Explorations in History and Society

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

Italian imperialism and Benaadir resistance prt 4

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5:The Storm of the Banadir Resistance gathers strength

As became clear from the NY times report (see part 4) on the ‘Lafole Massacre’, the Italian minister of Foreign Affaires commented on the ‘Lafole Massacre’ that the Italian government would take ‘energetic measures’ to punish the Somalis who were ‘guilty of the outrage’.

Now let us discuss these ‘energetic measures’ the Italian government wanted to take, and see whether they could stem the coming tide of the monsoon storm of resistance headed towards the Benadir coast region. As mentioned in part 3, the Italian foreign minister immediately appointed Commander Giorgio Sorrentino as royal commissioner extraordinary for the Benadir. His mission was as Robert L. Hess writes in his book ‘Italian colonialism in Somalia’:

”Sorentino was instructed ‘above all to provide for the security and tranquillity of the region’ After a complete investigation of the causes of the attack at Lafolé, he was to take whatever steps should appear indispensable for our dignity and for the security of the colony’’

This investigation would be completed within ten days which was around February 1897 (see part 4). The conclusion Sorrentino drew from the investigation was as follows:

”Within ten days he had determined that Lafolé was neither the precursor of a general urprising against the Italians nor an Ethiopian ambush but an isolated case of action by Wadan tribesmen and the tribes of Geledi; who had been spurred to the act by two Arabs from Mogadishu’’ (Robert L. Hess)

The conclusion Sorrentino drew was that the guilty ones were Wacdaan tribesmen and the tribes of Geledi, which meant that these tribesmen would be punished as the Italian foreign minister said in the NY Times report. Also Sorrentino believed that these tribesmen have been spurred to the act by two Arabs from Mogadishu. These Arabs were Abu Bakr Bin Awod, Filonardi’s interpreter and a certain Islam bin Muhammed.

The first thing, Sorrentino did was arresting Abu Bakr, while Islam bin Muhammed disappeared from the Banadir coast. The second thing, Sorrentino did was to plan a punitive expedition against the Somalis who were ‘guilty of the outrage’. For this he had ordered two companies of Eritrean askaris. In the meantime, Sorrentino, researched the conditions prevailing in the Benadir, where he discovered the widespread practice of slavery and domestic servitude. But he could not do something about it, since obviously this meant distrubting the whole plantation economy of the South.

”Under the circumstances-the already difficult relations with the interior tribes- Neither Dulio nor Sorrentino could act immediately against slavery. Such action would have committed the Italians to a costly undertaking of doubtful outcome, a risk that Sorrentino had been ordered not to take.’’ (Robert L. Hess)

Sorrentino and Dulio, the Benadir Company’s commissioner, had to content themselves with the expected punitive expedition against the tribes in the interior. Sorrentino was pleased at the prospect of this punitive expedition as he thought of the Somalis as: ”liars, thieves, and murderers”. A clear grudge from the ‘Lafole massacre’. He wrote in his book Ricordi del Benadir: ”We’ve got a nasty cat to skin!, May God protect us!”

In March the reinforcements of the two companies of Eritrean askaris finally arrived, and the Italians completed their plans for the punitive expedition against the Wacdaan and Geledi.

On April 20, almost 5 months after the Lafole attack, Sorrentino led his expedition inland and burned first Lafole and then several other villages associated with the Geledi and Murusade clan. The religious settlement of Nimow from where Sheekh Axmed Xaaji preached his religious message, was also bombarded by an Italian warship.

”The Italian bombardment of the small coastal village of Nimow in retaliation for Cecchi’s death marked the first such colonial action against a Somali civilian population.’’( Lee V. Cassanelli).

The Italians were joyful about these ‘energetic measures’ against the Somalis who were found guilty. Surprisingly, the Italians thought that these measures would solve everything and concluded that the Sorrentino expedition was a success:

”With Abu Bakr arrested, the Ethiopians in voluntary retreat, Lafole avenged, and leaders of Somali opposition deported, Sorrentino had virtually accomplished his mission by the end of April’’ (Robert L. Hess)

The deported leaders were Hussein Dera of Mogadishu and other Somalis for collaboration with the Ethiopians and instigation of Somali attacks on trading caravans between Lugh and the Coastal towns. Although these punitive expeditions looked impressive, they had no lasting effect, as it further antagonized the Wacdaan and Geledi clans. Also, it became clear that the two Arabs had no influence whatsoever on the clans of the interior, and thus were not the source of opposition to the Italian presence.

