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|The Rape Of Somali Territory And Its Consequences Today|
The Rape Of Somali Territory And It’s Consequences To-Day
By John Drysdale
I published the accompanying maps in 1964 in a book entitled The Somali Dispute. They are the only maps of their kind. The book is long out of print. Thus the international community to-day cannot be faulted for any ignorance that they may have of the origins and consequences of the foreign-imposed boundaries that Somalis have inherited over the last 115 years.
In 1897, the three rival powers in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, namely, France, Britain and Italy, sent their representatives, within a few days of each other, on a four-week mule journey to Addis Ababa. Their purpose was to squeeze territorial agreements out of King Menelik II of Ethiopia. These agreements, for the most part, put the seal on their earlier and subsequent rapes of Somali-owned lands. The agreements were the forerunners of strife on the Somali Plateau.
The rival powers had been in pursuit of semi-arid savannah. They were on a second scramble, within a decade, for legal confirmation of the land they had already seized, seeking more land or other concessions if King Menelik were so disposed.
Britain, for example, was hopeful that her hard-won Somali frontiers with France and Italy in 1888 and 1894 (Map 1) would stick. Furthermore, Britain hoped to receive from King Menelik, with a Somaliland territorial inducement, assurances that the French would not be permitted to interfere in the upper reaches of the Blue Nile at Lake Tana, nor with Britain’s concurrent struggles with the Mahdi of Sudan.
The reason for the second scramble was the decisive defeat a year earlier of an Italian army by King Menelik’s forces at Adowa. The military defeat of a European power on Ethiopian soil turned the hitherto imperial self-esteem of the European powers into a new and alarming vicissitude: In the eyes of the Europeans, King Menelik had become a formidable military figure with territorial ambitions of his own.
The King was wise. His strategy was to invite the three European powers, even after Italy’s defeat, to remain on the littoral as a defensive crust of no more than 100 kilometers in depth along the Horn of Africa coast (from Massawa on the Red Sea to Kismayu on the Indian Ocean). King Menelik knew he could not defend the hinterland of 3,500 kilometers of coastline. His imperial acolytes could do it for him.
With firearms provided earlier to King Menelik by France and Italy to facilitate their earlier territorial aims, this unrivalled ruler of Ethiopia began to expand his own frontiers.
None of the three powers wished to take him on. None wished to abandon territory to the other. It became imperative, therefore, that they obtain King Menelik’s formal recognition of their respective territorial acquisitions and of their still mysterious frontiers with Ethiopia.
France Contracts Boundary
The results are shown on Map 1. Only France agreed to the 100 - kilometer boundary with Ethiopia from her littoral. She did so in return for concessions including the right to build a railway from Djibouti (eventually) to Addis Ababa.
Djibouti, according to India Office Records at the Public Record Office, London, was an island 12 meters above sea level in 1889. It was connected to the mainland at low tide. There were then only two houses on the mainland built of stone.
Two later events are included on Map 2. These were, first, Britain’s bizarre transfer of Jubaland to Italy in 1925 (in satisfaction of a secret undertaking to Italy in 1915 that Britain would share part of her spoils of war).
Secondly, the British Military Administrations’ imaginary boundary line in 1950 between Somalia and Ethiopia. It was then, and still is, a de facto border without legal existence. Both Ethiopian and former Italian claims to this boundary line are also shown on the map.
Map 2 also depicts two additional features of possible interest: first, the approximate limits in 1964 of territory inhabited by Somalis to the east of the thick black line on the map.
Secondly, the dark, shaded area south of Somaliland, representing the Somali-occupied Haud and Reserved Area which was returned by Britain to Ethiopia in 1955 after 14 years of British occupation. It was part of the deal that Britain negotiated with King Menelik in 1897.
Two attempts by Britain, one in 1949 and the other in 1954, to right an acknowledged wrong over the disposal of the Haud and Reserved Area failed.
One was an offer to Ethiopia of a corridor to the port of Zeila in return for the Haud and Reserved Area. The French objected. The other was an offer to Ethiopia of a British Battleship which Ethiopia, not surprisingly, declined.
