Modernising the neglected ancient Hobyo port

By Dahir Salaad Mohamed (Rahajel)


Centuries ago, the Ajuuran Empire and the Ajuuran emperor lost the coastal territory Hobyo city to the Hiraab Imamate. Historically, Hobyo city was known as Obbia (Hobyo) from the medieval age, starting from the 13th century, throughout the Ajuuran era, and up to current administration.

Hobyo city was founded in the 13th century and ruled by the Ajuuran Empire as its main commercial port, up until the late 17th century.  Historians have stated that the Ajuuran Empire was unconquerable in East Africa from the 13th to the late 17th century, when the Hiraab Imamate defeated the Ajuuran Empire and established their rule for two centuries.

From that point, Hobyo became an aristocratic city, and indeed an ideal city for those in the neighbouring regions, such as Mudug, Galgaduud, and Shabelle during the time of Ajuuran rule.  Hobyo city had the largest merchandise port, where merchants from Galgaduud, Mudug, and Shebelle would travel there to sell a variety of goods including camels, cattle, goats, and sheep.  The Ajuuran port exported commercial commodities such as beans, raisins, and aromatic woods.

Generally, Hobyo city was a spectacular city where all merchants looking for exotic goods, metals, and textiles in the medieval ages would be found. The Ajuuran Empire obtained taxes from commercial goods from other cities, such as Eeldher, Eelbur, and Harardhere.

Although the Ajuuran Empire governed the city for decades, the uprising of the Hiraab Imamate defeated and completely drove the Ajuuran out of Hobyo. From the late 17th century, the Ajuuran empire had completely lost the battle to rule Hobyo city to the Hiraab Imamate. This brought a new era of the Hiraab Imamate who triumphantly inaugurated an independent state in Ajuuran. The Hiraab Imamate was able to defeat all Ajuuran Empire musketeers around Hobyo port and neighbouring regions such as Mareeg, Eelbur, and Harerdheere.

History reveals that the Hiraab Imamate consisted of closely related tribes, who shared a common lineage under the Gorgaarte clan division, and were able to control this region for over two centuries, from the 1700s until the late 18th century. The Hiraab Imamate ruled the vast majority of Mudug and Galgaduud until the end of 18th century, when it lost control of Hobyo city in a significant and long battle against Yusuf Kenadid with armed forces from Hadhramaut city and the support of the Italian government. Kenadid then successfully ruled until 1925. As historians have noted, the Hiraab Imamate regrouped early in the 19th century and managed to successfully and conclusively expel Yusuf Kenadid’s army from Galgaduud and Mudug. Even today, the Hiraab are the main tribes residing in cities such as Hobyo city, Eeldher, Harerdhere, and Mareeg.


Although Hobyo port was established by the Ajuuran Empire centuries ago, it was not built to the international standards that were expected from the Somali government. The Somali government chose not to modernise Hobyo port, and instead established Bosaso port with the help of the international community.

This was unbelievable to the Galmudug elites, who were part of the Siyad barre cabinet, but all of them feared speaking out concerning the economic decline of the Hobyo port and against the building the Bosaso port. Even today, Hobyo port is incomplete and requires investment to modernise it so that it can open as a new business hub for Galmudug state, as well as at a federal level.

The question remains: who will finish the infrastructure and modernising of Hobyo port, and how much will it cost to complete the port to international standards? Furthermore, why have our previous governments not taken any initiative to modernise Hobyo port?

Historically, no former president has ever initiated the modernisation of the Hobyo port. As far as I am aware, all of them have left the region deprived and with unacceptable conditions for the lives of the Galmudug people.  To be absolutely clear: all of our former rulers, including Abdulqasim Hassan, Abdullahi Yusuf, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, and Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, declined to initiate the modernisation of the Hobyo port.


As far as I know, the current Somali president, Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo was the first president to lay a foundation stone for the construction of a port facility in Hobyo, a historic coastal town in Galmudug state. As I can vividly remember, the Galmudug state president, Ahmed Gelle Haaf, was with him for his visit to Hobyo city. It was the right move from president Farmaajo and his government to launch a new Hobyo port initiative, but many people have asked: was it part of a political campaign for President Farmaajo?

