Explorations in History and Society

Exploring and Collecting the History of the Somali clan of Hawiye.

Italian imperialism and Benaadir resistance prt 2

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2: Italian expansion into Banadir/Somalia

Italy was eager to join the leagues of other European imperialist nations like Britain, France and Germany. To achieve this they set their eyes on East Africa, and made their first incursion into Eritrea in which they acquired Massawa port. Italian expansion in Somali lands began in 1885, when Antonio Cecchi, an explorer led an Italian expedition into the lower Juba region and concluded a commercial treaty with the sultan of Zanzibar. In 1889, Italy established protectorates over the eastern territories then under the nominal rule of the sultans of Obbia and of Alula; and in 1892, the sultan of Zanzibar leased concessions along the Indian Ocean coast to Italy.

Antonio Cecchi’s role
As already becomes clear, Antonio Cecchi spearheaded the Italian expansion into Somali territory when he led the first Italian expedition into the Somali hinterlands. He was chosen to lead the mission (expedition and Italian expansion) because of his past and reputation of been a supporter of Italian expansion into East Africa.

”The choice of Cecchi to head the mission was logical, for he had been active in the exploration of northeast Africa. In 1876 he had led an expedition from Zeila to the frontiers of Kaffa in southern Ethiopia. From that time he was an ardent partisan of Italian expansion into the horn. Cecchi was probably the first to succeed in directing Italian attention toward the Somali coast’’ (Robert L Hess)

”In his speeches there was an optimistic ring: the Cecchi mission and others would surely discover vast fertile areas awaiting peaceful cultivation and commercial penetration’’ (Robert L Hess)

After he returned from the Lower Jubba region he became obsessed with Italian expansion into the Somali coast.

”On the basis of his explorations and his often unfounded enthusiasm for the area, he insisted on the importance of the Juba River as the key to a much larger colonial program:


..Once we acquire with certainty the knowledge that the Juba is navigable…then it is certain that it will become the most natural artery for the exportation of the abundant coffee harvest of Kaffa and the surrounding regions…Now that our Italy has established itself at Massawa…it is possible for Italy to extend its possessions toward the south…The Juba would thus mark the extreme southern boundary of our possessions.” (Robert L.Hess)

Italy succeeded through negotiations with the Sultan of Zanzibar to sign commercial treaties with Zanzibar, which allowed Italy to trade with the Banadir region. This initial success was followed by long negotiations in which the Italians wanted to lease the Banadir region. After a while they succeeded in this too, and set up a commercial enterprise named after the Italian trader in East Africa Filonardi. Filonardi Company was lead by Filonardi himself and received some support from Italy in order to penetrate the Banadir and Somalia economically.

”From 1893 to 1896, the Italian presence was limited to a small garrison of soldiers at Luuq on the upper Jubba River, and a few traders along the coast. The Italian outpost at Luuq had been established in 1895 to gather information on Somali trade in the region and to protect Italian interests in the face of Ethiopian claims to the area.’’ ( Lee V. Cassanelli)

This insignificant presence of Italian commercial interests in Banadir can hardly be called ‘colonization’. There were a few Italian residents, and the police (askaris) were still Arab who did not went further then their garrisons. Because of this situation, most Somali groups were not pressed to fight this initial penetration since the intentions of Italians were still vague.

”Perhaps because of the Filonardi Company’s limited intervention in Somali affaires, there was only one notable incident of Somali hostility between 1893 and 1896. That occurred on 11 October 1893, the day the Italian flag was first raised over the garesa in Marka. A Somali attacked and killed an Italian soldier; he in turn was killed with three shots from a ‘Wetterly’’ gun.’’ ( Lee V. Cassanelli)

This was the setting in Somalia and Banadir, before Cecchi became dominant in convincing the Italian government to penetrate further into Somalia as he returned to Italy.

”On his return to Italy, however, Cecchi continued to pressure the government to tap the ‘’rich commercial resources’’ of Somalia (Cecchi, Pesaro, to foreign Minister C.F Nicolis di Robilant, August 27, 1886)

Antonio Cecchi was an ardent expansionist who for some time had been urging the Italian government to take over the Banadir concessions. In seeking to promote his own version of Italian power on the Somali coast, Cecchi upset the fragile commercial arrangements that Filonardi had constructed. He replaced Filonardi’s influential Hadrami interpreter with Arabs of his own choosing, returned an unpopular Italian resident to Marka, and sent soldiers to the lower Jubba area to try to force Somali caravaneers to unload their wares at Baraawe rather than at the British-held ports of Kismaanyo and Goobweyn. (Lee V. Cassanelli)

Cecchi’s presence also resurrected Somali fears of territorial dispossession. Thus it did not escape public attention when a cousin of Cecchi visited the Banadir region in 1895 to investigate the possibilities for commercial agriculture. There soon followed talk of growing cotton on Italian plantations along the Shabeelle river. This cousin was Giorgio Mylius, a wealthy Milanese industrialist. The Industrialist was particularly interested in the possibility of growing cotton in Somalia.

