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Berbera Somaliland view west.JPG
Berbera is located in Somalia
Location in Somalia
Coordinates: Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found.
Country  Somaliland
Region saaxil
Elevation 3 m (10 ft)
 • Total 232,500
Time zone EAT (UTC+3)

Berbera (Somali: Barbara, Arabic: بربرة‎‎) is a city in the northwestern Berbera District of Somaliland, a self-declared republic internationally recognized as an autonomous region of Somalia. It is situated in the Woqooyi Galbeed province.[1]

In antiquity, Berbera was part of a chain of commercial port cities along the Somali seaboard. It later served as the capital of the British Somaliland protectorate from 1884 to 1941, when it was replaced by Hargeisa. In 1960, the British Somaliland protectorate gained independence as the State of Somaliland and united as scheduled five days later with the Trust Territory of Somaliland (the former Italian Somaliland) to form the Somali Republic (Somalia).[2][3] Located strategically on the oil route, the city has a deep seaport, which serves as the region's main commercial harbor.



Berbera preserves the ancient name of the coast along the southern shore of the Gulf of Aden. It is thought to be the city Malao described as 800 stadia beyond the city of the Avalites, described in the eighth chapter of the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, which was written by a Greek merchant in the first century AD. In the Periplus it is described as

an open roadstead, sheltered by a spit running out from the east. Here the natives are more peaceable. There are imported into this place the things already mentioned, and many tunics, cloaks from Arsinoe, dressed and dyed; drinking-cups, sheets of soft copper in small quantity, iron, and gold and silver coin, not much. There are exported from these places myrrh, a little frankincense, (that known as far-side), the harder cinnamon, duaca, Indian copal and macir, which are imported into Arabia; and slaves, but rarely.[4]

Middle ages

Duan Chengshi, a Chinese Tang Dynasty scholar, described in his written work of AD 863 the slave trade, ivory trade, and ambergris trade of Bobali, which is thought to be Berbera. The city was also later mentioned by the Islamic traveller Ibn Sa'id as well as Ibn Batutta in the thirteenth century.[5]

Berbera at night (1896).

However, as I.M. Lewis notes, "beyond the fact that during the period of Portuguese domination in the Red Sea the town was sacked in 1518 by Antonio de Saldanha, little of its history is known before the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries."[6] In 1546, the Ottoman Empire occupied the northwestern regions of Somalia including Berbera. It also made Zeila the regional capital due to the latter's strategic location on the Red Sea.

City skyline (view in Full HD)

One certainty about Berbera over the following centuries was that it was the site of an annual fair, held between October and April, which Mordechai Abir describes as "among the most important commercial events of the east coast of Africa."[7] The major Somali clan of Isaaq in Somalia, caravans from Harar and the Hawd, and Banyan merchants from Porbandar, Mangalore and Mumbai gathered to trade. All of this was kept secret from European merchants, writes Abir: "Banyan and Arab merchants who were concerned with the trade of this fair closely guarded all information which might have helped new competitors; and actually through the machinations of such merchants Europeans were not allowed to take part in the fair at all."[8] Lieutenant C. J. Cruttenden, who wrote a memoir describing this portion of the Somali coast dated 12 May 1848, provided an account of the Berbera fair and an account of the only visible traces of man at the site: "an aqueduct of stone and chunam, some nine miles [15 km] in length", which had once emptied into a presently dry reservoir adjacent to the ruins of a mosque. He explored part of its course from the reservoir past a number of tombs built of stones taken from the aqueduct to reach a spring, above which lay "the remains of a small fort or tower of chunam and stone ... on the hill-side immediately over the spring." Cruttenden noted that in "style it was different to any houses now found on the Somali coast," and concluded with noting the presence in "the neighbourhood of the fort above mentioned [an] abundance of broken glass and pottery ... from which I infer that it was a place of considerable antiquity; but, though diligent search was made, no traces of inscriptions could be discovered."[9]

The British explorer Richard Burton made two visits to this port, and his second visit was marred by an attack on his camp by several hundred Somali spearmen the night of 19 April 1855, and although Burton was able to escape to Aden, one of his companions was killed.[10] Burton, recognizing the importance of the port city wrote:

In the first place, Berberah is the true key of the Red Sea, the centre of East African traffic, and the only safe place for shipping upon the western Erythraean shore, from Suez to Guardafui. Backed by lands capable of cultivation, and by hills covered with pine and other valuable trees, enjoying a comparatively temperate climate, with a regular although thin monsoon, this harbour has been coveted by many a foreign conqueror. Circumstances have thrown it as it were into our arms, and, if we refuse the chance, another and a rival nation will not be so blind."[11]

It was not long before these words proved prescient.

