The Shebelle River (Somali: Webi Shabeelle, Arabic: نهر شبيلي , Amharic: እደላ ) begins in the highlands of Ethiopia, and then flows southeast into Somalia towards Mogadishu. Near Mogadishu, it turns sharply southwest, where it follows the coast. Below Mogadishu, the river becomes seasonal. During most years, the river dries up near the mouth of the Jubba River, while in seasons of heavy rainfall, the river actually reaches the Jubba and thus the ocean.
The Shebelle river's name is derived from the Somali term Webi Shabeelle, meaning "Leopard River". The Somali administrative regions consisting of Middle Shebelle and Lower Shabeelle are also named after the river.
During the middle ages, the Shebelle river was under the control of the Ajuran Empire and was largely utilized for its plantations. Coming into prominence during the 13th century AD, the Ajuran monopolized the water resources of the Jubba and Shebelle Rivers. Through hydraulic engineering, they also constructed many of the limestone wells and cisterns of the state many of which are still in use today. Its rulers developed new systems for agriculture and taxation, which continued to be used in parts of the Horn of Africa as late as the 19th century.
Through their control of the region's wells, the Garen rulers effectively held a monopoly over their nomadic subjects as they were the only hydraulic empire in Africa during their reign. Large wells made out of limestone were constructed throughout the state, which attracted Somali and Oromo nomads with their livestock. The centralized regulations of the wells made it easier for the nomads to settle disputes by taking their queries to government officials who would act as mediators. Long-distance caravan trade, a long-time practice in the Horn of Africa, continued unchanged in Ajuran times. Today, numerous ruined and abandoned towns throughout the interior of Somalia and the Horn of Africa are evidence of a once-booming inland trade network dating from the medieval period.