The Banknotes of Somalia – Part 2

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Peter Symes

The National Bank of Somalia

The First Issue

Following the unification of Italian Somaliland and British Somaliland, the Banca Nazionale Somala or the ‘National Bank of Somalia’ opened for business on 1 July 1960. While the newly established Bank was part of the move to independence, in reality the Bank continued to operate as it had under Italian administration as the Cassa per la Circolazione Monetaria della Somalia. The bank had simply changed its name. The National Bank initially had one office in Mogadishu staffed by fourteen people, but by 1965 the Bank had established nine branches and an administrative staff of one hundred and thirty Somalis and eleven foreign nationals. The Bank operated as a commercial bank and as the central bank.

            At the time of unification, the East African shilling was circulating in the former British Protectorate of Somaliland and the somalo was circulating in the former Trust Territory. During 1961 a number of measures were taken to rationalize the currency circulating in the unified country. Firstly, the Monetary Ordinance of 6 March 1961 established the somalo as the currency for the unified nation, after which Presidential Decree No.93 of 10 April 1961 authorized the exchange of East African shillings with somali in the Northern Region (formerly the British Protectorate). This exchange commenced on 22 April 1961. Subsequently, under Presidential Decree No.113 of 15 June 1961, the East African shilling lost its legal tender status in Somalia on 31 July 1961.

            Following the withdrawal of the East African shilling, steps were taken to introduce a new currency under the authority of the National Bank of Somalia. Consequently, Presidential Decree No.86 of 5 March 1962 specified the denominations and the characteristics of the banknotes to be introduced for the new nation. The banknotes consisted of four denominations in the values of 5, 10, 20 and 100 scellini, or ‘shillings’. Presidential Decree No.87 of 5 March 1962 specified the number of notes to be printed. The original printing was for the following number of notes: 5 shillings — two million; 10 shillings — two million; 20 shillings — four million; and 100-shillings — one million. Each note carried a series number commencing at A001, which incremented every one hundred thousand notes. The Finance Minister’s Decree No.294 of 20 November 1962 made the new banknotes full legal tender and the notes were placed into circulation on 15 December 1962. Due to the lack of an effective banking system in Somalia, the exchange of currency was accomplished through the post offices. However, because of the sparse population and the nomadic life of some inhabitants, the process of exchanging the notes was slow. By 31 May, some five months after the introduction of the new currency, just over 14% of the money in circulation was still in somali, while the rest was in the new shilling. The somalo notes issued by the former Cassa per la Circolazione Monetaria della Somalia ceased to be legal tender on 31 December 1963.

            The new notes were of an equivalent value to the somalo notes they replaced and, in essence, the first issue of the National Bank simply represented the change in issuing authority. Denominated as scellini Endnote on the front of the notes, they are also identified as ‘Somali shillings’ in English and ‘shilin Somali’ in Arabic in alternate corners on the front of the notes. The English and Arabic text occur once on the back of the notes. Each note shares a similar design, while possessing individual characteristics.

            Common to each note is the layout on the front of the notes, the watermark, the text, and the signatories. The layout for each note consists of a patterned border Endnote , which provides expanded corners that contain the value of the note in English and Somali. Each note contains an ornamental design in the centre of the note, linking the vignette at the left with an oval containing the watermark at the right. The border pattern and the ornamental design are the same for the 5- and 10-shilling notes (which are also the same size), while similarly the border pattern and ornamental design are the same for the 20- and 100-shilling notes (which are, in turn, the same size). The watermark for all notes is the head of a leopard.

            The text is very simple, containing no promissory clause. The name of the issuing authority appears boldly across the top of the note, below which is the denomination of the note in dominant lettering, under which are the titles of the signatories and their signatures. Below the signatures is ‘Mogadiscio 1962’, being the place and date of issue, and the left-hand margin contains the decree under which the notes were issued: ‘Decreto P. R. 5 Marzo 1962 N.87’. Endnote The significance of the date that appears on the notes under ‘Mogadiscio’ is not understood. The decree suggests that the date of ‘1962’ that appears below ‘Mogadiscio’ reflects the date of authorization, but it might also be the date when the notes were placed into circulation. As this date is not always, on subsequent issues, the same year as the date of the decree, it suggests that it is intended to be the year when the notes were placed into circulation. Finally, in the lower margin is the printer’s imprint: ‘I.P.S. Off. Carte Valori-RomaEndnote .