Early modern period

In 1874-75, the Egyptians obtained a firman from the Ottomans by which they secured claims over the city. At the same time, the Egyptians received British recognition of their nominal jurisdiction as far east as Cape Guardafui.[12] In actuality, however, Egypt had little authority over the interior and their period of rule on the coast was brief, lasting only a few years (1870–84).[13]

British Somaliland

1911 map of Somalia showing Italian Somaliland and British Somaliland, including Berbera.

In 1888, after signing successive treaties with the then ruling Somali Sultans such as Mohamoud Ali Shire of the Warsangali Sultanate, the British established a protectorate in the region referred to as British Somaliland.[14] The British garrisoned the protectorate from Aden and administered it from their British India colony until 1898. British Somaliland was then administered by the Foreign Office until 1905 and afterwards by the Colonial Office.

Generally, the British did not have much interest in the resource-barren region.[15] The stated purposes of the establishment of the protectorate were to "secure a supply market, check the traffic in slaves, and to exclude the interference of foreign powers." [16] The British principally viewed the protectorate as a source for supplies of meat for their British Indian outpost in Aden through the maintenance of order in the coastal areas and protection of the caravan routes from the interior.[17] Hence, the region's nickname of "Aden's butcher's shop".[18] Colonial administration during this period did not extend administrative infrastructure beyond the coast,[19] and contrasted with the more interventionist colonial experience of Italian Somaliland.[20]

In August 1940, during the East African Campaign, British Somaliland was briefly occupied by Italy. During this period, the British rounded up soldiers and governmental officials to evacuate them from the territory through Berbera. In total, 7,000 people, including civilians, were evacuated.[21] The Somalis serving in the Somaliland Camel Corps were given the choice of evacuation or disbandment; the majority chose to remain and were allowed to retain their arms.[22] In March 1941, the British forces recaptured the protectorate during Operation Appearance after a six month occupation. The first WW2 Australian POWs were taken hostage here in 1940.

The British Somaliland protectorate gained its independence on 26 June 1960 as the State of Somaliland,[23][24] before uniting as planned five days later with the Trust Territory of Somaliland (the former Italian Somaliland) to form the Somali Republic (Somalia).[25]


A Ziegra mobile ice plant in Berbera.

In the post-independence period, Berbera was administered as the part of the Woqooyi Galbeed province of Somalia. After the collapse of the Somali central government and the start of the civil war in 1991, Somali National Movement (SNM) secessionists in the northwestern part of the country unilaterally declared independence. A slow process of infrastructural reconstruction subsequently began in Berbera and other towns in the region.


Location and habitat

The Berbera landscape.

Berbera is located in coastal northwestern Somalia. An old port city, it has the only sheltered harbour on the southern side of the Gulf of Aden. The landscape around town, along with Somalia's coastal lowlands, is desert or semi-desert.

Popular local beaches, such as Bathela and Batalale, have earned the city the nickname Beach City.


Camels on the Berbera beachside.

Berbera features a hot desert climate (Köppen climate classification BWh). It has long, extremely hot summers and short, hot winters, as well as very little rainfall. Average high temperatures consistently exceed 40 °C (104 °F) during nearly four months of summertime (June, July, August and September). Daytime heat on summer nights is high, with average low temperatures of around 30 °C (86 °F). During the least hot month of the year, average high temperatures remain above 29 °C (84.2 °F) and average low temperatures also surpass 20 °C (68 °F). Although Berbera is built on desert terrain, the relative humidity is very high throughout the year and the atmosphere is simultaneously moist. The combination of the desert heat and the excessive moisture make apparent temperatures reach extremely high levels. Berbera is the hottest city in Somalia during summer and is located in one of the hottest places on Earth year-round, as the mean daily annual temperature is above 30 °C (86 °F). Annual average rainfall is minimal, with only 52 mm (2.05 in) of precipitation. There are between 5 and 8 rainy days on average annually. The sky is always clear and bright throughout the year.

