This is the fifteenth posting of a reproduction of a series of historical notes, articles,tracts and academic discourses to mark proud landmarks in the history of Somaliland from 1884 which highlight events leading to the country’s two independences of 1960 & 1991.
A Chronology of an nation 1840-1993
Somali clan-families have inhabited the region of Eastern Africa, better known as the Horn of Africa, for close to three thousand years as some historical records indicate. The people were organized in a highly decentralized nomadic clan system of herders. Therefore, there had never been any centrally organized authority in the form of a state in the Somali territories before the advent of colonialism to Africa. But there were locally accepted customary laws in every Somali community that served each community or local area as its own indigenous constitutional arrangements, though there was very little contact between those Somali communities in different geographical places of the region. Hence, the idea that all Somalis formed a nation-state, once upon a time and before colonialism, is nothing other than a modern invention. This important piece of evidence, which is a historical fact, negates the recent chorus of commentaries by some that Somalis should always share one state under all circumstances. It, indeed, undermines the hopes and aspirations of the people of Somaliland, who have every right to remain independent from the rest of Somalia, as they once were both under colonialism and for a brief moment before they voluntarily merged their post-colonial state with the former Italian Somaliland. Below are some important dates to remember as to how the Somaliland state has evolved since the colonial days.
v 1840: The British annex Aden, across the Red Sea in present-day Yemen. They began to trade with Somalis in the present-day Somaliland, mostly in order to import meat for their sailors. This trade contact initiated the first interactions between the people of Somaliland and the Europeans.
v 1870s: Threatened by the growing European presence in the region, Egypt laid claim to Somaliland’s coastal towns such as Seyla and Berbera.
v 1877: Egypt and Britain signed a treaty over the occupation of Somaliland. Instead of going to war over meat supply routes for its garrison in Aden, Britain signed a treaty recognizing the Egyptian presence in Somaliland coastal towns. They established a cooperative relationship with the Egyptians and hence co-existed with each other on both sides of the Gulf of Aden that divides Somaliland and Yemen.
v 1884: Britain occupied the former Egyptian Somaliland. When the Egyptians were forced to withdraw from Somaliland because of the military threats from other neighbours, notably France operating from the French Somaliland (now Djibouti), the British took control of the territory they had occupied, i.e., Somaliland.v 1887: The British Somaliland Protectorate was established. Major A. Hunt of Great of Britain, representing his government, drew up protection treaties with several Somaliland clans guaranteeing them military support, in case of an attack from other neighbouring territories, which were then occupied by other Europeans (See The Map of Africa by Treaty written by Sir E. Hertslet). As a result of these extensive colonial treaties, the Great Britain sent its Vice Consuls to the Somaliland coastal towns such as Berbera, Bulahar, and Seyla. In effect, this was an introduction of the first modern state (Colonial State) of today’s Somaliland.
v 1900: Trade increased both in volume and value in the British Somaliland due to the relative political stability created by the colonial protection, despite an on-going wars waged by Sayid Mohamed Abdulle Hassan, a.k.a. “the Mad Mullah of Somaliland” by the Europeans, against the British occupation. The port cities of Somaliland were scenes of active trading during this era. In fact, Somaliland was the only British Protectorate/Colony in East Africa which not only balanced its books, but it had also constantly reported surpluses. The key to Somaliland’s opulence, by African economic standards of the day, was international trade as the people in the territory were, in the words of one British colonial officer, “Natural born traders.” (See “Somaliland” by Andrew Hamilton). It is this age-old trading skills and inherent business ingenuities on the part of the people of Somaliland, observed by the colonial officer in the early 20th century, that currently sustains the Somaliland’s booming economy, despite its lack of international recognition.
v April 1960: The British government agreed to Somaliland’s independence. Britain reluctantly agreed to withdraw from the British Somaliland Protectorate, so that it can join with the Italian-Somaliland to form an independent state. To facilitate this request from the Somaliland people, the British colonial office had convened a constitutional conference held in London in May 1960 (See “Report of the Somaliland Protectorate Constitutional Conference,” a government document). Technically, Great Britain, acting on the strong request from the political leaders of Somaliland, set the wheels of abrogating its eighty-year old colonial treaties with the people of Somaliland in motion, which had culminated at Independence Day in June 1960. Then the Somaliland leaders immediately merged their country with Italian Somaliland without any constitutional safeguards for their people. Arguably, this move by the Somaliland leaders entered in the annals of this nation’s modern history as the biggest political mistake that any group of leaders could make. It is a mistake that the Somaliland people are still paying its price, because of the simple fact that the Somaliland people are now seeking international recognition; forty years after Somaliland first won its independence from Great Britain.
