By Mohamed Isse Trunji
Saturday, July 1, 2017
Historians refer to the he year1960 as the Year of Africa because of a series of events that took place during the year, namely the independence of seventeen African nations that highlighted the growing Pan-African sentiments in the continent.
Between January and December 1960, 17 sub-Saharan African nations, including Somalia, gained independence from their former European colonialists. In the chronological list of independence, Somalia took place in the 5th position after Cameroun, Togo, Madagascar, and Congo Kinshasa, now Democratic Republic of Congo. The rise to independence of 17 African countries in 1960 is in part the result of long process that began fifteen years earlier in the tumult of World War Two.
Independence Celebrations, Egyptian threat to spoil the party
As expected, all was set to make the Independence celebrations, extending from 1st to 4th July, a momentous political event. Official invitations were sent out to foreign dignitaries to attend the celebrations. The Somali government took on the burden of offering free accommodation and some limited transport facilities to the foreign guests. Owing to severe logistic constraints, sending countries were requested to limit the size of the official delegations attending the celebrations to 3 members. Preparations were in high gear including the construction of two elaborate hotels, each fitted with air conditioning and lifts, to be completed before the independence date to accommodate an estimated 400 important guests pouring in from around the world. The two new hotels, named Juba and Shabelle after Somalia’s two rivers, were rushed to completion: construction works started early in February 1960 before even financial provisions were authorized by the Assembly, and special prefabricated materials arrived from Italy, as did Italian technicians.
Everything was planned with zeal and fervour. The only fly in the ointment in otherwise well-organized celebrations was the Egyptian threats of boycott of the celebrations by all Arab States, if an Israeli delegation attended the ceremony.
All United Nations members, except for South Africa, Byelorussia and Ukraine, were invited to attend the independence celebrations. That procedure seemed normal because Somalia was a UN trust territory. The Somalis found it hard to understand the fuss the Egyptians were making out of the invitation extended to the State of Israel, a member of the United Nations who took part in the debate on the future of Somalia in 1949 and voted in favour of Somali independence. However, to outmanoeuvre the Egyptian plot, Abdullahi Issa, the Prime Minister at the time, did not cancel the invitation, but appealed to the Italian government to convince the Israelis to withdraw their acceptance of the invitation. The Prime Minister scored a fine goal.
It was Punchinello’s secret that relations between Egypt and the Somali government of the time were not good, undermined as they were, by the Egyptian secret service agents present in Somalia either as consular staff or members of the Consultative Council of the United Nations. The Egyptians were active in trying to suppress the Somali language and culture in favour of the Arabic language and culture, the aim being that of ‘Arabizing’ the whole of Somali society. To this, the Somalis reacted strenuously in many ways in defence of their national identity, language and culture.
The Independence comes at Midnight
The UN 10 year’s trusteeship administration on Somalia, operated by Italy had formally ended at 16hrs of 30 June 1960, six months before the time stipulated in the Trusteeship Agreement for the Territory of Somaliland under Italian Administration, adopted by the Trusteeship Council on January 27, 1950. The last Italian Administrator, Mario Di Stefano, left Mogadiscio on board a plane bound for Nairobi, Kenya. At 6 o’clock in the afternoon, in all centers of Somalia, the Italian and UN flags were for the last time lowered.
At midnight on the 30th of June 1960 the Somali flag was hoisted on the National Assembly building. The Provisional Head of State, His Excellency Aden Abdulla, appeared on the balcony of the Assembly where he was greeted by a very large crowd of happy and cheering Somalis. When the hundreds of thousands of people gathered in the main square facing Parliament “Piazza della Solidarietà Africana” (African Solidarity Square), saw the hoisting of the flag above the National Assembly building, 114 cannon salvoes, equal to the number of Suras in the Koran, saluted the event. When calm returned, Aden Abdulla, in his capacity as provisional president of the republic, started reading, standing on the floodlit balcony of the National Assembly Building, the proclamation announcing the birth of a free and independent Somalia:
“To you, Somalia, who, from this instant see the light, you have a face and a name, may God bless you and grant you long life.” He then added “Today we are Somalis, today we are independent and sovereign. Today we finally have a State and a flag. It is a blessing from God; let us protect and preserve it.” And after reading the proclamation, Aden Abdulla invited the crowd to turn their thought to “the millions of African brothers still languishing under the yoke of injustice and lack of understanding.”
