British Somaliland: The Incontestable Sovereignty of Somaliland


Protectorate of the United Kingdom-1920-1960

Somali-British treaties and establishment of the protectorate

British Somaliland

Capital Hargeisa

Language(s) English, Somali

Religion Islam

Political structure Protectorate


  • Established 1884

  • Independence June 26, 1960

Currency East African shilling

British Somaliland was a British protectorate in the northern part of present-day Somalia. For much of its existence, British Somaliland was bordered by French Somaliland, Ethiopia, and Italian Somaliland. From 1940 to 1941, it was occupied by the Italians and was part of Italian East Africa. The protectorate briefly obtained independence on July 1, 1960 as the State of Somaliland before uniting as scheduled later the same week with the Trust Territory of Somalia (the former Italian Somaliland) to form the Somali Republic.The government of Somaliland, a self-declared sovereign state that is internationally recognised as an autonomous region of Somalia, regards the territory as the successor state to the State of Somaliland.

Somali-British treaties and establishment of the protectorate

In 1888, after signing successive treaties with the then ruling Somali Sultans such as Mohamoud Ali Shire of the Warsangali Sultanate, the British established a protectorate in the region referred to as British Somaliland.The British garrisoned the protectorate from Aden and administered it from their British India colony until 1898. British Somaliland was then administered by the Foreign Office until 1905 and afterwards by the Colonial Office.

Generally, the British did not have much interest in the resource-barren region. The stated purposes of the establishment of the protectorate were to “secure a supply market, check the traffic in slaves, and to exclude the interference of foreign powers.” The British principally viewed the protectorate as a source for supplies of meat for their British Indian outpost in Aden through the maintenance of order in the coastal areas and protection of the caravan routes from the interior.[10] Hence, the region’s nickname of “Aden’s butcher’s shop”. Colonial administration during this period did not extend administrative infrastructure beyond the coast, and contrasted with the more interventionist colonial experience of Italian Somaliland.

Dervish State

From 1899, the British were forced to expend considerable human and military capital in a bloody struggle to contain a decades-long resistance movement led by the Somali religious leader Sayyid Mohammed Abdullah Hassan, leader of the Dervish State. Referred to colloquially by the British as the Mad Mullah, repeated expeditions were unsuccessfully launched against Hassan and his men before World War I.

On 9 August 1913, the “Somaliland Camel Constabulary” suffered a serious defeat at the Battle of Dul Madoba at the hands of the “Mad Mullah.” Hassan roamed British Somaliland and had already evaded several attempts to capture him. At Dul Madoba, 57 members of the 110-man unit were killed or wounded, including the British commander, Colonel Richard Corfield.

In 1914, the British created the Somaliland Camel Corps to assist in maintaining order in British Somaliland.

In 1920, the British launched their fifth and final expedition against Hassan and his followers. Employing the then-new technology of military aircraft, the British finally managed to quell Hassan’s twenty year-long struggle. The aerial attack on the Dervish capital, Taleex, killed many members of Hassan’s family who had been lured there by the British for an official visit. Hassan and his Dervish supporters fled into the Ogaden, where Hassan died in 1921.

British Somaliland 1920-1930

The two fundamental goals of British colonial policy in Somaliland following the defeat of the Dervish resistance were the preservation of stability and the economic self-sufficiency of the colony. The second goal remained particularly elusive because of local resistance to taxation that might have been used to support the colonial administration. By the 1930s the colonial presence had extended to all parts of British Somaliland, and the development of trade and eventually towns caused some pastoralists to leave the pastoral economy and settle on the land.

Italian invasion

The Italian invasion of British Somaliland in August 1940.

Further information: East African Campaign (World War II) and Italian East Africa

In August 1940, during the East African Campaign in World War II, the British protectorate was briefly occupied by Italy. The Italian conquest of British Somaliland was the only Italian victory against the Allies without the assistance of German troops in World War II.

In March 1941, British Somaliland was recaptured by British Imperial forces during “Operation Appearance”. The final remnants of Italian guerilla movement discontinued all resistance in British Somaliland by the summer of 1942.


In May 1960, the British Government stated that it would be prepared to grant independence to the then protectorate of British Somaliland, with the intention that the territory would unite with the Italian-administered Trust Territory of Somalia (the former Italian Somaliland). The Legislative Council of British Somaliland passed a resolution in April 1960 requesting independence and union with the Trust Territory of Somalia, which was scheduled to gain independence on 1 July that year. The legislative councils of both territories agreed to this proposal following a joint conference in Mogadishu.[19]

On June 26, 1960, the former British Somaliland protectorate briefly obtained independence as the State of Somaliland, with the Trust Territory of Somalia following suit five days later. Later the same week, on July 1, 1960, the two territories united as planned to form the Somali Republic.


In 1991, after the breakdown of the central government of the Somali Republic, parts of the area which formerly encompassed British Somaliland declared independence. In May 1991, the formation of the “Republic of Somaliland” was proclaimed, with the local government regarding it as the successor to the former British Somaliland. However, the Somaliland region’s self-declared independence remains unrecognized by any country or international organization.