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British Somaliland

a protectorate that existed from 1884 to 1960

Basic Information

British Somaliland covered an area of approximately 68,000 square miles and had a population of about 155,400. It was bounded by French Somaliland (now Djibouti), Italian Somaliland (now part of the Somali Republic), and Ethiopia. The administrative capital was Berbera, which was also the protectorate's chief seaport. The protectorate was under a Governor who was the sole executive and legislative authority. Although the protectorate did have some mineral and agricultural resources, its chief importance lay in its location on the Gulf of Aden.

location of British Somaliland

map of British Somaliland


The British first became interested in the Somali coast after their capture of Aden in 1839, but serious efforts to gain a foothold in the region began after completion of the Suez Canal in 1869. The first foothold was gained when the British wrested control of Egypt from the Ottoman Empire in 1882, followed by treaties with various Somali tribes between 1884 and 1886. The British Protectorate of Somaliland was established in 1887, and the boundaries with French, Italian, and Ethiopian territories were established by a series of subsequent treaties.

In 1901, Sayyid Mohammed Abdullah Hassan, a Somali religious leader referred to colloquially by the British as the "Mad Mullah," launched a "holy war" against the British. Although very few full-scale battles were ever fought, it took twenty years for the British to defeat the Mullah and his followers, and then only after Britain carried out an aerial assault on the Mullah's capital that killed many members of his family.

Italian troops invaded British Somaliland in August 1940, during the East African Campaign (World War II), and held the territory until being defeated by British forces in March 1941. The Protectorate remained under British military administration until 1948.

In April 1960 the Legislative Council of British Somaliland passed a resolution requesting independence and union with the Trust Territory of Somalia (the former Italian Somaliland). The legislative councils of both territories agreed to this proposal following a joint conference in Mogadishu, and the British Government gave its consent in May. British Somaliland became the independent State of Somaliland on June 26, and united with the newly independent Trust Territory of Somalia to form the Somali Republic on July 1, 1960.

Great Britain
Suez Canal
World War II

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This page was last updated on June 26, 2018.