Why has Somaliland managed to achieve a rudimentary level of stability and prosperity, when the Federal Republic continues to struggle? A rich literature – initially developed in the field of economics – attributes differences in long-run economic development to variation in colonial empires, legal regimes, or relative levels of institutional inclusivity in colonial contexts.

Oliver McPherson-Smith

In this article



Somalia is a country of two realities: the internationally recognized Federal Republic of Somalia and the self-declared Republic of Somaliland. While the Federal Republic endures chronic instability and unrest, Somaliland has established security, economic growth, and a functioning government. This article argues that a significant contributing factor to this divergence is the radically different colonial regimes that ruled the two regions before their unification and independence in 1960.

British rule in British Somaliland sought primarily to deny other empires control of the Protectorate and to trade livestock with the indigenous communities. Italy, however, engaged in a protracted and violent effort to establish a plantation colony in Italian Somaliland. Drawing from colonial-era sources and with a focus on the earliest years of imperial and Somali engagement, this article situates the long-run divergent trajectories of British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland within the broader literature on colonial institutions and long-run economic development.


British Somaliland, Colonization, Development, Institutions, Italian Somaliland, Somalia, Somaliland


Since the fall of Siyad Barre’s regime in 1991, Somalia has been mired in internecine conflict. Despite international support in the form of security assistance and financial resources and significant progress in reconstituting a government in Mogadishu, a non-trivial portion of Somalia still remains under the control of insurgent forces, such as Al Shabaab. From these territories outside of state control, attacks against government, international, and civilian targets continue to menace contemporary Somalia. This instability, however, has not been spread homogenously across Somalia. In the months following the Barre regime’s demise, the northwest segment of Somalia declared its independence from the crumbling state.

The Republic of Somaliland, as it is called by its supporters, quickly sought to establish its control over its declared territory and has survived until the present moment as an unrecognized, de facto state. Within these self-declared borders, the Somaliland authorities have managed to establish a level of stability and prosperity unrivaled in Somalia proper. The World Bank’s 2017 household survey across the Federal Republic of Somalia and Somaliland offers quantitative detail to this observation: residents in Somaliland reported greater enjoyment of equal rights, freedom of speech, written tenancies, and fewer daily electricity blackouts.1

Why has Somaliland managed to achieve a rudimentary level of stability and prosperity, when the Federal Republic continues to struggle? A rich literature – initially developed in the field of economics – attributes differences in long-run economic development to variation in colonial empires, legal regimes, or relative levels of institutional inclusivity in colonial contexts. To situate the evident contemporary political and economic disparity across Somaliland and Somalia within this broader literature, this study argues that the colonial-era institutions across the two territories were fundamentally different in their level of inclusivity and intensity.

While British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland are both inhabited by an ethnic Somali majority in adjacent territories, the two regions were subjected to colonization by two very different empires before their unification in 1960. British Somaliland formed part of the British empire between 1884 and 1960, while the rest of Somalia was ruled by Italy between 1889 to 1941 as Italian Somaliland and from 1950 to 1960 as the Trust Territory of Somaliland under the Italian Administration.2

Although the literature on the economic legacy of colonial institutions has typically utilized quantitative methods to demonstrate average differences across colonial regimes, this work employs qualitative analysis of historic sources to demonstrate that the institutions of the Italian colonial project in Italian Somaliland were materially more extractive and intense than their British counterparts in British Somaliland. In doing so, and by complementing the wider quantitative literature, this article situates the cases of contemporary Somalia and Somaliland within broader theoretical and empirical debates on the legacy of colonial institutions.

To characterize the nature of the two colonial regimes, this article empirically traces the diverse British and Italian colonial approaches to education, religion, land tenure, and labor in the pre-Second World War period. Amongst these four thematic areas, it specifically focuses on the colonial policies that generated the most indigenous opposition in British Somaliland (i.e., education and religion) and Italian Somaliland (i.e., land tenure and labor). By prioritizing these most contentious policies and considering how the colonial regimes persisted or desisted in the face of often violent indigenous opposition, this methodology offers a holistic characterization of both the nature and intensity of colonial institutional development.

Moreover, due to the institutionalist literature’s focus on the historical origins of contemporary development, this article probes the temporal fountainhead of colonial institutions in Somalia – namely, the earliest period of colonial institution building before the Second World War. An analysis of primary sources, in both English and Italian, as well as secondary literature, provides a clear insight into the variance in the nature of colonial intrusion within these two Somali regions.3

Drawing from these specific efforts at institutional development, this article makes the case that British colonialism in British Somaliland was thoroughly uninterested and unwilling to expend resources or manpower to develop institutions. If Somalilanders did not challenge British nominal authority, they were largely left to govern themselves. Traditional institutions that governed conflict management and the local economy were largely left to rule, while tentative British efforts to introduce western education and religious institutions were easily dissuaded by violent indigenous opposition.

Alternatively, however, the Italian administration of Somalia was remarkably interventionist and extractive. Italian colonialism demonstrated a ready willingness to contravene, outlaw, or disregard the institutions that had previously governed Somali life. While Britain would deploy force to retain its nominal sovereignty over Somaliland, Italian authorities were willing to fight to maintain the colonial institutions that governed labor and land use in their fledgling plantation colony.

This work offers a novel contribution to our understanding of Somalia today by approaching Somali colonial history with an institutionalist lens and making three primary arguments: British rule of British Somaliland was nominally extractive but ultimately unintrusive; Italian rule of Italian Somaliland was profoundly extractive and intrusive, and this difference in historical treatment is analogous to the institutional variance that has been more broadly demonstrated to affect long-run political and economic disparities in post-colonial contexts.

Development, institutions, and history

In recent decades, academic scholarship concerning the importance of institutions in economic outcomes has flourished. Prominent works across the nexus of economics and political science have drawn attention to the significant role that institutions play in defining economic growth and development in diverse contexts.4

Within this literature, scholars commonly employ Douglass North’s definition of institutions being: “the rules of the game in a society or, more formally … the humanly devised constraints that shape human interaction.”5 These man-made constraints are important for economic growth and development because they define, among other things, the organization of production,6 the state’s fiscal capacity,7 civic participation in political life,8 and the protection of property rights.9

Given the relevance of institutions, it is unsurprising that many scholars have engaged in historical lines of inquiry to explore their origins.10 One prominent effort can be found in the legal-origins theory literature. First developed among scholars of finance, the theory focuses on a jurisdiction’s predominant legal tradition to explain contemporary economic outcomes. As Raphael La Porta et al. note, diverse legal traditions were historically propagated across the globe through “conquest, imperialism, outright borrowing, and more subtle imitation.”11

The authors argue that investors in common-law countries enjoy the strongest rights in business, and better enforcement of their rights, while those in French civil-law jurisdictions enjoy the least, and this has resulted in a higher shareholder concentration in weak protection jurisdictions. In a subsequent paper, the authors find an average annual per capita GDP growth of 5.29 percent for German legal-origin economies, 4.3 percent for countries with a common law background, and an average of 3.18 percent for French legal-origin economies.12

The differences among legal traditions is particularly evident on issues of economic regulation; Simeon Djankov et al. find that “countries of French, German, and Socialist legal origin have more regulations than English legal origin countries, while countries of Scandinavian legal origin have about the same.”13 Similarly, countries using common law impose lower levels of labor regulations than do countries with French civil law origin, which is positively associated with labor force participation.14

