It is difficult to defeat a super power in a battlefield and live to savour the victory unmolested. When a super power loses a conventional war, it resorts to unconventional methods to extract revenge. This became abundantly clear to Somalia, whose guerrilla fighters outwitted Britain when the two sides met in a mismatched bush encounter.
Long after the war, the might of the gun was used. Combatants and non-combatant were forced to pay for the price of defiance by their ragtag army that had in the eyes of administrators committed the ultimate crime of killing a British sub Commissioner.
As residents of Kismayu and Afmadow retreated to the wilderness where some hid in foxholes to evade the wrath of the British troops, the superior guns were turned on the civilians as they captured all the livestock they came across.
Atoning for sins
This as the administrators would later explain in their interoffice memos was aimed at atoning for the sins of the elusive fighters, who had the tendency of fleeing together with their livestock, as the soldiers panted after them in the deserts of Jubaland and Tanaland where water was scarce.
Details of how the soldiers preyed on villagers rounding up livestock and money to raise the fine imposed on the people for stirring up trouble have been laid bare by telegrams delivered to Lamu from Kismayu by runners for onward transmission to Mombasa, Nairobi and the Foreign Office in London.
In October 1902, Major Harrison was tasked to pursue the warriors who had revolted against the British in Afmadow, killed Jenner, a sub-commissioner, and handed Britain troops who had been drawn from India, Uganda and Sudan.
In his detailed report to his superiors that was communicated through the then commissioner of East African Protectorate, Sir Charles Elliot, Harisson describes how he went around collecting livestock in Biskaia.
At first there was uncertainty on the side of the British over the fate of Harrison. To avert another catastrophe and in a bid to save his career in the event the troops were once again overwhelmed, Elliot informed his superiors in London that he had not commissioned the mission.
But in a telegram dispatched from Lamu dated October 8, 1902, Harrison assured his countrymen that he had taken extra care and that he would not endanger the lives of his men as he pursued the rebels.
He informed his bosses that he had already covered 500 miles from Kismayu to Biscaia and back and that he had registered unprecedented success.
He then outlined how he had collected 5,000 heads of cattle and 400 sterling pounds ostensibly to compensate the Arabs and Indians whose caravan had been attacked by the Ogaden rebels in the last couple of years.
Harrison had also decided to collect an outstanding fine of “blood money” that had been imposed by Jubaland sub-commissioner Jenner three years earlier after a Borana caravan was attacked.
For this the civilians were supposed to pay a fine of 170 sterling pounds.