The Cause for the Failure of the Union of Somaliland and Somalia – By Mohamed Osman Omer
Each year Somalis celebrate the anniversary of the Somali Youth League which falls on 15th May. They sing the famous song “Soomaaliyey Toosoy, Toosoy Isku Tiirsada; Hadba Kiina Taag Daranee, Taageera Weligiina” (Somalis, stand up; Stand up and lean on each other; And Help anyone who is in need)
Not only do we sing but stand up as a mark of respect. Most of the people go to the venues where celebrations are held and sing with others. Some of them might have only heard of the SYL through friends or families. Most of the Somalis hardly know the true history of the party, the good and harm it has done to the national interest. Nevertheless, we are all convinced that the SYL has been the force behind the struggle for independence and for the union of the two territories – former British Somaliland and former Italian Somalia – which formed the Somali Republic on 1st of July 1960.
But unfortunately that is a wrong perception because independence with Italy as the Trusteeship Authority was against the principles of the genuine Somali Youth League leadership which opposed the return of an Italian Administration to Somalia in any form or guise.
The history of SYL is not that old. It is well within the life span of most of us, although all the founding fathers are no longer with us. The last of them, Ali Hassan Maslah, (Ali Verduro) passed away recently.
After the defeat of the Fascist Italy in the World War II, Britain, which was already controlling the Northern region of Somalia, also took over the Italian Somaliland.
Unlike the last six decades of Italian colonial occupation, the British Military Administration opened the doors for associations but not for full-fledged political parties in the former Italian colony. The Banaadiris were the first to move ahead in establishing their organisation, known as the Hamar Youth Club (HYC) on 15th April 1943. A month later, Yassin Haji Osman, following in the steps of the Banaadiris, decided to form another club.
According to senior journalist and historian, Dr. Abdulqadir Ali Boolaay, “Yassin discussed his idea with two Banaadiris, Abdulqadir Saqaawddin and Haji Mohamed Hussein, who, not only supported the idea but also joined him in the process of establishing a new club.”
The trio were soon joined by ten other people. On 15th May, 1943, a month after the birth of Hamar Youth Club, the 13 young politicians announced the establishment of the Somali Youth Club (SYC). Four years later, in 1947, SYC changed its name to SYL (Somali Youth League). But the change did not come as smoothly as it sounds. The late Malaaq Mahamed ‘Umarey, one of the Benaadiri elders who was also a member of the central committee of HYC, told me when I was in Mogadishu in 1993: “The application of the SYC to change the name to SYL was rejected by the British Military Administration on the ground that the flag of the SYC was Red in colour which is Communist flag and unless it was changed, the application would not be approved. Even the party was at the risk of being closed down.”
On hearing this news, Malaaq Maxamed ‘Umarey, continued, “HYC (Hamar Youth Club) Central Committee called an emergency meeting and decided to save the SYC from being closed down by joining the HYC flag, which was Blue in colour, with the Red flag of SYC, thus making the SYC flag half blue and half red. After that the Administration approved the change of the name of SYC (Somali Youth Club) to SYL (Somali Youth League).”
“That was how the SYL survived from being closed down and the SYL flag that people see now came about”, he concluded.
Abdulqadir Saqaa’uddiin became the first President of the Somali Youth Club (SYC) in 1943 and Haji Mohamed Hussein was elected as the Vice President. Both were Banaadiris. Yassin became the Secretary General of the Club. Saqaa’uddiin passed away in 1947 and Haji Mohamed Hussein became President.
Out of the 13 founding fathers of the Somali Youth Club Six (6) were Banaadiris, and Seven (7) were from other clans. The most important part of the SYC/SYL policy or principles was:
a) To oppose the return of Italian administration to Somalia.
b) To achieve independence and unification of all Somali territories.