Parallel to the legal-origins literature, economists have focused on the institutions that colonization specifically fostered and their effect on long-run development. In a landmark paper, Acemoglu, Johnson, and Robinson contend that colonies that were not conducive to European settlement resulted in extractive institutions which, persisting over time, led to lower levels of economic growth.15

Alternatively, in colonies where Europeans settled, greater institutional protection for property rights and checks on government power gave rise to higher levels of economic growth. In assessing the quality of institutions, Acemoglu and Robinson employ the typology of inclusive and extractive institutions. They argue that inclusive institutions “must feature secure private property, an unbiased system of law, and a provision of public services that provides a level playing field in which people can exchange and contract,”16 while growth-inhibiting extractive institutions “are designed to extract incomes and wealth from one subset of society to benefit a different subset.”17

In a similar historical approach, and controlling for legal origin, Easterly and Levine find that the European colonial settler population is positively associated with contemporary economic development, albeit moderated by the quality of political institutions.18 This methodology illustrates the insightful avenue of considering differences in economic outcomes within legal traditions. Mirroring this approach, and by questioning the disparity in development among former British colonies in the Americas, Engerman and Sokoloff argue that historic use of slavery, and the ensuing extreme inequality, brought about institutions that favored the elite and inhibited economic growth.19

Similarly, Lange, Mahoney, and vom Hau also employ a within-empire approach and find that relatively more extensive Spanish colonialism resulted in poorer economic and social outcomes, while relatively more extensive British colonialism had better outcomes.20

These various historically focused approaches for explaining contemporary economic development are not without their critics. John Ohnesorge, for example, has argued that shoe-horning non-European jurisdictions into neat European origin categories distorts reality to fit a theoretical typology.21 Similarly, scholars have questioned Acemoglu, Johnson, and Robinson’s use of settler mortality data as an instrumental variable for institutional quality.

Thus, David Albouy suggests that the authors cherry-pick settler mortality data to fit a convenient narrative,22 while this author questions whether the pursuit of European settler society and extractive institutions was indeed mutually exclusive in colonial Algeria.23 Furthermore, although Nathan Nunn finds that the historical use of slavery is associated with lower levels of economic development, he does not find that it negatively affects institutions along the lines of Engerman and Sokoloff’s hypothesis.24

More broadly, Kenneth Dam argues that legal origins and institutions are just one factor in the vast equation of economic development and that other variables such as microeconomic policy should not be overlooked.25 Most recently, by assessing the interaction between indigenous African elites and the state to explain variances in colonial institutions across British colonies in Africa, Bolt and Gardner critique the false dichotomy of institutions being either colonial or indigenous.26

In seeking to understand the nature of contemporary economic development, a wealth of literature considers the role of legal, political, and economic institutions. Moreover, across a variety of academic disciplines, there is a keen interest in examining the origins and development of these institutions in a historical perspective. While there is broad tacit agreement that history offers valuable insight into the development of economically salient institutions, significant debate remains over methodology.

Somaliland, British or otherwise

Informed by the insights of the literature on economic growth facilitating or inhibiting institutions in colonial contexts, what kind of institutions did British colonialism in British Somaliland foster? An analysis of institution-building efforts during the first decades of British rule illustrates the remarkably limited penetration of colonial institutions – regardless of whether they were extractive or inclusive in nature.

This was not the product of a lack of zeal or grand ambitions by British colonial figures in Somaliland. Efforts to introduce Christian social institutions within Somaliland, and reforms to the indigenous education system, were roundly rebuffed. A hostile indigenous population, coupled with skepticism, frugality, and disinterest among authorities in London, resigned British authorities in Somaliland to their fate as impotent imperial foremen with the primary goal of retaining their ostensible claim over the territory.

The British and the Somalilanders

Britain’s engagement with British Somaliland formed a small but important cog in the broader imperial machine. In 1839, the British seized the port city of Aden on the Arabian Peninsula, which served as a refueling station for voyages to imperial India. Due to fears that the French would threaten Aden, Robert Moresby of the British East India Company signed initial treaties with local rulers on the African coast of the Gulf of Aden27 – such as Muhammad bin Muhammad, Sultan of Tajura in August 1840, and Sayyid Mohammed al Bar of Zeila in September of the same year.28

As Jon Godsall recounts, British officers were given strict instructions that “no compulsory means may be resorted to, or any attempt made to gain footing on the points in question by threats of an armed force or intimidation of any kind.”29 Despite interludes of Ottoman (1848–75) and Khedivial (1875–84) control of the Somali coast,30 the legitimacy of which was initially questioned by British authorities,31 the British established a protectorate under the name of British Somaliland in 1884. The British India Office administered the region until 1898, after which it became the remit of the Foreign Office and then the Colonial Office in 1905.32

Around the turn of the century, the British presence in the Protectorate was miniscule. As one British colonial administrator described the state of affairs: “We occupied the three coastal towns of Berbera, Bulhar, and Zeyla [Zeila] with a handful of officials, not more than ten in number, and a posse of 130 Indian Sepoys [infantrymen].”33

In British Somaliland, colonial officials encountered an indigenous society that was diverse, albeit distributed in a similar pattern down the Horn of Africa. Small trading towns were spread along the coast, while the majority of the Somali population practiced nomadic pastoralism.34 A significant agricultural variation was settled farming in the riverine areas of contemporary southern Somalia, which was conducted by ethnic non-Somalis – an occurrence that was not replicated in more arid British Somaliland.35 Particularly among the majority pastoralists, Somali society was organized along clan lines.

While much has been written about the clan system,36 it is important to underscore the dispute resolution avenues that the Somalis commonly used to resolve conflicts. To create cohesion within the clan, elders would meet to discuss clan issues and seek a consensus resolution.37 These elders served as mediators to address grievances with other clans within the polycentric, “ordered anarchy” of the clan system.38

Guiding these negotiations was Somali customary law, or xeer, which incorporates elements of sharia, or Islamic law. Particularly among clans that had intermarried in British Somaliland, Somali women, who traditionally wielded significant influence within the household,39 also served as clan ambassadors in order to facilitate reconciliation.40 If mediation were to fail, violence was a realistic prospect.41 Families were grouped into diya groups, in which they were collectively liable or entitled to give or seek compensation for transgressions.42

The British colonizers employed a policy of indirect rule so as to maintain the existing Somali social structure. The government paid select elders on a monthly basis to secure their tacit acquiescence to British rule,43 and to influence their clan members to do the same.44

Institutional trial balloons

While the oft-cited rationale for retaining control of British Somaliland was its geopolitical importance – as it lay astride the Gulf of Aden near the entrance to the Red Sea – the British nonetheless made a variety of efforts to develop and extract the wealth of the territory. Livestock was the most important British export from the Somaliland protectorate. Every week, a steamer or a fleet of dhows would ferry sheep and goats across the Gulf of Aden to the British garrison stationed in Aden.45

In the early twentieth century, this weekly shipment was the sole source of fresh meat in Aden. Despite the introduction of European veterinarian science46 as well as some of the latest farming methods,47 struggles to scale up the Protectorate’s agricultural exports and to reach other markets bore little fruit due to the Protectorate’s chronically harsh and volatile climate. Ambitious schemes similarly to extract the region’s mineral wealth fell equally flat. As late as 1912, Ralph Drake-Brockman, a British medical officer, remarked that “The interior is still unknown today … no expert of any kind has reported on its resources.”48 Further investigation would reveal scant little more.

