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1959: The rebellion of the “Majerteen” MPs (Part Two)

1959: The SYL intraparty feuding moved to the United Nations. Fear of a setback for the process towards independence

By M. Trunji
Thursday, May 19, 2022

In the last episode on the political crisis which engulfed the Somali government in 1959, we dealt briefly with a dissident faction within the parliamentary group of the governing party, the SYL, who staged a rebellion against the Prime Minister, accusing him, among other things, of forming the government on strictly tribal base. Little argument is needed to demonstrate that, in Somalia, no Prime Minister could survive if he fails to assign portfolios according to the strength of the various competing clan families represented in the Parliament.

While the SYL intraparty rivalry remained center stage in the struggle for post-independence political power, further evidence of worsening situation emerged with the publication of anti-government Manifesto, dated April 30, 1959 being circulated by hand around Mogadiscio. It was signed by a Galcaio tribal Chief, Hagi Sugulle Habsei, who demanded, among other things, new and free elections, a Congress of traditional Chiefs and religious leaders, greater religious influence in politics, and adoption of Arabic as the country’s official language. The Manifesto emphasized the refusal of any possible postponement of the independence on the Somali’s part. The bugbear of delayed independence was first raised, without credible evidence, by Abdullahi Issa himself, in his capacity as Lega envoy at the United Nations in 1953. Now that he was the Head of the government, he had the duty of dismissing the existence of any plan designed to postpone independence. One needs not to be an expert on the subject to realize that a Manifesto in which claims were made as to the ‘discovery’ of  a Western plot to delay the Somali independence, bore the hallmark of the Egyptian blatant piece of propaganda released by the Radio Cairo.

Two rival delegates from the same political party confronted each other before the United Nations

When all attempts to solve the SYL intraparty problems failed to produce agreement in Mogadisho, the party’s bickering landed up eventually in the United Nations. In fact, a defiant Abdirazak, together with Mohamoud Ahmed Mohamed “Kitaaba Hor”, on behalf of the dissident faction, travelled to New York in July, to challenge the legitimacy of the Somali government before the Trusteeship Council. This potentially damaging move, at that critical time (less than a year before independence) had shocked a lot of people. Many feared that such a move might call into doubt that the country was ready for independence, and this was the last thing Somalis wanted to happen.

To counterbalance the dissident’s maneuver, the government, in addition to 9 strong- delegation already present in New York, dispatched urgently to the United Nations, two members of Parliament, Ali Mohamed Hirave “Hagarrei” and Abdullahi Haji Mohamoud ‘Insania’ accompanied by a Police Officer, Lt. Colonel Daud Abdulla, to defend the government position. Addressing his consternation to the dissident group, Aden Abdulla made the following statement: “It is a real shame (grande vergogna) for the Lega and for Somalia too, that two delegations, both from the same party, are present in Ney York just to contradict each other”, adding: ”what you are doing is detrimental to the interest of Somalia whose independence could be put in question if you continue making frond” (Diary July 9, 1959).

Protesting before the United Nations against the government were also representatives from the traditional opposition political parties. The leaders who appeared before the Trusteeship Council to protest against the Somali government and the Italian administration included, Aboukar Hamoud ‘Soccoro’ (representing Somali National Union Party), Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed ‘Yero’, (representing  Hisbia Destur Mustaqil Somali), and Abdullahi Aboukar Sheikh Ahmed ‘Gacna-Dheere’, from the Greater Somali League Party (UN Doc. TC 1014th meeting of  July 16, 1959).

The debate on the petition submitted by the dissident faction within the Lega generated heated exchange between Abdirazak and the Egyptian representative at the Trusteeship Council, who seemed not quite impressed by the arguments reflected in the petition. There was no disposition among the members of the Council to interfere in the internal affairs of Somalia politics, and no delegation made any attempt to seriously embarrass the Lega government. Even the Soviet Union was mild in its criticism, which was directed carefully at the Italian administration and not at Somali government. “The demands of the petitioners were not, therefore, taken up, and they made little impression”, commented the UK delegation at the United Nations (TNA FO 371/138390 of August 10, 1959). Realizing that his arguments were unlikely to cut much ice with the members of the Trusteeship Council, Abdirazak refused to be drawn in any general indictment of the Somali government. Instead, he made a face-saving statement on July 25 on behalf of “all Somali petitioners or otherwise who are now present” in which he said that “all Somalis were at one in pursuit of certain aims for the future of Somalia which would be achieved with the harmonious co-operation of all segments of the people” (TNA FO 371/138390 of August 10, 1959).

In the meanwhile, the critics of the new government missed no opportunity to speak disparagingly of some Cabinet Ministers reportedly regarded by their tribesmen as ‘renegades and weaklings’: Salad Abdi, whose resignation was refused by the Prime Minister a year earlier, was rewarded by a ‘demotion’ from Finance to Agriculture. Sheikh Mohamoud  Malingur was an Ogadeni Darod as government ‘pensioner’, while Mohamoud ‘Muro’ was regarded as ‘opportunist’ and personal friend of the Prime Minister (TNA FO 371/ 138312 of July 1, 1959)

After long and laborious efforts, the Prime Minister finally presented the programme of his government to the National Assembly, but after taking the precaution of ensuring that the vote in the Assembly should be by roll call rather than by secret ballot. A roll call is a voting process in which Legislators are called on by name and allowed to express their vote publicly.  By having a roll call, the Prime Minister will not only apply pressure on those who promised him their support but , also have the benefit of knowing who he could count on in the future. In fact, a group of Deputies introduced a motion requesting the vote of confidence to be conducted by roll call. (Diary, July 10, 1959), a move intended to save the government from being defeated and humiliated in secret ballot. The motion was approved by 57 votes and 20 against (Diary, July 10, 1959), By 67 votes in favour against 10 and one abstention, the Parliament approved the government’s programme on August 1, 1959, six months after the general elections held in March.

M. Trunji
E-mail: [email protected]


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