The Somali Peninsula on the Eve of Imperial Partition
In 1728 the last Portuguese foothold on the East African coast was dislodged from the great Mombasa castle of Fort Jesus. From then until the European "scramble" for African colonies in the 1880s, the Omanis exercised a shadowy authority over the Banaadir coast. Omani rule over the Somalis consisted for the most part of a token annual tribute payment and the presence of a resident qadi (Muslim judge) and a handful of askaris (territorial police).
Whereas the Banaadir coast was steadily drawn into the orbit of Zanzibari rulers, the northern coast, starting in the middle of the eighteenth century, passed under the sharifs of Mukha, who held their feeble authority on behalf of the declining Ottomans. The Mukha sharifs, much like the sultans of Zanzibar, satisfied themselves with a token yearly tribute collected for them by a native governor. In 1854-55 when Lieutenant Richard Burton of the British India navy frequented the northern Somali coast, he found a Somali governor, Haaji Shermaarke Ali Saalih of the Habar Yoonis clan of the Isaaq clan-family, exercising real power over Saylac and adjacent regions. By the time of Burton's arrival, once-mighty Saylac had only a tenuous influence over its environs. The city itself had degenerated into a rubble of mud and wattle huts, its water storage no longer working, its once formidable walls decayed beyond recognition, and its citizenry insulted and oppressed at will by tribesmen who periodically infested the city.
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