The Rebirth Of Somaliland (4): The 1961 Aborted Military Coup

Photo left Hassan abdi walanwal (KEYD) and Haji Abdi Seed The 1961 Aborted Military Coup

By Dr. Hussein M Nur

Despite the serious concerns described in the previous part and as articulated in poetic styles, the government did not address them the issues and the Somaliland politicians were unable to rectify the distorted situation. But the widespread dissent and injustices paved grounds for the rise dissidence.

A practical show of the rejection of the unification presented itself when a group of junior military officers of Somaliland origin attempted a military coup. Fresh from British and Egyptian military academies and colleges, the junior officers joined the Somaliland Scouts, they were indeed ingenious to evaluate to evaluate the political situation. They immediately became disenchanted with the system and the union state. They faced direct discrimination and injustices within the military force. They rightly predicted the distorted road Somaliland was set. They were young innocent officers who had no taste for power yet.

Just before the instatement of the union, in Italian Somalia, there was a frantic race and a mad rush for promotions among the armed forces. There was a wholesale officer promotion open only for the officers in the South. The officers of the Somaliland Scouts regiment of the Somaliland protectorate were not involved in the commotion and mayhem of that matter. The officers from the South before union were all from the Police force (there was no military force in Italian-administered Somalia). Contrarily, however, in Somaliland, there was a well-trained Somaliland Scouts military regiment. Most of the Its junior officers were graduates from distinguished top military academies in Britain such as Sandhurst and Mono as well as Egypt. At the time of unification, besides the well-trained army, the Somaliland Scouts of about 2000 strong. Somaliland also had its police force.

Just before the union, in Italian Somalia, many of the police officers were transferred to form a new military force even though they had no military experience and training at all. According to Abdillahi Aden ‘Congo’ and Awil Ali Duale (two of the few members of the aborted coup in 1961 to be discussed), most of the officers in the south were promoted twice. Firstly they were promoted when Somaliland independence was declared on 26 June 1960. For example, those with the ranks of Captains or Majors were promoted a rank up, i.e., dressing as Majors and Lieutenant Colonels respectively and again they were promoted another rank up when Italian Somalia became independent on 1 July 1960 as Lieutenant Colonels and colonels. Even the junior officers dressed two ranks up with some being promoted to seniors. There was plainly a mad rush for promotions. Whilst in Somalia such a scramble for higher ranks and generous bonus promotions were up for grabs, in Somaliland, owing to their loyalty, the officers from the Somaliland Scouts regiment and police did not take part, i.e., they did not make themselves promoted not even once.

In the first year of the union, some junior officers (Abdillahi Aden ‘Congo’, Awil Ali Duale and Abdillahi Said Abby) visited Mogadishu to meet up with the newly-appointed Military Commander, General Daud Abdulle Hersi and to make their complaints but the General did not listen to them.

General Hersi was a police officer of Italian Somalia. The General was the fourth in a rank of the police force in Somalia whilst General Mohamed Abshir was the highest in rank in the police force followed by General Mohamed Siyad Barre and General Abdalla Sandhere as the third in rank of the police force. General Hersi showed no sympathy to the Somaliland junior officers’ in relation to their complaints.

Meanwhile, the government’s top posts of the government were dominated by people from Somalia. Allocations were based on clan system and not on merit. Representatives from the two major clans of Somalia were the candidates for major posts. General Mohamed Abshir and General Mohamed Siyad Barre were from the same main lineage. The allocation of most important posts and portfolios involved taking turns between officers of the two main clans in Somalia (Hawiye and Darod). Abdillahi Aden Congo compares this act as a Somali children’s traditional riddle or game “ii Cug!, Cirka!’ (‘I Take this! You Take that!’) or ‘qaatay ee qaado’ (I got, you pick). Thus, taking turns was the default formula for power-sharing between the two main protagonist tribal actors.

Because of that game in play, General Siyad Barre lost his seniority post. He was second in seniority after General Mohamed Abshir and expected to be allocated to the post of military commander. But nevertheless, since General Abshir was from the same clan as Barre was allocated the post Police Commander, the post of military commander was the turn of the major rival clan. So, therefore, it went to General Daud who was the fourth in the chain of seniority (Mohamed Siyad Barre was, in fact, second the seniority after Mohamed Abshir and Abdalla Sandhere who was the third in seniority chain. Barre, a senior ahead of General Daud, was demoted to the Chief of Staff post of the Military simply because he belonged to the same clan as Mohamed Abshir. Barre was denied the post of Military Commander because of his clan affiliation to general Abshir. Siyad Bare felt bitter injustices.

