Somalia: Timeline

From a strategic trading zone on ancient Arab trading routes through the turbulence of colonialism and Cold War rivalries and post-colonial political collapse, Somalia has had an eventful, if troubled, history. Here is a chronology of key events in Somali history.

1500 - 1600: Portuguese traders land on the east coast of Africa and start intermittent power struggles with the Sultanate of Zanzibar for control of port cities and surrounding towns.

1840: The British East India Company signs treaties with the Sultan of Tajura for unrestricted trading rights.

1887: Britain reaches a final agreement with the local King Menelik and various tribal chiefs and draws a boundary with neighboring Ethiopia to form British Somaliland. Besides trading interests, the British protectorate serves as a counterweight to the growing Italian influence in the key port city of neighboring Zanzibar.

1897 - 1907: Italy makes several agreements with tribal chiefs and the British to finally mark out the boundaries of a separate Italian protectorate of Somaliland.

1908: The Italian Government assumes direct administration of Italian Somaliland, giving the territory a colonial status.

1936: Following decades of expansionism, Italy captures Addis Ababa and Ethiopia to form the province of Italian East Africa.

1940, June: Italian troops drive out the British garrison and capture British Somaliland.

1941: British recapture British Somaliland and most of Italian Somaliland.

1947: Following Italy's defeat in World War II, Italy renounces all rights and titles to Italian Somaliland.

1950: The U.N. General Assembly adopts a resolution making Italian Somaliland a U.N. trust territory under Italian administrative control.

1941- 1959: Meanwhile, British Somaliland sees a period of colonial development as the territory moves towards a gradual development of local institutions and self-government.

1960: British and Italian Somaliland gain independence and merge to form the United Republic of Somalia.

1960 - 1969: Two successive democratically elected governments attempt to balance the expansionist interests of pro-Arab, pan-Somali factions with interests in Somali-inhabited areas of Ethiopia and Kenya, and "modernist" factions whose priorities include economic and social development.

1969, October: Maj. Gen. Mohamed Siad Barre seizes power in a coup. Democratically elected President Abdi Rashid Ali Shermarke is assassinated.

1970: Siad declares Somalia a socialist nation and undertakes literacy programs and planned economic development under the principles of "scientific socialism."

1972 - 1977: A period of persistent border clashes with Ethiopia for control of Ethiopia's Ogaden region, which also sees a severe drought in the region that leads to widespread starvation.

1974: Somalia and the Soviet Union sign a treaty of friendship. Somalia also joins the Arab League.

1977: Somalia invades the Ogaden region of Ethiopia.

1978: Following a gradual shifting of Soviet favor from Somalia to Ethiopia and the infusions of Soviet arms and Cuban troops to Ethiopia, Somali troops are pushed out of Ethiopian territory.

1978 - 1990: A period of growing cooperation and strategic alliance between Somalia and the West begins. The United States becomes Somalia's chief partner in defense and several Somali military officers are trained in U.S. military schools.

1991: At the end of a period of growing domestic factionalism, insurgency and an open war with clans in northwest Somalia that have left the country in economic shambles and forced thousands of Somalis to flee their homes, Siad is ousted by opposition clans and forced to flee to Nigeria, where he ultimately dies.

1992, December: U.S. troops lead a U.N. peacekeeping mission to Somalia, under Operation Restore Hope, which begins with the arrival of 1,800 U.S. Marines landing at night on a Mogadishu beach. The peacekeeping mission included providing humanitarian assistance to Somalis and bringing peace to the troubled country. But while the humanitarian mission is quickly achieved, the peacekeeping force finds itself dragged into Somalia's internecine battles.

1993, October: For the United States, Operation Restore Hope reaches its nadir when members of the U.S. Army's elite Delta Force and the Army Rangers are used to raid warlord headquarters and abduct them. In one such raid, the U.S. forces are dropped into a Mogadishu neighborhood to snatch two lieutenants of warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid. While the snatch and grab operation is successfully accomplished, trouble starts when two U.S. Black Hawk helicopters are shot down by rocket-propelled grenades. As U.S. Army Rangers attempt to rescue the crews of the downed helicopters, a mob of armed militiamen and angry Somalis descend on the site. A horrific carnage follows that ends only 15 hours later when a combined U.S./U.N. armored convoy manages to reach the trapped Rangers and Delta operators. But for the world, the mission in Somalia would forever be gruesomely remembered for the 18 U.S. Army Rangers killed and footage of the exultant crowds dragging naked, mutilated bodies through the streets of Mogadishu. Despite domestic outrage, the U.S. continues to play a major role in the mission until 1994.

1994: President Bill Clinton orders the withdrawal of the 30,000 U.S. troops on Somali soil.

1995: Following the withdrawal of U.S. forces, the vanguard of the 21-nation Operation Restore Hope, the U.N. peacekeepers leave after an unsuccessful operation amidst charges of cruelty and even the murder of Somalis. By the end of the operation, dozens of U.N. peacekeepers were killed and hundreds of Somalis died at the hands of U.S. and U.N. forces.

1997: Following a complete administrative collapse, chiefs of some rival clans meet in the Egyptian capital of Cairo and agree to convene a conference to look into rival claims to Somalia.

2000, August: In the 13th such attempt to form a government, Somali warlords and militiamen meet in neighboring Djibouti for peace talks organized by Djibouti President Omar Guellah. They elect Abdulkassim Salat Hassan president of Somalia. Hassan appoints Ali Khalif Gelayadh as his prime minister. But even as the new government attempts to start the parliamentary process in exile in Djibouti, some powerful warlords, notably Hossein Mohammed Aideed and Mohamed Ibrahim Egal do not recognize Hassan's election. But Mogadishu's most powerful clan leader, Ali Mahdi Mohamed, promises his support.

2000, October: Hassan arrives in Mogadishu to a hero's welcome and tight security. Gelayadh puts together a Cabinet of ministers, Somalia's first government in 10 years. But Hassan's administration has difficulty establishing control outside Mogadishu.

2001, March: Aideed announces that he has patched up his differences with clan leaders Muse Sudi Yalahow and Osman Hassan Ali Atto and calls for a replacement of Hassan's transitional government following a meeting between the leaders in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. Meanwhile, opposition to Hassan has seen fighting rage on in the southern parts of the country as drought, security concerns and the criminalization of refugee camps along the Somali-Kenyan border periodically compels Kenya to halt cross-border trade, thereby further crippling the economically crumbling East African country.