This paper first reconstructs the history of the Anglo-Ethiopian agreements from 1897 to 1954, it then examines the various diplomatic means the Somali elite employed to recover the lost territories, and finally, it retraces the evolution of imperial decisions from 1954 to 1958, and from 1958 to 1960.

By Jama Mohamed

The English Historical Review, Volume 117, Issue 474, November 2002, Pages 1177–1203

Published: 01 November 2002


The 1897 Anglo‐Ethiopian Treaty and the 1954 Anglo‐Ethiopian Agreement (under which one-third of Somaliland – the Haud – was ceded to Ethiopia) were central to the partition and colonization of Somaliland; they were also crucial to the decolonization of the country. When the 1954 agreement was announced, Somali nationalism became increasing militant: the Somali people organized protests in all the colonial territories; sent delegations to the United Kingdom and the United States to appeal the loss of territories; and threatened to use violence to recover the territories. Cabinet policy was to maintain Somaliland as a protectorate for the foreseeable future for geo‐political reasons: Somaliland was viewed as an important strategic asset in the containment of communism and Egyptian influence. Between 1954 and 1957, the Cabinet sought to manage Somali nationalism in two ways: first, by undertaking various diplomatic initiatives to return the lost territories; and second, by attempting to create ‘greater Somalia’ under the control of a consortium of international powers. When these efforts failed, the Cabinet decided in 1957 to grant Somaliland independence to coincide with the independence of Italian Somalia in 1 July 1960: between 1958 and 1960, Cabinet policy prepared Somaliland for independence and union with Somalia.

In 1949, the British Cabinet discussed constitutional development in twenty-four small territories, and decided that, unlike large territories with the potential to build viable economies and achieve independence, or small territories likely to form federations and thus capable of achieving self-government and independence, small territories such as Somaliland must remain for the foreseeable future under British rule.[1] In 1954, the Cabinet decided that territories such as Somaliland were ‘never likely to achieve full independence’.[2] In 1956, the Cabinet reiterated its earlier decisions about Somaliland.[3] In 1958, the Cabinet reversed its policy, and decided to grant independence to Somaliland. Two years later the country became independent. The historiography of decolonization[4] privileges two factors in the end of the empire: the shift in the balance of power between the great powers and the development of nationalist politics during the Second World War.[5] But such meta-narratives ignores the specificity of decolonization in the different regions of the empire. The Cabinet made sharp distinctions between the political futures of different regions, colonies, and protectorates. Moreover, the final decision to decolonize was often disconcertingly rapid and even chaotic. Somaliland is a case in point. The context of the decolonization of Somaliland was local and regional rather than global, the late 1950s rather than the 1940s.

In 1954 the Anglo-Ethiopian Agreement was concluded under which one-third of the territory of Somaliland was ceded to Ethiopia. When the agreement was announced in the country in January 1955, the Somali people took the news very badly. Demonstrations were organized throughout the territory, and elite nationalist parties gained a public following and support that they had hitherto lacked. The growth of nationalist politics threatened the stability of the whole region. Yet the Cabinet was willing to ride the storm and maintain control over the territory, until 1958, when the decision to decolonize was suddenly reached. But why the sudden change of policy? In order to answer the question, this paper first reconstructs the history of the Anglo-Ethiopian agreements from 1897 to 1954, it then examines the various diplomatic means the Somali elite employed to recover the lost territories, and finally, it retraces the evolution of imperial decisions from 1954 to 1958, and from 1958 to 1960. Between 1954 and 1958, the Cabinet was concerned about various issues such as the management of Somali nationalism, the settlement of the dispute over land between Somaliland and Ethiopia, the incorporation of both Somaliland and Ethiopia into the western alliance, and the containment of Egyptian and Soviet influences in the region. These considerations, some of which had geopolitical implications while others were specific to Somaliland and Britain, were of great significance in the decolonization of Somaliland.


The 1884 Egyptian withdrawal from Berbera, Zeila, Bulhar, Harar, and Sudan unleashed a scramble over the evacuated areas between Great Britain, France, and Ethiopia. The race was to three areas: Fashoda, Harar, and the Somali country. By 1885, the British had won the race to the Somali country, and had signed various treaties with Somali elders in which they agreed ‘never to cede, sell, mortgage, or otherwise give for occupation – save to the British Government – any portion of the territory presently inhabited by them, or being under their control’.[6] By 1885, the Ethiopians had won the race to Harar. The race to Fashoda was not yet settled. It was unleashed by Anglo-French rivalry over the Sudan. The British invaded the Sudan from the north, and straight down the Nile; while the French decided to invade it from the south, across the Congo and up the Nile.[7] The British viewed the French invasion as a threat to British interests from Cairo to the Cape.[8] ‘At the end of the last century’, according to James Rennell Rodd, ‘the issue which stood out above all others in the African problem was whether a line of cleavage in the great continent should run south to north, or from west to east.’[9] The Somalis were caught between these competing imperial interests.

For the British as for the French, Menilek II, the Emperor of Ethiopia, was an indispensable ally; or, as David Levering Lewis put it, he made himself indispensable to both powers.[10] Ethiopia was sited at a strategic location, holding the southern gateway to the Nile and to Fashoda. In their quest for Fashoda, both the British and the French made specific demands on Menilek. In return for arms, munitions, and the training of the Ethiopian army,[11] the French demanded direct assistance in the invasion of the Sudan in terms of soldiers and other logistical support. The British, in contrast, required only Ethiopian neutrality. Unlike the French, the British had an easier task. After all, they were starting their invasion from Egypt, rather than from the Congo. If the French offered arms, the British offered something more urgent, in particular land concessions, and they probably promised to respect Ethiopian sovereignty.[12] Sir Rennell Rodd led the British diplomatic mission to Ethiopia with the aim of regulating the eastern frontier of the Protectorate and safeguarding British commercial and strategic interests.[13] To achieve these objectives, the ‘conciliation of Ethiopia during the last phase of the Khartoum campaign’[14] was considered of great necessity. Menilek was pleased with the conciliatory gestures of the mission, as well as with its ‘no-nonsense proposals and the logic of British non-involvement in Ethiopia’.[15] The pawn in the ‘conciliation’ of Ethiopia was British Somaliland, a territory in which Lord Salisbury had little interest because he considered it as part of the ‘light lands of Africa’.[16] For his neutrality, Menilek, who was at the time ‘reconstit(uting) the ancient limits of Ethiopia’,[17] demanded ‘nearly half of our Somali Protectorate’.[18] After much haggling, he settled for a ‘hefty third’,[19] which was ratified in the 1897 Anglo-Ethiopian Treaty.[20]

Imperial Policies And Nationalism In The Decolonization Of Somaliland, 1954-1960
Map 1: The ‘Rodd Line’.

The treaty consisted of six articles. The first article endorsed trade across the borders of Ethiopia and British Somaliland. The second article called for the demarcation of the frontiers of British Somaliland through negotiations between Rennell Rodd and the governor of Harar, Ras Maconen. Articles three, four, five, and six dealt with the opening of the caravan route between Harar and Zeila, gave both nations ‘advantage’ in duties and taxes, allowed for the transit of arms and ammunition for Ethiopia through Somaliland, and prohibited the passage of arms for the Mahdists through Ethiopia. The negotiations between Ras Maconen and Rennell Rodd produced three annexes to the treaty. The first annex recognized the need of the hitherto British ‘protected’ peoples of Somaliland to receive ‘equitable treatment’ and ‘special care’ from the Ethiopian Government once it had taken over the territory. The second annex demarcated the boundary between British Somaliland and Ethiopia. The ‘Rodd line’ subsequently defined the boundary of Somaliland. (See Map 1) The third annex recognized the right of the ‘tribes’ of Somaliland to graze and water their livestock in their traditional areas. In other words, the ‘tribes occupying either side of the line shall have the right to the grazing-grounds on the other side, but during their migrations, it is understood that they shall be subject to the jurisdiction of the territorial authority.’[21]

The treaty was, as Rodd put it, ‘criticized by travelers who had penetrated into Somaliland on big-game expeditions and therefore laid claim to special knowledge’,[22] such as Captain Swayne, who had ‘former experience in Somaliland’.[23] Swayne cautioned against the concessions made to Ethiopia on the Haud, because the area was of central importance to the Somali population. There were four ecological zones in the country: the ‘Guban’ (coastal area), the Golis range (mountain escarpment), the Oogo (plateau), and the Haud (southern forests and plains). The two most important zones were the interior plateau and the Haud. During the rainy seasons, the pastoralists moved their livestock to the Haud because of the abundance of pastures and temporary water (rain) reservoir. During the dry seasons, the pastoralists moved their livestock to the plateau because it had, unlike the Haud, permanent water. The ‘pulsatory movement’[24] of the pastoralists protected the country from overgrazing, soil erosion and ecological degradation. The loss of the Haud as a result of Anglo-Ethiopian agreements would be considered a ‘mortal blow’ because of the economic importance of the region for Somaliland. But Rodd ignored Swayne’s reservations since his objective was to gain the support of Ethiopia for the race to Fashoda rather than to ’protect’ the interests of the Somalis. The treaty was never announced in Somaliland and Ethiopia never exercised any direct control over the area. In the 1930s, Somalis became aware of the treaty in an indirect way, when the joint Ethiopian-British Commission began setting boundary marks. The rural folk responded by destroying the marks. In 1931 the government passed the Ordinance for the Protection of the Boundary Marks. But the Ordinance hardly deterred the people, and in 1934 a British member of the Commission was murdered on the frontier.[25] In 1935 the Italians invaded and conquered Ethiopia, and began for the first time the administration of the area by a foreign power. Five years later (August 1940), Italy invaded and conquered Somaliland. In March 1941 the British re-conquered Somaliland, Italian Somalia, and Ethiopia. By the end of 1941, the British had control over the whole of the Horn of Africa.