The fury of Somalilanders’ at this transfer of Somali land to Ethiopia, seen by them as a British betrayal, knew no bounds. They withdrew from the Commonwealth, demanding independence and union with Somalia (which had been resisted by Britain) in order to retrieve their lost territories.
The territories were expected to be restored through the then universal Somali demand for a ‘Greater Somalia’. The demand, which failed to impress the international community, sought to incorporate under one flag all other Somali territories in the Horn of Africa (Map 2).
Land the Primary Asset
With the exception of Somalia’s border with Ethiopia, the significance of these boundaries is, of course, that they encase land – the primary asset of all Somalis.
If comparisons were to be made between the deep feelings of Somalis about land, and their feelings towards the current flavour of our times, namely, exhaustive attempts by the international community to help Somalis of a political turn of mind to form a government, land is as close to the Somali heart as can be. Attempted government formations are far, far removed from the sensitivities, even interests, of ordinary Somalis.
The formation of governments are likely on the whole to be met by ordinary Somalis with derisive scepticism borne of 36 long years of low grade Somali governance and twelve years of deadly factionalism.
The purpose of a westernised form of ‘democratic’ government and the assumption that it provides beneficence to the Somali public domain has long disappeared in the mists of time.
As one illustrative example of the tenor of the endemic quality of Somali civil governance, following the rigged 1969 general election, fifty out of 51 opposition members of parliament at its opening day crossed the floor of the House to join the corrupt Somali Youth League government in power.
They wished to participate in the competitive parliamentary game of political blackmail. It was and is an endemic political culture that had developed during the 1960s, abetted by largesse from the cold war.
Perpetrators sought government handouts, umpteen favours in return for such activities as passing government legislation to which their constituents were opposed. Official corruption had reached an all time high by 1969.
The successor military government, after a coup that year, and its unspeakable terrorist activities over a successive 21-year span, are too well known to be repeated here. Its wicked indulgences, however, in the rape of Somaliland’s real estate and farm lands, to say nothing about their documented torture and genocidal practices in Somaliland between 1980 and 1991, cannot be bypassed. The experiences are deeply remembered.
With a new dawn breaking hesitantly in southern Somalia in the year 2003, proclaiming the possible advent of a government for the first time in twelve years, it might be thought that such an event would arouse among ordinary Somali people relief and joy.
Unfortunately, ordinary Somalis have no evidence to fortify a hoped-for belief that a new government formation in the south would serve the public’s interests any better than before. Fundamental issues of land, for example, in Mogadishu and in the vast inter-riverine farm areas, are cases in point.
Rape of Fertile Lands
The rape by Somalis in power since the 1980s of these fertile lands through illegal dispossession, often by force or by forgery, of people’s property in real estate, plantations and farm lands, have cried out for years for judicial correction.
These outrages have been left unattended for at least two decades, even during the recent three-years provisional government of Arta origin.
That is not to say that a government should not be formed in Somalia (international concordance demands it), but to think that it would have enduring, unreserved public support would be an error of judgement.
Ordinary Somali people have witnessed unacceptable governing practices in the past, from which many have suffered, and unless a new government can demonstrate that the Somali political culture of the 1960s onward is no longer in vogue, and effective action is taken juridically to resolve the massive grievances over land dispossession, public support will vanish.
Warning about Somaliland
And if by any chance a future Somalia government, or anyone else for that matter, has in mind the third rape of an already truncated Somaliland territory, they would be wise to think again.
The integrity of Somaliland’s land base is central to Somalilanders’ emotional make-up and to their livelihoods. Automatic weapons in their tens of thousands, and larger and fiercer weapons to boot, are in the hands of potential Somaliland guerrillas who, in all likelihood, would assail an aggressor, with or without the formal sanction of their government in Hargeisa.
The international community, in their musings about governance in Somalia, should not underestimate the heightened sensitivity of ordinary Somalilanders towards the protection of their land.
Unlike the passive rape under colonial rule of the 25,000 square miles of the Haud and Reserved Area in 1955, Somalilanders to-day are unlikely to permit yet another chunk of their land to be raped in the 21st century without a fight, for as long as it takes to rid their land of an aggressor.