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.

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



Created in 1958, the Center fosters advanced study of basic world problems by scholars from various disciplines and senior officers from many countries. The research at the Center, focusing on the processes of change, includes studies of military-political issues, the modernizing processes in developing countries, and the evolving position of Europe. The research programs are supervised by Professors Robert R. Bowie (Director of the Center), Alex Inkeles, Henry A. Kissinger, Edward S. Mason, Thomas C. Schelling, and Raymond Vernon.

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

The Horn of Africa, the scene of Somali Nationalism, is the vast, arid triangle lying against the Indian Ocean and contains French Somaliland, the Somali Republic made up of the former British and Italian Somalilands, and those substantial parts of Kenya and Ethiopia in which Somalis live. Somali nationalism feeds, as does that of other African and Asian peoples, on the concept of self-determination, and aspires to the political unification of all this territory of some 374,000 square miles into a single “Greater Somalia.”



By Rupert Emerson

Africa is a continent rich in nationalisms but poor in nations. At the two extremes of the continent, at least a reasonable approximation of nations can be found in the Mediterranean countries of North Africa and among the Afrikaners in South Africa, although in the latter instance, it is evident that the nation embraces only a fraction of the people of the country. Elsewhere in Africa, in the vast stretches south of the Sahara, many states have sprung into existence but few among them can lay claim to a people which has been welded together in national solidarity. Although the demand for independence and equality is posed in the name of the nation, the task of imposing national coherence and of leading a variegated and divided people to a sense of communal identity is for the most part still to be accomplished.

One of the distinctive attributes of the Somalis, whose political existence Saadia Touval surveys in this book, is that they possess a good measure of the elements, derived from the example of the classic Western European prototypes, which have in the past been assumed to be the essential ingredients of the nation. In contrast to most other African peoples, the Somalis are united in language, although there are dialectical differences and there is no written language. They are also united in the Muslim religion and in the belief of a common descent and heritage. In addition, they regard as their rightful patrimony a great expanse of territory, part of which they inhabit only in a nomadic fashion. It is here that trouble enters in, since a large part of the claimed territory is outside the frontiers of the Somali Republic and is embraced within Ethiopia, Kenya, and French Somaliland. The dimensions of the problem may be seen in the estimate that Ethiopia and Kenya would each be called upon to surrender one-fifth of its territory, and French Somaliland might well be faced with total extinction though Somalis make up less than half its population.

The demand of the Somali Republic that there should be a “restoration of Somalia irredenta” is an authentic successor to the similar nationalist claims which have been advanced in almost every part of the world. It is a central tenet of the nationalist creed that the proper role of the state is to serve as the vehicle of political expression for the nation. Hence when nation and state fail to coincide, as in the case of the Somalis, the state system must be reshaped to bring it into harmony with the national foundations on which it should rest.

No less in the Horn of Africa than elsewhere, however, such an opposition of state and nation inescapably produces a head-on collision between two conflicting rights derived from different orders of legality. The Somali position is sustained by the rights gathered under the rubric of self-determination which have had the blessing not only of all nationalists but also of the United Nations Charter and, repeatedly, of the General Assembly, which in 1952 laid it down that the Covenant on Human Rights must contain the provision that “all peoples shall have the right of self-determination.” This inherently revolutionary doctrine runs afoul of the juridical and political reality of the existing state structure, which rests upon the proposition that the sovereignty and integrity of the political units composing it is to be respected. The normative postulates of national self-determination challenge the positive law which safeguards the maintenance of the established order.

This is an issue which has been and presumably will continue to be, of particular concern to Africa because the independent states which are now coming to compose it are the arbitrary creations of the imperial powers which lumped disparate tribes together within the colonial boundaries and often drew those boundaries in such fashion as to divide a single tribe between two or more European countries. Thus the Bakongo people found themselves parceled out to the French and Belgian Congos and Portuguese Angola, the Ewe were divided between the Gold Coast and the two Togolands, and the Yoruba between Nigeria and Dahomey. The Somalis themselves, already internally divided on tribal lines, were broken up into a number of segments under Italian, French, Ethiopian, and two types of British rule. For the Somalis, as for others, these colonial divisions meant not only the formal fact of a frontier cutting across a people but also that on the two sides of the frontier, different languages were taught and different political, legal, and economic systems imposed.