The President urged the people to shun differences and work hard for the prosperity of the country.
The President’s speech was followed by that of Senator Giuseppe Medici, head of the Italian delegation, who read a brief but significant message from the Italian Head of State to the President of the Somali Republic, the message read:
“Being aware of the significance and importance of today’s celebrations, I have the privilege to notify you with sincere congratulations that Italy, in compliance with the Resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, the trusteeship administration assigned to her by the United Nations on November 21, 1949, has ended at zero hour of today, 1 July 1960, I have therefore the honour of declaring that Italy extends, as from this moment, its recognition to Somalia as sovereign and independent. Italy is convinced that she is transferring sovereign powers to a State based on the democratic and modern institutions, albeit embryonic, of an adequate administration. I do moreover confirm that in the future also Somalia can count on the support and friendship of the government and the people of Italy.”
The last to speak on the occasion was Mr. Constantine Stavropoulos, Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, who said, among other things, that “independence could never have been achieved without the enthusiastic and constructive spirit of the Somali people and Italy’s enlightened leadership.” Ambassadors were to present their credentials to the Provisional Head of State from 17:00 on July 1, 1960 at ‘Villa Somalia’, the former residence of the Administrator and now residence of the Provisional Head of State. The Italian Ambassador, Silvio Daneo, was the first, followed by Britain, France, Germany and the USA.
No Head of State or government was among the representatives of the seventy-two countries invited to the celebrations. Major western countries sent junior ministers, and the United Nations an undersecretary. Italy was represented by Senator Giuseppe Medici, Minister of Education, as head of delegation, accompanied by the Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs, Carlo Russo; Mr. John Profumo, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, was appointed British Special Ambassador to the celebrations. The American delegation was led by Mr. F.M. Mueller, the Secretary of Commerce. Representatives from the British Commonwealth and Colonial Territories included: Kenya, Aden, Sierra Leone, Tanganyika, Uganda, Ghana and Nigeria.
After the conclusion of the celebrations, the 90 deputies from Somalia (the former Trust Territory) and the 33 lawmakers from the independent State of Somaliland met to declare a union between the two countries, and elect a provisional head of State for the new Republic. As expected, Aden Abdulla was elected (with 107 votes out of 115 deputies present and voting) for a period of one year, until the time when the Constitution would be approved by popular referendum.
Riots accompanied the celebrations
The great enthusiasm, however, was muted by the bloody incidents which accompanied the celebrations of independence: on the night between 30 June and 1 July 1960, clashes broke out in Mogadiscio as thousands of protesters responding to the calls from the opposition Greater Somali League Party converged in “Piazza della Solidarietà Africana”, Despite the ban, some four thousand protesters started their march towards the Parliament chanting slogans such as “Down with colonialism and imperialism”, “We demand immediate, free and democratic elections”, “Djibouti is part of Somalia” . At the beginning, the police used water cannons and tear gas to disperse the crowd, but the protesters responded with stone throwing. When the events took this turn, the police charged the demonstrators, among them women and children, using live ammunition, while television and cameramen captured the ugly scene. The dramatic result of the confrontation was two persons killed and 17 injured. Demonstrations escalated in Mogadiscio as the government cracked down hard, arresting 300 people in a single day including opposition leaders and other activists under the eyes of the international media present in Mogadiscio to cover the event and of the foreign dignitaries invited to attend the celebrations.
In a very clumsy attempt to prevent the news of the incident from reaching the outside world, the government introduced regulations imposing censorship on media reports on the incidents. To circumvent the government’s veto on transmitting media report on incidents, a group of American and British journalists chartered a flight to Nairobi, from where they dispatched the first news on the incidents in Mogadiscio. As for the Italian newsmen, “they chose the road of negotiation, which carried patiently with the government. But it was at about one o’clock in the morning, thanks to the direct intervention of President Aden Abdulla, that they could send brief radio dispatches to Italy, writes Angelo del Boca who was in Mogadiscio to cover the independence celebrations.