Chapter 6: The Development of National Consciousness from the book Somali Nationalism: International Politics and The Drive For Unity In The Horn Of Africa – The Horn of Africa can be thought of as a triangle, whose up-tilted eastern point extends so far into the Indian Ocean that it is approximately due south of Tehran. The “Horn,” of course, is not a definite territorial jurisdiction, but for the purposes of this book, we define it arbitrarily (but conveniently) as the region inhabited mainly by Somalis.


Chapter 6: The Development of National Consciousness

From the book Somali Nationalism: International Politics And The Drive For Unity In The Horn Of Africa

Somali Nationalism International Politics And The Drive For Unity In The Horn Of AfricaSaadia Touval

Harvard University Press

Cambridge, Massachusetts • 1963

In this chapter










Historical figures become national heroes only in nationalistically charged environments. With the growth of Somali national consciousness in the course of the fifty years preceding the Second World War, such an environment gradually took shape in the Horn of Africa.

National consciousness was essentially the Somalis’ feeling of solidarity, an awareness of their own identity, a “we” versus “they” attitude. It was not an awakening of intellectual or romantic pride in the qualities of the nation, such as had been associated with some European nationalisms. The rise and spread of national consciousness prepared the ground for the emergence of modern nationalism after the Second World War.

Three factors contributed to the development of national consciousness among the Somalis.

The most important factor was resentment against their governments. Before the partition of the Horn of Africa, the Somalis had never been subject to an institutionalized government, though they had been subject to the authority of the elders and to the consensus of the shir (the assembly of all male members of the clan). The actions of the alien governments were sometimes incomprehensible and tended to interfere with the traditional way of life. Tribal interests often conflicted with government regulations.

Furthermore, some of the colonial practices prior to the Second World War were harsh and oppressive, especially those of the Italians, who instituted forced labor and a humiliating racial policy. The very notion of international boundaries ran counter to the requirements of the Somalis’ nomadic existence. True, Somalis, continuing their seasonal migrations after the fashion of their forefathers, paid (and still pay) little attention to the existence of frontiers.

Even so, the movement from one political jurisdiction to another could have unsettling effects, and occasionally the governments went so far as to interfere in these migrations by attempting to prevent or regulate them. All in all, the confrontation of the nomadic, individualistic, and independent Somalis with organized government inevitably led to resentment and conflicts.

A second factor responsible for the development of national consciousness was religious antagonism. The alien governments represented Christian “infidel” rule. Islam fosters the belief in its superiority over other religions, a superiority not only spiritual but to be attested in the field of battle as well. In Islam, there is no separation between religious and secular matters, as there is in Christianity. It is therefore exceedingly difficult and humiliating for a Moslem society to accept the non-Moslem rule.[1]

A third factor was the deliberate encouragement of Somali national feelings by various governments from time to time. Such encouragement was usually given with the purpose of undermining the authority of a neighboring government. Yet agitation or subversion in one country tended to cause ripples of unrest which spread throughout the Horn.

These three factors, leading toward the later emergence of nationalism, operated in the relations between the Somali population and the government of each territory.


With the Mullah’s death in 1920, relative peace was restored to British Somaliland. Tribal feuds continued as before, and there occurred occasional clashes between the Somalis and the administration; but, compared to the disorders of the century’s first two decades, the country attained tranquility. Life flowed on as it had for centuries, with only minimal government activity to disturb it.

Somaliland being a protectorate, rather than a colony, the British government had a convenient legal justification for leaving things as they were. In their protectorates, the British have usually attempted to leave the indigenous political institutions intact and have sought to limit their own interference in local affairs to measures absolutely essential for the protection of British interests.[2] Their policy in Somaliland was probably the closest approach to this “ideal.”

Despite the government’s desire not to interfere in the traditional way of life, the few measures it introduced were regarded by the Somalis as a disturbing imposition. The most disturbing measure of all had been the establishment of an international border cutting across the traditional grazing grounds of many of the Protectorate tribes.

An attempt had been made to minimize its impact upon the Somalis by a provision in the Anglo-Ethiopian border agreement of 1897, stipulating that the tribes “occupying either side of the line shall have the right to use the grazing grounds on the other side.”[3] The tribes continued their seasonal migrations after the establishment of the border as they had always done. But occasional interference by the authorities inevitably caused resentment.

Since at first the boundary was not demarcated on the ground, one found it sometimes difficult to determine whether tribes were under British or Ethiopian jurisdiction. The Ethiopians, in attempting to assert their authority near the frontier, used to send military expeditions on tax-collecting missions. These often resulted in armed clashes between Ethiopian troops and Somali tribes.

To avoid disputes caused by uncertainty about the exact location, the border was demarcated on the ground by an Anglo-Ethiopian commission between 1932 and 1934. The Somalis, suspecting that the boundary implied restrictions on their grazing, destroyed many of the pillars marking the border. This resulted in the imposition of fines by the Protectorate government upon the tribes responsible.[4]

The translation into modern political terms of the resentment against the impositions of alien government is a task normally performed by an articulate, educated elite. Such an elite was barely beginning to develop in British Somaliland in the interwar period. The slowness of its emergence was largely due to the equally slow development of an educational system in the Protectorate. Prior to the introduction of Western education by the French Catholic mission in 1891, only Koranic schools existed in the area. The Catholic missionary schools were closed at the request of the British in 1910, as a result of pressure by the Moslem religious authorities.

By then, there were a few government schools in operation, the first having been established in 1898 at Berbera. Very few Somalis attended those schools, however, and for many years the pupils were mainly children of Indian and Arab merchants. After the First World War, Somali interest in Western education increased somewhat, but educational facilities remained pathetically insufficient.

Indeed, in 1934 only one government elementary school existed in the Protectorate. It had 120 students. The total government expenditure on education amounted to £500 a year. The maintenance of the elementary school cost the government £100; a further £100 went for subsidies to Koranic schools; and £300 was spent on the education of a small number of students from the Protectorate at Gordon College in Khartoum.[5]

The British government’s lack of initiative was the main reason why modern education came so slowly to the territory. But Somali resistance to the imposition of taxation to finance education was also to blame. This resistance culminated in a riot at Burao in 1922, in the course of which the District Commissioner was shot and killed. No new vigorous steps were taken by the government until 1935 when an education scheme for the Protectorate was drawn up. This was followed by the establishment of an Education Department in 1938.

