Ethiopian Somali National State: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

 

The people of the Ethiopian autonomous state are sandwiched between two irreconcilable political entities; namely the EPRDF government of strongman Meles Zenawi and ONLF [Ogaden National Liberation Front].  Because of the antagonism between these two entities, life in the Somali national state of Ethiopia, has become a nightmare.  Trade with neighboring countries has stopped. Developmental projects, both public and private, has ceased; international humanitarian relief operations are non-existent on the  pretext of security.  Thousands have starved to death.  Essential services like infrastructure development, education and health care have stopped. And worst of all, people live in fear of both parties.  Tens of thousands have migrated to Kenya.  Hence people in this region are in an unimaginably intolerable conditions.

Here is a brief analysis of how these two political organizations conduct their affairs:

A. EPRDF [Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front]

EPRDF was first at least nominally composed of two dozen liberation fronts, from all over Ethiopia, fighting against former dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam; whose mentor was former USSR [Union of Soviet Socialist Republics]. When the Soviet empire collapsed, Mengistu lost military, economic and moral support; and therefore his regime also collapsed. EPRDF under Tigrean,leadership- though they were very weak, at the beginning – has filled out the political vacuum; and they became the new masters of Ethiopia.  EPRDF was then, and amalgamation of about 28 political organizations, one which was ONLF representing the Somalis.  That was in 1991,and as soon as EPRDF took power, it formulated a provisional mandate which they named CHARTER; and that was a temporary sort of a constitutional mandate.  Using that tool, EPRDF anounced a federal form of government, based on ethnicity, in which every ethnic group shoud have an autonomous state. Therefore, the Somali Regional State was created on the basis of this legal arrangement.  ONLF had excellent relations with EPRDF and subsequently it participated in putting down stable foundations for the establishment of the new Ethiopian government. Hence, ONLF was given a free hand to administer the Somali Regional State,as it wished.

At this time in history, EPRDF worked very hard to consolidate power in its hands ,by all means necessary, by duping all Ethiopian groups,that it will take them to Sugar Candy Mountain.After centuries of oppression by Amara and Tigrean overlords, the various ethnic groups, including their representatives in the various ethnic autonomous states, had accepted the pomises of EPRDF.For example, in the Somali Kilil-5, sheikh Ibrahim , chairman of ONLF, and Abdullahi M. Sa’di, were thinking they were in equal bar with Meles Zenawi; and kilil-5 was almost a free country. That was wishful thinking. EPRDF was waiting only to strengthen its base of power with the customary highlander’s cunning and deception.  Anyway, because of extensive media campaign,-both interational and local,EPRDF was getting stronger by the day, and all Ethiopians saw it as a change in the positive direction.  They saw EPRDF as a machine that will take them to progress and democracy.  That was the conception at that time. Abdullahi M. Sa’di was thinking he was equal with Meles Zenawi, a great misconception.

After EPRDF ruled the country a few years, after they ascertained the consolidation of power in their hands, they formed a new constitution,guaranteeing equal rights and opportunities for all Ethiopians.  The new constitution guarantees freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of association etc.  At the same time EPRDF announced the general elections, for both federal and loccal parliaments would be held shortly.  Sheikh Ibraim and his ONLF, thinkng that they were from a free country, mistakenly refused to take part in the general elections of 1995.  That was the first EPRDF general election, that was the litmus test for EPRDF; the refusal of ONLF to participate in that election was a slap in the face for EPRDF; that was the beginning of the end of the good relationship between the two parties.  They never trusted each other ever again. unfortunately, one party was getting stronger and stronoger(EPRDF) , and the other party got weaker and weaker(ONLF).  In a nutshell ONLF categorically rejected the general of 1995; no one knows why it did so; but the general public wants to knows why it did so.

