Tuesday, June 5, 2018


Italy started  to have colonies in the Horn of Africa at the end of the 1800s. One of the first colonizations done after Italian Unification was in the coast of Somalia called "Benadir". In a few decades thousands of Italian colonists settled in the cities of Benadir, mainly in the Somalian capital Mogadiscio, starting  the "colonial italianisation" of the region. In half a century (from 1890 to early 1941, when they lost control of their Somalia because of WW2) the Italians transformed a region that was with a medieval society based on slavery to a modern region (one of the best in all Africa) with airports, ports, railways, roads, hospitals, schools, radio-telegraph installations, dams and with a growing economy based on the export of bananas/cotton (and salt) to the world.


Indeed in the coastal ports of Benadir settled the first Italian colonists in Somalia: Mogadiscio, Merca, Brava and Chisimaio (these were the names in Italian language) were developed since the early 1900. In the following decades the colony grew, experiencing a huge development. The best indication of this achievement can be surmised by the resumen of the main school & social institutions (from newspapers to cinemas & sport/cultural associations) that existed in "Mogadiscio italiana" and Benadir in 1939:  

Map of Benadir (dark green color) : The Benadir ports management, initially done by the "Compagnia Filonardi" (1893-96) and later by the "Società Anonima Commerciale Italiana del Benadir" (1899-1905) was finally taken by the Italian government that obtained the control of the entire region of Benadir through an agreement with the British government and the payment of 144,000 British Sterlings to the Zanzibar sultane (London treaty, January 1905).

there were Italian colonists also in Itala (now Adale) in northern Benadir and in the Shebelle rider valley's Villaggio Duca degli Abruzzi/Villabruzzi (now Jowhar), Genale (now Janale) and  Vittorio di Africa/Vittorio  (now Scialambod). In the interior of Benadir some Italian merchants settled in Baidora (now Baydhabo), just before the creation of "Italian Somalia" in 1905.

The Italians -settling in huge numbers- italianised the capital Mogadiscio (that in 1940 was called the "White Pearl of Indian Ocean" and was practically a fully Italianised city with over 40% of inhabitants being Italians or descendants of italians) and the 3 main cities in the Shebelle river farm area (Villabruzzi with 3000 colonists, Genale  with 700 and Vittorio with 400). 

But little communities of Italian colonists existed also in the Benadir cities of Merca (250 Italians), Brava (150), Chisimaio (120), Baidoa (300) and Itala (50), where they lived in small areas that were the only fully modern & developed sections of these little cities. Outside of the Benadir region there were some small communities of Italian settlers in a few cities, like in Dante (500 italians) now called Hafun.


The initial phase of colonialism done by the newly created "Kingdom of Italy" in the last decades of the XIX century were full of difficulties. Italy had no experience like the French and British colonial powers and the first steps were not easy to do, as happened in the Benadir region around Mogadishu. The five ports of Benadir (Chisimaio/Kismayu, Brava/Baraawe, Merca/Marka, Mogadiscio/Mogadishu & Uersheik/Warsheik) were initially controlled by an Italian private company: the "Filonardi compagnia" (later called  "Benadir company").

Only in 1905, the Benadir Company's concession was revoked and for the first time the Italian government took direct control over the Benadir and created the colony of "Somalia" (with the surrounding territories, later incorporated with treaties & pacification of the Somalian clans/tribes).

In the following nearly 40 years the Italians settled in large numbers in their "Italian Somalia" until their defeat during WW2.  They started a process of "Italianisation" of the main cities of Benadir, with architectural and socio-economical consequences. It is noteworthy to pinpoint that in 1939 Italian Somalia nearly all the development was concentrated in the triangle "Genale-Villabruzzi-Mogadiscio" of Benadir, where most of these colonists (Italians and their descendants, with some thousands born from Italians mixed with Somalians) were resident.

The following are excerpts about the Italianised cities of Benadir: Mogadiscio, Villabruzzi, Genale and  Vittorio. Additionally there are excerpts about the small Italian presence in Merca, Brava, Chisimaio, Baidora, Itala (and -with little data- Dante, a city outside of Benadir).


