Rebirth of Somaliland (21)
The demise of the Greater Somalia concept and Somali unity notion:
One of Somalia’s obsessions
(Dr Hussein Nur)
The beginning of the twentieth century was the birth of an idea, i.e., the concept of ‘Greater Somalia’ or Pan-Somalis with the vision of unifying all Somalis in the Horn of Africa region to form a single nation. But nevertheless, the approach employed in pursuit to achieve this eventually led to conflicts and wars. In times of Somali Republic, i.e., during the union of the two independent parts (Somalia Italiana in the South and Somaliland Protectorate) got engaged in constant conflicts and arming insurgents against Ethiopia ended in disasters. The Somali-Ethiopia wars in 1964 and 1977/78 are examples for the liberation of western Somalis (the Ogaden and the grazing lands of Hawd and Reserve lands of Somaliland). The notion eventually failed. The final straw was that last Somali government of dictator Siad Barre declared that Somalia gave up both NFD and Western Somalia.
Within the limited space, in this article we are confined to the origins and the fate of the concept of Greater Somalia from a historical perspective and how to forwards in the modern times.
The historical context
In pre-historical times and since time immemorial Somali areas have been inhabited ever since the Palaeolithic times. According to Peter Robertshaw, 1990 ‘A history of African Archaeology’, during the Stone Age period, the ‘Hargeisan’ and ‘Doian’ cultures flourished in the North (Somaliland) and cave paintings have been recently recovered in some parts such as Las Geel and, also stone age implements have been found at Jalelo characterising artefacts showing archaeological universality. Ruins of old cities (Zeila and Old Amoud five miles to the Northeast of Borama city, a mile or so away to the south of present-day Amoud University location) are evidences of early civilisations in Somaliland with signals marking past linkage of Somaliland to outside world such as Egypt through trade.
In 1890 Italians occupied Benadir in the South and extended rule to rest of the southern parts creating an Italians colony in the early years of the twentieth century extending from Cape Guardadfui to the Juba lands. Later on in 1924 on during the First World War Britain made an agreement with Italy and transferred parts of its Jubaland protectorate to Italy as a reward for allying with the British against Germany. The Italians renamed this part as ‘Oltre Guiba’ (beyond Juba). In the early years of World War II, the Italian fascists invaded British Somaliland and Dictator Benito Mussolini annexed it to Italian Somalia in the South also adding towns of Moyale and Buna of the NFD. By August 1940 Mussolini of Italy was boasting that he united all Somalis fulfilling their dream of unity under his rule and within the Italian Empire by forming ‘La Grande Somalia’ (Greater Somalia).
In 1935 Fascist Italy attacked Abyssinia to colonise it. The Italian troops invaded British Somaliland in August 1940 and succeeded all the way taking Berbera. But in 1941 British, with British forces from the British Empire (South African, West African and East African forces including the Kings Africa Rifles (KAR) including Somaliland contingent forces, launched counter-attacks attacks from Kenya, liberated British Somaliland and took over the Italian-occupied. Britain retained control of most of the land exclusively inhabited by Somalis in northern district, British Somaliland and Ogaden and Hawd and Reserve Area in Ethiopia after defeating the Italians. Britain also regained control of the partitioned Jubaland territory (southern part of Jubaland) but renamed it as the Northern Frontier district’ (NFD) colonially administered with Kenya territories as part of British colony. But after the end of WWII and the defeat of Italy and Germany, it was agreed at Potsdam Conference in 1945 not to return Somalia Italiana to Italy. It then remained with Britain. Thus, by 1941 four out of the five Somali-inhabited lands were in the hands of the British administration.
In 1948, to the dismay of Somaliland people, Britain returned the Hawd and Reserve Area, important grazing lands which were under the presumption protection by the earlier British treaties of 1884 and 1886 (with Ethiopia) to Ethiopia. Britain earlier ceded the western parts (Ogaden) to Ethiopia by the Anglo-Ethiopian treaty of 1897) but this time in the case of Hawd and Reserve Area there was a proviso that Somali residents would retain their autonomy.
