‘British Somaliland: An Administrative History, 1920-1960’ provides a history of the administration of the British Somaliland Protectorate from the time when Somaliland first became governable, following the defeat of Abdullah Hassan, to independence.

By Brock Millman

British Somaliland An Administrative History 1920-1960British Somaliland: An Administrative History, 1920-1960

Millman, Brock, 1963- author.

Routledge studies in Middle Eastern history; 14.

British Somaliland provides a history of the administration of the British Somaliland Protectorate from the time when Somaliland first became governable, following the defeat of Abdullah Hassan, to independence.

Describing the interplay between general imperial policies, and greater realities and developments in Somaliland, the focus of the book remains on the mechanism by which the Protectorate was operated. The regime that developed was, in the end, a highly autocratic despotism, generally benign but occasionally predatory. Independence, when it arrived, was, in retrospect, a tragedy. Somaliland was absorbed into Somalia and a governmental style that suited the conditions of the Protectorate was dissolved into something very different. Since the collapse of Somalia, re-emergent Somaliland appears to be attempting to reconnect to a past remembered as something of a golden age.


Highly topical, as Somaliland re-emerges, this book is an invaluable resource for students and scholars of African History, Imperial History and British History.

Brock Millman is Professor of History at the University of Western Ontario. His previous publications include: The Ill-Made Alliance: Anglo-Turkish Relations, 1934–1940; Pessimism and British War Policy: 1916–1918; and Managing Domestic Dissent in First World War Britain, 1914–1918. Another book, Politics, Polarity and Dissent in Great War Canada: 1914–1919 is forthcoming. His research interests include Anglo-Turkish relations and the First World War in Britain and Canada, more recently he has been focusing on constitutional development in Botswana between the Second World War and independence.

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British Somaliland

An Administrative History, 1920–1960

Brock Millman




1     Somaliland and Somalis

2     Administration 1920–1938: ‘Combining efficiency with cheapness’

3    Development 1920–1938

4    Fiasco 1938–1941

5    Military Administration 1941–1948

6    Development 1941–1948

7    Administration 1948–1960

8    Development 1948–1960

9    Constitutional development 1952–1960

10    After the end


Appendix A Map of the Somaliland Protectorate

Appendix B Modern Map of Somalia Indicating Tribal Ranges




What follows attempts to address the question of how British Somaliland was ruled between the years 1920 and 1960, at which point independence was gained. I have long been interested in the ‘how’ and ‘what’ of imperialism – the 90% beneath the historiographical surface – rather than the pointless ‘why’ that constitutes most serious literature. Peoples have dominated others since the days of Nimrod the Hunter. The ‘why’ is obvious: because we can. A far more intriguing question is ‘how’ British practitioners could rule a third of the world’s population for generations with a total overseas establishment smaller than the number of ISAF soldiers now beleaguered in Afghanistan. ‘To what end?’ is more important still, although the historical verdict will remain out until ‘postcolonial’ fully gives way to ‘post-post-colonial’, and fades into ‘who cares?’ The issue with ‘how’ and ‘what’ is that they are hard, complicated and only of interest to few. They are definitely not ‘sexy’ questions, apt to land the asker preferment, and may even cause the template answers to ‘why’ to be reconsidered. More is the pity, since ‘why’ is a debate without possible resolution, productive of few useful follow-on realizations. Were the ‘how’ and the ‘what’ studied more, fewer mistakes would have been made: at present, such mistakes are productive not of tenure, but of bodies, wasted money and heartbreak.

This was written at a curious time in my life. I had almost finished writing the first draft when I was asked to go to Afghanistan to be an ‘institution builder’; in a parallel life, I am a Colonel in the Canadian Army Reserve. Shortly thereafter I deployed to Afghanistan for a year as a Senior Advisor in the Ministry of Defense. A hiatus in writing and research ensued during which I tried to help senior Afghan National Army officers work through problems with which Governors Summers through Hall would have been very familiar; none of them very exciting but all of them more important than anything that appeared in the daily newspaper. ‘ISAF Soldier Dead’ makes a headline: ‘Promotion Policy Agreed’ or ‘Winterization Programme Successfully Implemented’ do not survive an editor’s pen and perhaps not even an archivist’s culling. I found the experience very instructive. American leadership in Afghanistan was always looking for a ‘Lawrence’. They should have been looking for a Lawrance, Kittermaster, Chater, Hunt, Macfadyen or Peck. I will offer these others for free.

I am aware, of course, of Edward Said’s assertion that most Western students of the non-Western world are little more than ‘spies’. I fit the bill handily. I attended the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London for all the wrong reasons before deciding – partly on Said’s prompting – that the study of Islamic cultures was not for me. I became interested in the Somaliland Protectorate also for all the wrong reasons. Being acquainted peripherally with the subject, I was aware that once upon a time dozens of British administrators could do with shillings, example and chiding what tens of thousands of Westerners could not do (1992–1993) with billions and bullets and I found the contrast very interesting. My apology for pursuing the topic is simple, the better we, the West, understand how to interact with members of other civilizations productively, the fewer the bodies, and the greater and faster the degree of positive change. Part of our understanding is to study how similar issues were managed in the past when more was accomplished with considerably less effort and friction.

In 1962, Douglas Hall, the Protectorate’s last Governor, addressed the Royal African Society. He told them that he would speak only about what he knew, unlike many who wrote about Africa while lacking any real acquaintance with it.[1] Hall, accordingly, restricted his subsequent remarks to developments in the Protectorate during its last year and offered no opinion concerning the Protectorate generally or the prospects of what was then a new nation. I crave pardon, then, for joining the ranks of those who write about what they do not know intimately. My excuse is that a historian’s subject matter is, by definition, not a place that can be visited nor material that can be learned through experience. Governor Hall had the luxury of living in a place now almost as remote as Imperial Rome. It is a shame he did not write more about what he experienced there. Because Governor Hall would not generalize or speculate in front of experts and aficionados, historians must now do the best they can.

What follows regards the ‘how’ of one particular imperialism demarcated in time and space. It was not originally construed as of being of any contemporary relevance, although I suspect that it may have some.

British Somaliland An Administrative History 1920-1960
Abyssinia (Ethiopia) with Eritrea and British, Italian & French Somaliland, Scale 1:3,300,000. Published by George Philip & Son Ltd, [1936]. (Photo by Royal Geographical Society via Getty Images)


The subject of this manuscript is the Administration of the British Protectorate in Somaliland from the time when, Abdullah Hasan’s movement having been destroyed, the administration became possible and what had been a ‘protectorate’ in name only outside a few small coastal ports began to become effective in the interior. The story ends at independence when the Protectorate became the Northern Province of the new nation, Somalia. The focus throughout, both geographically and topically, remains on the Protectorate without much attempt to discuss peripheral issues like, for example, the tangled and unfortunate relationship with neighboring Abyssinia. The rationale behind what might seem to be a blinkered approach is to avoid being pulled down historical rabbit holes which, while of considerable historical and contemporary interest, can do little to illuminate the principle question to be addressed here: ‘How was the Protectorate administered?’ As well, writers who go down those holes invariably conclude by offering recommendations on how to improve the circumstances of what remains an unfortunate region inhabited by a hard-luck people. Historians can have no recommendations to make if they remember their place.

Historians have not been kind to empires or to the British Empire generally. Many have been harshly critical of imperialism in all of its innumerable manifestations. This verdict has gone largely unchallenged to the point that, as Niall Ferguson writes, to say something nice about empire is almost to place oneself outside the law – rather like writing something favorable about the Klan or suggesting that Hitler might not have had it all wrong.[2]

An unfavorable consensus may have developed in part because imperialism has had few defenders. Those who once worked in dependencies, and who were therefore best placed to offer a defense, generally did not attempt one. Kenneth Bradley, an Administrative Officer with 22 years experience, some of it in a colonial information department, believed that Colonial Service Officers did not attempt to defend their work because they were, after all, administrators and not politicians or academics. While serving and even after retirement they conducted themselves with ‘clam like reticence’, focusing on their work rather than how it might be remembered.[3] It was important that a road be built. To them, why the road had been built was of very little interest, at the time or after. Invited to reminisce, they might offer an opinion concerning what they knew – the operations of the Somaliland Camel Corps, public works in Los Anod District – but seldom offered a judgment concerning the imperial project generally. Aware that most listeners or readers would not share the specific knowledge necessary to comprehend the collection of duties in Berbera, many offered adventure stories as compensation. Local color stood in for truthful accounts of real experience. It would have been better, Bradley thought, if Colonial Service Officers had worked harder to explain what they had done and what they felt about their accomplishments, even if that meant that they had less time for working or attracted a smaller audience.[4]

More generally, the Empire fell into decline and then collapsed in an international environment hardly conducive to sympathetic remembrance, or productive of a desire to understand. As an incensed Ralph Furse wrote in 1962, much of the criticism directed at the Empire originated in Russian, Chinese, Egyptian and American circles, related through powerful media. All concurred that European Empires were from first to last and bottom to top cynical and exploitive tyrannies. Most of these critics were, at the same time, anxious to promote their own ‘sordid ends’ and were hardly adverse, this being so, to striking down competitors. Internal enemies – irresponsible journalism, ‘long-distance liberalism’, and the ‘death-watch beetles who have worked all my life to rot the noble fabric bequeathed to us by our forefathers’ – provided considerable assistance both in disassembling the Empire and blackening its memory.[5] The ‘ignorance and apathy of the [British] public’, Furse raged, was ‘almost unbelievable’.[6] The average African, he was convinced, was far less hostile to the Empire than anybody suspected, but of course, nobody had ever thought to ask.[7] As ‘post-colonial’ gave way to ‘post-post-colonial’, as it became very clear that ex-colonies did not always become successful nations, as the ‘new world order’ coming into existence after 1960 proved itself to be, in many ways, far more predatory toward weaker nations and vulnerable populations than the imperialisms it had replaced, and as public men and public intellectuals in the United States began to use that forbidden phrase, ‘American Empire’, while others mined Imperial history for methods, some sympathy has developed for Furse’s point of view.

The historiographical facts of primary importance, however, were that in the postwar world those able to write the history of the Empire typically refrained, while a hostile academic and popular consensus emerged concerning ‘imperialism’, what it had been, why it had been, and why it had failed. Now, if the project had been generally wrong then did it not follow that the study of local systems was of little consequence, and the conclusion already determined? Describing ‘how’ a particular imperialism worked, after all, might be construed as rather pointless if it were already known that it must have been, at root, a tyranny that was exploitive by nature and ultimately condemned to failure. For example, it hardly mattered that the British Protectorate in Somaliland was, for most of its existence, an orderly little community that could not have existed for a moment without the massive collaboration of the inhabitants, or that the United Kingdom never made a dime on the transaction – indeed, tried several times to disencumber itself of this debility – against the unexamined certainty that the purpose of British imperium in Somaliland must have been malignant and that the dozens of Britons who resided locally must have ruled by force and trickery as no other configuration could ever have been available. As consequence, local histories – of the Somaliland Protectorate, for example – are still very rare. As historians demonstrated no interest, archivists and librarians saw no reason to retain the information amassed when imperial dependencies were functioning polities. In the case of the Somaliland Protectorate, many painfully acquired references, assembled as works of love and at great personal cost for the edification of working administrators, were simply pulped in the decade following independence.

For a brief time in the very early years, while Abdullah Hassan remained alive and at large and while Somaliland retained its reputation as a big game hunter’s paradise, the Protectorate was of sufficient interest to justify the publication of a few memoirs, although mainly of the ‘adventure’ category. By the time the Protectorate settled down, interest had dissipated entirely and very little concerning Somaliland appeared in print. Most serious writing since independence has not been fundamentally historical in nature. Much has come from the pens of ex-administrators anxious to make a case ‘for’ the Somalis. In consideration of British Africa generally, historians of great eminence emerged from the Colonial Service. Ronald Robinson, author of the rightly acclaimed Africa and the Victorians,[8] had been a member of the Colonial Service, working during his formative years in its Africa Studies Branch.[9] Anthony Kirk-Greene, the most instructive writer concerning colonial administration, was an Administrative Officer in Nigeria and became Governor of Northern Nigeria in 1957. Subsequently, he became a lecturer in the Modern History of Africa at St. Anthony’s College Oxford.