”The impression made by the punitive expedition after Lafolé could hardly have been called lasting” (Robert L. Hess)

This seems to be the case, since the Italians retreated to the coastal cities after the expedition.

”In the decade following the Lafoole incident, the Italians remained at the coast, their colonial policy marked by uncertainty and indecision. Their only major venture into the interior was the establishment of a garrison of Arab soldiers at Baardheere in 1902’’ ( Lee V. Cassanelli).

Also, in the book ‘Italian colonialism in Somalia’ of Robert L Hess, it becomes clear that the punitive expedition to avenge the Lafole attack was not followed by other expeditions into the interior.

”We make no expeditions against tribes guilty (of hostilities) but arrest individuals of that tribe who happen to be in town; (this policy) has persuaded the Bimal and the Somali of Mogadishu that we are not strong”

It thus becomes clear that the Italians retreated back to the Coast, and only were visible in the cities of Merca, Mogadishu, Barawe and Warsheekh.

In Somali Sultanate, Virginia Luling also talks about the consequences of Lafole attack, in which she writes: ”On the Italian side, though the repercussions of the disaster delayed by three years the formation of the Benadir Company, in the long run it reinforced the conviction that it was necessary to take military control of the hinterland.’’

What made the punitive expedition not effective on the long run? Why did the Italians retreated to the Coast? To answer these questions we need to know how the different Somali groups in Benadir responded to the Lafole attack.

”It is clear from colonial reports and from Somali oral recollections that Lafoole precipated a response from all the districts of the hinterland” ( Lee V. Cassanelli).


-To start with the Geledi Sultanate,

The Sultan of Geledi, Sultan Osman, as already discussed in the previous parts, wanted to accommodate the Italian presence on the Banadir coast. Cecchi apparently went to conclude a treaty with the Sultan, in order to penetrate the interior of the Banadir region. The Lafole episode came suddenly, and the Italians mounted their revenge expedition. As a consequence, Sultan Osman quickly succumbed to the Italian pressure and signed a treaty of peace with the Italians.

”The encounter with the Italians subdued the sultan of Geledi, who quickly signed a treaty of peace and pledged obedience to the Italian government” (Robert L. Hess).

This however did not mean that the Geledi people supported the Italian penetration of the Banadir coast, or accepted the Sultan’s treaty with the Italians. The young people of Geledi were fiercely opposed to the Italians and also played a role in the Lafoole attack.

”Acting-Governor Dulio felt that the young men of Geledi were fiercely opposed to the Italian presence, whereas their elders wanted some sort of accommodation” ( Lee V. Cassanelli).

Besides the young men, the uncle of Sultan Osman, and others felt that if the sultan wavered in his resistance, Gobroon authority would be weakened for good. This was true, since many from Adawiin lineage, whose religious prestige among the Geledi was second only to the Gobroon, preached a policy of non-accommodation. The reasons why the Sultan of Geledi succumbed to the Italians were varied. One of them was that Sultan Osman himself considered the possibility of shoring up his waning power through an alliance with the Italians.

The only articulated fierce opposition to the Italians from the Geledi was from the leader of a jamaaca (religious settlement) of the Ahmediya. This leader was Shaykh Abiker Ali Jelle, a member of the sultan’s own Gobroon lineage.

”When Abiker began to preach outright opposition to the colonials sitting threateningly on the coast, he was forced by the Geledi elders to leave the district’’( Lee V. Cassanelli).

This shows on which side the elders stood, and how they along with the Sultan were hesitant to join the resistance and thought accommodation was the best option for the group’s interest. We will see in later instalments whether this actually was the case.

-The Wacdaan response:

As already discussed in the previous parts, the Wacdaan were from the beginning fiercely opposed to the Italian penetration of the Banadir. This fierce opposition culminated in the attack of Lafole, in which mainly Wacdaan warriors along with a few Murusade and Geledi warriors, attacked the Cecchi expedition and killed all but three men.