            The signatories for this series are Dr. Abdi Aden Mohamed Endnote , signing as Il Presidente (i.e. President of the Board of Directors), and Ahmed Shire Addawe, signing as Il Presidente del Collegio dei Revisori (i.e. President of the Board of Auditors). The role of the Board of Auditors was to audit the accounts of the Bank and ensure that the figures reported in the balance sheet were correct. The Board was in effect an internal audit committee, conducting a role that was later taken on by external auditors.

            The differences for each note in this issue are simple but effective, the differences are: the size, the colours, the vignettes on the front of the notes and the illustrations on the back of each note. The details of the individual notes are:

5 shillings

            Size:                            152 x 72 mm

            Vignette:                     The head of a kudu.

            Illustration on back:    A dhow under sail.

            Dominant colour:       Red.

10 shillings

            Size:                            152 x 72 mm

            Vignette:                     The flower of a cotton plant.

            Illustration on back:    A scene of the Juba River.

            Dominant colour:       Green.

20 shillings

            Size:                            164 x 81 mm

            Vignette:                     A bunch of bananas.

            Illustration on back:    The headquarters of the National Bank of Somalia.

            Dominant colour:       Burgundy.

100 shillings

            Size:                            164 x 81 mm

            Vignette:                     Traditional domestic handicrafts of Somalia.

            Illustration on back:    The former National Assembly building in Mogadishu.

            Dominant colour:       Blue.

It should be noted that while the illustration on the back of each note is different, the design on the back of each note is also different. This is unlike the front of each note where there are many similar design elements, particularly for the 5- and 10-shilling notes and again for the 20- and 100-shilling notes.

            The vignette on the 5-shilling note is the head of a greater kudu, which is a type of antelope inhabiting East Africa. The head of a kudu had been used for many years on the official badge of British Somaliland and its use on a banknote issued for united Somalia is in deference to the Northern Region. Endnote The 10-shilling note displays a flower from a cotton plant and the 20-shilling note carries an illustration of a bunch of bananas. Both crops were introduced to Somalia by the Italians. Bananas were introduced as an experimental crop by the Duke of Abruzzi, a pioneer of agriculture in Somalia. Cotton had been introduced quite early in the development of Somalia and for many years it was the principal export from Somalia. However, in 1932 banana exports overtook cotton as the highest earner of revenue for the colony, although the export of cotton continued to grow over the ensuing years and both products earned significant revenue. The illustration on the front of the 100-shilling note is of traditional handicrafts, including a ‘hero’ (a small bowl), a figurine, a tall vessel and a musical instrument (possibly of the type called a ‘shareero’).

            The illustration on the back of the 5-shilling note shows a traditional vessel under sail. This type of vessel was used for trading up and down the coast. The back of the 10-shilling note shows a riverine scene of the Juba River, in southern Somalia. The area between and around the Juba and Shebelle rivers is the most fertile in Somalia and it provides the principal areas of cultivation in the Southern Region of Somalia. The back of the 20-shilling note shows the headquarters of National Bank in Mogadishu. An unimposing structure, it says much for the buildings in Mogadishu at the time of independence. A second building appears on the back of the 100-shilling note, this being the National Assembly building in Mogadishu. A symbol of the democratic union of Somalia in the early 1960s, the building became the headquarters of the local government authority after the military regime took over in 1969. It has also been used as a courthouse at various times.

            The notes of the first issue were authorized under the ‘Decree of the President of the Republic No.86 of 5th March, 1962’ and this decree included draft specifications for the issue of notes in Somalia. The specification can be considered a ‘draft’, as there were certain aspects of the issued notes that differ from the published decree. Firstly, the size of the notes in the decree are given as 142 x 62 mm for the 5- and 10-shilling notes and 155 x 70 mm for the 20- and 100-shilling notes, but all issued notes were in a larger format. Secondly, the vignette on the 5-shilling note was originally intended to be ‘the head of an ostrich’, whereas the head of a greater kudu has been used on the issued note. The adoption of the kudu was almost certainly due to pressure from elements of the Northern Region (i.e. former Somaliland) to retain their former symbol on one of the notes.