That is the recent events in Ethiopia. I need to emphasise a few historical points here.  Ethiopia has a population of about 70 million people.  Demographically, the only ethnic groups that ruled Ethiopia from since time immemorial are Amaras and Tigreans; [the highlanders].  According to the deeply established traditions and cultures, only these two tribes are destined, to be the divine rulers of Ethiopia [even in the 21st century].  The dominant Amaras and Tigreans are 14 million in number,out of a population of 70 million.If you are from Amara or Tigrean, you are the master; if you are from other tribes, you should be the servant.  That exists even now.ONLF leaders were thinking they were equal with all Ethiopians.

There is another bone of contention regarding the religious question. Ethiopia is composed of 50% Christians and 50% Moslems. Becauase people on the top of the political power were and are Christians, from time immemorial they delude themselves that everyone is Christian.  The only country in world where there is religious discrimination is Ethiopia.  No one understands the docility of Moslems in Ethiopia. The dominant tribes have Orthodox Christianity, a religion they share with Russia,Greece and Egyptians.  The relationship between the church and those in political power is absolute. Rumor has it the church gives orders to the politcal leaders.  This is a sort of extreme right wing Christian leadership, associating with an absolute tribal political leadership.  On the other hand Moslem religious leaders are sidelined.  They are ignored.  They are humilated when they come to meetings. They never participate in any decision-making political process.The arrogant Amara and Tigrean political leaders think that the only relgion in Ethiopia is Orthodox Christianity. 50% of the population are Moslems.  This has been going on for centuries.  Ethiopia thinks the unthinkable could happen!! Could there be a Moslem president or a Moslem prime minister!!

To make a long story shorter, EPRDF succeeded to strengthen its political base, by all means necessary.  For instance, it employed the old European practice of divide and rule, in the Somali Regional State-pitting clans against clans.  After that, EPRDF has succeeded in handing over Somali territories to the Oromos.  Most of people living along the railroad line towns from Addis Ababa to Djibouti are Somalis. Let us start from Hawas- traveling from west to east.  The towns of Hawas, Maeso , Aware Afdam, Hurso and Dire Dawa are all exclusively Somali territories-if things are meant to be run by ethnicity.  EPRDF gave these towns and their countryside to the Oromos(to OPDO). In the southwest, in the Bale region, towns like Nagele were given to the Oromos.  Even in the outskirts of Jijiga the capital of the the Somali state, Jinacsani, Babile and Fayanbira were given to the Oromos.  This is to appease the Oromos(OPDO) at the expense of the Somalis. TPLF and OPDO are alliances and they are the strongest political entities in Ethiopia.

Now let us come to the administration of of this so-called autonomous Somali regional state.  The name autonomous is supposed to be a self-governing body.  Unfortunately, starting from the elections process of the local parliament, upto the election of the regional president  EPRDF runs the show by remote control.  Members of the parliament,the ministers, the security personnel, are given orders by the federal government of EPRDF on a daily basis- and sometimes on an hourly basis.  That is how things are done.  But EPRDF says this is a self-governing state.  What a shame! What an anamoly!.

Furthermore, we have witnessed gross violations of human rights, committed by the federal government of EPRDF against innocent civilians, in the last few years, in the Somali autonomous state.  Mass murder, raping of Somali women, arbitrary and illegal arrest of whoever talks against policies, and rigging of all elections, has becocome a commonplace perpetrared upon the Ethiopian Somalis, by EPRDF representatives- federal ,military personnel or the civilan overlords.  If you think I am exaggreting please read the the reports of Human Rights Watch and Anmnesty International, about the Somali National Regional State in the recent years. The question is can EPRDF gain the respect and the support of the people of this region by violating all their inalienable human rights?

ONLF [Ogaden National Liberation Front] Some of the grievances of ONLF against the EPRDF government are legitimate.  However,the fact of the matter is ONLF has committed gross tactical and strategic miscalculations, starting from the day it was founded two decades ago, upto the present moment.  The first mistake was its name.Ogaden is one of the clans in the Ethiopian Somali National State.  If ONLF is fighting for rights and the freedom of all Ethiopian Somalis,naming itself Ogaden is not appropiriate;it is not a representative name; in reality, it is a divisive name. It differentiates Ogaden from non Ogadens.  Of course, many people specially foreigners know the country as Ogaden;but the important thing is to have a name that every Ethiopian Somali can relate to.That is not so and therefore, ONLF policies, operations, political philosophy and ideals are limited to only one clan. Is ONLF fighting to liberate only one clan to the the exclusion of all other Ethiopian Somali clans?  ONLF has to change this clanish name inorder to get the support and the sympathy of their Ethiopian Somali brothers- either for war or for peace. This name is a big obstacle for ONLF struggles.

