The first British colonial settlement in Garissa district was at a place called Mansabubu at the beginning of the nineteenth century, as recollected by Sultan Deghow. Fed by the meandering Tana River–a river that is 1,000km long and trickles from the Aberdare Mountains in central Kenya and drains near Kipini, the first colonial settlers were brought to Mansabubu by Sultan Sambul, Deghow’s grandfather, from Lamu that is located along Kenya’s maritime coast bordering Somalia. Regardless of Omani Arabs having heavy presence along the Eastern Africa coast, the British had the mandate to traverse the Indian Ocean because, though preceded by an agreement with the United States in 1833, the Sultanate of Zanzibar had signed treaties with European Powers such as France in 1862 and Germany in 1886 respectively. However, it was the 1886 agreement that made the Sultanate’s sovereignty unchallenged.[i]
With competition rising among the European powers on how to expand their influence in Africa, the British administrators felt it was time to venture into the hinterlands. As explained by Nene Mburu, Sultan Stamboul (Sambul), was a fully recognized traditional elder of the Ogaden clan–a man who was in the third generation among the Somalis who settled in NFD–and so was the Borana Chief Haji Galma Dida who was the son of Dida Dayo–a senior chief who was the overlord of Wajir during the British Colonial Administration.[ii] By 1923 after the death of Dida Dayo and the coronation of his son, the territorial stretch of Borana land that previously included Wajir, Garbatulla, Isiolo and Marsabit was subsequently reduced after Somali scuffles with the Borana resulted in the Borana being pushed westward, as Mburu maintains.
There have been long and simmering tensions between the Borana and Somali over land accumulation for centuries with the Somali using sheer force to evict the Borana from their ancestral lands. Cattle rustling were other factors that contributed to tribal altercations. With their herds of livestock, Somalis have been in search of greener pastures and getting closer to the Ewaso Nyiro River would have been a natural delight. Though not a perennial water source that flowed permanently year-round, it was a temporary river that nourished the Borana and Samburu ethnic groups for years. Despite that, for Somalis, access to this water source would have been a natural resource that would give relief to their large herds and sustain human life. Somalis have long had a history of migration, and the determination to conquer new territories either from rival Somalis or from other stable ethnic groups such as agro-pastoral groups and hunters and gatherers living in thriving dense forests. Likewise, having been adept at the psychology of assimilation, no wonder, and conflict has been a thriving factor[iii] in their pastoral economy. As a superpower in their areas of influence at that time, it boggles the mind how Somalis emulated the psychology of warfare–a political trend that is practiced by modern superpowers of today, that war spurs the economy, reduces unemployment, and creates new opportunities while raising the rating of the leader only when victory is achieved over the rival enemy.
To further define the abstraction of Somali assimilation, the term implies intermixing, intermingling, integrating, incorporating, and amalgamating with other Somali clans or sub-clans or with other ethnic groups or allowing slaves and those seeking safety to be part of the Somali clan realm. However, not all Somali clans practiced the notion of assimilation. No wonder, according to popular opinion, the Ogaden that is part of the greater and populous Daarood clan are the most tolerant and welcoming of other besieged and mortified Somalis. In fact, many Somalis who are familiar with the Somali culture attest to the fact that the Ogaden exemplify a political organization where one can be a member of the clan, marry from, pay diya or mag (blood money) and quit when necessary. The connotation Sheegad, which many writers or researchers define as ‘pretenders’ could have been better interpreted as ‘to claim’, ‘be part of’ or be a ‘claimant’. Somalis living in northern Somalia regard the name Sheegad as dishonorable while in northern Kenya, it has been acceptable in the past.[iv]
British Colonial Chieftainship
The British creation of chieftainship in later years among the tribes that had strength and a strong presence in the former NFD was a means to usher in indirect rule–a political subterfuge defined in later years as a ‘divide and rule tactics’. The creation of imaginary lines by the colonial powers came to define geographical boundaries that would serve as maritime and specifically defined landmarks by their own surveyors, which in the end placed a wedge between people of close consanguinity. The covetousness of the colonial powers and their mistreatment of the black race were beyond divinely guided, rightly thinking human comprehension. It is the same land and maritime demarcation that is the source of contention among many African nations to this day. Intra and inter-state wars continue to undermine the way forward to progress for many Africans whose leaders were drawn from the legacies of colonialism.
At that time in history, in Wamo, an expansive land that stretched from Kismayu in southern Somalia and into some parts of Kenya’s Northeastern region, there were internecine wars among the various Ogaden sub-clans. With no reconciliation in sight and the prospect of peace and stability diminishing, and hunger and deprivation skyrocketing, some of the sub-clans decided to disperse to various destinations equal in enormity to a phenomenon in the year 1937–a perilous era Somalis dubbed ‘Sannadkii kala Carar’[v] which translates to the ‘Year of Pandemonium’. In that same year–1937–Somalis experienced abundance of milk and therefore they named it ‘Sannadkii Caana Arag.’ There was an outbreak of locust invasion in 1935, meaning Somali-inhabited areas or forcefully captured lands have been prone to natural disasters in the 19th century and beyond.
