To send content items to your account,
please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies.
If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account.
Find out more about sending content to .
To send content items to your Kindle, first ensure email@example.com
is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings
on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part
of your Kindle email address below.
Find out more about sending to your Kindle.
Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations.
‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi.
‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.
In Majerteenia in the nineteenth century, violence – once the exception in inter-state relations in the region – evolved into a diplomatic strategy that could be instrumentalised for political and financial gain. Chapter 2 reconstructs a series of confrontations between British colonial officials and the rulers of north-eastern Somalia over Somali attacks on seaborne and wrecked ships. The Majerteen coastal elites engaged in a cycle of attacking shipwrecks and signing treaties with the British colonial rulers in Aden to increase regional recognition for their rights as coastal rulers. As the nineteenth century wore on, the British reneged on their promises, relied on duress in negotiations, and engaged in double-dealing with Sultan Uthman’s political rivals, especially a regional governor named Yusuf ‘Ali. Their treaty relations with the British echoed but modified existing agreements with other port-rulers in the region, including the Hadhramis, the Omanis and the Ottomans. By the end of the century, the Majerteen Sultanate would be split in two, carved into mutually antagonistic northern and southern spheres which continue to this day to be rivals, as can be witnessed in the tensions over the extent of Puntland and Galmudug federal states jurisdictions.
The first part of this chapter examines deep-rooted, diplomatic traditions of courtly exchange, international coexistence and commercial cooperation centred around the Majerteen Sultanate in north-eastern Somalia. A network of regional diplomacy first emerged for the purposes of managing shipwrecks and facilitating trade during the Egyptian Middle Kingdom. The Majerteen Sultanate emerged in the eighteenth century and played a critical role in the north-east Africa’s foreign affairs, presiding over a cooperative system of international relations which promoted domestic political stability and protected maritime commerce. Having reconstructed the contours of a regional culture of maritime law and international relations, the second part of the chapter tells the story of the first contacts between Majerteenia and British colonists, a few years after the East India Company’s settlement of the port of Aden in 1839. Early Anglo-Majerteen interactions mirrored the well-established regional model of diplomacy, in which regional rulers created alliances and offered one another mutual recognition as sovereigns. But as the century wore on, British officials became increasingly belligerent; the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and the increase in steam traffic tested international relations and the regional maritime framework.
The conclusion shows how persistent colonial chaos has been in the southern Red Sea. Local diplomacy retains a distinctly competitive and militaristic flavour to this day. International competition and realpolitik in the southern Red Sea has, if anything, intensified in the post-Cold War era. Looking at Puntland, south-west Yemen and Djibouti today, we see the Djiboutian government depends on money and recognition from renting space to foreign navies, while in Somalia and Yemen, rival power brokers seek to translate acts of maritime aggression into international negotiations for military and civil assistance. Opportunities to rekindle a regional culture of international cooperation exist, but are deeply submerged beneath the depths of colonial history.
The colonial history of the southern Red Sea region is strewn with the bodies of victims of maritime violence. The chapter introduces the three case studies explored in this study: Majerteenia in north-eastern Somalia, the Zaraniq from Tihamat Yemen in the south-western Arabian Peninsula, and Henry de Monfreid in French Somaliland. The chapter further examines the backstory to a more competitive, adversarial approach to international relations and maritime law, observing that the European culture of international law and international relations prioritised private property rights over international cooperation. Strong ideas about private property rights and competition for influence set the stage for conflict with the southern Red Sea’s more cooperative approach to maritime space and international relations.
Chapter 4 moves westward, to the French settlement in the Gulf of Tadjoura, recounting the career of the French merchant Henry de Monfreid, which spanned the early decades of the twentieth century. Henry de Monfreid is most widely recognised for his writing. He told the stories of some of the southern Red Sea’s most memorable and archetypal characters: the old men who manufactured pearls on remote uninhabited islands, where the poor and wretched fished sea snails, where blind Somali captains navigated treacherous reefs and rocky shores, and where pirates preyed on the unwitting. But as we see in this chapter, beneath the surface de Monfreid was a protagonist of the same destabilising geopolitical forces unleashed by colonial conquest we saw at work in earlier chapters. De Monfreid sought to further his own and France’s interests in the region by perpetrating violence at sea and adding parts of the Arabian Peninsula to the French empire. He helped transform international politics and diplomacy in the region into an anarchic scramble for influence and power. His example shows the extent to which the culture of international relations was transformed, with private individuals vying for influence and recognition in the colonial system of sovereignty.
In Chapter 3, the narrative moves eastwards, to the south-western Arabian Peninsula, as well as forwards in time, to the early twentieth century. In the midst of escalating imperial competition for control of the southern Red Sea coastline, the Ottomans and various Europeans vied for military clients along the coast. Through the careers of two militia leaders, Shaykh Nasr Ambari and his lieutenant and successor Ahmad Fatini, we see colonial chaos spurred the creation of entirely new socio-political groupings. Ambari and Fatini’s men – the Zaraniq – emerged as a band of mercenaries and sea raiders from the south-western tip of the Arabian Peninsula in the late nineteenth century. At the height of their power in the 1910s, they numbered some 10,000 men and their families. The Zaraniq began perpetrating acts of violence against shipping to enhance their value as proxies. In the process they brought local shipping to a standstill. But the strategic, realpolitik alliances that underpinned their rise were ephemeral; after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire following World War I, the group dissipated and by the late 1920s, their leadership was dislodged. Colonial chaos proved highly disruptive to the region’s stability.