I am sure most of the people in our lovely region [Somali Ogaden region or Somali region of Ethiopia] understand what they need; or rather what we would like to have, however I had to question if we actually know where we are going to, or would like to be.
This article is a simple note of my recent visit to Diri-Dawa, Babile, Jigjiga, Dhagahbur and Kebridehar districts, of course without pronouncing my personal assessment to the situation.
Prisons in Jijiga are full of people most of them reportedly innocent with no court trail, or otherwise unfair judgments on the name of opposing peace, known as anti peace’ Almost every one I talk to has confirmed to me that the regional government is always in a meeting, some of them told me a meeting with no agenda, rude to employees and accusing every one of anti peace. People were not surprised to hear that government allocated budget was not utilized as the government is always in endless meetings.
Preparing to travel down the road to Dhagahbur and Kerbidehar Zones I had to clean my computer from any document as it is too risk to travel with any; that is only if you are able to hide your computer, my friend said, forget about camera, or any ICT equipments, but even traveling with your body will need a clearance from the local authorities, of course not with your personal car (No free movement in this region), you can only travel with the military escorted convoy and once you obtain such a permission the military shall make decision on when to go as per security regulations he said. I am a citizen of this country, indigenous of this region and holding my passport and personal ID’s, however all of this does not make any sense when visiting Ogaden, in fact all I wanted was to visit my father in Shilabo who has been ill for some time.
After a stretched process I made to Dhagahbur, in a constructed road with a minibus this time, surprisingly peaceful, I am sure this is the first time in history for a mini bus as a public transport between Dhaghbur and Jijiga.
Moving ahead to the next trip I had to attend to the bass station; Dhagahbur to Kebridahar; Oops there is no buss, there is truck station, hanging in their for about few hours we were told that no traveling convoy these days as the military escort will be in the field for an operation; this was said to us as message from the military commander of Dhagahbur zone, no one knows for how long, no one can say a word, ask a question, or even clarifications about any thing, it is just orders of the commander and we have no choice but to wait, and see, specially young and educated men are always suspected in supporting ONLF.
3 weeks later the military escort arrived Dhaghbur, telegrams has to be exchanged between Dhaghbur and Kebridahar to ensure safety of the road and confirm permitting signals. ‘Move or no move’ by now we are more than (300) Three hundred trucks, some o them were stuck in Dhagahbur for more than two months, rumors that ONLF is waiting on the way some where has been spread among the passengers, I started to worry about my university exams, I asked myself if this is the right journey!.
Looking back the KM from my hostel in the university to Jijiga, the peaceful trip from Jimma to Dhagahbur and the worrying news ahead to Kebridehar I was close to consider a second thought, however decided to take the risk and proceed to Shilabo.
The convoy is moving all the three hundred trucks should drive behind the military trucks, the group commander said; he also stated some rules for the convoy. Soldiers started shouting, (ineed) let us go in Amharic, some elder women where asking for translation, unfortunately soldiers are foreigners to the population and therefore they implement even such simple orders by force, ‘gatile, gatile’ (go, go) he said one of the solders pointing to the trucks and every one started moving, this was starting a voyage to hell, a trip that I witnessed killing of innocent people, threatening them to death, and all types of traumatizing people, in a silent war, in which my lovely family refused me to leave their small city, but asked me to go far for my own protection. My father said this region is a military engaged region, rebels and government soldiers only know how to kill, no justice, no one will bother of why some one was killed, and therefore he does not want to see his son killed on his ayes but he will not leave his soil what so ever the case is.
Somewhere beyond Hurale we have been welcomed by signals to stop, there is a gun man in front of the trucks, with a long grimy hear, every body understands, quite, actually I could see people started shaking, this is the ONLF fighters, my friend said, surprisingly these gun men did not bother the military trucks ahead of us who are supposedly escorting us, also the military group did not even looked back, quickly number of ONLF fighters become visible from the bush, they have interviewed passengers, asked for money, beaten some young guys asking them to join the fight and finally asked for money. Along my trip to Shilabo and al the way with military escort I have witnessed such cases for about three times, no real fight between ONLF and military but both threatening civilians to collect things or do what they wanted to do. At this junction and considering the daily fight between the Somali militia of Mr. Abdi Ilay and the ONLF fighters of Admiral Omar Osman I had to think twice, and even question the future of this region, almost every person I talk to was concluding with a concept of no return from fighting with Melese regime but we are also not certain of what we want and future of people in Ogaden.
I have learned from some people whom is secretly interviewed that they are proud to die for their freedom but tired to fight, willing to protect their dignity but no facility to defend, ready to live with the rest of Ethiopia with a dream to join greater Somalia one day, against the presence of the Ethiopian solders in Ogaden soil but do not agree with the new militia of Abdi Ilay, in addition losing the trust with ONLF. The elders I met with were all talking to me about history, how they have defeated Mengistu regime in 1977 etc, but none was very clear about the future, yes they all would like to see peace, freedom, good live, but no one was sure about what sort of independence they wanted, sort of losing hope after the 20 years civil war in Somalia, majority of them did express the need for political solution with Ethiopia but most of them mentioned that Melesse regime do not understand peace negations, as ONLF will not lay down arms without negotiated peace, therefore just wait for help of God as was the situation of this region from time of the emperor Heile-Selase.
