2.3 Post-colonial Somalia

On 26th June 1960 the Somali National League (SNL), the majority party headed by Mohamed Ibrahim Egal led British Somaliland to independence. But the resulting State of Somaliland was short-lived as on 1st July, four days later, it combined with Somalia on the same day the Italian-administered UN Trust Territory gained its independence. Abdullahi contends that Somaliland was hence referred to in the British newspapers as “the colony that rejected freedom.”[82] Despite an initial period of political stability, inter-clan tensions threatened the coalition government under the SYL. Seddon and Seddon-Daines allude to the fact that at the Lancaster House conference on Kenya in 1962, a request by the Somalis for a plebiscite in the Northern Frontier District (NFD) of Kenya and its union with Somalia was denied.[83]

Schraeder contends that one of the most remarkable aspects of Somalia’s heady nationalist experience was the degree of agreement and clarity among nationalist elites concerning the nature and ultimate justice of their pan-Somali nationalist agenda. Simply put, Schraeder adds, the elites of the new Republic of Somalia were in agreement as to who theoretically formed the Somali nation (all ethnic Somalis) and which territories theoretically formed part of a larger, natural, pan-Somali nation-state (all neighboring, Somali-inhabited territories).[84] Schraeder further postulates that in reality, a true, populist-based Somali nationalism was never born due to the fact that Somali elites, “…regardless of whether democratically elected or illegally taking power through a military coup…, ultimately employed the rhetoric of nation-building and Somali irredentism to guarantee their hold over power – not to promote a pan-Somali nationalism truly capable of overcoming clan-based differences.”[85]


Bariagaber notes that the union of British Somaliland and the Trust Territory in the south is rare in the annals of the decolonization process because of its voluntary nature and was a manifestation of Somali solidarity, which colonialism failed to erase.[86]

Abdullahi argues that the amalgamation of the north and the south was the result of a nationalist fever in the north; the southerners were not much interested in a union especially since the southern leadership were afraid to lose their prominence.[87] Indeed, when the northerners flew to Mogadishu, the southern capital, they were housed in a hotel as the southerners deliberated alone for a day about what their conditions would be for the union with the north. Finally they summoned the northerners in the middle of the night and presented them with a set of options stating that “the president is one, and it is going to be ours; the prime minister is one, and it is going to be ours; the capital is one, and it is going to be ours; the currency is one, and it is going to be ours; the flag is one, and it is going to be ours.”[88] The southerners thought they had raised the stakes so unpalatably that the northerners would not be able to swallow their conditions but knowing the nationalist fervor in the north, the northerners duly accepted the southern proposition. It is no wonder, Abdullahi notes, that despite the union, the new country was functioning in all reality as two countries under one flag: there were two administrative systems, two monetary systems, two customs and taxation systems, two official languages and two educational systems.[89]

Abdullahi’s position is one shared by von Bogdandy et al. The latter contend that although unified in one single state, the former British part and the former Italian Trust Territory were, from an institutional standpoint, two separate countries given that Italy and the United Kingdom had left them with separate administrative, legal and educational systems where different procedures were used and different languages spoken by the elites.[90] The orientation of their elites was divergent because of their different backgrounds to the extent that economic contact between the two regions was virtually nonexistent. Northern political, administrative and commercial elites were reluctant to accept that they had to orient themselves towards Mogadishu.[91]

Hironaka postulates that although the Somali people were delighted to be united, integration created serious challenges and inequities in the new state. Neither colony had been prepared economically nor politically for independence.[92] The northern British half of Somalia had been less economically developed than the southern Italian half. On the political front, nearly all of the work on the preparation of the constitution had been completed by Italian Somalia before Britain decided to allow the independence of its half of Somalia. Thus the northern British half of Somalia had little say in the new political structure and resented the dominance of the southern Italian half in setting the political agenda.

Abdullahi confirms this through how, just before the union, the police officers of the south, themselves products of the semi-illiterate colonial force, gave themselves (with the full knowledge of their political bosses) generous promotions in rank with the express aim of outranking the northerners. In the north, the British had a territorial army of about 2,000 men whose junior officers were graduates of distinguished British military academies such as Sandhurst and Mons. These young officers now fell under the command of the old carabinieri (police) officers such as Siyad Barre.[93]

Later on, in 1962 there was a discussion of an East African federation, which would embrace not only Somalia and the British East African territories, but also Ethiopia. Kenya was however adamant that it would retain the NFD. In 1963 hostilities erupted between Somalia and Ethiopia – the Somalis did not accept the 1897 treaty by which Britain ceded part of British Somaliland to Ethiopia and the fact that the border between Italian Somaliland and Ethiopia was not established. Fighting continued until 1967 when mediations resulted in the restoration of diplomatic relations in 1968.[94] Thackrah affirms that by rejecting the 1897 Treaty, Somalia proceeded to break off relations with Britain in 1965.[95]

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