Somalia – Some History

Somalia is reported to be the most ethnically homogeneous state in Africa. Its capital is Mogadishu, The Beautiful City, The White Pearl of the Indian Ocean.

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On a map, Somalia is oriented as if to cradle the Arabian peninsula; that ancient land of Yemen, the southernmost of the Arabian peninsula, is just a 250 kilometer boat ride across the separating Gulf of Aden. Somalia’s right hand juts eastward into the Indian Ocean further than any other point on continental Africa. Somalia is a natural guardian of the southern entrance to the Suez canal, one of the most heavily traveled corridors of trade in the world.

Modern Somalia is strife-riven into three regions along old fault lines. The northern territory along the Gulf of Aden, one time British Protectorate, has declared its independence as Somaliland. The easternmost region containing where Cape Hafun, has more recently declared its independence as Puntland, a name recalling an ancient heritage from the days of the Pharoahs. The southern region, south of the tip of the horn of Africa, remains as Somalia, a part of one time Italian Somaliland.

Puntland has been identified by many historians with The Land of Punt referenced in ancient Egyptian trading records. Others identify it with the Land of Put in the bible. Others, though, attach the biblical reference to Libya. The region was reportedly rich in wildlife, and rich in products desired in Egypt. “These products included gold and aromatic resins such as myrrh, frankincense, and ebony; the wild animals depicted in Punt included giraffes, baboons, hippotamuses, and leopards.”1 Thus the region’s heritage dates back millennia.

European claims to this ancient region date back less than two hundred years. It was the time of the Scramble for Africa, inaugurated by the infamous Berlin Conference of 1884-1885. Italy, whose colonization enterprise had lagged far behind its European rivals, laid claim to the eastern Cape Hafun region and the lands southward. Great Britain established its claim in the northern region. Through multiple treaties, the Italian Protectorate and British Protectorate were established in 1888. They became known as Italian Somalia and British Somalia.2

British and Italian Somaliland …

The horn of Africa seems to be a more barren place in modern times than it was in the days of the Pharoahs. Nevertheless, in time, Italy invested heavily in its colony and Italian Somaliland came to be known as the crown jewel of Italy. Britain, possessing by this time a world embracing empire, invested far less in the relatively barren landscape of British Somaliland. Far larger and wealthier, India was considered the crown jewel of its empire. The relative investments may have been for both better and for worse, depending upon one’s point of observation. A recent writer described it thus, “Italy was more interventionist than was Britain”. But railway and roads, and, by many accounts, an excellent airport was developed by the Italians.

Italy and Great Britain were allies in WW1, and, in the settlement of that war, Britain awarded some of its Somalian territory to Italy. Italy continued to develop its colony up until WW2, in which Italy joined Germany in war against Great Britain. In August 1940, Italy invaded British Somaliland, dislodged the British and annexed the region into German East Italy. In March 1941, Britain recaptured its territory and, by war’s end, took possession all of Italian Somaliland.

In the WW2 settlement, Italian Somaliland was returned to Italy as a trusteeship under UN mandate and supervision. The understanding was that all of Somalia would be granted independence, and would reunite, in ten years. But that future ten year period combined with the preceding colonial decades, to create essentially two different Somalias, a North and a South, with widely different understandings of life in a modern state, together with vastly different levels of experience and expectation. Italian Somaliland had been significantly developed for the five decades preceding the war, British Somaliland had not. For the post war decade, Italian Somaliland was supervised by UN mandate with training to continue as an independent state. British Somaliland was not. And the North and the South were pitted against one anther as proxies in WW2. The disparities instigated problems in the era of independence.3 British Somalia was granted independence June 26, 1960 with the understanding that it would unite with Italian Somalia upon its independence July 1, 1960. Five days later, July 1, 1960, a modern independent united Somalia was born.

Somalia …

In 1960 a constitution was ratified and political offices filled for a system of government that continued until a coup d’etat in 1969, during which the constitution was suspended, and, after which, the country was renamed the Somali Democratic Republic.

