Located in what is known as the Horn of Africa, in the easternmost extreme of the continent, Somalia stands as an example of how a people fought against colonial slavery, and the carving up of their territory by foreign powers.
Roberto Correa Wilson
When slavery is mentioned, the imagination is immediately transported to the thousands of men and women torn from their region and forcibly taken to America to be sold as slaves to owners of agricultural plantations.
But there is another form of slavery, practised by the colonial powers, that maintained whole populations in chains and subjected to a double exploitation: that of the person and that of the natural resources.
This is what took place in the territory which, over time, became what is today Somalia.
The ancient history of Somalia is linked to that of Egypt. From the second dynasty the Pharaohs began their dominion of the remote land of scents, a zone which today roughly coincides with the greater part of the Horn of Africa and where Ethiopia, Djibouti and Eritrea are also found.
In 1560 a Chinese fleet arrived with plans for colonisation, but the resistance of the natives rapidly forced the Asians to relinquish the task. Years later another Persian attempt at colonisation was repelled.
The zone, which took on a certain unity following the introduction of Islam in the 8th century, was formed by a seemingly endless number of small independent realms, which continued gathering together into a growing number of tribes.
The Europeans appear
It was in the last decades of the 19th century that the European occupation of the region began.
In 1885 the English arrived and occupied the northern part of the territory, where they formed British Somalia and a created a strip of territory on the border of one of their colonies, Kenya, giving it the name the Northern Frontier District.
The path set out by the British was followed by the French two years later, who established an enclave on the Somali coast, from which the Republic of Djibouti was formed.
In the space of four years the European colonists divided amongst themselves 637,657 km2, an area larger than the United Kingdom, France or Italy, where the citizens lacked the most basic rights and where the natural resources disappeared to the metropolises.
However, this whole process faced resistance from the inhabitants of the zone, who did not resign themselves to living as slaves on their own land. The sheik Mohamed Abdullah Hassan, a distinguished poet, directed the fight against the British and Italian colonists.
During the Second World War (1939-1945) the Italian fascists occupied British Somalia, but a later offensive by the Allies defeated the Italian invaders and British troops occupied both Somalias until 1949, when the United Nations handed over the territory of Italian Somalia to Italy under the system of trusteeships.
The Somali people, led by their new leaders, began the political struggle and on the first of July 1960 Italy conceded independence; later the United Kingdom did the same with British Somalia.
Following approval by plebiscite, both ex-colonies were unified to form the Republic of Somalia.
The long colonial exploitation left scars that still remain in the old Italian possession. Following the grim political events that occurred in the country from 1991, the union fell apart and Somaliland was formed out of the territory that had been occupied by the United Kingdom from the 19th century under the condition of protectorate.
In more than two decades, Somalia has not been able to unburden itself of a host of political contradictions and confrontations that old and new powers, which benefit from the destruction, are not completely distanced from.
It is thought that this new version of slavery, a cause of enormous suffering in the population, would findas in the past, a solution that leads to the rebirth of this country that has fought so much for its unity and independence. (PL)
(Translated by Tim Huntington)