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British Military Administration

Following Italy's defeat, the British established military administrations in what had been British Somaliland, Italian Somaliland, and Ethiopian Somaliland. Thus, all Somali-inhabited territories--with the exception of French Somaliland and Kenya's Northern Frontier District (NFD)--were for the second time brought under a single tenure. No integrated administrative structure for the Somali areas was established, however, and under intense pressure from Haile Selassie, Britain agreed to return the Ogaden to Ethiopian jurisdiction. A military governor, aided by a handful of military officers, took over the work of the colonial civil service. In what had been Italian Somaliland, a similar military administration, headed by a military commander, was established.

The principal concern of the British administration during World War II and subsequently was to reestablish order. Accordingly, the Somaliland Camel Corps (local levies raised during the dervish disturbances) was reorganized and later disbanded. This effort resulted in the creation of five battalions known as the Somaliland Scouts, (Ilalos), which absorbed former irregular units (see The Warrior Tradition and Development of a Modern Army , ch. 5). The British disbanded the Italian security units in the south and raised a new army, the Somalia Gendarmerie, commanded by British officers, to police the occupied territory.

Originally, many of the rank and file of the gendarmerie were askaris from Kenya and Uganda who had served under British officers. The gendarmerie was gradually transformed into an indigenous force through the infusion of local recruits who were trained in a new police academy created by the British military administration. Somalia was full of Italian military stragglers, so the security services of the northern and southern protectorates collaborated in rounding them up. The greater security challenge for the British during World War II and immediately after was to disarm the Somalis who had taken advantage of the windfall in arms brought about by the war. Also, Ethiopia had organized Somali bandits to infest the British side so as to discourage continued British occupation of the Ogaden. Ethiopia also armed clan militias and encouraged them to cross into the British zone and cause bloodshed.

Despite its distracting security problems, the British military forces that administered the two Somali protectorates from 1941 to 1949 effected greater social and political changes than had their predecessors. Britain's wartime requirement that the protectorate be self-supporting was modified after 1945, and the appropriation of new funds for the north created a burst of development. To signal the start of a new policy of increased attention to control of the interior, the capital was transferred from Berbera, a hot coastal town, to Hargeysa, whose location on the inland plateau offered the incidental benefit of a more hospitable climate. Although the civil service remained inadequate to staff the expanding administration, efforts were made to establish health and veterinary services, to improve agriculture in the Gabiley-Boorama agricultural corridor northwest of Hargeysa, to increase the water supply to pastoralists by digging more bore wells, and to introduce secular elementary schools where previously only Quranic schools had existed. The judiciary was reorganized as a dual court system combining elements from the Somali heer (traditional jurisprudence), Islamic sharia or religious law, and British common law.

In Italian Somaliland, the British improved working conditions for Somali agricultural laborers, doubled the size of the elementary school system, and allowed Somalis to staff the lower stratum of the civil service and gendarmerie. Additionally, military administrators opened the political process for Somalis, replacing Italian-appointed chiefs with clan-elected bodies, as well as district and regional councils whose purpose was to advise the military administration.

Military officials could not govern without the Italian civilians who constituted the experienced civil service. The British military also recognized that Italian technocrats would be needed to keep the economy going. Only Italians deemed to be security risks were interned or excluded from the new system. In early 1943, Italians were permitted to organize political associations. A host of Italian organizations of varying ideologies sprang up to challenge British rule, to compete politically with Somalis and Arabs (the latter being politically significant only in the urban areas, particularly the towns of Mogadishu, Merca, and Baraawe), and to agitate, sometimes violently, for the return of the colony to Italian rule. Faced with growing Italian political pressure, inimical to continued British tenure and to Somali aspirations for independence, the Somalis and the British came to see each other as allies. The situation prompted British colonial officials to encourage the Somalis to organize politically; the result was the first modern Somali political party, the Somali Youth Club (SYC), established in Mogadishu in 1943.