(for a complete information- read my https://dadfeatured.blogspot.com/2018/05/italian-mogadishu.html

Thousands of Italians settled in Mogadishu and created from scratch a vibrant economy. They also founded in this metropolitan area some small manufacturing companies in the forty years from 1890 to 1941.

Furthermore they developed many agricultural areas in the territories south & north near the Somalia's capital. 

in the early 1930s, new buildings and avenues were buit in the growing capital of Italian Somalia. A 114 km (71 mi) railway was laid from Mogadishu to Villabruzzi (Jowhar), that was extended until Buloburde in 1935 withy a "decauville" railway. And an asphalted road, the "strada Imperiale", was also constructed and intended to link Mogadishu to Addis Abeba in Italian Ethiopia. In the late 1930s an airport and an enlarged port were added to the called "Mogadiscio imperiale" . 

Mogadiscio in 1940 was planned to be linked to Addis Abeba by railway and to Djibouti/Eritrea by an asphalted coastal road (similar to the "via Balbia" in coastal Libya), but WW2 blocked all these projects. In 1940, the Italo-somalian population numbered 22000, accounting for over 44% of the city's population of more than 50000 residents (http://www.fedoa.unina.it/1881/1/Santoianni_Progettazione_Architettonica.pdf)
and making the city the second most "citta' italiana" in the Horn of Africa (with many cinemas and cafes in the typical "Italian style" way of life).

In early 1941 in Mogadiscio there were the following learning institutions:
* Schools for Italians:
**Scuola elementare mista • Ginnasio-Liceo Emilio De Bono
**Missione cattolica dei Cappuccini
**Asilo d’infanzia e scuola elementare parificata mista Regina Elena
* Schools for Native Somalis:
**Missione cattolica orfanotrofio Guido ed Elisa Corni e scuola parificata

**Scuola speciale per i figli dei notabili somali
In 1938 was opened in Italian Mogadiscio the first "Library" of Somalia, with public service to Italians and native Somalis

Mogadishu remained the capital of Italian Somaliland throughout the latter polity's existence. During WW2 it was captured by British forces in late February 1941 and since then the number of Italians started to diminish until their nearly complete disappearance in the 1990s.

Villabruzzi was the name commonly used for actual Jowhar in Italian Somalia (http://xoomer.alice.it/fernandotermentini/somalia.htm ).

Photo of the local Hotel 

The village was founded by the Duca degli Abruzzi (a noble, parent of the King of Italy) with the name "Villaggio Duca degli Abruzzi" in 1920. It was an agricultural settlement, experimenting with new cultivation techniques. In 1926, the colony comprised 16 villages, with some 3,000 native Somalians and more than 300 Italian colonists inhabitants.
From 1911 in the Shebeli river area the Italian government started to take the local farmers and resettle them in specific new villages in an attempt to improve the economy of Italian Somalia. The area around the "Villaggio Duca degli Abruzzi" was the most agriculturally developed of Somalia before WW2 and had some food industries.
Villabruzzi grew mainly after the creation of the SAIS (a huge farm production company) and the construction of the railway connecting it to Italian Mogadishu: the 114 kms of the railways allowed easy exportation to the Port of Mogadiscio of the huge  production (https://farofrancescocrispicapeguardafui.wordpress.com/2016/04/22/le-ferrovie-della-somalia-italiana/ ).

Indeed in the area of the agricultural settlement SAIS there were 45 kms of small railway "decauville" to move the products and nearly 100 kms of internal asphalted roads.
 The company SAIS ("Societa Agricola Italo-Somala") was founded in Milan by the Duca d'Abruzzi in November 1920 with a capital of 24 million pounds of the time. A great facility, the only one in East Africa, equipped with modern machinery and able to work about 3,000 tons of sugarcane per day. Next to the sugar mill, he created in Villabruzzi a distillery and a chemical laboratory for analysis of the sugarcane and for the control of the products during the processing phase. The main machines were powered by the combustion of natural gas obtained from the fermentation of waste from sugar cane and cereals processed. Fernando Termentini in "Somalia, una nazione che non esiste"
In 1940, the "Villaggio Duca degli Abruzzi" (actually known as "Jowhar") already had a population of 12,000, of whom nearly 3,000 were Italian colonists, and enjoyed a notable level of development also as a small manufacturing area.

