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||Special Reports: A century later, Kenya beats British troops to capture Afmadow
|Special Reports- A century later, Kenya beats British troops to capture Afmadow.
A century later, Kenya beats British troops to capture Afmadow
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Updated Saturday, June 09 2012 at 17:44 GMT+3
By AMOS KAREITHI
When Kenya dispatched her forces to Somalia in October last year, the world waited with bated breath to see the outcome. Hopes of the untested troops scoring any victory against the battle-hardened Al Shaabab outfit were indeed slim.
However, when cheers erupted in Afmadow last week following the triumphant entry of the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) into the town, there was disbelief. Kenya had scored a rare victory that eluded Britain in 1898, when its forces tried to capture the town to quell a revolt.
The mission by the Somalis 114 years ago appeared suicidal. Failure meant instant death while success meant incurring the wrath of a superpower, to be forever pursued to the ends of the world.
But the four chiefs and one sultan who had never been to any military school played the biggest gamble in their lives and in the process made history after delivering a crippling blow to Britain, whose reinforcements had been drawn from Sudan, Uganda, Europe and India.
By sheer wit, the Somali chiefs outwitted a superpower and delivered the most humiliating blow to her majesty’s army and navy, which was at the time trying to extend its tentacles in East Africa.
Lamu was at the epicentre of the war in 1898 just as was the case last year when KDF, reacting to aggressions that included killing and kidnapping of British nationals by Somali outlaws.
The British forces were targeting the capture of Afmadow, but this proved to be a mirage. The crisis between Somalis and Britain started and later degenerated into an open war when trouble erupted in the Britain-controlled parts of Somali between 1896 and 1897 when the Ogaden clan attacked their Herti rivals.
The Ogadens were also trying to capture slaves – the Gallas and the Goshas – and in the process trade caravans were not spared. This prompted an Imperial British East Africa Company (IBEA) administrator, a Hardinge, to order an expedition to teach the Ogadens a lesson.
The expedition against Ogaden had to be postponed to April 1898, British historical records show, after the Sudanese troops in Uganda, who were part of the East Africa Rifles, revolted. The whole of Juba had been acquired by the IBEA through a lease from the Sultan of Zanzibar in 1887.
British archival records titled Operations in Jubaland, the Ogaden Punitive Expedition, 1901 show that Britain was not leaving anything to chance as Hardinge sought a reinforcement of 460 men of the fourth Bombay Rifles. The troops were to join other forces from Mombasa and East Africa Rifles.
Short-lived peace Hardinge’s mission was to first establish a base at Lake Deshek Wama to make it easy to capture Afmadow, which was 70 miles away. This happened on April 6, 1898, but spent the next one month without any contacts with the enemy.
In July, the situation changed somehow when an additional 300 troops were dispatched to Kismayu under Captain Fry while Major Quentin, who was commanding 400 men, joined the fray by launching an operation in Soyah. There was jubilation amongst the British troops when they captured a large number of cattle, prompting the then Jubaland’s sub-commissioner, Jenner, to declare peace.
The peace was short-lived, for some Goashas were murdered by suspected Ogaden militiamen. Eager to impose the rule of law in his area, Jenner summoned all the Jubaland chiefs and ordered the Kismayu Chief, Hasan Year, to arrest the killers. Yera, who had also been instructed to collect a fine of 1,000 Rupees defied the sub-commissioner and instead organised a secret meeting with fellow chiefs Ormar Murgan, Hasan Oorfa and Hassan Odel.
It was during the meeting that the four chiefs planned to kill Jenner during his scheduled travel to Lorian Swamp. At the same time they were to attack a caravan of Borana that was on its way home. They pounced on the caravan 25 miles before it reached Afmadow.
Jenner unknowingly walked into his death on the dawn of November 16, 1900 when he was ambushed at Lorian Swamp. It was a total massacre for out of the 40 policemen accompanying him, only eight men who were locals were spared.
The sub-commissioner could have been saved but by the time word of the planned elimination was leaked to the Kismayu sub-commissioner Blake on November 15, it was too late. By the time Captain Rattigan, who was commanding 100 men waded through waist-deep water caused by heavy downpour, Jenner had been killed.