The Second Issue

The second issue of banknotes by the National Bank is similar to the notes of the first issue, but significant changes occurred in this issue. The changes are due to Thomas De La Rue and Company of Great Britain taking over the production of notes for the National Bank of Somalia. The notes, while similar to their predecessors, have been redesigned, with some of the more obvious changes being: the borders on the front and back have been redrawn; the circle holding the watermark replaces the oval found in the previous issue; the illustrations and ornamental patterns have been redrawn; and the ornamental patterns have been printed with bolder colours. Significantly, a background colour has been introduced for each note, both on the front and the back. There is also a change to the font used for the serial numbers.

            The notes of the second issue carry the date of emission as ‘Mogadiscio 1966’ and the decree authorizing their issue appears in the left-hand margin as: ‘Decreto P. R. 14 Settembre1966 N.196’. The signatories for this issue are Sheik Abdi Haji Abicar Endnote , signing as Il Presidente, and Haji Yahya Haji Abdullahi Endnote , signing as Il Presidente del Collegio dei Revisori.

            An innovation was brought to this series with the introduction of two fluorescent features, being the use of a fluorescing security thread and the use of fluorescing ink. The security thread can be detected running just to the right of centre. When a clean note is held to the light, a light brown thread can be seen. When the note is subjected to ultra-violet light the thread will fluoresce as a blue colour. Over the watermark, the denomination of the note is repeated eight times in ink that is invisible in normal light, but which becomes visible in ultra-violet light. The denomination is written four times in Arabic numerals and four times in western numerals. Each repetition of the number in fluorescent ink is written in a different font, making it difficult for counterfeiters to copy the feature.

The Third Issue

The notes of the third issue by the National Bank of Somalia are identical to those of the second issue, except for the date of issue, the title of one signatory, and the signatories. The date of issue is given as ‘1968’ at the bottom of the note and the reference to the authorizing decree in the left-hand margin reads: ‘Decreto P. R. 5 Dicembre 1968 N.276’. The signatories for this issue are Dr. Abdullahi Ahmed Addow Endnote , signing as Il Governatori (Governor), and Maslah Ali Mohamed, signing as Il Presidente del Collegio dei Revisori.

            The change in title of the first signatory from Il Presidente to Il Governatori is a precursor to changes wrought in the Somali banking system during 1968. Under Decree-Law No.6 of 19 October 1968 the Somali National Bank was to absorb the Somali Credit Bank and, within a maximum period of one year, the National Bank was to separate its functions as a commercial bank and central bank. The new law also dictated that the bank was to be headed by a Governor rather than by a President, as well as reforming the composition of the board (limiting it to five members).

            This issue of banknotes sees a reduction in fluorescent features. The light brown security thread that fluoresces remains, but there is no longer any fluorescing numbers placed over the watermark.

The Fourth Issue

In October 1969 a revolution saw the overthrow of the elected government and the assumption of rule by the Supreme Revolutionary Council. The Council was manned by members of Somalia’s military and was led by General Muhammad Siad Barre. The immediate effect on the National Bank of Somalia was significant, with the Bank’s Board of Directors and the Board of Auditors dismissed and not replaced. However, the effect on the Bank’s note issue was negligible, as the fourth issue of notes was almost identical to the preceding issues.

            The changes introduced in this series primarily concern the date of issue, the form of the decree, and the signatories. The date of issue is ‘1971’ and the decree in the left-hand margin, which reflects a subtle change in Somalia’s political structure by the authority under which it is issued, now reads: ‘Decreto PCRS 20 Luglio 1971 N.175.Endnote ; i.e. the decree is issued under authority of the President of the Supreme Revolutionary Council as opposed to the President of the Republic. Following the removal of the Board of Auditors a second signatory was required to replace the signature of the President of the Board of Auditors. The officers of the Bank decided to follow the examples of the Banca d’Italia, whose notes carried the signatures of the Governor and the Cashier, and the Bank of England, whose notes carry only the signature of the Cashier. Therefore, the signatories for this issue are Dr. Abdurahman Nur Herzi Endnote , signing as Il Governatori, and Mohamed Dalmar, signing as Il Cassiere (Cashier).