Somaliland too had its administrator/chroniclers, two of considerable eminence. John Drysdale, a tireless writer on Somali affairs and the greatest expert on all matters ‘Somali’, arrived in Somaliland in 1943 with the army and became an Administrative Officer working with the liaison mission in the Haud. He elected to remain on in Somalia after independence, where he advised successive Somali governments. Somaliland sources indicate that he has recently converted to Islam and changed his name to Abbas Idris. Drysdale’s approach is essentially political and topical. His interest consists primarily in generating support for a troubled region, and in obtaining a revision of the international agreements by which a large portion of the Somali range was alienated to Ethiopia. Both of these are laudable goals, but his history suffers in consequence. Ioan Lewis, the essential anthropologist of Somalia, was hired by the Protectorate to conduct a long-awaited and earnestly desired anthropological study, published belatedly in 1961 as the classic A Pastoral Democracy: a Study of Pastoralism and Politics Among the Northern Somali of the Horn of Africa.[10] During the years of study, he devoted to this project – which became the basis of his life’s work – Lewis was seconded to the Administrative Service on the grounds that no Somali would talk to him otherwise. Lewis’s history, while essential reading, serves his anthropology and, once again, is calculated to mobilize interest in and sympathy for a people with whom he is deeply engaged. Lewis himself realized this. He was drawn to the Somalis out of sympathy for the nationalist aims expressed at the time when the alienation of the Haud was an active issue. In retrospect, he admitted that he had allowed himself to become a ‘kind of part-time official chronicler, and ultimately simply a propagandist for a particular power elite’, and that he had been less than fair to his one-time colleagues in the Protectorate Administration.[11] It should be indicated in passing that the personal history of these writers hardly suggests an imperialism which was, by nature, predatory, exploitive, ruthless and tyrannical.

Since independence, some history has emerged from Mogadishu, but it is hardly worth reading. Recently, a member of the Somali diaspora resident in Canada, Jama Mohammed (a trained and talented historian), has been attempting a one-man effort to chronicle the history of the Protectorate. All of his work is worth serious consideration, and it is by far the best available. However, he has not yet attempted a general history, and alas, in my view, is tempted to demonstrate on occasion a significant Somali nationalist bias. The re-emergent state of Somaliland – a fact without recognition, in contrast to Somalia, a recognized fiction – has recently taken energetically to the Internet in an attempt to tell its own story. Much of what has been posted is important; particularly noteworthy is the attempt to post significant amounts of primary material, as the best accounts of the new state’s prehistory available. Had I known that so much was available online, the task of my research for this book would have been much easier.

All of this is to say that if the aim is to understand ‘how’ the British Protectorate in Somaliland functioned, there is little option but to travel to the archives to consult the surviving record. In what follows an attempt is made to demonstrate ‘how’ based on those sources. In undertaking such a study, students are probably best advised to put aside perceptions rooted in macro-theory until they have assembled some facts. They will often find that independent, self-generated and reinforcing theory cannot be substantiated by what they find; they must draw their own conclusions. Finally, when considering a historical question, a limited historical perspective is probably the best way to proceed at least initially. How can you seek to answer, for example, the questions ‘why empire?’ or ‘what was imperialism?’, before it has been established how the elements worked and ‘what it was’ in the hundreds of micro-imperialism established independent of theory?

After a short introduction to the Protectorate and its people, the chapters that follow are grouped into sections dealing with discrete periods unified by fundamental facts – consistent colonial policy, most particularly. In general, most sections will include a chapter dealing with administration, and another concerning development. ‘Administration’ is held to include issues like governance, law, and the mechanism by which order was maintained. Each administration chapter will commence with a description of how Somaliland fitted into the bigger imperial picture, and how its future was forecast at that time. Much subordinate, Protectorate policy followed from these perceptions. ‘Development’ chapters bring together those aspects of Protectorate policy which aimed to make the Protectorate something other than it was. While the separation of ‘administration’ from ‘development’ can never be complete, less violence is done to understanding by separation than might be the case in descriptions of other places in other times. Until late in the day the primary purpose of the Protectorate was to administrate Somaliland, it being understood that little development was possible, permissible or even desired. When, latterly, increasingly frenzied efforts commenced to develop the Protectorate’s resources, the basic structure of administration hardly changed at all: indeed, in some respects, the Protectorate was ruled by more old-fashioned means in 1959 than it had been in 1945, in part because governors had to account for social distortions and unrest arising from development projects. Political development, looking to independence, arrived suddenly and late and is considered in a chapter devoted to a process which occurred in isolation from these others. The fact that late Protectorate politics can be so easily separated from administration and development is not without consequence in understanding the region’s subsequent and unfortunate history.

A few observations to provide focus before beginning. The British Empire arrived in Somaliland tentatively and took baby steps, in keeping with an interest that was always judged to be extremely modest. No significant economic advantage was ever identified which might accrue from local imperium in Somaliland. The population was small, nomadic, poor, Muslim, conservative in inclination, largely self-sufficient and occasionally tumultuous. No British producer ever agitated for the cultivation of the Somali market. Somaliland remained until the end without any strategic importance. Missionaries were excluded with great vigor. Once the Protectorate was established, therefore, the primary purpose of empire was an atavistic desire to ‘protect’, implicit in the dependency’s name. Since an obligation to protect had been recognized and codified, it followed that some effort would have to be made to make protection effective. This remained the case until independence. That, very simply, is the ‘what’ of imperialism in Somaliland.

Two significant consequences followed. Lord Kimberley, Secretary of State for India at the time the Protectorate was negotiated, once quipped that he was against giving up anything, anywhere, to anybody, ever. Such an inhibition did not exist regarding Somaliland. On many occasions abandonment or transfer were considered, and on two occasions (1910 and 1940) the Protectorate was actually abandoned in part or in whole and thereafter renewed with considerable misgivings and some official protest. Lateral passes from Ministry to Ministry were occasionally attempted and three times were completed. Until independence was imminent, many protected Somalis seem to have worried more about being left in the lurch – always a possibility – than they did that the Administration would continue to stumble forward. Secondly, because the Protectorate was a poor place, possessed no great wealth or prospects, and unable to pay its own way, administration was invariably constrained and development retarded even in comparison to other members of the imperial ‘awkward squad’. Establishments were remarkably modest. Administration was nigglingly penny-pinching. Development planning was unadventurous and kept ‘its eyes on the prize’ of somehow finding a way – any way – to make money to reduce the strain on the Exchequer, and perhaps, to gain sufficient financial independence to permit development to finally start.

It being well known and conceded that Somaliland was an unprepossessing place, the Somalis – a stiff-necked and occasionally violent people – and conditions primitive, administrators were selected and self-selected for suitability. Most Britons would not have chosen to remain for long. It is hard not to believe that those who did remain did so because they loved the place, the land and the people. The histories of both John Drysdale and Ioan Lewis would suggest that this was the case and Michael Fergusson, one of the few postwar administrators to write of his experience in the service of the Protectorate, testifies that it was so. Somaliland ‘old hands’ remained the administrative norm until the end to a degree that would have been inconceivably old-fashioned in a better-founded dependency. Meanwhile, no effort was ever made to transform the Somalis into something other than what they were, at least until they had amply demonstrated a desire to be something else, it being universally accepted that any substantial unrest would produce immediate abandonment rather than an attempt to constrain.

To the occasional despair of London, the government that emerged as a consequence of these dynamics remained an ambulatory, occasionally predatory, benign despotism until the end. Remarkably, it proved to be a near-perfect fit for a conservative, Muslim and nomadic people: perhaps the best government ever devised to rule Somalis. Indeed, if a better method of administrating Somalis is available, no polity since independence has identified it. One of the odder passages in the history of the Protectorate came toward the end as Somali conservatives, Muslim and tribal, found themselves defending Protectorate practice as accepted and cherished tradition, in defense of which blood might be shed. Their opponents on such occasions were not administrators but Somali progressives. Independence, when it came, was a tragedy in the sense that a small coterie of painstakingly prepared évolués chose political adventure and theory rather than continuity and pragmatism. The consequences were exceedingly dire. Independent Somaliland almost certainly would have been a happier place if it’s leadership had learned more from Hunt and less from Nasser.

It is necessary to add that there being no true British ‘interest’ in Somaliland, Britain’s obligation to the Protectorate never became much more than a one-sided debt of honor. When weighed against other interests and priorities, ‘honor’ was often not given the weight that many then and now would have preferred. This fact, of course, is at the root of the disgruntlement of John Drysdale and Iaon Lewis. The consequences were sometimes unfortunate, but they were also inevitable. In defense of the Protectorate, it should be remembered, things might have been much worse.

Lastly, as indicated, this study is deliberately circumscribed in time and place. Judgment should be as well. The work of any administration can only be evaluated against the results achieved in the time allotted and within the geographical extent in which authority was exercised. Humans and human organizations cannot be indicted for consequences unforeseen and which time did not permit them to address, or for decisions they lacked the power to influence.

Chapter 1 – Somaliland and Somalis

The ‘Horn of Africa’, the Somalia peninsula, is a hard-scrabble place inhabited by a hard-scrabble people, the Somalis. The Northern half of the Horn – that portion which later became the British Protectorate in Somaliland – is, in general, the least prepossessing of the Somali territories. Aside from a narrow coastal belt, bordering the sweltering Gulf of Aden, most of the country is of very little value to anyone, and is hard to love even for the nomads who live there still. The coastal belt is very constricted, and boxed in by the Karkaar Mountains. Beyond the mountains stretches the Somali plain – high, riverless, almost waterless, and featureless – which constitutes most of the country. These stretch beyond the current boundaries of Somalia up to the Ethiopian highlands, and are the nomadic Somalis’ natural range.

Temperatures throughout the Horn are often brutally hot, except in the mountains. In most of Somalia, daily temperature averages between 30 to 40° Celsius. In Somaliland, there is greater variance. Here, in December, there are days during which temperatures of 45° are possible on the humid coast, but by contrast. In the nearby mountains, the temperature can dip below zero.

In most years, most of the peninsula gets less than 20 inches of rain. In the North Eastern desert, six inches of rain makes an abundant year and as little as two paltry inches are possible. For the inhabitants, rainfall defines the seasons. Somalia experiences two rainy seasons, the gu from April to June (an individual Somali counts his time on Earth by the number of gus he has experienced) and the day in October and November. Dry spells intervene. The hagaa lasts from July to September. During the terrible jiilaal (December to March), life always trying and can become a veritable ordeal. Beyond the mountains, vegetation, as in other arid countries, is seasonal. In dry periods, little survives apart from thickets of thorny scrubs and occasional clusters of acacia trees. In rainy seasons, the thickets bloom, the trees come to life, and grasses abound, which are excellent for foraging. Because there is little standing water in Somaliland – no rivers, lakes or ponds – life depends on the rains. When the rains fail, life fails.

