Somaliland: Hawd and Reserve Areas 1956 British Dilemma


Map presented during the british cabinet meeting of 1956


Somalilandsun – The inappropriate treatment of Somalilanders in the Haud and Reserved Area—called ” the Territories.” by Ethiopians was the lengthily agenda a British cabinet meeting of 25th July, 1956 in which the Britons also revealed wishes of a united Somalia while displaying fear of new Islamic power.

SECRET copy No.      CP. (56) 180

25th July, 1956        CABINET



On 29th March the Cabinet considered the difficulties created for us by the resumption of Ethiopian administration over the Haud and Reserved Area—called ” the Territories.” A map of the area it attached (Appendix D). They authorised the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Dodds-Parker), leader of the United Kingdom delegation to Ethiopia in April, to explore the possibility of a cession of the territories by Ethiopia to the Protectorate and they agreed that the policy statement for the Protectorate should be made (Appendix B) (CM. (56) 26th Conclusions, Minute 1).

2. Mr. Dodds-Parker tried to persuade the Ethiopian Government to cede the Territories but was met with so vehement a refusal that one must conclude that no attempt on our part to obtain the Territories by lease, barter or purchase at any price which would be considered possible is ever likely to succeed.

TheUnited Kingdom delegation then discussed with the Ethiopian Government the practical methods of an harmonious working of the 1954 Agreement and received some assurances that appeared to be satisfactory.

3. Recent events in the Territories and in particular the interference by the Ethiopians with the internal tribal organisation of British Somali tribes (Appendix C) indicate that the Ethiopian Government have no real intention of keeping the 1954 Agreement. A strong protest has been delivered regarding the incident but the Ethiopian Government are already contesting the facts. It seems clear that the deliberate policy of the Ethiopians is to try to absorb the Somali

tribes in the Territories with a view to the later incorporation of the whole Protectorate and ultimately of all Somalis in the Horn of Africa within the boundaries of the Ethiopian Empire.

4. When, last May, Lord Lloyd made the policy statement authorised by the Cabinet, there was bitter disappointment amongst Somali leaders at the lack of any reference to the Territories. In his Report (Appendix A) Lord Lloyd has confirmed that the Somalis in the Protectorate will not rest until they have recovered the Territories which they, regardless of the 1897 Treaty, regard as rightly theirs. Indeed the National United Front has once more asked Her

Majesty’s Government to facilitate their approach to the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion on their petition to the United Nations which they first made in 1955. No reply to this request has yet been given, but the reply cannot be favourable for the same reasons which led us to reject their appeal for support for their petition in 1955.

5. In the meantime as a result of recent Ethiopian behaviour in the Territories the Somalis are becoming increasingly bitter and less confident of the ability of Her Majesty’s Government to assist them. If no new initiative is taken there is likely to be serious trouble in the Protectorate itself and we cannot rule out the possibility that senior officers of the Government might ask to be relieved of their posts in a situation which they might regard as hopeless. It has become urgently necessary to reconsider our future policy in the Protectorate and in the Horn of Africa generally. The courses of action open to us would appear to be as follows.

50197 B

6. We could allow an approach by the Somalis to the International Court. This would call in question our domestic jurisdiction in respect of all our Protectorate Treaties and might even concede to the United Nations the right of interference in a wide range of Colonial issues. The result of such an approach could only be embarrassing to Her Majesty’s Government and would not in fact help the Somalis.

7. We could repudiate the 1954 Agreement. This would leave the Somalis with only their rights under the 1897 Treaty which are very vague and less satisfactory than those under the 1954 Agreement.

8. We could repudiate the 1897 Treaty. For this to be effective we should have to occupy the Territories which would be an act of war against Ethiopia. This course can scarcely be considered except as a last resort after all other measures have been tried.

9. We could withdraw from the Somaliland Protectorate. This would involve abandoning our responsibilities towards the Somalis and, apart from what might be considered over-riding moral considerations, is open to the following further serious objections: —

(a) we should lose the confidence of all those who look to us for protection throughout the Commonwealth;

(b) even if we were to continue to subsidise the new State there would not be the indigenous technical, or administrative, talent, or material to enable it to stand on its own feet. We should, therefore, both politically and economically, create a vacuum which the Russians and the Egyptians would be quick to exploit;

(c) there are strategic arguments against withdrawal, particularly in relation to


(d) an independent Somaliland Protectorate whether or not associated with Somalia would inherit our obligations under the 1897 Treaty. We could not therefore support the new State in any attempt forcibly or through an international tribunal to repudiate that Treaty. Any guarantee of the frontiers of the new State (which would be expected by the Somalis) would only extend to the present frontiers of the Protectorate and would not include the Territories.

