As we have always said here at INFO254 – the struggle for Kenyan independence was an all-hands-on-deck affair involving men, women from all tribes of Kenya.
Concurrent to the Mau Mau struggle, the Somali tribe residing in the Northern part of Kenya did their part to resist and disrupt British colonial rule and occupation.
In fact, as many historians note, British occupation was met with resistance right from the beginning by the Somali led by early heroes such as Mohammed Abdullah Hassan. In 1913, Hassan leading his large contingent of fiery Dervish (Daraawiish) fighters beat and forced the retreat of the King’s African Rifles Camel Corp at the Battle of Dulmadobe.
It is said Hassan’s quest began following a visit to the Nairobi colonial outpost in 1890 where he saw firsthand the ugly face of colonial British rule and occupation. Following his victory at the Battle of Dulmadobe, Hassan went on to build a permanent center for the Dervish State (Dawlada Daraawiish) that lasted until 1920.
A unique aspect of the the Somali resistance was its great fluidity that saw the resistance crossing over back-and-forth between British and Italian Somaliland and the Kenya colony.
In fact, the overarching goal of the Somali struggle was reuniting their people who were physically separated by colonial borders marking present-day Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia with a vision of a Greater Somalia. To the Somali, these borders were inconsequential and part of the resistance was ignoring these colonial-imposed national boundaries.
This struggle continued into the 1940’s and onward through localized sections of the Somali Youth League (SYL). Originally founded in May 1943 as the Somali Youth Club, SYL was the political party instrumental in Somalia’s freedom struggle all the way to independence in 1960.
However, SYL operations were also delocalized, with local sections on the Kenyan side such as the Garissa, Wajir, Mandera and Isiolo SYL branches organizing resistance to British rule and occupation in their regions.
The Garissa SYL branch was active and successful in fomenting resistance to British laws, especially those that touched on grazing rights and national boundary restrictions. They also established a parallel government to that of the colonial government including a court system that adjudicated on all local issues. All these actions led to the paralysis of the local colonial government. In fact, The Garissa SYL branch went as far as hoisting the SYL flag in their region.
Due to their actions, the leaders of these Kenyan SYL branches were “deported” to Lokitaung, Turkana, the colonial government favorite exile destination for successful agitators.
Indeed, some historians argue that the SYL organized resistance should be treated at par with the Mau Mau resistance on the merits of its success to effectively disrupt the operations of the British Colonial government in the Northern part of Kenya. And deservedly so.
One painful legacy of the vision for a greater Somalia by the Somali resistance was the so-called “Shifta” war between the government of Kenya and the Somalia-backed Northern Frontier District Liberation Movement (NFDLM) from 1964-1967. The war was was followed by nearly 25 years of insurgency and counterinsurgency that led to heavy casualties and atrocities that include the infamous Wagalla Massacre.
- Kenya’s War of Independence: Mau Mau and its Legacy of Resistance to Colonialism and Imperialism, 1948-1990. February 8, 2018 by Shiraz Durrani.
- A History of the King’s African Rifles and East African Forces. January 1, 1998 by Malcolm Page.
- Mau Mau & Nationhood: Arms, Authority & Narration edited by E. S. Atieno Odhiambo, John Lonsdale.