The Somalis are pastoralists, herders of sheep, camels and goats, and always have been. It is likely that for millennia their wealth has been measured in livestock; indeed, human life is measured in livestock (100 camels is the price for an adult man, and 50 for an adult woman). While the intrusion of the modern world has produced towns and a sedentary population, most of the inhabitants of Somaliland continue to live their lives by ancient patterns.[12]

In their own minds, Somalis are Arabs, descendent from noble clans who emigrated from Arabia in the tenth century. Darood, the eponymous founder of the Darood tribal confederacy dominant in Somalia generally, is said to have led the emigration followed by his kinsmen Isaaq, founder of the Isaaq confederacy, and Dir, from whom the Esa and Gadabursi peoples claim descent. It seems likely, however, that a few Arabs imposed themselves on a more numerous African people, already resident, and already living in the manner in which most Somalis continue to live, and that Arab acculturation was more profound in the North than in the South.[13] Whatever the case, these patriarchal culture heroes are held to have founded tribes which continue to bear their names, and spawned sons who founded clans, grandsons, founders of sub-clans, and so it went. The nomadic nature of Somali life has reinforced the importance of clan and lineage. As is generally the case among nomads, clan becomes necessarily important in establishing identity as other factors – attachment to a particularly geographic patrimony, or nationality rooted in settled life – are simply not available.[14]

Even still, Somalis exhibit extreme clannishness, even relative to other segmentary groups. It is an ignorant child who cannot recite his lineage (abtirsiinyo) through the male line for at least 20 or 30 generations, although it is unusual for Somalis to proceed beyond 22 or 23 names unless they desire to stress the difference between themselves and somebody else in order to establish grounds for a quarrel.[15] Rivalry between and within tribal groups is pronounced, and the Darood/Isaaq contention is notorious. In much of Somaliland, identity-based on confederacy, tribe, clan and sub-clan is everything. The largely Isaaq inhabitants of Somaliland retain these features of all Somalis to the highest degree. It was through Somaliland that the Somalis were Arabicized – the process more complete in the North than in the South – and it is here that the tombs of the clan founders are found.[16] As a consequence, Northerners and Isaaqs are considered by other Somalis to be more ‘belligerent, less law-abiding, arrogant, [and] destructive. Here, a man without cattle is nothing. Here, fighting is really the only other widely accepted male role’.[17] This is just to say that Somalilanders are held to be more typically ‘Somali’, for good and bad, than their kinsmen elsewhere.

Somalis, with very few exceptions, are Muslim and Islam is immensely important to Somali identity.[18] Conversion appears to have occurred early, through the Northern ports and Islam quickly supplied the only high culture Somalis knew or ultimately wanted. In theory, Somalis are orthodox Shafiite Sunnis. In practice, popular Islam has been strongly influenced by tribal notions through the agency of Sufi orders which have provided something of a centripetal counterweight to the disintegrating effect of clannishness. If not everybody can be Habar Awal, for example, all male Muslims can seek entrance to the Salahiya order. In Somalia, Sufism and Islam more broadly have normally been difficult to separate, and indeed, local Sufism has come to share some features of Somaliness. Amongst Sufis, genealogy is as important as among Somalis generally. Local shayks draw their authority through a chain leading from the local founder of an order from whom they are often descended.[19] At the local level, Sufi lodges are affiliated with tribes from which they acquire land and members and to which they recognize an obligation.[20] Moreover, Sufi orders compete with some of the same vigor with which the clans compete. The Qadariya was the first established, and through the colonial period remained dominant and missionary. The Ahmadiya and derivative Salahiya were introduced into Somaliland in the latter nineteenth century, and during the colonial period, the Salahiya, in particular, became associated with Somali nationalism; indeed, it could almost be thought of as constituting pan-Somali nationalism in embryo. The Ahmadiya, introduced earlier, remained weakest, but to some extent was most influential amongst the clans, given that it was primarily a teaching order and disproportionately assumed the responsibility of training wadads – itinerant bush-clergy responsible for providing such religious instruction as the nomads received, and in particular for teaching children to recite the necessary prayers and to read the Koran.[21]

Because the land is poor, it has never been able to support much government, and ‘government’ and ‘law’ are largely by-products of tribal society and practice, influenced by Islam. The Somali clans were poor, and necessarily nomadic. Settled life, especially in Somaliland, was very unusual and towns were very few. A few ports – Zeila and later Berbera on the Gulf of Aden – provided for the import of the few things the clansmen could afford and could not make for themselves. The Somalis generated no true nobility. It is true that clans had headmen, and that tribal confederacies sometimes had sultans. In reality, however, these were largely nominal positions, generating little respect and less privilege. Because notables were useful in helping resolve tribal disputes their voices might be given greater weight in tribal gatherings. For this reason, as well, they were not expected to participate in clan fights or larger battles. Educated, cultivated men were too precious to risk. This did not mean, however, that they commanded obedience. On occasion the clans of a tribal section might rally behind a particularly charismatic notable to achieve some over-arching, collective objective. These purposes, however, were transitory, and when the aim was achieved, the authority disintegrated. The genius of the Somalis was essentially anarchic. Having never known government, the clansmen instinctively resisted it whenever some outside authority from time to time might seek to institute it.[22]

Relations among the clans were guided by her (tribal custom), reinforced by religion. Contention within a clan was dealt with by a council (guurti) of notable men (birigageydo). If the issue could be equated to a precedent (gar curad) then the problem was generally resolved easily. If there was no precedent (gar ugub) then there was trouble, and other notables would be brought in to assist as arbitrators. The issue might even be referred to a Sultan for adjudication.[23] Very often, blood would be spilled in the interval before a solution, thus kicking off one of the interminable rounds of clan feuding so distressing for outsiders, but so integral to the Somali way. Disputes between lineage groups (rather than internal to them) almost invariably involved bloodshed. Lewis summarized:

In Somali lineage politics the assumption that might is right has overwhelming authority and personal rights, rights in livestock and rights of access to grazing and water, even if they are not always obtained by force, can only be defended against usurpation by force of arms. Political status is thus maintained by feud and war, and self-help – the resort of groups to the test of superior military power – is the ultimate arbiter in political relations. With this political philosophy, it is not surprising that fighting in Northern Somaliland is a political institution of everyday life.[24]

After about six months, Gerald Hanley – once upon a time a District Officer – thought, you either got used to all the killing or you recognized that Somaliland was not for you. Even if you got use to it, the scale of the carnage was still angering, and yet there was nothing to be done. According to Hanley, it was simply the Somali way, and they were not going to change: they even liked it.[25] Major Rayne, a predecessor, was more prosaic. The Somalis, he believed were quite simply ‘a race of maniacs’.[26] Imperialism set itself to change this, as we shall see, and succeeded to an extent that is difficult to credit given the past or present of the region.

Somalis also knew war, generally civil war. It is not clear, in fact, that the notion ‘Somali’ even existed prior to the imperial period, as imperialists grouped together clans sharing a common language and ethnicity but divided to the knife by clan rivalry. Inter-clan disputes could sometimes reach dangerous proportions. Raiding became, effectively, open warfare. When the contending parties had inflicted enough damage on one another to satisfy honor, notables on each side would arrange an inter-tribal gathering at which the correct proportion of mag (blood money) would be assessed against each party, in accordance with custom and precedent. In the best case, an exchange of dia (weregeld: ‘man gold’) would take place and the issue would be resolved. In the worst case, the agreement would break down and a new round of raiding and counter-raiding, murder and reprisal would begin. Some feuds, as for example the unquenchable hostility between Isaaq and Darood tribesmen, were permanent fixtures of Somali politics.

Tribal raiding starkly illustrates, but also reinforces, the segmentary nature of Somali society. To inflict revenge, any kinsmen of an offender would serve the purpose: reprisal against the actual offender was not necessary. Similarly, Somali custom prescribed that dia was the responsibility of the collective rather than the individual, and for this purpose, clansmen divided themselves into voluntary dia-paying groups, perhaps the most critical and stable social unit recognized by tribal Somalis, as individuals bound themselves voluntarily to satisfy dia requirements incumbent upon member of the group. Among the tribal Isaaqs of Somaliland, Lewis counted 360 dia-paying groups in 1958.[27] Similarly, when dia was paid, it did not pass in its entirety to the closest kin of the deceased but to the clan generally. The notion was, of course, that the loss of a man represented a material loss to the collective rather than simply to his dependents. Oddly for outsiders, as well, dia was payable regardless of the particulars of a case. Somali customary law simply did not recognize intent as an element of crime: a man killed purely by accident or even in self-defense was a loss to the collective just as certainly as a man deliberately murdered and compensation was required as certainly, demanded as confidently. However and why-ever it was shed, blood demanded suitable recompense. Tribal custom (her) was inexorable on this point. In most cases, she established the dia for an adult man at 100 camels, and for an adult woman at 50 camels.

Somali relations with the outer world were more than a little paradoxical. On the one hand, Somalis were natural xenophobes, a people of particular and peculiar characteristics inhabiting a remote land. Cultural prejudices, moreover, ran deep. It is probably important to remember in this regard, once again, that in their own minds Somalis believed themselves to be Arab aristocrats, surrounded in East Africa by unbelieving Blacks, the despised galla and kaffirs of whom the Ethiopians – traditional enemies of the Somalis – were the very epitome. It might be supposed that the Somalis would have some regard for their Arab kindred, and co-religionists, across the Gulf of Aden. In truth, the only Arabs that Somalis customarily met were Adeni traders, whom they despised.[28] It might be, as well, that Somali tribes adopted foreigners useful to them, the Indian and Arab merchants of Zeila or Berbera for example, and by this means sought to normalize their status by drawing them into the web of mutual obligation so critical for Somalis.[29] It was also true, however, that Somalis, as pastoralists, could not understand, and ultimately despised any way of life other than their own. Moreover, how could members of a society in which clan identity was critical comprehend, much less trust, an individual from another system, without comprehensible lineage and beyond her?[30] For most outsiders, a principle and immediately apparent characteristic of Somalis, often strongly at variance with external circumstance, was their ‘inordinate pride and contempt for other nations’. In their own minds, Somalis were always aristocrats among savages: Arabs in a continent of inferior Blacks; Muslims in a continent of unbelief and confusion; herdsmen encompassed by diggers of mud; sometimes conquerors but never conquered.[31] For most of the History of the Protectorate, administrators were careful not to place policy on the wrong side of prejudice.

There were some advantages following from these predilections, and perhaps delusions. The Somalis in this regard – as some administrators realized – were not very different from Britons, and this was probably one of the reasons why the Protectorate succeeded so well. Consider the opinion of one British soldier – a Commanding Officer of the Somaliland Camel Corps (SCC) – with many years of experience, writing in 1944. Somali prejudice, he thought, should be easily comprehensible to Britons as it was almost identical to their own. It was pointless to tell Somalis that their prejudices were foolish and that they were just another species of African. The ‘Somali is convinced that he is entirely different from and vastly superior to any East African’. This belief was a unshakeable as the Englishman’s belief that he is obviously superior to any other European ‘whom he mentally classifies as dagoes’. ‘The Germans’, the Colonel continued, ‘are now [1944] trying to alter this attitude of the English mind, but it is an expensive and tedious process’. So, he thought, the British were apt to find it expensive, tedious, and pointless to try to convince the Somalis to accept some other truth.[32] It might well be that the Protectorate worked because xenophobes comprehended xenophobes.

It is well, given Somali prejudices, that the British were inclined for purposes of ease of administration to concede Somali self-assessment. Had the Somalis known the humble place to which they were actually assigned by imperial ethnography, and if imperial agents had been inclined to conduct themselves accordingly, it is unlikely that the history of the Protectorate would have been as quiet as it was. ‘Of the early inhabitants [of Somaliland] little is known’, a War Office publication designed to provide basic information for officers posted locally, indicated.

Apparently they were a race of small black men, represented at the present day by a few degenerate aborigines near Cape Gardufui and by the Agaos of Abyssinia.

The original race appears to have been expelled by an Aryan invasion, to which supervened a Hamitic one. This combination produced the Gallas, Wahumas and Abyssinians…Lastly came a Semitic infusion which produced the hybrid race now called Somal by intermarriage with a Galla element in the North and a Hamitic in the South.

The present-day inhabitants show distinct traces of Aryanism in customs and language, and of Hamitic origin in their physique. Signs of the occupation of the Gallas, a more settled and more highly developed race than the Somalis, are to be seen in the ruined graves and villages, and in the abandoned areas of cultivation, more numerous in the West, from which the Gallas were last expelled.

It is to be noted that the westward expansion of the Somalis has recently been checked by the superior origin of the Abyssinians…[33]

It would be hard to produce an assessment more at odds with the Somali sense of place, myth of origins, or productive of greater dissonance with local prejudice. This assessment, however, was information for officers only, those who ‘needed to know’, and in no way shaped the way in which Somalis were treated or administered.