Although authorities granted a concession to mine guano on Maydh island in 1921, more lucrative oil licenses were periodically granted but then abandoned.49 The inability to attract the interest and commitment of international private enterprise effectively precluded the development of an administrative concessionary company. Unable to develop a profitable source of revenue and forced to rely on import and export duties, as well as civil fines, the colonial authorities effectively relegated the outpost to the position of a hopeful, but ultimately dependent, territory.

Despite these unfulfilled ambitions, officials in British Somaliland did gain some colonial victories. A uniquely successful example of such was the prohibition of slavery, which had become reviled in Britain, at the creation of the Protectorate. As early as 1856, the famous traveler, writer, and translator Richard Burton noted that the slave trade could be destroyed by patrolling the waters off the Somali coast rather than controlling the ports.50 This simple solution proved effective and, by the late nineteenth century, British naval patrols effectively halted the export of slaves from the ports they controlled.51

This constituted a small achievement in practice, however, because slaves were considered of little use to the nomads and, in fact, an economic liability for most Somali pastoralists.52 More broadly, while salt and goods (particularly in the interior)53 were often bartered in lieu of the use of currency in the pre-Second World War period,54 the British gradually oversaw the increasing development of a cash economy. Indicative of Somaliland’s position on the periphery of the British colonial realm, the Protectorate was repeatedly and belatedly amalgamated into different currency zones. Thus, it initially used the Indian rupee until 1941, after which the East African shilling became legal tender.55

The path of least resistance

A more contentious, and ultimately futile, effort at institutional change was the introduction of Christian organizations into the Protectorate. Despite decades of European interaction, commerce, and conquest in East Africa, British Somaliland was comparatively bereft of organized Christian institutions. Thus, a letter to the influential Church Missionary Gleaner in 1902 laments the absence of a single Protestant clergyman or missionary in the Protectorate.56

In 1894, French Catholic missionaries opened the first mission school in Somaliland at Barbara (Berbera),57 and authorities permitted them to preach on the mission’s grounds.58 The school took in both male and female orphans and converted the children to Christianity. In 1904, the missionaries started a farm further inland. The proselytization and provision of western education by a Christian organization evoked a fierce response.

Patrick Kakwenzire identifies the French mission school and its conversion of Somali children as a key motivation for the launch of Sayid Maxamed Cabdulle Xasan’s campaign against the British.59 The Sayyid, also known at the time to the British as the “Mad Mullah,” would launch an enduring rebellion to evict the British in 1899. In addition to his anti-colonial zeal, the Sayyid sought to unify and subdue clans that opposed his campaign. This was achieved by both halting inter-clan warfare, as well as having fellow clan members carry out the death sentences of transgressors.60

Faced with the violent revolt, British forces retreated to Zeila, Berbera, and Bulhar in March 1910.61 One of the most prominent advocates for abandoning the interior was then-Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies Winston Churchill, who visited Somaliland in 1907. In noting the apparent absence of resources in the interior and the cost of stationing troops there to fend off the Sayyid’s attacks, Churchill advocated reducing Britain’s colonial footprint to the coast where export customs were garnered.62

While the rebellion has been covered extensively in other scholarship, it is important to note the degree to which the mission school incensed the Sayyid. Writing to the Aidegalla ethnic group in 1899 to invite their support, the Sayyid pressed: “Do you not see … that the Infidels have destroyed our religion and made our children their children?”63 It was not until after the end of the First World War, in January 1920, when the British were able to marshal a land, sea, and air assault to end the uprising once and for all.64

The Sayyid’s rebellion, and the frugal approach of the British to Somaliland, galvanized the colonial authorities’ policy concerning Christianity and, later, western education. During the tumult, in 1910 the French missionaries abandoned Somaliland.65 Given the risk of inciting potentially violent opposition to Christian proselytizing, the Protectorate’s authorities categorically refused to permit the creation of any Christian institutions that would engage with Somalis.66

Despite otherwise potent requests from missionary supporters in the British parliament, the United States, the Church of England, and the Vatican itself,67 the Protectorate’s policy remained unviolated throughout the period of colonial rule.

An education in learning

Despite the indigenous opposition to parochial education, a British policy toward secular education took longer to solidify. Gérard Prunier points out that the British in Somaliland did not pursue a “grand vision of a civilizing mission,”68 however, it is also true that select colonial officials appeared more committed to a paternalistic cause.

For example, in 1920, colonial authorities tasked the Chief Inspector of Schools in Sudan Eric Hussey with producing an official report to detail the potential for replicating Sudan’s colonial education institutions in British Somaliland. Hussey contended that “one of the chief objects of our Colonial administration should be gradually to guide the various races and peoples under our control along the path of real progress, and to teach them to take a more intelligent interest in their own affairs and an increasing share in the direction of them.”69

All the same, congruent with Prunier’s assessment, the historian Brock Millman notes that the promotion of education had, at least in part, been a self-serving objective; trained Somalis could replace expensive Indian or British workers in the Protectorate.70 A handful of men, who had been initially educated at the French missionary school, went on to work as clerks, telegraphists, and mechanics.71

While the earlier Khedival administration employed corvée labor to renovate and expand the ports at Saylac (Zeila) and Barbara,72 there is scant record of the use of forced labor in the Protectorate. In 1938, British authorities retained 300 Somalis as permanent employees, 300 as seasonal workers, and an additional 600 for the transportation industry.73 Whatever local revenues that officials were able to raise, such as through diya fines, was to be used to pay for local labor to renovate roads.74

An absence of funding, however, stymied the implementation of Hussey’s educational plan. Without the help of missionaries and their schools or public money to construct western schools, Britain’s emissaries found themselves compelled to make grants to existing Islamic Quranic schools, where western subjects could be taught alongside their traditional counterparts. Nonetheless, this approach, too, provoked a backlash. While a colonial civil servant was visiting a Quranic school, which had received a small grant from the colonial government, in the town of Burco (Burao) in May 1939, a riot broke out and three individuals were killed.75

Local Somali leaders accused the British official charged with overseeing the education program of being a priest disguised in civilian clothing.76 While officials did open an elementary school in Barbara in 1938, it was subsequently abandoned when the Italians invaded Somaliland in 1940. It was not until after the British reoccupation of British Somaliland that colonial public education would once again become feasible. Even then, it would be feeble in comparison to other British territories in Africa. Thus, at the time of independence, British Somaliland had one functioning secondary school, while Ghana had thirty-eight at the time of its own independence.77

Advancing public education was not the only institutional goal that fell short of the British ambitions. After the defeat of the Sayyid, the British augmented their use of the indirect rule. This policy, however, was not seamless. Colonial authorities often arbitrarily selected clan leaders as headmen despite their previous status as firsts among equals, and they likewise established separate sharia courts in spite of the traditionally fluid nature of Somali customary law.78

The combination of British indifference and profound indigenous adherence to traditional Somali customs, particularly outside of the British administrative hubs of Hargeysa (Hargeisa) and Barbara, rendered these British inventions inutile while at the same time they prevented the broad implementation of English common law. Similarly, in 1921, British Governor Geoffrey Archer attempted to implement a form of direct taxation on the local population, however Somali elders, particularly in Hargeysa,79 proclaimed that “the taxation of Muslims by non-Muslims was a blatant contravention of the Islamic law.”80

Each attempt to implement the plan was met with often violent resistance, including the killing of the British commissioner in Burco,81 until the plan was shelved upon Archer’s departure from British Somaliland in 1922. Interestingly, this futile fiscal effort was also replicated within the Kenyan colonial Northern Frontier District and Jubaland (before the latter’s cession to Italy in 1925), where the British similarly sought to register and tax Somalis in the early 1920s.