The Somaliland junior officers decided to plan a military coup the aim of which was to bring back the lost independent state of Somaliland so that Somaliland would be in a better position to correct the mistakes incurred during the unification and to eventually address the unforeseen consequential issues of injustices, marginalization and domination. They saw that only in that way would Somaliland be in a stronger position to make reasonable negotiations and adjustments should it wished to unite with Somalia.

In fact, it was only the Somaliland Scouts was still intact as an institution not yet touched with the quagmire of the politics. Immediately, after the union, almost all of the civil servants in Somaliland government offices were transferred in masses to the South. The Somaliland government in the North was dismantled and reduced to some fringe offices run by southerners and as a region with a governor. Such injustices were clearly sensed by the public in the North. The cardinal objective of the junior officers was to return Somaliland to back its independent status quo.

Who is who of the members of the coup?

The core group of the coup was initially composed of eleven officers though later increased to twenty-three. They were: 1.Hassan Abdillahi Walanwal (Hassan Kayd) (2-star lieutenant) (Buroa/Togdheer);2. Abdillahi Mohamed Aden (Abdillahi Congo) (2-star Lieutenant) (Hargeisa);3. Muhumed Abdillahi Robleh (Muhumed Awr) (2-star lieutenant); (Sahil); the rest were one-star lieutenants: 4. Abdillahi Said Abby (aka as Gamadhere) (Hargeisa); 5. Said Ali Ghir (Las Anod); 6. Mohamed Mohamoud Said ‘Bidihleh (Hargeisa); 7. Mohamed Abdirahman Haji Jama (Lugooyo) (?); 8. Faisal Haji Jama Geddi (Buroa); 9. Awil Haji Ali Dualeh (Hargeisa); 10. Abdillahi Abdi Farah ‘Deyr’ (Hargeisa); 11. Daud Ali Yahye (Borama); 12. Hussein Mohamed Bullaleh (Hussein Dakhare) (Berbera); 13. Abdillahi Ahmed Kibar (Gabiley); 14. Mohamed Warsame (Borama); 15. Mohamed Mohamoud Raghe (Berbera); 16. Abdi Yusuf (Hargeisa); 17. Mohamed Sh Muse (Sheikh); 18. Ahmed Haji Deria (Buroa); 19. Ali Harun (Buroa); 20. Said Oogle (Buroa/Togdheer); 21. Abdi Dhala Abdi (Las Anod); 22. Abdikarim Ashur (Las Qoray); 23. Abdi Ali Hussein (Abdi Habashi) (Jigjiga)

Abdillahi Aden ‘Congo’

Until today there is an archetypal myth – that those involved in the coup belonged to one clan. However, the truth of the matter is that they represented most of the clans and regions across Somaliland as they shared the same common feelings – the imbalance power, the injustices and inequalities in the military force and the way Somaliland independence was handled at the time. Therefore, the officers stood for a unique experience. Some senior officers who were not involved today express that the junior officers were young fresh graduates, inexperienced and understood no politics. I retain the opinion that the junior officers were right and they did it for that reasons and not for a search of power as seniors would have liked.

As retold by Abdillahi Aden and Awil Ali Duale (both of them members of the coup) the plan was to conduct the coup in two years’ time. But nonetheless, for internal technical reasons and for unforeseen circumstances, the coup took place earlier on 10th December 1961. In earnest preparations, some officers already and immediately showed reluctance while others not even endorsed the idea. That brought suspicions among the coup planners and that they would foil the operation by disclosure of the movement of the groups. Therefore, a hasty decision had to be taken – the coup to occur well in advance of its planned timescale. The Commander of the Somaliland Scouts regiment, Colonel Mohamed Ainanshe, the late Colonel Abdillahi Yusuf and other officers from the South were detained on the day. Lieutenant Abdillahi Abdi Farah (Deyr) was posted to take control of the central police station and Lieutenant Mohamed Mohamoud Rage held Radio Hargeisa.

