Sunday April 9, 2017
By Mohamed I. Trunji
After all-night discussions on November 21, 1949, the General Assembly of the United Nations, after section by section approval, overwhelmingly accepted the resolution by a vote of 48 to 1 and 9 abstentions, placing Somalia under Italian Trusteeship. The lone dissenting voice being that of Ethiopia, the abstaining Powers were: Byelorussia, Czechoslovakia, France, New Zealand, Poland, Sweden, Ukraine, USSR and Yugoslavia. It is interesting to note that Soviet Union and the Eastern European States, despite their strong opposition to the resolution, decided not to vote against it.
However, a considerable period of time had elapsed before actual handover process between the British military occupation and the incoming Italian administration took place. In its resolution, the General Assembly of the United Nations had called upon the Trusteeship Council to negotiate with Italy over a draft trusteeship agreement to be submitted for approval by the General Assembly no later than its fifth regular session in 1950. The resolution recommended, inter alia, that Italy should be invited to undertake the provisional administration of Somalia. Two weeks after the General Assembly made its recommendations; the Trusteeship Council has taken initial steps for carrying out the provisions on Somalia were taken by establishing a special committee with the task of preparing a draft Trusteeship Agreement.
Instituting the Trusteeship Arrangement- Ethiopia attempts to delay the process
The Somaliland Committee held an organizational meeting on December 13, 1949 at Lake Success, electing Max Henriquez-Urena of the Dominican Republic as chairman. The Committee reconvened in Geneva on January 9, 1950 and in the course of the following ten days prepared a draft text for presentation to the Trusteeship Council. The draft agreement was chiefly based on two drafts submitted by Italy and the Philippines respectively. The committee was composed of France, Iraq, the Philippines, the Dominican Republic, the United States of America and the United Kingdom. The Drafting Committee was also empowered to allow representatives of the political parties and organizations in Somalia to express their views before it, if they so desired. However, the decision, taken on the motion of the Philippines, to invite native inhabitants, met with strong British objections on the feasibility of consulting local opinion. In any case the argument proved somewhat academic as no representative of any Somali political party appeared before the Committee to express the party’s views. The absence of the SYL envoy from Geneva during the drafting process was later explained as based on the fear that “his presence there might be interpreted as a sign of the SYL’s acceptance of the United Nations decision on Somalia.
On December 5, 1949, the unexpected happened: the Ethiopian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Abte-Wold Aklilou, appealed to the Secretary General of the United Nation Trygve Lie “to take all appropriate steps to ensure that the Trusteeship Agreement for former Italian Somalia should not be prepared without the participation and agreement of Ethiopia.” Ethiopia refused to participate in the work of the Trusteeship Council unless her right to vote as a ‘State directly concerned’ was recognized.
When the Trusteeship Council went ahead with its plan to draft the agreement ignoring Ethiopian objections, Ethiopia sought to delay the works. In a cablegram to the Trusteeship Council, Ethiopia requested that “sufficient time be allowed to clear and elucidate certain points.” Ethiopia referred first to the fact that the Ethiopian – Italian Somaliland border was not demarcated, and second, raised doubts over the legality of Italy, a non-member of the United Nations, assuming the functions of Trustee. Ethiopia declared that she was considering submitting the case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for an advisory opinion.
Obviously, the Ethiopian claim lacked solid legal argument because, under Chapter XII of the UN Charter, the authority which would exercise the administration of a Trust Territory might be one or more States or the Organization itself. In fact, Article 81 of the Charter clearly refers to ‘one or more States’ and not to members of the United Nations. For this reason, it had never been stated, either by the Four Powers or by any other government consulted, that the fact that Italy was not a member of the United Nations excluded her from participation in the trusteeship system. Consequently, the Ethiopian threat of legal action did not deter the Trusteeship Council from proceeding with the drafting of the agreement, and Ethiopia, in an effort not to prejudice her position, refrained from taking part in the works of the Council without a vote, but merely sent observers to the committee’s sessions. The Trusteeship Agreement, as drafted by the Committee with a few changes introduced by the trusteeship Council itself, was approved by the Council at its meeting of January 27, 1950.
In the meantime, the Italian government, in a communication addressed to the Secretary General of the United Nations on 22 February 1950, undertook to administer the territory in accordance with the provisions of the Charter relating to the International Trusteeship system while the Trusteeship Agreement for the territory was awaiting approval by the General Assembly.
Italy returns to Africa. Incident-free handover
On 1 April 1950, (67 years ago) as provided by the General Assembly Resolution, the transfer of administration from the British to the Italians was formalized with a solemn ceremony. The handover process took place without incident all over the Territory. “Fortunately, it was accepted calmly by the population, and it is hoped that the anti-Italian parties will now collaborate with the new administration in the task of preparing Somalia for independence” reads a report from Brigadier F.G. Drew, the Chief Administrator, to the Foreign Ministry.
In Mogadishu, the ceremony of lowering and hoisting flags took place in the courtyard of the Governor’s Palace, known as ‘Palazzo del Governo’. It is significant that, the last Italian flag in the Horn of Africa having been lowered at Gondor, in north-western Ethiopia, on November 27, 1941, that flag was again hoisted in East Africa on April 1, 1950.
A large crowd of Somalis, including religious and tribal chiefs, attended the historic ceremony. Top officials from Britain and Italy were present to witness the event.
