Turkey Withdraws, Britain Comes

June 22, 2007 at 7:15 pm | Posted in New Book | Leave a comment

SOMALIA – Past & Present Chapter 3: Turkey Withdraws, Britain Comes

Things were changing rapidly. Turkey decided to withdraw from the Horn of Africa. As their withdrawal from the Somali territories became imminent, the British Secretary of State in a letter dated 14 June 1884 ordered that Major F.M. Hunter should be sent to Berbera to facilitate the Turkish evacuation and conclude agreements with the local chiefs on terms similar to agreements signed on Socotra.

The Secretary also said that if it became necessary Aden should be ready to send force to Berbera. Britain already had agreements signed with the Somali tribes, i.e. with the Sheikhs of Habr Awal in Berbera on 6 February 1827 and 7 November 1856 and with the Mijerteyn at Bander Murayeh on 20 February 1866. He suggested that the treaties with the tribes might be supplemented by new agreements about Bulhar with which Aden had much to do.

The Secretary of State went on to give elaborate and detailed description of the coast line, the places of importance for the British and tribes inhabiting and in control of the area. He wrote:

“The next section of the coast line from Zeyla to Ras Hafun is from Berbera to Meyt or Burnt Island. This includes Seyareh belonging to the Habr-tel-Jaolo tribe, and Meyt, which belongs to the Habr Gerhaji tribe”,

“The third section of the coast is from Meyt to Cape Guardafui, and there are several ports of various descriptions. The Chief of them are as follows: – Habr Gori, (sic) belonging Warsangali tribe; this was the starting point of Speke’s journey; Bandar Ziadeh, where the Mijerteyn Somali begin; Bander Khor and Bander Ghashem, trading ports, where a good anchorage can be got; Bander Marayeh, where lives the Sultan, and which possesses a good harbour; and Bander Aluleh, the Chief of which place is one of the parties to the Mijerteyn treaties. All along this section of the coast, we already have entered into friendly relations with the Chiefs, and therefore we can supplement our existing treaties with them. The last section is from Cape Guardafui to Ras Hafun. The land of Ras Hafun is the only important place. This also belongs to the Mijjerteyn Somali. The best ports and most flourishing of the places thus enumerated in the second division of the coast with its four sections are —
Bander Ghassem,
Bander Khor,
Bander Marayeh,

Hafun, with the tribes owning all of these, except Meyt, we have already entered into some relations, if not treaties. I presume that Major Hunter will be given a general discretion, but we can mention these ports as deserving attention. It is quite possible that the Mijjerteyn will refuse to sign any treaty.”

On return from Berbera on 15 July 1884, Major Hunter wrote to Her Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for India in London that he was upset about the news of the British intention on Somaliland that appeared in the Indian newspapers.

Hunter told his Government: “I accordingly proceeded to Berbera before the news could reach the African Coast, and on arrival at that port collected nearly all the responsible elders of the Habr Awal, to the number of 29, and obtained their signatures to the agreement, a copy of which is enclosed”, “Hereafter”, he continued, “It may be desirable to execute agreements with other tribes, but now that Berbera is safe, and our policy understood, the remainder of the Somal (sic) will only be too ready to make treaties with us”. On conclusion of the treaty, Hunter reported that he presented Rs. 1,400 to the various Somali elders and others.

The British Consul saw to it that the treaties with the Somalis would be one-sided and solely in Britain’s interest. Either through coercion or ignorance, the elders signed all the treaties as the British had prepared them. They accepted the condition that no foreign nation would have the right to appoint an Agent to reside in the territories of the Habr Awal without Britain’s consent. The treaties provided that all livestock exported to Aden were to be free of duties of all kinds and no duty was to be charged on articles for the use of the employees of the British Government.

The British Government communicated to France in February 1885 the establishment of the British Protectorate from Ghubet Kharab to Ras Galweni, and the conclusion of agreements with the several Somali tribes. In July 1887 the same communication was sent to other Powers.

Following Treaties were signed with the Somali tribes:
1. Habr Awal tribe, 6 February 1827, Treaty of Peace and Commerce.
2. Habr Garhajis and the Habr Toljaala tribes entered into an Engagement with the Political Resident at Aden 1855 to prohibit the slave trade.
3. Habr Awal tribe, in 1856, to withdraw the blockade of Berbera.

1. Habr Awal, 14 July 1884. Prohibition to cede, or part with, territory save to the British Government; free permission to British vessels to trade with all Habr Awal ports; protection of British subjects in Habr Awal territory; abolition of slave trade; appointment of British agents at Berbera or elsewhere in Habr Awal territories.

Habr Awal, 15th March 1886. Protection by the British of Habr Awal Tribe and territories; prohibition of correspondence or treaty with foreign powers.

2. Habr Toljaala, 26th December 1884. Prohibition to cede; or part with, territory; free permission to British vessels to trade and protection of wrecks and crew of the same; protection of British subjects; abolition of slave trade; appointment of British agents.

Habr Toljaala, 1st February 1886. Protection by the British; prohibition of correspondence or treaty with foreign powers.

3. Habr Garhajis, 13th January 1885. Prohibition to cede, or part, territory; free permission to British vessels to trade; protection of British subjects; abolition of slave trade; appointment of British agents.

Habr Garhajis, 1st February 1886. Protection by the British; prohibition of correspondence or treaty with foreign powers.

