Trusteeship and Protectorate: The Road to Independence

Trusteeship and Protectorate: The Road to Independence

The conditional return of Italian administration to southern Somalia gave the new trust territory several unique advantages compared with other African colonies. To the extent that Italy held the territory by UN mandate, the trusteeship provisions gave the Somalis the opportunity to gain experience in political education and self-government. These were advantages that British Somaliland, which was to be incorporated into the new Somali state, did not have. Although in the 1950s British colonial officials attempted, through various development efforts, to make up for past neglect, the protectorate stagnated. The disparity between the two territories in economic development and political experience would cause serious difficulties when it came time to integrate the two parts.

The UN agreement established the Italian Trusteeship Administration (Amministrazione Fiduciaria Italiana della Somalia--AFIS) to prepare southern Somalia for independence over a ten-year period. Under the agreement, a UN Advisory Council based in Mogadishu observed the AFIS and reported its progress to the UN Trusteeship Council. The agreement required the new administration to develop the colony's political institutions, to expand the educational system, to improve the economic infrastructure, and to give the indigenous people freedom of the press and the right to dissent. These political and civil guarantees did not make for smooth Italo-Somali relations. Seen by the Italians as the source of nationalist sentiment and activity, the SYL distrusted the new administration, suspecting it of having a hidden colonial agenda. SYL fears were exacerbated when the AFIS, soon after taking control, proceeded to jail some SYL members and to fire others from their civil service posts. The SYL responded with protests, civil disobedience, and representations to the UN Advisory Council. The council intervened to arbitrate the disputes and to encourage the two sides to collaborate. The conflict simmered for three years (1950-53) until new economic and political initiatives provided a channel for the energies of Somali nationalists.

The centerpiece of the initiatives was a series of seven-year development programs introduced in 1954. Drawing on development blueprints provided by the United States Agency for International Cooperation (AIC; later the United States Agency for International Development--AID) and the UN Development Programme, the Italian administration initiated plans to stimulate local agriculture, to improve the infrastructure, and to expand educational facilities. Exports, responding to these stimuli, trebled from 1954 to 1960. Despite these improvements, an acute balance of payments deficit persisted, and the administration had to rely on foreign grants and Italian subsidies to balance the budget.

Development efforts in education were more successful. Between 1952 and 1957, student enrollment at the elementary and secondary levels doubled. In 1957 there were 2,000 students receiving secondary, technical, and university education in Italian Somaliland and through scholarship programs in China, Egypt, and Italy. Another program offered night-school adult literacy instruction and provided further training to civil servants. However, these programs were severely handicapped by the absence of a standard script and a written national language. Arabic, Italian, and English served as media of instruction in the various schools; this linguistic plurality created a Tower of Babel.

Progress was made throughout the 1950s in fostering political institutions. In accordance with a UN resolution, in 1950 the Italians had established in Italian Somaliland an advisory body known as the Territorial Council, which took an active part in discussions of proposed AFIS legislation. Composed of thirty-five members, the council came to be dominated by representatives of political parties such as the SYL and HDM. Acting as a nascent parliament, the Territorial Council gained experience not only in procedural matters but also in legislative debates on the political, economic, and social problems that would face future Somali governments. For its part the AFIS, by working closely with the council, won legitimacy in Somali eyes.

There were other forums, besides the Territorial Council, in which Somalis gained executive and legislative experience. These included the forty-eight-member Municipal Council introduced in 1950, whose members dealt with urban planning, public services, and, after 1956, fiscal and budgetary matters. Rural councils handled tribal and local problems such as conflicts over grazing grounds and access to water and pasturelands. However, the effectiveness of the rural councils was undermined by the wanderings of the nomads as they searched for water wells and pastures, a circumstance that made stable political organizations difficult to sustain. Thus, the UN Advisory Council's plans to use the rural councils as bridges to development turned out to be untenable, a situation that enabled AFIS-appointed district commissioners to become the focus of power and political action.