Xenophobic as they are universally believed to be, Somalis were generally welcoming of foreigners in their midst. Even the prickly Isaaq permit pockets of Sab (Digil-Rahanwiin tribesmen) to co-exist peacefully in their range. As agriculturalists, the Sab performed useful functions, and exchange with the clansmen products they could not or would not make, and foodstuffs they could not or would not grow for themselves. Other, more esoteric but also valued functions – sorcerer, fortune teller, midwife – were also the prerogatives of members of this group.[34] Similarly, this nation of anarchists never provided much resistance to representatives of imperial powers even when they have claimed ultimate sovereignty, provided that they did not actually seek to exercise sovereignty outside the Gulf ports. Ottoman dominion, for example, was established over the ports in the sixteenth century, endured until the nineteenth century and never appears to have constituted much provocation. Latterly, in 1870, the agents of the Khedive arrived to establish a brief interval of Egyptian predominance, and ran up the flag over Zeila without any opposition at all.

The reasons for Somali forbearance were simple. Foreign connections were useful in ensuring, if nothing else, reliable trade in those few commodities the Somalis require from the external world – chiefly some types of food (especially rice) and cotton cloth. Foreigners might make any claim they wished, provided imperium were actually restricted to provision of a reliable and honest market at which, from time to time, Somali tribesmen might choose to buy and sell. Moreover, foreigners – outside the clan system – could provide credible arbitration either by acting as arbiters themselves or by appointing local agents, the Egyptian Akils (state-appointed judges) for example, sufficiently detribalized to arbitrate disputes with relative objectivity.

As well, since the Somalis themselves could neither provide for nor afford an infrastructure, this did not mean that they could entirely forego one. By the time the Egyptians arrived, Akils found themselves very often thrust into the role of notary – witnessing, and then providing a repository for documents which indicated dia-paying group membership, recording membership in critical social and legal institutions into which a Somali was not born and the composition of which might change.[35]

Finally, imperial systems, if well disposed, had one significant advantage: they kept out the malignant. Most ill-disposed and most likely to dominate the Somalis in default of a more comfortable patron was the nearby, hereditary enemy in Thousands upon thousands of cassette tapes and master reels were quickly removed from the soon-to-be targeted buildings. They were dispersed to neighboring countries like Djibouti and Ethiopia. In 1954, Governor Pike thought the Somalis had demonstrated over time a distinct preference for association with whichever power was predominant and most useful at the moment, in the range which constituted their effective universe.[36] Between 1882 and 1956, the predominant power was Britain. If imperial pretension might be galling on occasion, an actual and hostile local overlord would be much worse. Foreigners, even imperial foreigners, had their uses.

It should be mentioned, in passing, that Somalis have also often been enthusiastic voyagers, seemingly not adverse at all to leaving their tribal range and custom for sometimes considerable stays abroad, seeing the world, and laying a nest egg. It has generally been the case in the past that having done a stint abroad, such Somalis returned home to invest their pile in cattle – the only wealth that Somali culture ultimately recognized – taking up life where they left off, if with more experience, broader horizons, and a little more wealth. In the British period, for example, it sometimes happened that colonial officials traveling in the interior would encounter urgent inquiries from Somali clansman desperate to know who had won the world cup – these, perhaps, placed in a pronounced Cardiff or Pittsburgh accent. It seems likely that Ottoman predecessors might have similarly been asked how went the Sultan’s war with Austria in the accents of Odessa. If Somalia was backwoods, the Somalis were never entirely parochial. The Protectorate enabled Somali wanderlust as had previous systems, even as it tried to inhibit it, and provided a useful function by repatriating Somalis on those occasions when they were found to have fallen on hard times abroad.[37]

In the meantime, the very poverty of the country provided the antidote to any more extravagant imperial ambition. Foreigners might claim dominion but they were unlikely to exercise it much. Unless an empire desired sheep, goats and camels, then extension of actual rule inland was unlikely, for the Somalis simply did not have anything else of value. Poverty also inoculated the Somalis against the possibility that an imperial power might get it into mind to change their ways and the Somalis were a conservative people. Any project to change Somalis would have be funded from abroad. Empires, traditionally, have been reluctant to squander wealth and strength on outposts. Xenophobes the Somalis might be, but they were generally hospitable hosts and comfortable subjects.

The British Empire arrived in Somaliland in 1884. The British were hardly newcomers to the region. Protection of pilgrim traffic to Mecca and Medina had been a concern of the Government of India for a century. Largely pursuant to that goal, India had maintained a significant outstation at Aden since 1838. Britons were, however, new to Somaliland. It is worth noting that the impetus behind the agreement negotiated between the British and the chief men of the Isaaq, Essa, Warsangeli and Gadabursi tribal sections, came mainly from the Somali side.[38] Indeed, when Captain H.G.C. Swayne (a lesser-known Victorian adventurer and sportsman) traveled through the country a few years earlier, he found himself besieged by tribal notables anxious to sign treaties and place themselves under British protection. It would be impossible to say for certain what Somali motivation was, but some significant developments could not have been far from Somali minds.

Under a succession of great Neguses, Ethiopia was on the march and had recently established its authority over the Southern Somali range in the Ogaden while imposing tribute on all. While not, at the time, much of a constraint on the nomads, this was not a happy augury and it seemed likely that Greater Ethiopia – incorporating Somalia in its entirety – was about to be rounded out.[39] Meanwhile, the Egyptian protectors facing bankruptcy, riot, rebellion and foreign occupation at home, and the Madhist rising in the Sudan, had just decamped. Were this not enough, the French had commenced negotiations with some sections of the Essa in the 1830s and for half a century already had been ensconced in Djibouti, the future French Somaliland. The Italians, meanwhile, had been sniffing about Southern Somalia for a decade, and were about to establish themselves in Somalia in relationship with the Darood tribal confederacy, with their chief port of Mogadishu.

Somali preference is probably comprehensible when we consider that Somalis knew more about the world than the world knew about them, and given other characteristics we have seen. Ethiopian overlordship simply could not be borne. By 1884, the French had an evil reputation in the Muslim world, especially given their bloody suppression of the Kabyle rebellion in Algeria. They were known, as well, for assimilationist policies and intrusive ways. Altogether, the Northern Somalis might have considered the French to be not much better than the Ethiopians. The Italians were little known, but it was already clear that they, like the French, practiced assimilation when they could. What would the Somalis have known of the British? Probably more, and more favorable things than we might think.

British India, after all, was the greatest Muslim power in the world, while the maritime link through the Gulf of Aden had been in operation for some time. Aden, of course, part of the Indian system was right across the Gulf. In 1884, the British were the Ottoman Sultan’s friends, and had almost gone to war for him a few short years before. It is true that they had occupied Egypt in 1882, but they were tolerant and easy-going occupiers. A generation previously they had protected Egypt from the Wahhabite heretics, as they were then protecting it from the Sudanese Mahdists. We might imagine, as well, that the Adeni and Bombay merchants, resident in Zeila, and beginning to set up shop in Berbera told favorable stories and had an interest in ensuring that Somaliland ended up in the correct ecumenicum. . In any case, was not the Indian Army garrison in Aden the largest consumer of Somali meat, and were not Britain and India the source of most Somali imports? Finally, we should remember that 1884 was not 2013. In 1886, Islamic moderates predominated, particularly in Egypt. For these persuasive authorities, Britain was model, mentor and patron.

By terms of the agreements reached, the members of the tribal sections represented became ‘British Protected persons’, and in their lands (still to be defined) Britain was recognized, in return, as the paramount power even while ultimate sovereignty and ownership remained vested in the tribes.[40] The status of Somaliland generally, and of British protected Somalis thereafter, remained ill-defined. Some things are clear. Legally, Somaliland was never a colony. When resident in the United Kingdom, protected persons remained resident aliens without right of residence. Somalis and Somaliland, therefore, were never ‘British’ in any final sense. Difficulties, at least in the early days, arose less often than they might have if only because no external power pressed, the Somalis welcomed the arrangement and were not problematic on those occasions when they turned up in the United Kingdom.[41]

Britain wanted very little from its new protectorate, and intended to commit resources locally commensurate to its importance. Somali factored into late nineteenth century imperial calculations primarily as a source of fresh meat for Aden, a dependency of a dependency. In 1897, when the borders of Somaliland were in the process of definition, Rennell Rodd, the British negotiator, was reminded by Queen Victoria that Britain’s line should be consistent with the scale of its interest. No sacrifices should be made, or risks taken. No substantial investment was necessary or wise. No great purpose could be accomplished here. Local challenges were to be negotiated away or pacified. The Government of the Protectorate, insofar as possible, should aim at being self-sustaining. No effort should be made to change the Somalis; indeed, it was probably best all-around if the British attempted to change their Somalis as little as possible.[42] When tendered, this advice would have been very welcome to the British Protected residents of Somaliland.

A brief honeymoon followed the creation of the Protectorate, with the British doing very little other than to maintain markets in the coastal towns and the Somalis carrying on much as before, thankful perhaps that they had avoided a worse fate by finding a suitably easy-going, undemanding successor to the Egyptians, successors to the Ottomans. The Protectorate Administration – such as it was – attempted nothing in the way of development and the British Somalis wanted none. What little money the Protectorate accrued from excise and import taxes was just about enough to pay for the upkeep of the skeleton administration that was put in place. Because there was no glory or wealth to be won in Somaliland, it was viewed as a burden by whichever Ministry was told off for the task. The Protectorate passed from the India Office to the Foreign Office in 1898, and then to the Colonial Office in 1905. This game of ‘hot potato’ never really ended and Somaliland was firmly established in official minds as a ‘Type Four Dependency’: nothing was expected or possible here. Government would be administration of what existed while the Protectorate endured. The Somalis, almost certainly, would have welcomed the assessment. The Somalis did not propose to be changed. Britain had no intention of incurring the cost necessary to change them. It was a marriage made in heaven.

The early-Protectorate honeymoon ended abruptly with the dervish rebellion, beginning in 1899, when the Salahiya Shayk, Sayyid Mohammed Abdullah Hassan (Abdullah Hassan hereafter – popularly the ‘Mad Mullah’), raised the green banner of Islam against foreign interlopers of all kinds. Essentially, the history of the Protectorate until 1920 is a record of campaigns. The foreigners against whom Abdullah Hassan was primarily reacting, however, were the Ethiopians then on the move under Negus Menelik II, and beginning to make their occupation of the Ogaden effective while expanding into the Haud range to the South. Abdullah Hassan was himself a member of the Dolbanhante tribe, the range of which extended into the Ogaden. His tribal identity ensured that the dervish uprising quickly became primarily a British rather than Ethiopian problem. The Dolbanhante, and Abdullah Hassan, were British Protected Somalis.

The ensuing war, enduring until 1920, is not our concern here. In the end, Abdullah Hassan was defeated, as he inevitably must be. The wonder is not that he lost, but that it was influenza rather than bullets which ultimately carried him off. The incident is primarily important for our purpose for two reasons. Firstly, what had been a comfortable, ‘no cost, low cost’ occupation – with few obligations recognized by the imperial power and very few demands made by the imperial subjects – was transformed significantly.

