Sultanate of Mohamoud Ali Shire

In the late Nineteenth Century, an influential Sultan and Akil (tribal chief) emerged and ruled the Northern part of Somalia, an area stretching as far west to Burco from Las Khorey and historically known as Maakhir(Makhir coast and Makhar). One of the most respected heroes among Warsangali Sultanates was Mohamoud Ali Shire. Akil Dhahar of Warsangali, ruled south of Sanaag and some portions of the Bari region.

Though there are insufficient writings available on Akil Dhahar, from oral tradition, he was said to have fought against the Abyssinians and uprooted Christian communities in Galgala, a town that used to have churches and temples. The edifices are still present as historical landmarks. In honor of his accomplishments Akil Dhahar's name bears not ephemerally but eternally on the great valley and mountains of the city known as Dhahar.

I.M Lewish, in his book "Pastoral Democracy: A study on Pastoralism and Politics of Northern Somali," refers to the Sultan from the colonial literature sources as a "Man of unusual influence," "A man of mercurial image," and "A man of unusual strength." Several Somali Sultanates did exist in Somalia prior to the European imperialism of the 19th Century,but the Warsangali Sultanate,was the only Sultanate with tax base centralized administration. I.M Lewis writes,

Vestiges of a similar degree of centralized administration on the pattern of a Muslim Sultanate, survive today in the Protectorate amongst the Warsangali. Prior to 1920, the Garaad had at his command a small standing army with which, with British support, he fought Sayid Mahamad Abdille Hassan’s forces. But Garad’s powers’ are dwindling under modern administration.

Sultanates such as these, generally only arose on the coast or through commanding an important trade route, and were largely dependent on the possession and control of a pot or other exploitable economic resources. They were in direct trade and diffuse political relations with Arabia, received occasional Arab immigrants, and were the centres from Islam expanded with trade into the interior. They had to fight to maintain their positions of supremacy against the periodic incursions of raiding parties of nomads, and their authority was never great.


1. Northern Somali sultanates
2. British treaty with the Warsangali
3. Civilization, society and Islam
4. Sultan's assistance
5. Chronological order of events in North Somalia
6. References
7. Further reading


Northern Somali sultanates

In 1896, A challenge of leadership emerged between a father and son. The powerful Garad Cali Shire's authority was dwindling and young Mohamoud Ali, with the tacit support of Isse Garad (Bohogayslabe)a sub clan, saught to undermine the power of his father. Before then, Internal conflict amongst Warsangali clans resurfaced and had an effect on Sultan Mohamoud Ali Shire and his rise to power. The disarray caused by the young Mohamoud within Warsangeli was finally settled by the proposal that young Mohamoud become the sultan while his father could remain Garad. The Bihidor clan (Warsangali subclan)first withdrew their loyalty and support from the Sultan as an upstart and young authority figure. He made, once, an unflinching decision to ally his Sultanate with Mohammed Abdullah Hassan's "Dervishes" in an attempt to defeat the British and Ethiopia. Robert L Hess's article, "The 'Mad Mullah' and Northern Somalia," cites this alliance. "In attempt to break out of Obbian-Mijertein circle, the Mullah sought closer alliances with the Bihidor Warsangali of British Somaliland and Bah Geri of Ethiopia" (Hess, 423). The Dervishes and their lots planned ahead their venom routes and strategy of destruction. (In fact this was their gravest mistake in attacking a country that the English treated different from the way it treated the rest of the protectorate). The Sultan was said to have ordered his army to retreat from their main military posts in Erigavo(which was at that time a reserve well for the sultan horses and base for his army), following an unexpected onslaught. Sayid Mohamed Abdule Hassan's alliance with Bihidor clan was instrumental in strechting the Dervish sphere of influence and expanding his dominions. On March, 3 1905, Italy was very close to sign a treaty with the Mad Mullah at Illig. They offered him the Nogal territory. Unfortunately, the new territory, which was recognized as a protectorate wasn't established due to the Dervish resistance. In its early proposal, both the Mijertein and Warsangali sultanates opposed to its implementation as they foresaw potential wave of threats immersing their political interest. once again, Hess cites the first Anglo-Italian success against the Dervishes, a scheme masterminded by the MIjertein and Warsangali Sultanates.