I believe it was a crucial step forward that our government chose to initiate this ground-breaking project for Galmudug state society, and for the Somali public overall. It was in January, 2018 when President Farmaajo first toured Galmudug state, when he was inaugurated into office. Generally, Galmudug society welcomed the president’s move to tour the region and appreciated his efforts, but many are sceptical about whether he will be able to accomplish this huge project before his term of office ends.

Although President Farmaajo has initiated the Hobyo port project, his term of the presidency is coming to an end and he has not fulfilled his promises in regard to Galmudug state projects. I believe it is unfair for the Somali government to spend millions of dollars on political projects such as regional state elections, without spending a single penny on supporting regional development, such as the Hobyo port initiative.

It is the duty of our government to tackle poverty and initiate regional development in order to improve the lives of thousands of people who are living under poverty.

The modernisation of the Hobyo port is still unfinished business, and represents a major challenge that Galmudug state is facing and that must be overcome in order to embark on new geopolitical relationships and projects both regionally and globally. Since the election of regional President Ahmed Qoor Qoor, the administration in Galmudug has begun negotiating fresh geopolitical relationships with local people and federal member states.


One of the milestone initiatives that Galmudug state has made progress by organising fundraising activities, which took place at Hobyo port on 19th June 2020. Despite various obstacles, Galmudug state has bravely initiated this mega project, which could cost $170 million, and will be operated as a public-private entity, meaning it is open to all corporations, general partnerships, business trusts, public benefit corporations, non-profit entities, and other business entities. As soon as the Hobyo port initiative was launched, business owners and the general public began to appeal and hold consultations with the Galmudug Minister of Ports and Fisheries.

“I” wonder if such a huge project will be fulfilled by the Galmudug state without any help from investors or international support. We will see in the foreseeable future how Galmudug state will support itself and manage this project.  Will the loyal tribes of the Galmudug state raise enough capital to modernise Hobyo port?

Though this project will cost millions of dollars, Hobyo port must be modernised and investors are required to complete it. Do we know how long it may take to complete this project?

I believe it is not easy to predict exactly the time and cost, unless you have skilled engineers who have background knowledge in this field. I am reasonably sceptical whether the Galmudug state government will be able to raise sufficient capital in order to modernise Hobyo port.

Although I am not convinced Galmudug state could collect enough capital to modernise Hobyo port, it is possible to complete this project. I would say it would be a miracle if they do, but I am sure that they will heroically try to realise this golden project. By all means, I have a faith that Galmudug state government and society will come up with a solution in order to modernise Hobyo port.


It is essential that Galmudug state government tackles poverty and improves local people’s lives. I believe that when Galmudug state government launched a new initiative to modernise Hobyo port, this marked a huge step forward. Modernising the port will create jobs for local people as well as at a federal level.   It is a golden opportunity for all Somali people in the fight against poverty and to initiate regional development projects.

I can still recall when, in 2019, a Qatari delegate arrived on an unexpected and brief visit to Galmudug state and took a short tour of Hobyo port before returning to Doha. The Qatar Minister of Transport and Communications had a meeting with his Somalian counterpart to discuss Qatari government support for modernising Hobyo port and its investing interests. Eventually, the Qatar government may support the Somalian government in funding this initiative. In particular supporting Galmudug state could play a significant role in facilitating business with neighbouring countries, such as the Gulf States of Arabia, India, East Africa, and worldwide.  I believe this to be a fantastic idea – Galmudug state will certainly benefit from developing Hobyo port, and it will be a valuable project from an economic perspective as it will bring many economic benefits, both to Galmudug state and the Somali people, in the long-term.

Developing Hobyo port will also create new business opportunities for the country, bolstering commercial relationships with new commercial markets in the Horn of Africa, as well as giving access to global markets, and providing maritime services to vast areas of East Africa, Asia, and Europe.  Qatar’s Minister of Transport and Communications stated that Hobyo port will be a first building block in the field of cooperation in maritime transport, which will open new horizons for cooperation between the two countries.

The minister discussed with his Somalian counterpart how developing Hobyo port to meet the latest international standards and adhering to modern standards of safety and security measures, will make it attractive to businesses.  Both ministers expressed the importance of upgrading Hobyo port due to its proximity to the Bab-el-Mandeb strait, which is one of the most important sea crossing points in the world.  However, no one can provide an exact answer on when the Qatari government investments to commence this project will arrive.




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