Two issues confronted British policymakers: what to do about former Italian Somaliland, and what to do about Ethiopia. On the first issue, the British favored the creation of ‘Greater Somaliland’ under which all the Somali territories (Somaliland, Somalia, Haud, Ogaden, and the Reserved Area) would be united under British trusteeship. The plan, however, fueled the suspicion that Great Britain was interested only in ‘Empire-building’. World powers – the Soviet Union, United States, and France (which feared Djibouti might be absorbed into it) – managed to scuttle the proposal. Under the 1949 United Nations Resolution, Italian Somalia was returned to Italian trusteeship for a ten-year period, which specified the date of independence of Somalia – July 1960. As for the second issue – what to do about Ethiopia – the British decided on 31 January 1942 to restore Ethiopian sovereignty. On the same date, the Ethiopian Emperor signed an Agreement and Military Convention with Great Britain, which allowed Great Britain to maintain control over the Somali-inhabited territories: the Reserved Area (from Jigjiga to the border of Somaliland) and the Ogaden (the south-eastern region up to the Italian-Somalia border). On 25 May 1943, the Emperor gave the British three months’ notice for the termination of the 1942 agreement. A new agreement – the Anglo-Ethiopian Agreement of 1944 – was signed on 19 December 1943, and came into force in 1944. The agreement asserted Ethiopian sovereignty over all the Somali territories, reduced the ‘extent of the Reserved Area, although it still included Jigjiga’, and allowed the Ogaden area to remain under British Military Administration ‘but without prejudice to British recognition of the Emperor’s sovereignty’.[26] Ethiopia had the right under the 1944 agreement to give three months’ notice for the termination of the agreement. In 1948, protocol agreements were exchanged, which called for the re-negotiation of the 1944 agreement. The negotiations dragged on until 1954, ‘no doubt owing to hesitations and misgivings on both sides’.[27]

Even though the protocol for the termination of the 1944 agreement was exchanged in 1948, the actual negotiations which began in 1946 focused on land exchange. The British offered the port of Zeila and a ‘corridor leading from that port into Ethiopia’[28] in exchange for the Haud. Ethiopia’s counter-proposal called for ‘a corridor about one hundred miles in width to Zeila in British Somaliland for the Northern Ogaden’.[29] The British rejected the Ethiopian counterproposal. In July 1947 Ethiopia proposed giving a narrow corridor to Zeila and the port of Zeila ‘but offered in exchange only a relatively narrow strip of the grazing area’. In December the British rejected the new proposal.[30] The negotiations on the issue lapsed until 1952, when they were re-opened by the British with the 1947 proposal, but sweetened with £250,000 to £500,000.[31] The discovery of oil in the Haud by the Sinclair Oil Corporation – an American company – complicated the negotiations. The company had concessions for oil exploration and exploitation in Ethiopia, particularly in the Ogaden and the Haud. In 1950, the company made its first drilling at Gumburu – on the Ogaden – but ‘drew blank’. Two years later the company successfully drilled Galadi, located in British territory in the Haud.[32] In September 1952, the British Cabinet decided to re-open the negotiations over the exchange of territories,[33] but these failed. Ethiopia was unwilling to give up the prospect of oil revenue for a corridor to Zeila, even though the Cabinet was now willing to consider giving Ethiopia rights of revenue and control over oil prospecting and exploitation, and even though the northern Somali ports were essential to the export of the oil. It was to travel on pipeline either through Obbia (in Somalia) or Berbera or Zeila or any other accessible port in Somaliland. Obbia was considered as the best choice because the ‘oil would flow there by gravity whereas if a northern port were chosen pumping stations would have to be installed.’[34] The discovery of oil made Ethiopia even more intransigent. As in the 1890s, Ethiopia played one great power off against another to wring land concessions from the British, despite the debt to the British for liberation from Italian colonial rule in 1941. After the restoration of its sovereignty in 1942, Ethiopia actively cultivated American political, economic, military and diplomatic support as a counterweight to British dominance in the region. America was more than willing to support Ethiopia because it had strategic interests – Ethiopia was viewed as an indispensable ally in the containment of Communism – and economic (oil) interests in the country. Great Britain signed the 1944 Anglo- Ethiopia Agreement and the 1954 Anglo-Ethiopian Agreement under American pressure.[35]

The 1954 agreement consisted of six articles.[36] The first article – the most important – recognized the ‘full and exclusive sovereignty of Ethiopia over the territories’, that is, Ogaden, Haud and the Reserved Area. British administration was to withdraw and, from 28 February 1955 the ‘Imperial Ethiopian Government shall, from that date, reassume jurisdiction and administration of, in and over the territories.’ The second article recognized the rights of the pastoralists to ‘cross the frontier for the purpose of grazing, as originally set out in the Anglo-Ethiopian Treaty of 1897 and the letters annexed thereto’. The third article made ‘special arrangements designed to meet the circumstances under which tribes from the Somaliland Protectorate utilize the territories for the purpose of grazing’. Special arrangements were made in the agreement, for instance, for the Aqils, tribal police (Illalo) and elders of the ‘tribes’ to move with the pastoralists into the pasture area in the Haud and the Reserved Area. The tribal police force would not exceed 700 and had the power of arrest over citizens of Ethiopia and Somaliland. If they arrested Ethiopians they were to hand them quickly to the Ethiopian authorities. But if they arrested citizens of Somaliland, the case was to be tried in courts in Somaliland, except where there was a dispute between Ethiopian citizens and the ‘tribesmen’, when the trial would take place in Ethiopian courts. However, the British liaison officer and his staff might be present at the trial. The agreement specified the right of the Somaliland administration to appoint a liaison officer and his staff to ‘reside’ and to ‘move freely in the territories’. The officer and his staff could hold periodic consultations with the Ethiopian Government, and transmit to the ‘tribes the instructions of the Government of Somaliland Protectorate’. The Protectorate Government, moreover, would continue to extend education, medical and veterinary services to the pastoralists during their seasonal migration to the territories. The annex to the treaty yet again recognized the boundary between Somaliland and Ethiopia as it was demarcated under the 1897 treaty.

The 1954 Anglo-Ethiopian Agreement was concluded in November and announced in Somaliland on 5 January 1955. The Somali people ‘took the news very badly’,[37] and ‘as a whole took action to protest against the handover’.[38] Spontaneous demonstrations were held throughout the Protectorate as well as in Somalia and particularly in Mogadishu. The dominant party in Somaliland politics up to 1955 was the Somali National League (S.N.L.), which was founded as a society (Somali National Society) in Burao in 1944, and registered as a political party in 1947. In 1955 the National United Front For Retaining Reserve Area and Haud (N.U.F.R.R.H.)[39] was created by Michael Mariano. As its name clearly indicates, the N.U.F. focused completely on the recovery of the lost territories. Since this issue concerned all Somalis (in Somaliland, Somalia and Ethiopia), the N.U.F. received popular as well as elite support, and so dominated the politics of the country from 1955 to 1958. The N.U.F. campaigned for the return of the territories both in Somaliland and abroad. In March 1955, for instance, a delegation consisting of Michael Mariano, Abokor Haji Farah, and Abdi Dahir went to Mogadishu to win the support and cooperation of the nationalist groups in Somalia. And in February and May 1955, another delegation consisting of two traditional Sultans (Sultan Abdillahi Sultan Deria, and Sultan Abdulrahman Sultan Deria), and two Western-educated moderate politicians (Michael Mariano, Abdirahman Ali Mohamed Dubeh) visited London and New York. During their tour of London, they formally met and discussed the issue with the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Alan Lennox-Boyd.

