Dividing Lines: Colonialization’s Effect on Ethio-Somali Relations (2006)

25 Jul
Analysis researched & written by MELISSA RAE BENNETT
Originally appeared on melissabennett.com on 4/30/2006
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Prior to the nineteenth century, Africa was the only landmass that remained largely undeveloped. As the European Colonization Movement swept the land in the centuries following, radical change and development transformed the continent’s preservation. Known as the ‘scramble’ for African lands, the Colonialization crusade was primarily a European race to acquire the profitable resources. Subsequently, the movement was not free of challenges and repercussions. The result was a strain between the internal and external affairs of the affected nations. The movement’s harrowing effects can be seen through Ethiopia and Somalia’s Pre-Colonialization, Colonialization, and Post-Colonialization periods, which reveal the long lasting, negative impact the movement had on relations and development.

Prior to the nineteenth century, Africa was the only landmass that remained largely undeveloped. As the European Colonization Movement swept the land in the centuries following, radical change and development transformed the continent’s preservation. Known as the ‘scramble’ for African lands, the Colonialization crusade was primarily a European race to acquire the profitable resources. Subsequently, the movement was not free of challenges and repercussions. The result was a strain between the internal and external affairs of the affected nations. The movement’s harrowing effects can be seen through Ethiopia and Somalia’s Pre-Colonialization, Colonialization, and Post-Colonialization periods, which reveal the long lasting, negative impact the movement had on relations and development.
Colonialization is an expansionary process in which a more powerful nation establishes control over a weaker nation. The ancient process has existed in various forms since the beginning of human civilization. The ethnocentric colonizer nation used the process to exercise superiority and legitimize their political systems. This attitude perhaps influenced the infectious nature of the European Colonialization movement. It became a movement to establish superiority on the African continent and among their European competitors. In effect, the movement colonized all of Africa during the same century and now provides a uniform, three period framework, for each African nation’s history. The first of which is Pre-Colonialization, the period prior to foreign occupation and control. Next is Colonialization. Perhaps the most influential of the three, a nation’s period of Colonialization encompasses the nation’s radical change under foreign control. A comparison of the Pre-Colonialization and Colonialization periods show the positive and negative impacts of foreign change. These changes provide the context for the Post- Colonialization period. During this final period, a nation reclaims control through independence and focuses on restoring nationalism and political structures. The three divisions of a nation’s history are equally burdened with instability, but the period of Colonialization is the only one that dramatically alters the fate of a nation.
To understand Colonialization’s effects on any African nation, a brief overview of the continent is necessary. As the second largest continent and populace in the world, it may seem surprising that colonialization attempts were non-existent prior to the nineteenth century. The absence of foreign occupation left the majority of Africa’s inhabitants uncontrolled by any form of government. Their respective clans were their only source of influence. Today, Africa continues to have a large number of cultures, composed of thousands of varying tribes and languages. Despite their many difference, one commonality does exist among all African inhabitants: agriculture (CIA Factbook 1). Their lives revolve around the harvesting of crops. In effect, African inhabitants’ only primary concern is survival, achieved through successfully cultivating the land. Accordingly, their survival is occasionally jeopardized by failed crops, disease, and natural disasters (primarily in the form of drought). These threats have increased in recent decades, contributing further to the continent’s change and present situation.
Ethiopia is one nation that has fallen victim to these threats. The nation has been plagued with long periods of drought and flash flooding. Consequently, Ethiopia is now tormented with widespread poverty and starvation. Pictures of Ethiopians, emaciated like skeletons, cover milk boxes and television commercials. These images encourage charitable contributions and spread awareness of the issues many other African nations face. They leave lasting imprints that lead many to assume that Ethiopia and other African nations have always been devastated by such conditions. However, while primitive conditions have saturated African life for millennia, life-threatening natural disasters have not.

The nation of Ethiopia is rich in history. As the oldest independent nation in Africa, Ethiopia’s past is unique in comparison to other African nations for several reasons. Ethiopia lies in the ‘Horn of Africa,’ a geographic region in the northeast. Despite the variable weather conditions, the Ethiopian Rift Valley possesses an abundance of resources and ancient fossils. The Rift Valley holds great archaeological importance. The world’s oldest fossils have been found in this region, including a four million old upright hominid, the oldest and only one to date. For this reason, archaeologists believe human life originated from this area, and now call the valley, “the cradle of humanity” (BBC Online 1). Further evidence suggests the inhabitants have occupied the region for millions of years.

Despite the extensive archaeological evidence in support of a civilized region, Ethiopia’s recorded history, and period of pre-colonialization, does not begin until 3000 BC. The first Ethiopian ruler was recorded on this date and every subsequent ruler was added to the list for five thousand years. The next historical reference to Ethiopia was not until 1000 BC, when the region was mentioned in the Bible (BBC Timeline 1). This marked the beginning of Ethiopia’s involvement in Christianity and has influenced the nation’s history all the way into the present.