10. We might encourage an Ethiopian/Somali rapprochement. Ethiopia is

in the strong position of being in possession of the Territories. Any rapprochement therefore would inevitably, be upon Ethiopian terms. Some qualified observers regard some form of federation between the Somalis and the Ethiopians, whereby the Somalis would regain the Territories, as the only logical solution. The fact must nevertheless be faced that the Ethiopians are hated and distrusted by the Somalis, and that the Somali leaders are publicly committed to precisely the opposite policy. There is therefore no chance at the present moment that they

could be persuaded to adopt this line and any attempt on our part to encourage

them to do so would merely bring additional odium upon our heads.

11. We could arraign Ethiopia before the United Nations for breach of the 1954 Agreement. We have clear evidence of such a breach. Under the 1954 Agreement the position of the Protectorate tribes in the Territories is more favourable than their position simply under the 1897 Treaty. In particular the Agreement allows the Protectorate tribes to have their own tribal organisation, supervised by liaison staff of the Protectorate Government. For various reasons,

however, it has been found almost impossible to compel the Ethiopians in practice to observe the terms of the Agreement, and although we now have clear evidence that the Ethiopians have broken the Agreement, this difficulty still remains.

Even if we were to take the case to the United Nations the most we could hope

to achieve would be an admonition to the Ethiopians to observe the Agreement

followed by an assurance as valueless as that given to Mr. Dodds-Parker in Addis Ababa. The difficulty of enforcement would still remain.

Admittedly there is a certain publicity value in such a course, but on the other hand there is still a considerable danger—since the United Nations may be swayed less by concern for Somali welfare than by a wish to score off a ” Colonial Power ” —that the debate might become enlarged into an examination of the 1897 Treaty or that it would take some other undesirable turn embarrassing to Great Britain and perhaps other Colonial Powers, such as the French or Belgians.

I Finally even if successful it would fail completely to satisfy the Somalis who have, with justice, no confidence in Ethiopian promises and whose object in any case is to recover the Territories.

12. We might try yet again to persuade the Ethiopians to cede the Territories.—For many years before 1954 attempts were made to persuade the Ethiopians to cede the Territories, e.g., by an exchange of the Zeia Corridor, but all failed. In view of the present expansionist policy of the Ethiopians in Somali areas, in addition to the traditional reluctance of the Emperor of Ethiopia to let go any part of his Imperial heritage, it seems quite clear that the Ethiopians will not give up the Territories unless the strongest possible pressure is brought to bear upon them. The Governor of Kenya has recently suggested that an area, the Mandera Quadrilateral, in the Northern Province of Kenya might be offered to the Ethiopians in return for the Territories. This suggestion is being studied and it is too early to say whether it is possible to offer the Ethiopians this area.

Even if it should prove possible, and even if we managed to persuade the French and Americans to bring pressure upon the Ethiopians to cede the Territories in exchange for it and a sum of money, which would undoubtedly have to be very large, it is doubtful whether the Ethiopians would agree to dp so. To reopen the possibility of cession at this stage is likely simply to result in delay, delay which will be dangerous at a time when the situation is so rapidly deteriorating.

The Kenya Governments offer will of course be borne in mind as a possible make-weight in some other solution to the problem. In considering any solution involving cession of the Territories, careful thoughtwill have to be given to Ethiopian suspicions that these areas are coveted because they are believed to contain oil. Ethiopia^ interests in any such oil might have

to be safeguarded to her satisfaction, which would require very skilful negotiations so as not to offend the Somalis unnecessarily.

13. Finally, we can try to create a Greater Somalia which would include the Territories.—Logically and objectively the best policy for the Horn of Africa would be the creation of a Greater Somalia, which would include from the outset the Italian Trust Territory (due to become independent in 1960), the Somaliland Protectorate and the Ogaden. (There are also parts of Northern Kenya which are inhabited by a predominantly Somali population, but the inclusion of these, as well as Djibuti, in Greater Somalia need not be considered immediately.) The creation of a new Muslim State in the Horn of Africa is admittedly not without dangers from our own point of view, but the risk of the area falling under Egyptian and Russian influence through such a scheme seems less than the extreme likelihood of the same thing happening under any alternative course. Moreover an early initiative in this direction by Her Majesty’s Government would succeed, as nothing else would, in convincing the Somalis of the Protectorate, at the present crucial time, that we really had their interests at heart.