A few years after the charter, ONLF took to the arms. They suddenly decided to liberate Ogaden from the Ethiopians highlanders(Tigreans and Amaras). As it happens all over the world before you take action, you should inform both your friends and your foes, what you are going to do and why you do so.  The first time the people became aware of ONLF field operations, they were seen engaging in battles against the Ethiopian federal army. It is sad people started asking questions such as- who are this people and what are they fighting for.  Do you think a country could gain independence without its people knowing it?  This is a very emotionally charged issue.This is business of getting independence needs deep thinking, meticulous and well-thought of organization and planning in the mobilization of the masses. Making the public aware of the idea alone can take years and years. For heavens sake, this is not a bank robberry operation!! we are talking about mobilzing millions, and it takes time, energy, effort and lots of funds. Did ONLF do that? the answer is no.

Regarding the question of ONLF elections, and organizational structure, it has a long long way to go to claim legitimacy.  If ONLF needs the support of the people, it must have regular and transparent election procedures. for instance,no one knows how sheikh Ibrahim became chairman of ONLF and no one knows how Admiral Osman is the present chairman!!  Rumor has it Admiral Osman refuses,that there should be ONLF general elections! He thinks he is above the law! If the admiral is refusing to relinquish the leadership to better suited leaders, how does he think he is capable of leading the people to liberation.  People do not care about self-opinionated leaders; they care about untainted leadership. There should be elections and it should be timely and just.

When one starts the serious business of fighting and specifically along the lines of liberation movements,one must have strong support from both local and international communities.  Let me begin with the local envirorment. Both the neighboring self-declared republics of Somaliland and Puntland has zero relationships with ONLf.  Both of them has recently handed over Ogaden civilians, whom they said were ONLfF operatives, back to the EPRDF government; both of them are seeking recognition and good realations with EPRDF.  The Tigreans use the port of Berbera free of charge.  In the diaspora people know Somaliland as Kilil-6, because it is remotely controlled by Ethiopia.  These two are the blood and flesh Somali brothers of ONLF;but it has no relations with them.

If ONLf have a kind of relationship with the CHAOTIC SOUTHERN SOMALIA, that will not have a meanigful impact upon the of the people of Kilil-5.  It is also a well-know fact the ONLF has zero relations with the Arab, Asian,European and American countries. What in the name of God is going on here!! How can you fight in a vacuum! The question is if ONLF has no support from all the countries mentioned above,how could it accomplish its objectives? I think it can not do so alone.

Ragarding the question of field operations,ONLF is engaged in systematic looting, murdering,and intimidation of Ogaden Somalis. It is very strange; someone claiming liberating you; and at the same time murdering you and pludering your properties on the baisis of sub-clans.  Take the exmaple of the man who was beaten, tortured and mutilated in Denmark,by ONLF thugs,just a few weeks ago. What was his crime? He asked a few questions;that all; and ONLF did not like those questions?

As for the people on North America,on the one hand ONLF is requesting financial assistance,to further its cuase; and on the hand, anyone who fails to contribute, or anyone who asks questions, is harrased and intimidated by ONLF zealots. No one understands these things.

And last but not least, we came to realize that ONLF has two ideologically divided parties.  One party is from admiral Osman; the splinter group opposes and antagonises the adimiral’s policies.  Apparently he does not like the people to have elections!!

Is it the right time to get divided? The people want to see a united ONLF. Five million Ethiopian Somalis are suffering between the leadership of EPRDF and ONLF; no one knows what the future holds for them; but it seems the present stalemate will continue indifinitlely in the foreseeable future. Does anyone has answers?

By Mohamed Ugas.