Mohamed I. Trunji
Sunday, February 28, 2021
On this Day in 1955 Haud and “Reserved Area” were transferred by the British government to Ethiopia. Perhaps I may be permitted, before entering in the gist of this piece, to give a concise account of the changes which affected the Horn of Africa following the Italian-Abyssinian War of 1935.
After the invasion of Ethiopia, the Italian government had incorporated Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia into one regional bloc, forming the Italian East Africa Empire (IEAE).The Italian East African Empire, under Marshall Pietro Badoglio, was divided into five administrative governorates: Eritrea, Harar, Galla & Sidamo, Showa and Somalia.
One of the most significant adjustments the Italians introduced was the creation of a much larger Somali administration by detaching the Ogaden region from Ethiopia and combining it with Somalia, creating thus "La Grande Somalia, or ‘Greater’ Italian Somalia. However, while Ogaden became part of the Governorate of Somalia, with Mogadiscio as the provincial capital, Harar became part of the Hararghe Governorate. General (later Marshall) Rodolfo Graziani, who succeeded Pietro Badoglio as Viceroy of Ethiopia, found the way the regions were divided unfair to the Somalis.
In fact, he wrote the following telegram to Mussolini, spelling out his disagreement with the situation: “Separating Harar from the Governorate of Somalia would sound like severing the head from the body of Somalia. Harar is a Muslim centre to which the Somali population had aimed during the difficult military campaign paying a high price in blood. For all these reasons, and considering that the Galla population gravitating around Harar constitutes a minority compared to the Somalis, I am of the humble but firm opinion that the frontier of the Governorate of Somalia must be extended to include Hararghe up to Diri Dawa” (Del Boca).
In 1942, after occupying all former Italian colonies in East Africa, (Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia), followed by the return of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie to his throne, Britain signed an agreement with Ethiopia under the terms of which it recognized Ethiopia’s independence. However, there was one important clause attached to the Agreement: the right of Britain to temporarily control the Ogadenia, the Haud, and “Reserved Area” The distinction, incidentally, between the Haud which was a pastoral area, south of the British Protectorate boundary with Ethiopia, and the “Reserved Area” to the north of Jigjiga, was that the latter was required by the British Military Administration, after the liberation of Ethiopia, to confront the pro-Nazi Vichy government in Djibouti (J. Drysdale, 2000) While these areas were still under its control, Britain allowed the Ethiopian flag to be hoisted in parallel with the Union Jack on government buildings to symbolize Ethiopian sovereignty.
The Somalis were undoubtedly given some hope and stimulus immediately following World War II when the British administered all of the five Somali lands except French Somaliland and proposed a Greater Somaliland under British control. They were led to believe that, as a minimum, Britain might hold on to the Ogaden. This did not happen, and Ogaden was handed over to Ethiopia in 1948. The handing of Ogaden to the Abyssinians was completed on September 12, 1948, when Mustahil was transferred to the Ethiopian Administration.
Little more than one year later, on November 29, 1949, the General Assembly of the United Nations decided to place former Italian Somalia under Italian trusteeship for ten years.
The 1897 secret Treaty between Ethiopia and Britain
On 28 February 1955, while Ethiopia and Italy, the latter in her capacity as administering power for southern Somalia, were still engaged in inconclusive negotiations on the border demarcation dispute between Ethiopia and Somalia, Britain had returned Haud and the “Reserved Area” (65,000 kilometer square) to Ethiopia under a bilateral agreement concluded in 1954 referring to an unpublished Anglo-Ethiopian treaty dating back to 1897. Needless to say, the Somalis were unaware of this Agreement and they did not believe it. The Agreement provided, among other things, “The right of tribes coming respectively from Ethiopia and Somaliland Protectorate to cross the frontier for the purpose of grazing, as originally set out in the Anglo-Ethiopian Treaty of 1897. However, in 1960, following the independence of Somalia, the Ethiopians had terminated the grazing rights, thus nullifying the Treaty of London that had permitted Somali herders to move freely in and out of Ogaden.
The transfer was viewed by the Somalis as a betrayal of the protectorate treaties that Britain had signed with clan leaders in 1884 and 1886. The Somalis had in fact challenged both the agreements of 1897 and that of 1954 between Britain and Ethiopia, and claimed that their own 1884 agreement with Her Majesty’s Government overrode these.
A delegation comprising Michael Mariano, Leader of the National United Front Party, (NUF), Abdirahman Ali and Mohamed Dubeh were sent to London to protest against the agreement and to secure a postponement of its implementation. During their visit to London, they formally met and discussed the issue with the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Alan Lennox-Boyd. Somalia’s arguments were based on three points:
1. That the two treaties disregarded early agreements made with the clans, that had put them under British protection;
2. That the Somalis were not consulted on the terms of the treaties between Britain and Ethiopia and in fact had not been informed of their existence, and
3. That the treaties have violated the self-determination principle.
Mr. Lennox-Boyd stated in the House of Commons that the Somali delegation put their points of view “with dignity and force and made abundantly clear the value they attach to being under British administration”, adding: “I have had no alternative but to inform them that Her Majesty’s government must abide by their obligations in international law. I have made clear to them what those obligations are, and have told them there is no question of Her Majesty’s government’s repudiating international agreements.” (British Somaliland (Anglo-Ethiopian Agreement) HC Deb 23 February 1955 vol. 537 cc1281-9)
After the fruitless mission to London, a delegation of two members, Suldan Bihi Moumin and Michael Mariano was sent to New York to protest to the UN against the transfer by Britain of Haud and “Reserved Area” to Ethiopia. To cover the cost of the trip to New York, a flock of 6,500 sheep were sold by the nomadic tribesmen in British Somaliland. (6,500 Sheep Price of UN Delegation Trip, StarPhoenix, 22 Sept. 1955, p. 19)
At the United Nations the delegation urged, in vane, the case be referred to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) “for an advisory opinion on the legal validity of the Anglo-Ethiopian treaties”. However, at the United Nations they learned that, since the Somaliland Protectorate was neither a member of the United Nations nor a Trusteeship Territory it had no the right to petition the United Nations for the redress of grievances.
Commenting on the highly questionable handover, I.M. Lewis wrote: “As the victim of fascist aggression, Ethiopia had naturally every right to the most consideration and generous treatment. But, it was unfortunate that in the process of satisfying her claims to reparation for the events of the past, protesting Somalis should be sacrificed and the collective Somali desire for national self-determination be cast aside as soon as it had achieved an articulate existence.” (I.M. Lewis)
I was in Belet Uen
On 28 February, 1955, I was in Belet Uen. I remember vividly that day, not for anything else, but for the unique manner the people of that town had expressed their anger towards the transfer of Haud and “Reserved Area” to Ethiopia. The city was virtually brought to a standstill. All activities, including private business stopped running. It seemed that all able men and women agreed to gather early morning at “Buundo Koobaad”, (First Bridge), a popular site on the outskirts of the city, from where they then marched in long procession through the city in silence. The entire city came out in silence. Only the footsteps on the paved road could be heard. The procession assembled in the main square in front of the Prefecture. No written message was handed to the local authorities, no slogan was launched. The anger caused by the lost territory was atrocious to be expressed in words.
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