Jijiga – On this day, April 07, 2020, the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century, inside this the “age of information”, I’m writing about a subject whose nature, challenges and desires are not in the theme of the 21st century: colonial and anti-colonial struggle. In doing so, fantasy is not the realm of my essay rather the matter is real: a forcefully occupied nation who is fighting for national liberation. Known as the Ogaden region, this nation has lost its sovereignty in part of the partition of Africa and its people have been fighting for national freedom to this day.
At the dawn of the scramble of Africa in the 19th century, unlike the rest of the continent, this region had lost its national freedom to Abyssinians, Africa’s only colonizers. These African colonizers who were inhabitants of the present-day northern plateau of Ethiopia conspired with the colonial invaders and savagely invaded and occupied their neighbor African nations. On a later date, when the Italians turned against this rival African colonial empire, they defeated the Italian army sent to quarantine their expansion and successfully sealed the recognition of their empire by the European imperialists in the Angalo-Ethiopian treaty of 1897. “Unlike the rest of the continent”, John Markakis affirms, “European imperialism met its match in this corner of Africa,” and they had left for them.
Being amongthose African nations which were left for these African imperialists, the people of this region have never stopped their quest for national liberation. They defied to surrender in generations and have had created the oldest trend of liberation movements in the world which has been evolving one after the other. The Sayid Mohamed Abdille Hassan Liberation war (1900–1920), The Somali Youth League (1948–1954), Nasrulah Front (1954–1964), The Western Somali Liberation Front (1973–1989), the Ogaden National Liberation Front (1984 — present).
However, unfortunately, this long journey of anti-colonial struggle has two silent features: human devastation and failure to bring the ultimate desire: the national liberation. None of the liberation struggles has brought a durable national solution at the cost of millions of human soles.
As an example, while hundreds of thousands of freedom compatriots have lost their soles and countless civilians, mostly women and children had suffered in the Abyssinian torture sites during the last 24 years armed struggle led by ONLF, matching the norms of its predecessors, ONLF has failed to deliver the ultimate desire of national liberation and any meaningful national redress is far from to be real: With ceteris paribus, the front has abandoned the armed struggle and to this day is unable to come up with an effective alternative national strategy and action plans which can bring meaningful national solutions. So, where did the liberators go astray?
It is beyond the scope of this short essay to find correct answers to this age-old question, but it’s a moral duty to objectively scrutinize the strategies of the current struggle led by ONLF to prevent it from suffering the fate of its precursors.
Since its foundation, ONLF has been operating in a dire situation. The front born out of the ashes of the Somali nation-state in the horn and inside the psychiatry of Somali nationalism. Then it has been hosted by the indifference and sometimes hostile attitudes of the global powers towards the Somali miseries. Thus, for its 35 years of age, its struggle has heavily relied on simply the grit of its people and the national sentiment of the mass against the cruelty of the occupation. This arduous situation had completely omitted the chance of attaining success without having excellent organizational capabilities and national indoctrination — matters ONLF has failed to establish thus far.
Earlier in the ages of its struggle, ONLF has mobilized significant mass support both domestic and international levels. It had recruited a large number of battalions who effectively blocked the colonizer’s bid to exploit the natural resources of the region.In mid-2007, experts believed their number could have reached up to 10,000 well-armed fighters. Like the customary guerrilla wars, they were the rulers of the bush and governors of the night: most of the region was inaccessible to the colonizer.
At the international level, the front has mobilized massive diaspora supports as well. These supporters have raised its international profile and effectively blocked the colonizer’s move to brand the front a “terrorist” label in the eyes of the western powers. As this essay is being written, the front maintains a ‘secessionist’ label in both the international arenas as well as in the eyes of its colonizer. Some international bodies may refer it in its right label: liberators.
However, these home-grown milestone achievements had triggered the colonizer’s cruel offensive against the nation which had tested ONLF’s level of organizational effectiveness and indoctrination. The front failed to maintain a pass mark.