The first success in this Anglo-Italian cooperation came in December 1910. In that month, the British Warsangali and the Italian Mijertain peacefully resolved all their outstanding disputes and, convening in Bander Kasim, agreed to act jointly in combating Muhammed Abdullah and his Dervishes.....The Mijertain--Warsangali Accord led to a common offensive against the Mullah, whose forces were cut off from arms and munitions smuggled in from the coast, (Hess, 427)

In 1920, the Dervishes unexpectedly captured Badhan and besieged Las khorreh. The British Governor at Aden soon sent RAF biplanes to contain the advance of the Dervish army into the Warsangali country. Though the air strikes that bombarded Badhan, Jidali and Talex never did a considerable harm to the Dervishes. The Dervishes were still powerful but disorganizd and dispersed into unknown areas. Finally, forces of Warsangali and Dervishes met at Jidali and this was in fact the final decimation of the Dervish movement.

The Mijertein Somalis who in June succeeded launching counter-attack with the aid of their Warsangali allies....Mullah and his followers were driven out of Italian Somaliland into British Somaliland, where they occupied Buhotleh with great cruelty and oppressed the Dolbahante who had shifted their allegiance back to British Somaliland. (Hess, 428)

The Dervishes deserted the Nogal Protectorate as a result and disappeared into the deep jungle of Hawd Reserve Area.

British treaty with the Warsangali

Historically, The British used Indirect Rule for their colonial advantages to control and exploit clans. Just subsequent to British treaty with Warsangali in 1886, the Somaliland protectorate was formed. Much of the country’s economic dependency was the trade relationship it had with Aden, Yemen, which was chiefly based on the export of livestock, frankincense, and myrrh in return for food, cloth, and other materials. Since then, the protectorate was administered from Aden till 1898 just before the rise of Sayid Mohammed Abdulle Hassan.

The British also realized that the effort to pacify native authority with treaties was not sufficient and it could insinuate mischief within the protectorate. In 1884, the British government made protection treaties with Ciise, Gudabirsi and Isaaq, all at once. This particular tripartite treaty was beneficial to the English colony in operating internally and in harmony with the clan social systems of North Western Somalia. Sultan Mohamoud Ali Shire, however, and his independent operation in his country was a nonpareil and a historically remarkable organized administration. How his Regency wielded such power to exercise independent operation and rule is still a baffling question to most historians. In article five of British treaty with Warsangali states the historical context of Warsangali territory as a legitimate country that in which the British government appointed an ambassador and was in the process of building an office there:

Article V. The British Government shall have the power to appoint an Agent or Agents to reside in the Territories of the Warsangali, and every such Agent shall be treated with respect and consideration, and be entitled to have for this protection such guard as the British Government deem sufficient. (Art V).

In another article of the treaty entered by British with Warsangali highlights the independence of Warsangali from colonial interventions against their territories:

III. The Warsnagali are bound to render assistance to any vessel, whether British or belonging to any other nation, that may be wrecked on the shores under their jurisdiction and control, and to protect the crew, passengers, and cargo of such vessels, giving speedy intimation to the Resident at Aden of the circumstances; for which act of friendship and good-will a suitable reward will be given by the British Government.

Civilization, society and Islam

It is important to emphasize that the Somali people have been Muslims for many centuries. Islam was introduced into Sanag as early as the tenth century. The type of sect introduced into all parts of Somali coast follow the Shafi code of Islam. Thus it appears perfectly that Sufism and saint veneration, the mystical movement and ecstacy in Islam, was highly embraced amongst the Warsangeli clans in Sanaag and by extension to all over Somalia. For instace, a place that is 20 km south of Badhan, Haylan, houses the sepulcher of Darod Ismaiil, the founder of Darod. Said Ali Nur states that regions such as Zaila, Sanag, [6] and Harar became the centers of dispersal for the founders of many Muslim communities. In fact, the founder of Darod is considered by the large communities of Darod as venerated saint. It is internalized in the custom of all Somalis and are known as “ancestor saints”. They are means by which man’s appeal to the mercy and blessing of God through the saints is strengthened. These saints, however, are not worshipped , but venerated, and the respect shown to them is clearly based up on their intermediary role. The structure of the Ceelaayo mosque is still of remarkable strength, almost marble.

Laskhorey and Celanyo formed a growing international hub because of the significance of the ancient settlements in these two cities. The Sultan's revolt against the British led to the decline and significance of these coastal areas after the British shifted their administration to the west side of North Somalia. Therefore, the commercial centers of Celanyo and Laskhorey diminished as an International hub. (Title 1Pre-Independency Socio-Economic of British Somaliland).