Officials likewise ceased their efforts to raise a levy upon realizing that it would require military force to implement. Echoing the experience in Somaliland, George Simpson notes how to select Somali religious leaders in Kenya’s Tellemugger District also opposed taxation on religious grounds.82

Some institutional changes, such as altering the prevailing communal pastoral system of land tenure, were not even attempted. Rather than developing an extractive regime through state appropriation, as Abdi Samatar notes, “In step with its policy of ‘cheap and small’, the administration did not intervene into the pastoralists’ world so long as the caravan routes and the general peace went undisturbed.”83

How then can the colonial institutions in British Somaliland be characterized in the pre-war period? Inclusive institutions, such as the prohibition of slavery, the protection of religious diversity, and the promotion of education, were notable objectives. Nonetheless, these policies were also pursued alongside the development of extractive institutions, such as duties on trade, efforts to attract foreign natural resource concessionaries, and the ultimate absence of the representative democratic institutions that subjects enjoyed within the British Isles.

Nonetheless, colonial institutional development in the Protectorate, however nominally extractive, was ultimately rendered ineffective and incomplete due to the extreme frugality of the British authorities. Without the presence of obvious natural resources, in a harsh climate, and faced with an indigenous population that was often hostile to colonial overtures, no amount of local administrative enthusiasm would entice the British government to part with blood or treasure for the cause of institutional development in Somaliland. Despite the distant and uninterested British approach to administering British Somaliland, it would be a mischaracterization to suggest that British rule had no effect on the individuals and society under its power.

For instance, Samatar employs a Marxist approach to critique the integration of Somaliland into the capitalist global economy, shifting the objective of pastoralism from subsistence and bartering to capital accumulation.84 All the same, when assessing colonial extractive institutions within the broader context of nineteenth and twentieth-century colonialism from an institutionalist perspective, the most salient aspect of British rule in British Somaliland was what the colonists failed to do.

The colonization of Italian Somalia

By virtue of its occurring contemporaneously with British Somaliland during the scramble for Africa, the motives behind Italy’s colonization of Italian Somaliland bear many similarities with their British counterparts in the north. Nevertheless, in practice, Italy’s engagement with Somali society was much more profound. Rather than merely serving as an imperial transit point, the Italian territory was at various moments envisioned as becoming a settler plantation colony.

To make this possible, Italian authorities engaged in extended land reform and aggressive labor policies. Where British efforts at institution building or reform stumbled, the Italians doubled-down and persevered in their labors. From the early colonial period, Somali institutions were subject to rearrangement and redesign to suit the colonial regime’s objectives.

The arrival of the Italians

Much like British colonialism in the region, the Kingdom of Italy’s territorial expansion into Northeast Africa occurred on multiple fronts. In 1869, the Italian Rubattino Shipping Company purchased the Bay of Assab from the local ruler (in what is currently known as Eritrea) and, in 1885, Italian troops occupied nearby Massawa. In February 1889, the Sultanate of Hobyo on the central Somali coast became an Italian protectorate and, in April of the same year, the Majeerteen Sultanate further north did the same.85

Later that year, on November 15, the Italians extended their protectorate from the Hobyo border down the length of the Somali coast to the Jubba River, save for a collection of port city-states which owed nominal allegiance to the Sultanate of Zanzibar.86 In 1893, the Italian Filonardi Company gained a concession over those port cities along the Banaadir (Benadir) coast.87 In 1896, the Benadir Company gained control of the concession,88 but Rome took over the concession on May 1, 1905.89 In 1925, Britain ceded the southern Jubaland region to Italy90 and, in 1936, Fascist Italy joined Italian Somaliland with the colony of Eritrea as well as recently-conquered Ethiopia to form Italian East Africa.

Both international strategy and domestic political impetus drove Italian colonialism in Italian Somaliland. Fears that the French, who took control of French Somaliland (modern-day Djibouti), would establish their own protectorate over Hobyo, for example, expedited Italy’s dispatch of a naval mission to secure the territory for Rome.91

Nevertheless, the exact objective of the Italian colonists in Somalia remains contested. Thus, Prunier suggests the Italian political class launched itself into the Somali colonial endeavor without a clear objective,92 while Marco Guadagni argues that the Italian colonization of Somalia was always conceived as a tentative steppingstone to conquering the fertile lands of Ethiopia.93

Regardless of the initial aim, Italian domestic politics redefined Italy’s approach to Italian Somaliland. The rise of Fascism in Italy coincided with a shift in policy toward the backwater colony. The Fascists saw their Northeast African possession as presenting them with an opportunity to expand national prestige and so they invited a redoubling of investments in the colony, rather than the retrenchment one sees in British Somaliland.94

With that stated, the dynamics of Italian domestic politics did not seamlessly replicate themselves within the colonies. Despite their mutual animosity until the Lateran Pact of 1929, the Italian state and the Catholic Church found common ground with regards to colonial Somalia. On June 20, 1906, after much posturing, Rome granted the Catholic Trinitarian Order permission to establish outposts within Italian Somalia.95

Monks founded schools and, while Caterina Scalvedi notes that overt proselytization was initially frowned upon,96 loose governmental oversight allowed Catholicism to find its way into the ostensibly secular classroom.97 While Christian educational institutions faced a popular backlash in British Somaliland, the same experience was not duplicated in Italian Somalia. In 1923, the arrival of the Fascist governor Cesare Maria De Vecchi precipitated a more aggressive evangelical policy. For example, a mass baptism of mixed-race children occurred in public on Christmas of 1926.98 Shortly thereafter, in 1928, a monumental Gothic cathedral was constructed in Mogadishu.

A centralized land regime

In contrast to the development of parochial education, agricultural initiatives within Italian Somalia proved remarkably contentious. While Britain’s economic interest in British Somaliland focused on the purchase and provision of livestock to feed the Aden outpost, the Italian colonial authorities sought to develop settler plantations in their newfound territorial acquisition.

To achieve this, the existing Somali institutions that governed land and labor practices needed to be reformed. Congruent with the institutionalist literature on colonial plantation societies, the Italian experience in Somalia combined European migration with profoundly extractive, discretionary, and discriminatory institutions. While indigenous institutions exhibited extractive facets, Italian colonial institutions codified unquestionably extractive institutions and concentrated power within the colonial regime.

Unlike more arid British Somaliland, where the cultivation of crops was secondary to the primary agricultural pursuit of herding livestock, Italian Somalia possessed two significant rivers (namely, the Jubba and Webi Shabeelle) that could support crop agriculture. While the British were resigned to relying on the indigenous herdsmen in their protectorate, the Italian colonial project saw an opportunity to develop a settler plantation colony. To achieve this, the customary institutions that governed land use had to succumb to Italian “reform.” Land use rights among Somali pastoralists, particularly outside of settlements, were traditionally held as tribal or clan-based collective rights.