Territory-wide elections were first held in southern Somalia in 1956. Although ten parties fielded candidates to select representatives to a new seventy-seat Legislative Assembly that replaced the Territorial Council, only the SYL (which won forty- three seats) and HDM (which won thirteen seats) gained significant percentages of the sixty seats that the Somalis contested. The remaining ten seats were reserved for Indians, Arabs, and other non-Somalia. Abdullaahi Iise, leader of the SYL in the assembly, became the first prime minister of a government composed of five ministerial posts, all held by Somalis. The new assembly assumed responsibility for domestic affairs, although the governor as representative of the Italian government and as the most senior official of the AFIS retained the "power of absolute veto" as well as the authority to rule by emergency decree should the need arise. Moreover, until 1958 the AFIS continued to control important areas such as foreign relations, external finance, defense, and public order.

The term of office of the Iise government was four years (1956-60)--a trial period that enabled the nascent southern Somali administration to shape the terms under which it was to gain its independence. This period was the most stable in modern Somali politics. The government's outlook was modernist and, once the Somalis become convinced that Italy would not attempt to postpone independence, pro-Italian. The franchise was extended to women in 1958, and nationalization at all levels of administration from district commissioner to provincial governor proceeded apace. Attempts were made to suppress clannishness and to raise the status of women and of groups holding lowly occupations. The future promised hope: the moral support of global anticolonial forces, the active backing of the UN, and the goodwill of the Western powers, including Italy.

The southern Somali government's principal tasks were to increase economic self-sufficiency and to find external sources of financial assistance that would replace the support Italy would withdraw after independence. Another major concern was to frame the constitution that would take effect once Somalia became independent. The writers of this document faced two sensitive issues: the form of government--federalist or unitary--the new nation would adopt, and nationalist aspirations concerning Greater Somalia. The first issue was of great interest to the HDM, whose supporters mainly were cultivators from the well- watered region between the Shabeelle and Jubba rivers and who represented about 30 percent of the population. The HDM wanted a federal form of government. This preference derived from concerns about dominance by the SYL, which was supported by pastoral clans that accounted for 60 percent of the population (Daarood and Hawiye). Not surprisingly, the SYL advocated a unitary form of government, arguing that federalism would encourage clannishness and social strife. In the end, political and numerical strength enabled the SYL to prevail.

The delicate issue of Greater Somalia, whose recreation would entail the detachment from Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Kenya of Somali-inhabited areas, presented Somali leaders with a dilemma: they wanted peace with their neighbors, but making claims on their territory was certain to provoke hostility. Led by Haaji Mahammad Husseen, the SYL radical wing wanted to include in the constitution an article calling for the unification of the Somali nation "by all means necessary." In the end, the moderate majority prevailed in modifying the wording to demand "reunification of the dismembered nation by peaceful means."

During the four-year transition to independence, conflicts over unresolved economic and political issues took the form of intraparty squabbling within the dominant SYL rather than interparty competition, as Daarood and Hawiye party stalwarts banded into factions. The Daarood accused Iise's government of being under Italian influence and the Hawiye countered with a charge of clannishness in the Daarood ranks. Husseen's radical faction continued to charge Iise's government with being too close to the West, and to Italy in particular, and of doing little to realize the national goal of reconstituting Greater Somalia. Despite his rift with prime minister Iise, Husseen, who had headed the party in the early years, was again elected SYL president in July 1957. But his agenda of looser ties with the West and closer relations with the Arab world clashed with the policies of Iise and of Aadan Abdullah Usmaan, the parliamentary leader who would become the first president of independent Somalia. Husseen inveighed against "reactionaries in government," a thinly veiled reference to Iise and Usmaan. The latter two responded by expelling Husseen and his supporters from the SYL. Having lost the power struggle, Husseen created a militant new party, the Greater Somali League (GSL). Although Husseen's firebrand politics continued to worry the SYL leadership, he never managed to cut deeply into the party's constituency.

The SYL won the 1958 municipal elections in the Italian trust territory, in part because it had begun to succeed in attracting important Rahanwayn clan elements like Abdulqaadir Soppe, who formerly had supported the HDM. Its growing appeal put the SYL in a commanding position going into the pre-independence election campaigns for the National Assembly of the Republic, a new body that replaced the two legislative assemblies of British and Italian Somaliland. The National Assembly had been enlarged to contain ninety seats for southern representatives and thirty- three for northern representatives. The HDM and the GSL accused the SYL of tampering with the election process and decided to boycott the elections. Consequently, the SYL garnered sixty-one uncontested seats by default, in addition to the twenty seats contested and won by the party. The new government formed in 1959 was headed by incumbent prime minister Iise. The expanded SYL gave representation to virtually all the major clans in the south. Although efforts were made to distribute the fifteen cabinet posts among the contending clan-families, a political tug-of-war within the party continued between conservatives from the religious communities and modernists such as Abdirashiid Ali Shermaarke.