            The only other change concerns the 5-shilling note. For an unknown reason the colour of this denomination was changed, while the design remained unaltered. Forgoing the red colour that had been used on the previous three issues, the 5-shilling note became chocolate brown and the colours in the centre of the note became darker. This note is printed entirely by the lithographic process and the change in colour may be due to the discontinuation of the intaglio process that was used on all previous issues.

            This is one of few Somali issues where it is known when the notes were released into circulation. The 100- and 20-shilling notes of this issue went into circulation on 10 March 1972, with the 10- and 5-shilling notes introduced a couple of months later. Endnote As the date in the decree authorizing these banknotes and the date below ‘Mogadiscio’ are both 1971, the belief that the second date refers to the year when notes were placed into circulation is not supported by this issue; unless the notes were planned for release in 1971 and were delayed. Notes in this issue carry a fluorescent security thread, but no other fluorescent feature.

The Fifth Issue

In 1970 the new regime of Mohammed Siad Barre launched its program of ‘Scientific Socialism’. One of the immediate effects of the introduction of socialism was the nationalization of the four foreign banks then operating in Somalia – Banco di Roma, Banco di Napoli, National and Grindlays Bank and Banque de Port Said. In place of the four foreign banks the government established the Somali Commercial Bank and the Somali Savings and Credit Bank.

            In late 1974 a new series of banknotes was prepared and at this time the opportunity was taken to ‘Somalize’ the banknotes, resulting in the issue of dramatically new banknotes. Although the notes introduced completely new designs, the most significant aspect of the notes is the text on the front of the notes, which is written in Somali. While this may be seen as an act of shedding the remnants of Italian colonialism, which had been retained through the use of Italian text on the previous issues, the use of Somali text is of greater significance than displaying a post-colonial nationalism.

            Somali is a rich language that was used to record a long oral tradition of its peoples, but for many years it was not a written language. Due to the contact of Somalis with the Islamic world, Arabic script was adopted to write the language, but the foreign script was not well suited to writing the spoken word. In 1920 Isman Yusuf Kenadid created a script for Somali which came to be called the Osmaniya script. While this gained reasonably wide acceptance in some areas of Somalia, it was not universally adopted and it was difficult to spread amongst a largely illiterate population. As Somali nationalism grew, the adoption of a universally recognized script for Somalia became a significant point of discussion. After independence was gained, no progress was made on the issue, as opinion was divided over whether Arabic or Latin script should be used. (By this time argument in favour of the Osmaniya script had lost support.) Ultimately, on 21 October 1971, Siad Barre’s government unilaterally decided to use the Latin script for writing Somali and the government launched a massive education program, designed to educate the people and to ensure the Latin script was adopted. This is why, for the fifth issue, Somali text was introduced to the banknotes.

            Again printed by Thomas De La Rue and Company of Great Britain, the first aspect of the new notes that is apparent to the casual observer, is that there is no white margin on any of the banknotes. The notes are full of colour, with varied designs and detailed illustrations on the front of each note. Keeping with the tradition of the earlier issues, the 5- and 10-shilling notes are of a common size and have a common design on the front of the notes, although the illustrations are different. Similarly, the 20- and 100-shilling notes are the same size and share a common design, while also bearing different illustrations. Unlike the earlier issues, the two pairs of notes use common designs on the back. Sharing similar colours to their predecessors, the 5-shilling note is burgundy, the 10-shilling note is green, the 20-shilling note is brown, and the 100-shilling note is blue.