This approach, however, was inimical to Italian efforts to control and profit from the region. Thus, the granting of the Benadir concession in 1893 was coupled with an initial set of ordinances that enabled the concessionary Filonardi Company to govern the region’s ports as well as their immediate surroundings. Robert Hess explains that “All uncultivated lands unless their owners were properly ascertained, were to become the property of the Italian government. The government was to have the exclusive privilege of exploiting, or granting concessions to exploit, minerals or deposits of any sort.”99

These regulations were historically significant for a variety of reasons – the first being that such a broad public appropriation of land was then unprecedented under Italian metropolitan law.100 The second reason is that it created a legal basis that could be used further to expand the colonial regime’s expropriation of customary rights. Following the establishment of the state-backed colony in 1905, the Italian government began a campaign to facilitate migration to Somalia in an effort to support its agricultural development.101

Authorities granted 99-year agricultural land concessions to Italian farmers upon their arrival, which were made possible by the state’s broad claim over land. Despite these generous concessions to European farmers, the harsh climate proved a limiting factor to the campaign’s success.102 In 1911, following largely unsuccessful attempts to attract agriculturalists to Somalia, officials declared that all unused land was the property of the state.103 As Hess notes, this proclamation effectively precluded most nomads from gaining formal recognition of their customary land rights.104

The development of a centralized land-tenure system, in which the state could appropriate land without remuneration as well as own and lease land to European agricultural concessionaries, was profoundly extractive for the previous indigenous land users. One can only speculate as to whether the British authorities would have developed a similar extractive land regime had British Somaliland demonstrated greater agricultural promise – or whether the existing communal pastoral land tenure indeed optimally served their interests in facilitating livestock rearing.105

From emancipation to colonya

Much as was the case with the pastoral system of land tenure, the Italian colonial regime proved ready to overhaul the labor system to suit its desires within its Somali territories. The latter initially began with a campaign to eradicate slavery. By the time of the Italian arrival on the Somali coast, slavery had become unacceptable to liberal society in Western Europe.

Consistent with Italy’s participation in the Brussels Conference Act of 1890, in which most European powers agreed to work to end the international African slave trade, it was official policy in Italian Somali territories that slavery would not be permitted. Nevertheless, due to the existence of indigenous settled farming, and unlike in British Somaliland, slavery was more widely practiced in the south.

Consequently, Emilio Dulio – who had overseen the local operations of the concessionary Benadir Company – was dismissed in 1903 following a public scandal over the fact that he had not stamped out the practice.106 Italian public opinion demanded that slavery be extinguished in Somalia, but the inability of the private concessionary company to achieve this led to the creation of the state-backed Italian colony in 1905.

While the colonists had previously met opposition from among the clans of the Benadir coast,107 collectively termed the “Benadir Resistance,”108 the Italian persistence in extirpating slavery further inflamed tensions – particularly among clans such as the Biimaal, (Bimal)109 who were economically reliant on slave labor for the cultivation of grain.110

In reaction to the revolt and on the basis that a prohibition of slavery was non-negotiable to Italian authorities, the colonial government rallied thousands of troops and sought to quash the uprising. This response as well as the ensuing expansion of Italian territory into the hinterlands, mark a significant point of difference with the British experience in British Somaliland. Rather than expending resources or manpower to enforce institutional change, Britain would ultimately employ force only to maintain nominal their colonial monopoly of sovereignty. For its part, Italy proved willing to invest significant assets to change customary institutions that permitted slavery.

The Italian campaign to emancipate the previous plantation workforce would eventually find itself on a collision course with the colony’s growing agricultural ambitions. This was particularly true during the Fascist period. A landmark development linked to these agricultural aspirations was the establishment of the Duke of Abruzzi Prince Luigi Amedeo’s Società Agricola Italo-Somala (SAIS). Initially formed in 1920,111 SAIS began work to create a mechanized plantation three years later to the north of Mogadishu in the Middle Shabeelle region, which was known as Villabruzzi.112 Utilizing nearby water from the Webi Shabeelle, SAIS planted crops such as cotton, rubber, and sugar cane.113

Indicative of the colonial regime’s support for the project, the state-financed an extension of the rail network to move the plantation’s produce to the coast.114 Similarly, Fascist propaganda, such as the January 1923 edition of Il Carroccio, described SAIS as both “patriotic and civil.”115 To work SAIS’s fields, authorities invited 6,000 Bantu workers to become sharecroppers on the plantation.116 While they offered sharecroppers homes, public services, the ability to grow their own crops on the plantation, and even wages in exchange for additional work,117 the indigenous workers were insufficiently incentivized, and obtaining the requisite manpower remained a precarious enterprise.118

According to Declich, “local farmers saw paid labor as a supplement to their own agricultural activity rather than a substitute for it.”119 SAIS’s workforce was further diminished through a series of disease outbreaks, which included the bubonic plague in 1923, malaria in 1926, and amoebic dysentery from between 1929–1930.120 An additional reason for the poor uptake was the traditional social position of farmers. Somalis generally considered settled agriculturalism in the riverine areas the work of sharecropping peasants or slaves,121 and this creating a significant disincentive for Somalis to consider participating in the practice.122

Building upon the Duke’s prestigious and high-profile endeavor, the Fascist government nevertheless sought further to expand the plantations throughout the 1920s.123 The corresponding increase in concessions made to European agriculturalists, in 1925 led the Italian Colonial Agricultural Institute to laud the region around Janaale (Genale) as “a strong center of advanced agriculture … that bodes well for its further enlargement.”124 To address the labor shortfall in the growing agricultural settlements, state-sanctioned forced labor was employed. Colonial conscripted labor had existed at least since 1911 as a way for insolvent convicts to pay off criminal fines, and a day of Italian or European labor was valued at ten times that of indigenous labor.125

While scholars debate the exact legal mandate that made it possible,126 during the 1920s it is clear that a system of corvée labor, or unremunerated conscripted civilian labor for public works, was in effect.127 Following the appropriation of fertile land from indigenous occupants, Omar Eno notes that the use of corvée labor allowed for the completion of an irrigation system that spanned 20,000 hectares of land in 1926.128

Authorities also employed forced labor to construct the grand cathedral in Mogadishu.129 In a cruel twist of fate, emancipated slaves were often coerced back into unpaid, public canal digging or bush clearing because, as Lee Cassanelli notes, their lower social class limited their ability to organize effective opposition to the policy.130

The SAIS plantation was so central to the Fascist development model in Italian Somaliland that, in 1924, a fall in the number of indigenous workers resulted in the colonial authorities declaring SAIS to be a beneficiary of paid corvée work. The authorities ordered nearby villages to furnish workers to fill vacant positions.131 Toward the end of the 1920s, the Fascist government used even more aggressive tactics and coerced indigenous laborers from even further afield to sign four-year employment contracts to live and work on the plantations. The use of armed force to relocate workers to the plantation, and to keep them there, was commonly known as colonya among the Somalis, and it reached its peak between 1936 and 1941.132

How can one characterize the Italian colonial institutions in Somalia in the pre-war period? Through a concerted and protracted effort to establish a settler plantation colony, the Italian colonial regime fostered a variety of extractive institutions. In both the colonial land tenure and labor system, the Italian colonists overhauled their indigenous predecessors. Doing so particularly benefitted the colonial administration and its European beneficiaries.

While officials implemented other extractive policies during the Fascist period, such as a direct hut tax in 1926,133 Italian agricultural policies in Italian Somaliland represented an egregious confluence of extractive colonial institutions to govern two of the factors of production: land and labor. These policies, and the associated proliferation of the colonial regime’s regulations during the first decades of the twentieth century, produced “an authoritarian regime that would have been tolerated in few European countries of that time.”134

These interventions dwarf inclusive institutional transplants, such as the initial abolition of slavery and the expansion of the education system. Unlike British Somaliland, where the retention of nominal sovereignty was the sole prize worthy of expending blood and treasure, indigenous opposition to colonial institutions in Italian Somalia was met with a further commitment to their implementation.


