Chapter 15: Possibilities 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 15: Possibilities

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

Nationalism as the frame of reference guiding political behavior coexists in Africa with two alternative frameworks—tribalism and Pan-Africanism. They can be pictured as three concentric circles to which the individual’s loyalty may extend—tribalism being the innermost circle, nationalism the intermediate, and Pan-Africanism the outermost. Until recently, the prevalent pattern of political behavior in the Horn was the one circumscribed by the innermost circle of tribal loyalties.

We have seen how nationalism now has become the most dynamic factor influencing political behavior in the area. A telling example of this is the readiness with which the political leaders in British Somaliland and the trust territory of Somalia relinquished their dominant positions within their respective territories, and agreed upon unification under conditions bound to bring about a diminution of their political influence.


A further change to Pan-Africanism as the dominant ideology guiding political behavior cannot be precluded. To be sure, there are formidable obstacles to the spread of Pan-Africanism in the Horn. The traditional antagonisms between the Somalis and their neighbors are deeply engrained. Yet gradual change is taking place. Nationalism and Pan-Africanism are allied in the Horn. Political leaders from the Somali Republic, Ethiopia, and Kenya take an active part in Pan-African conferences.

In Ethiopia and the Somali Republic, where traditional attitudes of racial superiority over Negro Africans still exist, political leaders are continually propounding Pan-African themes, and are endeavoring to inculcate their followers with an African consciousness. In the long run, the vague Pan-Africanist theories and slogans may affect political behavior as well.

This could help alleviate some of the tensions in the region. But, to expect that the spread of Pan-Africanism would solve the region’s problems seems overly optimistic.

Pan-Africanism represents, in a sense, an attempt to anticipate political problems such as have emerged in the Horn. The All African People’s Conference held in Accra, Ghana, in December 1958 called for the adjustment of “artificial frontiers drawn by imperialist powers to divide the peoples of Africa, particularly those which cut across ethnic groups and divide people of the same stock.” The same conference also declared that “its ultimate objective is the evolution of a Commonwealth of Free African States” and that “as a first step towards the attainment of the broad objective of an African Commonwealth, the independent states of Africa should amalgamate themselves on the basis of geographical contiguity, economic inter-dependence, linguistic and cultural affinity.”[1]

When applied to the problems of the Horn, a Pan-Africanist solution would necessitate a three-cornered union (federal or otherwise), encompassing the Somali Republic, Ethiopia, and Kenya. French Somaliland would easily fit into such a union if it took place. But conditions for a union are not favorable. There is a link between the Somali populations of the various territories, but there are no bonds that unite the Somali Republic with the neighboring states.

The links that are supposed to form the basis for such a union, enumerated in the resolution cited above—geographic, economic, linguistic, and cultural—are at best tenuous. Geographic contiguity does not necessarily constitute a bond between peoples. It facilitates contacts, but in the Horn of Africa, these have produced conflict rather than harmony. A good case for a union could probably be made in reference to large-scale economic development possibilities. But, at present, the territories are not interdependent economically; on the contrary, economic intercourse among them is very limited (the close link between Ethiopia and Djibouti excepted).

There is a considerable linguistic and cultural affinity among Somalis, Gallas, and Danakils, but not between the Somalis and the dominant elements in Ethiopia and Kenya. On the contrary, the antagonism between the Somalis and their neighbors stems to a considerable extent from their varying cultural backgrounds: Islamic contrasted with Christian, and nomadic pastoralist contrasted with sedentary agricultural. These antagonisms have been intensified by conflicting political aspirations. It is difficult, therefore, to envisage a wide federation in the Horn of Africa.

The obstacles to a more limited federation involving the Somali Republic and Kenya do not seem as formidable. True, there are no special bonds between the two territories. But there is no deep antagonism either. Thus far the question of the Northern Frontier Province of Kenya has not generated much bitterness. Indeed, political leaders in the Somali Republic have indicated on various occasions their interest in joining an East African federation.[2] If such a federation took place, it would help resolve the conflict with respect to the Northern Frontier Province. Yet the more bitter, and politically more explosive, conflict between the Somali nationalists and Ethiopia, and the problem of French Somaliland, would continue to threaten the peace of the region.

Perhaps a better hope for the avoidance of an explosion than Pan-Africanism lies in the political realism of the leaders in the region. They may have to accept the necessity of learning “to live with” the problem unsolved. This is not a satisfactory situation. But the alternative leads to the introduction of the cold war into the region. That would be even less satisfactory and would carry with it grave dangers to African independence.

Party Abbreviations

G.F.S. — Giovani Fiqarini Somali (Somali Fiqarini Youth)

G.S.L. —Greater Somalia League

H.D.M.    — Hizbia Dighil e Mirifle (Party of the Dighil and Mirifle)

H.D.M.S. —Hizbia Dastur Mustaqil Somali (Somali Independent Constitutional Party)

N.P.P.P.P. —Northern Province People’s Progressive Party

N.U.F. —National United Front

P.L.G.S. — Partito Liberale Giovani Somali (Liberal Somali Youth Party)

S.D.P. — Somali Democratic Party

S.N.L. —Somali National League

S.N.L.U.S.P. — Somali National League United Somali Party
S.N.S. —Somali National Society

S.N.U. — Somali National Union

S.Y.L. — Somali Youth League

U.A.S. — Unione Africani Somali (Somali African Union)

U.G.B. —Unione Giovani Benadir (Benadir Youth Union)

U.S.P. —United Somali Party


[1] The resolutions are reprinted in Current History, vol. 37 (July 1959), pp. 41-46. For the three quotations given here, see pp. 45, 46.

[2] The question was raised by Somali leaders in discussions with Julius Nyerere and other members of the Tanganyika delegation to Somali independence celebrations in July 1960. An explicit call for federation was included in the resolutions adopted by the Third National Congress of the National United Front in Hargeisa in October 1960. For some interesting exchanges on this subject between the Kenya nationalist leader Jomo Kenyatta and the Somali prime minister, see Africa Digest (London), October 1962.

The End

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.

Previous Chapter

First Chapter

The book is worth buying: Available from De Gruyter


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.