Somaliland: Without our knowledge (1)


Prof. Abdisalam Yassin

“It is a world, bought and sold, without our knowledge.”

“Waa duni la kala iibsadaan nala ogaysiine.” Farah Nur

By: Prof. Abdisalam Yassin

Somalilandsun – One of Somaliland’s illustrious poets, and in my opinion a man of vision and “the bard of freedom”, remarked on the late nineteenth century partition and colonization of Africa by European powers.

Of course what this great poet observed is now in the annals of history. However, when I searched the archives, I came across some documents with amazing stories about the political ploys and diplomatic schemes that were carried out in order to occupy and rule our land, all being done without our knowledge. The information that these documents contain is relevant to us today since we can learn lessons from them that will help us to follow, understand, and avoid any political ploys and diplomatic deception that are being conceived and put together against Somaliland.

They give us clear warning signals that enable us to be aware of the devious ways of diplomacy and acquire the expertise and skills that effectively protect and enhance the interest of our country.

As an example, I would like to share with you one of these documents that have come to my attention. Although they are just a little over one hundred years old, these documents show the different interests, abilities, and attitudes of many different parties that were interacting in those days. It is amazing how some of the events that concern Somaliland were being decided by few foreigners in Bombay, Cairo, Aden, and Berbera without the knowledge of our people.

Here are some quotations of some of the documents. I will leave them to you to read and reflect on the designs and machinations of the competing foreign powers, which led to the colonial occupation of our country and the creation of British Somaliland Protectorate.

The writer of this document, which is entitled Under the Flag: Somaliland Coast Stories, is a pioneering colonialist called Langton P. Walsh. The main title, Under the Flag, refers to the commitment of these colonial pioneers to hoist their flags, in this case the Union Jack, on foreign lands that they seize.

In the first chapter of his story, with the title, “My Circumstances and My Employment in Somaliland”, Walsh writes:

I made the acquaintance at Aden of Captain Frederick Mercer Hunter, Second Assistant Political Resident. Now Captain Hunter, Lieutenant-Colonel Prideau, the First Assistant Resident, the Resident, and the officers of the Indian Navy had long advocated the annexation of Somaliland, as they all feared a foreign power would some day seize that part of North-east Africa, and thus command the country from which Aden was supplied with meat.

Late in 1874, or early in 1875, when I was at Suez, I learned that two Egyptian war vessels, and two or three steamers of the Khedival line, had taken on board troops and stores for transport to Berbera, which was the chief town, and the only good harbour on the African littoral of the Gulf of Aden. Through the courtesy of Mr. Tuck, the agent of the Eastern Telegraph Company at Suez, I unofficially telegraphed this information to Captain Hunter. The latter was greatly relieved that the occupation was not being made by a European power, and immediately proceeded to Berbera. He reached that port a few days before the arrival of the Khedival squadron, and thus was on the spot to protest against the Egyptian occupation of Somali-land.

Captain Hunter, however, recognized that the Egyptian Government would establish law and order at the Somali Coast ports, and in that way would increase and encourage trade with Aden. In order, therefore, to preserve British rights and interests, he drew up a protocol. Under the terms of this, sheep, cattle, and ponies for the Aden markets were not to be taxed, British trade generally was to be facilitated, and our merchants, as well as Europeans and natives of India and Aden, were to be protected and allowed to reside at the coast ports. The officer commanding the Egyptian forces at Berbera accepted these conditions, and to them the Khedive also offered no objection.

As you can see from Walsh’s opening paragraphs, the race between Egypt and Britain to occupy Somaliland and colonize it began. Notice how the writer, who is not yet a colonial official, shows a strong commitment to the expansion of the British Empire. He translates this commitment into action when he is later hired as a colonial official in Aden. He begins the preparations to occupy Somaliland, and talking about this, he says:

In 1880 I was Acting Second Assistant Resident at Aden, and Captain Hunter then held the post of Acting First Assistant there. We both kept our eyes on Somaliland, and specially trained forty men of the Aden Police as expert rifles and in the handling of an old-fashioned three-pound field-gun. This little force was kept in readiness for shipment to the Somali Coast at a moment’s notice.

Imagine, with a small army of forty men, the imperial administration in Aden plans to take over Somaliland. Would that actually happen? Would they succeed? We will know the answers to these questions from some of the other quotations of Walsh’s story, which I will present to you in the coming articles.

This is the first part of series of weekly articles by the author Prof Abdisalam Yasin Mohamed whose linkage of the history of Somaliland shall bring to the fore its present circumstances in various aspects and titled “Without our knowledge” Watch this site