Three years after the establishment of the Hamar Youth Club and the Somali Youth Club, on 28th April 1946, Mr. Ernest Bevin, British Foreign Secretary, recalled that before the meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers in London in September last , the United Kingdom Government had taken the view that the best arrangement would be on the following lines:-
(a) Tripolitania to be placed under international trusteeship with Italy as Administering Authority;
(b) Cyrenaica to be placed under international trusteeship with the United Kingdom as Administering Authority;
(c) Italian Somaliland, together with British Somaliland, the Ogaden and the Reserved Areas, to be placed under international trusteeship with the United Kingdom as Administering Authority;
(d) Eritrea to be given to Ethiopia, except for the North-Western Lowlands which would be joined to the Sudan. (Minutes of the Meeting)
When this proposal was opposed by other powers, Mr. Bevin came up with an alternative plan in the British House of Commons on 4 June 1946, defending his proposal of 28 April 1946 but modifying it due to the pressure exerted by other powers. He said:
“Now may I turn to Eritrea and Somaliland? I think that M. Molotov has been more than unjust in stating that we are trying to expand the British Empire at the expense of Italy and Ethiopia, and to consolidate what he calls the monopolistic position of Great Britain in the Mediterranean and Red Seas.
In the latter part of the last century the Horn of Africa was divided between Great Britain, France and Italy At about the time we occupied our part, the Ethiopians occupied an inland area which is the grazing ground for nearly half the nomads of British Somaliland for six months of the year. Similarly, the nomads of Italian Somaliland must cross the existing frontiers in search of grass”.
“We do not seek gratitude on that account, but I think it right to express surprise that our proposals should have met with such unjustified criticism. After all, when we were defeating Italy in East Africa, Britain was open to invasion, and we were fighting alone. I hope the deputies at the Paris Conference will now consider a greater Somaliland more objectively.” He did not present his proposal at the Paris Peace Conference. (See para starting with: Now may I turn to Eritrea and Somaliland?)
The struggle of the Somali people under the Somali Youth League was for independence and the union of all Somali territories. The SYL was a genuine, nationalist and honest movement dedicated to achieve the aspirations of the Somali people right from its inception. It had succeeded in winning the full support of the masses and its influence spread in each and every Somali territory, including the occupied territories of Ogaden and the Northern Frontier District (NFD).
Demonstrations in support of the party’s principles were wide spread from Hamar to Harrar. The people strongly protested against the proposal to return Somalia to Italian administration.
Abdullahi Issa Mohamud, while in London on his way to New York as the head of the SYL delegation sent a letter dated 8th March 1949, on behalf of the party to the Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, seeking India’s support at the United Nations to the Somali people’s “utmost demands” which were:
a) To avoid the restoration of Italian administration under any form or guise over country Somalia; and
b) Unification of all Somalilands.
The SYL Central Committee sent a letter (dated 9th June,) signed by all its members, including the President, Haji Mohamed Hussein, the Vice-President, Ahmed Addawe Hussein and the Acting Secretary General, Abdi Rashid Ali. The SYL Central Committee thanked Prime Minister Nehru for India’s support for the Somali cause in the General Assembly Session. (letters to Nehru attached).
THE UN BIAS AGAINST SOMALIS
Despite the campaign of the SYL, the United Nations discussed only the former Italian Somalia and approved the Resolution 289A (IV) on 21stNovember 1949, which decided that Italy would be the “Administering Authority” of the UN Trusteeship Council in Somalia. That was a devastating blow on the SYL and the people who were so vehemently opposing to the return of the former colonial power to Somalia. (See UN Res. 289A (IV)
According to the UN Yearbook 1948/1949, “The representative of New Zealand was not convinced that adequate regard had been paid to the wishes of the inhabitants, and he suggested that no opportunity be lost in providing for the ultimate reunion of all Somalis under one administration”.
After having colonised Somalia for 66 years, instead of apologising for their inhuman treatment of the Somali people by the Fascist regime, the Italian delegate at the Paris Conference in 1946, where Peace Treaty with Italy and the disposal of Italian colonial territories in Africa were to be discussed, added insult to injury when he harshly reacted to the Bevin proposal for the union of the Somali territories. In the Memorandum submitted by him at the conference stated:
“a) Italian Somalia has nothing in common with British Somaliland.
b) British Somaliland is inhabited by nomad tribes of shepherds. Italian Somaliland is inhabited by an agricultural population.
c) British Somaliland is inhabited by tribes of pure Somali stock inhabited by tribes of most various origin (Somali mixed with Bantu negroes etc.)
d) The tribes of British Somaliland are different from tribes of Italian Somalia also from the point of view of the language: in Italian Somalia besides southern Somali also Bantu languages such as Bravano, Bajiuni, etc. and dialects of other families are spoken.
e) The question of the grazing rights of some boundary tribes in British Somaliland, of which mention has been recently made, is a question of detail concerning the normal relation of good neighbourhood across the borders, and had already been settled by Anglo-Italian agreements.”
