African Union’s Adherence to Colonial Borders Looks Like a Needless Anachronism

In 1964, the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the forerunner to the present-day African Union, declared at its Cairo summit that colonial borders would not be altered to reflect on-the-ground realities regarding ethnicity, language, and/or religion. With little debate, the OAU declared that the colonial boundaries of Africa, agreed to in far-away places like Berlin, Paris, London, and even the remote North Sea island of Heligoland, would serve as post-colonial international borders recognized by the United Nations and the tenets of international law. New states could only be carved out of old colonial entities if the post-colonial governments approved. Such approval would not come without a long and protracted armed fight.

After long periods of fighting for their independence from colonial empires, some newly-independent African states took on the mantra of Neo-Colonialism in denying aspiring ethnic groups their own statehood.

Perhaps the most egregious example of an aspirant nation denied its rightful status because of dictates from the African Union and outside powers in Washington, London, Paris, and Berlin is the Republic of Somaliland in the «Horn of Africa». Shortly after achieving independence from Britain in 1960 as the State of Somaliland, the nation formed what would prove to be a dysfunctional union with the Republic of Somalia, what was formerly the colony of Italian Somaliland.

One of Somaliland’s founding statesmen, Mohammed Ibrahim Egal, was not so keen on rushing into a union with Somalia. Egal wanted to wait for six months to firmly establish Somaliland’s government institutions, before rushing into a union with a nation where the predominant business language was Italian, not English, as was the case in Somaliland.

In 1969, the military junta of Mohammed Siad Barre, who hailed from the former Italian Somaliland and governed from the Somali capital of Mogadishu, began a brutal crackdown on the Isaaq people, the majority ethnic group of Somaliland.

In 1990, after Barre’s ouster, the former British Somaliland withdrew from the Somali Republic and declared itself independence once again. Although the State of Somaliland was recognized by some 35 nations during its brief independence from June 26 to July 1, 1960, no state recognized the nation’s restoration of independence in 1960. Not even Somaliland’s former colonial power, the United Kingdom, recognized Somaliland’s independence, even though many of the restored nation’s leaders had close ties to Britain. Upon independence in 1960, Somaliland’s military was composed of the Somaliland Scouts, whose officers were all trained in Britain and were graduates of Britain’s military colleges.

In 1961, the Somaliland officers, concerned that Somaliland was already receiving a raw deal from the union government in Mogadishu, staged an unsuccessful coup. These graduates of Eton and Sandhurst saw their countrymen receiving menial positions in the so-called «union» government in Mogadishu. Following the attempted coup, which sought a restoration of Somaliland’s independence, the Somaliland officers were imprisoned and not set free until 1964, when they were called on the help lead a war against neighboring Ethiopia for control of the Ogaden region. The Ogaden was recognized by the Mogadishu government as «Western Somalia».

In 1967, Egal, the founder of independent Somaliland, became prime minister of the country. The Italian Somaliland-born President, Abdirashid Ali Shermarke, appointed Egal to the post to assuage feelings in Somaliland that their better-trained and educated political leaders were being short-changed for high leadership positions in Mogadishu. The honeymoon between Somalilanders and Somalis did not last long. In 1969, Shermarke was assassinated by one of his bodyguards, suspected of being a loyalist of Barre. What followed was a military coup staged by Barre. Soon, Barre began a war of genocide against the Isaaqs and other smaller groups in Somaliland.

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