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Last Updated: Feb 11, 2014 - 5:11:05 AM
Somalia 'could be base for subversion' – 1960 Foreign Office documents

Richard Norton-Taylor
The Guardian, Friday 27 September 2013
A secret Foreign Office archive from 50 years ago shows that senior British officials feared Somalia could be a base for subversion into east and central Africa, with violence spreading across its border into Kenya.

Documents released on Friday reveal that the warnings came, not in response to al-Shabaab, the group held responsible for this week's attack in Nairobi, but in relation to Somalia's impending independence.

The colonial papers, which have remarkable contemporary resonance, were hidden in British colonial files and unearthed by officials only after an outcry over the suppression of evidence concerning the torture of Mau Mau fighters in pre-independence Kenya.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has admitted that it destroyed many official records on the turbulent years leading to white Southern Rhodesia's unilateral declaration of independence before the creation of an independent Zimbabwe. Papers in a file entitled "Southern Rhodesia pre-independence records" no longer exist, and officials are unsure of the whereabouts of top secret files stored in a separate building – Curtis Green, between Whitehall and the Thames.

The documents that have been released raise fresh questions about Whitehall's handling of records officially regarded as part of the nation's heritage.

Papers relating to security and riots in pre-independence Singapore are being withheld until at least 2028.

Under section 3 (4) of the 1958 Public Records Act, Whitehall is allowed to suppress documents indefinitely for "administrative purposes" or "any other special reason".
The papers that have been released show senior British colonial officials and intelligence officers were deeply anxious about instability when Somalia won independence from Italy and Britain in 1960.

"Neither administratively nor economically will the country be viable as an independent sovereign state without outside help," British colonial officers warned.

The committee was concerned about the radical Somali Youth League and problems on the Kenya/Somali border caused by "warlike tribes, grazing land disputes … and the influx of refugees". A leading Somali figure from the south expressed concerns that Kenya's northern frontier district would "fall in due course like a ripe plum", and a report by Whitehall's Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) points up the threat to neighbours.

"The political situation in Somalia is already unstable and the government may lose control," Sir Patrick Dean, the chairman of the JIC in April 1960, said. "The country might relapse into anarchy and tribal warfare."

Intriguingly, a passage following a reference to "the formation in Somalia of a base for subversion into east and central Africa" has been censored.

Other papers released on Friday reveal that Britain offered thousands of pounds to the Cypriot informers and interpreters who helped the colonial forces in their struggle against the Eoka insurgency in the 1950s to enable them to resettle in the UK.

In echoes of the current dispute over whether Afghans who have helped British forces have the right to settle in the UK, the files give details of 35 Cypriot informers, though their names are redacted. More than 100 Cypriots are estimated to have settled in Britain, and some of them were rewarded with more than £200,000 in today's money.

Other files uncover a British intelligence report on Cyprus from 1960 which complained that "there were too many individuals and agencies concerned in the collection of intelligence … with little control and practically no co-ordination".

The same complaint, with police, special branch, MI5 and army officers not telling each other about their different informers and agent networks, was made repeatedly by intelligence chiefs years later in Northern Ireland.

The Guardian (UK)
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