Background to the Republic of Somaliland’s Quest for Recognition
By Prof. Abdirahman Ahmed Shunuf
- Historical perspective
- Implications of Britain’s Transfer of Somali Territory to Abyssinia in 1897
Although there was no Act of Union, the voluntary merger between the state of Somaliland (Today the Republic of Somaliland) and on 1st July 1960, should be seen in the light of Britain’s illegal transfer of some 25,000 square miles of Somaliland territory, known subsequently as the Haud and Reserved Area, to king Menelik of Abyssinia in 1897. There was no consultation with the Somali people.
The gravity of this transfer, which at the point in time secured for king Menelik’s cooperation with Britain’s imperial interests in the Sudan, only impinged in later years on Britain’s conscience when she exercised the responsibilities of a ‘protectorate’ ostensibly protecting the interests of the people of Somaliland.
To that extent Britain after World War II, offered Ethiopia in exchange for the Haud and Reserved Area, a corridor to Zeila, which was turned down by the French. Undaunted, Britain then offered a cash payment, even a battleship, in consideration for the return of this territory to Somaliland.
The offers were not accepted by Ethiopia. Instead, Britain, whilst recognizing Ethiopia’s sovereignty over this territory, established, by virtue of Anglo-Ethiopian Agreement of 1954, a liaison office in Jigjiga to protect the rights of Somalilanders in this territory.
- Independence and Merger with No Act of Union
The British acceptance of Ethiopian sovereignty over the Haud and Reserved Area was the forerunner to demands by the people of Somaliland for the rights of self-determination and independence from colonial rule. It was followed on 26 June 1960 with the promulgation of the independent State of Somaliland.
With a view to pressing for the union of all the Somali people in the Horn of Africa to form what was then known as Greater Somalia, Somaliland initiated the merger with Somalia on 1st July 1960. The reluctance of political leaders in Mogadishu to accept wholeheartedly what most of them felt was Somaliland’s intrusiveness in their internal political affairs was manifest when Somaliland’s Prime Minister Mr. Mohamed Haji Ibrahim Egal, visited Mogadishu before merger. He discovered to his chagrin that, without previous consultation, to appointments to the, as yet unpromulgated, new government had already been agreed, namely the president of the proposed Somali Republic, the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Minister of Interior. This was a portent of problems to come.
Both the Somaliland and Somalia legislatures, before independence, had independently prepared their own versions of ‘Act of Union’.
These two versions were so apart conceptually and in detail that the Somaliland legislature, whilst agreeing in principle on June 30 – one day before Somalia’s independence and merger with Somaliland- to an Act of Union had been agreed and despite the fact that the provisional president had signed a decree entitled the Law of Union of the State of Somaliland and Somalia. This was unacceptable to the merged legislatures, now known as the Legislative Assembly and a consultative Commission for integration was thus appointed whose findings would be subject to a referendum.
The national referendum on the findings of the Consultative Commission for Integration was held in July 1961. The Somali National League, the leading political party in the State of Somaliland, campaigned against the ratification of the constitution. Percentage votes against were: Hargeisa 72%, Berbera 69%, Buroa 66% and Erigavo 69%.
The total number of votes cast in the Somali Republic as a whole were officially reported to be 1,952,660 out of which only 100,000 votes were recorded from the State of Somaliland.
The new constitution was promulgated, but not before a military coup d’état in the State of Somaliland had attempted to restore the sovereignty of the State. The coup had been instigated by Sandhurst-trained junior officers, serving under Italian-trained senior officers. The leaders of the attempted coup were brought to trial in Mogadishu before a British judge on the charges of treason. He acquitted the officers on the grounds that the court had no jurisdiction over the State of Somaliland in the absence of an Act of Union.
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Abdirahman Ahmed Shunuf is a former professor at Portland University in Oregon, USA and former Vice-Chancellor of University of Hargeisa. He can be reached through his Facebook account