The Rebirth Of Somaliland (2): The Process Of The Union And The Act Of Union


This part is about the process of unification between the independent states of Somaliland and Somalia and the fallacies, technical mistakes and legal loopholes in the so-called Act of Union involved.

By Dr. Hussein Mohamed Nur

The Council leaders of Somaliland and Somalia briefly met in Mogadishu during mid-April 1960. They agreed to form a Republic with a parliamentary democratic system of government. In the meeting, they envisaged that both sides would sign a joint contractual agreement (an Act of Union) that would set out terms being a legally binding document for the two independent states in the union. However, it is vital to reveal the technical mistakes and legal loopholes in processing the unification and the fallacies in proceedings of the Act of Union. However, we proceed into this; it is noteworthy to mention first to show the actual events that took place in Somalia as part of the preparation for independence whilst in UN trusteeship.

Sultan Cabdiraxman (age 45) and Sultan Cabdilahi (age 57) in London:

Unlike Somaliland protectorate, Italian Somalia underwent advanced preparation in terms of administration, management and governance during its ten-year period of trusteeship. Therefore, Somalia appeared to have acquired political maturity and had more consciousness and preparedness than Somaliland as they started negotiations for union. The only ingredient the northerners brought to the table was the public emotional drive and the urge of the people for the union.

On the roof you can see from the left UN flag, in the middle new Somali flag and on the right the Italian Flag

As Italian Somalia stepped towards final strides of self-governance, the first legislative council or territorial Council was established in 1956 but shortly afterwards timed with the discussions of union with Somalia, Somalia increased the number of ‘deputati’ (parliamentarians) were increased to 90 of which only 29 were elected (the remaining seats were reserved for the SYL party, the main political party). Despite protests and boycotts all other political parties especially those Somaliland and minorities in the South were side-lined in the mainstream politics. The hidden agenda was to rehearse manipulations to establish firm grounds for a majority parliament dominated by the SYL and the SYL to be the single dominant party dominated by the major clans in the south as union state is established with Somaliland.

On the midnight of 30 June 1960 Italian Somalia was declared an independent State. The following morning, 1 July 1960, the two independent states (Italian Somalia and the already independent state of Somaliland) united. Somaliland’s independence was short-lived as union took was in effect on the 5th day. That took the British Media by surprise and news headlines referred Somaliland’s step as the rejection of freedom “ ….The Territory that rejected freedom”….. To seal the union the essential formalities were never discussed and legal proceedings were not processed properly. To render the union lawful, a legal binding document was supposed to be agreed and signed by the representatives of the two uniting independent states.

As Somaliland became the first Somali territory, out of the five regions of Somali-inhabited lands to become a free and an independent Somali state, it immediately joined the United Nations (UN) and was recognized as an independent state by the 35 members of the United Nations. A historical record was set. The newly independent state of Somaliland was invited by the British Government to join the British Commonwealth of nations made up of independent countries of the British Empire. Unfortunately, Somaliland declined to take the offer. Instead, it sacrificed its independence and membership of commonwealth. It opted for union with the independent Italian Somalia of the South on every day of its independence, 1 July 1960 and the end of UN trusteeship. Somaliland’s union with Somalia was purely voluntary and without strings or conditions attached to for the unique reason based on wholehearted popular vision, converging aspirations and the iron-strong wish of the people.