Train in Somalia before WW2 with TL150 Fiat engine. 
The Italians, who believed in the economic potential of the region, also built a railway system that linked Jowhar/Villabruzzi to the capital for the next thirty years, and was used mainly to export bananas and coffee to Europe

It is noteworthy to pinpoint that nearly all the development in Italian Somalia was in the triangle "Villabruzzi-Genale-Mogadiscio".  

This triangle area was one of the most developed in sub-Saharan Africa. The sanitary conditions in this area were improved to European standards with new hospitals and sanitary facilities.(https://books.google.com/books?id=XVgrDwAAQBAJ&pg=PT116&lpg=PT116&dq=genale+italian+somalia&source=bl&ots=sF2iJfwfmB&sig=m7MD2cx4aiVve4sswzKdTp8a4A8&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiFop7fusrbAhVMgK0KHeTxDaQ4ChDoAQg3MAM#v=onepage&q=genale%20italian%20somalia&f=false)

The Italians in this triangle created the first children parks and nurseries, establishing the first fight against analphabetism in Somalia with the compulsory rule to go to the first years of elementary schools for all native children. When the British conquered Villabruzzi in early 1941 they made a report pinpointing that between the native population the analphabetism was reduced to only the old generations (something unique in all eastern & central Africa).

In early 1941 in Villabruzzi there were the following instructional institutions:
* Schools:
**Missione Cattolica dei Cappuccini
**Scuola Missione Cattolica (Scuola elementare mista)

At independence, the vacuum created by the outgoing Italians was not filled by the new Somali elites in charge, as the latter deemed the cattle trade and urban assets more profitable.


Genale was a village created by governor De Vecchi after WW1 for Italian colonists & their workers, in the place where the Shebelle river is nearest to Merca and the Indian Ocean.

Map of the "Concessioni Agricole" (in green color) around Genale and Vittorio d'Africa

Genale grew around the creation of the Shebelle river dam (one of the biggest in the 1930s Africa), that allowed the creation of "Concessioni Agricole" (farm ranchs) for agricultural development: they were so successful that soon started to appear the problem of lack of native workers, because the Italians in 1905 ordered the elimination of slavery and many of them moved away from the area.  Consequently De Vecchi ordered a conscription service for workers in the Benadir, because the native did not want to cultivate the land. But soon the somalian people started to improve their socio-economic situations with their new jobs: the economy flourished with a growing exportation of products (cotton, bananas, etc..).

"....Genale was created in 1924 by a group of settlers from the Italian city of Torino, with the supervision of the Italian governor of the colony. Near the Genale of the colonists and separated by the Shebelle river, soon grew a bigger city populated by Somalis (working as cheap labor force in the plantations): the actual Janaale. After WW2 remained only Janaale, while Genale disappeared when the defeated Italians moved away from Somalia.In 1924 indeed it was started the Italian colonization of the area of Genale, in southern Somalia, forming a group of small and medium-sized farms. Most settlers consisted of old fascist militants of Turin who had followed in this Italian colony the new governor of Somalia, Cesare Maria De Vecchi. The first informal association between farmers, however, arose only in 1928 (http://www.ilcornodafrica.it/rds-01emigrazione.pdf ).The main crop of the area was cotton and was done by small farms owned by those Italian settlers: about one hundred with an area varying between 75 and 600 hectares (with an average that oscillated about 200) with a total area of about 20,000 hectares.  At least until 1931 the cotton was the main crop, later replaced by the banana production (http://images.delcampe.com/img_large/auction/000/147/765/556_001.jpg?v=4 ), whose harvest was sold to the Italian State, that did the marketing in Italy as a monopoly. During the Italian colonial period Genale was the center of a vast area of agricultural concessions of 20,000 hectares for the cultivation of banana, cotton and other subsidiaries. The bananas were marketed by the Royal Company Monopoly Bananas (abbreviated RAMB) that had, in fact, a monopoly of the export to Italy granted in order to safeguard banana production in Somalia on the Italian market. Consequently, until the 1950s nearly all the bananas consumed in Italy came from the Genale area…" Bruno D'Ambrosio (Universita' di Genova)