In this colonial setting, it was a reasonable expectation that the frontiers which the imperial powers had created would be swept away as the newly independent peoples redrew the map of Africa to meet their own needs and conceptions. Instead, with the rarest of exceptions, the colonially established frontiers have remained and the African states which have taken their place in the international society are the precise heirs of the colonial regimes. Far from seeking to overturn the existing boundaries, almost all the ruling groups in the new countries have committed themselves to the proposition that the political and territorial integrity of the colonially defined states should be preserved. Even President Nkrumah of Ghana, who, on grounds of tribal affiliation, had voiced claims to Togo and a slice of the Ivory Coast, appears to have receded from active advocacy of a program of reshaping states to achieve greater ethnic unity. The earlier doctrine came to the fore again, however, in a communiqué issued in October 1961 when President Aden Abdulla Osman of the Somali Republic visited Nkrumah. The two presidents took the position that although African frontier problems, inherited from colonial days, would be made obsolete by the achievement of a union of African states, they “recognized the imperative need to remove the existing frontiers artificially demarcated by the Colonialists without respect for ethnic, cultural or economic links.” This objective, they maintained, could be achieved “by adherence to the principle of self-determination.”

Because of the Somali Republic’s broader national base, its claims have a somewhat different bearing from those of other African countries where what is immediately at stake is the joining together of tribal communities, forming only part of the larger state-nation, which have been severed in the course of the colonial scramble for Africa. But the Somalis are part of Africa, and the kind of solution which is found for their problems cannot help having an effect on other peoples and territories in the continent.

With skill and objectivity Dr. Touval has given us a book which sketches the history and composition of the Somali people, depicts their emergence into the modern world, and indicates the major issues which lie before them.

Center for International Affairs

Harvard University

Author’s Preface

This is a study of one of the more complex and little-known problems of contemporary Africa—the Somali claims for national self-determination and unification, and their effect upon regional and international politics. My purpose is to present a balanced and useful survey of the problem and the many issues involved, not to make a “study in depth” of particular aspects such as the history of the region, Somali society and politics, or the politics of Ethiopia and Kenya.

The writing of this book, which grew out of a Ph.D. thesis presented at Harvard University, was made possible through the most generous assistance rendered by Harvard’s Center for International Affairs. Special thanks are due Mr. Robert R. Bowie, Director of the Center, who has shown an interest in this study from its early stage. The Center enabled me to travel and study in the Horn of Africa and then to spend several months as a Research Fellow on the Center’s premises while working on the book.

It would be infeasible to list all those from whose advice and assistance I benefited in this work. Yet, the book would be incomplete if I failed to mention certain persons without whose advice and assistance the book would have been much poorer. Foremost among them is Professor Rupert Emerson of Harvard University whose teaching first aroused my interest in the phenomenon of nationalism in general, and in its African variety in particular. I have also greatly profited from the teaching and advice of Professor Stanley Hoffmann, also of Harvard, and from the helpful criticisms of Dr. Jo W. Saxe, former Adviser to the Fellows at the Center for International Affairs. I wish also to mention the late Reuven Shiloah of the Israel Foreign Ministry who first suggested that I write about Somali nationalism. I should like to avail myself of this opportunity to thank the many knowledgeable and helpful people—government ministers, scholars, political leaders, soldiers, civil servants, and plain citizens, in the United States, England, France, Italy, Ethiopia, French Somaliland, the Somali Republic, and Kenya—whose hospitality and assistance greatly contributed to this book.

Finally, my thanks to Mr. Max Hall, the Center’s Editor of Publications, for his dedicated and thorough work in improving the manuscript.

The responsibility for the book, of course, is solely mine.