The revival of the Greater Somalia idea, which came to nothing when advanced by Mr. Bevin in 1946, none the less confronts us with formidable difficulties. First, we shall have to face the obvious prospect of Ethiopian opposition. Secondly, the scheme is likely to antagonise the French, who will probably regard it as a threat to Djibuti and who in any case have a profound suspicion of British policy in the Horn of Africa. Thirdly, even the Italians, though they may be easier to persuade than the French, may suspect that we intend to bring the new State within the Commonwealth.

I do not regard these difficulties as fatal, but they undoubtedly make it necessary for us to prepare the ground with extreme care. The first essential would be to persuade the French and the Italians (particularly the former) that the present situation is as inimical to their interests as to our own and that our aim in the Horn of Africa is to maintain not British influence as such but joint Western influence. Once we can convey to our Western allies that our aim is to pursue a combined policy with them (as indeed it must be if there is to be any hope of success) and not to increase our influence at their expense, I feel that the dangers of resurrecting the Greater Somalia idea will be much reduced. We may then, moreover, be able to bring the French in particular to understand, as they do not seem to do at present, the full dangers of the present position. They tend to regard us as having wilfully created Somali nationalism. Nothing could be further from the truth. Somali nationalism has created itself, and the problem will in any case come to a head in 1960. All that we are trying to do is to contend with the facts as we find them, and to keep the situation under control. The present Ethiopian

50197 attitude in the Territories which the French seem almost inclined to encourage, is the one thing which above all else will drive the Somalis into the hands of the Egyptians and make them bitterly and permanently hostile to the West. If this line of thought is accepted by my colleagues, a positive course of action begins to emerge. The stages would be as follows. First, we should enter into close and confidential consultations with the French and the Italians on the lines of the preceding sub-paragraph. I would like once again to stress the importance of this stage, since I regard the achievement of a mutual understanding with our Western allies as one of the most vital factors in this whole problem. At the same time it would be equally important, perhaps even more important, to explain our ideas and plans to the Americans, if only because of their decisive influence in Ethiopian foreign policy. If we were able to secure American, French and Italian support, a joint approach would be made to the Ethiopians. It would be brought home to them with renewed force that their present policies towards the Somalis are likely to have a disastrous effect on themselves by exposing their eastern flank to Egyptian and probably Russian influence. Some more positive bait than this would, however, be needed; and I suggest that the Ethiopians should be told that Greater Somalia, once created, could federate with Ethiopia if, of its own free will, it decided to do so. This prospect would provide the Ethiopians with some incentive to behave decently towards the Somalis in the future. The above suggestion admittedly leaves some points unanswered. First, how would the Greater Somalia scheme be launched? The details of this could be worked out with our allies, but it may be necessary to propose at an early stage the convening of an international conference. Secondly, what would be the status of Greater Somalia after it had come into being? Here again, discussion with our allies would be required. The objective would presumably be that Greater Somalia should from the outset form an independent State but it would almost certainly have to be supported by financial and other assistance from the Western Powers concerned. This would in fact amount to an unofficial ” consortium,” with which Ethiopia might be offered the prospect of participation, dependent upon good behaviour towards the Somalis from now on. (This condition would not be an idle threat, since in the present state of Somali feeling any association of Ethiopia with the control of Somali affairs, however unofficial, would be out of the question.)

It might be necessary, however, to envisage some more formal type of consortium,

under the aegis of the United Nations. This would present dangers and difficulties,

and if we were to embark on any such course it would be doubly essential that the

Americans, the French, and the Italians and ourselves should first be in full

agreement on the whole policy. Otherwise there would be no guarantee whatever

that a United Nations sponsored consortium would not simply let in the Russians

and the Egyptians through the back door.

14. Conclusions.—Despite the difficulties it involves, I believe after serious

consideration that renewed sponsorship of a Greater Somalia project is the best

course for Her Majesty’s Government to take in the present situation in which

all the possible courses of action appear to involve great risks. I therefore invite

my colleagues to agree that we should initiate confidential discussions with the

French, American and Italian Governments on the lines outlined in the preceding

paragraph. I must stress that in view of the present deteriorating circumstances

speed is of vital importance. In the meantime there is no alternative but for the

Protectorate Government, aided by the firm action now being taken by our

Ambassador at Addis Ababa, to persist in trying to make the 1954 Agreement work.

A. L.-B

Colonial Office, S.W.1,

23rd July, 1956.

Continue reading the appendixes and see maps


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