In early 1941 in Genale (Caitoi section)  there were the following instructional institutions:
* Schools:

**Scuola Missione Cattolica (Scuola elementare mista)

 In the Italian Genale there were in 1940 nearly 700 Italian colonists, but after WW2 nearly all of them moved away and since the 1980s no one has remained. The city actually has 8000 inhabitants (of whom nearly one thousand are descendants from Italians and Somalian girls) and is predominantly inhabited by people from the Somali ethnic group, with the HawiyeHiraab Clan well represented.

Villas planned for Italian colonists in Genale in 1933, with similar design to the one of "Villa Somalia" in Mogadiscio.


Vittorio di Africa (originally called "Vittorio d'Affrica" or simply "Vittorio") was a small town in southern Italian Somalia, created by Italian colonists in the late 1920s near the southern Shebelle river.

Vittorio  -named in honor of the king of Italy Vittorio Emanuele II- was located halfway between the Governmental Company of Genale and the port of Merca, to which it was joined by an asphalted road  above the dunes and a railway decauville, and connected thanks to a dense network road with all private companies. 

It was founded by the Prince Umberto di Savoia on march 5, 1928. He laid the foundation stone of all the main buildings: the residence, the church, the school, the hospital and the Zaptiè barracks. 

The main production of Vittorio farms was since 1928 cotton and later -in the late 1930s- bananas. 

Initially it was important the production of cotton: in the small city there was also a manufacturing company for cotton, as shown in the above photo, with a cotton ginning building for the Italian  cotton industry. 

Indeed in 1928 one hundred Italian colonists (mostly were fascists from the Torino area) created in the south of the Genale concessions (called in Italian Concessioni agricole) this small city actually called "Shalamboot", that had in 1940 a population of nearly 1200 inhabitants (of whom 400 Italians and descendants of Italians & native girls). 

It was located 11 kms from Merca and its port. In Vittorio was located the main building/headquarters of the "Consorzio Agrario".

During the Italian colonial period Genale and Vittorio di Africa were the center of a vast area of agricultural concessions for the cultivation of banana, cotton and other subsidiaries. The bananas were the main product and were marketed by the "Royal Company Monopoly Bananas" (abbreviated RAMB) that had, in fact, a monopoly of the export to Italy granted in order to safeguard banana production in Somalia on the Italian market. Consequently, until the 1950s all the bananas consumed in Italy came from the area of Genale and Vittorio.



Nearly 250 Italians were resident in Merca in 1940. It had small factories including a plant for packing and shipping of bananas.
Merca is a port city, but also an industrial city with its 100 oil mills, with its small textile industries for the manufacture of multicolored cotton fabrics and small sites for the construction of fishing boats.

The Port of Merca was the second in Italian Somalia after the capital and was nicknamed "port of bananas" (porto bananiero) because from there was exported in those years the huge production of Somali bananas toward Italy.

In the city of Merca there was a huge economical development in the 1930s, due mainly to the growing commerce of the port of Merca connected by small railway to the farm area of Genale.

In 1912 was created outside Merca the famous "Istituto Siero-vaccinogeno" in order to improve the livestock of Somalia: it was greatly appreciated by the local natives who practiced animal husbandry. 

In Merca there was a "Missione Cattolica" and a  "Scuola Missione Cattolica" (parificata). 

Actually there it is still standing an "Obelisk" inside Merca, created by the Italians in 1936.


Brava (actual Barawa) was an important port in the southern Shebelle river area. A few dozen Italians settled in the city in the first years of the existence of the colony of Somalia.

In 1903, according to a census of the Italian journalist and anti-slavery activist Luigi Robecchi-Brichetti of the 3000 inhabitants of Brava 830 were slaves. The first thing the Italians did when took control of the port city in 1905 was to abolish the slavery, with the help of catholic missionaries.  

