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  • Samaroon in the Horn of Africa Always Got the Wrong Reward for Doing the Right Thing By: Musa Elmi (Second Release )

    Posted by on April 18, 2010

    The first foot of the British Empire’s mission in Somaliland landed on Zeila, Gadabursi territory, in the year 1884 and they were the first Somali tribe that signed a treaty with them. To their surprise, the elders ordered the British men to take their feet off the soil and go back to their boat where the terms of a treaty can be discussed and decided. From that moment, the white man realized that this people are doing serious business with him.  Gadabursi elder’s British treatment left the British with a long lasting impression about who the Somalis are, about their characteristics and about the possible strategies to approach them. Members from that British team, later described the elders they met as men with pride, bravery and hospitality ( PRO cited in James 1888). The report indicates that the British power did not impress or intimidate the elders who considered themselves as equal to or even better than the white men.The Gadabursi/ British Empire Treaty was as follows:


    (Concluded with the British authority, in December 11, 1884 )

    We, the undersigned Elders of the Gadabursi tribe, are desirous of entire into an agreement with the British Government for the maintenance of our independence, the preservation of the order, and other good and sufficient reasons.
    Now it is hereby agreed and covenanted as follows:

     Article I

    The Gadabursi tribe do hereby declare that they are pledged and found never to cede, sell, mortgage or otherwise give for occupation, save to the British government, any portion of the territory presently inhabited by them or being under their control.

    Article II

    All vessels under the British flag shall have free permission to trade all ports and places in the territories of the Gadabursi tribe.

    Article III

    All British subjects, residing in, or visiting, the territories of the Gadabursi tribe, shall enjoy perfect safety and protection and shall be titled to travel all over the said limits under the safe conduct of the elders of the tribe.

    Article IV

    The traffic in slaves throughout the territories of the Gadabursi tribe shall cease for ever and the Commander of Her Majesty’s vessels, or any other British Officer duly authorised, shall have the power requiring the surrender of any slave, and of supporting the demand by force of arms by land and sea.

    Article V

    The British Government shall have the power to appoint an agent or agents to reside in the territories of the Gadabursi tribe, and every such agent shall be treated with respect and consideration and be entitled to have for his protection such guard as the British Government deem sufficient.
    The above written treaty shall come into force and have effect from the date of signing this agreement.
     In token of the conclusion of this lawful and honorable bond, Iama Roblay, Mohamed Ali Balol, Ilmee Warfah (Ughaz’ son), Rogay Khairi, Waberi Idlay, Roblay, Warfah, Doaly Dilbad, Amir Egal, Gaylay Shirwah, Warfah Roblay, Yunus Boh
    Major Frederick Mercer Hunter, the former for themselves, their heirs and successors, and the latter on behalf of the British Government, do each and all in the presence of witnesses affix their signatures, marks, or seals at Zaila on the eleventh day of December one thousand eight hundred and eighty-four, corresponding with the twenty-fifth of Safar one thousand three hundred and two.
    (Signed) F. M. Hunter, Major, Bombay Staff Corps Signed in presence: (Signed) Percy Downes, First Grade Officer, I. M. (Signed) Dufferin, Viceroy and Governor General of India.

    This agreement was ratified by the Governor General of India in Council at Calcutta on the twentieth February one thousand eight hundred and eighty-five. (Signed) H. M. Durand, Officiating Secretary to the Government of India, Foreign Department Fort William, The 25th February 1885

    Why Did the British Leave Zeila

                At the arrival of the British, Zeila had a prosperous trade system with the Arabs across the Red sea and with other business circles inside Ethiopia in the Harar region and far beyond. The British administration stayed in Zeila for ten long years and his ambition was to extend his influence to other parts of the country but that was not easy for many reasons. The generations in Zeila were descendants from Adal Empire with one of the oldest civilizations of the Horn that had developed suspicion in dealing with any foreigners and particularly the Christians. The wars with Ethiopia and how the Europeans fought against Ahmed Gurey was not forgotten. The first Christian school in Zeila further increased the people’s sensitivities and suspicions about the British intentions. In addition, people in the area had a boom of business from Arabia and through Harar and they didn’t need the British and his jobs.

     After long ten years, the British realized that his progress in this part of the country was not progressing as expected. They looked for another sea outlet where they can keep in touch with the marine traffic and could get better accommodation and Berbera was the other best choice. The people in Berbera, at the time, gave a better welcome to the British than those in Zeila for some reasonable circumstances. This part of the country was different when it comes to trade and prosperity.  Berbera trade traffic, at that time was known as seasonal and even the Hargeisa people had connections with Harar (Adari ) traders.  In addition, the Berberal Christian school was fully running with normally average number of students. Unlike the trade boom in Zelia and Harar, the people in this part of the country depended more on fishing and their livestock for their living. Many jobless people in the towns of Berbera, Bulahar and later Burao had their lucky chances in the available positions as guides, cooks and housemaids.   In the following years, Haber Yonis gradually developed closer relations with the British administrators and were their guide and interpreters.