There was a plan for union. Mohamed Ibrahim Egal, the late president of Somaliland, once made a comment indicating that there were no arrangements or plans in place by the politicians from Italian Somalia in relation to the issue of the union. It has been reported that Egal suggested the need to wait for at least 40 days since Somaliland had just given birth to infant child of independence. The truth of the matter, however, was that the union was not imposed on Somaliland either. Rather it was Somaliland that pressed hard for the consummation of the union pushed by the sincerity and wish of Somaliland people though Italian-administered Somalia preferred to delay the unity for a while. Perhaps for months according to Bereketeab (2012:5). That was as enunciated by the Southern politicians after a delegation from the South visited Hargeisa when they sensed that the Somaliland people were in sort of rush to the union and without conditions. Nevertheless, not much attention was given by most of the Somaliland Council members who were themselves under extreme pressure from their people. Garaad Ali Garaad Jama (member of the Somaliland Council) also initially flatly refused the union. On one occasion at the Kairiya of Hargeisa, the Garaad was sternly responded by the crowd with ‘No, Garaad’ when mentioned the period to wait for the union. The Somaliland people were high in the crest of emotional waves for the union. The people were an instrumental factor and the engine force driving their politicians to convince their Somali fellow Somalis in Somalia. But in the South, the Somali Youth League (SYL) party also waged campaigns for the unity sharing a similar concept of Greater Somalia.

Somali flag hoisted in Hargeisa. (Pict: via Garanuug, Safia Aidid)

The official proposal was from the Somaliland side. It was a kind of a unidirectional push – almost one-way process. On reflection it was madness. Southerners were surprised by that unreasonable mode, i.e., bringing an independent state to another partner with reference to no condition. Their byword “Fratello forunato folle” which in Italian means “the mad fortunate brother” – The fortunate brother (Somaliland) because Somaliland was fortunate to get its independence but again Somaliland people were considered as mad because they were seen as giving away their independence without even a single condition or a string attached to the union.

The decision of Somaliland to proceed into that direction owed much to the animation of pan-Somali ambition and the strong public emotion developed particularly after the Haud and Reserve area was ceded to Ethiopia in 1954 that caused a public outcry. Therefore, independent Somaliland State voluntarily united with Italian Somalia without conditions in a loose fashion. Italian Somalia took advantage of the situation of no conditions which led them to have a free ride approach. That led the union between the two states to occur in a rather loose fashion and in a flawed manner as all necessary precautionary paraphernalia was not taken. Consequently, legal loopholes and cracks became apparent. Northerners accepted the union blindly. A complete southern domination in the government formed resulted: a southern Constitution, a southern capital, a southern flag, a southern President (Aden Abdille Osman) and southern Prime Minister (Abdulrashid Ali Shermarke), and police and military forces commanders both southerners (Mohamed Abshir and Daud Abdille Hersi respectively). All key ministerial portfolios: the Finance (Ahmed Roble), Foreign Affairs (Abdillahi Essa Mohmoud), the Interior (Abdirizaq Haji Hussein) to name but a few. Only Mohamed Ibrahim Egal who was the First Minister (similar to Prime Minister) in the Somaliland government was allocated to a post of a Minister (Defence) from the northern contingent. Other important posts for southerners included the national bank and the commerce. The number of parliamentarians in the National Assembly was two-thirds ((99) from South and a third (33) from Somaliland was not proportionately adjusted while there still were options open to take to address justice and fair-sharing in power. Abdulrizaq Haji Hussein (Interior); Abdillahi Essa Mohamoud (Foreign Affairs); Ahmed Roble (Finance).

The lowering down of the British Flag and the hoisting of the Italian flag

Before the union, the Somaliland Protectorate cabinet had seven ministers consisted (4 Somalis and 3 English). At independence, the three English ministers resigned and were replaced by Somalis. Therefore, at union stage Somaliland had seven ministers while it had 10 ministers before independence but by uniting, Somaliland got one minister (6.6% of the total of the cabinet), Mohamed Ibrahim Egal (Defence Minister) albeit he sacrificed his position of head of a state. Therefore, the Parliament was dominated by Southerners [(90 seats or 73% for Somalia) and 33 seats or 27% for the North (Somaliland)].

