French Somaliland

June 22, 2007 at 7:13 pm | Posted in New Book | Leave a comment

SOMALIA – Past & Present Chapter 4: French Somaliland

The scramble for the Somali territories continued with accelerated speed. After Britain, France entered into the colonial race with the signing of a treaty for “peace and friendship” with the Chiefs of the Danakil tribes on the coast of Adel on 11 March 1862. The treaty gave it a large piece of territory exclusively. According to Article 3 of the treaty France agreed to give 10.000 Talaris, that was then equal to 55,000 Francs.”

The treaty guaranteed several rights for construction and grazing to the Frenchmen settled in Obokh. The most important clause of the treaty was that the Chiefs “engage themselves singly or collectively to decline any overtures which may not have met with the approval of the Government of His Majesty, Emperor of France”. This was the same provision that the British had inserted in their treaties with the Chiefs.

Twenty-two years after France signed the treaty, the French Commandant of Obokh signed two treaties in 1884; the first with the Sultan of Gobad in April and the second with the Sultan of Tajourra in October. The treaty with the Sultan of Gobad conferred on the French several rights for carrying on commercial activities and the rights of construction in his territory. It again provided for an undertaking by the Sultan that he would “conclude no convention and sign no treaty without the assent of the chief of the colony of Obokh”. The treaty signed with the Sultan of Tajourra was even more astounding. The Article 2 of the treaty stated that Sultan Hamad “gives his country to France in order that the latter may protect him against every foreign power”. Article 5 promised, “Not to sign any treaty with any foreign nation without the assent of the Commandant of Obokh”.

Another treaty between M. Legarde, the French Commandant of the colony of Obokh, acting on behalf of the Government of France and Chiefs of the Easa Somali tribe was signed on 26 March 1885. According to which the Chiefs gave their territory to France and undertook to “assist France on all occasions and not to sign any treaty or conclude any Convention without the consent of the Commandant of the Colony of Obokh.”

Article I of the Treaty said that, “There shall be eternal friendship between France and the Issa Chiefs and Article II said: “The Chiefs give their country to France in order that it (the latter) may protect it against all foreigners.”
In the year 1885, a bill was presented to the French Chamber of Deputies to open a credit of Fr.624,720.00 for the Minister of Marine and Colonies, “on account of the organization of the Colony of Obokh, and of the French Protectorate over Tajourra and the neighbouring territories up to Gubbet-Kharab”.
The British pragmatically accepted the French rights over the Somali territory. On 15 April 1887, the British Secretary of State sent a letter to the Viceroy in India saying “We agree to recognize French protectorate west of line drawn from Jibute to Harrar. French agree to recognize our protectorate from Jibute to 49th parallel, to withdraw claims to Gadabursi and Jibril Abukars, and will take necessary measures for suppressing slave trade and importation of arms.” However, the British authorities were uncomfortable with idea of French competing with them.

The British officials in Zeyla were asking themselves, “What measures have the French taken at Jibuti in order to compete with Zeyla?” Captain C.E. Gissing, R.N. Commander and Senior Officer, Aden, in a letter dated 6 September 1888, replied to Colonel E.V. Stace, British Agent and Consul for the Somali Coast, Aden that the French are doing everything to promote their interest. They were giving presents and the Roman Catholic missionaries were also promoting French interest.
“Shortly after the opening of Jibuti, M. Legarde went to Europe and left Burhan, son of Abubeker, the late Pasha of Zeyla, in charge. Burhan wrote letters to merchants at Zeyla, Aden, and Harrar, advising them of the opening of Jibuti as a free port. The French Governor of Obokh and his agents have endeavoured to obtain Makunan’s (Governor of Harrar) aid in compelling caravans to go to Jibuti instead of Zeyla. Makunan has been promised the free importation of arms through Jibuti in return for his assistance in this matter.