The Italians directed their anger and revenge on mainly this group, by burning Lafole to the ground and bombarding the coastal village of Nimow from the sea. The Sorrentino expedition, with the Italian troops already based in the Banadir port-cities and the reinforcements of the two Eritrean Askari companies, was also mainly directed at punishing the Wacdaan and their allies.

These punitive measures however did not subdue the Wacdaan. Instead the Wacdaan remained harassing Italian presence on the Banadir coast by conducting guerrilla warfare tactics i.e. attacking caravans to the Banadir port-cities, organising blockades of the caravan routes that went through their territory to Mogadishu, and persecuting Somalis working with the Italians.

”Now the Wacdaan were beginning to blockade the caravan routes that ran through their territory to the coast” ( Lee V. Cassanelli).

The Italians sought to divide the Wacdaan and persuade sections of the group to submit peacefully. As said earlier the most numerous and militarily strongest section of Wacdaan, the Abubakar (Abukar?) Moldheere were lead by the famous Hassan Hussein, the fierce anti-‘infidel’ leader who along with Sheekh Axmed Xaaji articulated the opposition to the Italian penetration of the Banadir coast. This section of Wacdaan could not be persuaded, and continued to fight the Italians to the bitter end. The other section, the Mahad Moldheere, began slowly to depart from the rest of Wacdaan. They too participated in the Lafole attack, but started to move to the side of the Geledi. This was not surprising since they inhabited the territory contiguous to Afgooye and the fertile lands around Adadleh.

”Their interests coincided more with those of the agricultural Geledi. However, their smaller numbers gave them less influence in Wacdaan clan councils, which came to assume greater importance for policymakers as the Wacdaan began to act independently of the Geledi. While the Mahad Moldheere apparently cooperated in the Lafoole siege, their leader Abiker Ahmed Hassan subsequently struck an independent diplomatic stance.’’ ( Lee V. Cassanelli).

When in 1899 the Italians demanded forty hostages to be surrendered to the authorities in Muqdisho as a sign of Wacdaan submission, only the Mahad Moldheere responded. Their leader Abiker became a stipend official, which enhanced his standing among those of pacific persuasion.
The Abubakar Moldheere refused to send the twenty representatives demanded of them and for some years remained openly defiant of Italian authority.

”They continued to attack caravans and occasionally to boycott the market of Muqdisho. There is some evidence to suggest that feuding within the Wacdaan increased after this rift between the two major lineages’( Lee V. Cassanelli).

The Biyamaal response:

The Biyamaal were one of the first group to express their support for the Wacdaan in the lafole attack. They boycotted the markets of Merca, and the northern Biyamaal even collaborated with Hassan Husein of the Wacdaan. This collaboration led to the Biyamaal becoming also a target of punitive expeditions.

”After the Lafoole episode, several Biimaal sections boycotted the market of Marka to express their support for the Wacdaan action. The northern Biimaal collaborated with Hassan Hussein of Lafoole in cutting off land communications between Muqdisho and Marka.” ( Lee V. Cassanelli).

The Italians also targeted the Biyamaal for their support to the Wacdaan. In this they seized Jeziira, 13 miles south of Mogadishu.

These were the immediate responses of the Italian colonialists and the different Somali groups to the Lafole episode.

These actions and reactions would accelerate in the coming years, as the Italians were determined to colonize the Banadir coast and its hinterlands as the springboard for the eventual colonization of the rest of Southern Somalia. In this, the Italians would target the two most fierce resistance groups in the Banadir: the Wacdaan and Biyamaal, who were already allied in their economic sanctions and operations to disturb the lines of supplies and communication of the Italians in Mogadishu. As will become clear in the next instalments the Italians would target the very foundation of the Wacdaan and Biyamaal power: their means of production and thus means of power–>the plantation economy of the Banadir coast.

In the next instalment the plantation economy of the Benadir coast and Southern Somalia will be discussed and the Italian strategy to undermine this by their anti-slavery campaign.

This strategy of directly targeting the foundations of the Banadir agricultural society and thus the power of the two most fierce resistance groups against Italian penetration of the Benadir coast would trigger the monsoon Storm of Resistance that struck the Banadir coast region.



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