However, the implementation of the scheme was delayed because of opposition of religious leaders who feared that a new educated class might question their authority and that the schools might be an instrument for Christian missionary activity. The opposition reached a climax in another riot at Burao in May 1939, resulting in the death of three Somalis.[6]

The small elite that had received a Western education and been exposed to Western ideas consisted almost entirely of civil servants. It was not possible, however, for government servants to engage in politics, and least of all, to be in the forefront of nationalist agitation. Only upon leaving the civil service did individuals feel free to undertake political activity.

One of the first modern politicians to emerge in the Protectorate was a former civil servant by the name of Haji Farah Omar, who became active around 1920. His political agitation did not find favor with the authorities and he was exiled to Aden. There, he participated in the establishment of the Somali Islamic Association. Although not a political organization, this association took an active interest in developments in the Protectorate, and frequently petitioned the British government on Somali affairs. Haji Farah Omar kept up his own activity as well.

This consisted mainly of collecting information about Somali affairs and publicizing grievances through letters to British newspapers and Members of Parliament. Significantly, he did not limit his activity to matters concerning British Somaliland but also took a wide interest in Somali affairs outside the Protectorate.[7]

There were also attempts at political organization. Through the initiative of local merchants, political clubs were established in 1935 in Berbera, Hargeisa, and Burao. The clubs did not attempt any large-scale organization but were limited instead to a select membership, drawn principally from among the Ishaq. In 1937, growing discontent among the civil servants regarding their status and their opportunities for advancement led to the establishment of the Somali Officials’ Union.

Inevitably, the promotion of the officials’ interests could not be entirely divorced from political matters. The Somali officials felt particularly aggrieved by the practice of appointing Somalis only to the lowest ranks of the civil service and reserving middle and senior positions to British and expatriate Indian personnel.[8]

These were merely the beginnings of political grumblings. They reflected not only the existence of discontent, but also the growing political consciousness among the population and their gropings to express their grievances in modern political terms. A nationalist movement did not emerge, however, until after the Second World War.


Until the 1940’s the Somalis of the Northern Frontier Province of Kenya lived relatively unaffected by government measures or by modern economic or political influences. But the small number of Kenya Somalis living outside the Northern Frontier Province, including those in Nairobi, were earlier exposed to Western influences, and to the effects of the economic, social, and political developments in the territory. In the interwar period, they undoubtedly took notice of the growing political fermentation among the Africans of Kenya. Some information about these developments probably reached the tribes with which urban Somalis maintain contact. But no political or nationalist awakening occurred among the Kenya Somalis.

The Kenya government’s attempts to impose its authority caused some resentment among the Somalis and encouraged group consciousness. The most serious troubles occurred in Jubaland (the territory immediately adjacent to the Juba River) prior to its transfer to Italian jurisdiction in 1925 as a consequence of an undertaking made by Britain during the First World War. The troubles in Jubaland when it was still part of Kenya involved the unruly Marehan and Aulihan tribes (sections of the Ogaden Darod).

The incidents usually grew out of Somali reluctance to submit to the British administration and out of the government’s attempts to stop intertribal raids. The personal ambitions of tribal leaders who wanted to extend their authority also played a role. The most notable of these leaders was Abdurrahman Mursaal, of the Aulihan. He visited Nairobi in 1915 and returned to Jubaland “with a heightened sense of his own importance and a wholly unfounded claim that the government had given him all the country between Serenli and Wajir.”[9] He raided the government post at Serenli, killing its British commander. Finally, his force was defeated and he had to flee.

Yet the strife never assumed the form of a Somali rebellion against the government. The tribes were usually divided—some sections rebelling, some supporting the government, others taking advantage of a rival group’s conflict with the authorities in order to raid the rivals and loot their livestock. In the course of various punitive expeditions, local Somalis served with the King’s African Rifles and, in addition, the authorities made use of tribal levies. These Somalis were not considered wholly reliable, and on a few occasions mutinied. Nevertheless, Somali troops continued to be employed and were of great value to the British in their attempts to establish their authority in Jubaland.[10]

As already stated, population pressures in the northern portions of the Horn have caused a persistent trend of migration southward and westward, a migration which has been in process for centuries. Somali penetration into Kenya has taken place only in the last sixty years. A history of this expansion remains yet to be written. Some generalizations about it are, nevertheless, possible.[11]

The Somalis moved into Kenya both by peaceful methods and by conquest.

Peaceful penetration was achieved mainly through the ingenious introduction and application of the widespread custom of clientship. The newly arrived Somali clan or section would attach themselves as clients (shegat) to a clan or section inhabiting the area, either Galla or Somali. To consolidate this relationship and ensure their access to wells and grazing grounds occupied by the patron tribe, the newly arrived Somalis would give their daughters in marriage to the patron tribe.

The attachment of Somalis as clients to Galla tribes was often accompanied by attempts on the part of the Somalis to Islamize the pagan Gallas. If the Gallas adopted Islam, they would then be assimilated within the Somali society, which was culturally and religiously superior. Such tendencies have normally been encouraged by the client Somalis. The final step in the Somalization of the patron tribe would be their “adoption” of Somali ancestors and their integration into the Somali genealogy.

Sometimes, however, peaceful penetration failed and was followed by conflict over wells and grazing grounds. In such cases, the newly arrived Somalis often proved stronger and the defeated Gallas were pushed farther westward.

In order to limit Somali expansion into Kenya, which was considered detrimental to the interests of the native Galla population, the Kenya government decided in 1909 to regulate grazing and to restrict the movement of Somali tribes beyond a fixed border, the so-called “Somali line.” All clans and sections, both Somali and Galla, have been allocated grazing areas. Trespassing is reported to the authorities by the aggrieved party.

The policy of limiting Somali expansion has been applied consistently and successfully for the last fifty years. The effective enforcement of these provisions depended in large measure upon the administrative officers involved and upon their personal attitudes.