To empower the new party, the British allowed the better educated police and civil servants to join it, thus relaxing Britain's traditional policy of separating the civil service from leadership, if not membership, in political parties. The SYC expanded rapidly and boasted 25,000 card-carrying members by 1946. In 1947 it renamed itself the Somali Youth League (SYL) and began to open offices not only in the two British-run Somalilands but also in Ethiopia's Ogaden and in the NFD of Kenya. The SYL's stated objectives were to unify all Somali territories, including the NFD and the Ogaden; to create opportunities for universal modern education; to develop the Somali language by a standard national orthography; to safeguard Somali interests; and to oppose the restoration of Italian rule. SYL policy banned clannishness so that the thirteen founding members, although representing four of Somalia's six major clans, refused to disclose their ethnic identities. A second political body sprang up, originally calling itself the Patriotic Benefit Union but later renaming itself the Hisbia Digil Mirifle (HDM), representing the two interriverine clans of Digil and Mirifle. The HDM allegedly cooperated with the Italians and accepted significant Italian financial backing in its struggle against the SYL. Although the SYL enjoyed considerable popular support from northerners, the principal parties in British Somaliland were the Somali National League (SNL), mainly associated with the Isaaq clan-family, and the United Somali Party (USP), which had the support of the Dir (Gadabursi and Issa) and Daarood (Dulbahante and Warsangali) clan-families.

Although southern Somalia legally was an Italian colony, in 1945 the Potsdam Conference decided not to return to Italy the African territory it had seized during the war. The disposition of Somalia therefore fell to the Allied Council of Foreign Ministers, which assigned a four-power commission consisting of Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States to decide Somalia's future. The British suggested that all the Somalis should be placed under a single administration, preferably British, but the other powers accused Britain of imperial machinations.

In January 1948, commission representatives arrived in Mogadishu to learn the aspirations of the Somalis. The SYL requested and obtained permission from the military administration to organize a massive demonstration to show the commission delegates the strength of popular demand for independence. When the SYL held its rally, a counter demonstration led by Italian elements came out to voice pro- Italian sentiment and to attempt to discredit the SYL before the commission. A riot erupted in which fifty-one Italians and twenty-four Somalis were killed. Despite the confusion, the commission proceeded with its hearings and seemed favorably impressed by the proposal the SYL presented: to reunite all Somalis and to place Somalia under a ten-year trusteeship overseen by an international body that would lead the country to independence. The commission heard two other plans. One was offered by the HDM, which departed from its pro-Italian stance to present an agenda similar to that of the SYL, but which included a request that the trusteeship period last thirty years. The other was put forward by a combination of Italian and Somali groups petitioning for the return of Italian rule.

The commission recommended a plan similar to that of the SYL, but the Allied Council of Foreign Ministers, under the influence of conflicting diplomatic interests, failed to reach consensus on the way to guide the country to independence. France favored the colony's return to Italy; Britain favored a formula much like that of the SYL, but the British plan was thwarted by the United States and the Soviet Union, which accused Britain of seeking imperial gains at the expense of Ethiopian and Italian interests. Britain was unwilling to quarrel with its erstwhile allies over Somali well-being and the SYL plan was withdrawn. Meanwhile, Ethiopia strongly pressured Britain through the United States, which was anxious to accommodate Emperor Haile Selassie in return for his promise to offer the United States a military base in Ethiopia. For its part, the Soviet Union preferred to reinstate Italian tenure, mainly because of the growing communist influence on Italian domestic politics.

Under United States and Soviet prodding, Britain returned the Ogaden to Ethiopia in 1948 over massive Somali protests. The action shattered Somali nationalist aspirations for Greater Somalia, but the shock was softened by the payment of considerable war reparations--or "bribes," as the Somalis characterized them--to Ogaden clan chiefs. In 1949 many grazing areas in the hinterlands also were returned to Ethiopia, but Britain gained Ethiopian permission to station British liaison officers in the Reserved Areas, areas frequented by British- protected Somali clans. The liaison officers moved about with the British-protected clans that frequented the Haud pasturelands for six months of the year. The liaison officers protected the pastoralists from Ethiopian "tax collectors"--armed bands that Ethiopia frequently sent to the Ogaden, both to demonstrate its sovereignty and to defray administrative costs by seizing Somali livestock.

Meanwhile, because of disagreements among commission members over the disposition of Somalia, the Allied Council of Foreign Ministers referred the matter to the United Nations (UN) General Assembly. In November 1949, the General Assembly voted to make southern Somalia a trust territory to be placed under Italian control for ten years, following which it would become independent. The General Assembly stipulated that under no circumstance should Italian rule over the colony extend beyond 1960. The General Assembly seems to have been persuaded by the argument that Italy, because of its experience and economic interests, was best suited to administer southern Somalia. Thus, the SYL's vehement opposition to the reimposition of Italian rule fell on deaf ears at the UN.

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