The British Empire could fight Abdullah Hassan and endure the cost associated with that policy, or it could scuttle. Its first instinct was to scuttle, and an attempt was made to abandon the Protectorate in 1910. In 1910, the Administration withdrew to the coast, restricting its operation to the ports of Berbera, Bulhar and Zeilah only. Protected tribes were armed and advised to defend themselves. However, once armed, the tribes turned upon one another in an orgy of blood feud. Perhaps a third of the population of Somaliland perished before imperial assets lurched forward again. In 1913, the Administration was extended to the interior once again. The change was significant. The British had to realize, after 1913, that they had implicitly assumed an obligation to the Somalis. The Empire was ‘responsible’ thereafter, to a degree that would have been refused in 1884. The British Protected Somalis, on their part, had to recognize that without British assistance they were no longer capable either of protecting themselves – the Isaaqs were principal local adversaries of Abdullah Hassan – or managing violence amongst themselves. It appears that even two decades of easy-going British imperialism had deprived the Somalis of whatever intrinsic ability they had had to manage inter-clan tension among themselves.[43] Indeed, by 1934 there were worries in the Administration that it had become so adept at protecting the Somalis against themselves that it encouraged rather than discouraged tribal trouble.[44] The Somalis, in short, had long been an imperial people in the sense that they lived within one or another Empire. They were now an imperialized people – a subject nation existing in a symbiotic relationship with the imperial power, and separable only with the danger of considerable difficulty, violence and disarray. The British imperial presence may have been unobtrusive but it was probably more insidious for that fact. The Somalis themselves seem to have recognized the change, and in the aftermath of the Dervish incident, the prevailing national sentiment concerning the Empire appears to have been anxiety that the British might one day decamp and leave the Somalis to their own devices.[45]

It hardly needs to be mentioned, of course, that in the process of defeating Abdullah Hassan, British imperial forces – entirely African and Indian, supplementing local levies and tribal allies – effectively occupied the country for the first time. It might be that the British Somaliland Protectorate was created in 1884. It truly did not enter the Empire until 1920. Its foster father was Abdullah Hassan.

It should be added, as well, that recognized boundaries were by-product of the war with the Dervishes. Tentative division worked out in the 1880s between imperial powers, began to harden in the 1890s as imperial authorities, all challenged by the dervishes, sought to make their sovereignty effective and to ensure that meaningful control was exercised beyond their own frontiers. Meanwhile, if anything, the Somalis had become more nomadic than ever as the Dervish movement disrupted what otherwise appear to have been recognized tribal ranges, while preventing the seasonal perambulations which permitted the Somalis to keep their flocks in being without degrading any particular range.[46] For the moment, however, the borders represented for a nomadic people less a real constraint than the opportunity to escape justice on one side by crossing the line to the other.[47] Alas for the Somalis, this situation did not endure forever, indeed, for long.

In the meantime, in the nature of things, something of an infrastructure had begun to develop – towns were founded where there had been none before, settled, urban life developed in a nation still consisting predominantly of nomads. Somaliland contained a population estimated at 300,000 in 1925. Towns had begun to emerge around the District Commissioners’ stations and military cantonments where people sought relief from poverty child of dislocation and security in a system without any. The District Commissioner, Governor Kiddermaster later wrote, had become ‘the dispenser of all benefits and the natives are accustomed to regard him as the repository from which wind-falls may be got’.[48] Berbera – an empty roadstead a century before – had a permanent population of 10,000 already. Somaliland was changing, quickly.

Meanwhile, what Robert Heussler has called the ‘organize misunderstanding’ between administrators and natives, Briton and Somali had begun to develop, and then to solidify in a remarkably durable form.[49] In Somaliland, the nature of this ‘misunderstanding’ was to be particularly important for the way in which the Protectorate was organized and administrated since, in default of systematic anthropological study – which was not conducted until the last minutes of the Protectorate’s twilight – common sense based on experience was the only basis for action available. The war against Abdullah Hassan had been long and costly. Perceptions that followed from it did not much change but rather formed part of corporate memory. ‘The Somali’, observed Lieutenant-Colonel J.H. Stafford, of the Anglo-Italian Boundary Commission,

…has no written language, and so his memory is good. He knows to the anna what pay is due to him. He likes to have his grumble, but given a fair hearing he will accept the verdict cheerfully. Throughout the time we were there we had no trouble with our natives. There was the occasional broken head, but nothing in the nature of a strike. They are on the whole a clean race and make good personal servants.[50]

‘Somalis’, Governor Summers[51] observed, ‘being fanatical and ignorant’,

…are easily led by the numerous Wadads (Mullahs) who infest the country and flourish on the doles they levy from the people. The Wadads are apt to make much profit by stimulating and preaching resistance to Government orders, which the people themselves are inclined to dislike and oppose. They are usually quite uneducated and can read and write but little and rely chiefly on committing periods of the Koran to memory. None the less [sic], in time of difficulty they are often a considerable force for harm, and their political activities are far more often than not directed against the Government. It has, however, been found possible on various occasions to arrest them without serious difficulty, and though such a course must be resorted to only with the greatest discretion, when expeditiously carried out it has on occasion had immediately beneficial results.[52]

The key point, he thought, was to be on the lookout for serious trouble, which should be suppressed with expedition. It was pointless to look for ‘excessive affection or goodwill on the part off the people’ or even for much gratitude for the restoration of order or for the re-establishment of peace following the ‘suicidal internal strife of 1910–1913’. On the other hand, there was little ‘acute dislike of the Government’, and most were fearful that withdrawal would mean a return to chaos. The great thing, Summers thought, was ‘the maintenance of the power of the Government and its recognition by Somalis’.[53] This would be more easily accomplished with some tribes than with others. The Dolbahanta were very quiet, having been at the heart of the rebellion just defeated. They were the Abdullah Hassan’s people and had received ‘examples of punishment meted out to rebellious sections’ sufficient to last them for quite some time. The Warsangeli were generally quiet and in any case the tribal Gerads (which translates as ‘sultan’, a paramount chief with authority over all the Warsangeli) retained unusual authority, and they were sound. The Gadabursi were well-disposed and ill-armed. The Esa were ‘truculent and surly’, but that was largely because they were backward even by Somali standards. There were not many in the Protectorate and as they became better integrated they would probably come around. More troublesome altogether were some the Isaaq sections who were better armed, more inclined to insist on special treatment and in receipt of no recent salutary lessons. The Habr Toljaala were quiet and had never caused trouble. The Habr Awal, on the other hand, were very given to loose talk which sometimes could spiral out of control. They were also particularly disposed to listen to wadads of the disaffected variety and Hargeisa had become the scene of much trouble recently. The Habr Yunis were, Summers thought, apt to be the source of trouble in the future. They were given to collective defiance which had generally been met by conciliation. At times of excitement, they tended to assume the leadership of weaker tribes. Serious trouble was possible from this quarter, and if it arose, it would have to be dealt with quickly and harshly.[54]

Governor Lawrance concurred with Summers, in a 1925 note concerning the Somali character. Somalis, Lawrance thought, were very intelligent, quick and anxious to learn, but also vengeful, indifferent to authority, excitable, avaricious, egotistical and keen traders. They were clansmen through and through, and would not take action against one of their own. Tribal feeling would have to be taken into account ‘at all times and in connection with all issues’. Somalis were attracted to action, and presented by a ‘Somali offering reason and sound judgment and advising moderate measures, or what would be regarded by the Government as a wise course of action’, and another putting forward some hotheaded foolishness, ‘[they] would choose the hot head every time and without hesitation’. The most troublesome were the very young men, with a name to make, and the very old men, with long memories and little to lose.[55] The Somalis were a ‘virile and intelligent people’. Alas, they had only reached a level of ‘loose tribal organization in which even the tribal elders and headmen exercise but small control’: ‘[a]t present the community exactly represents the stage of development of the Patriarch Abraham and his friends, and photographs of the Somalis would serve admirably for an illustrated edition of the Book of Genesis’.[56] It was hardly surprising, he latter opined, that they were:

unlike the people of other African dependencies. They acknowledge no parental authority, their headmen have little or no control over them and, as a whole, they are disinclined to take any good advice offered to them by those responsible for their well-being and good government.[57]

As pure a nation of anarchists as ever existed.

Governor Glenday,[58] in 1941, essentially repeated virtually every element of what was, by this time, essentially revealed and confirmed truth. He innovated only in advising that the young men, having had little recent experience of armed encounters with Government forces were beginning to forget what these could mean. Acts in ‘flagrant contravention of the public peace’, therefore, were still rooted in the supposed permanent characteristics of the people and society. After 27 years working with Somalis, Glenday concluded, ‘one need only add that so paradoxical is their character that Europeans either like or dislike them intensely; and there are very few who can regard them without bias’.[59] Greater clarity rooted in science, he thought, might well be counter-productive if the desire was to rule Somalis ‘combining efficiency and cheapness’. If the truth was that the Somalis were other than they thought they were, then trouble could be anticipated. ‘[I]f you really want to upset Somali susceptibilities, suggest they are of Galla extraction. I believe that they would take less offense at being called ‘Kikuyu’ than Galla, whom they loathe. The former would be absurd but the latter possibly only too true’. [60]The British knew the essentials. Why worry about what could be of academic interest only?[61]

Meanwhile, the Dervish incident and the expense it had entailed had traumatized the Protectorate Government and its Colonial Office master. Hesitation, no doubt, was not much allayed by the note of caution found in assessment of what might be obtained from the Somalis. In occupying the country for the first time, London began to become aware of how little of value it had. The result was predictable:

Caution and appeasement were now the administrative watchwords in Somaliland. Modern developments were thus to be introduced with tact and patience, and soft-pedaled if the prickly Muslim Somalis responded unfavorably. No attempt was made to impose direct taxes on the turbulent nomads, for fear of a very strong reaction, and Christian missionary activity was henceforward strictly prohibited. It was firmly and repeatedly drummed into all who served in Somaliland that nothing must ever be done that might seriously antagonize the local population. It was bad enough trying to regulate their endless and often bloody clan feuds without risking any wider embroilment. The Somaliland Protectorate, consequently, was ruled with a light, sympathetic touch befitting its situation as a territory with no European settler population.[62]

It was the common policy of all colonial powers following the Dervish incident,

When dealing with these brave, difficult people, of interfering as little as possible with native custom – even when this custom is sometimes contrary to European ideas of right – as long as it affects only themselves, in preference to an endeavor to enforce European standards by the employment of force.[63]

If Somaliland were ruled lightly, developed slowly, and with expectations deliberately set low in 1884, by 1920 the touch was more tentative still, the pace of change deliberately glacial and nothing expected at all.

Chapter 2 – Administration 1920–1938: ‘Combining efficiency with cheapness’

With victory in the long war against the Dervishes the stage was set for the conversion of what had become, effectively, a country under military occupation into just another imperial backwater. The initial auguries were not good: Somaliland ranked lowest in the Empire for revenue locally raised. When the cost of security – bloated by the war – was factored in, expenditures typically outran revenues 300%. Even allowing for the security requirement expenditure was low, with only Gambia and Nigeria spending less per capita than Somaliland, and with only strategically significant posts (Hong Kong and Gibraltar) costing more per capita to garrison. There was no European population at all, exclusive of the tiny community of soldiers and administrators. In some years, no other Europeans even appear to have visited the place. In 1938, for example, there were 66 resident officials and family members. The only resident Europeans who were not officials were the Italian Consul and the representative of a shipping line. In that year, only two non-official visitors entered the country. A survey team reported in 1938 that during an entire year in the country it only ran across Europeans of any description three times: an Oxford University botanical expedition and the officers commanding two military patrols. The only other non-Somali element in the population consisted of a small contingent of Indian and Adeni clerks employed by the Government – 94 of them in 1938 – and a few merchants residing in the Protectorate’s few towns. Communication with the outside world was difficult, and the first stop was invariably Aden whence passage in or out would have to be arranged either on the weekly mail boat, or on one of the small trading ships which occasionally found it worthwhile to make the voyage.

Somaliland, in essence, was from the beginning already a charter member of the imperial awkward squad even before it was formalized as one – it was downgraded to a ‘Class IV Governorship’ in 1947. For a brief period, before the Great War, Somaliland had attracted attention. For a few years, the war against Abdullah Hassan was the only war going, and the Protectorate was relatively well thought of for its hunting. By 1920, the honeymoon period was over and further interest did not recur. The Governor’s status reflected this. On the imperial totem pole, he stood close to the bottom, ranking with such luminaries as the Governors of St. Helena, Zanzibar, the Leeward Islands, the Falkland Islands and the Commissioner of Weiheiwei. It was the least prepossessing of Britain’s dependencies, and generally, the despair of that sub-section of the Colonial Office delegated to monitor events locally against the unlikely eventuality that answers would be required – the least well-appointed, the most vexing of an East African group which included Tanganyika, Nyasaland, Northern Rhodesia, Uganda, Kenya, and Zanzibar. Of these, only Nyasaland sometimes provided greater disappointment. The British Protectorate in Somaliland was, Lewis considered, quite plainly the ‘Cinderella of Empire’.