Meanwhile, in British Somaliland the civilian colonial administration attempted to expand educational opportunities in the protectorate. The number of Somalis qualifying for administrative posts remained negligible, however. The protectorate had experienced little economic or infrastructural development apart from the digging of more bore wells and the establishment of agricultural and veterinary services to benefit animal and plant husbandry. Comprehensive geological surveys failed to uncover exploitable mineral resources.

Politically, although the SYL opened branches in the north and the SNL continued to expand its membership, neither party could mobilize grass-roots support. This changed in 1954, when the last British liaison officers withdrew from the Reserved Areas--parts of the Ogaden and the Haud in which the British were given temporary administrative rights, in accordance with a 1942 military convention between Britain and Ethiopian emperor in exile Haile Selassie. This move conformed with Britain's agreement with Ethiopia confirming the latter's title deeds to the Haud under the 1897 treaty that granted Ethiopia full jurisdiction over the region. The British colonial administrators of the area were, however, embarrassed by what they saw as Britain's betrayal of the trust put in it by Somali clans who were to be protected against Ethiopian raids.

The Somalis responded with dismay to the ceding of the Haud to Ethiopia. A new party named the National United Front (NUF), supported by the SNL and the SYL, arose under the leadership of a Somali civil servant, Michael Mariano, a prominent veteran of the SYL's formative years. Remarkably, for the militantly Muslim country, the man selected to lead the nationalist struggle for the return of the Haud, was a Christian. NUF representatives visited London and the UN seeking to have the Haud issue brought before the world community, in particular the International Court of Justice. Britain attempted unsuccessfully to purchase the Haud from Ethiopia. Ethiopia responded with a counterprotest laying claim to all Somali territories, including the British and Italian Somalilands, as part of historical Ethiopia--territories, Haile Selassie claimed, seized by the European powers during a period of Ethiopian weakness. The Europeans were reluctant to press new territorial demands on Haile Selassie and did little to help the Somalis recover the Haud.

Political protests forced Britain in 1956 to introduce representative government in its protectorate and to accept the eventual unification of British Somaliland with southern Somalia. Accordingly, in 1957 a Legislative Council was established, composed of six members appointed by the governor to represent the principal clan-families. The council was expanded the following year to consist of twelve elected members, two appointees, and fifteen senior elders and notables chosen as ex officio members. The electoral procedure in the north followed that in the south, with elections in urban areas conducted by secret ballot and in the countryside by acclamation in clan assemblies. In 1960 the first elections contested along party lines resulted in a victory for the SNL and its affiliate the USP, the two winning between them all but one of the thirty-three seats in the new Legislative Assembly. The remaining seat was won by Mariano, the NUF's defeat clearly attributable to his Christian affiliation, which his political opponents had made a prominent campaign issue. Following the election, Mahammad Ibrahim Igaal was chosen as prime minister to lead a four-man government.

Popular demand compelled the leaders of the two territories to proceed with plans for immediate unification. The British government acquiesced to the force of Somali nationalist public opinion and agreed to terminate its rule of Somaliland in 1960 in time for the protectorate to merge with the trust territory on the independence date already fixed by the UN commission. In April 1960, leaders of the two territories met in Mogadishu and agreed to form a unitary state. An elected president was to be head of state. Full executive powers would be held by a prime minister answerable to an elected National Assembly of 123 members representing the two territories. Accordingly, British Somaliland received its independence on June 26, 1960, and united with the trust territory to establish the Somali Republic on July 1, 1960. The legislature appointed Usmaan president; he in turn appointed Shermaarke the first prime minister. Shermaarke formed a coalition government dominated by the SYL but supported by the two clan-based northern parties, the SNL and the USC. Usmaan's appointment as president was ratified a year later in a national referendum.


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