If the reasons that the Italian delegate raised at Paris Conference in 1946 could be a condition to deny the Somalis the right to be one nation, it would also be valid for Italy whose people in the North are different from the people in the South. As for languages, the Italians speak dozens of languages and dialects. (click here)
As Somalia was going to be placed under trusteeship, the right choice would have been to appoint Britain as the Administering Authority that suggested the union of Somali territories, which was, in fact, the wish of the Somali people.
The Somali Youth League, which claimed to be a nationalist party, should have chosen what was in the national interest. The choice was very simple and clear. The British proposal was similar to what the SYL was calling for. And Italian delegate at the Paris conference clearly rejected that.
I am not sure who made the first move but it has become clear that the Italians successfully managed to win the support of a group in the SYL for their return to Somalia.
At that time in 1940s, when Italy was defeated in WW II, after colonising Somalia for over half a century, there were 20,000 Italians in the country, according to the Italian Memorandum, who controlled everything – agriculture, industry as well as business. Among these were also some who could influence or corrupt the SYL and use their financial power to turn the party in any direction.
Whether or not the Italian expatriates played any role in manipulating the SYL, soon after the approval of the Resolution 289A (IV) on 21st November 1949, a new wing in the party started campaigning for the welcome of Italy to Somalia, betraying what the SYL had stood for since its establishment and for what Hawa Tako and the people at Dhagaxtuur died for.
Hawo Tako was killed while participating in a riot in Mogadishu on 11th January 1948 that followed the visit of the UN Four-Power-Commission. Dhagaxtuur (Stone-Throwing) monument is erected to honour those who died in the uprising on 5th October 1949 when the people were protesting against the return of Italy to Somalia. In fact, that was the last chapter of the Somali struggle against colonialism.
From then onwards the Somali Youth League has become a tool to achieve personal interest. From November 1949, the new version of the SYL changed the direction of party’s politics and the chapter of the Somali struggle was thereby closed.
ITALY RETURNS TO SOMALIA
On coming back to Somalia in 1950, the Italian administration, known as AFIS (Amministrazione Fiduciaria Italiana della Somalia) embarked on fulfilling its promises by making the SYL wing that supported its return to Somalia, the most privileged party at the expense of all others in the country. The Administration ensured that the SYL group that betrayed their Party’s principles for the sake of Italy’s return to Somalia, won the majority of seats by rigging the elections in its favour so that it could be the sole governing party capable of forming the government during the Trusteeship and beyond.
Instead of creating environment conducive to peaceful competition in the political practice, any form of opposition to the system has been made crime punishable by assassination. Under the AFIS, in 1952, when the Trusteeship was already two years old, a respected Somali politician, Ustad (Scholar) Osman was stabbed to death in Hamar Weyne, at early evening on his way to home. It was said that Ustad Osman was going to the UN, New York, next morning to submit a petition from his party HDMS (Hisb Dastuur Mustaqil Soomaali) requesting 30 years’ postponement of the date of Somalia’s independence.
In 1957 a member of the Trusteeship Advisory Council, Kamal Uddin Salah, and Representative of the Republic of Egypt was killed in front of his home. The assassin has been apprehended and given life sentence by Mogadishu court. However, the killer himself was found dead in prison on the night of Somalia’ independence on 1st July 1960.
The motives of the killing of the Egyptian Representative at UN Trusteeship Council in Somalia, Kamal Uddiin Salah are still unknown after 55 years and why his killer was also killed in the night of Somalia’s independence on 1st July 1960 is also a mystery.
Xaawo Taako is remembered as a nationalist because she was killed while participating in a riot in Mogadishu on 11th January 1948 that followed the visit of the UN Four-Power-Commission. Dhagaxtuur (Stone-Throwing) monument is erected to honour those who died in the uprising on 5th October 1949. In both the events, The Somalis were protesting against the return of Italy to Somalia.