Saadia Touval (Weltmann)

Jerusalem, January 1963


    1. Introduction: Local Conflict and World Involvement

    2. The Land and the People

    3. The Somali Nation

    4. The Partition of the Horn

    5. Two Heroes of Somali Nationalism

    6. The Development of National Consciousness

    7. Nationalism and Politics in the Trust Territory of Somalia

    8. Nationalism and Politics in British Somaliland

    9. The Problems and Politics of Unification

    10. The Politics of French Somaliland

    11. The Problem of the Ethiopian Somalis

    12. The Problem of the Kenya Somalis

    13. A Question of Boundary Lines

    14. The International Environment

    15. Possibilities

Party Abbreviations


  • Map of the Horn of Africa

  • An Outline of Somali Genealogy


  1. Territorial Distribution of the Somali People

  2. Economic Activity, 1953, in Somalia

  3. Election Results in Somalia, 1954-1959

  4. Results of 1958 Municipal Elections in Benadir, Upper Juba, and Lower Juba Provinces

  5. Results of February 1960 General Elections in British Somaliland

  6. Tribal Composition of Somalia, British Somaliland, and the Somali Republic

A Note on the Name “Somalia”

The name “Somalia” commonly has more than one meaning. It is often used to designate the particular strip of territory which was formerly known as Italian Somaliland and which, after the Second World War, became a United Nations trust territory administered by Italy. The trust territory became independent on July 1, 1960, and that same day united with British Somaliland to form the Somali Republic. Thus, what had become widely known as “Somalia” became the Southern Region of the new state. At the same time, however, the term “Somalia” began to be used by many as a synonym of “Somali Republic,” embracing both the Southern and Northern Regions.

In this book, to avoid confusion, whenever we mean the Somali Republic we shall say “Somali Republic.” When we mean the Southern Region, we shall say “Southern Region.” When we mean the trust territory under Italian administration between 1950 and 1960 we shall say “Somalia.” When we mean the same piece of real estate before 1950, we shall say “Italian Somaliland.”

The term “Greater Somalia,” of course, is a concept rather than a reality, and its meaning will be evident.


Four  Power  Commission.  Council of Foreign Ministers, Four Power  Commission of Investigation for the Former  Italian  Colonies, Report on  Somaliland   (London,  1948).

Lewis, Peoples. I. M. Lewis, Peoples of the Horn of Africa:  Somali,  Afar,  and Saho  (London:  International  African Institute,  1955).

Lewis,  “Political Movements.”  I. M.  Lewis,  “Modern  Political  Movements in Somaliland,”  Africa   (London),  a  two-part article in vol.  XXVIII   (July 1958, pp. 244-261;  October  1958, pp.  344-363).

Lewis, “Somali Lineage.” I. M.  Lewis, “The  Somali  Lineage  System and the Total Genealogy:  An  Introduction to Basic Principles of  Somali  Political Institutions”  (Hargeisa,  British  Somaliland,  1957,  mimeographed).

Rapport sur la Somalie  (followed by date). Italy, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Rapport du Gouvernement Italien à l’Assemblée Générale des Nations Unies sur l’Administration de Tutelle de la Somalie. These reports were issued annually in Rome during the 1950s. The dates given in the notes refer to the year covered, rather than to the year published.

Somaliland   Protectorate  (followed by date).  Great  Britain,  Colonial  Office, Somaliland   Protectorate,  issued in  London,  annually until  1950,  every two years in the 1950s. The dates given in the notes refer to the years covered, rather than to the year published.

U.N.   Advisory      Council   (followed by date and  U.N.  document number). Report of the  United  Nations  Advisory   Council for the  Trust   Territory of Somaliland under the Italian Administration,  issued annually in the 1950s.

Chapter 1

Introduction: Local Conflict and World Involvement

Among the most far-reaching consequences of colonialism in Africa has been the partition of the continent into political units whose borders were determined largely on the basis of European rivalries and interests. Now that colonies are becoming independent, the borders established by the colonial powers are being called into question.

Europe itself, after the emergence of modern nationalism there, underwent considerable shuffling of boundaries in order to make states conform to nations. A similar process may take place in Africa. The peoples grouped into political units in Africa, whether colonies or independent states, often do not constitute communities which can be readily recognized as nations. In newly independent African states where the sense of national cohesion is weak, powerful centrifugal forces, tribal and regional, are at work. Where ethnic groups are divided by an international border, there are pressures for territorial revisions with the object of achieving unity within the borders of one state.