v July 1960: The Somali Republic became fully independent. Italian and British Somalilands united in an independent state formation. However, the presidency, the prime ministership and almost all of the key posts in Cabinet went to the politicians of the South (Italian Somaliland). The seat of the government, Mogadishu, went also to the former Italian Somaliland. There were no constitutional guarantees for the people of the former British Somaliland either, as the creation of the Union between the two Somali states was unimaginatively quick. For example, the first political rupture came when the southern politicians acclaimed the constitution in parliament, despite the very high percentage of Nay votes from the people of Somaliland (see historical references to the Referendum of 1961).
v October 1969: A military coup overthrew the civilian government and ended nine-years of “artificial” democracy, as Prof. Hussein Adam of the College of Holy Cross puts it. Following the assassination of President Sharmarke, the military seized power and the coup leader, General Siad Barre, assumed the control of the country. Siad Barre pronounced the country a socialist state and re-named it The Somali Democratic Republic (SDR). General Barre established a tightly controlled dictatorship soon afterwards with severe curtailment of the civil liberties. The already ill-conceived constitution of the first nine years was suspended and the country’s civilian parliament was replaced with a Revolutionary Council consisting of military and police officers. The people of the North (former British Somaliland), with their natural tendencies to democratic ideals then immediately found themselves in the General’s line of fire, who had prophesed Marxist-Leninist brand of socialism. In the end, Somalia’s strongman waged a relentless campaign with genocidal tendencies against the people of the North.
v 1981: The Somali National Movement (SNM) was formed in London, in order to save the people of the North from total annihilation. This organization, which largely drew its support from the Issak clan of the North, sought to liberate the North (former British Somaliland) from general Barre’s menacing army.v 1988: General Barre signed a non-aggression pact with Ethiopia, the host country of the Somali National Movement (SNM). In return, Ethiopia expelled SNM members operating within its borders. The SNM then launched a major offensive in the North, capturing Burao and Hargeisa, the two largest cities in Somaliland. General Barre’s government in Mogadishu bombed these cities and others to the ground, which resulted in widespread death and destruction. Hired mercenaries from the former Rhodesia were even used to bomb the civilians of the North who were fleeing from artillery shells and burning cities. A six hundred thousand people of Somaliland origin crossed the border into Ethiopia, circa 1988/89, to seek sanctuary from Barre’s killing machine; another one hundred thousand lost their lives in the process. The international human Rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Africa Watch have fully documented these widespread torture and killing of the Isaak people in the North, who were the victims of a government purge.
v 1991: The SNM finally won the war with Siad Barre who hence rolled-back his army to cling to his last power base which was also being challenged by the United Somali Congress (USC) in the South. The SNM leadership then called on all clan-families of the North (former British Somaliland) to determine the future of their country. After long discussions in Burao, Somaliland, they all decided, across the clan lines, to revert to their June 1960 sovereignty and once again form their nation, the Republic of Somaliland. The National Charter that was adopted in Burao was later affirmed in subsequent people’s conferences of Borama and Hargeisa, Somaliland. This de facto nation stretches for 400 miles (644 kilometers) along the Gulf of Aden and to the east of Djibouti. It has an estimated population of 3, 875,000 people. An interim legislature and judiciary were named, immediately after the SNM declared the state at Burao, and a constitution was planned.
v 1993: Mohamed Ibrahim Egal was named president of the Republic of Somaliland in the Borama conference. Though not yet internationally recognized, Somaliland has already made monumental strides, in both the economic and political fronts, since the re-declaration of its independence in 1991. For example, the constitutional work was completed in 1996, and was adopted at the Hargeisa presidential election conference of 1997. Recently (the Year 2000) a law governing a multi-party system was promulgated to pave the way for the 2002 popular municipal and presidential elections. Now the only thing that Somaliland lacks is a De Jure status under the international law of nations, so that it can turn the page and write a new chapter of its own political history.