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Why the war between Somalia and UK was costly

The Standard Digital
Sunday, August 19, 2012

It is difficult to defeat a super power in a battlefield and live to savour the victory unmolested. When a super power loses a conventional war, it resorts to unconventional methods to extract revenge. This became abundantly clear to Somalia, whose guerrilla fighters outwitted Britain when the two sides met in a mismatched bush encounter.

Long after the war, the might of the gun was used. Combatants and non-combatant were forced to pay for the price of defiance by their ragtag army that had in the eyes of administrators committed the ultimate crime of killing a British sub Commissioner.
As residents of Kismayu and Afmadow retreated to the wilderness where some hid in foxholes to evade the wrath of the British troops, the superior guns were turned on the civilians as they captured all the livestock they came across.

Atoning for sins

This as the administrators would later explain in their interoffice memos was aimed at atoning for the sins of the elusive fighters, who had the tendency of fleeing together with their livestock, as the soldiers panted after them in the deserts of Jubaland and Tanaland where water was scarce.

Details of how the soldiers preyed on villagers rounding up livestock and money to raise the fine imposed on the people for stirring up trouble have been laid bare by telegrams delivered to Lamu from Kismayu by runners for onward transmission to Mombasa, Nairobi and the Foreign Office in London.

In October 1902, Major Harrison was tasked to pursue the warriors who had revolted against the British in Afmadow, killed Jenner, a sub-commissioner, and handed Britain troops who had been drawn from India, Uganda and Sudan.

In his detailed report to his superiors that was communicated through the then commissioner of East African Protectorate, Sir Charles Elliot, Harisson describes how he went around collecting livestock in Biskaia.

At first there was uncertainty on the side of the British over the fate of Harrison. To avert another catastrophe and in a bid to save his career in the event the troops were once again overwhelmed, Elliot informed his superiors in London that he had not commissioned the mission.

But in a telegram dispatched from Lamu dated October 8, 1902, Harrison assured his countrymen that he had taken extra care and that he would not endanger the lives of his men as he pursued the rebels.

He informed his bosses that he had already covered 500 miles from Kismayu to Biscaia and back and that he had registered unprecedented success.

He then outlined how he had collected 5,000 heads of cattle and 400 sterling pounds ostensibly to compensate the Arabs and Indians whose caravan had been attacked by the Ogaden rebels in the last couple of years.

Blood money

Harrison had also decided to collect an outstanding fine of “blood money” that had been imposed by Jubaland sub-commissioner Jenner three years earlier after a Borana caravan was attacked.

For this the civilians were supposed to pay a fine of 170 sterling pounds.

The bad blood between Somalis and Britain erupted in the Britain-controlled parts of Somali between 1896 and 1897 when the Ogaden clan attacked their Herti rivals.

The Ogadens were also trying to capture slaves from the Gallas and the Goshas and in the process trade caravans were not spared. This prompted an IBEA administrator, A Hardinge to order an expedition to teach the Ogadens a lesson.

The expedition against Ogaden had to be postponed to April 1898, British historical records show, after the Sudanese troops in Uganda, who were part of the East Africa Rifles revolted.

The hostility between Ogaden and Jenner escalated when suspected Ogaden militiamen murdered some members of Goasha community.

The sub-commissioner summoned all Jubaland chiefs and ordered Kismayu chief Hasan Yera to arrest the killers. Yera had also been instructed to collect a fine of 1,000 Rupees but he defied and instead organised a secret meeting with fellow chiefs Ormar Murgan, Hasan Oorfa, and Hassan Odel.

Jenner unknowingly walked into his death on the dawn of November 16, 1900 when he was ambushed while at Lorian Swamp.
It was a total massacre for out of the 40 policemen accompanying him; only eight men who were locals were spared.

Later on British troops tried to pursue the attackers but were hindered by the unforgiving terrain and lack of water. The Foreign Office however forbade the commanders from venturing further into the interior for fear of a more devastating blow.

It became abundantly clear that any such offensive would take more than the 4,000 men, 120 guns and 1,500 rounds of ammunition colonel Ternan had planned to use in what he had initially perceived to be a shot gun operation. In the meantime, immediately after the aborted mission, the local residents had offered a peace deal.

They had volunteered to surrender Jenner’s killers and pay for any number of livestock demanded by the British and had a letter from Sultan Murgan to demonstrate their commitment to peace.

The peace offer was rejected and Col Ternan declared peace could only be negotiated if all the chiefs involved in Jenner’s attack were surrendered.

Punish region for atrocities

In a bid to avert total bombardment that could lead to civilian casualties Sultan Murgan and three other chiefs surrendered to the British, on February 7, 1900, and were escorted under heavy guard to Kismayu.

Still, Col Ternan insisted the surrender of all the five ringleaders and a fine of 30,000 cattle and an annual tribute of 200 more.

This penalty was however scaled down by Eliot who notified his London’s Foreign Office, “I have agreed with Col Ternan to inform your lordship that the mission was a success and that the Sultan of Ogaden has agreed to pay 5,000 cattle as indemnity as the actual killer of Jenner has been killed.”

When Harrison ventured into Jubaland about two years later, he was hoping to punish the region for the atrocities it had visited on British troops.

Part of the money being collected, Harrison explained, was also meant to cover the loss of eight bore rifles, and 31 martini rifles that had been stolen by the fighters who gunned down and killed Jenner and his men.

“It was further decided that none of the Ogadens should be allowed to trade in Lamu as a punishment for their transgression. Wajehr (Wajir) should be occupied to stop threats of Boranas to the Ogaden,” Harrison further proposed.

Even as the local chiefs collected the booty of war for the British administration under the watchful eye of Harrison, the major had a force of 200 infantrymen, 130 non-commissioned officers of the third battalion of Kings African Rifles and was franked by Captain Kirkpatrick.

Harrison would later declare that his men had trekked for 300 miles on a “road that had never before been traversed by an European” during a campaign that took three months to match to Afmadow and retake the town from the rebels.

When Harrison successful mission was reported to Elliot, the commissioner wasted no time in looking for a market for the captured livestock.

He explained in his reports that it was important to look for market beyond Somalia, the East Coast of Africa, as there was virtually no market for such a large stock of animals. Eliot immediately wrote a telegraph from Nairobi to the Marques of

Landsowne indicating he had 3,500 cattle captured from Ogaden and a further 2,500 goats and sheep.

The purpose of writing the telegraph was to arrange for their quick disposal as quickly as possible preferable through South Africa, before they started dying from diseases.

Apparently another herd of 469 heads of cattle seized from residents of Mkalumbi near Lamu had been wiped out by pleura pneumonia, leaving only 31 animals.

It was against this background that Elliot contacted Lorenzo Marques asking if the South African Government would accept the animals that had been seized from the Ogaden.

Upon receiving the request, Transvaal dispatched an inspector from the Repatriation Department to East Africa, who arrived in East Africa after two weeks to examine and arrange for the export of the animals being offered for sale.

The animals were later sold to offset some of the costs incurred in establishing law and order as British administrators used the might of their guns to pacify the Somalis and establish law and order.


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