"One of the conditions in the treaty was that…the British Government should give our independence at any time we want."

The oral histories of Hadji Elmi and Armine Wright offer two perspectives on the British colonisation of Somaliland.  Hadji Jama Mohamad Ugas Elmi,  a leading elder of the Gadabuursi tribe, was born in Borama, Somaliland. In the 1880s his grandfather signed a treaty between the Gadabuursi and the colonial British government. Armine Wright was born in Trinidad to a family with links across the empire. He worked as a colonial officer in Uganda and Tanzania, and served in Kenya, Somalia and Eritrea during WW2. Such rare insights into this region’s past are invaluable.

Photo: View over central Mogadishu, 1939

BECC  2000/084/1/1/4/127

Black and white photo of view over central Mogadishu, 1939

Nasra Ayub writes:

Colour photo of Nasra Ayub

Nasra Ayub. Photo courtesy of Nasra Ayub

I felt many emotions listening to both audio clips about the British colonisation of Somaliland.

In one of the clips we hear from Hadji Elmi talking about his experience of growing up during the period where British Somaliland existed. What was striking was the treaty agreement between the Somalis and the British administration which detailed that the British would withdraw and give independence at any time the Somalis asked. However, this was never fulfilled.

It was also interesting to hear about the contribution of the British on building infrastructure within Somaliland including schools. British colonialism is known very well for their saviour complex not only in history but recalling the history around slavery and colonialism too. And to have the account told from a positive view point generated mixed feelings as it is important to emphasise, even if the British did build schools and other infrastructures, this does not take away from the atrocities they inflicted upon many Africans due to colonialism.

The second tape was from the viewpoint of Armine Wright and his experience as district commissioner. It was fascinating to hear his experiences of travelling through East Africa and his encounter with tribal wars and tribes in general. He spoke of how tribal wars were settled with bringing the elders together and creating a manifesto and reflecting on that – if only it was so straightforward now.

Highlighting the necessity of engaging elders to gain peace also reminded me the significance of elders not only in Somaliland but also amongst the diaspora.

The images I have chosen represent lost history for me. Erased history. It is assumed Somalis have homogenous features that are vastly different from other parts of Africa such as West Africa. However, these images illustrate that a diverse range of Somalis exist within the region and it deserves to be spotlighted.


Hadji Elmi

Excerpt from interview with Hadji Elmi, translated by Ahmed Mumin Dolan. BECC OH 0723
View transcript on soundcloud

Armine Wright

Excerpt from interview with Mr Armine Wright. BECC OH 0241
View transcript on soundcloud

About Nasra

Nasra Ayub is a Somali activist and freelance writer based in Bristol. Nasra is an advocate for ending gender based violence including FGM. She is a recipient of the Diana Award 2020 for her efforts campaigning around women’s issues. Over the years, Nasra has consulted many Ministers including the former Prime Ministers and sat on a panel alongside Emma Watson. Nasra has been featured in the BBC Three video “Things Not To Say..FGM survivors and campaigners” and coined by the BBC as a modern suffragette. Nasra has also written for national publications including Metro UK and the i paper.