            Common to all notes are the Somali coat of arms (to the left), the text, and the watermark. The coat of arms consists of two leopards supporting a shield that contains the Somali five-pointed star Endnote , below which are crossed palm leaves, crossed spears and a scroll that bears no text. The text on each note is the same, save for the denomination. The text on the 5-shilling note reads (from the top): ‘Bankiga Qaranka Soomaaliyeed’ (National Bank of Somalia) in bold letters, ‘XEER MGSK 11KII DISEEMBAR1974 LR134’ Endnote in small text at the upper left, ‘5 Shilin Soomaali’ in the upper centre, and ‘Muqdisho 1975’ at the bottom. The denomination is written twice in Somali (‘5 shilin’ in top left and bottom right) and twice in English (‘5 shillings’ in bottom left and top right).

            The signatories on the notes are now ‘Taliyaha’ (Governor) and ‘Lacaghayaha’ (Cashier). The Taliyaha is Dr. Omar Ahmed Omar and the Lacaghayaha is Mohamed Dalmar. All notes of this issue carry a series number and a serial number. The series number always commences with ‘J’. (See the section on ‘Series Numbers’ toward the end of this study.) The watermark is the turbaned head of Sayyid Mohammed Abdullah Hassan (or Sayyid Maxamed Cabdulle Xasan). Hassan was a religious and nationalist leader who led opposition to the British in Somaliland from 1900 to 1920. Known by the British as the ‘Mad Mullah’, he tried to unite Somalis into a nation that transcended clan divisions. Hassan was an orator and poet of renown, with many of his poems being regarded as classics of Somali literature. With his vision and his powers as an orator he developed a strong band of followers, known as dervishes, and in 1899 he declared jihad against the colonial powers and their supporters. Although he had some success over the ensuing years, he was usually under the control of the colonial powers that he was challenging. Following a rising in 1920 he was defeated and fled to Ogaden, where he died in the same year from influenza. Hassan is today revered in Somalia as a freedom fighter as well as a poet.

            The text on the back of the notes is in mixed languages. Across the top is ‘Somali National Bank’ in Arabic, followed by the same phrase in English. The Arabic numeral for five is in the top left and the bottom right, while ‘5 shilin soomaali’, i.e. in Somali text, appears in the bottom left and top right.

            This series sees the use of two fluorescent security features. The brown security thread is again used and it continues to fluoresce under ultra-violet light. In addition, the fluorescent feature of eight repetitions of the note’s value, previously used in the National Bank’s second issue, is re-introduced in this series. However, instead of being over the watermark, as it was found in the second issue, the feature is now in the centre of the note.

            The details of the individual notes are:

5 shillings

            Size:                            153 x 72 mm

            Illustration on front:   Three wildebeest and two zebras on an open plain. Banana leaves are at the left and right.

            Illustration on back:    Men harvesting bananas in a plantation.

            Dominant colour:       Burgundy.

10 shillings

            Size:                            153 x 72 mm

            Illustration on front:   The minaret of the ruined Abdul Aziz Mosque, located in Mogadishu. It was Mogadishu’s first mosque and is now revered as a holy memorial to Abdul Aziz, the man responsible for building the mosque.

            Illustration on back:    Men building boats in the traditional manner.

            Dominant colour:       Green.

20 shillings

            Size:                            165 x 80 mm

            Illustration on front:   The headquarters of the National Bank of Somalia.

            Illustration on back:    A herd of cows walking along the dry bed of a river (with just a little water apparent).

            Dominant colour:       Brown.

100 shillings

            Size:                            165 x 80 mm

            Illustrations on front:  a) The ‘Dagahtur’ (alternatively ‘Dagax Tur’), or ‘stone-throwers’, Monument. This monument celebrates a famous incident, wherein members of the Somali Youth League engaged their colonial overlords in a battle of stones against guns. Several members of Youth League died in the incident and it became a watershed in the movement of Somalia towards independence.

b) An allegorical figure of a woman, carrying her baby but brandishing a gun in one hand and agricultural implements in the other. Beneath her are laurel leaves of victory and behind her is the rising sun. (The evocative image is part of the propaganda spread by the socialist government running Somalia at this time.)

            Illustration on back:    Women working in a fruit processing plant, of the type used to process mangoes and papaya.

            Dominant colour:       Blue.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

This article was completed in December 2005
© Peter Symes