The chilling news of the sub-commissioner’s killing triggered outrage in Kismayu, Lamu, Mombasa and London when the tragedy initially passed on by runners was later transmitted by a telegram.
At that juncture Colonel Ternan, who was the acting commissioner of the East Africa protectorate, started planning retaliatory attacks even as he awaited marching orders from London. As a full-scale war was being planned, Ternan ordered a battle ship, HMS Magicienne, to proceed to Kismayu.
A garrison of the East African rifles also marched to Kismayu; it was joined by 300 troops who at the time were thought to be sufficient to quell the revolt. “Ternan estimated at the time he was against 4000 men who had only 120 guns and 1,500 rounds of ammunition,” the records divulged.
A battle plan was formulated where one company of East African Rifles would be stationed at Kismayu while 800 men were to proceed to Kumbi near Lake Deshek Wama.
A force of 500 soldiers was reserved for attacking Afmadow, and Col Ternan had at his disposal two-mountain guns, 50 Aden Carmel corps and half a battalion of infantry.
He also had access to a field hospital and three-month’s supply of the naval ship; HMS Magicienne also brought more military hardware and soldiers.
As the troops were being massed and reinforcements arrived from India, Col Ternan dug wells in the desert as he awaited orders from London to conduct the operation that was ultimately launched on December 12, 1900. Shortly before Col Ternan departed from Kismayu on January 25, some peace ambassadors were sent by the Ogaden clan with a peace deal.
They were willing to surrender Jenner’s killers and pay any number of livestock demanded by the British: they had a letter from Sultan Murgan to demonstrate their commitment to peace.
The peace offering was brushed aside by Col Ternan, saying he could only discuss peace on condition that all the chiefs involved in Jenner’s attack surrendered.
Surrender ringleaders, On February 7, 1900, Sultan Murgan and three other chiefs surrendered to the British and were escorted under heavy guard to Kismayu. Still, Col Ternan insisted the surrender of all the five ringleaders and a fine of 30,000 cattle and an annual tribute of 200 more.
During this stalemate Afmadow was surrounded with one mountain gun, one company of 16th century Bombay infantry, 90 camels with 10 days’ supply of food and another 60 loaded with water.
With Afmadow surrounded, Col Ternan and his soldiers launched a manhunt for the fugitive chiefs. On February 16, a column of Government troops reached Samasse at around dawn where a 10-minute battle was fought that changed the course of history.
Unknown to Ternan’s forces, their prey had spied them arrive and surrounded and pounced on the column. During the ensuing gun battle, Lt Col Maitland was killed, as well as Dr Mann. In total, 17 soldiers lost their lives and 22 soldiers were injured.
Col Ternan would later claim that his side had killed 150 men although only 17 bodies were recovered, among them Hasan Oorfa and Aden Hagel – chiefs who were being sought for Jenner’s death.
The British troops tried to pursue the attackers who had escaped with all the livestock, but gave up after only seven miles as the guerrillas split into very many units, making it impossible to follow all, as their food and water supplies were dangerously low.
Still smarting from the defeat, Ternan proposed to Eliot and London that he be allowed to carry out a punitive expedition and make Afmadow his headquarters.
At first his request to occupy Afmadow and nearby areas was granted but later rejected on realisation that the cost of maintaining the troops outweighed the benefits. Intelligence reports received on April 14 indicated that the man who had killed Jenner died three days after the ambush at Samasse, from injuries sustained during the attack.
Fearing that the Government orders may be misinterpreted, London ordered Eliot to go to Kismayu where he arrived on April 21 and after lengthy consultations, arrived at an agreement that averted any more skirmishes.
In a face-saving telegram wired to London from Kismayu, Eliot told his bosses: “I have agreed with Col Ternan to inform your lordship that the mission was a success as it has established order in Juba and Mfudu.
The Sultan of Ogaden has agreed to pay 5000 cattle as indemnity as the actual killer of Jenner has been killed.” Despite losing the war, Eliot wrote history and claimed victory but Afmadow remained.
on April 14 2013 06:12:05
on May 21 2013 01:13:03
on May 22 2013 14:19:09
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