Finally, Cecchi appeared to symbolize colonial aggressiveness in the distant interior

”Obituary: Antonio Cecchi
The Geographical Journal, Vol. 9, No. 2. (Feb., 1897), p. 230.

 Antonio Cecchi.
The well-known Italian explorer, Antonio Cecchi, has, together with various
officers and men of the Italian gunboats Volturno and Stafletta, lately fallen a
victim to the treachery of the Somalis of the Benadir coast, of which he was
administrator. During a trip towards the Webi Shebeli, the party was suddenly
attacked by night, and, after expending most of its ammunition, was obliged to beat
a retreat, amidst renewed attacks by the Somalis. All the officers lost their lives,
and only three men succeeded in reaching Mogdishu. Cecchi was best known
for his journey to Abyssinia and the Galla countries between the years 1877 and
1882. The expedition, as at first constituted, was nominally under the command
of the Marquis Antinori, Cecchi being entrusted with the astronomical and meteorological
observations ; but of the five Europeans who took part in it, only Cecchi
and Dr. Chiarini proceeded beyond Shoa, the latter subsequently dying of fever,
while the former spent several years as a prisoner in the southern Galla countries
before returning to the coast. The results of this journey were published in two
octavo volumes at Rome in 1886, followed in 1887 by a third dealing with the
topographical surveys. Cecchi was afterwards for some years Italian consul at
Aden, and since 1890 had held a similar post at Zanzibar, where he was universally
respected and beloved.”


The Italian expansion which culminated in their first expedition into the interior of Banadir was successfully halted a mere 12 miles out of the city and lead to the death of the man who spearheaded Italian expansion into Somalia.

In the coming instalments we’ll show how the Somali groups in Banadir first viewed the slow Italian encroachment on the Benadir coast and how the Lafole event sparked the fire of a long resistance in Banadir and Southern Somalia.

3: The Somali response to Italian expansion

The Somali groups described in part 1 responded differently to the Italians who were expanding slowly but steadily into the Banadir coast, and would inevitably venture into the hinterlands.

To start with the Geledi Sultanate,
The Geledi Sultanate was in decline throughout the 19th century. The Sultanate was in the shadow of its former splendid and power. The Geledi confederation headed by the Gobroon shaykhs of Afgooye had lost much of its cohesiveness as the nineteenth century drew to a close. The succession of Osman Ahmed in the 1880s brought to the Geledi sultanate a man of lesser ambitions and more limited political skills than his illustrious forebears. Osman, for example, did nothing to punish the Biyamaal when they blocked a branch of the Shabeelle River and thus caused severe hardship to Geledi´s agricultural allies downriver. ( Lee V. Cassanelli)

Despite these setbacks, Osman inherited baraka (grace) as a member of the Gobroon lineage was still respected by many ordinary Somalis in the region. In the mid 1890s Osman´s army had still been strong enough to defeat their traditional Hintire rivals down the river.

What was the view of the Sultan of the Italian expansion?
First of all what was the general mood in Geledi?

Most people were suspicious of the Italian encroachments and as described earlier people were whispering about Italians taking over the land and their farms. When the Italians came, The Geledi were divided on the issue to resist the slow but steady penetration of the Italians in the Banadir coast or to accommodate this trend. While the people wanted to resist, the attitude of the Sultan and those in authority was cautiously accommodating the Italian presence in Banadir Coast. The Geledi-Wacdaan alliance came under strain at this time, for many of the Wacdaan were opposed to any compromise with the foreigners.

The Sultan started to accommodate the Italians and he started to establish friendly relationships with the Italian governors in Mogadishu. Cecchi apparently felt that Osman remained a force to be reckoned with, for the ill-fated Lafoole expedition had originated with Cecchi´s scheme for an Italian-Geledi alliance ( Lee V. Cassanelli)

The Wacdaan
The Wacdaan were mainly pastoralists, with a small group turning to farming throughout the centuries of their alliance with the Geledi clan who were mainly agriculturalists. As said above, the Wacdaan were opposed to any compromise with the foreigners. This fierce anti-foreign stance was persistent in the culture of Wacdaan and in the very place of Lafoole. The place has been called Lafoole because apparently the Wacdaan defeated the Gaalo Madoow when they migrated to the Lower Shabelle around the 18th century, hence the translation of Lafoole which is: Bones . ( Lee V. Cassanelli)

Because the Sultan of Geledi seemed hesitant to resist the Italian expansion into the Banadir coast, the alliance was cooled off. Apart from the weakening of their bonds with the Geledi, the drought of the 1890s which lead to a large population of Wacdaan abandoning their homelands, the Italians posed the greatest threat to the group. They were, moreover, the first inland Somalis who’s territory was actually invaded by colonial soldiers at the time of the Cecchi expedition.

