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How Kenya lost Jubaland in deal between Britain and Italy; By John Kamau

In 1966, Dr Njoroge Mungai was confronted with a big headache in Parliament when he was the Minister for Defence — Jubaland. 

Some 54 years later, the same Jubaland headache is confronting President Uhuru Kenyatta as Kenya’s relationship with Somalia continues to go through thorny political thickets.

Unknown to Kenyans, Kenya and Somalia have this nagging, little-talked about matter of Jubaland, which generates a lot of heat and little light. This is another story of British colonial adventure that left Kenya with a historical problem and which has always been the source of suspicion between the two nations.

There is a history to it.

Until 1926, Jubaland was part of Kenya and the residents there, then, had always considered themselves as part of Kenyan territory. That explains why the likes of Harry Thuku were exiled to Kismayu after the 1922 riots outside Nairobi’s Kingsway (now Central) Police Station.

Defended deportation

To digress, this banishment was justified by then Secretary of State, Winston Churchill, who defended the deportation without trial, saying the law does not provide for trial or hearing. He said: “In a country where there is a large and primitive native population, some provision of the kind is required, and the efficacy of the ordinance in restraining seditious or violent tendencies would be seriously weakened if the procedure of an ordinary trial were required.”

That was Winston Churchill’s classic racist reply.

So how did we lose Jubaland? It happens that when the World War I started, Italy signed a secret treaty with Britain and was asked to abandon its former allies to join Britain, France and Russia. For that, Italy had been promised under Article 13 of the Treaty of London that once Germany was defeated by the allies, Great Britain would cede Jubaland to it. In the same agreement, Italy’s sovereignty over the Dodecaneso Islands in Greece was to be fully recognised and there would be a revision of the frontiers of Italian colonies in Africa and where they bordered either French or British colonies.

Actually, the agreement meant that in case France and Great Britain received additions to their colonial empires at the expense of Germany, Italy should get equitable territorial compensations in Africa.

But after the war, Britain made the cession of Jubaland to Italy dependent on the return of the Dodecanese Islands to Greece. Italy, or rather Mussolini, was furious. Rome had been duped. It is now known that King George V did not want Britain to part with Jubaland. Diplomatically, Italy was being induced to take part of Egypt and add it to Libya instead of claiming Jubaland which was emerging as an important port for the Northern Frontier District (NFD). Again, Italy was not willing to have Dodecanese, which means 12 islands, which it had occupied since 1912 to get entangled with the Jubaland question.

But Lord Curzon, the British Foreign Secretary, made the cession of Jubaland by Britain to Italy conditional to the settlement of the Dodecanese question. He told Musolini, who was visiting London, as much. While Italy claimed that the Dodecanese Islands had nothing to do with Jubaland, Musolini wrote a note to UK describing Jubaland as a “dent of honour which England could not repudiate without breaking her word.”

It was a matter that always bothered British MPs since they had not given the territory as they had promised. One member told the House: “Remember the old adage Bis dat qui cito dat (he gives twice who gives promptly)? The question of Jubaland refers to a promise and debt of honour which we have owed to Italy since 1915, and which we have not yet carried out.”

Lord Curzon did not stay for long in power and after the November 1922 election a new Labour government came to office, and despite their opposition to Fascism, the new Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary Ramsay MacDonald decided to appease Mussolini by ceding Jubaland — or what they thought was a cheap concession.

“Jubaland was not worth having,” writes Martin Clark in his book Mussolini. “It was the first of what Mussolini later called his ‘collection of deserts’ but it was, undeniably, colonial territory in Africa. It had not been won by conquest nor, needless to say, out of any regard to its inhabitants’ wishes, but by old-fashioned diplomatic haggling.”

To Italy, Jubaland had symbolic value and Mussolini had formed the Fascist Party in 1919 as an expression of Italian nationalism and desire to expand its territories. It was also a protest to failure by Allied powers to recognise it pre-war demands.

Explosive issue

Jubaland was becoming an explosive issue diplomatically and was now tied to the future of Italian territories in Albania, Yugoslavia and Greece. When the Greek-Albania matter was reported to the League of Nations, the predecessor to United Nations, Mussolini sent General Enrico Tellini to be part of a commission that included Britain and France. But on August 27 1923, General Tellini was ambushed and killed. Italy then started bombing the Greek Corfu island and another war was about to start.

Mussolini’s occupation of Corfu stopped the linking of Jubaland question with the Greece Islands. After all, it was an indicator that the Fascists were ready to fight.

After that incident, Britain agreed to give Jubaland together with the Juba River and Port of Kismayu which was the lifeline of the desert territory.

Ever since, Somalia had always looked at Kenya suspiciously over Jubaland — and the thinking in Mogadishu has been Kenya was still interested in its former territory from Kismayu to Juba River. It is a matter that was addressed, first in 1966, by Dr Mungai when he said that if Nairobi wanted to start a war with Somalia, it would “even move to Jubaland and occupy it. However, we respect the boundaries that we were left with, and as all African countries agree…we are going to maintain Kenya as we found the boundaries in 1963.”

The context of that statement was after Somalia had started claiming parts of Northern Kenya and pushing the residents to secede, a matter that brought in the long drawn Shifta war. Kenyan legislators had, as far back as 1962, warned Britain not to cede any more Kenyan land to Somalia like they did in the 1920s.

Vocal MPs

Said Argwings Kodhek, one of the most vocal MPs on the subject: “We do not want the position of Jubaland repeated…if the government may somehow be misguided in thinking that this country will allow any more Jubalands to be operated on the map of Kenya, I think it will be a terrific mistake.”

When Jubaland was being ceded, questions were raised since London had not involved the politicians sitting in Nairobi. But the treaty between the British and Italian governments was brought to Nairobi in 1923 and distributed among legislators. By then, they were looking at the cost of maintaining that land and the annual rent they paid to the Sultan of Zanzibar- who apparently owned the protectorate.

On June 29, 1925, John Hope — the last British Jubaland Province Commissioner — watched as the Union Jack was lowered for the last time in Kismayu. The Italian Colony was just about to expand.

Britain was now left with Garissa, Mandera, and Wajir as part of the Northern Frontier District and which at Independence were incited by Somalia to push for secession.

While that effort failed, Jubaland, some 95 years later, is now viewed suspiciously by Mogadishu with accusations that Kenya intends to create a buffer zone there to protect its border from Al-Shabaab. Jubaland President Ibrahim Madobe is also regarded as a Kenyan ally, either for cooperating with the Kenya Defence Forces — or perhaps due to the historical ties that Jubaland had with Nairobi.

But that is the story of Jubaland. @johnkamau

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