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How Britain And Ethiopia Inflicted Regrettable Whammies On Somaliland
By John Drysdale
There are several reasons why Somaliland broke away from Somalia in 1991. One reason was Siyad Barre's horrifying genocidal practices in Somalia . Another reason, among others, was the ‘Greater Somalia' demands by the majority of Somalis described in the last article. Britain then transferred to Ethiopia the Haud and Reserved Area in 1955 – 25,000 square miles (the size of Belgium ) of Somali grazing lands occupied seasonally by Somalilanders. It remains claimed by Ethiopia to this day because Britain declined a request by Somalilanders to contest the issue at the International Court of Justice.
It was the hoped for recovery of these grazing grounds that originally led to Somaliland's rushed union with Somalia in 1960 as a prelude to securing a Greater Somalia which would have included the Haud and Reserved Area had it succeeded. When this attempt failed because of opposition to it principally by Ethiopia and Britain , Somaliland saw no purpose in continuing with an incomplete ‘Greater Somalia' in union with a discredited Somalia . Now that Somaliland is naturally seeking sovereign independence, which Britain granted in 1960, neither Britain nor Ethiopia is to-day (2008) willing, talk apart, lamentably to recognize Somaliland as a sovereign state. Together, Britain and Ethiopia , by this omission and by previous acts of contra support for Somaliland (discussed below), have inflicted numerous whammies on struggling Somaliland , then and now.
The Somali Republic 's struggle with Britain in 1963 to cede what was then known as the \Somali-occupied Northern Frontier District of Kenya to the Somali Republic , was long drawn out. The burning issue was an agreement made by the British Colonial Secretary in the presence of British lawyers engaged by the Somalis of the District in Kenya .. He stated publicly that an independent mission would be sent to the District to ascertain whether the Somali inhabitants wished to secede from Kenya , and thus become citizens of Somalia ; and that a decision on this would be made by the British Government before Kenya was granted sovereign independence.
This proviso was a natural consequence of Kenya 's constitutional status at that time. Kenya had not by then become self-governing. Instead of agreeing to this reality, and thus raising expectations among Somalis, Britain should have come clean about its real intensions and not reneged secretly on this undertaking, which they did, Moreover, when the Somali government heard of this they told London that they would regrettably have to seek authority from their parliament to reconsider their relations with London . The British government responded by saying that they had further proposals to offer the Somali Republic . A day later the British government regretted that they had no further proposals after all. The British Embassy in Mogadishu was ‘heartbroken and furious'.
The Somali Prime Minister, Dr. Abdirashid Ali Sharmarkay, commented ‘Surely no Ambassador has been treated like this before.'
Parliament voted overwhelmingly to break relations with Britain . Some deputies demanded that Ethiopia should also be included, likewise the United States for giving Ethiopia arms. The Somali Republic lost budgetary assistance of 1.3 million pounds a year. Somalilanders have not received their pensions to date. A rum business which has run on for years.
Earlier, the implementation of the 1894/5 Anglo/Ethiopian Agreement, which provided for one British liaison officer and three assistant liaison officers, 300 uniformed Somali police and Somali elders to protect Somalilander herdsmen to graze and water their livestock in the Haud principally, was an absurdity and a disaster. The reason for the agreement, which should never have been made, arose out of the insistence by the Ethiopian government that the Haud and Reserved Area should be returned to Ethiopian sovereignty.
The 25,000 acres of Somaliland grazing land (the size of Belgium ) was administered by Britain after Emperor Haile Selassie was returned to his throne by Britain on the defeat of the Italian occupation army in Ethiopia during World War II. These vast lands had not been administered before by Ethiopia . As the lands had, since time immemorial, been occupied seasonally by Somaliland herdsmen, Britain should have felt a duty to negotiate a claim to the land for Somalilanders through the international Court of Justice. Britain should not have complied with Ethiopian demands for a transfer of territory which was based on the dubious treaty of 1897 between Britain and Ethiopia . Britain had after all conquered the land with its own soldiers and returned the Emperor to his throne during World War II.