Climate data for Berbera
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 29.5
Daily mean °C (°F) 25.0
Average low °C (°F) 20.5
Average precipitation mm (inches) 8
Average relative humidity (%) 69 70 71 73 66 46 43 46 50 65 66 68 61.1
Source #1: Climate Berbera - Somalia[26]
Source #2: Berbera Climate[26]


As of 2005, Berbera has an estimated population of 60,753 residents.[27] It is mainly inhabited by people from the Somali ethnic group, with the Isse Muuse Habar Awal sub-clan of the Isaaq well represented.[28]


Ship docked at the Port of Berbera.

A number of products are exported through the Berbera seaport, including sheep, gum arabic, frankincense, and myrrh. Its seaborne trade is chiefly with Aden in Yemen, 240 km/150 mi to the north.[29] Additionally, goods from Ethiopia are also exported through the facility.[30] The seaside boasts watersport tourist activity such as scuba diving, snorkeling, surfing and coral reefs.[31]


Berbera is the terminus of roads from Hargeisa and Burco. The city has one of Somalia's major class seaports, the Port of Berbera.[32] It historically served as a naval and missile base for the Somali government. Following a 1972 agreement between the Siad Barre administration and the USSR, the port's facilities were patronized by the Soviets.[33] The Berbera seaport was later expanded for U.S. military use, after the Somali authorities strengthened ties with the American government.[34]

For air transportation, the city is served by the Berbera Airport. It has an extensive 4,140 m (13,582 ft) runway.[35]


  1. Somaliland’s Quest for International Recognition and the HBM-SSC Factor
  2. Somalia
  3. Encyclopædia Britannica, The New Encyclopædia Britannica, (Encyclopædia Britannica: 2002), p.835
  4. The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, ch. 8
  5. I.M. Lewis, "The Somali Conquest of the Horn of Africa", Journal of African History, 1 (1960), p. 217
  6. I.M. Lewis, A Modern History of the Somali, fourth edition (Oxford: James Currey, 2002),p. 21
  7. Abir, Mordechai (1968). Ethiopia: The Era of the Princes; The Challenge of Islam and the Re-unification of the Christian Empire (1769-1855). London: Longmans. p. 16.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Abir, Era of the Princes, p. 17
  9. C. J. Cruttenden, "Memoir on the Western or Edoor Tribes, Inhabiting the Somali Coast of N.-E. Africa, with the Southern Branches of the Family of Darrood, Resident on the Banks of the Webbe Shebeyli, Commonly Called the River Webbe," Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London, 19 (1849), pp. 54, 56
  10. Lewis, A Modern History, p. 36
  11. Richard Burton, First Footsteps in East Africa, Preface
  12. E. H. M. Clifford, "The British Somaliland-Ethiopia Boundary", Geographical Journal, 87 (1936), p. 289
  13. I.M. Lewis, A Modern History of the Somali, fourth edition (Oxford: James Currey, 2002), p.43 & 49
  14. Hugh Chisholm (ed.), The encyclopædia britannica: a dictionary of arts, sciences, literature and general information, Volume 25, (At the University press: 1911), p.383.
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  16. Samatar p. 31
  17. Samatar, p. 32
  18. Samatar, Unhappy masses and the challenge of political Islam in the Horn of Africa, Somalia Online [1] retrieved 10-03-27
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  20. McConnell, Tristan (15 January 2009). "The Invisible Country". Virginia Quarterly Review. Retrieved 27 March 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  22. Wavell, p. 2724
  23. "Somaliland Marks Independence After 73 Years of British Rule" (fee required). The New York Times. 1960-06-26. p. 6. Retrieved 2008-06-20.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  29. United States. Congress. House. Committee on Armed Services. Special Subcommittee to Inspect Facilities at Berbera, Somalia. (1975). Report of the Special Subcommittee to Inspect Facilities at Berbera, Somalia, to the Committee on Armed Services, House of Representatives, Ninety-fourth Congress, first session, July 15, 1975. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  30. "Ethiopia, Somaliland envisage exploiting Barbara port", Ethiopian News Agency, 29 July 2009 (accessed 1 November 2009)
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  35. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).


External links