They told Lennox-Boyd about the 1885 Anglo-Somali treaties. Under the agreements, Michael Mariano stated, the British Government ‘undertook never to cede, sell, mortage or otherwise give for occupation, save to the British Government, any portion of the territory inhabited by them or being under their control’.[40] But now the Somali people ‘have heard that their land was being given to Ethiopia under an Anglo-Ethiopian Treaty of 1897’.That treaty, however, was ‘in conflict’ with the Anglo-Somali treaties ‘which took precedence in time’ over the 1897 Anglo-Ethiopian Treaty. The British Government had ‘exceeded its powers when it concluded the 1897 Treaty and . . . the 1897 Treaty was not binding on the tribes.’ Sultan Abdullahi also added that the 1954 agreement was a ‘great shock to the Somali people’ since they had not been told about the negotiations, and since the British Government had been administering the area since 1941. The delegates requested, as Sultan Abdulrahman put it, the postponement of the implementation of the agreement to ‘grant the delegation time to put up their case’ in Parliament and in international organizations.

Lennox-Boyd was not swayed. He told them that in 1897 Great Britain could not have done anything to stop Ethiopian expansion. ‘The Ethiopian Empire at the time was expanding and it might well have been that, without the treaty, the Ethiopians would have extended still further into the Protectorate territory.’ The treaty ‘was unfortunate in many ways’. However, nothing could be done about it. The ‘strength of the British nation had been built up on a regard for international agreements’. If the law was on the British side, the British Government was not ‘afraid of force’, but in this case, the ‘law’ was against her. The reason that the Government never told the Somali leaders and public about the negotiations with Ethiopia in the post-war period was rather simple: ‘It would hardly have been possible for any Somali to share responsibility for what would have been a very unpopular treaty. It was the duty of the protecting power to undertake the pleasant as well as unpleasant work of government and not to pass on to other people a share of responsibility for unwelcome steps.’ Sultan Abdullahi stated that the refusal of Great Britain to change its policy ‘would be a very great disappointment to the Somali people and it might no longer be possible to keep their protests in constitutional channels’.[41] The use of the term ‘constitutional channels’ was pertinent. The delegates were convinced that it was possible through constitutional and formal channels to persuade the British Government and world opinion that the Anglo-Somali treaties took precedence over the Anglo-Ethiopian treaties, and hence that the later treaties were illegal and must be abrogated. There was also a hint of a threat. After all, the failure to keep protest in constitutional channels implied forceful popular resistance.

In May 1955, the Somali delegation again tried to persuade Lennox- Boyd to change British policy. But by then they realized that he could not be persuaded. And so their brief to him was perfunctory.[42] It stated that they would take their case to the United Nations General Assembly for referral to the International Court of Justice ‘for an advisory opinion on the legal validity’ of the Anglo-Ethiopian treaties. They commended Lennox-Boyd’s respect for international agreements and law. They expected as much from the British Government. Again they stated that the Anglo-Somali agreements under which Somaliland became a protectorate, and under which Great Britain pledged not to cede or sell or transfer any Somali territory to any power, took precedence over the 1897 Anglo-Ethiopian Treaty. Indeed, the Anglo-Ethiopian Treaty of 1897 was a violation of the Anglo-Somali Treaties. But since they could not – as they had been advised – challenge the legal validity of the Anglo-Ethiopian agreements in the British domestic courts, they would challenge them in the International Court of Justice.

Imperial Policies And Nationalism In The Decolonization Of Somaliland, 1954-1960
Map 2: Somali Territory from the Coast to Harar, 1854.

They composed a petition addressed to the General Assembly with the aim of persuading the assembly to hear their case, and then to refer it to the International Court.[43] Unlike the brief to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, the petition to the General Assembly was long. But like the brief, it was legalistic. The petition claimed, first, that the land which the British ceded to Ethiopia in 1897 was Somali country. The evidence produced to support the argument was in part textual. They reproduced a map published in Richard Burton’s book[44] to support their argument, in which Burton represented the land from the coast to twenty miles of Harar as Somali country (see Map 2). Then they demonstrated that the treaties signed by Somali elders and Great Britain prohibited Great Britain from selling or ceding any part of the Somali country to any other power. Those treaties took precedence over the 1897 Anglo-Ethiopian treaty. The most recent Anglo-Ethiopian agreement (1954) ‘purports to affirm the alleged sovereignty of Ethiopia over the territories’. But such sovereignty over the territories was never Ethiopia’s. They concluded by asserting that the Somali people had the right of self-determination and they ‘protest against the unlawful transfer to Ethiopia of the disputed territories which has always been, as they are confident it will continue to remain, part of Somaliland.’[45] Their argument, however, was never heard in the General Assembly, and the case was never referred to the International Court. No member country would sponsor their petition, not even Egypt, which the delegation had assumed would do so since it had radical pretensions. The British Government was rather pleased about Egypt’s failure to sponsor the bill. It spared Great Britain a discussion in the Assembly about its treaties in the Horn of Africa, and perhaps even a court battle. Furthermore, the Government believed that Egypt’s failure to sponsor the delegation’s petition would make it unpopular in Somaliland.

The delegation also courted public opinion through the press. In one news conference in London, Michael Mariano, the spokesman of the group, summarized the concerns of the delegation. He stated that, since the transfer of the territories, the people of Somaliland had become ‘guests in our own house’ in the Haud and the Reserved Area, and complained bitterly about the British role in the whole fiasco. ‘Our land’, he protested, ‘had been handed [by Great Britain] to Ethiopia on a plate.’[46] Papers such as the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, and the Observer covered the story. The Daily Mail discussed the issue the day Great Britain was to hand the Haud and the Reserve Area to Ethiopia (28 February). It stated Britain was handing a ‘slice’ of the disputed areas to Ethiopia, and the Somalis were ‘protesting bitterly’.[47] For the Somalis this was a matter of ‘justice’. But was it? Ethiopia insisted on its rights over the land on the basis of the Anglo-Ethiopian agreements. And Britain must honor her obligations. Britain, of course, could ‘tell Ethiopia, a weak country, to take a running jump’. But Britain was ‘on the side of the law. Our name and fame depend upon it, and if we ever repudiate it we are finished.’[48] The Daily Express referred to the ‘four men from a nomad land’ who came to London ‘with a disturbing tale’.[49] As a result of the Anglo-Ethiopian agreements, their land had been ceded to Ethiopia. Yet the Anglo-Ethiopian treaties ‘dishonored’ prior Anglo-Somali agreements. The paper quoted the ‘envoy’s spokesman, 41-year-old Michael Mariano,’ who stated: ‘‘‘It is our intention to take this matter to the UNO [United Nations Organization] by any and every available means. We demand justice and we intend to get it.’’’ ‘The British people,’ the paper stated, ‘cannot be satisfied with the way Mr. Lennox-Boyd has treated this appeal’. Besides giving away their land, Lennox-Boyd had never informed the Somalis about the British- Ethiopian negotiations over their land in 1954. ‘And the same thing happened, they charge, when the original treaty with Ethiopia was concluded 58 years ago.’ The paper concluded that Lennox-Boyd ‘should give earnest and urgent reconsideration to the Somali protest . . . An unjust treaty is not something to be upheld but to be revised.’[50] The Observer[51]story, which was written by Colin Legum, related the now familiar story of the signing of the Anglo-Somali agreements, and how eleven years later the British signed another with Ethiopia. The Anglo-Ethiopian agreement of 1897 was ‘invalid because it automatically abrogated the terms of the Protectorate Agreements of 1884 and 1886.’ Lennox-Boyd expressed to Legum some ‘misgivings’ on the issue as it affected Somalis. Nonetheless, he was adamant that Great Britain must recognize its obligations to the Anglo-Ethiopian treaties.

The issue was also debated in Parliament. Three main questions were raised: the legality of the agreement, the reason for the British government signing an agreement with Ethiopia in 1954, and whether the British government would support or oppose the petition the Somaliland delegation presented at the United Nations General Assembly. Callaghan asked ‘why the Government entered into this Agreement in this time’ and whether there was any truth to the allegation that the signing of the 1954 agreement was motivated by British and American oil interests in the disputed territories. Callaghan also asked whether the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs ‘will instruct the United Kingdom delegate to the United Nations to refrain from voting against the proposal to test the validity of the 1897 Anglo- Ethiopian Treaty in the International Court of Justice’. The Foreign Secretary refused to answer the first question; as for the second, he stated that Britain would oppose any such motion, and that he had already informed the Somali delegation of this. ‘In view of the Legal advisers, we are likely to be on weak ground if this question were to be referred to an International tribunal.’ Besides, it would ‘open the door to unlimited interference by busybodies for ideological or other reasons in all sorts and kinds of treaties and agreements’.[52] The debate in the end did not persuade the British Cabinet to change its policy or to revise the treaty.

