British Somaliland and Sokotra


In preparation for the peace conference that was expected to follow World War I, in the spring of 1917 the British Foreign Office established a special section responsible for preparing background information for use by British delegates to the conference. British Somaliland and Sokotra is Number 97 in a series of more than 160 studies produced by the section, most of which were published after the conclusion of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. British Somaliland (the northwest part of present-day Somalia) was a British protectorate, established in 1884−7, after a period of rivalry between Britain and Egypt (then nominally still part of the Ottoman Empire) for control of the territory on the African side of the Gulf of Aden. Sokotra (part of present-day Yemen) is an island in the Indian Ocean lying south of the Arabian Peninsula, which became a British protectorate in 1886. Both British Somaliland and Sokotra were regarded as strategically important for controlling the ocean trade routes from the Suez Canal to India, Australia, and the Far East. The book includes sections on physical and political geography, political history, social and political conditions, and economic conditions. The section on political history summarizes the parts played by Great Britain, France, and Italy in this region of Africa and recounts the recurring difficulties the British and Italians had in subjugating the local religious leader and Somali nationalist Sayid Mohammed Abdullah Hassan, a man the British called "the Mad Mullah," who preached holy war against the colonial powers and the neighboring Abyssinians (Ethiopians). The economic section notes the underdeveloped state of both protectorates, observing, for example, that there “are no roads in British Somaliland in the European sense of the word.”

Last updated: February 5, 2015