Ethiopian Observer – Abdi Mohamud Omar’s (Abdi Iley’s) exit as president of Ethiopia’s Somali regional in the face of pressure from the military and the public paves the way for a new chapter for the Somali region, said Juweria Ali, a PhD Candidate in Politics and International Relations in London’s Westminster University. Juweria spoke in an interview with Arefaynie Fantahun of the Ethiopia Observer. Here are excerpts from the interview.
- What does Abdi Iley’s resignation mean for the region?
Juweria: Abdi Iley was a violent dictator proven to have committed grave human rights violations which continue to have a lasting impact on civilians both inside and outside the Somali region. His resignation at this critical time was both important and necessary, TPLF backed Abdi Iley was a hindrance to achieving any sort of peace in the region. I believe that his departure has opened up an opportunity for Somalis to unite and work together towards the betterment of their future, this is something that Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed can play a decisive role in.
While everyone generally understood why the military had to intervene in order to forcefully remove Abdi Iley, their presence nevertheless troubled large segments of the population due to their violent historical encounters with the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF.) The violence which erupted in Jigjiga has also lead to death and destruction which many attribute both to the presence of the ENDF and Abdi Iley in provoking ethnic violence between Somalis and Oromos.
- Why is there so much opposition to Abdi Iley?
Juweria: The systematic violence and destruction that Abdi Iley has orchestrated with the backing of the TPLF, first during his 5 years as Head of security and then again as president of the Somali Region from 2010, is unimaginable. The 2006/2007 counter-insurgency campaign against the ONLF is among Abdi Iley’s darkest legacies, this was a state-sanctioned campaign built on the policy of collective punishment. It comprised of extrajudicial killings, the systematic destruction of villages, mass imprisonment, torture, rape as a weapon of war, economic blockade and confiscation of livestock. The subsequent creation of the notorious Liyu Police under his leadership exacerbated the existing violence and collective punishment so widespread in the region. Not only did Abdi Iley rule the people of the Somali Region with an iron grip, but his policy of collective punishment even extended to members of the Somali diaspora due to his policy of reprisals. He punished individuals or families suspected of supporting opposition groups by killing their family members or using them as leverage to extort bribes after he imprisoned them. The pain and suffering that Abdi Iley has caused cannot be imagined, let alone described.
- He seems to be liked by some segments of the population. Right?
Juweria: I think it’s undeniable that he has a support base, but I don’t think they have any particular love for him per se, because what we do know for certain is that most people are forced to be loyal to him based on the many benefits and material rewards associated with supporting him. If you support Abdi Iley, whether you reside in the Somali Region or abroad, yourself and your family are more likely to be protected and afforded certain opportunities denied to others. He has also been the longest-serving president of the Somali Region which I feel has created a sense of permeance about him as he wielded absolute power, with no sign of his departure anytime soon- I think people had no choice but to fall in line.
- What are your hopes for the future?
Juweria: The Somali region has been systematically marginalised by successive Ethiopian administrations, meanwhile successive liberation movements have continuously fought for the rights of Somalis. The history of the region has always been characterised by repression and resistance. Now, given that the Prime Minister has pledged to widen the political space and afford greater freedoms to opposition groups, I think that this is an opportune moment for him to bring all stakeholders together including the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), to seek out a peaceful resolution to the century-old Somali question so that people may live in peace.
- Are you upbeat about the new nominee? Does this look like a real change?
Juweria: We genuinely cannot say that we have witnessed any change at all, Abdi iley is still a member of parliament and a member of his party. His successors were handpicked by him, and the new president is a very close affiliate of Abdi Iley. Having said that, there is ample opportunity for him to do good, for instance by freeing all innocent/political prisoners and widening the political space for both pro-government and opposition parties. Displaced and hungry civilians are also in urgent need of humanitarian support, and many have lost their livelihoods from the violence which erupted in the last few days-this deserves immediate attention. Ultimately, his actions will reveal whether he initiates a new chapter of peace and stability for the Somali region, or if he continues the dark legacy of Abdi Iley.
Juweria Ali’s research interests lie at the intersection of postcolonial resistance and dissenting nationalisms in the Horn of Africa with a focus on the Ogaden region. She is also interested in state expressions of gendered violence through the lens of intersectional theory. Juweria also serves as Advocacy Chair on Ogaden Youth and Student Union’s international board leading the organisation’s advocacy work on Human Rights.