Following the ONLF’s defense of the natural resource against the colonial exploitations, foreign energy exploiters had left the region and pressured the colonizer to assure their security in the gun ridden region.
Irritated by the expulsion of the exploitative companies, Meles Zenaw had run a murderous campaign by blocking the trade and humanitarian supplies in the region and collectively punishing the fighters and civilians. This collective offensive murder had been attached with a well-funded propaganda campaign against the liberation struggle directed towards both the domestic and diaspora communities.
ONLF has failed to counteract in both fronts (politically and militarily) and the struggle had been significantly neutralized.
On the military front, the collective murder campaign resulted in many freedom fighters and cells to abandon the cause. A lot of them become the colonizer’s right-hand men who committed the highest crimes against their nation. Muktar Subane who is now in custody for an allegation of assaulting some settlers in mid-2018 is just one example. Mr. Subane had been an ONLF commander who had switched to become the head of the colonist regional spy. He later plotted and executed countless torture and death schemes against his fellow civilians and his former freedom comrades. Thousands of others qualify the same example.
Nevertheless, this national betrayal was not limited to the front’s front-line fighters. On the political front, when the colonizer’s propaganda campaigns were directed to both the diaspora and domestic communities and the colonist’s military pressured civilians at home to take sides, many supporters, as well as “cadres”, abandoned the cause and the front’s public support had dramatically shrunk to a very low level. Those betrayed the nation were not also limited to the ordinary individuals or the front’s front-line fighters, rather top political executive leaders were among them. Eng. Salihidiin Maow and Yusuf Tani are among some examples of those who betrayed their nation and had caused the front to suffer major organizational splits.
As this essay is being written, some others are in a pending application to follow suit the actions of Mr. Tani and Maow.
These factual incidents have shown that in its 24 years armed struggle, ONLF has failed to build a well indoctrinated and effectively organized liberation struggle that can stand in the trails of liberation war and prepare the nation for unconditional sovereignty. Thus, when the political horizon of the colonial empire has widened in 2018 following the collective efforts of the oppressed nations, the liberation leaders of the front were already in fatigue and couldn’t refuse a meaningless offer given by their colonist to return home and at least give the nation another chance of self-readjusting.
This unsuccessful national liberation war resulted a very exhausted and divided nation inside the teeth of a savagery colonizer. In terms of social capabilities, 86% of the population live in rural areas in nomadic lifestyle with higher poverty and illiteracy rate. More than half of the population are war traumatized and in need of urgency rehabilitation and reconstruction. The urban poverty rate and poor services are social norms and skyrocketing throughout the region. There is a complete absence of important social institutions, like civil society organizations, think tanks, and economic and professional associations throughout the region.
This shows that while rebuilding and redressing the social crises in the Somali Ogaden is long overdue, the chance that this society can continue an armed resistance whose end date is not known is at the minimum level. Thus, this hard fact obliges the creation of an effective alternative national resistance by correcting the past mistakes of lack of effective organization and poor indoctrination.
To address the above major failure factors mandates the reformation of the front’ rank and file and formation of an effective organization which can represent and prepare the whole nation towards an effective national struggle which must have a different form and fate from the last 24 years armed resistance. This definitely demands the retirement of those who had tried but failed to succeed and can’t fit the new liberation shoes. It also demands directly addressing the disunity of the nation and lack of participation of all peoples in the struggle which had been the major failure factors of the armed resistance.
Sadly speaking, as the nation desperately demands these organizational and strategical changes towards correcting past mistakes, those who should retire don’t want to exit rather want to hold the status quo ante at the cost of the nation’s misery. As some have tried towards implementing the national self-readjustment plan, the anti-reform “cadres” whose liberation records barely show fighting in the battlefields want to hold the status quo ante to maintain their ranks in the organization. To keep the nation inside the past no live no death horizon, they already have shown their deviance to the struggle’s chain of commands and if the nation doesn’t bypass their narrow intellect and low commitment, the nation will mourn the marking of the ending of another unsuccessful but cost incentive liberation war of Somali Galbeed/Ogaden and possibly the normalization of the colonial occupation.