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1961: The union between Somaliland and Somalia came on the brink of collapse

By M. Trunji
Wednesday August 3, 2022

The Somaliland Protectorate Constitutional Conference, London, May 1960 in which it was decide that 26 June be the day of Independence, and so signed on 12 May 1960. Somaliland Delegation: Mohamed Haji Ibrahim Egal, Ahmed Haji Dualeh, Ali Garad Jama& Haji Ibrahim Nur. From the Colonial Office: Ian Macleod, D. B. Hall, H. C. F. Wilks (Secretary)

Somaliland received its independence from the United Kingdom on June 26, 1960. It was perhaps the shortest independence in modern history, in terms of duration, as they joined the trust Territory of Somalia four days later to form the Somali Republic. The hastily arranged union between the former British Somali land and the trust Territory of Somalia had generated immediate discontent in the Northern regions over perceived economic decline there and the growing political influence of Mogadiscio. Troubling trends began to emerge as Northerners, or rather the ethnic Issak, who represent the majority of the inhabitants of the northern regions, realized how wrong they had been to hasten the process leading to the merger with the more bigger and populous former Italian Somalia. 

Following the Union between the two countries in July 1960, a coalition government was set led by the Somali Youth League party, as senior partner, with the participation of SNL-USP northern parties as junior partners. The northern political parties, like in the South, were largely clan based associations with no or little political programme. Thus the SNL derived its support from the ethnic Issak, while the USP was a coalition representing the Dulbahanta, Gadabirsi and Warsangheli clans.

One of the major tasks of the new government was to get the provisional Constitution approved through popular referendum in June 1961. The Constitution was rejected in the area of the former British Somaliland, where the ethnic Issak represent the majority of the inhabitants, while it gained approval in other areas of the territory inhabited by non-Issak clans. However, by far, the most dramatic event which almost undermined the union between the two countries occurred in December 1961 when a group of young military officers planned and carried out a coup d’état to overthrow the government in the north, but they failed to win the support of the soldiers and the coup collapsed within a day.

The SNL party quits the coalition government. The ensuing constitutional crisis

Amid this general uneasy situation in the North, the Issak politicians were particularly annoyed by the presence in Hargeisa of an unusual number of senior civil servants and police officers hailing from the Darod. In fact, in early 1961 the Police Commissioner, the Regional Governor, the Distract Commissioner, and Police Superintendant in Hargeisa, happened to belong to the same clan family. In the overwhelming Issak homeland of Hargeisa, the high number of non-Issak senior officials had added to the prevailing resentment. Whether this reflected a government policy was unclear; in reality, however, there was no specific rule prohibiting civil servants of the same clan family to serve at the same duty station. This was a delicate matter, and Mohamed Ibrahim Egal, the former Prime Minister of Somaliland, requested steps to be taken to change the tribal composition of the regional authorities in Hargeisa. Both the President and the Prime Minister seemed to be willing to accommodate Egal’s request but they could not win the support of the Ministry of Interior, Abdi Razak Hagi, who rejected outright the idea of transferring civil servants unless their were plausible reasons for doing so. “Movements of civil servants from one place to another should not be effected merely to appease certain individuals, because by doing so, we will anger others, and, consequently, encourage tribalism” stated the Minister.

There were many voices proposing the establishment of the office of the “resident Minister” in Hargeisa with the responsibility of coordinating government activities in the North. But the response of the Minister was an outright refusal to the proposal suggesting instead that full powers be accorded to the regional Governors. It was later decided to dispatch a team of three Cabinet Ministers from the North with full powers to make proposals. The Ministers were: Mohamed Hagi Ibrahim Egal (Minister of Education), Sheikh Ali Ismail (Minister of Defence), and Ali Garad Giama (Minister of Agriculture). The mission, however, ended in failure as its members could not agree on certain aspects of the recommendations to be presented to the government. The Minister of agriculture, Ali Garad, of the Dhulbahnta, disagreed with the other two members (both of ethnic Issak) of the disciplinary transfer of four senior staff. Without consulting the two members of the mission, Ali Garad made contacts with Mogadiscio expressing his displeasure with the disciplinary measure proposed against the District Commissioner of Hargeisa, a fellow Dulbahanta. The position of the two Issak Ministers was further undermined by the hasty decision taken by the government to appoint as Governor of Mudugh the very officer against whom disciplinary action had been recommended. This prompted the resignation of the two SNL Ministers: Egal and Sheikh Ali Ismail.

The SNL parliamentary group maintained that their withdrawal form the coalition government under the Premiership of Abdirashid had caused the fall of the government, which consequently had lost the power to present project law to the Parliament for discussion until the crisis is solved. Accordingly, on 25 October 1962, the SNL parliamentary group requested the Vice President of the National Assembly who was presiding over the session of the Parliament to suspend the ongoing discussion of a project law, claiming that no legislative acts could be discussed in Parliament until the crisis persisted. When the request was rejected, the entire SNL parliamentary group staged a walk-out. A group of southern MPs closed rank with the SNL in a show of solidarity, a move apparently aimed at giving the crisis a wider national dimension. The government was shaken by a bout of infighting and resignations, which left the government unworkable and undermined the very foundation of the union on the basis of which the Somali Republic was born in 1960. The Prime Minister resisted the idea of requesting a vote of confidence as suggested by the President of the Republic arguing that “except for a handful of PMs, the majority of the Parliament supported his government”. In a real democracy, loss of support from a junior partner in the coalition would trigger the resignation of the entire government, but the Prime Minister remained adamant that he was not going to seek confidence. On the other hand, the USP MPs, the other partner of the coalition government, did not follow suit thus splitting the northern political parties along clan lines.