THE ROLE OF BANAADIRIS IN THE SYC/SYL
The Somalis gather on 1st July of each year to celebrate the independence anniversary and the great struggle of the Somali Youth League. Speaker after speaker speaks of three things: SYL, Hawo Tako and Dhagaxtuur. They mention that the SYL was founded on 15th May 1943 by 13 young men. Most of the people don’t know or ignore the fact that the top leaders of the party were Banaadiris. Abdulqadir Saqawddin was the SYL’s first President from 1943 until he died in 1947. The second President was Haji Mohamed Hussein from 1947. The Banaadiris, who are now labelled as 4.5 were the majority in the 13 SYC/SYL founders. They were six and the others were seven.
Following were the 13 founders of the Somali Youth Club on 15 May 1943:
1. Abdulqadir Saqawdiin Shaikh Aweys; 2. Haji Mohamed Hussein Haamud; 3. Dheere Haji Dheere; 4.Mohamed Osman Baarba; 5.Hudow Maalin and 6.Mohamed Ali Nur.
Other Members from different regions:
1. Yassin Haji Osman Sharmarke; 2. Mohamed Hersi Nur Sidii; 3.Dahir Haji Osman; 4. Mohamed Abdulle Hersi; 5. Ali Hassan Maslah; 6. Osman Ghedi Rageh; 7. Mohamed Farah Hilowle. (Source: Dr. Abdulqadir Ali Boolaay)
The speakers at the Somali Youth League’s day celebrations usually talk highly of the party and give to it almost all the credit for the struggle. If that is the case, then what should the credit be to those who founded the party itself or led the party? It is like saying “Long live the SYL” and “Down with its founders”.
This is history that should not be denied. The Banaadiris were part and parcel of the Somali struggle. In fact throughout the period that the Somali Youth League has been recognised as a nationalist and a political force behind Somalia’s struggle for independence and union of all Somali territories, the Banaadiris were at the helm of the party until 1949 when a wing within it stubbed in the back the party’s principles and supported the return of former colonial power to the country for political gains.
The people must know the facts and the contributions of any group or individuals towards the struggle for independence must be recognised. It is unfortunate that the Somalis do not like to speak about the goodness of others for the fear of losing to them.
Mahatma Gandhi said:
“A coward is incapable of exhibiting love; it is the prerogative of the brave.”
WHAT HAS THE SYL DONE FOR THE COUNTRY?
We have to divide the Somali Youth League into two. The original part of the party that successfully spread the principles of the Somali Youth League from Hamar to Harrar and other wing that allied itself with the former colonial power after the UN passed the Resolution 289A (IV) on 21st November 1949.
Having joined hand with the former colonial power, the new wing of the SYL became the blue-eyed boy of the Trusteeship Authority which adopted it to become the future ruling party of the country.
That is what happened. During the ten years Trusteeship from 1950 to 1960, the administration made sure that its protégé was on the top of the list of the contesting parties. The party started running key positions in the country from the beginning of the trusteeship and remained in power until 1960. Again it governed the country from on 1st July 1960 to 1969 when it was toppled by the armed forces, led by Gen. Mohamed Siad Barre on 21st October 1969 in a coup or “Bloodless Revolution” which also ended the hegemony of SYL.
The Somali Youth League was ousted but all its harmful habits such as tribalism, nepotism, mismanagement, bribery and corruption remained and till now its symptom is felt, well after over half a century. The Somali proverb says: “A she-camel does not give birth to a legitimate calf”. During nearly two decades of the SYL government, Somalia saw nothing but chaos and consternation. Its prestige, credibility and the morale of people reached their lowest point. There was a time when the government could not even pay the salaries of its civil servants. Under the SYL government the country earned the title of the “Grave of Foreign Aid”. Even within the country it could not secure the safety of the incumbent President of the Republic. On 15th October 1969, the President Dr. Abdirashid Ali Shermarke was assassinated by a guard at a town he was visiting.