Such pressures are at the root of the political problems of the Horn of Africa, the easternmost part of the continent. As a result of the territorial delimitations which took place at the end of the last century, the Somalis were divided among five different political entities: Italian Somaliland (later called Somalia), British Somaliland, French Somaliland, Ethiopia, and Kenya. For about fifty years, the division of the Horn did not create a major political problem. With the emergence of Somali nationalism, this division ceased to be generally acceptable to the people of the area, who began claiming the right to form a Somali nation-state, a “Greater Somalia.” Somali nationalists aimed at establishing this “Greater Somalia” through the unification of Somalia, British Somaliland, French Somaliland, and the Somali-inhabited portions of Ethiopia and Kenya. The establishment in 1960 of the Somali Republic through the unification of Somalia and British Somaliland is viewed by the nationalists as a step toward the realization of “Greater Somalia.”

Somali nationalist aspirations raise a number of vexing international problems. Some of these problems bear similarity to the “nationalities question” which bedeviled European politics for generations, and they are likely to cause much bitter conflict in the Horn of Africa for years to come.

In French Somaliland, Somali claims have brought into the open the conflicting interests of the two major ethnic groups in the territory— the Somalis and the Danakils. Like any conflict between ethnic groups within the political boundaries of one territory, the issue is likely to be intractable. Moreover, Somali claims have spurred the interest of outside powers in this strategically located territory.

Somali irredentism with respect to Ethiopia is another source of bitter conflict. The territory claimed by the Somalis is sizable, amounting to one-fifth of Ethiopia. Bitter as the conflict is, it perhaps would have been negotiable if no more than a territorial issue were involved. But much more is at stake. The problem is explosive because the Somali aspirations implicitly question the polyethnic foundations of the Ethiopian state.

The Somalis also claim a large chunk of Kenya. With the development of nationalism among Kenya Africans, a voluntary cession of territory by Kenya to the neighboring Somali Republic seems highly improbable. Thus, a conflict between the Somalis and the Kenya Africans seems to be in prospect as well.

How are these issues to be solved? A peaceful solution would require compromises and an accommodation of different points of view. Such a solution seems unlikely in the present circumstances. The highly emotional nationalist attitudes and claims are viewed as challenges to the political and territorial integrity of states. A change in the political attitudes of the peoples involved, making a compromise possible, might take place in the course of time. But such a change is likely to occur only if the existing disputes are restrained from erupting into violent conflicts that would aggravate regional tensions.

Perhaps, if the Horn of Africa could be kept effectively isolated from the cold war and other outside tensions, a gradual change in political attitudes would be possible. Unfortunately, the region is being swept into the maelstrom of world politics. The region’s strategic location has attracted the attention of outside powers. Britain and Italy are involved in the affairs of the region because of their connections as former administering powers. Britain still retains responsibility over Kenya, and France remains in possession of French Somaliland. Egypt has lent consistent support to Somali nationalism and seems eager to establish Egyptian influence in the area. The Soviet Union has offered economic aid both to Ethiopia and the Somali Republic. China has entered the game by supporting certain opposition groups in the Somali Republic. The United States is a major source of economic aid to the region and has a military assistance agreement with Ethiopia.

The stage seems to be set for an inevitable conflict, involving not merely the local protagonists but outside powers. Yet it would be foolish to predict that such an outcome is bound to occur. African politics today has an extraordinary element about it. Political developments are not determined solely by conventional considerations of interest, namely the enhancement of one’s power and influence. It is not uncommon in contemporary Africa, although the reverse is also known to happen, that tribal leaders give up their privileged positions for the sake of realizing broader nationalist goals. The precipitate unification of Somalia and British Somaliland is an illustration of this. In the present state of ferment in Africa and given the great appeal of Pan-Africanist sentiments, it is not altogether outside the realm of possibility that the problems raised by Somali nationalism will ultimately find a solution on a federal basis, and that a bloody conflict will be avoided.

In any event, the present task is not to predict war or peace, but to analyze the major factors in this complicated situation.

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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