Ethiopia’s period of pre-colonialization is predominantly a history of Christianity’s position within the nation. In 330 AD, Christianity was brought to the entire region and Ethiopia became the world’s second Christian kingdom. Ethiopia, a country surrounded by Islamic nations, took a risky move in establishing themselves as a Christian empire. In 600 AD, the repercussions of this decision began with a pagan attack on Ethiopia. This was just the beginning of the oppositions. In 1100 AD, the Muslims invaded the kingdom. Followed by an Ottoman Empire attack in 1500 AD, that ended in Ethiopian victory in 1600 (BBC Timeline 2). Thus bringing one thousand years of attacks to an end. The kingdom’s survival strengthened the nation along with the relations they held with other Christian nations to the North.

In 1700 AD, new threats arose when provinces created divisions within the land. These divisions affected clan boundaries, resulting in a one hundred year war between rival clans. Internal challenges aside, the nation’s development continued. Yet why was Ethiopia still the only civilized, even developing nation on the enormous African continent? And how had it maintained this growth for thousands of years? Ethiopia’s position within the land and the benefits afforded by their resources answer these questions. These two characteristics are two key influences on Ethiopia’s early development. The first influence, Ethiopia’s position within the land was along the nation’s Rift Valley. The majority of the population was concentrated here. In addition to the seemingly infinite supply of arable land and water, the Rift Valley provided a natural barrier of protection against harsh weather systems and invasion. The valley is surrounded by miles of desert in every direction, creating a natural barrier against invaders. Ancient Egypt was located in the same way, and for this reason it is speculated that present day Ethiopia was once the location of Ancient Egypt.

Ethiopia’s location on the African Horn also enhanced and sustained development. Ethiopia resides at an intersection between Europe and the Middle East. As a result, Ethiopia aided in trade and formed relationships with the foreign countries of this region. This allowed the nation to establish itself as a civilized nation. Of these ties, Ethiopia’s interaction with Italy was frequent and influential during their period of pre-colonialization. As a Christian nation, Ethiopians traveled to Italy to maintain relations with the Vatican. Therefore, the nation’s position provided not only protection and resources, but also opportunities to establish ties with developed countries. All of which aided Ethiopia’s development during pre-colonialization.

The colonization period of the African continent began in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The colonialization movement was contagious and within a short period of time, every European nation was trying to establish a presence in Africa. The European scramble for lands was driven by the prospect of resources, and the wealth these resources would provide in the near future. These European nations believed their rule would last at least a century or more, requiring them to expend little effort toward development in the short term. After establishing European rule over a nation, they began the colonization process by dividing the functions of government. Education was handled by Christian missionaries, economic activity was handed over to commercial companies who exploited the resources, and territorial lines were re-drawn. However, the amalgamation of territories – the consolidation of multiple territories into one large council- totally disregarded strongly held cultural differences. The result was civil unrest among the entire region. The minimum control provided by the European nations, usually one administrator to forty thousand inhabitants, found it practically impossible to establish authority over the populations to which they were assigned (Martin 5). Relations between the European administrators and native inhabitants were particularly strained in Somalia.
Somalia, an Islamic nation bordering Easter Ethiopia, is believed to be of Arab origin. Somalia’s non-existent recorded history leaves little evidence of the country prior to European Colonialization. Somalia remained untouched by foreign influence due to inhospitable conditions. Hostile and unpredictable weather conditions, inhibited Somalia’s development. In addition, the lack of resources necessary for survival and the lack of continuous vegetation cover to cultivate permanent crops, led the majority of inhabitants to follow a nomadic existence. The primary concern of this lifestyle is to find better grazing land. The inhabitants are on a constant movement in pursuit of this search and often cross through rival clan territory. As a result, the Somali people and their respective rival clans are constantly fighting. Rival clan fights are a part of their everyday survival. This however, provides the biggest hurdle for unification face by the European colonizers.

Somalia’s colonialization period began in 1839 when Britain occupied the northern coast. After decades of negotiations with the area’s tribal chiefs, Britain finally gained full control of Northern Somalia in 1899. However, a holy war also began at this time, threatening the unification efforts of the European nation. Italy had also established a presence by the mid-1800s, and established protectorates throughout the southern Somalia. However, it was not until 1925 that the nation came under the control of only the Italian nation. Britain’s attempt to successfully colonize the nation has failed, and they soon realized that Somalia offered little to no prospects of immediate wealth. After facing widespread opposition and resistance, they realized the Somali nation was more trouble than it was worth. It was then, in a series of secret treaties between Britain and Italy, the land of Somalia was given to Italy. Soon after, Italy named the province Italian East Africa, which included the Somali lands of the North and South, along with the Ogaden region of Ethiopia (inhabitied by Somalis).

