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18 March 1963: Somalia severs Diplomatic Relations with Britain
Sunday March 31, 2019

Aug. 08, 1967 - Kenya - Somalia Border War: In the Northern Fronteer District of Kenya there has been a war since 1963 between Kenya Military Forces and the ''Shiftas'' who are known as ''freedom fighters'' in Somalia and supported by the Somalia Government. They get their arms from Communist Governments. The disputed NFD area is all desert, but oil companies are prospecting in the District, and this is why Kenya wants to keep it and Somalia wants to get it / Contributor: Keystone Press / Alamy Stock Photo

Background: Events in Kenya, prior to the country’s independence in December 1963, had led to increasing activites by Somali political parties in the Northern Frontier District (NFD), and their demand for secession from Kenya and union with Somalia were given wide publicity in the Somali Republic. The Northern Frontier District covers an area of 102,000 square miles. There are six administrative districts; Garisa, Wajir, Mandera, Moyale, Marsabit and Isiolo.

Following growing pressure from the Somali NFD political parties, particularly the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), led by Aden Lord, the Somali National Assembly passed a resolution on 13 November 1961 in support of the union of the Province with the Republic. The likely consequences of this course of action was explained by an author, very much familiar with Somali affairs, with his own words: “The Somali government was now being forced to adopt a course bound to conflicts with the Kenyan nationalists as well as with Ethiopia, and likely to increase the Republic’s difficulties to find Pan-African support for her aims (IM Lewis, 1963). In March the Prime Minister of Somalia made a strongly anti imperialist speech, attacking Ethiopia and France  and worming the British government that “it would be held responsible  if the “mistakes” of the past were added and the inhabitants of NFD were refused the right to freely decide their own destiny” (Somali News, March, 25, 1962)

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On the hand, the Somalia sought to promote better relations with major Kenyan nationalist leaders. Accordingly, the Kenyan African National Union (KANU) party was invited to send delegates to attend the Republic’s Independence Day of 1 July. Mr. Jomo Kenyatta himself came on short visit, followed by a six day visits by Mr. Ronald Ngala, who was the leader of the Kenyan African Democratic Union (KADU) for informal talks. Both leaders were treated with full honour and awarded the Star of Somalia Solidarity. However, no progress was made with Kenyatta, although Ngala, as might have been expected, on the basis of his party’s regional policy, appeared more flexible

In this spirit of optimism, on the part of Somalia, the British government appointed a Commission to ascertains and report on the wishes of the population in the NFD. The Commission was headed by MR. G.CM Onyuke, a Q.C, from Nigeria, and Major General M.P. Bogert, from Canada was a Deputy Head. Specifically, the Commission’s terms of reference was to enquire whether the Kenyan Somalis wished to remain in Kenya or join the Somali Republic. In December 1962, the Commissions report was conclusive: the inhabitants expressed the wish to secede and join the Somali Republic. 86% of the whole NFD favored the region’s secession after latter’s independence from Kenyatta with the object of ultimately joining the Somali Republic. Despite these unequivocal findings, the wishes of the Somali NFD inhabitants were ignored in favour of those Kenyan nationalists who opposed the partition of the colony.  . Kenya’s prominent political leaders such as Jomo Kenyatta and Tom Mboya vehemently rejected the transfer of any pert of Kenya to Somalia and threatened war to preserve Kenya’s territorial integrity. In a statement released in Addis Abeba in early 1961, Mr.Tom Mboya, not only rejected the Somali claim, but stated that “Kenya will reopen the issue of the secession of Jubaland to Italy in 1925. As I.M. Lewis put it: “Britain had evidently decided that, whatever interests she might have in maintaining relations with the Republic, and whatever responsibilities she might held to owe to her Somali subjects in Kenya, or to her former subjects in the northern Regions of the Republic, these were not such to justify endangering the long-stand entente with Ethiopia and alienating the new Commonwealth territory of Kenya” (IM Lewis) In a new surprise move , however, news came form Britain to the effect that  Her Majesty’s government was considering fresh proposals to be shared with the Somali government. Despite assurances the British Ambassador, Mr. Pyman received from his government; the hoped-for proposal never came from Britain.  “With remarkable restraint and  a pardonable ignorance of British diplomatic history, Abdirashid permitted himself the observation that he doubted if any other Ambassador has ever been similarly treated” I.M. Lewis commented.

Tens of thousands of protestors took part in anti-Western demonstrations in Mogadiscio. Foreign Embassies including those of Britain, USA, France, Ethiopia and even Italy were attacked by angry mobs causing damage to the diplomatic buildings.

In reaction to the British decision over the future of the NFD, the Somali government submitted a motion to the National Assembly, calling for the severance of diplomatic relations with Britain “for failing to recognize the wishes expressed by the overwhelming majority of the people inhabiting the NFD”. The motion was passed by 70 votes to 14. (J. Drysdale, 1964)

John Drysdale make this comments over the prevailing atmosphere during the meeting in which Britain was informed of the formal severance of diplomatic relations between the two countries. “Without rancour and with great courtesy, the Foreign Minister, Abdullahi Issa, handed to the British Ambassador on 18 March 1963, the formal note breaking off diplomatic relations”

The government divided over the rupture with Britain

There were mixed reactions in Somalia over the government decision to sever diplomatic ties with Britain. Many believed that the decision was taken hastily, without due considerations being given to its possible political and economic consequences. It was further argued that the decision deprived the government of a valuable channel of communications with Britain before the independence of Kenya. The members of the Cabinet were also divided over the rupture with Britain. Disagreements between the Prime Minister and his Foreign Minister surfaced on the heels of the Referendum on the future of the NFD. The Foreign Minister vigorously resisted any move likely to lead to the deterioration of relations with Britain for fear that such a move might ultimately harm the Somali interests.

As a result of the rupture, British lost the BBC relay Station transmitter at Berbera, over flight and landing rights at Mogadiscio airport fro military aircrafts between Nairobi and Aden, and the license for Aden Airways.

The annual UK economic assistance to Somalia was suspended. The impact of the suspension of Britain aid was soon felt, so much so that, in a frenetic search for income to cover the budget deficit created by the loss of British aid, the Minister of Finance is reported to have approached the American Embassy in Mogadiscio for help. However, the Americans made it clear that it was not possible under their assistance programme to provide the kind of the assistance requested by the Minister

M. Trunji
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