In 1949 the UN opted to grant Italy trusteeship of Italian Somalia for a period of 10 years under Italian administration together with the UN to prepare it for independence planned to take place in December 1960. In 1956 Britain granted the administration of the exclusively inhabited NFD lands by Somalis to Kenyan nationalists in his colony against the overwhelming desire of Somalis to be with the rest of Somalis (in British Somaliland, Italian Somalia and Djibouti).
The rise of the concept of Greater Somalia
At one time after the end of the Second World War when four of the five Somali-inhabited territories (with the exception of Djibouti which was a French colony), i.e., the British Somaliland Protectorate; Somalia, the Northern Frontier District (NFD) ruled together with Kenya as British colony and the Somali region in Ethiopia together with Hawd and Reserve Area all fell under the British rule.
On the other hand, Somali nationalism, a notion centred on the fact that Somalis share a common language, religion, culture and traditions, ethnicity as a nation sprang up but that came mainly with the colonialism. Before that Somalis, without the sense of nation, were practising nomadic pastoralism and transhumance pastoral production system in the Somali-inhabited areas. The ideology dates of nationalism back to the emergence of the resistance movement by the Sayid Mohamed Abdulle Hassan’s Dervishes movement at the turn of the twentieth century which was defeated by the British colonial administration in the early 1920s. Somali political nationalist organisations were then emerged. In Somaliland SNS underwent through development transformations and finally changed to the Somali National League (SNL) party. The Somali national League (SNL) was formed in 1935 and in Somalia Italiana the Somali Youth Club (SYC) was established in 1943 (just before the Italian trusteeship). In 1947 the SYC evolved to become the Somali Youth League (SYL) that later became the most influential party in the early years of post-independence period.
As nationalism grew, a wholehearted popular vision, converging aspirations and a strong wish of the people in intention developed. As such the union between Somaliland and Somalia was taken as an example for the pursuit of the great ambition ‘Greater Somalia’ and the rise of Somali irredentism began in bringing all five territories inhabited by ethnic Somalis in East Africa (the western Somali lands (Ogaden) and the Hawd and Reserve Area under Ethiopian Empire, the Northern Frontier District (NFD) part of the British colony with Kenya, the French colony of Djibouti, the British Somaliland Protectorate and Somalia Italians).
In reality the idea of unifying Somalis politically was advocated by the British. At the end of the Second World War, Ernest Bevin (the British Foreign Secretary and a post-war British politician and statesman) argued that all Somali-inhabited territories, with the exception of Djibouti which was under the French, which became under the British rule to be united. This was after Britain replaced Italy to rule Ethiopia after its defeat in WWII. In fact, the entire East Africa region was under the British colonial rule or Empire. Bevin made the proposal in April 1961. ‘The best way for the wandering Somali pastoral nomads to survive in the marginal environment was to let them united all under the British Administration”, he argued. However, on the international level the British plan was rejected the other big powers (France, USSR and USA) for being suspicious about the British intentions that it would undermine their interests and influences in Somalia. The Ethiopian Emperor also protested. Britain organised the formation of Somali Youth Club (SYC) represented by all Somali clans to convince Somalis. Two prominent political figures from Somaliland protectorate, Michael Mariano and Adan? were called and transferred to Mogadishu to write up the SYC (later changed to the Somali Youth League, SYL) which has in its constitution the mandate of uniting all five Somali territories under one banner. In the end, a Somali Conference was organised in Mogadishu chaired by Sultan Abdillahi Suldan Deria from Hargeisa. But the idea of British administration (under the UN Trusteeship) was rejected by the politicians of Somalia as they wanted the Italians to implement the UN administration and not the British and, hence, collapsed. The UN Security Council then transferred the trusteeship of Somalia to Italy to prepare them for independence after 10 years. The Somali region in Ethiopia, western Somalis (the Ogaden) and the Hawd and Reserve area remained with Ethiopia and in 1963 the NFD became part of the independent Kenya.
It was, therefore, Bevin’s idea that became an important catalytic precursor in strengthening shaping of the Somali nationalism, Somali irredentism and the Greater Somalia notion. The
A combination of factors contributed to raising the consciousness and awareness of people of the idea of unifying all Somali territories: (i) from 1945 political campaigns spearheaded by the SYL party in the South; (ii) the suggestion of the British Foreign Secretary in 1946 to put Somalis together under a trustee in view to gain independence for all Somali territories and (iii) the issue of the Somali area known as ‘Ogaden’ which was ceded in 1897 to Ethiopia but temporarily became under British jurisdiction in 1947 and handed back to Ethiopia in 1948 against the Somalis wish. These factors formed a cocktail of ingredients that sparked the Greater Somalia or Pan-Somalia concept among all Somali speaking populations in the region.