When the British Government suddenly decided on 4th May 1960 to give the former British Protectorate its independence, to be united with former Italian Somalia on 1st July 1960, it must have caught the Trusteeship Authority, AFIS, on the wrong foot. The Italian claim that “Italian Somalia had nothing to do with British Somaliland” was now challenged by the fact that Somaliland got its independence from Britain on 26 June 1960 and the AFIS, the Administering Authority, whether it liked it or not, had to officiate at the ceremony of what it thought would never happen – the union of the Italian Somalia and British Somaliland on 1st July 1960.
The Italian Administration that had so vehemently opposed the union of Somaliland with Somalia and a compromised SYL that had supported its return to Somalia together must have thought of an alternative plan to sabotage the success of the Union.
The Somali proverb says: “Don’t tell the person to go, but show something which makes the person feel to go”.
The first friction between the two newly independent territories started when Somaliland felt that it had a raw deal in the distribution of government seats allocated to it in the first united government in 1960, when the posts of the President and that of the Prime Minister were both taken by the “South” while the Prime Minister of the State of Somaliland, Mohamed Haji Ibrahim Egal, was named Minister. Somaliland regarded this as belittling and humiliating.
The anger over power-sharing reached to such an extent that the army in Somaliland staged a protest against the central government. Twenty-five army men, including officers, were accused of attempting a coup d’etat against the State and were brought to Mogadishu for trial.
In 1963, I was working at the Ministry of Information as a reporter for the Italian language newspaper “Il Corriere della Somalia”. As I was one of the only ten stenographers that the country had ever produced, the High Court asked the Ministry if I could help them to take notes for the Prosecutor during the trial.
Since I was delivering a typed copy of the note daily to the State Prosecutor, Dr. Santiapichi, in his office, I used to hear their conversion about the trial. One morning, before going to the Court Room, I heard the Prosecutor saying that ‘at least five of the accused should be given death sentences for attempting to overthrow the state’. He meant the first five officers, trained at the British Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, headed by the alleged “coup” leader, Hassan Abdulle Walalwal “Hassan Keyd”.
However, in the end, twenty of the accused were released for the reason that no witness mentioned their names during the trial. The top five too, were acquitted because the court found them not guilty.
Somaliland’s attitude towards the union between the two territories deserves to be commended. The United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution in December 1959 that Somalia under Italian Trusteeship should become independent on 1st July 1960. On its part, the Somaliland’s Legislative Council met on 6th April 1960 and unanimously adopted a resolution saying:
“Law N.1 – The Union of Somaliland and Somalia Law – Art. 1 paragraph
(a) The State of Somaliland and the State of Somalia do hereby unite and shall forever remain united in a new, independent, democratic, unitary republic the name whereof shall be the SOMALI REPUBLIC”.
Somaliland has played its part in the implementation of what its people wished for. The blame for the failure lies squarely on the shoulders of the party which was supposed to defend the union of the two Somali territories.
Had the SYL been a movement for unity, justice and equality, it would have treated Somaliland fairly and Somalia, in general, would have been in a better shape. But unfortunately that was not to be. In fact, the SYL has caused more harm than good to Somali national interest at the top of which the union of the first two of the Somali territories under foreign rule which deserved the sacrifice of personal interest to safeguard it. It miserably failed to fulfil the aspirations of the Somali people. From November 1949 onward, till its demise in 1969 one can hardly find any positive contribution to Somali national interest by the Somali Youth League.
HOWEVER, we should not forget the tremendous achievement of the true SYL in uniting the Somali people throughout the Horn of Africa from May 1943 to 5th October 1949. Had there not been in November 1949 the betrayal of the principles of the Party and the cause for which Hawo Tako and other Somalis died, Somalia would have earned a respectful independence and harmonious union of Somali territories.
The Somali independence on 1st July 1960 was just an illusion, as, after 60 years, we are still struggling to get a genuine independence. It is like back to square one.
The betrayal of the SYL principles has been, in fact, the cause for the failure of the union of Somaliland and Somalia.
MOHAMED OSMAN OMAR – Ambassador (Rtd) and author of several books including “The Road to Zero – Somalia’s Self-Destruction and “The Scramble in the Horn of Africa”.
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