Forming Somalia: The Somali Youth League

15th of May, 1943 was a warm spring afternoon in the middle of Mogadishu. Thirteen young enthusiastic Somali men came together with one vision: the independence and unification of all five occupied Somali territories under a white star emerged in an ocean blue depicting the long Somali coast- the longest coast in Africa. This would be the formation of the ‘Somali Youth Club‘ (SYC) which would eventually become the Somali Youth League (SYL).

Their dream, their movement grew to become the first political party in the Somali lands by 1948. With Abdullahi Isse as its Secretary General, the SYC renamed itself the Somali Youth League and began opening offices across Italian and British Somaliland, as well as the Ogaden and the Northern Frontier District (NFD) or Southern Jubaland to spread one message: Soomaalinimo and Islaanimo.

It was 17 years of gruelling dedication and determination, scratching and crawling along the way to fight against the odds of colonialism which had engulfed the entirety of the African continent. A fight driven solely by a spirit of Soomaalinimo and unity. A spirit which would eventually usher the Somali people of the occupied British and Italian Somali lands independence as a unified country on July 1st, 1960.

In honour of Somali Youth day, lets take a glimpse at the history of this important group and the pivotal role it played in the creation of Somalia. A country still fighting for its freedom, 78 years on.

The Creation of the Somali Youth League

The SYL movement began back in 1942. During this period, the Second World War was at its peak and the East African Campaign had just been concluded. The Italian Fascists conquered Abyssinia in 1935 and coupled with the Italian invasion of British Somaliland in 1941, they had managed to unite almost all Somali territories under a ‘Somalia Governorate‘ colony. However, by the end of 1941, a British counter-offensive from British Kenya and British Colony of Aden enabled a swift victory over the Italians by 1942, placing the entirety of Soomaaliweyn under British Military Administration.

It was during this short-lived period that the concept of a sovereign, unified and independent country for the Somalis came into existence.

In an interview with Hanoolaato, SYL activist C/Qaadir Ali Boolaay described the creation of the SYL in Mogadishu. “People were tired of Italian colonialism which oppressed the Somalis”, he explained. “When the British came, they gave an opportunity for other ethnicities in Mogadishu including the Pakistanis, Arabs and even Italians to create community organisations. It was on this basis that we requested the British to allow Somalis to create our own social group for young Somali intellectuals to hang out and discuss politics”.

This simple idea eventually gave birth to the Somali Youth Club (SYC). The small group would amass 13 young Somalis in Mogadishu. These Somalis would ask the British military administration to create a club for young Somalis to meet and socialise. This was because, the colonial administration would not allow local Somalis to develop political awareness and self-determination, thus the concept of a youth club would provide a perfect disguise to hide their true intention from the British. On the 15th of May 1943, the SYC would formed in Mogadishu after permission was granted.

“At a restaurant, we would meet regularly, spreading the idea of Somali independence from our oppressors. This resulted in the SYC movement growing exponentially within the first year”, elucidated Boolaay. “People began to unite against one common enemy: colonialism. This very idea would eliminate the divisions of clans that previously existed among Somalis for centuries”.

Boolaay explained that the SYL eradicated centuries of clan allegiances by instilling in young Somalis attending schools the idea of Somali patriotism and unity. “The club was packed with young people!”, Boolaay recalled enthusiastically.

“I remember when I was young during the SYL era, a person asking about clans would be condemned as a ‘qabilist’!”.

By 1948, the SYC would rename itself the Somali Youth League, electing Abdullahi Isse as its Secretary General, opening offices across Italian and British Somaliland, as well as the Ogaden and the Northern Frontier District (NFD) or Southern Jubaland.

The return of the Italians and the UN Trusteeship

By the end of WWII, the Potsdam Conference composing of the US, UK and USSR decided to not return Italian Somaliland to Italy. Instead, the UN opted to grant Italy the governance of the UN trusteeship in the former Italian Somaliland in November 1949. However, this only came with close supervision from the UN and one condition proposed by the SYL amongst other groups: Somalia to achieve independence within ten years.

During this period, the SYL began expanding its wings, opening offices across all five regions of Soomaaliweyn with SYL leaders in each region spreading the idea of an independent state for the Somali people. This would create a sense of unity amongst Somalis never witnessed in Somali history. The yearning for change grew amongst the new educated Somali generation away from their forefathers that did not understand nationhood or a unified Somali government.

Nevertheless, it was also during this period that members of the Italian administration and its Somali puppets actively fought against Somali independence by attempting to fracture and dismantle the concept of Soomaalinimo with the Achilles heel of the Somalis: clans.