Why has today’s Somaliland managed to achieve a rudimentary level of stability and prosperity, when the Federal Republic continues to struggle? After almost three decades of mixed results, no single factor can realistically provide an answer to this question. Nonetheless, a consideration of the diverse colonial histories of the two regions does shed some light on the causes of this evident divergence. The potential insights from this line of inquiry are intuitive and obtainable through simple arithmetic: while unified Somalia endured twenty-one years of Siyad Barre’s revolutionary regime, British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland were under European colonial rule more than three times longer.

The continued salience of colonial history is also underscored in the wealth of institutionalist literature that has arisen in recent decades, and that has brought renewed interest in and focus upon the historic origins of disparate contemporary economic and political outcomes.

A comparative exploration of the diverse British and Italian colonial institutions that guided education, religion, land use, and labor situates British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland within this literature. In addition to considering the extractive or inclusive nature of these colonial developments, an exploration of their intensity – which was based mainly on the colonial regime’s willingness to use force to overcome indigenous opposition – provides a more holistic understanding of their institutional development.

This article advances three primary arguments: that the British rule of British Somaliland was nominally extractive, that the Italian rule of Italian Somaliland was profoundly extractive, and that this historical difference in their respective treatment continues to influence the economies and politics of the contemporary Republic of Somaliland and the Federal Republic of Somalia.

Due to the extremely predatory nature of the Barre regime, Peter Leeson argued in 2007 that a rise in the average welfare of Somalis under anarchy actually made them better off stateless.135 This study makes the case that, by avoiding the most extractive colonial institutions and their successors in the Federal Republic of Somalia, Somalilanders have likewise proven to be better off alone.


The author kindly thanks the participants of the 2020 ASMEA conference, the reviewers, and Prof. Larry Simpson for their useful comments, suggestions, and feedback on an earlier version of this article. All errors remain the author’s own.

Disclosure statement

No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author.

Additional information

Notes on contributors

Oliver McPherson-Smith

Oliver McPherson-Smith is a doctoral candidate in politics at the University of Oxford. He previously received a master’s degree in Middle Eastern studies from Harvard University, and a bachelor’s degree in land economy from the University of Cambridge.


1 Utz J. Pape, Somali High-Frequency Survey, Wave 2. Ref. SOM_2017_SHFS-W2_v02_M (World Bank, Dec. 2017), See Table A1 in the Appendix for a selection of the author’s calculations that compare various metrics across Somaliland and Somalia.

2 Territory from Kenya’s Jubaland Province ceded to Italy in 1925 was part of the short-lived Italian colony of Oltre Giuba (Trans-Juba) before it was incorporated into Italian Somaliland.

3 All translations are the author’s own.

4 Douglass C. North, Institutions, Institutional Change, and Economic Performance: The Political Economy of Institutions and Decisions (Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990); Robert D. Putnam, Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993); and Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty (New York, NY: Crown Publishing Group, 2012).

5 North, Institutions, Institutional Change, and Economic Performance, 3.

6 Daron Acemoglu, Simon Johnson, and James A. Robinson, “Institutions as a Fundamental Cause of Long-Run Growth,” in Handbook of Economic Growth, ed. Philippe Aghion and Steven Durlauf (Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2005), 385–472.

7 Timur Kuran, The Long Divergence: How Islamic Law Held Back the Middle East, 3rd ed. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010), 10–11.

8 Putnam, Making Democracy Work, 152–62.

9 Acemoglu and Robinson, Why Nations Fail, 75.

10 Kenneth Sokoloff and Stanley Engerman, “Institutions, Factor Endowments, and Paths of Development in the New World,” Journal of Economic Perspectives 14, no. 3 (2000): 218.

11 Rafael La Porta et al., “Law and Finance,” NBER Working Paper, no. 5661 (Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1996), 4.

12 Rafael La Porta et al., “Legal Determinants of External Finance,” The Journal of Finance 52, no. 3 (1997): 1138.

13 Simeon Djankov et al., “The Regulation of Entry,” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 117, no. 1 (2002): 28.

14 J. C. Botero et al., “The Regulation of Labor,” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 119, no. 4 (2004): 1339–82.

15 Daron Acemoglu, Simon Johnson, and James A Robinson, “The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation,” American Economic Review 91, no. 5 (2001): 1369–1401.

16 Acemoglu and Robinson, Why Nations Fail, 74.

17 Ibid., 76.

18 William Easterly and Ross Levine, “The European Origins of Economic Development,” Journal of Economic Growth 21, no. 3 (2016): 225–57.

19 Stanley Engerman and Kenneth Sokoloff, “Factor Endowments, Institutions, and Differential Paths of Growth Among New World Economies: A View from Economic Historians of the United States,” in How Latin America Fell Behind, ed. Stephen Haber (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997), 260–304.

20 Matthew Lange, James Mahoney, and Matthias vom Hau, “Colonialism and Development: A Comparative Analysis of Spanish and British Colonies,” American Journal of Sociology 111, no. 5 (2006): 1412–62.

21 John K.M. Ohnesorge, “China’s Economic Transition and the New Legal Origins Literature,” China Economic Review 14, no. 4 (2003): 485–93.

22 David Y. Albouy, “The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation: Comment,” American Economic Review 102, no. 6 (2012): 3059–76.

23 Oliver McPherson-Smith, “Incentivized Migration in Colonial Contexts: The Challenge of Asymmetric Information in Public Policy Nudges,” in Nudging Public Policy: Examining the Benefits and Limitations of Paternalistic Public Policies, ed. Stefanie Haeffele, Rosemarie Fike, and Arielle John (Forthcoming, 2021).

24 Nathan Nunn, “Slavery, Inequality, and Economic Development in the Americas: An Examination of the Engerman-Sokoloff Hypothesis,” in Institutions and Economic Performance, ed. Elhanan Helpman, 1st ed. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008), 148–80.

25 Kenneth W. Dam, “Legal Institutions, Legal Origins, and Governance,” John M. Olin Program in Law and Economics Working Paper No. 303 (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago, 2006), 15.

26 Jutta Bolt and Leigh Gardner, “How Africans Shaped British Colonial Institutions: Evidence from Local Taxation,” The Journal of Economic History 80, no. 4(2020): 1–35.

27 David Hamilton, “Imperialism Ancient and Modern: A Study of British Attitudes to the Claims to Sovereignty to the Northern Somali Coastline,” Journal of Ethiopian Studies 5, no. 2 (1967): 15–16.

28 C. U. Aitchison, A Collection of Treaties, Engagements, and Sanads Relating to India and Neighboring Countries, 4th ed. (Calcutta, India: Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing, 1909), 190.

29 Jon R. Godsall, “Richard Burton’s Somali Expedition, 1854–55: Its Wider Historical Context and Planning,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland 11, no. 2 (2001): 153.

30 Aitchison, A Collection of Treaties, Engagements, and Sanads Relating to India and Neighboring Countries, 190–1.

31 Hamilton, “Imperialism Ancient and Modern,” 28.

32 Ralph E. Drake-Brockman, British Somaliland (London: Hurst & Blackett, 1912), 18.

33 Douglas Jardine, The Mad Mullah of Somaliland (London: Herbert Jenkins, 1923), 49.

34 David D. Laitin and Said S. Samatar, “Somalia and the World Economy,” Review of African Political Economy, 11, no. 30 (1984): 61.

35 Mohamed Haji Mukhtar, “The Plight of the Agro-Pastoral Society of Somalia,” Review of African Political Economy 23, no. 70 (1996): 544.

36 Ioan Lewis, A Modern History of the Somali: Nation and State in the Horn of Africa, 4th ed. (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2002).