In one of the French documents Djibouti was described as follows:

“General state of affairs at Jibuti—The harbour is an excellent one, easy of access and well protected; buoys show the position of the shoals; boats can land at any time of tide on the beach; water is plentiful about 1 ½ miles from the town, and is very good and sweet; there is good feed for camels, &c., near the water; sheep and cattle are abundant and cheap.

“Buildings—Two stone houses are being built; stone for building (coral) is obtainable in any quantity, also lime; quarters are being built for the troops and police; there are forty Soudanese soldiers and twenty police armed with rifles; the native houses are well built and the town clean; there is a stone building at the landing place for office and house for the Resident; one Greek keeps a store, and several Arabs have shops; there are four small guns in position—7-pounders; the place is stated to be very healthy and free of fever.

“Free Port—There has been no Proclamation, but Burhan wrote to merchants at Aden, Zeyla, and Harrar, asking them to trade through Jibuti, there being no duty there.

“Transfer of Jibuti—It is rumoured at Jibuti that the French are going to transfer that port to Abyssinia; the people there talk about it as an arranged affairs.

“Agent of Menelek of Shoa—There is an agent of King Menelek at Jibuti; his name is Osman; he is a relation of King Menelek; he returns with the caravan which conveys the arms. He has also a quantity of goods at Jibuti, which he is taking up-country. Whether he is there only for the arms or also for the cession of the port, I do not know.

“Tajourra—Tajourra Chief has a Russian as well as a French flag, but the Russian flag he keep in his house. The Russian party had thirty Abyssinians armed with rifles, which they had hired at Tajourra, of whom there are twelve remaining with them. These Russians have arms, but they do not sell them at Tajourra; there are six Russians now there, they state they are waiting for orders; the natives say their provisions are finished. I cannot exactly see why the Russians are there, and, curiously enough, they have given a Russian flag to the Chief. It seems curious their remaining so many months. The natives say they have given money to the Chief, but whether they go to Abyssinia or remain at Tajourra seems doubtful. It nearly seems as though the French had some idea of ceding Tajourra to Russia. I cannot hear of any Russians being in any other place but this. The French Company have sold 300 stand of arms in Tajourra to the natives, some muzzle some breech-loading. Natives say the arms are brought from Obokh by dhow, and they can buy as many as they like from the sailing-ship at Obokh.

The Railway between Djibouti and Ethiopia—The following letter was written from the British Foreign Office the Law Officers of the Crown, dated, Foreign Office, September 10, 1902. Regarding the Agreement of the 9th March 1897, by which Emperor Menelek of Abyssinia gave permission to M. Ilg, a Swiss engineer, and His Majesty’s Principal Adviser, to form a Company for the construction of a railway from the port of Jibuti, in the French Somaliland, to Harrar, in Abyssinia, and thence to Antoto and the White Nile.

On the 6th February last the “Compagnie Imperiale des Chemins de Fer Ethiopiens,” the Company formed in accordance with the permission given by the Emperor, concluded a Convention with the Government of French Somaliland, by which the latter granted to the Company on certain conditions an annual subvention of 500.000 fr. (20.000/.) for fifty years. The Convention contained inter alia the following stipulations:
“Article V provides that in future all members of the Council of Administration shall be Frenchmen, except in special cases sanctioned by the Ministers of the Colonies and of Foreign Affairs.

“By Article VI the Company is forbidden to modify the course of the railway or to authorise the construction of any branch lines without the consent of the aforesaid Ministers.
“Article XIX provides that, at the end of ninety-nine years from the opening of the line to Addis Harar, the French Somali Coast Protectorate shall succeed to all the rights of the Company over the section of the railway between Jibuti and Addis Harar.

“By Article XV the Protectorate has the right of acquiring by purchase the portion of the line between Jibuti and the course of the Hawash at any time after the 1st January 1920.”
These two latter provisions are, however, by Article XVIII, made subject to an Agreement between the French and Abyssinian Governments in regards to those portions of the line, which are outside French territory.