The main headquarter of the Ogaden clans before the Abdwak clan bid the rest goodbye, was a small settlement called Afmadow (Afmadu in English) in the middle of the current Lower Juba Valley of southern Somalia. Almost 110 kilometers (68 miles) from the Port City of Kismayu[vi], Afmadow cherishes to have a long history. The settlement had no reliable water source before Somali migration to the region. However, it had had a hundred and fourteen boreholes when the British Colonial Administration finalized the digging of water catchments and water wells in 1944–a year before the Second World War ended. This era is known as “Sannadkii Dhul Qod” in Somali which translates to ‘the introduction of dams’ and coincides with the Ogaden subclan Mohamed Zubeir and Bartire War.
Somali oral historians attribute Afmadow to have been the name of an Orma, Oromo, or Wardei woman while others give credit to a Somali woman. Both narratives will be taken into context. Once upon a time, the Talamogge and another Ogaden sub-clan decided to fight on a certain day and the venue would be under an acacia tree within Afmadow periphery. However, the war never materialized due to reconciliations among elders. Regardless, unaware that the war had been halted, a few warriors came to the designated battleground dressed in full battle gear. Instead, they found a dark-mouthed non-Somali girl. Thus, was born the name Afmadow.
In another narrative, at a time of immense suffering due to water shortages where people and their livestock were dying whole scale, a renowned Saint came up with a startling proposition. He proposed that the most decent, blameless, and untarnished woman–a woman of unspoiled character who is loyal to her husband to be brought before a convention of elders. People got bewildered, baffled, surprised, and appalled at the saint’s feigned premise. With mouths agape, wide-eyed, and able hearing ears directed at the saint’s announcement, a man from the Asharaf clan who lived among the Ogaden and was married to a woman whose name was Afmadow, raised his hand and promised to turn over his wife. After being handed over, the saint commanded the woman to undress before her husband in full view of the conveners. When she was about to untie the figure of eight knot known to Somalis as Gareys or Garxir, he yowled at her to stop her indecent actions and fasten the knot. Instead, he gave her a spear and told her to dig between her feet exactly where she was standing. Immediately she hit the ground with the double-edged sharp spear–a spear that was sharper than Wilkinson Sword and Nacet Blade combined, a fountain of water from the Ewaso Nyiro River that runs underground started to sprout up like the Yellowstone Fountain of the U.S. in the state of Wyoming.
Thus, the name Afmadow (Dark Mouth)–an indication of beauty–is derived from the name of a woman from the Rer Mohamed sub-clan. Mohamed was the uncle of the Abdalla sub-clan who are collectively known as Samawadal.[vii] The two sub-clans have a great presence in the towns of Ijara and Masalani that are part of Garissa County. Samawadal and Abdiwak are cousins and are together called Talamogge. The Samawadal and Abdiwak have always lived together in peace, sharing water and pasturage, going to war as one entity, and engaging in intermarriages, though, at times, they would fight among themselves. However, in case of altercations, problems would be solved through the application of customary laws known as “Xeer”, where the elderly would deliberate under the shadow of a tree and finally come to conclusions.
Leaving no stone unturned, the Abdiwak Sultan in Afmadow, sensing impending dangers related to war, famine and drought, and diseases and death, sent his own two surveyors known as Sahan to search for water. After a month of absence they arrived at a place close to Sankuri known as Daloolo where their sights caught a mighty flowing River. On inquiring from the inhabitants who were mostly of the Wardei ethnic group–the same community who were evicted by the Somalis from southern Somalia, they were told it was called Ganana Maro. Rejoicing at the sight of the river, the two surveyors, after being hosted by the Wardei, set off to return to Afmadow. On returning to Afmadow, the two surveyors returned to the king with the goods news that caused jubilation among his subjects and consternation in others. It was here Abdiwak and their fellow kinsmen took the extraordinarily extensive trek of retracing the footsteps of the previous land examiners.
The forward trek to unknown destinations was never a free ride to a land of opportunities as it bore painful repercussions and beautiful fruits. The regions ahead were either devoid of humans, empty and isolated or heavily populated by formidable, irreconcilable and irrepressible men who fought tooth and nail to defend their territorial integrity from outside aggression and multitudes of ferocious and cunning wild beasts that devoured livestock and man at will. Regardless of the death and destruction encountered en route, the forward push to greener pastures materialized for the king and his followers–a heroic act of manhood later on to be emulated by other Ogaden sub-clans after the dust had settled. With most African tribes and wild beasts eventually subdued by the successive kingdoms of Abdiwak, it was time for rehabilitating the surviving, captured antagonists and a time for recuperation, reproduction and forging alliance with the most volatile of all humans–the Whiteman.
[i] Mwaruvie, John. "The Ten Miles Coastal strip: An Examination of the Intricate Nature of Land Question at Kenyan Coast." (2011).
[ii] Mburu, Nene. Bandits on the border: the last frontier in the search for Somali unity. Red Sea Press, 2005.
[iii] Farah, Ibrahim, Abdirashid Hussein, and Jeremy Lind. "Deegaan, politics and war in Somalia." Scarcity and Surfeit. Institute for Security Studies. Pretoria, South Africa (2002): 320-356.
[iv] Schlee, Günther. Identities on the move: clanship and pastoralism in northern Kenya. Vol. 5. Manchester University Press, 1989.
[vii] Interview with Mohamud Abdi Kassim, Masalani, Garissa, 14 June, 2016