The ascendancy of Northern society in Somalia in terms of trade, civilization, contact with ancient pharaohs continued for many centuries. For example, the Land of Punt (currently Warsangali territory), Makhir, (commercial center of the North also territory of Warsangali), were all societies that excelled in the art of architecture, agricultural and civil engineering. Irrefutable evidence is the present 15 storey towers in Las Khorreh that were built during the Makhir dynasty. From 15th century, Somalis were already engaged in profitable commercial activities with the rest of the world. In addition, they discovered a gum producing tree that aided architectures build towers and big boats.

The gum-producing trees grow on the sterile hills near the coast in the Sanaag and Bari regions. In this districts there also grows a tree known in Somali as 'damask,' a species of willow which is valuable for house- and boat-building purposes. It grows along the banks of the 'tugs' or dry water-courses which in the rainy season drain the interior." (Burale).

In the Land of Punt (Sanaag), when Hatshepsut, the well known 18th Dynasty Queen visited these areas, it was mentioned in the journal of her expedition a very remarkable supply of frankincense, (in Somali it is called Maydi, Adaad, Beeyo, Malmal Murre, Murkud) myrrh, spices, diamond and gold that were provided as gift to her kingdom in exchange of other goods and services. The land of Punt was also known as the land of Gods. Hathor and Bes, which are two deities that Egyptians worshipped, had their origin in Eastern Sanaag in a city now known as Galgala. Hatshepsut writes in her journal,

It is the sacred region of God's Land; it is my place of distraction; I have made it for myself in order to cleanse my spirit, along with my mother, Hathor...the lady of Punt."

Moreover, according to Lieutenant Speke in his journal of "What led to the Discovery of the Source of the Nile" states the decline of the empire of Warsangali 31 years before the British treaty with Warsangali in 1886 of which the English provided military and logistical support to the clans of Isaaq near Aden in Yemen:

The Warsangali complained to me sadly of their decline in power since the English had interfered in their fights with the (Isaaq), which took place near Aden about seven years ago, and had deprived them of their vessels for creating a disturbance, which interfered with the ordinary routine of Traffic. They said that on that occasion, they had not only beaten (Isaaq) but had seized their vessels; and that prior to this rupture, they had enjoyed paramount superiority over all the tribes of the Somali; but now they were forbidden to transport Soldiers or make reprisals on the sea, every tribe was on an equality with them." (Chapter II the Voyage-Somali Shore, Gerad Mohamoud ali Shire).

The traveler also recounted the administration of the sultan, which was an impeccable source for the security, and the general weal of every foreigner visiting Warsangali country. "Of course no Mortal man was like their Gerad Mohamoud Ali in leading them to war. He was like the English or the French, and in settling disputes, he required no writing office, but sitting on the woolsack."

Sultan's assistance

The two sultanates of Majertein, Sultan Mohamoud Ali Shire, and Sayid Mohamed Addule Hassan, were in the spotlight. The colonial administration had dealt with each one of them secretly and worked to prevent a possible tripartite alliance of power-sharing and common economic and political integration. A notable incident took place in 1908, when British airplanes bombarded Jidali, Badhan and Taleh, This led to the Dervish dispersal into many areas, and it took a long period for the Sayid to recoup his strength. However, Sultan Mohamoud Ali Shire and his army within the British Somaliland Protectorate's claimed areas of Sanaag were severely disturbed by the decline of the Dervish movements despite the rift between them. To show his concerns, he ordered his army to fire on a British ship that was landing on LasQorey port. According to I.M Lewis, in his book Modern History of Somalia, cites this brief incidence:

The Warsangali clan within the British protectorate on the eastern coast who under their spirited leader Gerad Mohamoud Ali Shire had now decided to throw in their lot with the Dervishes and in Jan 1908, fired on a British dhow as it was landing on their coast. This incident has led to a hostile exchange of letters with the consul at Berbera and it was evident that the Dervishes would soon be on the March again.(Lewis, 55).

Furthermore, his association with Mohamoud Ali Shire as brother-in-law gave him access to the Makhir Coast, a door to the Arabian peninsula to import firearms and ammunition. The Dervishes marched again, and once again, their movement was in the limelight. The British became extremely anxious about the return of the Dervishes. Moreover, the colonial alliance with clans of Isaaq proved unsuccessful after signing treaty with them in 1885.