In 1940 there were nearly 150 Italian colonists resident in the city, that was improving from the production & export of cotton in the surrounding area.In Brava there was a "Missione Cattolica" and a "Scuola Missione Cattolica" (parificata). 


Chisimaio was the third most important city in Italian Somalia. In 1925, when Italy took possession of what was British Kysmayo,  there was a very small group of Italian settlers, mostly merchants, living in the city. 

In 1940 there were in Chisimaio more than one hundred Italians, most of them working in the export of cotton and bananas. In Chisimaio there was a "Missione Cattolica" and a  "Scuola Missione Cattolica" (parificata). 

In 1930 the Italian governor Guido Corni created in Chisimaio, by the company specialized in accumulators of Dr. Scaini -based in Milano- the first wind farm in the Italian colonies and one of the first in all the world (as can be seen in the following photo ). 

The  aeroelectric plant produced 2/3 of the electricity needed by the city.


The small city -called also "Baidoa"- was the residence of the Governor of Upper Juba in 1940, on which a fertile and luxuriant region depends, so much so as to be called the "Switzerland of Somalia". Baidora was organized and urbanized to the best with a restaurant, a radio & telegraph station, the post office, an infirmary with doctor and pharmacy. The Italian colonists were nearly 300.


In Baidora there was a "Missione Cattolica dei Cappuccini " (with elementary school for Italians) and a  "Scuola Missione Cattolica" (for native and Italians). 


During the colonial period before the official creation of "Italian Somalia", the city of Adale was renamed "Itala" and chosen by Vincenzo Filonardi as the headquarters of his newly created colonial possessions. 

After 1905 remained as a small government center until 1941, with only a few dozen Italian colonists resident. 

In Itala there was an important radio & telegraph station for communications with Addis Abeba and Italy.

scuole per italiani

There were also some Italians living in Somalia outside the Benadir region. The most important little community was in Dante (now Haifun), but there were a few also in Obbia (now Hobyo)  and Rocca Littorio (now Galkayo).


Outside of Benadir the Italian colonists settled in a few localities. The most important was Dante (now called Hafun) in northern Somalia. Here in 1930, an Italian firm invested capital to exploit salt deposits. 

• Scuola elementare mista   • Ginnasio-liceo Emilio De Bono

• Missione cattolica dei cappuccino Missione cattolica orfanotrofio Guido ed Elisa Corni e scuola parificata Scuola speciale per i figli dei notabili somali.
Casa del fascio. Opera nazionale dopolavoro. Museo della Garesa. Laboratorio chimico-batteriologico. Regio automobile club d Italia. Consociazione turistica italiana. Compagnia italiana Turismo. Circolo duchessa d Aosta. Circolo del tennis. Associazione motociclistica Mogadiscio. Associazione sportiva Mogadiscio. Unione sportiva Mogadiscio. Istituto Luce.«Somalia Fascista» (newspaper of Federazione dei Fasci di combattimento) «Somalia Sportiva» (magazine of Federazione dei Fasci di combattimento) «Somalia Cristiana» (magazine of Vicariato Apostolico) editori: Stamperia del governo. Cinema Impero. Supercinema. Cinema Italia

The "Hafun Salt Factory" was created and was the main producing facility of sea salt on the world in the 1930s. By 1933-34, the Hafun salt works were producing more than 200,000 metric tons of salt, most of which was exported to the Far East. It was the second most important export product from Somalia, after the bananas.

. Asilo d’infanzia e scuola elemen-

Nearly 500 Italians worked in the salt facilities in 1940, that had also a small decauville railway (see bottom photo).  In Dante there was a "Missione cattolica dei Cappuccini" (with a "Scuola elementare parificata" for Italians) and a "Scuola Missione Cattolica" (for native & Italians). 
tare parificata mistaRegina Elena.

scuole per africani

Map of Somalia Governorate (1936-1941). On the map can be seen the location of the italianised cities of Benadir within the enlarged borders of "Somalia Italiana", that included the Ogaden region since the 1935/1936 Ethiopia conquest.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting. And what about the partial italianisation of other Somalia's cities outside of the Benadir, like Dante (Hafun)?