Meanwhile, the implementation of the treaty on the ground proceeded. Ethiopia took over the country in February 1955. And shortly thereafter ‘disturbing reports were received from the Territories of improper Ethiopian activities, and of clashes between the Ethiopians and the Somalis.’[53] This was inevitable. The agreement gave Somalis rights in the area which necessarily contradicted Ethiopian sovereign rights. Somalis could cross the border, pasture their livestock in the Haud and Reserve Area, maintain their own tribal authorities and even their own police force (the Tribal Police), schools and other services. Ethiopia sought to settle the pastoralists in the country, extend to them Ethiopian citizenship and impose its own Tribal Authority over them. According to a report by the National United Front, there ‘have been no less than nine occasions on which the Akils and Elders of the Tribal Organization have been arrested and detained in custody by the Ethiopian Authorities.’[54] The Ethiopian authorities also closed down the Aw Barreh elementary school. On 6 September 1954, a brawl took place between Somalis in Gooti, where one man was seriously injured. Ethiopian soldiers promptly arrested those involved, even though under the agreement only the Tribal Police were entitled to arrest Somalis so long as Ethiopian citizens were not involved. On 7 September, the Assistant Liaison Officer, Abdulrahman Abby Farah, requested the release of the arrested men, but to no avail. Then on 28 September, ninety Ethiopian soldiers went to Harti Sheikh and ‘seized camels belonging to the Protectorate tribesmen who were in the area’.[55]

In response to the crisis in the territories, a conference was held in Harar between the Protectorate Government and the Ethiopian Government that lasted from 12 December 1955 to 19 January 1956.[56] The two delegations were concerned with similar issues but in diametrically opposite ways. The Somaliland delegation brought up the following issues: the increasing transformation of the grazing area in the territories into areas for cultivation and ‘other uses’; the undermining of the Tribal Organization of the Protectorate tribes by the appointment of Ethiopian paid Aqils; the arrest and harassment of the Aqils of the Protectorate tribes; the detaining and disarming of the Tribal Police; the arrest of the Protectorate tribes by Ethiopian security forces; the closing of the Aw Barreh school and the prevention of the Liaison Staff from moving freely in the territories in the ‘performance of their duties’. The Ethiopian delegation presented the following issues: the intervention of the Liaison Staff in the ‘settlement of farm land problems concerning Ethiopian tribes of Esa and Gadabursi’; its attempt to ‘administer Ethiopian inhabitants and non-grazing areas’; the involvement of Mr. Abdulrahman Abby ‘in political agitation in the Territories’ and Aqil Mohamed Bogorreh’s attempt to ‘collect funds in the Territories for political agitation’. The Ethiopian delegation also protested against the unlawful activities of the Tribal Police which provoked disorder and moved ‘without their tribes’, and the armed attacks by Somalis on the Sinclair Camp and the Governor of Awareh. The Somaliland delegation attempted to bring Ethiopian activities in the territories in line with the 1954 agreement, while the Ethiopian delegation insisted on Ethiopian sovereignty.[57]

By way of illustration, the Somaliland delegation stated that under the ‘terms of Article II of the 1954 Agreement the contracting parties share both the right to the grazing for their tribes and the obligation to preserve it as far as possible’. The term ‘grazing rights covers access to, and full use of, all the grazing which existed in’ all the territories. The Ethiopian delegation in contrast insisted that ‘there can be no question of grazing rights of the contracting parties, as alleged’. In addition, neither the 1897 Agreement nor the 1954 Agreement prevented Ethiopia from transforming grazing areas into ‘agricultural, farm, industrial’ or any ‘other uses’. Article II, as alleged by the Somaliland delegation, ‘contains no language referring to ‘traditional grazing rights’. It refers only to the idea that ‘grazing might take place’. The delegates were essentially contesting the language of the agreements. With respect to Article II of the 1954 Agreement, the Ethiopian delegation was correct because the article made no reference to any ‘rights’ of the Somalis to the Haud, only stipulating that the pastoralists might ‘cross the frontier for the purpose of grazing’. However, the article also referred to the 1897 Anglo-Ethiopian Treaty which recognized the ‘right to the grazing- grounds’ of the pastoralists. The Somaliland delegation was unable to make the Ethiopian delegation acknowledge such a ‘right’.[58]

To take another example: the two delegations discussed the issue of the tribal organization of the Somalis. The Somaliland delegation referred to Article III of the 1954 agreement under which it was agreed that ‘tribal organization consisting of the system of Local Authorities (Akils), tribal police (Illaloes) and elders, as set up and recognized by the Government of the Somaliland Protectorate shall continue to function.’ The Ethiopian Government had violated the agreement by appointing their own Tribal Authorities over the pastoralists. The Ethiopian delegation insisted that the Ethiopian Government never sought to appoint Akils for the ‘tribes’ from Somaliland, only for Ethiopians. Ethiopia had the right to make such appointments since it was a sovereign nation, and since many of the Somalis were ‘Ethiopian’. Here the argument was about the identity of the people of the areas. They were all Somalis of course. But under colonial rule, they had been divided between ‘British-Somalis’ and ‘Ethiopian-Somalis’. The question was who was ‘Ethiopian-Somali’, who was ‘British-Somali’ and how to agree on such distinction? For Ethiopia ‘if a tribe so much prefers Ethiopia as to remain there through the greater part of the year, it is the Imperial Ethiopian Government rather than the Protectorate Government which is entitled to lay claim to nationality and jurisdiction over such tribe.’[59] Nationality was for Ethiopia a central concern. And it sought to establish this in two ways: by encouraging agricultural settlement, and by limiting grazing. The limitations on grazing were supposed to force the pastoralists to settle down as agriculturists, and thus to make it easy for Ethiopia to claim them as Ethiopian citizens. The two delegations disagreed on every other issue.

The negotiations failed because, according to J. R. Stebbing, the Chief Secretary to the Somaliland Administration,[60] Ethiopian policy was to ‘reduce grazing rights by cultivation’ and then to claim as an Ethiopian citizen any person who settled to cultivate the land ‘even in the most rudimentary and temporary fashion’. Ethiopia was determined to appoint its own tribal chiefs over the pastoralists, while humiliating the traditional elders, and even used the tribal system to create divisions among the Somalis in order to ‘split’ them and prevent any ‘potential alliance’ against Ethiopia. It was also intent on undermining the Tribal Police created under the agreement. These policies were a clear indication of Ethiopia’s ‘undoubtedly expansionist and imperialistic’ policy towards Somaliland. Stebbing recommended to the British Cabinet that it should ‘make a fresh and most determined bid to acquire, outright, the essential grazing areas of the Territories’. ‘I feel’, he added, ‘that H.M.G. should be prepared to pay a high price and the idea should only be abandoned if it is completely impossible on grounds of policy or proves quite unacceptable to the Ethiopians.’[61] Sir Theodore Pike, the governor of Somaliland from 1954 to 1958, agreed.[62] He suggested that the British Cabinet should appoint a high-level delegation led by Mr. Dodds Parker (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs) to Ethiopia to discuss the problem of the territories, particularly the preservation of the grazing rights of the pastoralists, their freedom of movement, the protection of the Tribal Authorities, the Tribal Police and the Liaison Staff. But above all, the British Cabinet must ‘endeavor with every means in its power to acquire the area outright otherwise political unrest in the Territories will steadily increase and this will produce repercussions throughout the whole region.’ The process, however, had to be carefully handled since British efforts could be ‘construed as evidence of a desire for colonial expansion’.[63]

The instability in the territories, the development of militant nationalist activities in Somaliland, and the threat it posed to the security of the region – the Horn of Africa as well as the Middle East – alarmed the Cabinet. According to a memorandum by the Secretary of State for the Colonies, the increasing militancy of nationalist politics since the signing of the 1954 agreement had opened the country to the ‘subversive activities of the Egyptians’ and the Soviets.[64] It was necessary to preserve the Protectorate from ‘any potential enemy’, but at the same time the concerns of the Somalis had to be addressed; otherwise British strategic interests could not be protected. There were two possible solutions to the crisis. First, the creation of Greater Somalia, and second, the granting of independence to the Protectorate. Both solutions were unacceptable: On the one hand, the Greater Somalia policy had been abandoned in 1949, and on the other, the Cabinet already decided that Somaliland should remain under British rule for the foreseeable future. The Secretary of State for the Colonies stated that it was necessary to continue with ‘our general Colonial policy’, that is, ‘the economic and political development of the Protectorate at a reasonable pace, acknowledging our eventual aim of self-government but realizing and admitting that it is likely to take a very long time to achieve’. After all, the poverty of the country – the ‘facts of economics’ – ‘rule out any prospect of genuine self-government on a reasonable standard of living within the foreseeable future’. Besides, if self-government or independence were to be granted ‘it is never possible, once political control of a territory has been abandoned, to be certain of retaining sufficient influence to secure our strategic needs in it.’ The continuation of the ‘general colonial policy’, however, faced many difficulties, among them, the growth of Somali nationalism and the threat from the Egyptians and the Soviet Union. These concerns had to be addressed, otherwise Somalis ‘may quickly become estranged and it is likely that before long we shall find ourselves having to hold the Protectorate by force – by no means an impossible operation but one not likely to be either inexpensive or palatable to the British people’.[65]