The difficulties which apparently existed in the early years before firm patterns of administration were established were described in a somewhat sarcastic comment by an officer of the King’s African Rifles (K.A.R.):

There has never really been a defined continuous policy in the Northern Frontier District, as owing to its inaccessibility and the absence of regular communications matters have perforce been left largely in the hands of the men on the spot. Up to a point this has worked well, but the wily Somal has been clever enough to spot the weak point and has always managed to find champions and play them off against the sterner officials, who will not listen to his remarkably ingenious excuses for not carrying out any instructions which do not happen to coincide with his own convenience; and, mark you, owing to the scarcity of water and the internecine sectional feuds he often puts forward a seemingly very good case.

Some officials see the Somal’s point of view so thoroughly that, after a little, they almost think as he does, and eventually believe that Somal can do no wrong. Mr. Somal, by the way, as you have probably gathered by this time, is a clever and adroit flatterer. To such an extent has this sort of thing been carried, that it is rumored that one official has even gone so far as to order supplies of “Glaxo” from England to nourish the young hopefuls of the noble Somal race. This attitude is generally known as the “Glaxo” policy.

On the other hand, the sterner school definitely dislike, and are in their turn disliked by, Somalis, and consider that if they disobey orders they should be properly straffed. This point of view is usually referred to as the Hell-Fire Policy, and as the upholders of these policies are about equally divided and frequently interchanged, you can imagine that things are generally rather in a muddle. We K.A.R. are not supposed to have enough brains to follow the intricacies of tribal politics and are strictly enjoined not to interfere, but you will find yourself inevitably dragged into it, and your aim must be to try and steer between the two.[12]

The presence of the British authorities inevitably produced some friction and caused resentment. It encouraged group consciousness among the Somalis, and thus provided the basis for the rudimentary nationalist movement which developed among the Kenya Somalis after the Second World War.


The Somalis of French Somaliland had more contacts with the West and Western ideas than those of any other part of the Horn prior to the Second World War. This is largely because Djibouti was the most developed town and the busiest port in the Horn, and contained a sizable European population. Only a few thousand Somalis lived in Djibouti, but here as elsewhere the townspeople maintained their tribal affiliations and transmitted Western ideas and influences to the nomadic tribes.

During the First World War, the contacts of the Somalis of this country with the West assumed massive proportions: thousands of them served with the French Army. Over 2,000 Somalis saw action on the western front in Europe. They must have distinguished themselves; about 1,000 of them received individual citations and 400 were killed.[13]

Some interest in politics was displayed by the Seamen’s Union established in Djibouti in 1931. The union’s range of interests extended beyond strictly sailors’ affairs, and included such matters as the Somalis’ representation in government and their share in the territory’s economy.

Political awakening was further stimulated by Italy’s conquest of Ethiopia in 1935. Italian encroachments upon French Somaliland territory, and the occupation by Italian troops in 1938 of a disputed area, caused great excitement and aroused political interest among the population. The Somalis, along with the rest of the population, declared their loyalty to France and their readiness “to help France in case of war, in order to defend our homeland.”[14]

The relatively intensive exposure of the Somalis of French Somaliland to Western influences presumably produced a politically more sophisticated population than existed elsewhere in the Horn of Africa. Still, here as elsewhere, political parties and a nationalist movement did not develop in French Somaliland until after the Second World War.


When nationalist movements did emerge in the Horn the most fully developed one was in Italian Somaliland. To a considerable extent this was due to that country’s special status as an ex-Italian colony and the deliberations about its future which took place in the late 1940’s. But, part of the reason undoubtedly lies in the territory’s prewar experiences.

Again the early development of national consciousness was mainly due to “anti” sentiments. These were directed against the Italian authorities, whose colonial practices aroused resentment, and against the Ethiopians, toward whom the Somalis’ traditional animosity was further incited by the Italian government.

Resentment against Italian rule was probably the most important factor behind the awakening of national consciousness. The establishment of government authority and administration throughout the territory was not well received by the tribes. Independence, even with anarchy and insecurity, was preferable to subjection to a Christian government and its imposed peace. Resistance to Italian authority flared up sporadically, and pacification of the country took many years. Only very gradually, through a series of military operations, sometimes coupled by severe repressive measures, did the Italians succeed in establishing their authority.[15]

Resistance to the Italians was usually local or tribal. No attempt was made to organize large-scale territory-wide opposition. Throughout the process of pacification the Italians were able to employ Somali troops, as the British had done in their areas.[16] Significantly, however, the Italians, like the British, never relied solely upon Somali troops in their operations, but used them as part of a mixed force, including units recruited outside the territory. The process of pacification left a residue of resentment, which provided the foundation upon which postwar nationalism has developed.

Similar resentment was aroused by oppressive and humiliating policies instituted by the prewar Italian administration, such as forced labor and racial laws. At the early stage of Italian administration, there was great difficulty in inducing the Somalis to work on the Italian farms or on public projects. Regular employment for money wages was a practice totally alien to the local inhabitants. The Italians, therefore, reverted to coercion in the recruitment and maintenance of a labor force.[17] In 1938, Fascist racial laws were put into effect in Italian Somaliland. Although these were not strictly applied, those portions of the population which became cognizant of them were deeply offended.[18]

Italian-Ethiopian tension was also instrumental in awakening Somali national consciousness. As early as 1897, the Italians and the Ethiopians, attempting to extend their authority north and south respectively, were involved in a competition to win the loyalty and goodwill of the Somali population.[19] Later, during the Fascist era, in an attempt to undermine Ethiopian authority in the Ogaden, the Italians encouraged some of their border tribes to penetrate into Ethiopian territory and to resist Ethiopian assertions of authority. This Italian policy subsequently led to the famous Wal-Wal incident and to the invasion of Ethiopia in 1935.

During that invasion, the Italian policy of inciting the Somalis against the Ethiopians reached a climax. A Somali army was recruited by the Italians and employed in the Ethiopian campaign. In addition to some 6,000 troops incorporated directly into this army, many thousands of irregular fighters (dubats), armed and trained by the Italians, participated in the campaign.

