SOMALILAND: Beginning of a New Nation
Laaska News June 26,2011
Monday, May. 14, 1956 (Time)
Less than 30 years ago, Aden Abdullah Osman was a houseboy for a minor Italian official in Italian Somaliland, a barren land on Africa’s bulging eastern coast. Last week Aden Abdullah, now prematurely grey, rode through the streets of Mogadishu, the capital, past cheering crowds and saluting soldiers, to become the chairman of Somaliland’s first elected Parliament and the leader of a new nation.
Aden Abdullah’s rise from houseboy is typical of the changes that are taking place in Somaliland, a territory larger than Italy but with fewer people than Rome. When the British in World War II drove out the Italians who had ruled it since 1892, they found a backward, incredibly poor land populated chiefly by spear-carrying nomadic tribesmen. They seized every scrap of the country’s machinery for reparations and tore up its only railroad.
In 1949 a U.N. General Assembly resolution made Somaliland a U.N. trusteeship under Italy’s care, setting 1960 as the date when it would become a free Somalia. As a matter of national pride, the Italians took seriously the job of sprucing up Somaliland. They repaired the war damage, started port developments and irrigation programs, built new hospitals and dispensaries, and tripled the number of native schools (though only one Somali in 100 can read and write).
Somali tribesmen, mindful of their hatred of the Mussolini colonial era, at first conducted a war of terrorism against the territory’s Italians, killing more Europeans than were slain in Kenya’s Mau Mau revolt.
But tribesmen have been won over by Italy’s patience and good will. “Somalis will always be grateful to Italy,” said Aden Abdullah. Last week, with its ten-year trusteeship term half over, Italy turned over all legislative power to an elected native Parliament. Abdullah’s party, dedicated to modernization of the Somalis’ age-old tribal life, and opposed by traditionalist tribal parties, won 43 out of 63 seats.
Abdullah wears European suits and Somali headdress, and is a man in transition like his country. “I was born in the wilds,” said he. “My parents were nomads and my birth was never registered. I think I am 38 but of course I am not certain.”