Other items suggest the remoteness of the place, and the willingness of the Colonial Office (CO) to leave well enough alone, barring embarrassing questions periodically asked in Parliament. Somaliland’s bi-annual reports were the bane of the CO clerks called upon to review them. Nothing of interest was ever reported, and yet the Governor was compelled by custom to stick to the format, reporting the usual miserly expenditures as if something had actually been accomplished, and the occasional local dust-ups as if major military actions had been fought. And besides, the Protectorate’s reports were cut and paste jobs, albeit the clerks conceded, the tiny staff at the Governor’s disposal probably made this inevitable. He would try to do better, Governor Lawrance informed Leopold Amery, then Colonial Secretary, and in the meantime would restrict his reporting to an annual summary. Truth be told, he suggested, in a ‘hold the line’ colony nothing much could be expected other than ‘business as usual’ – the result he was mandated to achieve. Still, the annual reports were bothersome, and it was ultimately decided not to waste paper printing them. ‘I would draw your attention’, one official minuted,

To the section on water boring, which is a depressing account of delay and failure; to the section on education which is hardly more encouraging; and to the District Commissioners’ reports which, while differing in their various types of naiveté, agree in reporting bad trade, political unrest, dissatisfaction at education and general stagnation.

In 1927, the Governor republished a digest of entitlements to guide the expenditures of local officials. In Commissioner’s circular No. 24, he reminded his officers that on appointment to a station, European officers were entitled to hire 12 camels to transport their effects. Eurasians, Goans and Asiatics could hire four. Native officers could employ one. In addition, there was an annual entitlement, for the carriage of supplies, of two camel loads for Europeans, one for Eurasians, Goans and Asiatics, and one half for a native officer. Entitlement was calibrated in camel-burdens since, in most of the Protectorate, there were no roads, albeit some tracks existed. Many of the camels hired by Europeans would have been burdened with drink of some variety. The few administrators present were a notoriously hard-drinking lot, there being little company and few diversions in the Protectorate. Moreover, there was nobody to stop them from drowning their sorrows prodigiously: until 1925, wives were not permitted, visits were rare, radio connection did not exist and the District Stations were only just beginning to be connected to Hargeisa by road.

With the war won, and while the de-militarization of Somaliland went forward, the focus of Protectorate officials and of the Colonial Office turned quickly – and periodically thereafter, when new developments argued for a re-assessment – toward the issue of future policy. Just what sort of province was Somaliland to be? The discussion was critical to inter-war administration and development policy, and enlightening for what it revealed regarding British thinking on the status and future of Somaliland. Conclusions reached provided the ideational framework within which administrative restructure and development took place.

The first post-Dervish War Governor, George Archer, was first off the mark. Archer’s advice carried considerable weight since he was a man with considerable experience in the region and in Somaliland, presiding ultimately over the military operations which destroyed Dervish power. Archer advised Winston Churchill, the Colonial Secretary in 1920, that with the war over it would probably be possible very shortly to reduce the financial subsidy to the Protectorate such that it would become self-supporting within the next few years. With the Mullah dead and his following destroyed or expelled, a new situation had development which would permit the British to curtail their local operations and therefore security costs. ‘There was’, Archer considered, ‘a strong consensus of opinion that all that is now necessary in Somaliland is to police the Interior to preserve order among the friendlies and to conduct an administration purely on political lines, which will adequately meet the needs of the country’. Otherwise, Archer heartily concurred with the analysis of Reginald Wingate, Sridhar of the Egyptian Army, and Governor of Sudan, appointed as Colonial Office Special Commissioner and despatched to consult on the Dervish question. Archer reiterated his position, and his strong concurrence with Wingate, in 1931, when the issue of the future of the Protectorate was reopened.

In Wingate’s opinion, the best course of action for the British in Somaliland was simply to abandon the place. All that really remained was to stage and establish the timeframe for withdrawal. The better the British became acquainted with the nature of the Protectorate the more apparent did it become that the prospects for the future were not promising. The root of the issue was that the Protectorate was an economic non-starter. It was true that there were sheep, camels and goats, and that there were markets close at hand for these. It was also true that this interest alone could not justify the expense associated with the maintenance of a Protectorate grown beyond the rudimentary form in which it had been first established. Perhaps some canning or ranching would be possible, in some other country, but the social reality of Somaliland ensured that even these modest industries would not be possible here. There had been some tentative attempts to locate oil. None had been found. There was hope that some other practicable deposits of mineral wealth might be found. Possibly some mica existed, but probably not in marketable quantity or quality. Perhaps a salt works might be established at Zeila. A company had been investigating the possibility but had decided not to proceed. The climate in the mountains, especially at Sheikh was quite tolerable, but it was unlikely that any farming population could be attracted here, particularly given that the Somalis themselves were purely nomadic and had expressed no interest in agriculture. It had also to be considered that it was not clear exactly how many Somalis there were, so the extent of any assumed obligation could only be estimated. The tribesmen had continually refused to consider any form of direct taxation to defray the costs of administration or to fund development in which they remained profoundly uninterested and refused to be counted as an obvious first step to taxation. There was, therefore, ‘so far as can be humanly foreseen no chance of development on either agricultural, industrial, or commercial lines’. If there were to be development, therefore, it would be externally generated, financed and maintained by imperial subsidy. Somaliland simply had no future, and Britain had no real interest in giving it one as a form of charity.

The issue remained, therefore, where it stood in 1909 when the British, faced with the prospect of fighting the Dervishes or scuttling had actually attempted to abandon the Protectorate exclusive of the Gulf ports, in which only the empire had a very minor interest. Britain could, ‘remain indefinitely on the defensive’, holding the line maintaining a stagnant administration, or ‘weary of holding a worthless country at great civil and military cost’ it could abandon the place. However, as in 1909, they were aware that abandonment would probably lead to huge bloodshed and ‘indescribable confusion’. In the meantime, since 1909, Britain had incurred a moral obligation to the Protected tribes from the point at which decisive operations commenced against Abdullah Hassan and the tribes were actually requested to take the field as allies. Britain – Wingate regretfully conceded – owed its Somalis something, but its obligation was not limitless and ‘should [not] be held to be binding for all time’. Effectively, Britain had a moral obligation to provide for local law and order, but should not consider that it would not, one day, discharge that obligation. The day after this obligation was discharged it would be free to leave, and it would be worthwhile periodically to reassess whether that day had come.

The District Commissioners did not dissent from this harsh verdict. Captain Gibb, based on 22 experience in Somaliland with the Somaliland Camel Corps (SCC) and then with the Administration, believed that resources squandered on Somaliland would be better devoted ‘to a country with a future’ – some place in Equatorial Africa perhaps. Somaliland was poor. Europeans could not live there. The inhabitants were nomads. There were no minerals and little trade. There was not even much water. The thing just could not be fixed. Major Rayne, with 20 years in the King’s African Rifles and the Administration, believed that the country did not have a future if taxation could not be introduced, and the nomads would simply not permit it. Therefore, nothing more than holding the line was possible. ‘Doubtless’, he considered,

[s]ome will imagine that the Government intends to withdraw to the coast again and a few will be found to preach that we are occupying the country without benefit to the masses or justice to the individual; but the officials must harden their hearts, ignore much, and be careful not to be persuaded to take up petty cases. I know that much injustice will be done, but the time has come when we should no longer enforce western methods on an eastern people.

Mr. R. Jebb, with 15 years in Africa and seven in Somaliland, felt that Somaliland should, along with the rest of the Empire cut its coat to its cloth and that local government should be restricted to resources raised locally. Enough money could probably be raised to provide for basic law and order, but Somaliland plainly could not afford, did not want, and did not necessarily require development. While he conceded that the course suggested was hardly inspiring, he also considered that ‘it has this to be said for it that it would be popular with the native of the country, and would therefore be easy to carry on’. Even the progressive natives did not desire change. Indeed, a generation of imperial experience in Somaliland had already revealed that administration was only really popular, and therefore possible, insofar as it confined itself to settling disputes and preserving order. Any development plans would only produce opposition, especially if the native population was asked to assist in meeting the costs. In any event, the British would have to ensure that they did not erect a system for which the natives were not ready, and which could never be sustained from internal resources, especially as the option of ultimate abandonment had not been excluded.

Colonel G.H. Summers, outgoing commander of the SCC, and incoming civil Governor (Governor 1922–1925), sounded a note of modest disagreement. It was true Somaliland was ‘of little, if any, use to the Empire’. It was worthless for settlement, had no trade, possessed no real ports, and was not connected to any other better-favored imperial possession of which it might be considered a defensive outwork, and that might have an interest in providing support. It was also true that the Protectorate was a graveyard for soldiers and for administrative careers and that millions had recently been squandered on the suppression of the Dervish movement with there being no possibility whatsoever that the money could ever be recouped. On the other hand, it was true that abandonment – while attractive on the surface – would really constitute cession of the Protectorate to either Italy or Abyssinia, and given that the Somalis had treaties with Britain and considered them valid, a significant blow might be struck to British prestige elsewhere. A policy of stagnation – simply ‘holding the line’ – also had its drawbacks. Significant savings were unlikely to be realized since the place was already stagnated. Moreover, the British would show up poorly against the Italians who were beginning to invest heavily in Somalia, or even the Abyssinians who were starting to construct roads and set up schools in the Ogaden. A policy of modest, tentative development, Summers thought, might be possible, one that would focus on studying the Protectorate – its human and natural resources – and on education (likely to pay a dividend in producing cheaper clerical staff) and veterinary projects, in turn focused on improving the only existent or probable economic base. With a modest commitment of additional funds from London, and with the maintenance into the postwar of sufficient armed force to permit the collection of taxes, some development might be possible. If the money were not forthcoming, either because London could not find it or because the Somalis would not provide it, then some form of abandonment should be seriously considered: the Protectorate either being completely evacuated, or the Administration being withdrawn from the interior and restricted to the coast, as in 1910.

The way forward, therefore, appeared relatively clear and the experts unanimous. Insofar as possible, the Somalis would be encouraged to continue self-government through tribal authorities. The basis of the law would remain her and Sharia adjudicated by qadis in most cases. Meanwhile, the Administration would refrain from interference in internal tribal matters and would confine its attention to the settlement of inter-tribal disputes. The garrison of the Protectorate would be radically reduced. Ultimately, a small gendarmerie would be supported by the SCC, retained as the smallest, cheapest military force necessary to maintain internal security through its ability to overawe any probable anti-imperial mustering. If resources permitted, a very modest development plan would commence; otherwise ‘holding the line’ would be the watchword. In all, perhaps 24 British civilians and about an equal number of military officials would be required to administrate the Protectorate. These individuals, of course, would be supported by a clerical staff, recruiting in India, and by rank and file Government employees, soldiers and policemen, recruited locally. In the event of an emergency, Archer felt certain that a tribal levy of 6,000–7,000 could be raised at little or no cost given the exceptional goodwill then demonstrated toward the Empire by the Somalis. The tribesmen, in any case, were anxious to make things work and could generally be depended upon to support this scheme. The one thing they dreaded, Archer thought, was another evacuation. Ultimately, if Britain forfeited the goodwill of the tribes and lost control of the interior, then it would have to be admitted in any case that, without the cooperation of the tribes, there could not be and never would have been a Somaliland Protectorate. In such a case, immediate abandonment was the only option. What was the point, after all, in holding on to ‘a valueless country’?