The plan was that detainees were to be kept far from the scene of the operation, Hargeisa and Somaliland Scouts Headquarters. They were supposed to be kept at the Government rest house at Ga’an Libah Mountain, near Adadley. That did not happen as the officer who was assigned to the task did not execute the job as planned. Instead, they were kept at a private house owned by Abdillahi Darawal then resided by Awil Ali Duale, one of the coup plotters. The prisoners were under guard by Lieutenant Abdillahi Said Abby and private Abdillahi Ali Hussein.

The Somaliland scouts soldiers at Birjeex military base in Hargeisa missed their commander, Colonel Mohamed Ainanshe and other superiors. That itself raised suspicion and as soon as their whereabouts were sighted, the soldiers stormed the house. A fire was exchanged between Lieutenant Abdillahi Said Abby, the officer in charge of the detainees. Officer Abby and a companion, Ahmed Awad, were killed in the exchange of fire as they refused to give up and release the detainees. Hassan Kayd, a senior member of the coup was shot and injured in the knee walking by the gate of Birjeex Military HQ.

Within the same day, the coup was aborted. All officers in revolt were imprisoned overnight in Hargeisa but were immediately transferred to Mogadishu. The details of the conditions of the prison and how they were treated were exposed by the surviving individuals of the plotters.

The prisoners were taken into custody at a training camp known as ‘Botigo’ (later re-named as ‘Halane’) near Mogadishu. In the jail, they were badly and inhumanely treated in appalling conditions. After several months, they were then transferred to Mogadishu central prison (‘cella morta’ in Italian which means the ‘dead cell’). They were kept in the dark underground at the basement, tunneled under the Indian Ocean Sea. After languishing in jail for about a year and a half, private Indian-Kenyan lawyers were hired from Nairobi, Kenya for them and court proceedings started in Mogadishu. The proceedings of the trial at the court in Mogadishu began in July 1963. The judge was Mr. Hazelwood, a British from the court of Hargeisa in Somaliland oversaw the deliberations and the final verdict ruling with an Italian prosecutor. (St. Ricardo!!). The proceedings took nearly two months. Finally, the prisoners were cleared and acquitted. The verdict was ‘not guilty’. In fact, the judge declared no case at all. The debacle of the case at the court was determined by several reasons:

  • That the officers were never sworn for a country called ‘Somali Republic’. The last time they swore, it was for the Queen of England for Britain.
  • That the judgment was not to be brought under the constitution of a country called (Somali Republic). Instead, it should have been conducted under Somaliland state jurisdiction. Hence, to be judged under the Indian Penal code.

The only constitution available (that of Somalia) which was only effective at the time took precedence and the case was taken as a civilian case. Had the case been heard in a Somaliland court, it would have a criminal court and the prisoners would have been tried under the Somaliland legal instruments, i.e., the Indian Penal Code and they would have been court marshaled under the Somaliland Scouts military law. Therefore, article 6 of the Republic’s constitution directed that court marshaling of military officers was inapplicable so long as there was no war situation in the country. In Somaliland, the prisoners would have been convicted as guilty and concluded with a firing squad (death penalties).

The court case proved that the union with South was not void and non-existent and there was no binding document ratified bilaterally by the partners of the union. In fact, there was no Act of Union which was ratified as a legal binding contract between the two states.  Abdillahi Mohamed Aden (Congo), a senior officer member of the coup, affirms: “Had the court been in Hargeisa, we would have been court marshaled in accordance with the Somaliland Scouts regiment law. We would have surely been shot by a firing squad because we committed a treason crime against the State of Somaliland and not against a country called the Somali Republic for which we had never avowed or taken an oath for”.

Soon after the failed coup, punitive measures were taken by the government which was dominated and powered by the South. In the same month of the year 1961, another serious discontent surfaced. The SNL, a northern political party, noticeably expressed discontent and advocated boycott in the referendum.

Such episodes clearly constituted some of the early signs of discontent and disagreements as a result of political and administrative differences. They also acted as forms of expression and discontent by the people from the North within the union right from the start the civilian governments that came to power between 1960 and 1969 failed to address the problems and to find out solutions for the standing grievances of the northerners.

To be continued

  1. The Rebirth Of Somaliland (3) – Northern Mistrusts And Discontents: Origins And Emergence Of Early Signs
  2. The Rebirth Of Somaliland (2): The Process Of The Union And The Act Of Union
  3. 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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