From 1969 until the civil war of 1991, the Somalia Democratic Republic was under the dictatorship of Mohamed Siad Barre. This was the era of the Cold War. Somalia leaned socialist and received considerable support from the Soviet Union until the war with Ethiopia, the Ogaden war of 1977-1978. Somalia invaded in the attempt to recover territory divided up by the colonialists a century before. Upon early easy success, the Soviet Union abandoned Somalia and threw its support into Ethiopia.4Somalia broke diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union and sought alliances elsewhere. The United States welcomed relations with Somalia, having long sought them, particularly for its strategic location at the entrance to the Suez canal. It’s been observed that through it’s alternating relations with the Soviet Union and then the United States, Somalia had built the largest army in Africa. During the 1980s, the people grew increasingly distressed with the military dictatorship until civil war broke out in 1990.

image from May 30, 2017 NPR article

In 1991, the northern region, Somaliland, declared itself to be an independent republic. In 1998, the eastern region, the eastern region declared its independence as Puntland. The map5 shows the 3 disputed regions in present day Somalia.

Somalia – Bananas

Beside banana trees, a woman walks with children riding a donkey.
A man working a loom is featured with architectural motifs on this Somalia banknote.

Prior to the civil war, Somalia’s banana industry was the largest in Africa.1 They were famous for texture and taste in Europe and the Middle East.2Following the civil war were the banana wars in which warlords battled for control of the profitable industry and also brought almost to a halt.3

somalia 1990 front

Somalia – 1990 – Civil War Begins, Basket Weaving in Muqdisho

Somalia 1000 Shillings Banknote, Year 1990 – Face and Back
somalia 1000 shilling Banknote year 1990 front, featuring two women weaving baskets

Muqdisho, as noted on the front of our banknote below the serial number at bottom left center, or Mogadishu, as known in English, translates as “the beautiful place”.  It is a coastal city, the capital and largest city, of Somalia; and it is featured on our banknote.  It is also know locally as Xamar.

somalia 1000 shilling Banknote year 1990 back
Somalia 1990

Two views of Mogadishu are presented on this side of the banknote.  The one is an aerial view of the port and the other is the waterfront.

1990, the year of our banknote, was a precipitous year for Mogadishu, perhaps the last of relative peacefulness for a long time.  In 1991, Drought and Famine and Civil War would break out and leave Mogadishu ruined.  Somalia and Mogadishu had been flooded with an estimated 1.5 million refugees from the recent war with Ethiopia.  Siad Barre, president of Somalia since 1969, was forced to flee Mogadishu in January 1991 into exile.  In 1991, May, the northern region of Somalia, north of the tip of the horn of Africa, declared its independence as the Republic of Somaliland.  With the overthrow of the Said government, Somalia and Mogadishu was in the control of competing clansman, armed with the pillaged stores of Somali armaments.  A massive drought began in the Summer of 1991, at least partly a direct military tactic, and was followed by devastating famine.1

The UN sent military observers in 1992 and a significant UN force arrived in December 1992 to bring stability.  15 Somali factions signed a peace agreement in the January and March 1993, but by June 1993 security deteriorated and in early 1994 the UN forces withdrew.2


Our banknote is dated 1990.  For those curious, the events chronicled in the Hollywood movie Black Hawk Down occurred on October 3 and 4, 1993.  From, “A year before, U.S. soldiers were deployed to Somalia to support a United Nations humanitarian mission to help with a devastating famine.
Without a government in place, militia and clans were fighting among themselves for power, so President George H.W. Bush sent the troops over to help with more than 1 million people starving from the famine.”3

Somalia 5 Shilling 1994 banknote front (2) featuring camel caravan

Somaliland – 5 Shillings – Year 1994

Somaliliand 5 Shillings Banknote, Year 1994 – Face and Back
Somaliland 5 Shillings banknote, year 1994 front, featuring The “Goodirka” Building
Somalia 1994

Hargeysa 1994 stands out top center of our banknote.  Hargeysa was the capital and 1994 was the year of the first issuance of the Somaliland shilling.  It was issued October 18, 1994, and about a hundred days later, January 31, 1995, the Somali shilling was banned within the borders of the new state, Somaliland.

The “Goodirka” Building housing the Supreme Court of Somaliland is featured on our 5 shilling banknote. The building is in the city of Hargeysa, the largest city in Somaliland, and well as its capital. The beautiful animal on the right is the kudu.

Somaliland 5 Shillings banknote, year 1994 front, featuring camel caravan
Somalia 1994

Camel Caravan in the foreground with the hills known as Naasa Hablood in the background. The hills are near the capital city Hargeysa, feautured on the other side of our banknote.  Naaso Hablood translates as “girl’s breasts”.1

Somaliland arose out of the political conflict in 1991 that issued in the Somali Civil War.

Somaliland is “a self-declared republic that is internationally recognized as an autonomous region of Somalia. Having established its own local government in 1991, the region’s self-declared independence remains unrecognized by any country or international organization.”2