“Everything Somalis wanted to do, everything we did was underpinned and divided along clan interests. This system was enforced by the former Italian colonists who now became leaders of the UN trusteeship of Somaliland”, highlighted Boolaay. “It was these very Italian leaders and Somali proxies that returned tribalism to Somalia that we worked so hard to eradicate”.

Evidently, the biggest obstacle faced by the SYL was Italian and British colonialists and their Somali allies such as the “Hizbia Digil Mirifle Somali“. As the Italians previously did to conquer and divide the Somalis, upon their return in 1949, the Italian administration attempted to re-establish governance of the Somalis along clan redistribution, successfully doing so. For example, seats in the new established National Assembly were elected along clan lines. Positions within the Somali-led government would be chosen along clan lines under Italian supervision. This culture would be instilled in the proto-Somali state from very early in its creation during the 1950s.

Similarly, the British gave the Ogaden to the Ethiopians under the Anglo-Ethiopian treaty of 1954, backtracking on previous treaties made with northern Somali clans. They also gave Southern Jubaland to Kenya by 1960 despite vocal support amongst Somalis for a unification of all occupied Somali territories, denying Somalis any democratic determination to decide their own future.

Indeed, the SYL sent a delegation to both the UK and the UN led by Khadar/Michael Mariano in 1955 to hold the UK to account for breaking treaties it signed with Somali clans to return the Ogaden to Somalis to no avail.

The Creation of the Somali Republic and underlining Problems

The clan politics which was instilled and solidified into Somali politics by the colonialists would eventually be a major hinderance during Somalia’s independence and would eventually lead to the collapse of the state in 1991. These can be summarised to:

  • The redistribution along clan lines resulted in misrepresentation of certain clans in the country and encourage clan allegiances resulting in corruption in favour ones own clan. This would create a sense of disenfranchisement amongst minorities clans.
  • The clan politics would result in the mismanagement of the unification of British Somaliland with the UN Trusteeship of Somaliland in 1960. This was because British and Italian Somaliland were governed under different systems, this included military and government system. The unification of both former colonies required meticulous and careful planning. Instead, this was not done, resulting in the complete neglect of the former British Somaliland resulting in the eventual attempted coup in 1963.
  • The region would continue to be neglected under the Barre Military government resulting in negative sentiments in the north, laying the seeds for the concept of ‘Somaliland‘ in 1991.
  • It also allowed the rise of a military government which would rule the country for 30 years, denying Somalis their basic democratic rights and oppressing clans.

The combination of all these factors would result in an explosion of clan allegiances and collapse of patriotism in 1991 fuelled by foreign countries.

It would create northern Somalis that have felt wronged for thirty years. It would create clans that felt oppressed for thirty years while others benefited. Again, we would see a divide Somalia, exploited by foreign countries to dismantle and conquer Somalis. A replay of 1949.

30 years on, we are still fighting to break away from a system installed by colonial powers so many years ago. A system now abused by foreign countries to continue to benefit from a fragmented and devolved Somalia.

The Relevancy of the SYL today

The very principles that were taught and spread by the SYL have slowly been leached out of the Somali nation, replaced with the poisons of clans and corruption. Two diseases that continue to infect the minds of so many Somalis. Two diseases that have maintained a grip on Somalia for three decades, meticulously exploited by foreign agents that planted those very seeds into the Somali nation 61 years ago.

Amazingly, without any social media, without any mobile and telephone devices, the SYL would meet in Mogadishu to talk about a dream. An independent country for their fellow oppressed people. Their movement grew to be the biggest and first of its kind in Somalia. Within 17 years, their vision became a reality when Somalia gained independence on the 1st of July 1960 only for it to be lost by 1991.

Today, Somalis are again at a crossroad. We face a same problem. Divisions fuelled by external forces that are against an independent Somalia. They remain foxes that cover themselves in sheep skin. They wear new clothing, different masks and speak new languages but their objective remains the same: prevent a unified Somalia.

The enemy face by our SYL forefathers are the same enemy we face today.

The international fight against a direct election in Somalia demonstrates just that. The information war, the orchestration of a civil war and the political war showcases the lengths these forces are willing to take. Much like our SYL forefathers, we face enemies from within. Somalis that work alongside our enemies for their own self-interest. We have been warned about the likes of such people by SYL leaders to the likes of Sayyid Mohamed Abdullah Hassan in his poetry.

Many Somalis yearn for a change but there continues to be roadblocks for REAL change in Somalia. The question becomes: Can Somalis unite under the principles of Soomaalinimo and Islaanimo again to fight for the change they direly deserve?

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