On of the most influential leaders among the Wacdaan was the leader Shaykh Ahmed Haji Mahhadi. He was not a Wacdaan but became the sheikh of the Wacdaan. He was born in Mogadishu and hailed from a lineage of Mogadishu (Abgal). He had lived there most of his life, teaching alongside such renowned Muslims scholars as Shaykh Sufi and Shaykh Mukhdaar. Like the latter, he found coexistence in a town which housed infidels intolerable, and he chose to retire to the small coastal enclave of Nimow, a little south of Mogadishu. There he set up a small jamaaca which attracted several of the local inhabitants. When Nimow was shelled by an Italian warship in retaliation for the Cecchi ambush, Ahmed Haji fled to Day Suufi (in the heart of Wacdaan territory) where he intensified his preaching against the infidels. As late as 1907, the acting Italian governor considered him ‘the most listened-to propagandist’ in this area of the Shabeelle. Even the Geledi turn to him rather than to their own sultan for religious counsel. ( Lee V. Cassanelli)

One of the Wacdaan leaders apparently influenced by Ahmed Haji was Hassan Hussein, titular head of the largest subsection of the Wacdaan clan, the Abubakar Moldheere. The Abubakar Moldheere were the most numerous and hence the most militarily powerful section of the Wacdaan in the late nineteenth century. Hassan Hussein is remembered as one of the first Wacdaan to oppose the Italians: warriors from his lineage were prominent among the forces that attacked Cecchi at Lafoole. Likewise , his lineage was spokesmen for the Abubakar Moldheere who most strenuously urged the blockade of caravan routes to Mogadishu (economic sanctions).

The Biyamaal
This group is the best known group in the southern Somali resistance. Like the other groups in Banadir, the Biyamaal too were wary of Italian expansion into the Banadir coast. In the beginning the Biyamaal were following the actions of the Italians very carefully, while trying to accommodate them if they posed no threat. Yet there is little question that the resistance in Merca district was the fiercest and most prolonged in the Banadir. This is not surprising in light of the earlier history of the Biyamaal: their continual struggle against many enemies had given them a cohesiveness and a military organization far tighter than that of most other southern Somali clans ( Lee V. Cassanelli). Throughout the nineteenth century the Biyamaal had stood together to defend their territory and their independence against encroachments by the powerful sultans of Geledi: both Yusuf Muhammad and his son Ahmed Yusuf lost their lives in battle against the Biyamaal. These proud nomads had also firmly resisted the sultan of Zanzibar´s growing influence in Marka by ambushing the governor of that town together with forty askaris in 1876 ( Lee V. Cassanelli).

Not only by sheer force were the Biyamaal able to resist the influence of the sultan of Zanzibar but they could also assure their influence on Marka by placing economic sanctions on the city. When occasional differences arose between the Biyamaal leadership in the interior and the old Arab and Somali families of Marka – who were always more interested than Biyamaal in establishing relations with foreign powers – the Biyamaal would hold up food supplies to the townsmen and divert their exports to smaller outlets along the coast. These boycotts proved extremely effective in assuring Biyamaal influence in urban politics, as the Italians would learn in 1904.

The Biyamaal consisted of four territorial sections spread along the coastal dunes between Jesiira and Mungiya and extending inland to the farmlands along the Shabelle. Each of these sections was represented by a number of religious authorities known generally as macaallimiin and by a number of politico-military figures known as malaakhs and amaanduule. In times of crises, the leaders from all four sections would gather in shir to work out a common policy of action.

With the arrival of the Italians at the coast in 1890, Biyamaal leaders were almost in constant shir to coordinate their plans for the inevitable showdown between Italian expansion and their resistance. The Italian government always viewed them as its most determined opponent, colonial policy was geared towards dividing the Biyamaal leadership and thus divide the opposition. Remarkably the Biyamaal have presented a united front even when they were eventually defeated in 1908.

The setting of Axad Shiiki is complete, it is time to discuss that very day of 25th Novermber in 1896 and the morning of 26th Novermber in 1896.

What happened on those two days? Who attacked and annihilated the Italian expedition force? And how did this event spark the fire of the long resistance in the whole of Banadir which would last till 1908?

We have now arrived at the event that ignited the resistance of Southern Somalia (Banadir) against the Italian expansion into the Banadir coast.



Written by hawiye1

May 21, 2009 at 2:06 pm

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