The equally absurd agreement with Ethiopia in 1954/55 was deeply resented by Ethiopians who objected to the intrusion of aliens on what they believed, because of Britain 's illegal foreshortening of Somaliland 's occupied territory in 1897, to be their territory. Ethiopia itself had never settled on the land, let alone administered it. Because of this, and subsequent problems that arose, the agreement was deeply flawed. The Ethiopian officials on the ground resented the intrusiveness on their territory of the Protectorate Liaison organization and attempted to jeopardize it by claiming that Somali herdsmen entering the grazing areas were all Ethiopian subjects, not British Somalilanders whose pastures and watering rights the Liaison officers were expected to protect.
If a protectorate policeman were arrested by Ethiopian authorities and tried in an Ethiopian court for arresting a Protectorate Somali, whom the Ethiopians claimed was an Ethiopian citizen, there was no legal redress. The Ethiopian view was that by giving tacit recognition that their territory was occupied by non-Ethiopian subjects, could open the door to any future claims by Somalis or Britain to their territory.
This and other like problems which were addressed by London and Addis Ababa were hotly debated. In a fit of pique the British government offered to purchase the Haud and Reserved area. The suggestion received a hostile reception. Arousing an even greater suspicion as to Britain 's real intensions. Ethiopia could not understand Britain 's dilemma. Either Britain was for Ethiopia or against her. Evidently it was the latter in Ethiopian eyes. This was confirmed in the Ethiopian mind by a statement in 1956 by lord Lloyd, the Under Secretary of State at the Colonial Office. He was speaking in Hargeysa to Somali political leaders. The tenor of his speech revealed a sympathetic attitude to the known aspiration of the British Somalis for union with Somalia .
A Colonial Office description of the occasion stated that the political leaders received the ‘generous and promising' statement with no applause. But with indignation and apparent dismay; some turning their backs on Lord Lloyd. It was established that this was due to the absence from the speech of any mention of the Haud and Reserved Area. They hoped that the Ethiopians would at least offer the status quo ante the agreement.
The effect of the statement on Ethiopia was to increase their anxiety about a possible merger with Somalia . The Emperor flew to the Ogaden and in a public speech on August 25 th he turned the concept of ‘Greater Somalia' to his advantage.
‘Our country', he said, ‘would thereby become yet stronger and larger … We are united by race, color, economics and we all drink from the same great river ...'
Lord Lloyd's omission and substitution of Ethiopian ‘generosity' allowing a British Liaison office in the Haud with no guarantees to Somalilanders post-independence was expedient political chatter, as with the problem over Kenya's Northern Frontier Province. The Somaliland politicians reacted to Lord Lloyd's omission by insisting on their independence concurrently with Somalia in 1960 and not years later as Britain desired, turning away any suggestion that they would seek British Commonwealth membership on attaining independence.
Out of this welter of cause and effect a fundamental error stands out convincingly. Instead of making futile attempts to purchase the territories from Ethiopia, the British government should have fulfilled their duty to take the dispute to the International Court of Justice for a legal opinion on the validity of the 1897 and subsequent agreements with Ethiopia in the light of their earlier morally and legally conflicting treaties with Somali clans of the Somaliland Protectorate.
But Britain was always fearful of upsetting the Ethiopian government and declined to take bold measures to protect the interests of her Protectorate subjects. Britain 's overriding fear was losing out to France Britain's indirect control, through the courtesy of Ethiopia , over the Blue Nile which watered Egypt 's farm lands in the delta. Egypt was then closely allied to Britain .
Such were some of the ploys ruinous to Somalilanders during and after the Colonial experience, All Britain has to do now, by way of compensating for wrong doings in the past – acknowledged by the abortive attempts by Britain to persuade Ethiopia to surrender their hold on Somaliland's grazing lands by purchase, by offering Ethiopia the port of Zeila, or a British Battleship - is to take a deep breath and recognize Somaliland's long overdue sovereignty, which she gave to Somaliland nearly 50 years ago, and all will hopefully be forgiven.