4. Warsangeli, 27th January 1886. Protection by the British; prohibition of correspondence or treaty with foreign powers; assistance to wrecks and protection of crews of wrecked vessels; abolition of slave trade; appointment of British agents; assistance to British officers and acceptance of their advice.

5. Gadabursi, 11th December 1884. Prohibition to cede, or part with, territory; free permission to British vessels to trade; protection of British subjects; abolition of slave trade, appointment of British agents.

6. Esa, 31st December 1884. Prohibition to cede, or part, territory; Free permission to British vessels to trade; protection of British subjects; abolition of slave trade; appointment of British agents.

Hunter not only got what he wanted or was asked to obtain from the Somali tribes. But asked his superiors whether it was the intention of Her Majesty’s Government to make the Somalis pay for the British Agent and his guards, and other necessary administrative charges. “If so”, he said, “The customs can be fixed at a rate that will cover such expense, and yield a fair amount of profit to the Habr Awal.”

A secret letter in January 1886 (no date) described the British “Protectorate” on the Somali Coast as follows:
“Originally the term “Protectorate” was applied only to British relations with Bulhar and Berbera and the intervening coast, which were based upon the first of Major Hunter’s treaties, namely that made with the Habr Awal. Following the lines of the Habr Awal, four others have been negotiated with the following tribes:
(a) The Easa Somalis, between Ghubbet Kharab and Zaila;
(b) The Gadabursi, to the east of Zaila and between that place and the Habr Awal who then carry on the line to Bulhar;
(c) The Habr Gerhajis, to the east of Berbera;
(d) The Habr Tol-Jaala, to the east of the Habr Gerhajis, as far as Hais.”
If that was the case, Hargeisa, which became the capital of the entire territory of the British Somaliland, was free from colonial rule. There was no local council of elders to claim authority over it.

In 1891, when the news that the Abyssinians would probably attack Hargeisa reached the British Headquarters in Berbera, the Assistant Resident, Lieutenant H. Merewether suggested two measures: One, that Shaik Mattar (sic) be granted some Baladiyas (Locally recruited guards) at Hargeisa, and two, that he be given a British flag. The British official further informed that Shaikh Mattar had asked him to apply for thirty men for him. The number appeared to the Assistant Resident excessive, but he believed that as Shaik Mattar was one of the few stipendiaries who had consistently rendered good service to the Agency, he certainly deserved all the help the British could give him. The official presumed that if Shaikh Madar would be given the rifles he would find the men. He argued that as regards the flag it would show the Abyssinians clearly that Shaikh Madar was “our servant”, and that he believed, was sufficient to give him protection. He thought that the Abyssinians were unlikely to take initiative against Britain, at least for sometime to come.

The British flag was hoisted at Hargeisa by David Morrison, Deputy Assistant Political Agent at Bulhar, on 17 February 1891, at 4:30 p.m. near the mosque and Shaik Madar’s house. As Shaikh Madar was not in town, they placed the flag in the custody of his son, named Omar Madar, till the return of his father.

Although Shaik Mattar, (known to the Somalis as Shaikh Madar) was appointed as the custodian of the flag in Hargeisa, the British neither gave him protection nor military support in case of a possible attack by the Abyssinians. On the issue of granting him some security men for defending the interest and the prestige of the British Empire, Major C.W.H. Sealy, Political Agent and Consul, Somali Coast, told the Resident at Berbera:

“There is no objection to your granting Shaik Mattar 15 baladiyas ‘as a temporary measure and at his expense’, but in the event of an overpowering force of Abyssinians marching on Hargeisa it would be better for Shaik Mattar to ‘retire to Berbera’, as already suggested in the 7th paragraph of your No.135 of 9th instant.” (Emphasis added)

This was how the colonial powers treated even those who were serving their interest. That was not the end of the story. Merewether sent by a special messenger, via Bulhar, a letter to Shaikh Madar, stating:

“These are the Sirkars’ orders regarding your kariya (Village):
“The flag which Mr. Morrison hoisted you will pull down and keep. Should any spies or single individual visit you to collect information for our enemies show it to them. Should any large force come near you re-hoist it. Should any larger force come against you retire with all speed to Berbera.”
“Do not fear, the Sirkar knows everything and is doing what is best for everybody. Regarding the Biladias let me know if you are prepared to pay and feed so many yourself. May you be preserved.”

By telling Shaikh Madar, “Should any large force come against, you retire with all speed to Berbera”, meant that the British colonial administration was not ready to defend Hargeisa in case of an Abyssinian attack.

On 29 July 1891, the Secretary to the Government of Bombay (British Colonial Office in India), Political Department, W. Le-Warner, reported that Merewether, Assistant Resident at Berbera, had privately recovered the British flag that was in the possession of Shaikh Madar. Le-Warner admitted, “It became necessary to act secretly in this matter, because if it became publicly known that the flag had been withdrawn, the effect upon the Somalis would have been bad.”

The British Administration stayed in the Northern Region of Somalia and in 1943, following the defeat of Italy in the Second World War, added the Southern part of Somali territory which had been under Italy’s occupation since 1889. The United Kingdom handed over the former Italian Somaliland to the United Nations in 1950 when the country was placed under the UN Trusteeship for ten years, while retaining British Somaliland.


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