Somaliland: Without our Knowledge (4): The Power of Organization and Technology


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

Prof. A Yassin

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

Somalilandsun – This is the fourth 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”

Without our Knowledge (4): The Power of Organization and Technology

Prof. Abdisalam Yassin

Somalilandsun – Walsh took over the Berbera Hookumderia, or the government of Berbera with the zeal of a pioneering imperialist and with the personal determination to make his fledgling administration in the ancient port successful. As shown in his testimony, he inherited a decent and comfortable accommodation from the Egyptians, and he began to organize it both as his residence and as the headquarters of the new government. Then he turned his attention to build up his personnel, starting with the employment of domestic servants and clerks.

“The Bey of Berbera had handed over to me, for my residence and Vice-Consulate, a very comfortable and well-furnished bungalow called the Dar-Khana (guesthouse). It had an immense stone bath and a fountain in the quadrangle. In these quarters I installed my kit and personal servants, and I also fitted up an office, with a room adjoining for my Arabic clerk. My clerk, however, unfortunately could not read or write English, and I was compelled to obtain a boy who could copy English from the Roman Catholic Mission School at Aden.”

Nominally as Vice-Consul, he was responsible for the welfare of the British subjects in Berbera. The core of his titular duties was to charge a fee for the services he did for these subjects, but since such a fee was so small, he did not charge them. Instead, the revenue that he collected from the Somaliland coast covered all the expenditure of his growing administration. It is remarkable how the power of advanced organizational skills can establish an administration, secure loyalty, and generate revenue.

“I had practically no Consular duties to perform beyond registering the names and occupations of every British subject permanently residing at Berbera. From each of those the Foreign Office had authorized me to levy a fee of five shillings, as the British Government gave me no salary. Hunter and I, however, deemed it infra dig. to demand such a fee, and I never collected or took it. In consequence I received no remuneration at all from the British Government, and my salary was derived from the Somali Coast revenue receipt.”

After establishing a seat for his government, with a comfortable HQ and a well-armed security force, and after ensuring a regular collection of revenue from the customhouse, Walsh turned his attention to strengthen the security of his government. He deployed the necessary installations in sea and on land in order to firmly secure the safety of the city and its vicinity.

“I purchased several thousand empty rice-sacks (known as gunni bags), and these I stacked at convenient places, to be filled when needed with sand and used for defence purposes. I also hired Mahomed Dosa’s trading-dhow, and got the carpenter’s mate of H.M.S. Dragon to strengthen the poop and the covered-in forecastle, so to carry two three-pounder man-harnessed field-guns which I had decided to take over from the Egyptians. This dhow was kept at anchor off the pier-head, with her stern made fast to the shore. Mahomed Dosa was instructed to keep his eyes on all the harbour-master’s boats and stores. This was a very necessary precaution, as I feared the stores might be secretly sold.

I had obtained the services of two men from the 4th Bombay Rifles to train and drill the Somali recruits enrolled for service in the Berbera district. This body of men was officially designated the Somali Coast Police. One member of the S.C.P., Jemedar Khoda Buxsh, was an expert rifleman; he had fitted up a rifle range on the beach to the westward of the Shaab, and was indefatigable in his efforts to teach musketry. He soon made several of our recruits sufficiently efficient to serve under cover, thus freeing an equal number of men for service in the field.”

Satisfied with security deployment, he turned his attention to the acquisition of another essential and strategic commodity: water. Berbera’s water supply was already in place as the ancient Dubar waterworks, which were renovated by the Egyptians, brought a reliable supply of potable water to the city. Walsh noted how Dubar’s potable water offered a gainful employment to an enterprising Indian and generated a large annual revenue for his government.

“Captain Pipon, R.N., placed at my disposal the services of the Chief Engineer of H.M.S. Dragon. This officer accompanied me to the Dubar waterworks, where several reservoirs had been constructed to receive the hot saline water that oozed out of numerous fissures at the base of the Dubar Mountain. These reservoirs were connected with the Shaab by a six-inch iron pipe laid by the Egyptian Government, and which provided Berbera with potable drinking-water. A native of India farmed the water supply, and charged the water-carriers half an anna for a large skinful of water. The receipts from this source yielded a large annual revenue.”

With ingenuity and sometimes deadly skill, Walsh and his personnel began to establish a foolproof security for Dubar’s water supply system. He put together an efficient and reliable force who knew both the local terrain and the water supply network. The members of this force were assigned different responsibilities in order to protect the network. Generally, the water supply network was well-built and secure. It was, however, susceptible to erratic attacks from the local herdsmen who would dig the sand covering the pipes, light fire to melt the joints, and take the lead which was a valuable metal.

“I realized that if the Dubar waterworks were destroyed or were held by hostile Somalis, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to obtain sufficient drinking-water for the population of Berbera, though a few small wells existed near the seashore. I therefore suggested that the main pipe should be secretly tapped at about fifty or one hundred feet on the Berbera side of the last Dubar reservoir, and fed direct with the water which trickled out of several of the smaller clefts at the base of the Dubar Mountain. All the materials needed to carry out this scheme were actually on the spot, the necessary labour only was wanting. I proposed to obtain the latter, however, by detaining four or five Sudanese privates at Dubat when the Egyptian garrison handed the works over to me.

As it was prudent to attract as little attention as possible to the execution of this work, I did not acquaint the Greek engineer in charge of the water establishment, or any of his Somali staff, of my project. I took into my confidence only Furug, the head turnkey, formerly a Sudanese private in a Khartoum infantry regiment; Hassub Alia, a fellaheen turnkey from Egypt; and a Somali linesman. These three men I had determined to keep in their places, and to discharge all the others employed at Dubar. The linesman’s duty was to patrol the ground underneath which the main pipe was laid, and to see if the joints of the latter leaked. Under ordinary circumstances these were sound and watertight enough, as the Egyptian garrison controlled the route absolutely; after their departure, however, mounted Somalis used to scrape away the sand, light a fire below a joint and thereby melt out the lead, which was a very valuable metal in Somaliland.”

These daring herdsmen posed a serious challenge to the security of the pipes and became a nagging headache for Walsh. As he raked his head to find an effective solution for the assaults of the herdsmen, a murderous solution came from one of his policemen, a Mr. Elahi Bakhr, who was responsible for the arsenal. He devised a deadly scheme to deal with the belligerent nomads.

“As the foot police were quite unable to catch these mischievous rascals, Elahi Bakhr, the armourer of the Berbera Police, who had to keep these pipes in proper order, determined unknown to me to teach them a lesson.

He procured two donkeys, and loaded the panniers which they carried with dates, rice, sugar, Surat tobacco, and other delicacies specially appreciated by the Somalis. Amid these dainties he introduced a soda-water bottle containing dynamite, arranged to explode if the contents of the panniers were interfered with. The mokes were then driven by a small boy, who was told to run away or hide himself in the thick bush if he saw any Somalis on the pipe-line.

This lad carefully carried out his instructions, and the Somalis he had seen in the distance captured the donkeys and grabbed at the enticing contents of the panniers. In a moment the dynamite cartridge went off, and blew three Somalis and the donkeys into smithereens. This drastic method of dealing with mounted robbers effectually saved the joints of the iron pipe from being tampered with.”

The vicious ploy recounted above shows that in order to maintain their authority, the perpetrators of domination and ‘power-over’ do not usually have any qualms about using deadly force. For them, the end justifies the means.

In the next article, we will examine how Walsh manages to have a firm control over Berbera and gradually expands his rule to Bulahar and its surroundings.

Previous serious

Without our Knowledge part 1

Without our Knowledge part 2

Without our Knowledge part 3