The Ethiopians resorted to similar devices and, though probably less successful than the Italians, managed to win over dissatisfied elements among Italy’s Somali subjects. The most notable addition to their ranks was one Omar Samantar, who had deserted from service with the Italians in 1925 and had enlisted in Ethiopian service shortly thereafter. During the Italian-Ethiopian war he led a force of irregular Somalis who fought on the Ethiopian side.[20]

It seems that the Somalis, as a “nation,” did not take sides in the war. Individuals and tribes fought with both armies. Nevertheless, their involvement in the war resulted in an awakening of Somali national consciousness. The Italian designs on Ethiopia required, as one observer has written, a policy of “nurturing nascent Somali consciousness, without, however, permitting the creation of modern Somali nationalism.”[21]

Other developments that played a role in preparing the ground for nationalism were economic and social. Italian economic activity, though modest in size, was instrumental in initiating some social changes. Several agricultural enterprises were launched by Italians, attempting to grow cotton, sugar, and bananas for export.

Moreover, some commercial and industrial enterprises were established. These were owned almost exclusively by Italians, Arabs, and Indians. Though relatively few Somalis were employed by the industrial and commercial enterprises, many thousands worked on the farms.[22] The weakening of the traditional social fabric, which usually accompanies economic development, facilitated the postwar growth of nationalism.

A nationalist movement could not develop in the territory in the absence of an educated class. Little was done by the prewar Italian administration to provide the Somalis with Western education. Many Koranic schools existed throughout the territory, but by 1939 only twelve Western-style elementary schools for Somalis, all run by Catholic missions with the help of government subsidies, had been established.

There were 1,776 pupils in these schools, out of a total population of approximately one million. Very few individuals, if any, received secondary education.[23] It would be an exaggeration to claim that by the 1940s, when a nationalist movement began to emerge, an educated elite had developed. Rather, it was the Second World War and its upheavals that produced a body of men, motivated and capable, to lead a nationalist movement.


The Somalis of Ethiopia, like their brethren elsewhere, were subject to considerable stresses during the fifty years preceding the Second World War. Relations between Ethiopians and Somalis were not always hostile; indeed there were numerous cases of cooperation. But inevitably the establishment of Ethiopian authority in the Somali-inhabited areas, Ethiopian internal politics, and the Italian occupation—all tended to exacerbate the traditional antagonism between the Christian Ethiopians and the Moslem Somalis.

The end of the nineteenth century had seen consolidation of central government in Ethiopia under Emperor Menelik II, as we have related. The Ethiopians asserted their authority over many areas previously only under their nominal suzerainty. Among the areas thus subjected to Ethiopian rule was much of the Somali-inhabited territory between Harar and British Somaliland. The establishment of Ethiopian authority was usually accompanied by military operations against reluctant Somali tribes.

Often the Somalis refused to pay taxes to the Ethiopians, whereupon their villages were raided and the tax collected by force. Accounts of travelers who visited the area at the end of the nineteenth century and early in the twentieth abound with references to Somali complaints against raids by Ethiopian tax collectors.[24] The unrest caused among the Somalis by these operations explains in part the support given the Mullah by the Ogaden tribes.

But the sense of national consciousness stimulated by Ethiopian military operations did not result in political consequences. In fact, it did not even prevent the Somalis from entering the Emperor’s service and participating in Ethiopian military operations against the Mullah. The Somalis do not seem to have been divided into pro-and-anti-Ethiopian camps. Even those serving with the Ethiopian forces were imbued with hostility toward the Christian Ethiopians. The antagonism was mutual, apparently quite deeply rooted, frequently resulting in bloody incidents—but not followed up by any drastic political consequences.[25]

On one important occasion, during the grave constitutional crisis of 1915-1917, the Somalis played a significant role. After Menelik’s death in 1913, his grandson Lij Yasu ascended the throne. Lij Yasu leaned, however, toward Islam and was therefore mistrusted by the Amhara nobility and by the Church. In 1915, he was reported to have adopted Islam and to have been in close contact with Turkish agents. At the same time, he also was in collusion with the Mullah. In the summer of 1916, Lij Yasu went to Jigjiga to organize an army from among the Somali and Galla population of the region.

The suspicious Rases thereupon staged a coup d’état at Addis Ababa, appointing Menelik’s daughter Zauditu as Empress, and Ras Tafari (later Emperor Haile Selassie) as regent. An expedition was sent against Lij Yasu and his Moslem supporters. Lij Yasu retreated first to Harar, and when the Ethiopian troops reached the city he fled to the Danakil desert. The fighting was brief but bitter and ended in the conquest of Harar and massacre of the deposed Emperor’s Somali followers.[26]

The Somalis’ role in the episode was played by them as Moslems, rather than as members of a Somali nation. Moreover, the Gallas, another Moslem minority, were even more deeply implicated. Nevertheless, the fact remains that at a time of a constitutional crisis, Somali-Ethiopian tensions did have serious political repercussions. The possibility that the Somalis might again be mobilized someday into a political force has affected Ethiopian policy ever since.

The extension of effective Ethiopian authority into southern Ogaden took place only in the early 1930s. Until then the southernmost military post had been at Dagahbur, on the Tug Jerer.[27] Farther south, Ethiopian authority had been asserted only through sporadic expeditions. But, as the tension with Italy increased, the Ethiopians, in order to counter the gradual Italian penetration into their territory, established several more outposts. Both the Ethiopians and the Italians sought to occupy the few wells in the area since possession of the wells meant control over the Somali inhabitants of the region.

A competition for the allegiance of the Somali tribes ensued. It seems that, as on previous occasions, the Somalis did not take a united position. Some threw their lot with the Italians, others actively supported the Ethiopians, and the great majority remained neutral, probably waiting to see which side would prevail before committing themselves. The most important Somali on the Italian side was an Ogaden chieftain, Sultan Olol Dinle. He had entered Italian service as early as the 1920s and had aided the Italian penetration in the 1920s and 1930s.