The British ran out of options and were impelled to collaborate with Italian Somaliland and the Majerten Sultanates for an attack that forced the Dervishes from their main strongholds such as Taleh and Jidali. Sporadic resistance using guerilla tactics ensued. Gerad Mohamoud Ali Shire's government was feared by the British and the clans in Somalia. Some clans of Warsangali also viewed the Sultan's government with suspicion because of its cruelty. They declared independence from his dominions, and began a rebellion to topple him. This internal conflict occurred amongst the Warsangali clans during the struggle of the Dervishes for the expulsion of the British and Italian imperialists. The Sayid was said to have composed a poem for this incident in an attempt to lure supporters to side with him:

Mar hadday kudoortan isku diirad ma ihin
Dabcigaygu maoggola nin ku dallaasa e
War sow deero iyo cawl adigukamadhigin?
Iney se Kuududahayaan sow ma ba dareensanid?
Sow dukaammadoodi daarahaaga kuma guran?
Sow doonyahodii dukhan naar ahkamashidin

Our visionary are varied once they chose you
My nature is averse to those who contempt you
Didn't I turn you into gazelle and antelope
(refers to the internal conflict among the Warsangali clans)
Hast thou sense their fierce resentment
Hadn't you taken their stores into your houses
(refers to the English)
Hadn't I shelled their ships into plumes of smoke

The Sultan killed many men of the Bihidoor clan (a subclan of Warsangali). This led to defiance and hostility based accoridng to the 1855 journal of Speke and elders of the Warsangali tribes. They settled, nonetheless, in Xiingalol (the most populated city in Sanag) and the long Plateau of "Xadeed" in large numbers. Despite the lack of stability and the pursuit of imperialists to defeat what they perceived to be their enemies, the Sultan was secretly invited to a conference in Yemen to discuss issues of solving their differences. After a short session before the conference began, he was taken into custody by the British. Later, he was tried without prosecution and defence on his case. The verdict was to deport him out of his native country for at least seven years, based on accusations for forming his own government.

Chronological order of events in North Somalia

  • 1884 - Egypt evacuated Somali Coast, British Garrison to Berbera from Bombay.
  • 1885 - British treaties with Esa, Gadabuursi, and Isaaq tribes.
  • 1886 - British treaty with Warsengeli.
  • 1895 - Mohammed Abdullah Hassan's Saleher religious revival in Berbera failed.
  • 1898 - The British Foreign Office took over administration of British Somaliland Protectorate from the India Office. The Protectorate was then only self-supporting British dependency in eastern Africa.
  • 1899 - First truculent letter from "Mullah" at Kirit to Protectorate Administration.
  • 1900 - Abyssinians fought Mullah at Haradigit. Mullah took 2,000 Eidegalla camels.
  • 1900, November - Swayne's first expedition: engagements at Kirit, Samala, Welahed, Anahadigli, Kurgerad, Ferdidin.
  • 1901, October - Swayne's second expedition: Erago.
  • 1904, March - Jidbali occupied: Higligab, and Las Khoreh.
  • 1904, 21st March - Illig (Eil).
  • 1904, October Restalloza Peace.
  • 1909, November - British withdrawal to coast.(as a result of the Sultan)
  • 1913, 9th August - Dul Madoba(Corfield killed).
  • 1913, 5th September Mullah raided Burao.
  • 1914, 12th March - Mullah raided Berbera. Somaliland Camel Corps started.
  • 1914, November Shimbir Beris.
  • 1916, May - Dervishes shelled from sea whilst besieging Las Khoreh.
  • 1919, November - Fifth and "final" expedition.
  • 1920, January - Defeat of Mullah: Medishe, Jidali, Badan, Taleh,. 3,000 H.Y. Warsangali, and Dhulbahante attacked Mullah at Gorah near Shinileh. The year of aeroplanes (Daiurada).
  • 1920, November - Mullah died of influenza, or perhaps smallpox. Gerad Mohamoud Ali Shire of Warsengeli deported to Seychelles for seven years for exerting his own form of "native authority".


  1. Lewis. I. M. A Modern History of Somalia: Nation and State in Horn of Africa. Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1960.
  2. Hess. Robert L. "The ‘Mad Mullah’ and Northern Somalia." The Journal of African History, Vol 5, No.3 P.415-433. Cambridge: Ohio Cambridge University Press, 1964.
  3. Speke. John Hanning. "Sultan/Garad Mohamoud Ali—Hidden Treasure—Royal Reception—Sultan Tries my Abban." What Led to the Discovery of the Source of the Nile. Edinburgh: Edinburgh William Blackwood and Sons 1864.
  4. British Empire. "Protection treaties with Somaliland tribes." Edinburgh: William Blackwood and sons, 1887.
  5. Lewis. I.M. "Pastoral Democracy: A study on Pastoralism and Politics among the Northern Somali clans." Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1958.
  6. Alinur, Said. "Abyssinian Invasion: Reminder of a Seven Century old Animosity." 17 Jan, 2007. Source

Further reading

Categories: History of Somalia | Sultanates