So, in the years after 1920, the Protectorate was established, effectively for the first time. Subsequent descriptions of British policy throughout 1939 were essentially repetitions of the post-Abdullah Hassan consensus. In 1931, for example, faced with the Great Depression and with austerity policies being introduced across the board, the Treasury re-opened the question of the future of the Protectorate. Conditions had changed greatly, as Sir Harold Baxter Kiddermaster (Governor 1926–1932) put it: ‘what was little more than a military occupation has become the beginnings of an administration’. Development was now possible and, with the Italians on the move in Somalia, inimical comparisons were being made. The time had come, therefore, for another reassessment to review the alternatives that had been set out by Summers in 1922: could stagnation be tolerated, could development be financed, or was abandonment or cession the best choice now? Conversations ensued with the Government of the Protectorate. Were real economies possible? Kiddermaster thought not. Was development likely? Kiddermaster was not encouraging: no oil had been found; there was little possibility of agriculture taking off; the only thing of value in the country was the native stock, but the Somalis were ‘intractable’ and satisfied with their lives, ‘indifferent to ordinary trade and social welfare’. What about local taxation? Not possible, Kiddermaster returned: the experiment had been tried and had failed. Anything collected would be more than absorbed by the cost of getting it. Would it be possible to increase customs duties? The Governor was again discouraging. Duties were already so high that smuggling was rampant, and prosecution simply led to litigation which the Somalis enjoyed as a type of free theatre. Possibly, then, the Somalis might be encouraged to adopt local self-Government, ‘analogous to that obtained in other African dependencies’. A self-governing Protectorate, London thought, might be better at producing disarmament and raising taxes. Kiddermaster thought not: again he pointed out the intractable, restless habits of the Somalis, their lack of tribal coherence and their nomadic nature as barriers to the scheme. However, he considered, it might be possible to cut the budget by so slashing development programs and such nascent social services as existed that a saving could be made. The Somalis would not care: the Somali ‘was indifferent to them, and it was extremely difficult if not impossible, to persuade him that it was reasonable that social services should be paid for. Faced with an alternative of taxation or no social services, the Somali would unhesitatingly choose the second’. In presenting his annual budget, Kiddermaster was obviously on the defensive, because he could not, in the end, identify suitable reductions or any way forward to something better. The budget was justified line by line – it details included fodder for a Medical Officer’s pony, a refrigerator for Government House. The only real economies possible came by slashing the salaries and entitlements of European staff. The tone was defensive, deferential and defiant by turns. ‘Two courses are open to us’, he concluded, ‘either to decide that the country possesses nothing worth developing and accordingly reduce our administration to a skeleton form only or to go forward steadily in the faith that sometime in the future the work that is now being done will show that it has been productive of good’.

Treasury preference was easily established and predictable. Would it not be prudent, the Treasury wondered, to cede or abandon the Protectorate in whole or in part? The cession of backwater Zeilah to the Abyssinians appeared particularly desirable. They wanted it. With the development of Berbera, the port was mordant. The inhabitants and local nomads were Esa, split several ways and absolutely dependent since they had no real tribal government to speak of and therefore no foundation on which self-government might be erected. Even if such a drastic course were not chosen, would it not be a good idea to abandon whatever development schemes might be in progress? After all, the Governor himself admitted that the natives did not want them and absolutely would not pay for them. Surely administration could be restricted to the provision of law and order, ‘[h]aving regard to the wish of the inhabitants to be left alone and the extremely remote prospects of economic developments’? If Summer’s earlier advice, that Britain’s reputation as a civilized nation and colonial power would be discredited by this agenda, or by unflattering comparisons, were true, then this must have constituted a ‘strong reason for adopting the policy of evacuation’ rather than an argument for the commitment of greater resources? The Colonial Secretary in the Macdonald Government, Sydney Webb, Lord Passfield – in an earlier incarnation himself a Colonial Office clerk – concurred. Somaliland could hardly be administered for less. There truly were few economies to be made. Moreover, the current policy, he thought, would not permit any sort of development calculated to improving the financial situation. Perhaps, he considered, the issue should be left alone until the Government was able to determine the answer to the ultimate question? Should Somaliland ‘be retained or disposed of in the most profitable market?’ – surrendered to Italy, perhaps, in exchange for considerations elsewhere. Snowden, the Chancellor of the Exchequer (and the only other Minister somewhat interested), agreed. Neither increased nor much-reduced expenditure was possible for the simple reason that there was not much to cut nor much point in committing more until the greater issue had been hashed out. The Protectorate, he felt, should be left to stumble on with the ‘barest minimum’ in the meantime. The possible cession of Zeila, likewise, would have to wait until greater issues could be resolved, and in the meantime the possible unfortunate effect this might have on African perceptions would have to be considered.

Shortly after this exchange, in September 1931, the question of future policy received due attention at a meeting of the Standing Sub-Committee of the Committee of Imperial Defense, on ‘Questions Concerning the Middle East’. It was decided that while abandonment or cessation were attractive, there were considerable non-quantifiable costs associated with abandoning or selling a protected people, and therefore that, like it or not, the continued administration of the Protectorate was necessary. In the future, however, ‘administration’ would be defined strictly as the minimum necessary for the preservation of law and order with development plans to be placed on hold and funded from local resources in the future. In the meantime, some minor economies might be realized by reducing local military estimates and by considering union, partial (sharing some services for example) or complete, with Aden. Passfield and Snowden agreed between themselves that on such a minor matter of local, imperial policy, Cabinet need not be involved and that their conclusions ‘should be adopted forthwith as the basis of future administration in the Protectorate’.

In 1939, finally, with war in Europe imminent and with it seeming increasingly likely that this war would implicate Italy and spread to the Mediterranean and Africa, the issue of the future of the Protectorate was taken up again. Meanwhile, a policy of ‘holding the line’ had produced relative stagnation, even though £2.5 million had been expended since 1900 and an annual obligation of something greater than £80,000 had been incurred. In an effort to achieve ‘minimum’ government, the Administration had been stripped to the bone. As Sir Arthur Salisbury Lawrance (Governor 1932–1939) apprised the Colonial Office when the possibility of a parliamentary commission of enquiry was mooted, it was difficult to see what more could be cut when ‘Government’ had been reduced to the point where its ultimate sanction rested upon a ‘surprise attack’ by troops and police during which they carried off the camels of ‘recalcitrant tribes’. Meanwhile, Administration morale drifted in the doldrums and the Somalis were beginning to believe that ‘they do not derive from their connection with the British Empire the benefits and advantages which they might legitimately expect to receive’.

Let it suffice at this point to summarize by saying that Somaliland was viewed until very late in the day as simultaneously indefensible and not worth defending. Actual cession to Italy in exchange for concessions elsewhere was discussed as, from a British perspective, it was the best option, but ultimately this idea was rejected due to possible prestige impacts elsewhere. In the end, it was determined that the Administration would carry on much as before, and in the event of an actual attack, the administrative population of the Protectorate would be evacuated. In the interval before that might become necessary, no great expenditures would be incurred to prepare for the defense of a dependency which, after all, there was no intention of defending. Such thinking concerning the Somaliland Protectorate remained consistent from victory over the Dervishes in 1920 and continued after the outbreak of war in 1939. Somaliland was, regrettably, a commitment which had grown beyond a point consistent either with British interests in the region or potential. It was unlikely that there would be any development that would make it anything other than an albatross around the imperial neck. Therefore, liabilities were to be kept to a minimum, and insofar as was possible an effort would be made to equate the costs of administration and revenues, with only such development permitted as would be locally fundable and calculated to reduce the subsidy burden. ‘Care and maintenance’, ‘holding the line’, ‘maintenance of law and order’ are phrases which appear repeatedly in documents concerning the future of the Protectorate. Somaliland’s future would be of a piece with its past. British administrators would moderate between the tribes and continue to facilitate such local trade as constituted the only real British interest. Other than this, the Somalis would be largely left to themselves to carry on with their own affairs in their own way, as they always had. The Colonial Office and the Protectorate Government would have liked to see a system in which a movement to a more ‘indirect’ style of administration was possible, as at once cheaper, more easily defensible, and a better preparation for eventual self-government. Alas, ‘indirect rule’ was a non-starter in Somaliland. There simply were no native authorities to associate with the task of Government. Whatever authority the sultans might have had was gone, except insofar as an exceptionally able man might be pushed forward as a spokesman from time to time. The Egyptians had introduced the akils but they were Government men, not intermediaries; albeit there was a continued press to nominate more, since each section wanted its own, not for his usefulness, however, but as a sign of status. Perhaps it might be that the dia-paying groups might be built up into something, but that would take years. Indirect rule, as was the approved style elsewhere, simply was not possible.

The Colonial Office recognized that it in accepting retention while admitting this logic, it was permitting an exceptional and considerable departure from general colonial policy. There would be little development. There would be no preparation for self-rule. The British Administration would remain more an occupation than an administration, ruling far more directly than was the case elsewhere. The good news was that the Somalis appeared content with the status quo. When the Somalis made up their minds that they desired something else, or when Somaliland slid too far into the debit side of an imperial equation, whether from a financial, moral, or strategic perspective, then the Protectorate would be ceded or abandoned. It was not a very rosy assessment. It is also not what we would expect as a statement of imperial policy, particularly at a time when the Empire was at its territorial zenith and development was its chief mission.

As consequence, the Government of the Protectorate was always rudimentary. Even by the standards of Britain’s other African dependencies, Somaliland was lightly staffed. The seat of the Government was at the Protectorate capital in Hargeisa while some elements remained at the previous seat of Government and most important port, Berbera. The Governor was often in residence at his Summer place in Sheikh. Executive authority was vested in the Governor, assisted by a Secretary (the chief Administrative Officer of the Protectorate) and an Assistant Secretary until 1935. In 1935, the provision of legal advice became the responsibility of a Legal Secretary who was the only legal officer of any description in the Administration. The Legal Secretary, in supplanting the Assistant Secretary, did not lay down administrative duties. It was the Legal Secretary, for example, who, in addition to judicial duties, customarily prepared the annual reports and who deciphered confidential telegrams. Between 1920 and 1922, the Governor also enjoyed the assistance of a Deputy Commissioner and Officer Commanding Troops. Thereafter, as an economy, these functions were vested in the Commander of the SCC. The Governor merited an Aide-de-Camp, but in fact, never had one; albeit from time to time a retired officer inclined to stay on might take on this responsibility gratis. This central executive was assisted by a small clerical establishment responsible to the Secretary. In addition to a Chief Clerk, the Secretary could dispose four 1st Grade Clerks, six 2nd Grade Clerks, twenty-four 4th Grade Clerks, eight 1st Grade interpreters, and ten 2nd Grade interpreters in support of administrative operations. These clerks were Indians, mainly recruited in the Punjab. Some Somalis menials would, of course, be employed in Government buildings in Hargeisa and at Sheikh.

The central purposes of the Protectorate being administration, the most important figures other than these were the Administrative Officers – District Commissioners (DC) until 1931 and then styled District Officers (DO) until 1940. Until 1927, there were five of these, deployed in one person stations (Berbera, Erigavo, Borama and Burao, Hargeisa with Las Anod added subsequently), dividing the Protectorate between them. In 1927, a Consul was added in Harrar, with another in Jigjigga in 1931. The purpose of the Consuls was, effectively, to act as District Commissioners for nomadic Somalis wandering into Abyssinian territory, mediating between the various clans, protected persons generally and officers of the Government of Abyssinia. From 1928, most Districts were assigned two DCs, one of them senior, with one in training. The purpose was to provide for continuity of tenure – in the sense that one or the other would always be in station – and to alleviate isolation and loneliness. From 1930, the distribution of DCs became a little less concentric and more reflective of the actual burden of work. Thirteen DCs were now distributed among six Districts with the aim of permitting one to remain in each station, while the others circulated or went on leave. They were distributed as follows: one DC permanently in Berbera, and another in Zeila, with two on tour; one DC covered both Burao and Nogal, while two toured the District; there was one DC in Hargeisa, with two on tour; and another at Erigavo with two moving with the tribes. Meanwhile, the consuls in Jigjigga and Harrar retained their watching brief, and now ranking as Senior DCs, called in generally when ‘tribal affairs’ were involved. Five cadets (DCs in training) were centrally controlled and deployed to cover officers on leave.