During the Italian-Ethiopian war, he and his followers fought on the Italian side. Other Somalis served the Italians as scouts and spies. Similar services were performed by Somalis for the Ethiopian authorities. Moreover, a Somali force organized by the Ethiopians during the war served as a backbone of the Ogaden defense for many months.[28]

Somali national consciousness in Ethiopia received a powerful stimulus during the Italian occupation. The Ethiopian Church and the Christian population were imbued with an Ethiopian nationalist spirit. As a counterweight, the Italians paid special attention throughout the occupied territory to the Moslem population and attempted to win their loyalty.

The special identities of the ethnic and religious components of the Ethiopian empire were emphasized through the administrative organization of the conquered country, as well as through other measures. Italian East Africa (as Ethiopia and the older Italian colonies of Eritrea and Somaliland came to be known) was divided into six provinces corresponding roughly to ethnic divisions: Shoa, Eritrea, Amhara, Harar, Galla-Sidamo, and Somalia. The new province of Somalia included the old Italian colony and most of the Ogaden.

Thus, almost the entire Somali population of Ethiopia was united under the same administration with the Somalis of Somalia; and this circumstance had its effect upon the Somali population. However, when Ethiopia was liberated in 1941, the Ethiopian Somalis’ awareness of their national identity still had not transformed itself into a nationalist movement.


In many parts of Africa, common factors underlying the rise of nationalism were: social and economic changes, the appearance of an educated elite, and grievances against colonial rule or against a settler minority. These internal factors were found to some extent in the Horn. The Somalis, too, resented colonial rule, and besides, economic and social changes were beginning to disrupt their traditional way of life.

But such changes were small compared to those in many another African territory, and their impact was not sufficient to transform the passive feeling of national consciousness into a militant political movement. In the Horn the principal impetus to the emergence of nationalism as the most important political force in the region was external. Somali nationalism, instead of evolving gradually from internal events, sprang mainly from global war and its aftermath.

True, the Second World War, service in the armed forces, the effect of war propaganda, and United Nations ideals influenced developments in most African territories. The Horn, however, underwent experiences unequaled elsewhere in Africa south of the Sahara.

The Horn was a theater of operations, and portions of it changed hands more than once. Moreover, after the war, the future disposition of the former Italian colony of Somaliland became a subject of political struggle and extensive debate, in the course of which the opinions of the population were consulted. This solicitation of the wishes of the inhabitants became an especially powerful stimulus to a nationalist movement.

War came to the Horn of Africa four years before it came to Europe. The Italian invasion of Ethiopia began on October 3, 1935, and by May 1936 the Italians had overrun the country; but scattered guerrilla resistance continued for years. In August 1940, after Italy’s declaration of war upon the Allies, Italian forces invaded British Somaliland, and less than two weeks later the territory was theirs. For a few months the British and the Italians faced each other uneasily along Kenya’s northern border.

Then, in January 1941, the British opened their offensive. A month later, on February 25, they took Mogadishu; the rest of Italian Somaliland followed. In March, British Somaliland was reconquered from the Italians. On April 6, Addis Ababa was taken, and on May 5—the anniversary of the Italian occupation of the city five years earlier—Emperor Haile Selassie reentered his capital. French Somaliland, controlled by the Vichy government, came under blockade, and finally surrendered to the Allies in December 1942.

Thus the Somalis, with the exception of those living in Kenya, witnessed within a period of a few years the successive collapse of all their masters. If the Somalis ever had a feeling of inferiority toward those who governed them, this feeling was considerably undermined by 1941.[29]

The war brought the Somali population into extensive contact with the West. Thousands of Somalis served with the armed forces of the warring powers, and, however unpleasant the circumstances may have been, were thus exposed to Western influences. Some, after participating in the East African campaign, were sent overseas to India, and thence proceeded to the front in Burma. It was scarcely a sightseeing trip, but inevitably their horizons broadened.[30]

In 1941 came the British Military Administration and the decided boost it gave to the feeling of Somali unity. The area liberated by Allied forces was divided into three parts: British Somaliland, the former Italian Somaliland, and the so-called “Reserved Area” of Ethiopia. The Ogaden, which had been governed as a district of Italian Somaliland during the Italian occupation, continued to be administered as part of that territory under the British Military Administration. The Reserved Area, that part of Ethiopia closest to French and British Somaliland, was to remain in British hands until the mid-1950s, as we shall see in later chapters.[31]

Allied war propaganda also had its effect. Like other peoples, the Somalis were subject to exhortations about the justice of the Allied cause and its purpose of securing freedom to oppressed peoples. The urban population was exposed to such propaganda continually. Some of the propaganda reached the Somalis of the interior as well. It is not contended that all this indoctrinated the Somalis with any coherent liberal-democratic ideology. But the propaganda could hardly have failed to raise in their minds the question whether “freedom” and “the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live” might not have some relevance to their own problems.[32]


The question of the future disposition of the former Italian colony of Somaliland, widely debated after the war, aroused keen interest among the Somalis. The negotiations among the powers and the various proposals regarding the future of the territory received publicity. The British proposal known as the “Bevin Plan,” made to the Council of Foreign Ministers in 1946, was widely publicized by the British Military Administration and was apparently well received by the Somalis.

According to this plan the former Italian Somaliland, British Somaliland, and portions of Ethiopia were to be embodied in a single unit and placed under trusteeship. The proposal was elaborated upon by Foreign Secretary Bevin in the House of Commons on June 4, 1946:

Now may I turn to Eritrea and Somaliland. I think that M. Molotov has been more than unjust in stating that we are trying to expand the British Empire at the expense of Italy and Ethiopia and to consolidate what he calls the monopolistic position of Great Britain in the Mediterranean and Red Seas.

In the latter part of the last century, the Horn of Africa was divided between Great Britain, France, and Italy. At about the time we occupied our part, the Ethiopians occupied an inland area which is the grazing ground for nearly half the nomads of British Somaliland for six months of the year.

Similarly, the nomads of Italian Somaliland must cross the existing frontiers in search of grass. In all innocence, therefore, we proposed that British Somaliland, Italian Somaliland, and the adjacent part of Ethiopia, if Ethiopia agreed, should be lumped together as a trust territory, so that the nomads should lead their frugal existence with the least possible hindrance and there might be a real chance of a decent economic life, as understood in that territory.