The ambition to struggle to achieve the unity of all five Somali-inhabited parts was clearly stated by the Somali poets and literature experts such as the late popular and famous poets such as Ali Sugulle Egal, Abdillahi Sultan ‘Timaade’, Ahmed Ismail Deria ‘Qasim’ and others.
“Haddaanan NFDii la hingala dhigin (The NFD issue must be settled),
Oon huurkiyo laga qaadin heeryada (And cover of the oppression must be unveiled);
Haddaanan Jabuuti way hakatee, (Djibouti lags behind),
Oo hilinka kuwa kale hayaan marin (Should take similar path as the other two),
Haddaanan shantu waa isku hiddee (And the five should have the same identity),
Is-raacin sida hubka is-wada (They must be united as one like an automatic weapon).” (Ali Sugulle Egal).
During the independence period and post-independence formation of the Somali Republic in 1960 armed raids and conflicts were common. For example, in 1964 a war broke out between Somali Republic and Ethiopia over the western Somali-inhabited lands ‘Ogaden’ and Hawd and Reserve Area. But it was in 1967 when the premiership of Mohamed Ibrahim Egal administration, focused on the country’s resources on economic development rather than on war efforts and support of insurgents against Kenya and Ethiopia. A referendum was held in Djibouti in 1958 on whether or not to join Somali Republic or to remain with France. A yes vote was the outcome for the latter as the minority ethnic Afar population together with the French residents voted ‘OUI’ (yes). Finally Djibouti became independent in 1977 under president Hassan Guleid Abtidon (one more inhabited area less from the five Somalis after losing NFD in 1963).
In 1977/78 Somali Democratic Republic under Barre went on war with Ethiopia over the control of the predominantly of western Somali-inhabited region. The Somali forces and the local armed militias were defeated. In 1981 Siad Barre announced and clearly asserted in Nairobi, Kenya that Somalia was suspending its claim to NFD to improve relations between the two countries. During the rise of dissident opposition groups and armed forces (SSDF and SNM) and especially in 1988 against Barre’s dictatorial regime, Siad Barre made an agreement with Mengistu Haile Mariam of Ethiopia. From thereon and for the last time the vision of ‘Grater Somalia’ (Somaliweyn) was completely side-lined and the passion for Somali unification took the back seat. Immediately after the peace accord between Somalia and Ethiopia In 1988 the SNM forces took control of the northern regions (Somaliland) and the south splintered into clan-based groups of regions. Somaliland declared reclamation of independence and regained its sovereignty on 18 May 1988 as the union with Somalia failed and became defunct. Somaliland’s withdrawal from the false union drove the nail on the coffin of the greater Somalia or Somali unity (Somaliweyn) but the notion faltered apart well before.
The demise of the Greater Somalia concept.
The concept of Greater Somalia had faltered long time ago. It became a surreal ambition and practically proven unachievable expectation. Each one of the five Somali-inhabited territories went on its own way one after the other like a cascading domino. When Kenya achieved its independence from Britain in 1963, the Northeast province (NFD) Somali speaking province officially became part of independent country of Kenya.
In 1977, Djibouti, another Somali-speaking territory with large section of population Somali which was under French control was declared independent as the Republic of Djibouti. A third Somali inhabited territory (aka the ‘Ogaden’) together with the grazing lands of ‘Haud and Reserved Area’) of Somaliland which was annexed earlier to Ethiopia in 1954 and which presently forms part of Ethiopian Democratic Federal State ‘the fifth region’.
In 1991 Somaliland (a fourth Somali speaking territory) withdrew from the union with Somalia. The latter was the end of the ambition, perception or the dream. That literally put the nail on the coffin of the unity notion though unionist of Somalia and their cohorts still make voices about. Those successive historic events rendered the Pan Somalia notion obsolete and utopian. The union of the two does not mean the unity of Somalis. The unity of all Somalis does not mean the union of only two Somali entities (Somaliland and Somalia).
