The Truth about the return of Italy to Somalia in 1950 as Trustee

The Somali public, at large, holds the opinion that the Lega dei Giovani Somali had favoured the return of Italy to its former colony as a Trustee during the debate of the future of Somalia at the United Nations in 1949. This erroneous conception stems obviously from poor knowledge of what this party stood for in the 1940s.

A wealth of sources, including diplomatic and intelligence reports, cables, memoranda and letters are available for consultation for whoever interested to be familiar with the struggle the party was engaged in both within Somalia and at the UN aimed to undermine the Italian claim over trusteeship of Somalia.

This article tries to remove this misconception about how Italy came back to Southern Somalia as Trustee in 1950. It also sheds light on the failure of the Allied Four Powers over the final disposal of the former Italian colonies in Africa.

  1. The Peace Treaty with Italy

Following the creation of the United Nations, the leaders of America, Britain and the Soviet Union met at Potsdam, (city in Germany) July 17–August 2, 1945 and concluded the Potsdam Agreement, in which the three Allied countries decided to form a Council of Ministers. The first clause of the agreement was the establishment of a Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM). The role of this Council was to prepare peace treaties with the Axis powers, defined in the agreement as the ‹enemy states› (Italy, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Finland and Germany), and settle outstanding territorial questions.

The Italian Peace Treaty, which had bearing on the future of Somalia, was signed in Paris on 10 February 1947. Twenty-one countries took part in the final drafting of the treaty. The relevant article of the treaty dealing with Italy’s colonies was Article 23. Italy renounced all rights and titles to its former African possessions, i.e. Eritrea, Libya and Somalia leaving the respective British Administration temporarily in power. The final disposal of these possessions was to be determined jointly by the governments of the Soviet Union, of the United Kingdom, of the United States of America, and of France within one year from the coming into force of the Treaty. If no agreement was reached the matter would be referred to the UN General Assembly for a recommendation. The Four Powers accepted and pledged to execute the recommendations.

  1. The Four Power Commission of Investigation

The failure of the Four Powers to reach an agreement

Before deferring the matter to the General Assembly of the United Nations, however, a Commission of Investigation was sent to all of the three former Italian colonies. The terms of office of the Commission were to report to the deputy Foreign Ministers of the Allies on the economic, social and political conditions of the colonies and to ascertain the views of the local population over the future of their respective countries. It was not required to submit any recommendation on the final disposal of the colonies.

The Commission arrived in Mogadiscio on 6 January 1948; the five members’ delegation representing the Lega met the Commission on January 20, 1948. The party advocated a ten years period of trusteeship for Somalia under Four Power administration. Asked why do not ask for one power as a trustee, the chairman of the party gave the following peremptory response: “We have already experienced the administration of one government over fifty years and Somalis have no progress and have nothing to show for it”. (Report of the Four Powers Commission of Investigation, section II, chapter 4) They categorically rejected any Italian or Ethiopian role in the proposed joint administration.

During the course of its investigations, it held 13 meetings at which 756 people were heard collectively or separately and visited 26 villages and localities, including: Belet Uen, Bulo Burti, Merca, Jenale, Villabruzzi, Galcaio, Afgoi, Wanleweyn, Balad, Jelib, Margherita (Jamama), Kisimayo, Afmedu, Isha Baidoa, Hoddur, Wajit, Lugh Ferrandi, Bur Hakaba, Dinsor, Mahadai, Brava, Bender Cassim and Gardo (Report of the four Powers Commission. Section V, p. 110).

  1. The Italian colonies before the United Nations

One year after the coming into force of the Peace Treaty with Italy and after three years of discussions among the Big Four, the future of Italian colonies in Africa remained undetermined. On September 24, 1948 the Four Powers jointly addressed a communication to the Secretary General of the United Nations informing him that, in conformity with Article 23, paragraph XI of the Treaty with Italy, the question of the disposal of the former Italian colonies was being referred to the General Assembly. The Assembly was thus given the role of arbiter in a dispute that had defied solution despite protracted and intricate negotiations among the leading powers of the world.

The Lega party dispatched an envoy to the United Nations in 1949 to lobby the United Nations delegates. The representative of the Lega dei Giovani Somali and Hamar Youth, appearing before the Trusteeship Council of the United Nation, missed no occasion to express the categorical opposition of his party to the restoration of Italian administration in any form or guise whatsoever.

Actually, the issue debated at the United Nations was not the independence of the Somalia, which was taken for granted; the debate was on the difficult search for a trustee to whom assign the UN Trusteeship mandate on Italian Somaliland.

At the United Nations, the Lega was challenged by a powerful rival political group, known as the Confrenza Somala which favoured a trusteeship period of thirty years for Somalia, under Italian administration, but subject to the radical reform and its development in all spheres.

Many are on the opinion that the Lega made a “big mistake” for not choosing Britain as administering power on account of the fact that, in 1949, almost all Somali-inhabited territories in the Horn were under British control. According to the critics, a British administration would have increased the prospect of union of all these territories in one country.

Historically, among the Four Powers, only Britain expressed interest in administering Somalia but, as a result of its ill-defined Greater Somalia scheme, known as “Bevin Plan”, dismissed in 1946 by Ethiopia and the Allies as imperialistic and land-grabbing, she definitely dropped the Plan. Any one, who is familiar with the contents of the Plan, would know that it was not a decisive proposal as its application was contingent on the Ethiopian assent. Furthermore, by that time, between Britain and Italy an effective collaboration was forged and Britain, in line with other major European countries, together with all the countries of Latin America, became more supportive to the Italian claim over trusteeship of Somalia.

Italy regarded the reacquisition of its former colonies as a crucial step, for the purposes not only of international rehabilitation, but also of reintegration into the Western alliance system as a credible partner. After all, the Italians continued to consider the African Horn as their traditional sphere of influence. Consequently, in the absence of a major power willing and able to assume international trusteeship responsibilities in Somalia, the conclusion that a non-fascist Italy wishing to return to Africa should assume these responsibilities seemed inevitable.

Finally, after all-night discussions on November 21, 1949, the General Assembly of the United Nations, overwhelmingly accepted, by a vote of 48 to 1 and 9 abstentions, the resolution placing Somalia under Italian Trusteeship for 10 years time followed by full independence. With effect from April 1, 1950, Southern Somalia became officially a UN Trust territory administered by Italy.

Predictably, the initial years of the Trusteeship administration were characterized by uneasy relationship between the Administering power and the Lega party, and there were many moments of tension. At times, the stand off between the two parties had brought relations to reach a point close to a breaking point causing thus a valuable time to be lost in the first critical years of the new Administration.

By the end of 1955, the Italian Trusteeship Administration had succeeded in convincing the Lega that it was only a temporary agency committed to fulfill its international obligations contemplated in the Trusteeship Agreement. In that year the Lega dei Giovani Somali embarked on a policy of collaboration with the Trusteeship Administration. It was a slow and difficult process: it took nearly four years for the Lega to realize that the rapidly approaching target date for independence did not permit the luxury of sterile confrontations. The ‘arranged marriage’ in 1949 promoted  by the UN between the Administering Power and the largest Somali political party, became thus, a co-cohabitation based on mutual understanding which culminated smoothly in the total independence of Somalia in 1960.

M. Trunji

E-mail trunji@yahoo.com