The Chiefs of Staff were more than willing to endorse a policy whose main objective was the maintenance of British rule over the territory, whether such occupation was expensive or not. They argued that Somaliland was essential to the defense of Western interests in the Middle East, the Indian Ocean and the Horn of Africa, just as the United States considered Ethiopia as central to the defenses of the Western alliance.[66] Somaliland, the Chiefs of Staff wrote, ‘offers strategic advantages similar to those of Aden’.[67] But there were many reasons why the Western alliance should not rely too heavily on Aden. First, the Soviet Union was threatening and undermining Western interests in the northern tier system of British defenses in the Middle East by subverting Arab States in its rear. Second, as a result of the subversion of the Southern Red Sea, the Aden base was becoming less secure than it appeared. Third, the situation would become even worse if after independence Somalia fell under Egyptian or Soviet influence. Such a development would pose a direct threat to the security of the Sudan, Kenya, and all other British territories in East Africa. The retention of Somaliland and Somalia in the Western alliance, therefore, was crucial in the maintenance of stability in north-east Africa. Above all, oil prospecting was being carried out in the Protectorate, and ‘if this is successful, the strategic value of the Protectorate would be enhanced’. In short, ‘in view of recent events in the Middle East, the strategic importance of the Somaliland Protectorate has increased’.[68]

The Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs took a similar position. They too viewed the importance of the country in geopolitical terms. But, unlike the Chiefs of Staff, they addressed the implications of the policy on the ground. They maintained that Egypt was gaining increasing influence in Somalia and Somaliland. There were many Egyptian teachers working in Somalia. The Egyptians were also represented in the United Nations Advisory Council for Somalia. So they were ‘in a good position to carry an intensive propaganda among the Somalis’. If, moreover, an independent Somalia fell under Egyptian influence, and the Russians infiltrated the country, then British territories in East Africa (from Sudan to Kenya) would face ‘a pincer movement’.[69] The central problem in the crisis was the Haud question since it was the cause of Somali resentment. That resentment might be mitigated only if Ethiopia changed its attitude towards the implementation of the 1954 agreement, and perhaps if the British got ‘a lease of the territories’.[70]

In April 1956 the Cabinet dispatched Mr. Dodds-Parker, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, to the region in order to ‘persuade Ethiopia to cede the Territories’.[71] Like the negotiations over the exchange of territories in the 1940s, Mr. Dodds-Parker’s 1956 mission failed. He ‘met with so vehement a refusal that one must conclude that no attempt on our part to obtain the Territories by lease, barter or purchase at any price which would be considered possible is ever likely to succeed.’[72] After the failure of Dodd-Parker’s mission, in May 1956 the Cabinet dispatched Lord Lloyd, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, to Somaliland to assess the mood of the country. Lord Lloyd stayed in Somaliland for ten days, saw ‘a fair amount of the country’ and met a ‘large number of Somalis from different sections of the community’.[73] Two factors, he stated, dominated politics in the country: the loss of the Haud and the approaching independence of Somalia. The loss of the Haud and the Reserved Area was bitterly felt because it caused a ‘mortal economic blow to the Somalis’. But apart from the economic issues created by the loss of the territories, ‘Somalis feel a real sense of injustice over this matter. Rightly or wrongly they have always regarded these territories as an integral part of the Protectorate.’ The main political party leading the nationalist campaign was the National United Front, which had for a while dominated the political scene to such an extent that it had more or less absorbed the other major political parties, such as the Somali Youth League and Somali National League. The aim of the party was the return of the lost territories, the independence of the country and the association between Somaliland and Somalia. If the British government did not address these concerns of the Somalis, then there was a danger of the radicalization of Somali nationalism. The Somalis, Lord Lloyd stated, might be driven to seek the help of states, such as Egypt and the Soviet Union. ‘If this should happen’, he added, ‘we shall be faced in the 1960s or before with an extremely serious situation in the Horn of Africa.’ It would ‘constitute a grave threat to our strategic interests in East African and of course Aden; similarly it will constitute a great threat to our potential oil interest in the Somaliland Protectorate, Somalia, and even in the Ethiopian Ogaden.’ There were two alternatives to managing the problem of Somali nationalism. One was to ‘back the Ethiopians wholeheartedly and to allow and even assist them to absorb the Somalis, which is what they themselves would like to do’. The second was to ‘assist the Somalis to achieve their own real ambition which is a united Somali State’. Both solutions were, however, fraught with problems. The first would only further inflame Somali nationalism and pose a threat to the whole region, and the second would be opposed by Ethiopia, the United States, and France. Lord Lloyd again raised the issue of land exchange and specifically the exchange of an area in northern Kenya (Mandera quadrilateral) for the Haud and the Reserved Area. But the suggestion was pointless. Ethiopia, as the Cabinet understood, would never agree to such an exchange, particularly after the discovery of oil in the Haud. Lord Lloyd’s final recommendation to the Cabinet was the adoption of a policy that would ‘keep both the Somalis and Ethiopians within the sphere of Western influence’.[74] But he was not able to specify what shape such a policy would take.

One such policy was suggested by the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.[75] In a joint memorandum, they called for the formation of ‘a consortium of Powers’ over a unified Somali society. The consortium would consist of the powers responsible for the Somali population, namely the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Ethiopia, the United States (as a major financial power) as well as Pakistan as a ‘respectable and nearby Moslem power’. The aim of the consortium was not so much to govern Somalis, but to provide financial and technical assistance, and manage the ‘problem posed by expanding Somali nationalism’. There was, however, one difficulty: Somalis would resent any Ethiopian participation in the consortium unless Ethiopia made major concessions on the land question. But Ethiopia was unlikely to do so. In addition, Ethiopia would oppose any ‘progressive policy’ towards the Somalis unless it was included in the consortium. The consortium, in other words, would alienate either the Somalis or the Ethiopians.

Selywn Lloyd, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, suggested another, albeit impractical, solution to the Somali crisis: the postponement of the independence of Somalia[76] which had already been determined under the 1949 United Nations Resolution. The Cabinet believed that the approaching independence of Somalia set a bad precedent for Somaliland; therefore Selwyn Lloyd attempted to persuade the Italians to postpone it to a later and unspecified date. Although Italy was receptive to the idea, the problem was how to rescind the U.N. resolution that had determined that date.[77] On 15 May 1956 the Cabinet was invited to ‘consider what prospect there might be of securing an extension of Italian trusteeship for Somalia’. The suggestion was rejected because it was ‘fraught with difficulty’.[78] Any extension of the Italian trusteeship required the rescinding of the 1949 U.N. resolution by a two-thirds majority. Such an attempt would ‘involve a full-debate in the United Nations and our Permanent Representative reports that a majority of members would undoubtedly oppose any attempt to repeal the 1949 resolution. Without succeeding, we should provoke accusations of suppression of national aspirations.’[79] By 1956, then, the Cabinet had reached an impasse about how to respond to some key policy questions: how to control Somali nationalism and prevent Egyptian and Soviet penetration into Somaliland and Somalia; how to persuade Ethiopia to make concessions on the land question; and how to keep the region within the Western sphere of influence.

