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Refugees in East Africa  

Joanna Tague

The history of refugees and displaced persons in East Africa is extraordinarily complex. It is a history made all the more complicated by changes in humanitarian law in the mid-20th century pertaining to how the international community defined a “refugee” and what kinds of rights and protections refugee status conferred upon the displaced. There were certainly significant refugee flows in East Africa throughout the many centuries leading up to the mid-20th century, but the sizes of those refugee populations pale in comparison to many of the refugee crises in East Africa since the second half of the 20th century. Whereas in 1964 there were an estimated four hundred thousand refugees on the African continent, by 2019 there were approximately 6.6 million—the second-highest number of displaced persons in the world. Of that number, the vast majority of refugees either came from or sought refuge in East Africa. Five conflicts in particular have produced massive, protracted refugee situations for the region: the Mozambican Civil War, the 1983 famine in Ethiopia, the Somali Civil War, the Great Lakes Refugee Crisis (which includes the Rwandan genocide), and the civil wars in Sudan.

Article

Women in Somalia  

Safia Aidid

Although Somali women have played a dynamic and important role in the making of Somalia’s history, their histories have been obscured by archival limitations and androcentric scholarship. Women in traditional Somali society—pastoralists, agriculturalists, and urbanites alike—were central to their communities for their reproductive and productive labor. They embodied social capital, as the practice of exogamous marriage that brought them to other communities also created important reciprocal relations between different kinship groups. Although a deeply patriarchal culture defined their life roles primarily as wives and mothers, Somali women used that very culture and the indigenous resources available to them to exercise agency, negotiate their positions, and carve out their own spaces. The advent of colonial rule, which partitioned the Somali peninsula between Britain, France, Italy, and the Ethiopian empire, drastically altered women’s lives. It fused traditional patriarchal relations with European ones, codified tradition and flexible communal identities, treated women as dependents of their male relatives, and created opportunities for men in education and employment that were not available to women. Though Somali women were at the forefront of the anticolonial struggle, the male elite who inherited the state after independence excluded women from the political sphere. Women’s rights took on a prominent role in the military dictatorship of General Mohamed Siad Barre, yet the repression and state violence that characterized his rule affected women acutely. The civil war that followed the disintegration of the Somali state has similarly affected women intimately. In addition to the gendered experience of violence, the increasingly conservative nature of Somali society has resulted in the loss of many gains made for women’s rights after independence. From precolonial society to colonial rule, dictatorship, and civil war, Somali women have exhibited the resilience, agency, and fortitude to make the most of their circumstances.

Article

Italian Colonial Architecture and City Planning in North and East Africa  

Mia Fuller

Italian colonial architecture began with styles directly transplanted from Italy to Eritrea—Italy’s first African colonial territory—in the 1890s. By the late 1920s, when Italy also held Libya and Italian Somalia, it had already created a substantial set of buildings (cathedrals and banks, for instance) in any number of unmodified Italian styles ranging from the classical to the neo-medieval and neo-Renaissance. Moorish (or “Oriental”) effects were also abundant, in another transplant from Europe, where they were extremely popular. Following the rise of design innovations after World War I, though, at the end of the 1920s, Italian Modernist architects—particularly the theoretically inclined Rationalists—began to protest. In conjunction with the fascist regime’s heavy investment in farming settlements, prestigious city centers, and new housing, architecture proliferated further, increasingly incorporating Rationalist design, which was the most thoughtfully syncretistic, aiming as it did to reflect particular sites while remaining Modernist. After Ethiopia was occupied in 1936, designers’ emphasis gravitated from the particulars of design theory to the wider canvas of city planning, which was driven by new ideas of racial segregation for colonial prestige and control.

Article

Islam in Kenya  

Hassan Juma Ndzovu

According to archeological studies, the presence of Islam in Kenya can be traced back to the 10th century, confirming its long tenure. The majority of Kenyan Muslims identify with the Shafi’i jurisprudence, with the minority among the community subscribing to Shi’a Islam. Although Islam has historically been associated with communities residing in the coastal and northern regions, the composition of Muslims in the country cut across geographical, ethnic, and racial boundaries. Before the 18th century, Islam was mostly associated with the coastal Arab and Swahili communities together with the Somalis of northern Kenya. However, after 1830, there was a steady conversion of other communities to Islam. It is not possible to point to a single factor for the spread and development of Islam in Kenya since the process of Islamization has been long and complex, varying from one community to the other. This explains why there exists a range of forms of religiosity, manifested in a contestation between Sufi-oriented and Salafi-oriented forms of Islam. As a minority religious group in the country vis-à-vis their Christian compatriots, some Muslims have been critical of the postcolonial state, culminating in the radicalization of sections of the community since the 1990s. Informing this criticism is the claim of marginalization and discrimination perpetrated by the Christian-dominated state. Despite this seeming tension between Muslims and the state, there has not been a large-scale religious conflict between Muslims and members of other religions. Nevertheless, there have been reports of isolated cases of attacks targeting symbols of Christianity by jihadi groups affiliated with al-Shabaab of Somalia.

