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.
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.
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