Hitherto the object of British policy was to keep Somaliland as a Protectorate for the foreseeable future. In 1957, however, a measure of flexibility was introduced into British policy. The Cabinet decided to pursue two options: on the one hand to persuade Ethiopia to make concessions to the Somalis, and to persuade both the Ethiopians and the Somalis to work together in implementing the 1954 agreement; and on the other to promote (if the first option failed) the union of Somalia and Somaliland soon after 1960.[80] For Morgan (Colonial Office), the first option was a short-term policy since it would contribute nothing to solving the ‘long-term problems which would arise when Somalia attained its independence in 1960’.[81] The second option, in contrast, was a long-term alternative. The first option must be tried, but when it failed then the second must be pursued.[82] British policy, he maintained, must not ‘remain immutable until 1960’.[83] By 1958, the Cabinet realized the hopelessness of the first option: Ethiopians and Somalis were not likely amicably to settle the issue, and certainly they would not amicably implement the 1954 agreement. The failure of the Harar conference was a testament to the difficulty that confronted any policy aimed to secure the implementation of the agreement. Therefore, a switch was made to the second option: the formation of a union between Somaliland and Somalia once Somalia had become independent. In other words, Greater Somalia was scaled down to a union of only two countries which required the policy to be ‘given the appearance of Somali initiative’.[84]

The prospect of granting independence to Somaliland was formally discussed in a session held on 7 November 1958, by the Steering Committee on the Horn of Africa.[85] The discussion stressed the by-now-familiar geopolitical significance of the region for the defense of the interests of the Western alliance. Two interrelated points were raised: the fostering of conditions that would lead on the one hand to stability in the region and prevent the spread of Nasserist and communist influence not only into the region but also into Tropical Africa, and on the other to the maintenance of Western strategic interests in the Horn of Africa as well as in the Middle East. To safeguard these interests, key issues were identified: first, the growth of nationalist consciousness and politics in the Somali territories; second, the approaching independence of Somalia; third, the desire among Somalis not only to recover the lost territories but also to unify their territories; and fourth, the Ethiopian insistence on maintaining its frontier and the equally vehement insistence of the Somalis on maintaining their rights over their traditional country. The key solution, the Steering Committee decided, was the adoption of a ‘more positive attitude to the question of Somali unity’ though only between Somaliland and Somalia. ‘The main pressure’, the committee stated, ‘is for an association between Somalia and the Protectorate’.[86] The Foreign Office agreed. According to J. H. A. Watson (Foreign Office), it was impossible to maintain British rule over Somaliland once Somalia became independent. There was an urgent need, he argued, for a rapid devolution of power to the Protectorate.[87] The pressure was already growing for association between Somaliland and Somalia, particularly in the Protectorate, since its independence, unlike that of Somalia, had not yet been determined.[88] The Colonial Office agreed and suggested the preparation for association between the two territories.[89] In December 1958 the Secretary of State for the Colonies stated that, in light of the developments in the region, the British should offer Somaliland independence in 1960, and then form an association between Somaliland and Somalia.[90] He added, ‘the important thing is that we should not be accused of something close to forcing this union upon them (Somaliland).’[91] With such a union, the new country would remain within the Western sphere of influence, and British ‘rights of overflying and staging for both military and charter aircraft’ would be established.[92] The urgent task now was to make a statement on British policy with respect to the independence of Somaliland because ‘the sooner a statement is made the better if we are not to be faced with a considerable risk of unrest’.[93]

Meanwhile, Ethiopia and France were reassured that the proposed union was not a revival of Greater Somalia, but rather an attempt to solve the problem of Somali nationalism in Somaliland and Somalia, and particularly in Somaliland since Somalia was already assured of its independence. In January 1959 the British ambassador in Addis Ababa was instructed to begin discussions on the issue as soon as possible. Moreover, the U.S. State Department was persuaded to reassure Ethiopia about ‘what is envisaged regarding the future association of the Protectorate and Somalia’ and to try ‘to enlist Ethiopian goodwill’.[94] The British ambassador in Addis Ababa was to explain to the Ethiopians that the ‘basic problem to be tackled is Somali expansionism’.[95] In its ‘extreme form this extends to the concept of a Greater Somalia’. But the British Government shares the ‘Ethiopian objection to Greater Somalia’. ‘In practice therefore this leaves the question of relations between Somalia and the Protectorate.’[96] A union was the best that could be done about ‘Somali expansionism’. It also solved the ‘danger that the Egyptians will be able to represent themselves as the true friends of the Somalis and will be able to establish a dominating influence in the area’.[97] Somali nationalism was to be placated with a compromise – a union between Somaliland and Somalia – since (a) Greater Somalia was out of the question and (b) since neither the Haud and the Reserved Area (for Somaliland) nor the Ogaden (for Somalia) would be returned. The Cabinet accepted Lennox-Boyd’s proposal. Somaliland was to be granted its independence in 1960, which would coincide with the date of independence of the Trusteeship Territory.

In February 1959, Lennox-Boyd went on tour in Somaliland. He related his experience during the visit to Harold Macmillan. ‘When we arrived,’ he wrote, ‘it was clear that the extremist party, the Somali National League had succeeded in whipping up a considerable following, certainly amongst the townspeople.’[98] The Somali National League (S.N.L.) organized various demonstrations in which crowds sat ‘down with their backs to me as we passed through’. In the formal meeting with political leaders and elders in the towns, the S.N.L. often ‘put their demands in a more offensive manner’. In general, there was a ‘considerable unanimity between almost all sections of opinion in demanding very substantial constitutional advance, sometimes called Self-Government and sometimes Independence’. In either case, they wanted self-government or independence to ‘enable them to have the chance of joining up with Somalia by the end of 1960 when that territory became independent’. He added, ‘At the root of all this was their long-standing grievance at the loss of their traditional grazing grounds to Ethiopia under the 1954 Agreement and their realization that, because of our obligations under the 1897 treaty, we should never be able to do anything for them on this vital matter.’ His talks with the ‘moderate political leaders’ and ‘Government officials on the spot’ confirmed for him that ‘we had been absolutely right in agreeing that I should make a Statement on the lines authorized by the Cabinet.’[99]

In the prepared statement that he broadcast on Radio Hargeysa, Lennox-Boyd declared that Her Majesty’s Government ‘thought it right to pay special regard to the fact that the neighboring territory of Somalia is due to become independent’ and thus proceed with constitutional development in the Protectorate at a ‘faster rate’.[100] He promised that the new Governor, Sir Douglas Hall, would begin constitutional development immediately and that by 1960 there would be an elected Legislative Council with an official majority of Somalis possessing executive responsibilities. Thereafter, Her Majesty’s Government would take all the necessary steps leading to internal ‘self-government’ for the Protectorate. He concluded, with rather exaggerated solemnity, that Her Majesty’s Government ‘is aware of the desire expressed by many Somalis in the protectorate that there should be a closer association between this territory and Somalia’ and that Her Majesty’s Government would ‘arrange for negotiations of a suitable nature’ for the formation of the association.[101] The effect of the statement was analyzed by the Local Intelligence Committee, which predicted that the elite would applaud the statement and claim credit for Britain’s decision to grant Somaliland its independence.[102] Neither Lennox-Boyd, nor the Local Intelligence Committee, nor the Governor, begrudged the elite their symbolic victory.[103]

On 2 May 1960 the British government invited leaders of Somaliland to a constitutional conference in London. The Somaliland delegation was led by Mohamed Haji Ibrahim Egal (the Leader of Government Business in the Legislative Council, Minister of Local Government and the President of the Somali National League), and by Sir Douglas Hall, the Governor of the territory. A delegation from Somalia was also present as observers not participants. During the conference, the Somaliland delegation pressed ‘for their country’s independence, to be followed at once by secession from the Commonwealth and union with its larger neighbor’.[104] They were surprised by how quickly the British Government acceded to their demands. Indeed, their call for the independence of Somaliland had already been conceded by the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Ian Macleod, in a statement he made to the Times on 5 May.[105] He submitted the decision to the conference on 6 May. It called for the independence of Somaliland on 26 June and for the formation of a union between Somaliland and Somalia on 1 July 1960.[106] The British Government, however, insisted on one stipulation before formally agreeing to the independence of Somaliland: the abrogation of the Anglo-Somali treaties under which Great Britain agreed never to cede any Somali territory to any other power. I. M. Lewis noted the British insistence on this stipulation with wonder. He wrote, ‘What is of particular interest here is that the British government should have felt it appropriate and necessary to make this stipulation: earlier British governments had shown little scruple in acting unilaterally against the intention and content of these same treaties.’[107] But the British Government had to make this stipulation, and insist in particular that a ‘Council of Elders’ abrogate the treaties[108] because they feared the examination of the treaties in the United Nations or the International Court.[109] The Somaliland delegation agreed to the stipulation. On 12 May the conference ended with the signing of a report by the Secretary of State for the Colonies, which formally specified the date of independence of Somaliland (26 June 1960), and its union with Somalia (1 July 1960).[110] On 19 May the Somaliland delegation returned to Hargeisa, and was met at the airport by about 3,000 people; ninety vehicles followed them to the town; and about 10,000 people lined the streets of the town. They were described as ‘one of the most cheerful and peaceful crowds ever seen in Hargeisa’.[111]

A conference was arranged between delegates from Somaliland and Somalia in Mogadishu at the end of May, as Lennox-Boyd had promised in his February 1959 statement. It lasted for sixteen days. Adan Abdulla Osman headed the Somalia delegation, and Mohamed Ibrahim Egal the Somaliland delegation. At the end of the conference the delegations signed a joint communiqué’ which stated that ‘Somalia and the Somaliland Protectorate shall be united on July 1, 1960.’[112] Neither Somaliland nor Somalia was prepared for union. Indeed the leaders of the two territories had confused ideas about what the association between the two territories entailed, or whether it was desirable. As late as February 1960, for instance, the leaders of the Somali National League (S.N.L.) and the United Somali Party (which was formed in 1959) had agreed to amalgamate their parties on the condition that the demands for independence were halted. The leaders of the United Somali Party insisted on the stipulation in ‘order to put a brake on what they might fear would be overhasty demands for independence by the Somali National League’.[113] The leader of the S.N.L., Mohamed Ibrahim Egal, accepted the condition. The elite of Somaliland had no plans either for independence or for the union as late as February 1959. Lennox-Boyd’s February announcement, however, changed their program, and forced them to become committed to independence, and to association with Somalia.

