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Historical facts about Somalia’s relationship with its Neighbours

Abdulkadir Farah (Gaabkey)



The relationship between these three countries has always been one mixed with suspicion and fear. Both Ethiopia and Kenya still occupy territories which belong to Somalia and there are so many historical documents confirming the Somalia’s claim to those territories. In this article, I tried to summarise those facts to our readers so one can get the full picture of how the current political affairs in the region started and to make judgement of whether the Ethiopian & Kenyan governments want to see Somalia’s problems resolved.


The Somalis, Muslims but not Arabs, appeared in the horn of Africa towards the end of the European Middle Ages and subsequently started conflict with the Christian kingdom of Ethiopia. The Ethiopia's special concern was the spread of Islam in the region. Unlike the Ethiopians, the Somalia were not only conquered by Europeans in the nineteenth century but also partitioned among them. They were subjected in the latter part of the nineteenth century, first by the French in the sixties and then by the British and the Italians (who also took Eritrea) in the eighties. The British colony of Kenya extended northwards over a predominantly Somali area, and Ethiopia appropriated in Ogden province territory to which belongs to Somalia. Relations between Ethiopia and the Somalis were therefore inherently bad and British relations with both were uneasy, since the Ethiopians suspected Britain of partiality to Somali claims against Ethiopia, while Somalis found Britain unsympathetic to their claims against Kenya.

In 1935 Italians, dissatisfied with the barrenness of their part of Somaliland and their imperial pretensions in general, exploited an incident at Wal-Wal in the disputed Ogaden in order to conquer Ethiopia. They were suspected of toying with the idea of a Greater Somalia which would annex British Somaliland, but their defeat by the British in 1941 revived the independent Ethiopian empire (to which was added Eritrea in 1952 after a period of British trusteeship) and left the Somalis still subject and divided. At the end of the 2nd World War, Ernest Bevin proposed at one moment a Greater Somalia consisting of British and Italian Somaliland and Ogaden, but this notion antagonized Ethiopia without profiting the Somalis. Discussions on the Ethiopian-Somali frontier proceeded sluggishly until 1959 when a conference in Oslo with Trygve Lie as arbitrator produced a compromise agreeable to neither side.

In 1960 Italian Somaliland, to which the Italians had returned in 1950 to administer a ten-year trusteeship, became independent, and as this date approached the British, who had become nervous of Egyptian interference in British Somaliland, hurried their own colony forward so that it could be joined with Italian Somaliland to make the Independent Republic of Somalia. Large but poor, racially mixed, ill prepared Somali Republic was distrustful of her neighbours and menaced by both Kenya an Ethiopia who controlled part of Somali lands. A movement in French Somaliland in favour of accession to Somalia had been circumvented two years earlier when territory's assembly voted in favour of continuing as an Overseas Territory of the French Union.

At the Lancaster House conference in Kenyan in 1962 the Somalis asked unsuccessfully for a plebiscite in the Northern Frontier District of Kenya {an area of over 100,000 square miles} and its union with Somalis. Later in the same year Kenyan politicians discussed with Somalis an East African federation which would embrace not only Somalia and the British East African territories but also Ethiopia; in the event of some such development of the Kenyans made it plain that they intended to keep the Northern Frontier for themselves.

In December a Boundaries commission recommended that the district be divided into two regions, both to be included in the new Kenyan state. This recommendation, which was accepted by the British Government produced riots and a rupture of diplomatic relations with Somalia. Kenya was able to get other African states led by Ethiopia on its side and Kenyan delegation walked out of an Afro-Asian conference at Moshi in Tanganyika in February 1963 when Somalis raised the border issue. At a Further conference in Addis Ababa in May a number of Africans led by Ethiopia chided the Somalis for again raising the Question.

In the same year open hostiles broke out between Somalia and Ethiopia. The establishments of the independent Somali state had not immediately produced a clash; the Somalis refrained from challenging a neighbour which possessed America equipments , while Ethiopia , if it contemplated direct action, had to take into account possible African disapproval of such a course and also the consequences within its own none too homogeneous borders. But the Somali claim against Kenya alarmed Ethiopia owing to its affinity with Somali claims on Ethiopia's Ogaden province. Fighting developed unofficially along the borders during1962. In the next year Somali prime Minster, Abdirashid Shermake, visited the USSR, Egypt, India, Pakistan and Italy. He got little help or encouragement. Kenya's independence at the end of that year saw also the formal conclusion of a pre-arranged Kenyan-Ethiopian defence treaty, and a few months later open fighting began between Ethiopia and Somalia. The Russians offered their mediation and deputy foreign minister of the USSR went to Mogadishu, thereby evincing Russian concern, if not for the Somalis, at any rate about possible American or Chinese influence in the Horn. More effective mediation was proffered by the President of the Sudan and the king of Morocco, and after talks in Khartoum hostilities were suspended.

Secret documents seen in 1970 showed that Kenya and Ethiopia have renewed their defence treaty against Somalia to protect themselves against Somalia's claims. Both countries knew that they can not win a war against strong and united Somali army. In 1977 Somalia-Ethiopia war broke out and the fairs of both Kenya and Ethiopia became reality when Ethiopia was defeated and Somalis captured the whole of Ogaden region and many Ethiopian towns. Ethiopia was saved by USSR army which switched sides and forced Somalis to pull back to the original borders. But the Horn of Africa remained an uneasy quarter: a meeting place of races and religions; a scene of territorial claims between rivals backed by outside powers.

Since Mohamed Siad Barre (Somalia's dictator for 21yrs) was forced out of power in 1990, there has not been functional government in Somalia. Somalia's weakness has allowed Both Kenya and Ethiopia to influence the internal affairs of Somalia. They found Somali businessmen and warlords who have no political skills and no love for their own country. Somalia's current political shambles led by so called warlords or Somali district leaders including Abdullahi Yusuf (so called parliament elected President) plays into the hands of both Kenya and Ethiopia. If Somalis do not change their attitude and their current leaders, they will risk further break down of their country. They must stop trusting Kenyan and Ethiopian politician who are using some of those warlords to further increase Somalia's conflict.

Somalis must remember the speech made by Daniel Ara Mio (former Kenyan President) who said
"Kenya and Ethiopia do not want to see a strong and united Somalia as their neighbour." Somalis need to take a note of this statement and the fact that Kenya and Ethiopia agreed a defence treaty designed to support each other in the event of war against Somalia. There is no doubt that both countries are waging political, psychological and economical war against Somalia. For example, Kenya's drug (Qat) export into Somalia has tripled 3times within the last 15yrs. By doing this, Kenya wants to ensure that most Somalis become drug addicts. And Ethiopia went further by providing weapons to warlords in order to escalate the conflict within the Somalis themselves and they are currently sending army units inside Somalia in particular Baydabo and Galkacyo.

* Peter Calvocoressi ( 1968) World Politics Since 1945, London
* Eye Witnesses of 1977 war between Somalia & Ethiopia.

Abdulkadir Farah (Gaabkey) RGN RN

Health & Social Affairs Writer

E-mail: [email protected]


The opinions contained in this article are solely those of the writer, and in no way, form or shape represent the editorial opinions of "Hiiraan Online"

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