But what attracted M. Molotov’s criticism was, I am sure, that I suggested that Great Britain should be made the administrating authority. Was this unreasonable? In the first place, we were surrendering a Protectorate comparable in size to the area we hoped that Ethiopia would contribute.

Secondly, it was a British force, mainly East African and South African, which freed this area; and it was a British, Indian, and South African force which bore the main brunt of restoring the independence of Ethiopia and of putting the Emperor back on his throne after several years’ sanctuary in this country. We do not seek gratitude on that account but I think it right to express surprise that our proposals should have met with such unjustified criticism.

After all, when we were defeating Italy in East Africa, Britain was open to invasion and we were fighting alone. I hope the deputies at the Paris conference will now consider a greater Somaliland more objectively.

All I want to do in this case is to give those poor nomads a chance to live. I do not want anything else. We are paying nearly £1,000,000 a year out of our Budget to help to support them. We do not ask to save anything. But to have these constant bothers on the frontiers when one can organize the thing decently—well, after all, it is nobody’s interest to stop the poor people and cattle there getting a decent living.

That is all there is to it. It is like the Englishman’s desire to go into Scotland—to get a decent living. We must consider it objectively. If the Conference do not like our proposal we will not be dogmatic about it; we are prepared to see Italian Somaliland put under the United Nations’ trusteeship.[33]

The proposal to group the territories in a single unit was the most significant element of the Bevin Plan. Somali demands along similar lines were obviously influenced by the British proposal, as is indicated by the testimony of Haji Mohamed Hussein, the then President of the Somali Youth League, before the Four Power Commission of Investigation for the former Italian Colonies. He was being questioned by the Soviet representative:

M. Feodorov: Does the executive of the Somali Youth League know the opinions of the various Governments regarding the future of the former Italian colonies?

Haji Mohamed Hussein: The Somali Youth League is aware of what has appeared in newspapers.

M. Feodorov: What do they know according to the newspapers?

Haji Mohamed Hussein: One of them is a publication in the newspapers wherein it was stated Mr. Bevin advocates the establishment of a Greater Somalia. That point appeared in English as well as Arabic newspapers. When we saw this being uttered by a Foreign Minister of a Great Power we were very happy indeed because it is one of our great aims.[34]

This Four Power Commission consisted of representatives of Britain, France, the United States, and the Soviet Union. Provision for its establishment was made in annex XI to the treaty of peace with Italy. The Commission was charged with supplying necessary data to the Deputy Foreign Ministers and with ascertaining “the views of the local population” on the political future of the former Italian colonies.[35]

The existence of the Commission gave a great boost to political activity. In preparation for its arrival in 1948, new political organizations were formed and existing parties and organizations intensified their activities. As the Commission was to visit provincial centers, political parties made special efforts to establish branches and organize the presentation of opinion throughout the territory supporting the parties’ views. Some eleven Somali organizations presented the Commission with their views about the future of the territory, along with Italian organizations and two minority communities.[36]

Only a few of the organizations which testified before the Commission were nationalist in character or can be regarded as political parties. But the significant fact is that the consideration of the future of Italian Somaliland, by stimulating political interest, created conditions favorable to the spread of nationalist ideas and the transformation of nascent nationalist parties into mass organizations.

This effect was not limited to the former Italian territory, but was noticeable, though in a lesser degree, in neighboring territories, especially in British Somaliland.[37]

The placing of former Italian Somaliland under the United Nations trusteeship under Italian administration with a target date of independence after ten years had a momentous effect upon the Somalis. It encouraged national feelings among Somalis throughout the Horn. News about the existence of the United Nations Organization spread, and it came to be viewed as a protector and guarantor of Somali aspirations. The emerging nationalist politicians drew further assurance from the presence of the United Nations Advisory Council in Mogadishu.[38]

Moreover, Somalis had heard about the anti-colonial struggle in some Asian territories and the attainment of independence by Indonesia, Burma, India, Pakistan, and other countries. The religious and commercial ties with the Arab world and the presence of Arab and Indo-Pakistani communities throughout the region facilitated the dissemination of news about these developments.

In addition, from outside the Horn has come considerable propaganda designed to stimulate Somali nationalism. Since the 1950s, Egypt in particular has been active in this respect, through radio broadcasts in the Somali language and through the dissemination of propaganda by Egyptian teachers in Somalia and by Pan-Islamic organizations linked with Cairo. Egyptian attacks on “imperialism” have not been aimed at the British and French alone, but at “Ethiopian imperialism” as well. Although Somali attitudes toward Egypt are not always sympathetic, the propaganda emanating from Cairo undoubtedly encouraged nationalist sentiments.[39]

Certain internal developments, though less important than external ones, have contributed to the growth of Somali nationalism. It is true that the nomads are still nomads and that attempts to settle them have not achieved significant results thus far. But, as for the sedentary part of the population, their way of life as well as their social and political concepts has been changing because of the development of commerce and industry, the growth of a government bureaucracy, and the spread of a cash economy. Social dislocations resulting from such changes have been a stimulant to political activity.

A nationalist movement and political organizations could not have emerged without some sort of educated class. Educated persons are the most sensitive to external influences, spreading them among the rest of the population. Moreover, the setting up and management of political organizations requires a body of literate functionaries. We have seen that the emergence of such a class was slow. The process accelerated after the Second World War. For example, the total number of persons attending schools in former Italian Somaliland rose from 1,853 x947 t 0 26,796 in 1956.

In British Somaliland, the total number of pupils in 1948 was 1,424, of whom 617 were in government schools and 807 in private Koranic schools. By 1957 the number had risen to 6,903, of whom 2,253 were in government schools and 4,650 in Koranic schools.[40] These figures are not very impressive compared with total populations of about 1,300,000 in Italian Somaliland and 650,000 in British Somaliland. They indicate, nevertheless, that change was taking place.