DCs were not the only residents of stations, but they were generally the only resident Europeans. In Berbera, the DC was assisted by a town crier, messengers, an arms clerk, a sanitary inspector, station hands, a tax collector and various sweepers to provide for public sanitation in Somaliland’s biggest town. In relatively remote Erigavo, however, the DC might well be reduced to the company of two native political agents doubling as interpreters during those times when it seemed safe not to deploy policemen or soldiers to the District. All DCs were supported in the performance of their functions by native counterparts, the akils and the qadis mainly – both essentially judicial appointments and (from 1921, in the case of akils, and 1937 for qadis) presiding over subordinate courts dealing with the Administration of tribal and koranic law, when issues of importance were not involved. By a 1939 ordinance, akils courts were constituted as Subordinate Civil Courts, operating under the District Court in each district. Essentially, akils dealt with issues referred to them by the District Commissioners, involving civil cases of smaller value than 1,000 rupees.

Policing was another principle function of the Protectorate; police administration underwent some changes in the course of the interwar period, but the police throughout remained essentially a paramilitary force which could be called upon to perform military functions as necessary. The Superintendent of the Force was the Governor who either made or approved all appointments above the rank of Inspector. Rather oddly, it was the Somaliland Police, rather than the SCC which provided the escort to the Governor and a Guard for the official residence at Sheikh. Protectorate-wide, the police apparatus contained a small command cell composed of a Commandant, a Deputy and an Assistant, or some subset of these depending on year. Until 1927, there was a District Police Officer in each of the Protectorate’s Districts. In that year, however, the local police and administrative functions were amalgamated. The District Police Officers were re-designated the junior District Commissioners. Three ‘proper’ imperial police superintendents were added to the establishment of the Protectorate Administration, in 1938. Otherwise, the only other ‘British’ policeman typically resident was H.O. Cain, responsible for pay and quartermaster services after 1929, and in a few particularly fat years assisted by a deputy with responsibility for transport. Rank and file policemen were recruited locally, uniformed and barracked. There were, perhaps, 500 policemen in total, ranging from simple constables, through to the mighty Sergeant Major of the force, provisioned and supported by a small cadre of sweepers, syces, storekeepers, veterinary assistants, armorers, tailors, shoemakers, and bandsmen.

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[1] Douglas Hall, ‘Somaliland’s Last Year as a Protectorate’, African Affairs, Vol. LX, No. 238, (January 1961), p. 27.

[2] Niall Ferguson, Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power (London: Basic Books, 2003).

[3] Kenneth Bradley, Once a District Officer (New York: St. Martins, 1966), p. 1.

[4] Ibid., p. 115–116.

[5] Ralph Furse, Acuparius. Recollections of a Recruiting Officer (London: OUP, 1962), p. 295.

[6] Ibid., p. 302.

[7] Ibid., p. 306.

[8] Ronald Robinson and John Gallagher, Africa and the Victorians. The Official Mind of Imperialism (London: MacMillan, 1967).

[9] Kenneth Robinson, The Dilemma of Trusteeship. Aspects of British Colonial Policy Between the Wars (London: OUP, 1965).

[10] Ioan Lewis, A Pastoral Democracy: a Study of Pastoralism and Politics Among the Northern Somali of the Horn of Africa (Munster: Lit Verlag, 1961).

[11] Ioan Lewis, Blood and Bone. The Call of Kinship in Somali Society (Lawrenceville N.J.: The Red Sea Press, 1994), p. 16. Quite correctly, Lewis recommends a ‘historical’ perspective in studying the history of the Protectorate.

[12] Mohammed Diriye Abdullahi, Culture and Customs of the Somalia (London: Greenwood, 2001), p. 8–14.

[13] Abdullahi, p. 12–14, and Lewis, Saints and Somalis, p. 7; and, Mohammed Haji Mukhtar, ‘Islam in Somali History: Fact and Fiction’, Abdalla Omar Mansur ‘Contrary to a Nation: The Cancer of the Somali State’, and Abdalla Omar Mansur, ‘The Nature of the Somali Clan System’, in The Invention of Somalia, Ali Jimale Ahmed (ed.) (Lawrenceville NJ: Red Sea Press, 1995). Mohammed Eno argues in ‘The Homogenity of the Somali People. A Study of the Somali Bantu Ethnic Community’ (St. Clements University PhD Dissertation, 2005) that the Somalis are, in fact, a composite people forced together at a relatively late date to resist the expansion of Ethiopian Christian civilization.

[14] Lewis, A Pastoral Democracy, p. 297–8.

[15] John Drysdale, The Somali Dispute (London: Pall Mall Press, 1964), p. 8, Lewis, Saints and Sinners, p. 6, and Mohammed Haji Mukhtar, ‘Islam in Somali History: Fact and Fiction’, The Invention of Somalia, Ali Jimale Ahmed (ed.) (Lawrenceville NJ: Red Sea Press, 1995), p. 17.

[16] Abdullahi, p. 8.

[17] Mohammed Haji Mukhtar, ‘Islam in Somali History: Fact and Fiction’, in The Invention of Somaliland, Ali Jimale Ahmed (ed.), (Lawrenceville N.J.: Red Sea Press, 1995), p. 17.

[18] There are a few Christian families, generally Catholic. These are the progeny of orphans educated during a brief attempt at Catholic mission.

[19] Lewis, Saints and Somalis, p. 10.

[20] Ibid., p. 13.

[21] Ibid., p. 13.

[22] For the position of Somali notables, and for tribal government generally, see Lewis, A Pastoral Democracy, and, Ahmed Artan Hanghe, The Sons of Somal (Cologne: Omimee, 1993).

[23] Hanghe, p. 12–14.

[24] Lewis, A Pastoral Democracy, p. 3.

[25] Gerald Hanley, Warriors. Life and Death Among the Somalis (London: Eland, 1993), p. 22.

[26] Major H. Rayne, Sun, Sand and Somals. Leaves From the Notebook of a District Commissioner in British Somaliland (London: H.F.&G Witherby, 1921), p. 58.

[27] Lewis, A Pastoral Democracy, p. 6.

[28] Ibid., p. 11.

[29] Hanghe, p. 40.

[30] Lewis, A Pastoral Democracy, p. 30.

[31] For example, Margaret Laurence, The Prophet’s Camel Bell (London: Macmillan, 1963), p. 186.

[32] NA WO 32/10863, Future of Somaliland Camel Corps, East Africa, CO to HQ Northern Sub-Area, ‘Private Affairs of the Askaris’, 25 July 1944.

[33] NA WO 287/1, British Somaliland, Vol. I (General), 1925.

[34] Lewis, Saints and Somalis, p. 3.

[35] Ibid., p. 52.

[36] NA CO 1015/1203, Policy in British Somaliland Protectorate, J.R. Williams Minute, 24 June 1954.

[37] NA CO 535/82, Intelligence Report, November/December 1927. In 1938, there was some consideration of amending Protectorate legislation which prohibited Somalis from emigrating, without the Governor’s express permission. Both the CO and the Protectorate Government, however, concurred that the issue had best be left where it was. NA CO 535/129, File 5, Emigration to Foreign Countries Ordinance, CO to FO, 29 June 1938, FO to CO, 14 July 1938, and CO to FO, 29 July 1938.

[38] See, I.M. Lewis, A Modern History of Somalia (Boulder: Westview, 1965), p. 46.

[39] Abdullahi, p. 21.

[40] NA CO 535/131, File 18, Land Tenure.

[41] They did not turn up in the UK, perhaps, mainly because Governors were routinely enjoined to do what they could to restrain Somali wanderlust, particularly insofar as it direct their steps toward Britain. For an example of a Somalis status in the UK see CO 535/86, File 13 Complaints by British Somalis.

[42] Drysdale p. 26.

[43] Lewis, Saints and Somalis, p.52. Chater, 1943: ‘Fifty years of British protection, during the last 22 of which there has been an ever-increasing tendency toward direct government, have largely deprived the Somali leaders of their sense of authority and responsibility’. NA CO 535/138, File 15 (Grazing Areas) Chater to CO, 14 March 1943. The explanation most commonly provided are that, in assuming the burden of arbitration and in performing that role effectively, the British had destroyed what was left of the prestige of the indigenous Sultans who had previously been the arbitrators of last resort, and the focus of episodic cohesion against external threats. Abdullah Hassan had a movement, in effect, against which the British Somalis were capable only setting a network of squabbling clans. Another possibility is that in so effectively assuming the notary function, previewed by the Egyptians, the British had inadvertently tipped the balance in Somali society away from the clans and toward the dia-paying group as the basic social building block. A clan, of course, existed in part to moderate disagreements, and to provide the basis for common action. The dia-paying group existed to facilitate disagreements by providing for more effective collective assessment, and had no external implication.

[44] NA CO 535/102, File 7, Somali Grievances, Lawrance to Cunliffe Lister, 15 January 1934. Inter-tribal violence, while always endemic, was much more usual after 1920 than before, in Lawrance’s view.

[45] NA CO 535/85, File 17, Article for publication in the African Society’s Journal, p. 8.

[46] Jama Mohammed. ‘The Political Ecology of Colonial Somaliland’, Africa, Vol. LXXIV, No. 4 (Fall 2004), p. 539.

[47] Kings College London (KCL), Clifford Papers, Clifford 6/3, E.H.M. Clifford, The British Somaliland Boundary (London: RG Society, April 1936), p. 293. One of the reasons Abdullah Hassan, in fact, had been able to resist as long as he had was because he, like many nomadic Somalis, played the border like a master.

[48] NA CO 535/90, File 4 (Saving Bank Ordinance), Kiddermaster to Passfield, 18 September 1930. See also, NA CO 535/85, File 17, Article for publication in the African Society’s Journal.

[49] Robert Heussler, Yesterday’s Rulers. The Making of the British Colonial Service (London: OUP, 1963), p. 206–7.

[50] KCL, Clifford Papers, Clifford 8/21, J.C.H Stafford, The Anglo–Italian Somaliland Boundary (London: Royal Geographical Society, 1931), p. 105.

[51] Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Gerald Henry Summers, CMG 1920. Born 1885, Major Indian Army from 1914, deployed to East Africa 1914–1915, temporary Colonel 1919, Deputy Commissioner and Officer Commanding Troops in Somaliland from 1916, Governor September 1922–1926. CO List.

[52] KCL, Clifford Papers, Clifford 8/13, G.H. Summers, Memorandum on Political Affairs in the Somaliland Protectorate (London: Waterlow and Sons, 1926), p. 32–3.

[53] Ibid.

[54] KCL, Clifford Papers, G.H. Summers, Memorandum on Political Affairs, p. 34–9.

[55] KCL, Clifford Papers, Lawrence ‘Somali Character’, 1925.

[56] NA CO 535/85, File 17, Article for publication in the African Society’s Journal, p. 6–7.

[57] NA CO 535/126, File 3, Lawrance to CO, 15 July 1937.

[58] Vincent G. Glenday. Education: MA Oxford Natural Science, FGS Diploma in Forestry. Assistant District Commissioner East African Protectorate 1913, Assistant District Commissioner NFD Westgate Mall siege in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2013. In recent weeks, they have carried out a spate of attacks in Kenya 1914–1919, Officer in Charge of Disarmament NFD Kenya, 1919, District Commissioner British Somaliland March–September 1920, District Commissioner September 1922, Abyssinian Mission 1927–1928, Provincial Commissioner Kenya 193–1931, Senior District Commissioner 1934, Provincial Commissioner 1935, Governor Somaliland 1939–1941; thereafter British Agent for East Aden and Resident Hadhramaut States, Resident Zanzibar 1946–1952 and Speaker in the East African Central Legislative Assembly. CO List.

[59] NA CO 535/138, File 13 (Reorganization of the Somaliland Protectorate) Glenday to CO, 7 June 1941, enclosing ‘Some Notes on the Somaliland Protectorate With Special Reference to Its Administration’.

[60] NA CO 535/138, File 13, Glenday to Seel, 3 August 1942.

[61] NA CO 535/138, File 15 (Grazing Areas) Chater to CO, 14 March 1943; and, Glenday to CO, 29 April 1943.

[62] Lewis, Blood and Bone, p. 4–5.

[63] Rayne, Sun, Sand and Somals, p. 59.

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