Article

Italian Settlers in the Horn of Africa  

Antonio M. Morone

Colonial settlement, understood as the emigration of Italians to the colonies, was an essential element in the history of Italian colonialism, for both the political planning and the socio-cultural processes that settlers from the mother country triggered in Africa. This was not a linear process. At the end of the 19th century, the intention of founding colonization on pre-existing migratory networks and communities in the Mediterranean was thwarted by the shift of Italian expansionist efforts to the Horn of Africa. When fascism attempted to organize a state colonization in the 1930s, it was the poor living and working conditions of many new settlers that forced the regime to bring those who ran the risk of “insabbiarsi” (literally being quagmired), that is, falling to the level of colonial subjects, back to Italy. In the post–Second World War period, Italy based much of its efforts to reclaim its colonies on the labor of its settlers in Africa but ended up politically ditching them and blotting them from historical memory. By 1949, any chance of returning to an old colonial policy was irrevocably gone. The settlers helped impose colonial order on the basis of the supposed racial and social superiority of Italians to their African subjects. It was precisely the end of colonialism and the departure of many settlers for Italy that called into question their own identity construct as champions of Italianness when they found themselves being discriminated against in their homeland for not being completely or sufficiently “Italian.” For those who decided to remain in Africa, the only thing left was to reshape their relationship with Africans and seek a space of economic and social action with the new postcolonial leaders. On the other side of colonial society, colonial subjects were not just subordinated to the colonizers but also became intermediaries in both their public and private relations, pursuing their own paths of social mobility. For this reason, the history of the colonial subjects is in many ways the other side of the coin from that of the Italian settlers.

Article

Digital Sources for the History of the Horn of Africa  

Massimo Zaccaria

The Horn of Africa has an exceptional cultural heritage, starting with its manuscript sources, which are among the most important on the continent. It is a heritage that is rich but scattered throughout the region and not always easily accessible, prompting researchers to rely on cutting-edge technology. Since the 1970s, photography and microfilm have been key for preserving this especially valuable heritage. In the Horn of Africa, the “digital turn” has been the latest development in the close relationship between technology and research. For Ethiopian manuscript studies, the advent of digitization has meant more than simply improving old techniques. A new generation of projects is experimenting with innovative methods of research made possible by digital technology. The purpose is no longer just to provide digital copies of manuscripts but to explore the possibilities that computerization offers to study documents and other historical sources. Increasingly competitive prices and low operating costs have made the digital revolution attractive even for African institutions, which, in recent years, have sought answers to the pressing needs of preserving and enhancing their historical sources. These technological developments have significantly broadened the range of sources investigated. While important, manuscripts represent only a part of the documentary heritage of the Horn of Africa. Numerous archives and a long-overlooked print culture offer equally interesting access points for studying the region. The experience gained, though temporally circumscribed, has highlighted a number of more or less predictable problems. The projects to date, although they have often yielded only partial results, have highlighted the wealth of sources still present in the Horn of Africa and the way in which digital technology is making a valuable contribution to their preservation. Access remains perhaps the most critical issue. In the Horn of Africa, as in other African regions, digitization does not necessarily lead to Internet access.

Article

Labor History of East Africa  

Bill Freund

This paper concerns the long-term evolution of labor in East Africa up to the twenty-first century. While it considers the classic themes of labor history, trade unions, strikes and politics, it is concerned with the broader question of how people relate to their environment, how their work is organized and what the economic consequences are. Taking 1500 as a bottom line, it proceeds to look at changes before and with the coming of imperialism and colonialism and the contradictions of colonial labor policy. It also considers how labor conditions have altered since independence. Mau Mau in Kenya and the institution of villagization in Tanzania, which both shed a light on labor conditions, receive particular attention. Since the majority of the population even in the twenty-first century are rural dwellers, there is much concern with agricultural and pastoral activities. If the greatest concentration is on Tanzania and Kenya, East Africa is defined broadly in part for purposes of comparison.

Article

Paleolithic and Neolithic Northeast Africa  

Donatella Usai

The Nile Valley with the deserts and the Ethiopian highlands with the Afar depression and the Rift were, albeit to different extents and in different phases, witnesses of the human enterprise from the origin of the species up to the formation of one of the most important forms of complex society. These regions form a vast area of Africa and, although archaeological and anthropological research make great strides, and the help of science contributes ever more to understanding, the available knowledge is still like a drop in an ocean. From the oldest traces of humankind to the societies that underlie the formation of the pharaonic kingdoms, tracing this history requires a great capacity for synthesis on the basis of a precise line; in this case, one approach can be described as evolutionary. The story begins with the oldest evidence of artifacts made by the first hominids and continues with their evolution into increasingly elaborate form, in a constant relationship with the surrounding environment and under the yoke of a climate that has, sometimes, dictated the times and ways of these changes. This part of the story sees the Ethiopian and the Afar and Rift depressions as the richest in evidence. The most recent phases see the Nile Valley with evidence of the hunter-gatherer groups of the Late Pleistocene and the Early Holocene always grappling with climate changes but with new tools to face and overcome them. The invention of pottery may be seen as one of these tools. This is also when the foundations for a food-producing economy are laid. For a long time, however, hunting and gathering practices continue and, especially along the Nile, fishing activities remain a constant in the economy of prehistoric societies, with herding and plant cultivation differently contributing and, supposedly, according to the potential and characteristics of each corner of this immense area.