In the 1800s, the Sultanate of Zanzibar controlled East Africa from southern Somalia to northern Mozambique and directed the trade of Bantu slaves captured in Mozambique and Tanzania to both European buyers and Africans to work on plantations on the continent. Some of these slaves marched over 400 miles to the coast and were then transported north to work on plantations in Somalia near the Indian Ocean coast.
Between 1800 and 1890, between 25,000 and 50,000 slaves were brought to the Somali riverine areas. In the 1840s, the first fugitive slaves fled the Shabelle River valley for the more remote Juba River valley in southern Somalia. By the early 1900s, it is estimated that over 35,000 former slaves were living in the Juba River valley. Most fugitive slaves remained in Somalia and did not return to their homeland because of the dangerous landscape and hostile tribes of northeastern Kenya.
The Italians began to free the slaves who had not escaped in 1895, but some inland groups remained in slavery until the 1930s.
The Italians introduced coerced labor laws which forced freed slaves to work on Italian-owned plantations. The Bantu were forced to abandon their own villages to live in villages around Italian plantations. The British abolished this system when they gained control of Somalia after World War II.
Somalia gained its independence from the British in 1960, and the country was relatively peaceful until civil war broke out in 1991. Due to their heritage, the Somali Bantu faced overt discrimination from the Somali majority. During the conflict, they were forced to join the Somali army or face persecution up to death. The Somali Bantus began the resettlement process into the United States in 2004.