At Union, no Act of Union was agreed and signed bilaterally at all. In sum that makes the union unconstitutional and illegal. Though the union was considered as the first stepping stone for the realization of uniting all Somali-inhabited regions in one nation under a single banner with one flag, the Act of Union was never ratified by the two respective parliaments of the two independent states. It was purely driven by the peoples’ sentiments, emotion, enthusiasm and extreme euphoric behavior and patriotism. The vision and expectation was that the other three regions inhabited by Somali people would soon follow suit and join the two independent entities. As mentioned above the union between independent Somaliland and independent Italian Somalia in the South was pushed only by the people (especially from the public in Somaliland) as pursuit of achievement of the ‘Greater Somalia’ dream bringing together all five territories or parts inhabited by populations of ethnic Somali origin in East Africa, i.e., in the South East of the then Ethiopian Empire, the Northern Frontier District – NFD which was part of the British colony with Kenya, the French colony of Djibouti, the British Protectorate of Somaliland and South Somalia under Italy.

During the union, the only constitution in place at the time was the one made for Somalia. Somaliland legislative body had no input into the constitution and knowledge of those activities as well as the prevailing political environment and climate simply because of an emotionally charged public pressure as the push factor. This indicates that the amalgamation of Somaliland and Somalia was more of a nationalist fervor blowing from the North. At the end of May 1960, as part of negotiation prior to amalgamation, Somaliland Council led by Mohamed Haji Ibrahim Egal made a visit to Mogadishu and met with Aden Abdulle Osman, Abdulahi Essa Mohamoud, Sh Ali Jimale and others. In the negotiations, the Somaliland delegation was adamant to the unification while their counterparts showed reluctance. Even the president of the South, Aden Abdulle Osman insisted that if the union is the case then there will be changes made to the government already in post. Abdillahi Aden Congo who accompanied the Somaliland delegation to Mogadishu reports that Egal was not in hurry and advised that Somaliland had to adopt a cool down position before proceeding to the union. Aden Abdulle Osman himself voiced similar attitudes for different reasons in suggesting that there is a hasty decision is being made by the northerners. Osman even voiced a federation between the two independent states might have been appropriate because of the two different experiences. In the end, those prompts in the discussions were superseded by the emotional wave of the public pressure pushing them from behind (more so strongly on Egal’s team from Somaliland). The final agreement was a union to be forged by 1 July 1960.

Between April and June 1960, the Legislative Assembly of Somaliland passed resolutions and submitted an Act of Union draft to the Constituent Assembly of Somalia. On the second day of the independence of Somalia (27 June 1960), the Somaliland Legislature passed a law and made a proposal of their final version of the Act of the Union for further discussions and requested to finalize a single text of Act of Union before the date set for the union, I July 1960). But the variations between the two text versions were never finalized. The two legislatures never met and a joint version of a single text was never put before the National Assembly for ratification. Interestingly, however, A different version of an Act of Union (Atto di Unione) drafted by South Somalia was debated briefly. The truth of the matter was that the Somalia Constituent already approved their version of the Act (Atto di Unione) a day prior to independence. The Northern politicians were not aware of that. Discrepancies and differences appeared between the two texts of the two versions. The process did occur as Somaliland legislature suggested earlier (that the two governments need to agree to a unified version to form a single Act which was supposed to be presented for approval by the joint legislatures. Therefore, although the ratification process for the union was hitherto verbally agreed, the official agreement was not practically implemented.

In addition to that the legislature Council of Somalia, without consultation with Somaliland legislature, added a new clause in the constitution – the election of a provisional president (by the National Assembly). On 1 July 1960, the two legislatures met briefly to elect a provisional president for the Union Republic. Neither a signed document nor an agreed Act of Union was still in place. On 1 July 1960 at 7.00 am, a provisional president, Aden Abdulle Osman, for the Somali Republic (the union of the two governments). The president immediately signed a ‘Decree’ entitled the “Law of Union of State of Somaliland and Somalia”, a version that was again never discussed before or agreed.

The decree signed by the president had much less substance than what the stipulated Act of Union would have contained. The decree was never presented to the National Assembly to be asserted and converted to a law. It was a clear breach of Article 63 of the constitution. The law was neither agreed, publicized nor promulgated. It had not been passed by the National Assembly. As stated above in the first parliamentary session of the union government, the president-elect, Aden Abdulle Osman, was nominated on the 5th of July 1960 and chose Abdulrashid Ali Sharmarke who formed the southern-dominated a government of 16 Ministries.