In this next few lines I will try to analyze some of the challenges facing the communities I visited and suggest some realistic recommendations if there are ears listening, ayes reading and people who would like to do some thing for the suffering people in this region, additionally I will be focusing on how much innocent people have lost every thing from the ignorance of ONLF or negligence of EPRDF. First and foremost I would like to clearly state that I have never been a politician, and I am not in any of the side, but feeling the pain of the civilian that I saw in my difficult journey to Shilabo, I decided to write this article and share with all. Hope to see people of Ogaden living in peace.
ONLF was established in 1984 to liberate the Somali people from the colonial of Ethiopia, to determine a bright future for Ogaden state, or otherwise reunite the Somali people with the brothers in Somalia. Well situations has changed and therefore considerable points of ONLF principles has also changed or rather progressively developed, New leaders of the organization has become politicians and they had to obey to some other wishes from fascinating world leaders, or even try to live up to the 21 century, accordingly ONLF has to delete the most fundamental obligatory principles from it is proposals, some may like to call it diversification of strategies. Actually this would have been more acceptable under a unified ONLF leadership, or even with one strong popular group, instead every elderly person I met in my journey said that all they know from them is a gun men (The gorilla group leaders) some of them mentioned that they have heard the name of Admiral Osman, with not knowing about his actual role. A very painful story that was confirmed to me is how the very popular gorilla fighters of ONLF has changed their behavior against there own pastoralist people after being trained in Eritrea, people told me that they come back aggressive, killing any one who disagree with them, no matter what; they also kill us they said.
It is almost two decades that ONLF fighters were in the push, they have been voluntarily supported by the nomadic people of Ogaden, but by now people are helping them with fear, (They both kill us but at least we could speak with them ‘ The ONLF’ they said. This clearly show how they lost popularity among their own population, this is rising a big question about their future existence in the area, leave alone to bring Addis-Ababa regime to a table as they claim or liberate the region. I was not very surprised with people’s argument after I have learned from some politicians that 95% of ONLF establishers left the organization, dead, or disagreed with the current policies and it is practices. Above all of the bad news from the ONLF group I have to admit that there is no alternative to Addis-Ababa regime but to resist.
One my also question why not the federalism and what about the already existing regional government, a genuine point misleading if not well understood, in one word a local authority ruled by some from Mekele by the name of (Tawelde; Formally the Adviser of the Regional president of SRS) but with the name of a young boy said he belongs to Warder District but for sure not belong to the Somali community, and in any case being nominated so his name could be politically used as the president of the Somali regional state Of Ethiopia.
The Somali regional government was the product of the federalism system in Ethiopia brought by EPRDF or TPLF, it is allowed by the country constitution each and every nation to administer it is own internal affairs, manage their annual budget, control their regional security, and form appropriate structures using their mother language. In fact it was ONLF that won the first regional elections as a political part, but went to the bush for armed struggle after a power conflict with EPRDF in 1994. The point remains how far this so called government has actually worked for the people of this region.
In very short; more then 10 regional presidents were removed in the last 15 years, with a fabricated counter insurgency in every quarter of the mentioned period but no success to breach the armed struggle. Most of the insurgencies were just designed to earn money, (Corruption by the name of bringing security and stability to the region), The federal military has been observed with direct interferences to over rule the regional administration, eliminating educated and elderly and known leaders of the region, and at the same time nominating unknown, and less educated persons to lead the region, while assigning young advisers from the ruling regime. Those mentioned points and more others were re-creating the week ONLF machine frequently until it reaches the stage of no return.
Thousands of people are killed in the name of insurgencies, beating people, arresting them with no charge, accusing of guilty, sacking them from jobs has become some thing usual, and therefore many of them had to flee to neighboring countries, even to the neighboring regions with in Ethiopia.
Poor people, vulnerable community, civilians are the once suffering, I know this is the way it is ‘when two elephants fight grass suffer’ but my point is will any one survive if such acts continue in the near future, I am afraid not if situation doesn’t change to better, and this only could happen by pressurizing the powerful man (Mr. Malesse). I am sure those who feed him with their monthly tax could do so, but this is if any one human as we say it.
People of Ogaden were originally facing frequent droughts, suffering from lack of water, food, etc but now there is an extensive campaign to eliminate and conduct ethical cleansing, no matter what group is the person is associated with (The Government militia, the ONLF fighters, the federal military forces) he she has to die, suffer, or at least be in a prison, then after all of this it is just fine with power making decisions in this world including the UN. (Visits after visit with no protecting the live if civilians). Make no mistake this is not only a campaign of EPRDF it is also happening with the help of ONLF, no matter if they understand that or not but the deeds imported from Eritrean training camps is helping EPRDF to do so. in conclusion the two (EPRDF, and ONLF) looks like in one concept but with two phases, and therefore the people of Ogaden has to disappear between the negligence of EPRDF, and the ignorance of ONLF, then what else, so far no one, for what future,of course no one have an answer to day, but let us not forget that other people of this world are watching this atrocity, as is it is not a priority. In fact a friend from the West said that if Al-SHABAB is reported in the region our governments may help intervene, otherwise the situation in Ogaden may not be attended to. In my young, poor, and small article I wish to appeal to every one in this world to stop this unfortunate pleading of our innocent people. God may help the old women, and young children I have seen in Dhaghbur and Kabridahr Zones.
Abdullahi Jalalaqsi, firstname.lastname@example.org