Saturday 10 July 2010

Somaliland to Somalia to Somaliland

The Horn of Africa was strategically vital to the security of the British Empire in India and in 1884 the british proclaimed a protectorate over Somaliland. It was administered from Aden initially as an Indian dependency and Egyptian post offices had been opened there during 1876 and the stamps of Egypt were used there until the garrisons were withdrawn in 1884. Two cancellations were used from Berbera and Zeila and Indian stamps were used from these offices from 1 January 1877 until 1903 with the "B" obliterator used in all Bombay-controlled offices. The Protectorate Post Office was established on 1 June 1903 when the control of British Somaliland was transferred from the Indian government to the British Foreign Office. The first Protectorate stamp issue consisted of Indian stamps depicting Queen Victoria overprinted in black in eleven values. The illustrated cover shows the eight lower values of the set on a clearly philatelic cover to Oldenburg in Germany. In the late fifties, Somaliland was prepared for independence by a series of constitutional measures including the establishment of a Legislative Council with a majority of members being elected, an event commemorated by a pair of definitive stamps, appropriately overprinted, on 5 April 1960 (illustrated). It was decided that Somaliland would be merged with the former Italian Somaliland, Somalia, when independence was achieved but Somaliland's independence preceded that of Somalia by four days and so for that short period Somaliland was an independent state and three stamps were issued to tide over the postal needs of the country for that short time; Gibbons does not include these items in the Part 1 Catalogue as Somalia did not subsequently join The Commonwealth. The issue consisted of three Somalia stamps overprinted "Somaliland Independence 26 June 1960" printed in three lines and they consist of designs featuring a native plant and the head of a gazelle. These stamps are illustrated.
  In January 1991, Siad Barre, the Somalian dictator, was overthrown and anarchy spread across the country. Previously, in May 1988, civil war had broken out between the Somali National movement (SNM) and the central government and as the anarchy spread, the SNM proclaimed the independence of Somaliland on 18 May 1991 since when it has remained a de facto independent republic but has not been recognised as such by any foreign state even though it remains a veritable oasis of calm in the midst of the chaos in Somalia. If it were to be recognised as a sovereign state then it would certainly qualify to be a member of The Commonwealth although I imagine that a number of countries would object since the recognition of a secessionist state might pose them problems with potential breakaway areas within their own territories.
  Since secession Somaliland does not appear to have inaugurated a postal service and therefore not to have issued any postage stamps . This is rather surprising since one of the prerequisites of statehood seems to be the production of little pieces of paper with the country's name on them ostensibly for the prepayment of postage. A lot of bogus items have been produced however which are supposed to be Somaliland stamps. The Somaliland government has said that no such items have been issued. One of the most fascinating productions of such bogus stamp releases dates back to 1998 when a British philatelic magazine included a short piece in its news section stating that a British agent was producing stamps for the Somaliland government and giving a number which could be contacted for further information. I contacted the number and was told by the individual who answered that he had been asked to produce stamps for Somaliland as well as producing other services for its government and that the first issue would be British Machin definitives surcharged in Somaliland currency (one value of 500 shillin on a 1p stamp). This rather unusual idea was supposed to underline the historic links between Britain and Somaliland but, he said, (perhaps not surprisingly) the depiction of the ruler of the former colonial power proved very unpopular locally and use of the stamps was short-lived. Two versions of the surcharge were produced:- one in which the penny sign was not obliterated and the other in which the penny sign was obliterated by a small five-pointed star, the inscription of the overprint reading "REPUBLIC OF SOMALILAND FIVE SHILLIN" in four lines (both varieties are depicted - the former in a block of four and the latter as three singles "used" on a cover and cancelled by a large two-ring postmark reading ".HARGEISA . REP OF SOMALILAND" and dated 11 MAR 1998). The cover was addressed to "NATIONALBANK HARGEISA". I was also told that during this period external mail to Somaliland was being routed by sea from Aden to Hargeisa and that there were also air connections with links existing between Somaliland and Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia. I was informed that a definitive series featuring wildlife was planned and indeed such an issue did later appear on the philatelic market bearing a fictitious coat of arms and some additionally overprinted "Govt Official AIR-MAIL" in three lines. Twelve values were produced ranging from 500 shillin to 25000 shillin and I later obtained a basic set cancelled on a "cover" with the same postmark from Hargeisa as described above and dated 09 APR 1998 although there is nothing to say that that was the supposed first day of issue. Further issues also appeared apparently from the same source most notably an addition to the ubiquitous Princess Diana stamps produced by many postal agencies at the time in the form of a sheetlet of nine different portraits which I have "used on cover" cancelled by the above Hargeisa "postmark" and dated 10 May 1998 and imperforate on cover with the above official overprint and with a cancel of 21 May 1998. Somebody had some fun producing that lot and even more fun from extracting money from unsuspecting collectors for them. Despite their bogus nature, I cannot help but actually find them to be interesting and even more interesting to me is he question "why has Somaliland not got round to establishing a post office?"
  I tried to get information directly from Hargeisa about a possible postal service as long ago as 1997 but my letter was returned by the British post office with an interesting boxed inscription "SERVICE SUSPENDED RETURN TO SENDER" (see illustration). I repeated this exercise about three years ago but on that occasion Royal Mail returned my letter undelivered and with no postal markings applied. A photograph on a Somaliland website depicts a local post office (in Berbera or Hargeisa?) in a very run down state and clearly not open for business (see illustration) and about the same time a correspondent in Germany informed me that he had received a reply from Somaliland in response to a question from him, routed through the Middle East, which confirmed that Somaliland had never operated a postal service thus far.

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