In reiteration, the union of Somalia and Somaliland, despite its political implementation at every level of government and in every sphere of society for more than thirty years, had not been legally validated. It was clear that it was the people from the North only who were the major actors, the power and dynamism pushing to the union. It was the people from the North who actually forced the union upon the South so precipitously without effective and substantial negotiations and who overwhelmingly without question accepted the Southern proposals.

Elections came afterward new governments came to power but unfortunately, the imbalance of power-sharing was never addressed. In the 1964 elections, Aden Abdulle Osman was re-elected as president and he nominated Abdulrizaq Haji Hussein for the premiership.

As the union of the two states was formed (formation of the Somali Republic), the country was virtually functioning as two countries though under one flag. Two administrative systems (Italian and British), two customs and taxation systems, two official languages (Italian and English) and two educational systems were running in parallel. There was no harmonization between the two administrative systems inherited from two different colonial regimes for lack of proper plan and preparation.

What is more interesting to mention was that the National Assembly was formed before any Act of the Union was signed for lack of respect of the constitution in place. For instance, Article 1, paragraph 2 of the final provisions of the constitution showed the new National Assembly to be in existence after signing the Act of the Union which would then elect a provisional President. The process of formulation of the Act of Union was therefore utterly incomplete. The procedure of union was scrambled and topsy-turvy. Thus, the formation of the National Assembly was based on illegality. The representatives of both legislative councils did not sign any bilateral agreement which indicates that the two legislatures never discussed the issue of the union. This fact gives more support for the existence of legal anomalies surrounding the union itself that in turn shows how the Somalia and Somaliland were loosely formed for more than thirty years.

On 31 July 1961, an utterly new version of an Act of Union was brought before the General Assembly for approval. This was retrospective act as a remedial measure, but otherwise, an illegal act, to rectify the anomaly.  The trick was that the National Assembly was dominated by a majority party, mostly unelected deputies in the view of a majority vote to pass the motion. However, such action was prohibited by the provisions of the Article 10(1) and Artcile10 (2) of the Act of the Union, the draft which was not discussed.

First Somali Republic President in 1960, the late Adan Abdulle Osman

Moreover, after the union was established, the SYL (the majority party in the parliament or the governing party, decided to hold a constitutional referendum in the country. Up until then, there was no unified constitution. The constitution that was available for the country was the one prepared for Somalia during the trusteeship period which based on the Italian Penal Code. It was written in Italian. At that very juncture, the representatives from the North sensed the illegality of the entire constitution as most of the conditions forwarded by them were not fulfilled. The principal party from the North (Somaliland), the SNL, campaigned against the ratification of the constitution of the country. In 1961 a constitutional referendum was held in the North and people voted with an overwhelming majority against its ratification. The people in Somaliland voted against this (Hargeisa, 69%; Burao, 66%; Berbera, 69%; Erigavo, 69%).

It was in October 1963 during the preparation for the 1964 general elections, after the split of SNL and USP and SYL parties, Egal and Sh Ali Jimale from the South formed a new alliance party, the Somali National Congress (SNC) Party against collusions the dominant SYL. As yet there was no unified constitution as Somaliland made no input into the one in hand before and later on Somaliland political parties’ votes against it. Besides that, as the election approached it (the constitution in hand) was written Italian and was still not translated into English. The only input the northern politicians made at a later stage was the article related to the elections by adding “ ….. Civil servants should not take part in the election and if they do so wish they should make resignations six months before the elections”.

