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Fri, 07.01.1960

Somalia Gains Independence From Britain

On this date in 1960, Somalia gained its independence from Britain. This repaired the invasion of the 1884 Berlin Conference, the high point of white European competition for territory in Africa, a process commonly known as the Scramble for Africa.

Situated in the horn of East Africa, early Somalia's economy was based upon the nomadic herding of animals.  From the time of America’s Reconstruction (the 1870s) until World War II (1942), Britain gained control over the Italian portions of Somalia. In 1887, Britain became concerned with keeping the route to India open through the Suez Canal, which was opened in 1869. As a result, Britain proclaimed Somalia a British protectorate and named it British Somaliland.

At the beginning of the 20th century, native uprisings challenged British control. In 1910, the British abandoned the interior of Somaliland and withdrew to the coastal regions. Italy seized the opportunity to extend its control inland and took over many of the British abandoned regions. After WWII, Italy relinquished control, and Somalia was given to the United Nations. It was a UN trust territory under Italian administration for ten years until 1960, when Somalia was granted independence, merged with the former British protectorate, and the Somali Republic was formed.

Four years later, Somalia fought with Ethiopia over the Ogaden region. A civilian government ran the country for the first few years until the 1969 military coup of General Muhammed Siad Barre. Siad Barre held power for more than two decades. He attempted to regain the territories the Somalis had lost over the years, including portions of Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya, invading the Ogaden region in 1977. Two years later, a new constitution was passed into law, ensuring the rule of dictatorship with one political party.

While Siad Barre maintained his military dictatorship, foreign capital flowed into Somalia. The money came from aid from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and individual countries as capital investment. Foreign aid often came in loans, which led to massive foreign debt. Coupled with periods of severe drought, the debt soon made the economy unsustainable. The years of military dictatorship had disintegrated the social fabric of Somalia, and its people had no trust in the government.

During these years, under Reagan and Bush, Sr., the United States gave General Siad Barre more than the U.S. $100 million annually. By the late 1980s, the economy of Somalia was unsustainable, and foreign aid, including that from the International Monetary Fund, was withdrawn. With the collapse of the Somali economy, civil unrest directed against the oppressive Barre regime began in the North. The Somali National Movement (SNM) began the activity, and for the next three years, different anti-government factions fought Said Barre until he fled the country in early 1991.

The collapse of the Siad Barre regime plunged Somalia into chaos, with many factions fighting to seize power. One of them, the United Somali Congress (USC), appointed a temporary president, which caused a civil war. Unarmed Jubba villagers starved, died, and fled by the hundreds of thousands, and Somalia’s river valleys became war zones.

In 1992, The UN Security Council mounted “Operation Restore Hope,” led by the U.S. By September 1993, the American Congress sought a way to withdraw from Somalia without losing credibility. The military forces would not withdraw until March 1995. During and after the civil war, many Somalis left the country. Refugee status was granted to many Somalis by the United States government. The largest Somali population in the United States is in Minnesota.


Somali Cultural Association,
Somali History, May 2003

The World Book Encyclopedia. Copyright 200, World Book, Inc.
ISBN 0-7166-0096-X

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