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Italian Somaliland (also known as Italian Somalia) was a colony of the Kingdom of Italy (Regno d'Italia) from the 1880s until 1941 in the territory of the modern-day Northeast African nation of Somaliamarker.


The late 19th century had a huge impact on developments occurring in the Horn of Africa. The European powers (Italymarker, Great Britainmarker and Francemarker) first gained a foothold in Somalia through the signing of various pacts and agreements with the Somali Sultans that then controlled the region, such as Yusuf Ali Kenadid, Boqor Osman Mahamuud and Mohamoud Ali Shire.

In late 1888, Sultan Kenadid entered into a treaty with the Italians, making his Sultanate of Hobyo an Italian protectorate. His rival Boqor Osman would sign a similar agreement vis-a-vis his own Majeerteen Sultanate the following year. Both rulers had signed the protectorate treaties to advance their own expansionist objectives, with Kenadid looking to use Italy's support in his dispute with the Sultan of Zanzibar over an area bordering Warsheekhmarker, in addition to his ongoing power struggle over the Majeerteen Sultanate with Boqor Osman. Both Sultan Kenadid and his rival Boqor Osman also hoped to exploit the conflicting interests among the European Imperial powers that were then looking to control the Somali peninsula, so as to avoid direct occupation of their territories by force.

The Italians, for their part, were interested in this largely arid country mainly due to its ports, the latter of which could grant them access to the strategically important Suez Canalmarker and the Gulf of Adenmarker.Fitzgerald, Nina J. Somalia (New York: Nova Science, 2002), p 33 The last piece of land acquired by Italy in Somalia in order to form Italian Somaliland was the Kismayomarker region (Jubaland), which was earlier controlled by Britain before World War I.

At the end of the 19th century, a growing social-political movement developed within Italy to start expanding its influence, since many other European countries had already been doing so, which was effectively leaving Italy behind. There was also a huge shortage in capital and serious economic problems in Italy. It is also argued by some historians that Italy had a minor interest in the mutton and livestock that were then plentiful in Somalia, though whatever designs Italy may have had on the resource-challenged Somali landscape were undoubtedly subordinate to its interest in the region's ports and the waters and lands they gave access to.

Cesare Correnti organized an expedition under the "Societa Geografica Italiana" in 1876. The next year "L’Esploratore" was established by Manfredo Camperio - a journal of travel. In 1879 "Societa di Esplorazioni Commerciali in Africa" was created, with the Italian Industrial Establishment involved as well. "Club Africano" was established in Somalia (three years later became "Societa Africana D’Italia") in 1879.

Italy gained control of various parts of present-day Somalia in the 1880s, and over the following decades, Italian settlement was encouraged. However, in January 1887 Italian troops from Somalia fought a battle against Ras Alula Engida’s militia in Dogali, Eritreamarker, where they lost 500 troops. The Prime Minister, Agostino Depretis, resigned because of this defeat in July 1887. Prime Minister Francesco Crispi replaced him, and had new plans to create new areas for immigration for Italians. On May 2, 1889 Menelik II, the Emperor of Ethiopia and Italy signed a peace treaty.

Around 1895 Italy launched the First Italo-Abyssinian War against Ethiopia from its territories in Eritreamarker and Somalia. In 1905, Italy finally accepted the responsibility of creating a colony in Southern Somalia, after several tries that had failed. The administrative regulators were Governor Mercantelli with the six subdivisions of Brava, Mercamarker, Lugh, Itala, Barderamarker, and Jumbo.
In April 5, 1908 there was a basic law enacted by the Italian Parliament to unite all of the parts of southern Somalia into an area called "Somalia Italiana". The colonial power was then divided between the Parliament, Metropolitan government, and the colonial government. The power of the colonial government was the only power that was changed. The Civil governor controlled export rights, regulated the rate of exchange, raised or lowered native taxes, and administered all civil services and matters relating to hunting, fishing, and conservation.Hess, Robert L. Italian Colonialism, p 102 The Governor was in control of the Police force, while nominating local residents and military arrangements.

In 1920 the Societa Agricola Italo-Somala (SAIS) was founded by the Prince Luigi Amedeo, Duke of the Abruzzi, in order to explore the agricultural potentials of Africa.On December 5, 1923 Fascism came to Somalia through the Governor Cesare Maria De Vecchi di Val Cismon. He brought with him forceful ways of colonial rule and ideas. After the collapse of Muhammad Abdullah Hassan’s movement, rebellion and revolt occurred with disputes between different tribes in Northern Somalia. The current government worked together again with the old tribesmen in order to try and keep peace between the several tribes, while maintaining very well control over the military.

After World War I the colony in Somalia was extended when Jubalandmarker was acquired from the British colony of Kenyamarker.In 1923, the fascist governor Cesare Maria De Vecchi started to assume control of the northern Somali lands after the progressive defeats of the then-ruling Somali Sultanates of Obbia and Migiurtinia.

In 1926, after a bloody repression, southern Somalia was fully pacified and started to enjoy a period of economic development. The Somali colonial troops called Dubats (and the gendarmerie Zaptié)were extensively used by De Vecchi in this military campaign.
In green, the Railway Mogadiscio-Villabruzzi, which lasted from 1914 to 1941.
In the early 1930s, the new Italian governors, Guido Corni and Maurizio Rava, started a policy toward a friendly assimilation of the Somalis and their clans. Many Somalis were enrolled in the Italian colonial troops. Some thousands Italian colonists moved to live in Mogadishu, that become a commercial centre with some small manifacturing companies, and in some agricultural areas around the capital (like the "Villaggio duca degli Abruzzi" and "Genale").