There is no what is called Somali unity or ‘Somaliweyn’ any more. But there is the story of the demise of the greater Somalia or Pan Somalia proposition. One needs to understand how it has finally ended as a dead corpse and a utopian dream. Somali unity between the two (Somaliand and Somalia) is also gain a delusive term and a thoughtless project. The Somali unity of the two which until today Somalia staunchly and persistently argues contributes nothing but a daydream. However, what is undeniable and retained by Somaliland people and politicians is the common identity that Somalis, wherever they are, shares (the language, the culture and socio-cultural values, relationships and societal ties as well as cooperation and mutual support). That is the reality. The propaganda claims of Somali unionists for the unity (or that Somaliland is already part of Somalia) of the two independent territories, i.e., Somalia and Somaliland which as adamantly adhered to is simple a wrong concept, a misinterpretation and a concoction of ignorance and arrogance. The historical and political perspectives of the two territories (Somalia and Somaliland) are distinctly different. In fact, the notion of Greater Somalia has been the root cause of the regional instability and disunity for a long time and Somali irredentism is no more a political stake.
The prospect of reunion between Somaliland and Somalia is now remote and is impossible. The people of Somaliland made their choice and expressed their aspiration and will by returning to the original status quo ante of Somaliland of independent status. Their choice and wish should be humanity respected. Somaliland peoples’ negative and traumatic experiences in the past thirty years of their union with Somalia are well recorded and vividly remembered. People suffered enormously both under post-independence civilian administrations and the brutal military dictatorship regime under Siad Barre. The political repression, tortures, imprisonments, crimes against humanity and massive massacres of innocent civilians by the atrocious government are unforgettable.
Somaliland, a separate country from Somalia, is fond of the Somali identity, culture, religion, traditions etc. and shares with all Somalis wherever they inhabit. However, the unity of all Somalis under one flag has ended up as a fake and white elephant project.
Somaliweyn was meant to be composed of all Somali-inhabited lands in in the Horn of Africa/East historically inhabited by ethnic Somalis, i.e., British Somaliland, Somalia Italian in the south, Ogaden and Hawd and reserve area given to Ethiopia in 1954, Somalis in Djibouti and Somali n the NFD as one nation. But it has become the mother of dilemmas and utopian dilemma still hanging with Somalia today. Though the concept of greater Somalia or Pan-Somalia had its appeal at the time of colonialism, the appropriate approach and means have never been implemented. The concept has been a good starting point and the union was seen as first building block for others to follow suit. Therefore Somalia should console with its past history and Somalia politicians should convince themselves to come to terms with the reality and follow a dream blindly. Greater Somalia of all Somali-inhabited has become a myth and would cause insecurity in the region. It is virtually a non-existent jargon. Somalia also ill-defines Somali unity as the union of two Somalia and Somaliland. Somalia may probably and would be better off to define Somali unity as the search of the unity of the various federal regional states, i.e. Puntland, Jubaland, the Southwest, gal-Mudug and Hirshabelle that are not united with divergent and opaque political boundaries.
The union of Somaliland and Somalia was meant to put the first building block (first dhagaxdhig) for Somali unity ‘Somaliweyn’. Undoubtedly, it was Somaliland which started setting the foundation of unity and the first building block of the ‘Greater Somalia’ ambition for all Somalis when Somaliland joined Somalia Italian voluntarily without a binding agreement which was agreed and ratified by the single Union Act ratified by the parliament of the merged Somaliland and Somalia councils.
In the eyes of Somaliland people (and Somalis in Djibouti, the fifth region of the Ethiopian Federation, the Kenyan Somalis) the concept was buried long time ago and is being rotten in its burial grounds. The greater Somalia concept, and thus the Somali unity of the five Somalis concept are dead. It is a past history. Unfortunately for Somalia it still stands a giant monolithic icon that Somalia politicians consider it as sacrosanct that they continually withdraw readily from the shelf whenever Somaliland is mentioned. Therefore, Somalia is still stuck to the dilemma of unity without coming to terms to the changed political landscape and the reality on the ground in the region. What Somaliland people do not in compromise is the Somali identity, culture, traditions and religion and Somaliness in general.