In Somalia, a diffuse corruption, misappropriation and inflation of the number of people voted for the constitution was not uncommon. Vote rigging and inflation of voters’ population occurred. For example, the population of people voted in some small towns and villages of Adan Yabal and Wenla-Weyn was extra-ordinarily inflated The term ‘Adan Yabalism’ became a popular political term in elections due to association with vote rigging and the interestingly enough the total number of people who voted in the South (Somalia) was more than the entire population of Somalia. That also acted as one of the ingredients that sparked mistrust and lack of confidence among the people from the North at the very early stage.  As such the first seeds of dissatisfaction were sown at the outset of the union. Politicians and civil servants from the North sensed the all-out undermining and discrimination of the north (Somaliland) and its regions. Tensions hyped up among the people of Somaliland who were yesterday forcing the union with emotions. Expectations dried up, they saw the union as a non-deserving and Somaliland expectations were nulled. It was in the same token that one of the famous Somaliland poet, Ahmed Ismail Deria (Qasim) highlighted the following lines in one his popular poems:

Ahmed Ismail Deria (Qasim)

“Namaydaan abaalmarine waana ambinaysaane (You did not pay reward us but made us lost,

Afarteeda naas baan lahaa ubadka deeqsiiye (I was hoping that milk from its four teats would suffice for the children),

Ma afurin agoonkii wadiyo kii usha u sidaye (The orphaned camel boy and its carer has still not broken his fasting),

NFD dhankeedaan lahaa u amar-ku-taagleeye (I expected to drive it (the she-camel) towards NFD),

Adisababa gee baan lahaa ayda doogga lehe (I wanted to take it (the she-camel) to the green pasture),

Iliilaha Jabuutaan lahaa aayar soo mariye (Across the narrow gorges of Djibouti I wish to take it cautiously).

[(Ahmed Ismail Dirie (Qasim)].

Soon after the union, it was clear that the governments were undermining the progress and development of the regions in Somaliland and policies against the port of Berbera contained for their export-import businesses, the major traders and enterprising companies began moving to Mogadishu to be close to the only center of power. The companies such as Jirde Hussein and sons Co,; Yusuf Iman and Co.; Haji Ibrahim Osman Food (Basbaas); Abdillahi Omaar and Co.; Mohamed Rashid Ali Ismail (Bergeye) and others all immediately relocated their businesses in Mogadishu.

The emotional drive that led the people of Somaliland to join their brothers in Somalia all of a sudden took a twist to the opposite. That resulted in the U-turn of the public opinion. Consider how famous Somalilander poets read the politics of the south and how they passed messages and feelings of the peoples’ of Somaliland as they lost hope.

“Gumeysigu hashuu naga dhaceen gurayay raadkeeda (The she-camel took away by the colonialist, the one I wanted to recover),

Gu’yaal iyo gu’yaal badan hashii gama’a noo diiday (years and years we did not sleep for its absence),

Goobtay istaagtaba hashaan joogay garabkeeda (Wherever it (she-camel) stands I was nearby),

Guuraha habeenimo hashaan gabi walba u jiidhay [The one (she-camel) I made travels by the dark nights],

Gacmaa lagu muquunshee xornimo noogumay garane [It (the she-camel) was forcefully taken waway, it was’t taken for sake of independence),

Goortuu sidkeedii galay galabtay foolqaaday (When it reached final term of pregnancy and we started to deliver),

Iyadoo candhada giijisay oo godol ku sii daysay (As the udder was swollen with pre-parturium milk and ready for milk let-down),

Garaad nimaan lahayn bay la tahay waad ka gaagixine (To a mindless it (the she-camel) he will stop it from producing milk),

Hashaan gaadda weynow libaax uga gaboon waayay [The one (the she-camel) that I did not let for the fierce male lion],

Inaan gorayacawl uga tagaa waa hashoo gudhaye (That I let it (the she-camel) for an ostrich is as if it becomes dry (milk less). (Abdillahi Suldan Timaade).

 To Be Continued

Previous: The Rebirth Of Somaliland (1): History of Somaliland

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Horndiplomat editorial policy.

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  1. The state of Somaliland accessed its political independence on the basis of international agreement recorded and registered with the UK and UN, since then, the state the extinction of the state was coerced and placed under illegal occupation of Somalia since its liberation on 31 January 1991.


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