The growth of modern political organizations has encountered many obstacles. Probably the most important have been religious and tribal interests. Religious leaders have viewed with suspicion the rising influence of secular politicians. The politicians on their part have not been in sympathy with the religious orders, which they regarded as divisive forces. The politicians have also fought against clanship and tribal loyalties. But those loyalties and the influence of religious leaders are deeply engrained in Somali society, and will continue to inhibit the spread of national unity for years to come.[41]


The demand for Somali unification is sometimes justified by arguments from the arsenal of democratic ideology, claiming for the Somalis of Kenya, Ethiopia, and French Somaliland the right of self-determination. But the mainspring of the demand for unification is not the enlightenment brought about by Western ideas. The nationalist awakening and the espousal of the aim of independence and unification are not the result of Western ideological influence.

In that connection, our emphasis upon the crucial role of the educated class in the nationalist movement should not be misunderstood. The educated class is the group in society most aware of the external environment. Its awareness of the world at large acquainted it with the existence of a political framework through which interests can be promoted and within which national consciousness can find its fulfillment. Furthermore, the educated class has provided the leadership and organizational talent essential for modern politics.

On the other side of the continent, in some West African territories, it may be that the emergence of nationalist movements was influenced by Western ideas. A substantial number of West Africans had attended Western universities, and a literate middle class had existed in some of those territories before the development of national movements there. Since West Africa was exposed to Western ideas for an extended period, it is to be expected that these ideas influenced political values and political developments.

Developments in the Horn of Africa were more recent and more rapid. Western education and ideas began effectively to penetrate the area only after the three Somalilands (British, French, and Italian) were already well on the way to self-government.

Somali nationalism stems from a feeling of national consciousness in the sense of “we” as opposed to “they” which has existed among the Somalis for many centuries. It was nurtured by tribal genealogies and traditions, by the Islamic religious ties, and by conflicts with foreign peoples. It ripened and became a political movement as a result of external influences—the establishment of alien governments, the impact of the Second World War, and the example of the struggle for independence in other countries.


[1] See P. Rondot, Les Forces Religieuses et la Vie Politique: l’Islam (Paris: Université de Paris, Institute d’Etudes Politiques, 1957), p. 243 and passim.

[2] Lord Hailey, An African Survey, revised 1956 (London: Oxford University Press, 1957), pp. 499-500.

[3] For text of agreement see The Map of Africa by Treaty, ed. Sir Edward Hertslet, third edition (London: H.M.S.O., 1909), vol. II, pp. 423-429. The grazing rights of the British Somaliland tribes were reaffirmed in 1938, after the Italian occupation of Ethiopia. See Great Britain, Papers Concerning Grazing Rights and Transit Traffic in British Somaliland (London: H.M.S.O., 1938), Cmd. 5775.

[4] Lieut.-Col. E. H. M. Clifford, “The British Somaliland-Ethiopia Boundary,” The Geographical Journal (London), vol. 87 (1936), p. 296.

[5] Parliamentary Debates, House of Commons, fifth series, vol. 289, cols. 488-489 (May 3, 1934).

[6] Somaliland Protectorate, Education Department Triennial Survey, 1955- ‘957. ΡΡ- 2-4.

[7] The British government maintained that Haji Farah Omar’s right to speak on behalf of the Somali population had been repudiated by “responsible leaders.” See Parliamentary Debates, House of Commons, fifth series, vol. 293, cols. 1019-1020 (Nov. 7, 1934).

[8] For much of the information contained in the preceding paragraphs, I am indebted to the Hon. Michael Mariano.

[9] Lieut.-Col. H. Moyse-Bartlett, The King’s African Rifles (Aldershot: Gale & Polden, 1956), p. 434.

[10] For detailed accounts of the Jubaland disturbances, 1893-1925, see ibid., pp. 111-120, 215-227, 434-439; and W. Lloyd-Jones, K.A.R. (London: Arrowsmith, 1926), pp. 72-74, 122-124, 215-220.

[11] The foremost authority on this subject is Sir Richard Turnbull. It is to be hoped that the valuable information he gathered during the many years he spent administering Somali areas will be published. For an illuminating attempt to reconstruct the history of Somali expansion, see I. M. Lewis, “The Somali Conquest of the Horn of Africa,” Journal of African History (London), vol. I, no. 2 (1960). See also British Colonial Office, Kenya Land Commission, Evidence and Memoranda (London: H.S.M.O., 1934), vol. II, pp. 1649-1652.

[12] Quoted in Lloyd-Jones, K.A.R., p. 123721. The advice was given, presumably in 1919, by an unnamed senior K.A.R. officer to another British officer.

[13] H. Deschamps, Côte des Somalis (Paris: Berger-Levrault, 1948), p. 47.

[14] Ibid., pp. 49, 81-82.

[15] For detailed accounts see Italy, Ministry of War, Somalia, vol. I (Rome, 1938); C. Cesari, La Somalia Italiana (Rome: Fratelli Palombi, 1935), pp. 87- 178.

[16] For details on the formation of local forces, see Cesari, pp. 197-207.

[17] R. Lefevre, Politica Somala (Bologna: Licinio Capelli, 1933), pp. 31-32; and M. Perham, The Government of Ethiopia (New York: Oxford University Press, 1948), p. 233. Forced labor was a common practice in Africa. See Hailey (our note 2, above), pp. 1357-1358, 1362-1364. Bitter memories of prewar Italian practices still linger on; sec J. Buchholzer, The Horn of Africa (London: Angus and Robertson, 1959), pp. 183-184.

[18] Four Power Commission, p. 106. For Somali comments on the subject see the testimony of the Somali Youth League in ibid., sec. II, chap. 4, app. A, P· 9·

[19] For an account of this competition by Italian Foreign Minister Tittoni, see C. Rossetti, Storia Diplomatica dell’ Etiopia (Turin: S.T.E.N., 1910), pp. 409-410.

[20] Italy, Comando della forze armate della Somalia, La Guerra Italo- Etiopica: Fronte Sud (Addis Ababa: Governo Generale dell’ A.O.I., 1937), vol. I, pp. 106-113 and passim. See also Marshal Emilio de Bono, Anno XIIII: The Conquest of an Empire (London: Cresset Press, 1937); and Marshal R. Graziani, Il Fronte Sud (Milan: A. Mondadori, 1938).