There were times when the powers discussed among themselves about exchanging Djibouti for other territories or passing it over to others. On 21st September 1891, The British Ambassador sent the following letter (Confidential) to the Marquis of Salisbury, K.G., Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, London: “In compliance with his promise, recorded in my telegram N.44 of yesterday, the Marquis di Rudini has forwarded to me confidentially a copy of the telegram received by the Italian Government on Saturday from their Consul at Aden.

The text of the telegram, in translation, runs as follows:
“A large caravan with important Abyssinian personages has arrived at Ras Jibuti. There is continued talk of the cession of the port of Jibuti to Menelek. Lagarde is expected at Obokh on the 24th instant, it is said, with instruction to treat, respecting the cession of Jibuti, with the Abyssinian Chieftains.

“The Marquis di Rudini mentioned that the Italian Agent at Aden was a very reliable officer, and unlike to be led away by a mere rumour.”

In January 1914, Thesiger had first reported that he could see no prospect of any amelioration in the situation unless the British persuaded France to exchange French Somaliland for territory elsewhere. When he brought forward this proposal, Thesiger had suggested Gambia for exchange, “but the scheme for certain reasons did not commend itself to His Majesty’s Government.”

In 1917, the British Foreign Office sent a telegram to their Mission in Cairo (letter N.264 dated March 1917) quoting “the Foreign Office members of the committee” as saying: “As regards Somaliland, they suggested that in the event of our being able to obtain by exchange French Somaliland, we might give British Somaliland to Italy.

“I should be grateful for your views as to this proposal and as to whether we could in any case surrender British Somaliland, supposing we did not acquire French Somaliland.”
The letter also said, “The Foreign Office representatives point out that Italian aspirations are probably directed to British East Africa and they recommend that if such proposals are received, they should be considered.”

According to Somali Government official publication, “The Portion of Somali Territory Under Ethiopian Colonization”, dated 1974, “In a BBC broadcast on 28th August 1966, Emperor Haile Selassie is reported to have said “If Somalis gave up claiming French Somaliland, Ethiopia will thank God; I would like France to stay in the French Somali Coast for ever.” However, that sinister wish of the Emperor did not materialise. In 1967, France decided to hold a referendum in French Somaliland. As the outcome of the referendum went against what France desired and following the uprising of the people of Djibouti against the French occupation, the French Government decided to change the name of the territory from “French Somali Coast” (Cote Francaise des Somalis) to “The French Territory of Afars and Issas (Le Territoire Francaise des Afars and des Issas) by Law N. 67-521 dated 3 July 1967.

The purpose for this change was clear; it was to eliminate the word “Somali” from the territory’s name and to create enmity among the people of the territory so that it could apply the policy of “divide and rule”.

In 1975, the French Government began to increasingly accommodate insistent demands for independence of the people of the French Coast of the Somalis. The people voted for independence in a May 1977 referendum, and on 27 June 1977 the country gained its independence and the Republic of Djibouti was born.

Haji Hassan Gulaid Aptidon became the first democratically elected President of the country. Unlike in some part of Africa, where Presidents stick on to power until they die or deposed by military coup, President Hassan Gouled Aptidon announced that he would not seek re-election in 1999. Ismail Omar Guelleh, was directly elected President of the Republic of Djibouti on 9 April 1999. Born on 27 November 1947, Ismail Omar Guelleh was reelected as the President of the Republic of Djibouti in the presidential election held on 8 April 2005.

The President of Djibouti is elected for a term of six years. He appoints a Prime Minister, who heads the Council of Ministers. The legislative body is formed by the Chambre des Deputes, which consists of 65 members which are elected every five years.

The Republic of Djibouti is situated in the Horn of Africa. It is a member of the African Union and the League of Arab States, as well as of the regional organization Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which also includes Somalia, Kenya, Eritrea, Ethiopia, the Sudan and Uganda.


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