The Ogaden region was the original source of Ethio-Somali’s deteriorating relations. In the years following 1928, the Ethio-Somali relationship would be plagued with boundry conflicts. It was in this year that the Anglo-Ethiopian Commission reassigned the Ethio-Somali boundry, giving Ethiopia Somali tribal grazing lands. This decision resulted in disputes between the two nations and among the rival tribes that were affected by the re-assignment. Rebel groups began to terrorize areas of both nations, in rebellion against each other. Attempts to resolve the disputes continued throughout the period of Colonialization.
Perhaps the two nation’s failure to reach a resolution arose from Somalia’s European control, and Ethiopia’s independent control. During the time of colonialization, every African nation became inflicted with foreign control. Ethiopia was the only African nation not colonized or formally held by outsiders. The nation was spared the “onslaught of European occupation in Africa because of Ethiopia’s historical ties with Christianity and European nations.” In 1936 Mussolini disregarded the Ethio-Italian relationships of the past. He was determined to form a coastal settlement to increase Italy’s presence in Middle Eastern and Eastern African trade. Italy controlled the region for five years, but never had a formal holding of the nation. As a result, Ethiopia is the oldest independent African nation and one of the oldest in the world.
By the late nineteenth century, Somalia was under Italian and British control. Neither European power had succeeded in unifying the nomadic inhabitants. The conditions worsened, when a holy war broke out that would last another twenty years. The “Greater Somalia” unification movement was the solution of the European powers. Based on the Italian’s method of land division by ethnic differences, avoided cutting into clan territory and bypassed possible rebellions and uprisings of the people. This new objective also aided the spread of Somali nationalism. External threats from the neighboring country of Ethiopia added further to the instability of Somali development. Their relations deteriorated in both the nineteenth and twentieth century because of religious differences.

Finally in the early 1960s, Somalia obtained independence. Thus beginning its final period that extends into the present day: Somalia’s Post Colonialization. At this time Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia all became involved in a guerilla backlash from Ethiopian decision to annex Eritrea. The nations requested the help of a regional organization, the AU, also known as the Organization of the African Union, worked at resolving the Ethiopian and Somalian border dispute. However, when the Organization of the African Union failed to provide a resolution in 1964, Somalia declared war against Ethiopia. During this decade, Somalia came under a heavy Soviet influence and Ethiopia came under military rule of the political junta of the Derg. The border disputes continued into the 1970s, and in 1977 the Ogaden War, the most notable of the Ethio-Somali border wars, broke out in the region. During this time, drought and famine plagued both regions indefinitely, and the millions of inhabitants (about seventy million in Ethiopia and 2 million in Somalia) were near a state of emergency. However, these conditions were a normal part of Somali life, and actually provide the foundation of Ethio-Somali territorial arguments. The Somali farmers near the Ethiopian border sometimes had to travel into the other nation just to give their animals water.
Many Somalians cross into Ethiopia with there herds of cattle, sheep, goats, and
Camels in search of water and grazing land because these are insufficient for
the nation’s millions of livestock (Mariam 190).

The Somali necessity for the region was overlooked because the tribes that inhabited the region were more important to Ethiopia than for Somali lives. Handing the region over to Somalia would only cause instability within their nation. Unfortunately for Somalia, the Ogaden war was an Ethiopian victory and by 1988 the two nations had signed a peace accord.

Today the relations between Ethiopia and Somalia continue to be strained by varying histories, cultures, tribes, and religions. Just in July of this year, Ethio-Somali relations entered news headlines once again, when the Islamic rule of Somalia, known as the Union Islamic Courts (UIC) ordered a holy war against Ethiopia. Prior to the nineteenth century, Africa was the only landmass that remained largely undeveloped. As the European Colonization Movement swept the land in the centuries following, radical change and development transformed the continent’s preservation. Known as the ‘scramble’ for African lands, the Colonialization crusade was primarily a European race to acquire the profitable resources. Subsequently, the movement was not free of challenges and repercussions. The result was a strain between the internal and external affairs of the affected nations.

The European Colonialization movement’s harrowing effects on Ethiopia and Somalia’s relations are evident by comparing the nation’s Pre-Colonialization, Colonialization, and Post-Colonialization periods. After the European nations expended more effort than they had planned, they realized few parts of Africa offered the prospect of immediate wealth they had sought in the gold and diamond markets. After colonialization, many European nations left the nations to fend for themselves when they realized there was little more they could do. As a result, the African continent today, is a vast landmass of struggling and starving nations whose stability and nationalism remain under constant reconstruction.

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Works Cited:

Meredith, Martin. The Fate of Africa. Public Affairs Books. 2005.
“The Background of the Ethio-Somalian Boundary Dispute.” Mariam, Mesfin. The
Journal of Modern African Studies. Vol 2, No. 2. 1964.
“Ethiopia.” CIA Factbook Overview. 26 November 2006.
https://cia.gov/publications/factbooks/geos/et.html
“Embassy of Ethiopia.” Ethiopian Embassy Online. 26 November 2006.
“Culture & History – Ethiopia.” Lonely Planet Online. 26 November 2006.
“Somalia History.” Encyclopedia of Nations. Thomas Gale Corporation. 26
November 2006. http://nationsencyclopedia.com/Africa/somalia-history.html
“Timeline: Ethiopia vs Somalia.” BBC News Online. 26 November 2006.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/world/africa/6159735.stm
“Why Ethiopia is on war footing.” Adow, Mohammed. BBC News Online
“The Somali Problem.” C.J. Jaenen. African Affairs. Volume 56, Number 223.
April 1957. p. 147-157

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