Somalia History: Arab Conquerors

Somalia History: Arab Conquerors Last updated on Sunday 25th April 2010

The region of Somalia, called Punt, was an Egyptian trading partner. This ancient commercial tradition started to develop from the eighth century on, when Arab refugees founded a series of commercial settlements on the coastal area.

A series of clashes erupted with the Abyssinians during the 14th and 15th centuries there were; in the 16th century, the Abyssinian raids increased but were finally dealt with by the armies of the Sultanate of Adel. The Imam Ahmed Ibn El Ghazi, the famous Arab leader and warrior of Harrar, let his armies directly across the Rift Valley towards the Abyssinian plains. Islamic and Arabic traditions spread throughout the region until the appearance of the first European colonial forces in 1854.

Islamicized and led by Yemeni immigrants, Somalis founded a state which they named Ifat in the 13th century with its principal center in Zeila. Tribute was in the beginning used to be paid to the Ethiopian Empire, but Ifat managed to consolidate its own independence following its conflict with the Abyssinias. The Sultanate of Adal was the name given to the newly annexed territories. Ties were then established with Arab markets. Moreover, the southern part of the coast of Zandj contributed in developing intense commercial activity. Meanwhile, the sultans tried to enlarge their control at the expense of the Ethiopian Empire.

Backed up by the Ethiopian army, the Portuguese government sent its fleet in 1541 after it had acquired a clearer knowledge of Indian Ocean trade. The Portuguese destroyed the city of Zeila, Mogadishu, Berbera and Brava, but did not occupy the area, though the presence of their naval force hampered economic reconstruction. Adal declined and was divided into a series of smaller sultanates; the northern sultanates were controlled by the Ottoman Empire, while the southern ones accepted the sovereignty of the Sultan of Zanzibar after the expulsion of the Portuguese in 1698.

The region acquired a new strategic value after the creation of the Suez Canal. In 1862, the French bought the port of Obock, paving the way for the creation of present-day Djibouti, and in 1869 the Italians settled in Aseb seaport and later extended their control over Eritrea.

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