REPLY TO THE LETTER OF THE PRESIDENT OF SOUTH AFRICAJune 22, 2007 at 4:46 pm | Posted in Letter | 3 Comments
By Mohamed Osman Omar
I believe most of us must have read with interest the Weekly Letter of the President of the Republic of South Africa, His Excellency, Mr. Thabo Mbeki, dealing with the events in Somalia, published in the official mouthpiece of the governing party, ANC, and appreciated it. However, I found it necessary to clarify certain aspects of the Letter, particularly where the occupied Somali territories are concerned. I have written to the President the following letter for his kind attention.
New Delhi, 31 January, 2007
His Excellency, Mr.Thabo Mbeki,
President of the Republic of South Africa,
I have the honour to convey to Your Excellency, my best compliments. I read your letter published in the ANC TODAY, (Volume 7, No. 1. 12-18 January 2007) on the recent events in Somalia. I wish to offer my comments on your letter as follows:
Your Excellency, in your letter, you rightly state that “For many years and afterwards Mogadishu and Somalia remained in our memories as African places of hope for us, a reliable rear base for the total liberation of Africa, including our liberation from apartheid. Indeed, in later years, others of our comrades returned to Mogadishu, this time to work with the Somali government to prepare for the clandestine infiltration into South Africa of cadres of Umkhonto we Sizwe [the military wing of the ANC], who would travel to apartheid South Africa by sea, secretly departing from the Somali ports!”
As the saying goes “A friend in need is a friend indeed”. If South Africa, the Big Brother, could not give generous assistance to Somalia in this critical moment in its history, at the least it should not disseminate distorted historical facts on the Horn of Africa. I am not asking that South Africa return the favour of what Somalia contributed towards the struggle of the people of South Africa, led by the African National Congress, ANC, as it was a genuine duty of Somalia as an independent African country.
In your letter in ANC TODAY, page 3, you said:
“This process of the unification of the Somali-speaking people however also led to tensions with neighbouring countries, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya, each one of which has a Somali-speaking minority. The worst manifestation of these tensions was, of course, the 1977 war with Ethiopia, when Somalia tried to annex the Somali-speaking Ogaden region of Ethiopia. (Feudal Ethiopia had managed to seize part of Ogaden during the 1880s, and later succeeded to get the whole of it through an agreement with colonial Britain).”
As Your Excellency may be aware of, Somalia was the only country in the Horn of Africa which was divided by the colonial powers into 5 parts. They are not, as Your Excellency’s Letter says, territories which have “Somali-speaking” minorities. But they are Somali territories illegally given to Ethiopia and Kenya by the former European colonial powers.
For Your Excellency’s information, there has never been tension between Somalia and Djibouti, as Djibouti itself has been one of the Somali territories under French colonial rule since 1862. It was known as Cote Francaise de Somalie or French Somali Coast. Following the age-old policy of “Divide and Rule” of all colonial powers, France changed territory’s name in 1967 to the “French Territory of Afars and Issas”, just to eliminate the name Somali. Contrary to what Your Excellency said in the Letter, each and every subsequent Somali Government and the people, as a whole, have given total support to the freedom and self-determination of the territory until it gained independence on 27 June 1977and jointed the United Nations as the Republic of Djibouti.
As far as the territory under Ethiopian colonisation is concerned, known as “Ogaden”, it is not just a territory with a “Somali-speaking minority”. It is a territory, well known to the world, which even Ethiopian government recognises it as the SOMALI region (I attach here copies of the maps I printed out from Google (Map of Ethiopia).
This region used to be called in the British map “Abyssinian Somaliland” (see Sketch map of Somaliland – War Office, July 1909. This is a Somali territory given to Ethiopia (Abyssinia) by the Envoy of Queen Victoria, Rennell Rodd to Emperor Menelek II on May 14th, 1897 and ratified by the Queen, on July 28th, 1897. Later Britain gave to Ethiopia the Haud and Reserved Area in 1954.
Until now, the border of the two countries is known as “artificial boundary” and the region is referred to as “disputed” territory.
Your Excellency’s Letter also mentions about “Somali-speaking minority” in Kenya. It should have been correct and the duty of the Editor of the ANC TODAY, or the Press Secretary of the Presidency, or even Historians at the many Universities in South Africa, to verify the historical facts, before publishing such an important Letter dealing with a very sensitive subject, carrying the name and the signature of the President.
Your Excellency mentions tension also between Somalia and Kenya. Between Somalia and Kenya there is, as with Ethiopia, a dispute over the territory called the Northern Frontier District (NFD), which is a Somali territory given to Kenya, again by the Britain, in 1963, just when Kenya obtained independence, despite the fact that the majority of the people chose to join Somalia in a referendum organised by the British Government in 1962. It is not a question of, as your letter describes, “Somali-speaking minority”.
Prior to Kenya’s independence in 1963, the NFD, has been separately administered by the British and even to travel to Kenya proper, the citizen in the area were obliged to have, what they called, “Entry Permit”.
Before granting independence to Kenya, British Government decided to arrange a referendum to ascertain the wish of the people in the region. A commission led by two prominent personalities was sent to the area. They were G.C.M. Onyuke, a Nigerian Judge, and a Canadian Officer, M.P. Bogert. There is an official document published by the British Government on the referendum dated December 7, 1962.
Prof. I.M. Lewis, a British Anthropologist wrote at that time the following:
“The Commission found that the Somalis who they estimated made up 62 per cent of the NFD’s population ‘almost unanimously’ favoured secession from Kenya with the object of ultimately joining the Somali Republic. At last, in March 1963, it fell to Mr. Duncan Sandys, the new British Colonial Secretary, to announce his Government’s decision. To the satisfaction of the Nairobi and Addis Ababa governments, but to the chagrin of the Somalis, this was that the NFD to be brought into Kenya’s regional constitution. A new, predominantly Somali Northern-Eastern Region was to be created in which Somalis would enjoy the same degree of local autonomy as had already been accorded elsewhere in Kenya’s other six Regions”.
With due respect, as a Somali, I expected only justice, unbiased statement and no favour from Your Excellency, a highly respected leader in the beloved continent of Africa. These are the territorial problems that the colonial powers left behind so that Africa would keep fighting after their departure. As Eritrea became free from Ethiopia’s Black colonialism, others too, I have doubt, sooner or later, would be free. Such distortion of historical facts will not change, in anyway, the reality of the situation in the continent.
Again for Your Excellency’s information, among other things, Ethiopia’s forefather Emperor Menelek said in a circular letter to Heads of European States dated, Adis Ababa the 14th Mazir, 1883 (10 April, 1891):
“If Powers at a distance come forward to partition Africa between them, I do not intend to be an indifferent spectator.” Afterward, Ethiopia was handed over the Somali territories by the former colonial powers and it gratefully accepted.
The disastrous situation in which Somalia finds itself today could happen to any other country in Africa as the continent is vulnerable to such a state of affairs.
Because of these difficulties, Somalis see their rights, their sovereignty and territorial integrity violated and those who are under black colonial rules feel their right undermined when they hear statements or read articles written by Presidents, such as the President of South Africa, esteemed statesman, whose opinion is more important than a resolution of UN Security Council.
I apologize for taking so much of your valuable time. I assure your Excellency my highest consideration.
MOHAMED OSMAN OMAR