37 Mark Bradbury, Becoming Somaliland, African Issues (London: Oxford), 16.

38 Rebecca Richards, Challenging the Ideal? Traditional Governance and the Modern State in Somaliland (Bristol, UK, University of Bristol, 2009), 97.

39 Jardine, The Mad Mullah of Somaliland, 29.

40 Ismail I. Ahmed and Reginald Herbold Green, “The Heritage of War and State Collapse in Somalia and Somaliland: Local-Level Effects, External Interventions and Reconstruction,” Third World Quarterly 20, no. 1 (1999): 113–27, 123.

41 Richards, Challenging the Ideal? 93.

42 Bradbury, Becoming Somaliland, 16.

43 Drake-Brockman, British Somaliland, 36.

44 Ladan Affi, “Guests in Our Own Houses: Somaliland and British Colonialism,” in Self-Determination and Secession in Africa: The Post-Colonial State, ed. Redie Bereketeab (New York, NY: Routledge, 2014), 100.

45 Drake-Brockman, British Somaliland, 269.

46 Brock Millman, British Somaliland: An Administrative History, 1920–1960 (New York: Taylor & Francis, 2014), 90.

47 Harold B. Kittermaster, “The Development of the Somalis,” Journal of the Royal African Society 31, no. 124 (1932): 237.

48 Ibid., 241.

49 Millman, British Somaliland, 85–86.

50 Richard Burton, First Footsteps in East Africa: or, An Exploration of Harar (London: Tylston and Edwards, 1856), 18.

51 H. Rayne, Sun, Sand, and Somals (London: H. F. & G. Witherby, 1921), 90.

52 Drake-Brockman, British Somaliland, 137; and Robert Hess, Italian Colonialism in Somalia (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966).

53 J. S. Edye, “Travel in Somaliland,” Journal of the Royal Army Medical Corps 3 (1904): 393.

54 J. M. D. Meiklejohn, The British Empire: The Geography, Resources, Commerce, Land-Ways, and Water-Ways of the British Dominions Beyond the Seas, 8th ed. (London: Meiklejohn and Holden, 1907), 205.

55 G. L. M. Clauson, “The British Colonial Currency System,” The Economic Journal 54, no. 213 (1944): 16.

56 Welland, “Somaliland; a Neglected Field,” The Church Missionary Gleaner 29 (1903): 28–29.

57 Patrick Kakwenzire, “The Introduction of Western Education in Northern Somaliland,” Transafrican Journal of History 9, no. 1/2 (1980): 153–64.

58 Anthony Olden, “Somali Opposition to Government Education: R. E. Ellison and the Berbera School Affair, 1938–1940,” History of Education 37, no. 1 (2008): 71–90.

59 Patrick Kakwenzire, “Revenue and Development in Northern Somalia, 1905–1939,” The International Journal of African Historical Studies 19, no. 4 (1986): 659–877.

60 Great Britain War Office General Staff, Official History of the Operations in Somaliland, 1901-04, vol. 1 (British Somaliland: H. M. Stationery Office, 1907), 49.

61 Ronald Hyam, Elgin and Churchill at the Colonial Office 1905–1908: The Watershed of the Empire – Commonwealth (London: Macmillan, 1968), 365.

62 Ibid., 360–61.

63 Jardine, The Mad Mullah of Somaliland, 48.

64 Kakwenzire, “Revenue and Development in Northern Somalia, 1905–1939.”

65 Olden, “Somali Opposition to Government Education.”

66 Millman, British Somaliland, 251–53.

67 Interestingly, a Catholic mission was established among Somali communities in 1905 in British Jubaland, before the Trinitarian Order was permitted to enter Italian Somalia. See Giuseppe Finaldi, A History of Italian Colonialism, 1860–1907: Europe’s Last Empire (New York: Routledge, 2017), 209.

68 Gérard Prunier, “Benign Neglect Versus La Grande Somalia: The Colonial Legacy and the Post-Colonial Somali State,” in Peace and Milk, Drought and War, ed. Markus Hoehne and Virginia Luling (London: Hurst & Company, 2010), 38.

69 Olden, “Somali Opposition to Government Education,” 74.

70 Millman, British Somaliland, 91.

71 Harold B. Kittermaster, “British Somaliland,” Journal of the Royal African Society 27, no. 108 (1928): 335.

72 Lewis, A Modern History of the Somali, 43.

73 Millman, British Somaliland, 88.

74 Ibid., 100.

75 Kakwenzire, “The Introduction of Western Education in Northern Somaliland.”

76 Kakwenzire, “Revenue and Development in Northern Somalia, 1905–1939.”

77 Olden, “Somali Opposition to Government Education.”

78 Rebecca Richards, “Challenging the Ideal? Traditional Governance and the Modern State in Somaliland” (Ph.D. diss., University of Bristol, 2009), 110.

79 Millman, British Somaliland, 84.

80 Kakwenzire, “Revenue and Development in Northern Somalia, 1905–1939,” 670.

81 Abdi Ismail Samatar, “The State, Peasants, and Pastoralists: Agrarian Change and Rural Development in Northern Somalia, 1884–1984” (Ph.D. diss., University of California, Berkeley, 1985), 79.

82 George L. Simpson, “The 1925 Cession of Jubaland: A View from Great Britain’s Imperial Periphery,” Journal of Global South Studies 37, no. 1 (2020): 16. In fact, the British were unable consistently to impose taxation on Somalis in the NFD throughout the period before the Second World War. Colonial authorities defined them as “natives” under the 1910 Native Hut and Poll Tax Ordinance, but members of the Somali Issaq clan claimed Asiatic rather than African descent and ironically demanded to be taxed at a higher rate than Africans. See E. R. Turton, “Somali Resistance to Colonial Rule and the Development of Somali Political Activity in Kenya 1893–1960,” The Journal of African History 13, no. 1 (1972): 117–43, 128. See also Note B.J.W. Allen, Nov. 21, 1930, on Grigg to Passfield, Sept. 15, 1930, The National Archives (TNA), Colonial Office (C.O.) 533/402/6/16295; Kittermaster to Passfield, Sept. 10, 1930, TNA, C.O. 533/402/6/16295; and Tellemugger District Annual Report, 1931, H.B. Sharpe, Westgate Mall siege in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2013. In recent weeks, they have carried out a spate of attacks in Kenya National Archives: PC/NFD1/7/2.

83 Abdi Ismail Samatar, The State and Rural Transformation in Northern Somalia, 1884–1986 (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989), 85.

84 Ibid.

85 Hess, Italian Colonialism in Somalia, 25–26.

86 Ibid., 28.

87 John Galbraith, “Italy, the British East Africa Company, and the Benadir Coast, 1888–1893,” The Journal of Modern History 42, no. 4 (1970), 549–63.

88 Marco M. G. Guadagni, “Colonial Origins of the Public Domain in Southern Somalia (1892–1912),” Journal of African Law 22, no. 1 (1978): 2.

89 Hess, Italian Colonialism in Somalia, 87.

90 Simpson, “The 1925 Cession of Jubaland.”

91 Hess, Italian Colonialism in Somalia, 25.

92 Prunier, “Benign Neglect Versus La Grande Somalia,” 37.

93 Guadagni, “Colonial Origins of the Public Domain in Southern Somalia (1892–1912).”

94 Hess, Italian Colonialism in Somalia, 171.

95 Lucia Ceci, Il Vessillo e La Croce: Colonialismo, Missioni Cattoliche e Islam in Somalia (1903–1924), 1st ed. (Roma: Carocci, 2006), 124.