For information about the Italian penetration of the Ogaden and the Wal-Wal incident see: Maj. R. Cimmaruta, Ual-Ual (Milan: A. Mondadori, 1936). Cimmaruta was in command of the Italian forces at Wal-Wal at the time of the incident. Abundant information is available also in A. de la Pradelle, Le Conflit halo-Ethiopien (Paris: Les Editions Internationales, 1936), pp. 147-610. Professor de la Pradelle was the Ethiopian Representative on the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission created after the incident.

For an account of the Ogaden fighting, see H. de Monfreid, Les Guerriers de Γ Ogaden (Paris: Gallimard, 1936). That author was a French adventurer who lived many years in French Somaliland and Ethiopia, and covered the campaign from the Italian side for the Paris Soir. An excellent book by a journalist covering the campaign from the Ethiopian side was written by George Steer, correspondent for The Times (London); see his Caesar in Abyssinia (Boston: Little, Brown, 1937).

[21] A. A. Castagno, “Somalia,” International Conciliation, no. 522 (March 1959). P- 343·

[22] Four Power Commission, sec. Ill, appendices. Although some of the data supplied by the Chamber of Commerce to the Four Power Commission tended to exaggerate Italian achievements, it nevertheless indicated a higher degree of economic development than elsewhere in the Horn, with the possible exception of Djibouti. See also Lefevre, pp. 165-221.

[23] Four Power Commission, p. 96 and sec. IV, chap. 3, appendix.

[24] Maj. H. G. C. Swayne, Seventeen Trips Through Somaliland, third edition (London: Rowland Ward, Ltd., 1903), pp. vii-viii and passim. See also Capt. J. C. Francis, Three Months Leave in Somali Land (London: R. H. Porter, 1895), pp. 36, 37, 65, 86.

[25] W. J. Jennings and C. Addison, With the Abyssinians in Somaliland (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1905), pp. 162-163, 190-191, 231-232, 254- 255.

[26] A. H. M. Jones and E. Monroe, A History of Ethiopia (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1955), pp. 153-159; Perham, pp. 60-62; J. S. Trimingham, Islam in Ethiopia (London: Oxford University Press, 1952), pp. 129-131; C. Sanford, The Lion of fudah Hath Prevailed (New York: Macmillan & Co., 1955), pp. 37-40. Lij Yasu was captured in 1921, and died in 1935.

[27] The Tug Jerer and Tug Fafan are dry river beds running in a north-south direction, and provide the most convenient route between Harar and the Ogaden.

[28] Steer, pp. 16-18, 87,109, and passim; Perham, pp. 336-338. See also de la Pradelle, Cimmaruta, de Monfreid, Graziani, all cited in our note 20, above.

[29] For further details on these operations, see Great Britain, Ministry of Information, The Abyssinian Campaigns (London: H.M.S.O., 1942). A number of good books were written by war correspondents and others who participated in the fighting. See: C. Birkby, It’s a Long Way to Addis (London: Frederick Muller, Ltd., 1942); K. Gandar Dower, Abyssinian Patchwork (London: Frederick Muller, Ltd., 1949); J. F. MacDonald, Abyssinian Adventure (London: Cassel & Co., 1957).

[30] For further details on the Somalis’ participation in the military operations, see Moyse-Bartlett (our note 9, above), pp. 492, 494-503, 522«i, 577-578, 663-672, 682. On their mass desertion from the Italian army, see K. Gandar Dower, just cited, pp. 249-253.

[31] On the Reserved Area see Lord Rennell of Rodd, British Military Administration of Occupied Territories in Africa, 1941-1947 (London: H.M.S.O., 1948), pp. 194-207, 493-497; and Four Power Commission, sec. II, chap. 6, app. A, p. 8. See also our Chapter 13, including notes 9-11.

[32] Quotation is from the Atlantic Charter, Aug. 14, 1941.

[33] Parliamentary Debates, House of Commons, fifth series, vol. 423, cols. 1840-1841.

[34] Four Power Commission, sec. II, chap. 4, app. A, p. 15. See also Douglas Collins, A Tear for Somalia (London: Jarrolds, 1960), p. 164.

[35] See “Treaty of Peace with Italy,” annex XI, United Nations Treaty Series, vol. 49, I, no. 747, pp. 214-215 in English text.

[36] Four Power Commission, sec. II, chap. 4, app. A, pp. 10-18.

[37] Somaliland Protectorate 1949, p. 3.

[38] On the dissemination of information about the United Nations, see United Nations Visiting Mission to Trust Territories in East Africa, 1951, Report on Somaliland under Italian Administration (U.N. Doc. T/1033), pars. 325-333; U.N. Visiting Mission, 1954, Report (U.N. Doc. T/1200), pars. 445-447; and annual reports of the United Nations Advisory Council in Mogadishu.

[39] Lewis, “Political Movements,” pp. 348, 356m, 360-361. See also the articles by S. Apolonio and A. A. Castagno in the periodical Africa Special Report, December 1958, pp. 10, 14; and an article in New York Times, June 13, 1956, p. I.

[40] Earlier figures from Four Power Commission (as last cited), pp. 96-97; and Somaliland Protectorate 1948, p. 14. Later figures from Rapport sur la Somalie J956, p. 258; and Somaliland Protectorate 1956-1957, p. 23.

[41] Lewis, “Political Movements,” pp. 359-360.

To be continued …..

About This Book

In this first book on the emergence of Somali nationalism, Saadia Touval draws on extensive research and firsthand knowledge to explore the complex and dangerous situation in easternmost Africa. He describes the land and people, the spread of Somali tribes with their Moslem culture, the arrival of Europeans during the nineteenth century, the development of national consciousness, politics in the new Somali Republic and French Somaliland, problems presented by the Somalis of Kenya and Ethiopia, and the overriding question of boundary lines. Finally, he discusses the prospects for a peaceful solution.

About the Author(s)

Saadia Touval lectures on Political Science and African Politics at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

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