In Somalia, the date of independence was already set. Hence, no notable political struggle for, or debate on, independence took place. The main issue that the political elite debated was whether the two territories should unite and under what conditions. The leader of the government and the president of the Somali Youth League, Abdullahi Issa, expressed throughout 1959 a ‘luke-warm approach towards the future association of the two territories’.[114] He never changed his attitude towards the union. He even repressed and persecuted nationalist figures in the country,[115] among them the leader of the Greater Somalia League, Haji Mohamed Hussein, who was committed to Greater Somalia. The outbreak of riots in Mogadishu in 2 March 1960 and attacks against Italian residents led to the replacement of Abdullahi Issa with Adan Abdulla Osman, a moderate politician who accepted the association between Somalia and Somaliland.

The idea of union had hardly been debated or seriously thought about in either territory. Mohamed Ibrahim Egal had what P. Carrel, the Secretary to the Government, termed an ‘imprecise’ view on the subject. He wanted, Carrel stated, to form a ‘Supreme Council’ which would govern the two territories for at least five years. Both territories would have equal members in the Council, and the Legislative Councils of the two territories would not be amalgamated but would function as two separate governing bodies for the two regions. ‘During this limited period, the new constitution for the united stage would be framed.’[116] Such caution, was, however, swept aside by the pace of reforms and changes introduced by early 1960. The formation of the union followed the schedule set up, and was devised by the Cabinet. Egal, with his typical ‘imprecise’ thinking on the union, and on virtually everything else, was simply carried on by events. Somaliland became independent on 26 June 1960, and just four days later formed the desired union with Somalia. It was much less than a union, however. As H. F. T. Smith put it, the ‘union’ marked the total ‘absorption of Somaliland by Somalia’.[117] It might have solved ‘Somali expansionism’ during the twilight of the British Empire, but as Margery Perham so presciently noted, it also prepared the ground for a ‘promising brew’[118] that would haunt the post-colonial politics of the region.

Jama Mohamed


English Historical Review

© Oxford University Press 2002


[1] P[ublic]R[ecord]O[ffice], CAB 129/33/2, Constitutional Development in Smaller Territories, Cabinet memorandum by Creech Jones, 10 March 1949.

[2] PRO, CAB 129/129/71, Commonwealth Membership, Cabinet memorandum by Lord Swinton, 11 October 1954.

[3] PRO, CAB 134/1203, Small Colonial Territories, Cabinet Memorandum by Lennox-Boyd, 27 September 1956.

[4] Bethwell A. Ogot and Tiyambe Zeleza, ‘Kenya: The Road to Independence and After,’ in Prosser Gifford and Wm. Roger Louis (ed.), Decolonization and African Independence: The Transfers of Power, 1960—1980 (New Haven, 1988), pp. 401-426; John Darwin, ‘Decolonization and the End of Empire,’ in Robin W. Winks (ed.), Oxford History of the British Empire: Vol. V: Historiography (Oxford, 1999), pp. 541-557; John Darwin, Britain and Decolonization (London, 1988); J. D. Hargreaves, Decolonization in Africa (London, 1988); Prosser Gifford and W. Roger Louis (ed.), The Transfer of Power in Africa: Decolonization, 1940—1960 (New Haven, CT, 1982); Thomas Hogdkin, Nationalism in Colonial Africa (London, 1956); Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism (New York, 1993); W. Roger Louis, Empire at Bay (Oxford, 1978); R. H. Holland, European Decolonization, 1918—1981 (London, 1994). For brief discussions on the decolonization of Somaliland see Abdi Ismail Samatar, The State and Rural Transformation in Northern Somalia, 1886—1986 (Madison, WI, 1989); I. M. Lewis, The Modern History of Somaliland (New York, 1965); Sadia Touval, Somali Nationalism (Cambridge, MA, 1967).

[5] Wm Roger Louis, ‘The Dissolution of the British Empire,’ in Judith M. Brown (ed.), The Oxford History of the British Empire: The Twentieth Century (Oxford, 1999), vol. 4, p. 332; Wm. Roger Louis and Ronald Robinson, ‘The Imperialism of Decolonization,’ Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, xxii, no. 3 (1994), 467; A. J. Stockwell, ‘Imperialism and Nationalism in South-East Asia,’ in Judith M. Brown (ed.), The Oxford History of the British Empire: The Twentieth Century, vol. 4, p. 485.

[6] PRO, F.O.78/3857, James Blair, Secretary of State for the Colonies, 1885.

[7] The story has been told brilliantly in David Levering Lewis, The Race to Fashoda: European Colonialism and African Resistance in the Scramble for Africa (New York, 1987).

[8] Ibid., pp. 7-8.

[9] James Rennell Rodd, Social and Diplomatic Memories (Second Series), 1891—1901: Egypt and Abyssinia (London, 1923), p. vi.

[10] David Levering Lewis, Race to Fashoda, p. 12.

[11] Ibid., p. 129.

[12] Sir Rennell Rodd, Social and Diplomatic Memories, p. 174. See also David Levering Lewis, Race to Fashoda, p. 130.

[13] Sir Rennell Rodd, Social and Diplomatic Memories, p. 163.

[14] Ibid., p. 182.

[15] David Levering Lewis, Race to Fashoda, p. 128.

[16] Sir Rennell Rodd, Social and Diplomatic Memories, p. 187.

[17] Ibid., p. 167.

[18] Ibid.

[19] David Levering Lewis, Race to Fashoda, p. 130.

[20] PRO, F.O.371/113459, Treaty Between Great Britain and Ethiopia, Signed by the Emperor Menelek II, and by Her Majesty’s Envoy, Addis Ababa, May 14, 1897.

[21] Ibid., Annex 3.

[22] Sir Rennell Rodd, Social and Diplomatic Memoirs, p. 182.

[23] Ibid., p. 122. H. C. Swayne wrote a book on his experiences: Seventeen Trips Through Somaliland (London, 1895).

[24] H. B. Gilliland, ‘An Approach to the Problem of the Government of Nomadic Peoples; With Special Reference to Experience in Eastern British Somaliland’, The South African Geographical Journal, xxix (April 1947), 51.

[25] PRO, C[olonial]O[ffice] 1015/1354, ‘The Haud Problem: History to the End of 1956’, April 1957. The rest of this and the following paragraph are based on this document.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] PRO, C.O.1015/507, ‘The Zeila-Haud Negotiations,’ December 1951.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid. See also PRO, C.O.1015/507, ‘Zeila-Haud Negotiations: Notes of Meeting Held at the Colonial Office on 13 December, 1951’.

[31] PRO, C.O.1015/507, C. H. A. Judd to J. E. Marnham, Esq., Colonial Office, 20 June 1952.

[32] PRO, C.O.1015/507, British Embassy to the Right Honorable Anthony Eden, M.P., 26 May 1952.

[33] PRO, C.O.1015/507, Oliver Lyttelton, Colonial Office, to Governor of Somaliland, Gerlad Reece, 18 September 1952.

[34] PRO, C.O.1015/507, ‘Enclosure No.1 to Mr. D. L. Busk’s Addis Ababa Despatch no. 41, dated 26 May 1952’.

[35] Harold Marcus, A History of Ethiopia (Berkeley, CA, 1994), p. 154. See also Harold Marcus, Ethiopia, Great Britain, and the United States, 1941—1947 (Berkeley, CA, 1983). For a general discussion of the role of the United States in the decolonization of the British Empire, which stresses global rather than local or regional themes, see Wm. Roger Louis, Imperialism at Bay: The United States and the Decolonization of the British Empire, 1941—1945 (New York, 1978).

[36] PRO, C.O.1015/1354, Agreement between the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of Ethiopia relating to certain matters connected with the withdrawal of British Military Administration from the territories designated as the Reserved Area and the Ogaden, London, November 29, 1954. The rest of this paragraph is based on this document.

[37] Colonial Office, The Haud Problem: History to the End of 1956, April 1957.

[38] Colonial Office, Colonial Office Annual Reports on the Somaliland Protectorate, 1954 and 1955 (London, 1957), p. 3.