96 Caterina Scalvedi, “Cruce et Aratro: Fascism, Missionary Schools, and Labor in 1920s Italian Somalia,” in Education and Development in Colonial and Postcolonial Africa: Policies, Paradigms, and Entanglements, 1890s–1980s, ed. Damiano Matasci, Miguel Bandeira Jerónimo, and Hugo Gonçalves Dores (Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing, 2020), 147.

97 Ceci, Il Vessillo e La Croce, 174.

98 Scalvedi, “Cruce et Aratro,” 156.

99 Hess, Italian Colonialism in Somalia, 42.

100 Guadagni, “Colonial Origins of the Public Domain in Southern Somalia (1892–1912),” 17.

101 Ibid.

102 Giotto Dainelli, “The Agricultural Possibilities of Italian Somalia,” Geographical Review 21, no. 1 (1931): 64.

103 Vittorio Emanuele III, “Regio Decreto 8 Giugno 1911, N. 695, Relativo All’Accertamento Delle Terre Di Libera Disponibilità Dello Stato Nella Somalia Italiana” (Gazzetta Ufficiale del Regno D’Italia N. 166, July 17, 1911).

104 Hess, Italian Colonialism in Somalia, 112.

105 Kenya’s granting of the “White Highlands” to European settlement, however, makes one suspect the former.

106 Ibid., 81.

107 Guadagni, “Colonial Origins of the Public Domain in Southern Somalia (1892–1912),” 12.

108 Mohamed Haji Mukhtar, “Somali Responses to Colonial Occupation (The Inter-Riverine Case),” in Putting the Cart Before the Horse: Contested Nationalism and the Crisis of the Nation-State in Somalia, ed. Abdi M. Kusow (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2004), 77–78.

109 Vico Mantegazza, Il Benadir (Milan: Fratelli Treves, 1908), 157.

110 Hess, Italian Colonialism in Somalia, 88.

111 Oreste Poggiolini, “Ardisci e Spera: La Grande Impresa Coloniale Di S.A.R. Il Duca Degli Abruzzi,” Il Carroccio 17 (1923): 348.

112 Hess, Italian Colonialism in Somalia, 121–22.

113 Ermanno Manzini, “Origini, Vicende, Natura Dei Sistemi Coloniali Europei,” Rivista Marittima 60 (1927): 31.

114 Alberto Cauli, “A Colonizing Agricultural Company in Somalia: The Duke of Abruzzi’s Società Agricola Italo-Somala in the Italian Colonial Fascist System,” in Exploitation and Misrule in Colonial and Postcolonial Africa, ed. Kenneth Kalu and Toyin Falola (Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing, 2019), 225.

115 Poggiolini, “Ardisci e Spera: La Grande Impresa Coloniale Di S.A.R. Il Duca Degli Abruzzi,” 349.

116 Hess, Italian Colonialism in Somalia, 163–64.

117 Lee V. Cassanelli, “The End of Slavery and the ‘Problem’ of Farm Labor in Colonial Somalia,” in Proceedings of the Third International Congress of Somali Studies, ed. Annarita Puglielli, 1st ed. (International Congress of Somali Studies, Roma: Il Pensiero scientifico, 1988), 277.

118 Cauli, “A Colonizing Agricultural Company in Somalia,” 229.

119 Francesca Declich, “Unfree Labour, Forced Labour and Resistance Among the Zigula of the Lower Juba,” in Resisting Bondage in Indian Ocean Africa and Asia, ed. Edward A. Alpers, Gwyn Campbell, and Michael Salman (ANew York: Routledge, 2007), 25.

120 Ernesto Milanese, “La Società Agricola Italo-Somala e L’Opera Del Duca Degli Abruzzi in Somalia Tra Il 1920 e Il 1933,” Miscellanea Di Storia Delle Esplorazioni 24 (1999): 239.

121 Dainelli, “The Agricultural Possibilities of Italian Somalia.”

122 Lee V. Cassanelli, “The End of Slavery and the ‘Problem’ of Farm Labor in Colonial Somalia,” 270.

123 Ibid., 277.

124 Instituto Agricolo Coloniale Italiano, L’Agricultura Coloniale Rivista Mensile, 1st–2nd ed., vol. 19 (Florence: Instituto Agricolo Coloniale Italiano, 1925), 67.

125 Vittorio Emanuele III, “Regio Decreto 8 Giugno 1911, n. 937, Che Approva l’Ordinamento Giudiziario Della Somalia Italiana,” title 5, article 46.

126 Flora Bertizzolo and Silvia Pietrantonio, “A Denied Reality? Forced Labour in Italian Colonies in Northeast Africa,” Africana Studia 2 (2004): 227–46.

127 Mukhtar, “Somali Responses to Colonial Occupation (The Inter-Riverine Case),” 82.

128 Omar A. Eno, “Landless Landlords, and Landed Tenants: Plantation Slavery in Southern Somalia (1840–1940),” in Putting the Cart Before the Horse, ed. Mohamed Haji Mukhtar (Trenton, NJ: Red Sea Press, 2004), 161.

129 Scalvedi, Cruce et Aratro, 158.

130 Cassanelli, “The End of Slavery and the ‘Problem’ of Farm Labor in Colonial Somalia,” 273.

131 Ibid., 277.

132 Ken Menkhaus, “Calm between the Storms? Patterns of Political Violence in Somalia, 1950–1980,” Journal of Eastern African Studies 8, no. 4 (Oct. 2, 2014): 558–72. The term colonya is presumably borrowed from the Italian word for colony, colonia, and stands in contrast with the locally-used Somali and Arabic terms for colonization, gumeysi and isticmaar, respectively. See John Charles Caney, “Modernisation of Somali Vocabulary with Particular Reference to the Period from 1972 to the Present” (Ph.D. diss., University of London, 1982), 179.

133 Cassanelli, “The End of Slavery and the ‘Problem’ of Farm Labor in Colonial Somalia,” 276.

134 Hess, Italian Colonialism in Somalia, 102.

135 Peter T. Leeson, “Better off Stateless: Somalia before and after Government Collapse,” Journal of Comparative Economics 35, no. 4 (2007): 689–710.


Table A1. Select average survey responses about living conditions in Somalia and Somaliland, December 2017

IndicatorSomaliaSomalilandBetter Off
Access to internet19.9%16.1%-
Access to public transport45.2%44.1%-
Shares toilet with other households25.7%7.4%Somaliland
Walking distance to education (mins)37.145.9Somalia
Walking distance to health (mins)45.848.0-
Access to electricity grid54.7%56.4%-
Number of blackouts in a typical day60.5%36.3%Somaliland
Has written formal tenancy19.5%41.8%Somaliland
Enjoys equal rights59.8%71.3%Somaliland
Enjoys free speech60.8%73.2%Somaliland
Enjoys freedom of association63.2%77.4%Somaliland
Wants to leave current location in the future35.0%60.0%Somalia
Access to a bank account10.4%12.9%-
Access to a mobile money account69.4%49.5%Somalia
Note. Calculations are the author’s own, using the World Bank’s December 2017 survey of households across Somalia and Somaliland, Utz J. Pape, “Somali High-Frequency Survey, Wave 2. Ref. SOM_2017_SHFS-W2_v02_M” (World Bank, December 2017), This is the most recent and robust data source on living conditions in both Somalia and Somaliland. To merit the designation of being “Better Off,” the average response must be at least 5 percentage points higher than the other territory.

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