      Liberation movements: Somaliland & Ethiopia

    Samaroon people, while having their problems of geographical and foreign border barriers, the people, always, managed to overcome the challenges they encountered in the difficult Somali tribal politics with the combinations of vision and strategy. After the 2nd World War, the Somalis in everywhere were unhappy about how their country was divided into five parts and under different colonial powers. They were aware of how the British, without their consultation, gave away more one third of Somali territory to Ethiopia and how the Italians in the South were treating the public with excessive cruelty and oppression. As a result, the political organizations had started to work in Somali lands and in the Ethiopian occupied territories. In the resisting the colonialists in Northern Somalia, in Ethiopia and Djibouti, Samaroon were among the active members and in most cases, as in Djibouti, played the leading role.

    Since they were heavily populated in both borders, the people were both involved and affected by the struggle. In Borama region, the public had their own branches of the nationalist organizations on the basis of both the SYL and the SNL policies in the process of ousting the colonialists. Immediately after the cessation of the Reserved Area and Haud in 1954, the Samarooon elders in Aw Barre, tabling the 1985 agreement, stormed the District Commissioner’s office in protest and asked for explanation. They went to Borama, mobilized the people who were already boiling with anger and passed to Hargeisa.  The people sang the well-known patriotic songs from Borama singers, Dabshid and his team that said, ‘ Jowhar iyo luulay jeex dhan bay maqan’. Half of my body is missing.

    On the other side of the border, in Jigjiga, there was a large number of Samaroon elite who was in the business as well as in the administration. Haji Hirsi was one of the wealthiest residents in Harar area and he was one the chief financiers of the SYL. He paid the rent of their office and was among the main contributors in the operational expenses.  Sheikh Hassan Tani was the chief of judge in Jigjiga and that was one of the most respected and prestigious government positions. He also played a leading role in the SYL resistance against Ethiopia and the British. Sheikh Hassan Tani was an eloquent speaker whose actions and voice echoed in all SYL and other public circles. His famous poem was an inspiration for the people everywhere when he said, ‘ Saca Faarso tegay sandulluu ku iman soddon maalintuu qado. Sidaa waxa ka mid ah safka haatan yidhi saadaan nahee Somali aan diidno’

    The Power Sharing problem as the Point of Departure

     When the independence time was close, the roads that people were traveling on began to diverge because of an internal power-sharing struggle. Samaroon worked hard in steering the destiny of the new nation while at the same time looking hard at their side.  The leaving British administration unfairly distributed the first legislative council of 33 seats of which 21 were given to one tribe. The other four other clans saw that as domination of one tribe.  Borama elders became the whistle blowers and immediately complained and proposed that the seats be divided between half and half; half for Isaaq and the other half for the other four. They were right because that matches the system of checks and balances used by modern democratic nations.  Checks and balances is a system that ensures against domination of one group by another. In the United States today, the congress, the legislative body and the judicial systems are at constant checks on each other. Obviously, the elders of Borama, even in that long history and in that distant part of Africa, were people with vision and could base their policies with strategy and reasoning. Unfortunately, the British colonialists did not listen and decided to ahead with their wrong plan.

    Borama leaders took the initiative when they started their historic journey from Borama, to Lasanod, the eastern end of Somaliland.  They were the whistle blowers and the purpose was to recruit alliances and  were successful in forming the United Somali Party (USP) for the Gadabursi, the Issa and the Darood clans in east. After the 26 June, 1960 independence, gained more supporters from some other skeptic Isaaq groups like Haber Jeclo. All those in the USP were not sure of the direction of events and therefore feared for their political future in the new government. They wanted a balanced share of power and were against the idea of one tribe dominating the others. At that point, a very strong pressure group was formed and that forced Mohamed Haji Ibrahim Egal, the prime minister for the new northern government, to unite with Southern Somalia in July1, 1960. Some people who did not follow the historical developments of that era mistakenly call the unification with Southern Somalia as an emotional move.  It was neither an emotional move nor a hasty decision but was seen as a real solution for the problem of the power struggle in sharing the parliamentary seats. The Northerners, therefore, didn’t take the proper steps to find a permanent solution. Instead, they decided to take the only available pain relief medication and that was to take refuge in plunging themselves into bigger Somalia. Still today, the same temporary relief is on the ground but this time, the symptoms are under control with a different medication.



     The abbreviations used in the references mean: BMA – British Military Administration; FO – Foreign Office; PRO – Public Records Office;  WO – War Office.

     1.James, F.L., The Unknown Horn of Africa, London 1888

    2. PRO FO 1015/51/2A, [?] Nairobi, 7 March 1947, and PRO FO 1015/51, H.Q. East African Command, Monthly Intelligence Review, April 1947.

      3. PRO FO 1015/140, Somalia Political Intelligence Report No. 2, Major Goodbody for Chief Administrator, BMA Somalia, 24 May 1947.

    4. PRO FO 1015/51/8B, ‘Memorandum on Native Clubs in Somalia’ [n.d. probably late 1946].

    5. Rodd, J.R., Social and Diplomatic Memories, London 1923

    Follow up with the third part on Sunday, April 25


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