[39] It was an organization, not a party. Henceforth it will be referred to as N.U.F.- the short and more widely known acronym. The N.U.F. became a registered party in 1958. No extended analysis of the form (parties) and content (ideology) of nationalism can be made here for lack of space. For a brief discussion on these issues see I. M. Lewis, Modern History of Somaliland; Sadia Touval, Somali Nationalism; and Abdi Samatar, State and Rural Transformation.

[40] PRO, F.O.371/113458, Record of meeting with Somaliland delegation over the Haud Agreement held in the Secretary of State’s room at the Colonial Office, 14 February, 1955.

[41] Ibid.

[42] PRO, F.O.371/113458, Somali Delegation to Secretary of State for the Colonies, 5 May 1955.

[43] PRO, F.O.371/113458, Somali Delegation to the Secretary General of the United Nations, 1955.

[44] Richard Burton, First Footsteps in East Africa (London, 1856), 2 volumes. The narrative was based on his 1854 travels from Zeila to Harar to Berbera.

[45] PRO, F.O.371/113458, Somali Delegation to the Secretary General of the United Nations, 1955.

[46] ‘Somaliland: Background to a Grievance’, Africa Digest, cxi, (1) (May-June 1955), p. 14.

[47] ‘The Moving Caravan,’ Daily Mail, Monday, February 28, 1955.

[48] Ibid.

[49] ‘The Somali’s Plea’, Daily Express, 25 February 1955.

[50] Ibid.

[51] ‘Somalis May Seek U.N. Intervention’, Sunday Observer, 27 February 1955.

[52] PRO, F.O.371/113461, Parliamentary Question, October and November 1955.

[53] Colonial Office, The Haud Problem: History to the End of 1956.

[54] PRO, F.O.371/113641, The National United Front, (Report), 1955.

[55] Ibid.

[56] The Ethiopian delegation was led by Colonel Kefle Erguetou, Deputy Governor General, Harar Province, while the Somaliland delegation was led by J. R. Stebbing, Chief Secretary to the Somaliland Protectorate Government. The two delegates met fifteen times during the conference.

[57] Oxford University, Rhodes House Library, Mss.Afr.S.2109, Box 2, J. R. Stebbing, Harar Conference: 12 December 1955 to 20 December 1955 and 2 January 1956 to 21 January 1956. The box contains all the agenda of the conference and the discussions that took place. The perspective, nonetheless, is limited since no direct archival research in Ethiopia has been undertaken for the writing of this paper.

[58] Ibid., pp. 15-20.

[59] Ibid., p. 23.

[60] Ibid., J. R. Stebbing to Sir Theodore Pike, Governor of Somaliland, 27 January 1956.

[61] Ibid.

[62] Ibid., Theodore Pike to Alan Lennox-Boyd, Secretary State for the Colonies, 28 January 1956. 63. Ibid.

[63] Ibid.

[64] PRO, CAB 129/80, Cabinet: The Somaliland Protectorate: Memorandum by the Secretary of the State for the Colonies, 23 March 1956. The rest of this paragraph is based on this document.

[65] Ibid.

[66] Harold G. Marcus, Ethiopia, Great Britain, and the United States, 1941—1947 (Berkeley, CA, 1983); Wm. Roger Louis, Imperialism at Bay: The United States and the Decolonization of the British Empire, 1941—1945 (New York, 1978).

[67] PRO, CAB 129/81, Strategic Importance of the Somaliland Protectorate, 30 April 1956. This paragraph is based on this document.

[68] Ibid. See also CAB 129/80, The Horn of Africa: Joint Cabinet Memorandum by Selwyn Lloyd and Lennox-Boyd on Security Problems, 25 March 1956.

[69] PRO, CAB 129/80, Cabinet: Horn of Africa: Memorandum by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and the Secretary of State for the Colonies, 24 March 1956. This paragraph is based on this document.

[70] Ibid.

[71] PRO, CAB 129/82, Cabinet: Somaliland Protectorate and the Horn of Africa: Memorandum by the Secretary of State for the Colonies, 25 July 1956.

[72] Cabinet: Somaliland Protectorate and the Horn of Africa: Memorandum by the Secretary of State for the Colonies, 25 July 1956.

[73] PRO, CAB 129/82, Appendix A: Report by Lord Lloyd on his Visit to Somaliland, 20-31 May, 1956. The rest of this paragraph is based on this document.

[74] Ibid.

[75] Memorandum by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and the Secretary of State for the Colonies, 24 March 1956.

[76] PRO, CAB 129/81, Cabinet: Somalia: Memorandum by Selwyn Lloyd on the Prospects of Extending Italian Trusteeship, 29 May 1956.

[77] Ibid.

[78] PRO, CAB 129/81, Cabinet: Somalia: Memorandum by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, 29 May 1956.

[79] Ibid.

[80] PRO, F.O.371/131232, J. L. Morgan, Somaliland Protectorate, and Somalia: Comments on the F.O. Draft Reply to the Conservative Commonwealth Council, 15 August 1957.

[81] Ibid.

[82] Ibid.

[83] Ibid.

[84] PRO, F.O.371/131229, The Conservative Commonwealth Council, Somaliland Protectorate, May 1958.

[85] PRO, F.O.371/31229, R. W. L. Wilding, Secretary, ‘Steering Committee,’ 4 November 1958.

The rest of the paragraph is based on this document.

[86] Ibid.

[87] PRO, F.O.371/131230, J. H. A. Watson, Foreign Office, to G. W. Furlonge Esq., Addis Ababa, 14 November 1958.

[88] Ibid.

[89] J. L. Morgan, Somaliland Protectorate and Somalia: Comments on the F.O. Draft Reply to the Conservative Commonwealth Council, 15 August 1958.

[90] PRO, F.O.371/131232, Cabinet: Colonial Policy Committee: Policy in Aden and Somaliland: Memorandum by the Secretary of State for the Colonies, December 1958.

[91] Ibid.

[92] Ibid. Aden by then had become vulnerable to ‘current trends of world opinion’, British relations with Arab states, nationalist agitation in Aden itself and Soviet subversive activities. Despite all these problems, the ‘essential Defence requirements of H.M.G’ in the region must be secured. For such ‘requirements’ Somaliland had become very important indeed, even more so than in 1956, when the Chiefs of Staff considered the country of great and central importance in the defense of Western interests in the region.

[93] Ibid.

[94] PRO, F.O.371/138317, J. R. A. Bottomley, British Embassy, Washington D.C., Paper on Somaliland Protectorate, 31 December 1958.

[95] Ibid.

[96] Ibid.

[97] Ibid.

[98] PRO, F.O.371/138325, Lennox-Boyd to The Rt. Hon. Harold Macmillan, 10 Downing Street, 12 February 1959. The rest of the paragraph is based on this document.

[99] Ibid.

[100] Great Britain. Colonial Office, Colonial Office Annual Reports on the Somaliland Protectorate, 1958 and 1959 (London, 1960), pp. 60-61.

[101] Ibid.

[102] PRO, C.O.830/19, Constitutional Reform – Assessment of Reactions to Secretary of State’s Speech: Memorandum by the Local Intelligence Committee, 2 February 1959.

[103] Sir Douglas Hall, ‘Somaliland’s Last Year as a Protectorate’, African Affairs, (60) (January 1961).

[104] ‘Somaliland, British: Talks in London’, Africa Digest, vii (6) (17 May 1960), p. 195.

[105] Ibid.

[106] PRO, F.O.371/146967, Secret, by E. B. Boothby, 6 May 1960.

[107] I. M. Lewis, The Modern History of Somaliland, p. 164.

[108] Ibid.

[109] PRO, CAB 129/82, Somaliland Protectorate and the Horn of Africa, Cabinet Memorandum by Lennox-Boyd, 1956.

[110] ‘Somali Republic: London Conference’, Africa Digest, viii (1) (August 1960), p. 16.

[111] PRO, F.O.371/146968, D. B. Hall to J. Watt, Esq., 19 May 1960.

[112] ‘Joint Statement’, Africa Digest, viii (6) (August 1960), p. 16.

[113] PRO, F.O.371/146966, D. B. Hall, Hargeisa, to I. Watt, Esq., 10 February 1960.

[114] PRO, F.O.371/146966, J. S. G. Drysdale, British Consulate General, Mogadishu, to the Hon. Nigel Bruce, Research Department, Foreign Office, 4 December 1959.

[115] PRO, F.O.371/146966, A. C. Kendall, British Consulate General, Mogadishu, to H. F. T. Smith, Esq., Africa Department, Foreign Office, 19 February 1960.

[116] PRO, F.O.371/146966, Sir D. Hall to Secretary of State, 13 April 1960.

[117] PRO, F.O.371/146981, H. F. T. Smith, British Embassy, Washington, DC, to Foreign Office, 1960.

[118] Margery Perham, ‘The Horn of Africa,’ Corona (June 1959).

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