- Britain knows Somaliland very well because it ruled it as a British Protectorate for 80 years. It also knows Somalia very well because it administered it for 8 years, from 1941 to 1950, when it handed it over to the United Nations as a UN Trusteeship administered on behalf of the UN by Italy, the former colonial ruler.
When Somaliland asked for its independence at the end of 1950s, the British government of the time advised Somaliland’s political leaders to defer the call for independence for 10 more years. Those 10 years, the British government suggested, would be used to develop the basic infrastructure and bring the government institutions to a more advanced level that would lead to sustainable development.
However, the political leaders of what one colonial officer described at the time “The Cinderella of the British Empire”, alluding to Somaliland’s very low level in the ranks of the Empire, rejected the suggestions and asked for their independence no later than 1960 – the year that many other Africa countries gained their political independence. The British went along with the wishes of Somaliland leader and granted the Protectorate its independence, as is now well known, on 26June 1960.
The nationalist fervor of the time, which engulfed particularly Asia and Africa in the 50s and 60s of the last century, had affected the Somalis, too. Not only did they want independence from the European colonial rulers, but they also wanted to unite the divided nation (Somaliland, Somalia, Djibouti, Somalis in Ethiopia, and Somalis in Kenya) and form a “Greater Somalia” under one united government. It was a noble but politically implausible vision to realize. And it did not work.
When the first attempt to work for the cause of Greater Somalia (i.e. the unification of Somaliland and Somalia) was in the works, some officials in the British colonial office tried to show Somaliland politicians that they were getting into an unworkable union that might not last. However, the prevailing nationalist sentiment overruled the reason to establish a viable state for Somaliland before jumping into the saucepan of Greater Somalia.
Somaliland fell head-on into this saucepan in 1 July 1960 without even a strategy for unification and power-sharing. The countless miseries and pain that resulted from this emotionally charged and ill-planned union is not only recorded in the pages of history but in the hearts and minds of the people of Somaliland. While the vision for the unification of all Somalis under one government is irretrievably gone, the return of the unification between Somaliland and Somalia cannot and will not happen again.
The greater ideal (i.e. Greater Somalia) is dead so is the lesser ideal (i.e. the union between Somaliland and Somalia). Ironically. It was the last Secretary of the Governor of British Somaliland protectorate, Mr. Carl, who at the night of independence on 26 June 1960, allegedly said while handing over the reins of power to the newly elected Somali leadership, that you gained your freedom but you strangely decided to build your government on a bottomless pit. How prophetic was Mr. Carl’s comment.
Fortunately though, Somaliland got out of this pit and it is going back to it. With equal irony, however, the current British government wants to revive that union against which its predecessor advised in 1960. So, what does the current British government want from its new stand. In my opinion, it does not want anything that is serving the interest of Somaliland. It is in this for its own interest, primarily its national security interest. And this is no secret. It was stated by Prime Minister Cameron in February 2011 when the first Somalia Conference was held in London.
This second Somalia Conference that is scheduled for May has got the same agenda: the stabilization of Somalia in order to eradicate the threat of Al-Qadia related Al-Shabab as part of the West’s ongoing “War on Terror” – a war which the famous British journalist, Robert Fisk, called, in a recent article in The Independent, “The New Religion of the West”.In this scheme, there is no interest for Somaliland. It is not on the agenda to gain recognition as an independent state nor is it its interest to gamble its hard won peace to get embroiled in the disputes and wars of other parties.
It should stay clear and remain peaceful and independent albeit underdeveloped and unrecognized as state, at least for now. In short, if Britain (as well as the West) sees that it is in its interest to reconstruct a stable government for Somalia, we have no qualms with that. But the interest of Somaliland is to strengthen its hard won freedom and build, recognition or no recognition, a sovereign and independent state, with or without the help of Britain and the West.
Prof. Abdisalan Yassin Mohamad