adwa fiasco when Italy had been defeated
by Abyssinia. Furthermore, in the Colonial Ministry
in Rome, senior officials distrusted the Governor's
ability to deal with the matter. Rome instructed De
Vecchi that he was to receive the reinforcement from
Eritrea, but that the commander of the two battalions
was to temporarily assume the military command of
the operations and De Vecchi was to stay in Muqdisho
and confine himself to other colonial matters. In
the case of any military development, the military
commander was to report directly to the Chief of Staff
While the situation remained perplexed,
De Vecchi moved the deposed sultan to Muqdisho. Fascist
Italy was poised to re-conquer the sultanate by whatever
means. To manoeuvre the situation within Hobyo, they
even contemplated the idea of reinstating Ali Yusuf.
However, the idea was dropped after they became pessimistic
about the results.
To undermine the resistance, however,
and before the Eritrean reinforcement could arrive,
De Vecchi began to instil distrust among the local
people by buying the loyalty of some of them. In fact,
these tactics had better results than had the military
campaign, and the resistance began gradually to wear
down. Given the anarchy which would follow, the new
policy was a success.
On the military front, on 26 December
1925 Italian troops finally overran El-Buur, and the
forces of Omar Samatar were compelled to retreat to
The Second Casualty: The Fall of
the Majeerteen Sultanate
By neutralising Hobyo, the fascists
could concentrate on the Majeerteen. In early October
1924, E. Coronaro, the new Alula commissioner, presented
Boqor Osman with an ultimatum to disarm and surrender.
Meanwhile, Italian troops began to pour into the sultanate
in anticipation of this operation. While landing at
Haafuun and Alula, the sultanate's troops opened fire
on them. Fierce fighting ensued and to avoid escalating
the conflict and to press the fascist government to
revoke their policy, Boqor Osman tried to open a dialogue.
However, he failed, and again fighting broke out between
the two parties. Following this disturbance, on 7
October the Governor instructed Coronaro to order
the Sultan to surrender; to intimidate the people
he ordered the seizure of all merchant boats in the
Alula area. At Haafuun, Arimondi bombarded and destroyed
all the boats in the area.
On 13 October Coronaro was to meet
Boqor Osman at Baargaal to press for his surrender.
Under siege already, Boqor Osman was playing for time.
However, on 23 October Boqor Osman sent an angry response
to the Governor defying his order. Following this
a full scale attack was ordered in November. Baargaal
was bombarded and razed to the ground. This region
was ethnically compact, and was out of range of direct
action by the fascist government of Muqdisho. The
attempt of the colonisers to suppress the region erupted
into explosive confrontation. The Italians were meeting
fierce resistance on many fronts. In December 1925,
led by the charismatic leader Hersi Boqor, son of
Boqor Osman, the sultanate forces drove the Italians
out of Hurdia and Haafuun, two strategic coastal towns
on the Indian Ocean. Another contingent attacked and
destroyed an Italian communications centre at Cape
Guardafui, on the tip of the Horn. In retaliation
Bernica and other warships were called on to bombard
all main coastal towns of the Majeerteen. After a
violent confrontation Italian forces captured Ayl
(Eil), which until then had remained in the hands
of Hersi Boqor. In response to the unyielding situation,
Italy called for reinforcements from their other colonies,
notably, Eritrea. With their arrival at the closing
of 1926, the Italians began to move into the interior
where they had not been able to venture since their
first seizure of the coastal towns. Their attempt
to capture Dharoor Valley was resisted, and ended
De Vecchi had to reassess his plans
as he was being humiliated on many fronts. After one
year of exerting full force he could not yet manage
to gain a result over the sultanate. In spite of the
fact that the Italian navy sealed the sultanate's
main coastal entrance, they could not succeed in stopping
them from receiving arms and ammunition through it.
It was only early 1927 when they finally succeeded
in shutting the northern coast of the sultanate, thus
cutting arms and ammunition supplies for the Majeerteen.
By this time, the balance had tilted to the Italian's
side, and in January 1927 they began to attack with
a massive force, capturing Iskushuban, at the heart
of the Majeerteen. Hersi Boqor unsuccessfully attacked
and challenged the Italians at Iskushuban. To demoralise
the resistance, ships were ordered to raze and bombard
the sultanate's coastal towns and villages. In the
interior the Italian troops confiscated livestock.
By the end of the 1927 the Italians had nearly taken
control of the sultanate. Defeated and humiliated,
Hersi Boqor and his top staff were forced to retreat
to Ethiopia in order to rebuild the forces. However,
they had an epidemic of cholera which frustrated all
attempts to recover his force.
After two years of devastating war
in which thousands of civilians died and the entire
economy of the sultanate was ruined, razing all coastal
towns and villages, the Italian colonial administration
could boast that it had broken the Majeerteen resistance
and put an end to an era in Somaliland. Boqor Osman
fled to the British Somaliland, but was handed back
to the Italians. In November the formal act of surrender
took place in Hurdia, and Boqor Osman dramatically
consigned his sword to Governor De Vecchi. Later Boqor
Osman was exiled to Muqdisho. With the elimination
of the north-eastern sultanates and the breaking of
the Benaadir resistance, from this period henceforth,
Italian Somaliland was to become a reality. The partition
of Somaliland was already shaping during this period
and the fate of the Somalis was at the mercy of the
Issa-Salwe, Abdisalam M. (1996):
The Collapse of the Somali State: The Impact of the
London: Haan Associates.