The former nation was represented by Gen. Dowler, Commander in Chief of the East African Troops, and Gen. Geoffrey Gamble, Chief Administrator of Somalia; the latter, by Acting Administrator, Pompeo Gorini, and the Commander of the ‘Corpo di Sicurezza’ [Security Corps], Gen. Arturo Ferrara, in addition to the Italian Liaison Officer in Somalia, Ambassador Raimondo Manzini.
With the same modality, the transfer of power took place in all parts of the Territory, and the day passed without incident, except for a brawl which broke out between elements of the “Conferenza Somala” and the Lega dei Giovani Somali at Bardera (Alto Giuba). The brawl, which later degenerated into shooting, claimed the lives of three persons; a few more were slightly injured.
The handover of the Territory was to take place from the front to the rear according to the plan prepared earlier for this purpose. Alula, in the Migiurtinia Province, was the first district to be handed over on March 17, 1950. The handing over of the Migiurtinia Province was completed on March 26, 1950. The handing over of Mudug Province was completed on March 25 and that of the Alto Giuba on 27. In the Basso Giuba area, the handover was completed on April 1st, 1950. The remainder of Benadir Province and Mogadiscio were handed over on the same date.
In its editorial comment, the official daily newspaper Il Corriere della Somalia wrote triumphantly: “Nine years of British administration over the territory of Somalia ended this morning in accordance with the decision of the General Assembly of the United Nations at Lake Success on 21 November 1949. Above the administrative buildings in the capital, Mogadiscio, there now flies the tricolored flag of the Republic of Italy. The Union Jack is lowered. With dignity and simplicity, in harmony and friendship, Britain transferred, at the wish of the United Nations, the administration of Somalia to the Republic of Italy. All was completed without incident and in harmony. Brigadier Gamble, who was present in Mogadiscio on April 1, 1950, said the handover was “very impressive, punctual and dignified.” The perceived danger was that some extremist elements associated with the SYL, disappointed and fearing for their future, might try to stir up trouble either before or after the arrival of the Italians, or that elements of the pro-SYL Somali police might go as far as staging a mutiny. Nothing of the predicted disorder or unrest happened; the situation remained calm and promising. The atmosphere was much more tranquil than had been expected, and none of the upheavals and resistance expected in some quarters materialized” comments Saul Kelly. Kelly raises a number of suppositions as to what might have contributed to this relaxed atmosphere: more Somalis than expected welcomed the return of the Italians, perhaps through indifference or fear. While the suppositions raised by Kelly may be valid to some degree, one should not ignore the efforts of persuasion made by the British colonial authorities among the population at large and designed to cool down the tension. In fact, between the announcement of the Trusteeship and the formal handover, British authorities on many occasions encouraged the local population to serve under and co-operate with the incoming Italian administration.
Lieutenant Colonel Alfredo Arnera, who served in Somalia during the AFIS period as commander in chief of the Somali police force and who was present at this important event, wrote: “No Somali protests, no one disobeys, no one has the slightest thought of doing anything which is not in line with what is going on.” He added that the Carabinieri “were ready to intervene with firm determination should the Somali police show signs of ‘défaillance’ or the enemy of our country dare put their hidden threats into action.” The British authorities were also instructed to intervene in the event of disturbances during the handover ceremony. “In the event of disturbances which endanger the safety of British, Italians, Indians or other families, you are responsible for taking all the necessary steps to ensure their safety” reads a directive given to General Dowler by the Command Force on January 11, 1950. But, while violent confrontations did not occur, the radical wing of the SYL did not spare strong denunciations of the new administration through the foreign press and during the weekly meetings of the party. These verbal attacks, however, fell short of producing popular agitation such as to seriously undermine the public order.
At Lake Success, before the First Commission of the General Assembly, Abdullahi Issa, the SYL representative solemnly declared: “The Somali Youth League was positive that, should the General Assembly decide to restore the ’hated Italian rule’ in Somaliland, the people will resist to the last man.” “Immediate reaction to such an unfortunate decision” stated the envoy “would be inevitable notwithstanding the fact that the British bayonets, Tommy guns, thousands of heavy tanks and planes stationed in Mogadisho and in other centres throughout the territory are ready to subdue our people forcibly.” However, when the ‘hated Italian rule’ was established on April 1, 1950, the SYL did keep a low profile in Mogadishu as well as in the rest of the country, causing no reason for Britain to use bayonets, tanks or military aircraft to establish public order. According to British sources it was noticeable, however, that immediately after the formal handover ceremony, in Mogadishu, strong patrols of Carabinieri police, armed with Thomson sub-machine guns and pistols and accompanied by native police in groups, varying from four to twelve, appeared in all main streets. Public buildings were carefully guarded and armoured cars and lorries carrying armed troops also patrolled the streets. “It seemed that as though the Italian authorities intended to show their strength so as to prevent trouble in the future” reads a British report. In Baidoa, the arrival of the Italians was welcomed with particular enthusiasm as a heavy downpour of rain on March 23, the same day as the handover, eased a severe water shortage. This fortuitous rain, after months of drought and hardship, was interpreted by the local population as “a mark of the favour of Allah at the return of the Italians”
Mohamed I. Trunji
E-mail: [email protected]