Intense negotiations started with the SNL, designed to resolve the crisis and convince the party to return to the fold. It has even been suggested that an increase in the ministerial representation for the party may have contributed to a solution of the party. Predictably, the proposal soon opened a flight gate for similar claims from the USP the other junior partner in the coalition.

On the other hand, it had soon emerged that not all of the SNL MPs agreed on a common strategy on how to solve the crisis. In fact, despite being warned of the risk of expulsion from the party, two SNL MPs, namely Hagi Ibrahim Osman Fod “Basbas” and Yousuf Ismail Samatar “Ghandi” did break ranks and surreptitiously met Abdirashid expressing their intention to join the government.

In the meanwhile, far away in Hargeisa, a new and dangerous threat to the union between the two regions was arising. In fact, the President of the Republic received a cable fro tom the SNL executive, reflecting the decision of the party to question the validity of the Act of Union. The cable read: “The national conference of the two regions (Tog Dher and North West) called by SNL wishes to thank you for the worthy attempts you have made to solve the present problems. It however considers its painful duty to reject your Excellency’s proposal. It considers that the roots of the problem go much deeper than the mere increase of portfolios for the party’s MPs; the Prime Minister, in the name of his government, has brought the fundamental principles of our union into questions. It therefore wishes to pose the following point for your serious consideration: One, legitimacy of the present government once it has lost the support and the good-will of these two regions, Two, legitimacy of discarding the original Act of Union, Three, sharing of the executive powers of the republic between the two former territories. The conference further decided to send a national delegation to your Excellency after Ramadan, unless a satisfactory solution is found before then. The conference wish to inform your Excellency that anyone who intends to participate in the present government  would be automatically expelled from our party and disowned by the people of the two regions we have the honour of representing. The Chairman, SNL Conference” (Diary January 25, 1963)

End of the crisis and formation of new government

Abdi Razak removed from the Ministry of Interior

At the end of the inconclusive mediation efforts also involving the Head of State, the Central Committee of the governing party directed the Prime Minister to effect a limited government reshuffle and relive certain members of the government of their responsibilities. These measures fell short of the expected resignation of the entire Cabinet as called for by the SNL. The Ministers losing their jobs after the reshuffle were Sheikh Abdulla Mohamoud and Abdinour Mohamed Hussen (Ministers of Trade and Commerce, and Public Works respectively) who had been heavily criticized for poor performance. Undersecretaries Hussen Omar Hassan “Hussen Jiis” (Jelib) and Sheikh Mohamed Issak Salad (Belet Uen) were also dropped.

One of the most striking effects of the reshuffle was the shunting of Abdi Razak Hagi, considered the Prime Minister’s right hand, from the much coveted Ministry of Interior to that of Public Works.

In an interview released to the weekly Newsletter Somali News, the Prime Minister admitted that the removal of Abdi Razak from the Ministry of Interior came following growing pressure from the SYL Central Committee (Somali News, November 9, 1962). However, what the Prime Minister did not say is the sustained pressure he and President Aden Abdulla had received from a group of Hawiye MPs led by Hagi Farah Ali, calling for the removal of Abdi Razak from the Ministry of Interior. It should be added here that the Hawiye were not the only group demanding the removal of the embattled Minister: the SNL too considered his presence in that Ministry as part of the problem. At one point in 1962, the President of the Republic inquired whether Abdullahi Issa would be willing to take up the responsibilities of the Ministry of Interior but the latter seemed less enthusiastic to the idea. However, if the removal of Abdi Razak was aimed at reducing the political tension, that aim 1was nor achieved as recriminations and counter-recriminations between the government and the dissenting faction within the governing party continued unabated, leading eventually to an irreparable split and to the creation of a new political party deriving its support from the Hawiye and Issak clans. With two Minister still unnamed, the government obtained the vote of confidence on November 11, 1962. On 2 February, 1963, the two vacant ministerial positions were filled, as predicted, by Yousuf Ismail Samatar, for the Ministry of Education, and Hagi Ibrahim Osman “Hagi Basbas”, for the Ministry of Trade and Commerce.

Of particular interest here is how the Prime Minister, in distributing the portfolios, kept a delicate balance among the rival clans represented in the National Assembly:

Hilowle Moallim (Ogaden) replaced Hussen Omar Hassan “Hussen Jiss (Ogaden)
Aden Shire Giama (Marrehan) replaced Sheikh Abdulla Mohamoud (Marrehan)
Abdirahman Hagi Mumin (Gugun Dhabe) replaced Sheikh Mohemed Issak (Gugun Dhabe)
Hagi Ibrahim “Basbas” (Habar Yonis) replaced Sheikh AliI Ismail (HabarYonis)
Yousuf Ismail Samatar (Issa Mussa) replaced Mohamed Ibrahim Egal (Issa Moussa)
Ahmed Ghelle Hassan (Hawadle) replaced Sheikh Ali Giumale (Hawadle)
Mohamoud Abdi Nour “Juju”, a non Rahanweyn from Baidoa, replaced Abdinour Mohamed Hussen (Rahanweyn)

M. Trunji
E-mail: [email protected]


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