Italian explorer and nobleman Luigi Amedeo Savoia-Aosta founded in 1920 the Villaggio Duca degli Abruzzimarker as an agricultural settlement in Italian Somaliland experimenting with new cultivation techniques.

In 1926, the colony comprised 16 villages, with some 3,000 Somali and 200 Italian inhabitants, and was connected by a 114 km. new railway to Mogadiscio.

In 1940, the Villaggio Duca degli Abruzzi (or "Villabruzzi") already had a population of 12,000 people, of whom nearly 3,000 were Italian Somalians, and enjoyed a notable level of development with small manufacturing area with agricultural industries (sugar mills, etc..).

Italian East Africa

In October 1935, the southern front of the Second Italo-Abyssinian War was launched into Ethiopia from Italian Somaliland. Italian General Rodolfo Graziani commanded the invasion forces in the south.

In June 1936, after the war ended, Italian Somaliland became part of Italian East Africa. The new colony of the Italian Empire also included Ethiopiamarker and Eritreamarker and was called Africa Orientale Italiana.

From 1936 to 1940, new roads (like the one called "Imperial Road", from Mogasdishu to Addis Abebamarker) were constructed in the region, as well as new railways (114 km from Mogadishu to Jowharmarker) and many schools, hospitals, ports, bridges, etc.

In the first half of 1940, there were 22,000 Italians living in Somalia and the colony was one of the most developed in Africa in terms of the standard of living of the colonists and of the Somalis, mainly in the urban areas. More than 10,000 Italians were living in Mogadiscio, an administrative capital of the Africa Orientale Italiana, and new buildings were erected in the Italian architectural tradition.

In the second half of 1940, Italian troops invaded British Somaliland and ejected the British. The Italians also occupied Kenyan areas bordering the Jubalandmarker around the villages of Moyalemarker and Buna.

In the spring of 1941, Britain regained control of British Somaliland, and conquered Italian Somaliland with the Ogadenmarker, but until the summer 1943 there was an Italian guerrilla war in all the areas of the former Italian East Africa.

Italian Somaliland then fell under British administration until 1949, when it became a United Nations Trust Territory under Italian administration. This administration lasted ten years, from 1950 to 1960.

In 1960, Italian Somaliland united with British Somaliland to form the Republic of Somaliamarker.

Italian governors

  • 1908-1910 Tommaso Carletti

  • 1910-1916 Giacomo De Martino

  • 1916-1919 Giovanni Cherina Ferroni

  • 1920-1923 Carlo Ricci

  • 1923-1928 Cesare Maria De Vecchi

  • 1928-1931 Guido Corni

  • 1931-1935 Maurizio Rava

  • 1935-1936 Rodolfo Graziani

  • 1936-1937 Angelo De Ruben - Ruggiero Santini

  • 1937-1939 Francesco Saveno

  • 1939-1940 Gustavo Pesenti

  • 1940-1941 Carlo De Simone


File:Mogadishu1936.jpg|Mogadiscio in 1936, with the Catholic Cathedral and the Triumphal Arch dedicated to the King of ItalyFile:Mogadiscio39bancaitalia.png|The "Banca d'Italia" Building in downtown Mogadiscio in 1939File:Palazzodevincenzimogadiscio.png|The Building De Vincenzi near the Mogadiscio Catholic Cathedral in 1940File:Fiatmogadiscio1940.png|The Building Boero of the Fiat in Mogadiscio (1940)File:Old Parliament Building in Mogadishu.jpg|The Parliament Building in Mogadiscio, originally built in typical fascist style during the thirtiesFile:JubalandPostageStamps.jpg|Stamps of 1926 celebrating the union of Jubaland to Italian SomalilandFile:Albergo1938villaggioducaabruzzi.png|Hotel in the agricultural rural area of "Villaggio Duca degli Abruzzi", built by the Duke Luigi Amedeo of SavoiaFile:CinemaitaliaMogadiscio.png|The first cinema opened in Mogadiscio


  1. Mariam Arif Gassem, Somalia: clan vs. nation, (s.n.: 2002), p.4
  2. The Majeerteen Sultanates
  3. Tripodi, Paolo. The Colonial Legacy in Somalia. New York: St. Martin's P Inc,, 1999. p 16
  4. Tripodi, Paolo. The Colonial Legacy in Somalia, p 12-13
  5. Hess, Robert L. Italian Colonialism in Somalia Chicago: University of Chicago P, 1966. p 101
  6. Hess, Robert L. Italian Colonialism, p 146
  7. Bevilacqua, Piero. Storia dell'emigrazione italiana. p. 233
  8. Article with photos on a 2005 visit to 'Villaggio Duca degli abruzzi' and areas of former Italian Somaliland (in italian)
  10. The first map shows the Italian occupied areas around Moyale/Buna


  • Antonicelli, Franco. Trent'anni di storia italiana 1915 - 1945. Mondadori Editore. Torino, 1961.
  • Hess, Robert L. Italian Colonialism in Somalia. University of Chicago P. Chicago, 1966.
  • Tripodi, Paolo. The Colonial Legacy in Somalia. St. Martin's P Inc. New York, 1999.
  • Fitzgerald, Nina J. Somalia. Nova Science, Inc. New York, 2002.

See also

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