According to historians, there is no doubt that people of the Somali regional state, have suffered untold indignities, for the last 150 years, under successive Ethiopian regimes. The Ethiopian Somali was subjected to serfdom and semi-slavery conditions, generation after generation. They have been fighting to get rights as normal human beings throughout the centuries. They still live under Ethiopian rule. Today, 2010, is it possible that Somalis in Ethiopia could have peace and meaningful development under the present ruling regime in Ethiopia?
Here is a very brief recent historical background of the Ogaden region. Western Somali Liberation Front(WSLF), under the auspices of Siad Barre, started what they named a war of liberation against Ethiopia. At that time Ethiopia was ruled Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam, another brutal communist dictator. The war began in 1976 and ended in 1978 with the Somalis defeated.
Both Mengistu of Ethiopia and Barre of Somalia were ousted from power in 1991. However, Somali republic disintegrated into anarchy and lawlessness; and Somalis are unable up to the present moment(2010), almost two decades after the downfall of Barre, to re-establish a government. For this reason WSLF which was anyway a proxy of Siad Barre, disappeared from the political radar scope.
Fortunately for the Ethiopians, there was a smooth power succession. An organized militia under the leadership of Meles Zenawi, under an umbrella known as EPRDF took over power. Ethiopia was saved from the destruction like the one that took place in Somalia.
In 1984, a group of young intellectuals in London, UK had founded an organization which they named Ogaden Action Group. Later OAG was taken over by another group in Iraq and they renamed it Ogaden National Liberation Front(ONLF). Somehow this new group(ONLF), came to Ethiopia during the chaotic period of the succession of power and they participated in EPRDF activities in Addis Ababa. They were a participant in signing the provisional charter, which was the foundation for the current EPRDF regime in Addis Ababa.
This charter was quite different from Mengistu’s brutal communist dictatorship and from emperor Haile Sellassie’s feudal system of governance. It facilitated a new system that emphasized the need for different ethnic groups in all nations and nationalities in Ethiopia to have autonomous and separate ethnic governments; under federal Ethiopia. ONLF was part and parcel of the signators of that arrangement. Therefore, EPRDF ruled Ethiopia under the provisions of the charter from 1991 to 1994. A general election was announced to be taking place in 1995. Along with the general election a new constitution was drafted in the meantime; and both the elections and constitutional referendum were scheduled to take place at the same time; specifically the constitution was to be approved by the people.
At the election time in 1995, ONLF refused to participate in both the general elections and the constitutional referendum. In Article 39 the constitution approves different ethnic groups to have the right for self-governance and beyond up to full independence. ONLF rejected to take part in the elections and that was when it started armed struggle for independence from Ethiopia. ONLF has become an entity led by delusional, arrogant, ego-centric and corrupt individuals. That was how they led the people to war and peace was lost. If ONLF participated in that election it was possible for the people of the region to have fruitful contact with the federal government; economic development would have spear-headed in the right direction. That was a great opportunity lost and that was the beginning of war.
It is 26 years since ONLF was founded; it is 15 years since it started armed struggle against Ethiopia. But the war of liberation could not be won and there is no light at the end of the tunnel because of the following reasons:
1-The formost supporter of the liberation effort of the Somali Regional State from Ethiopia was the Somali Republic. But Somalia has disintegrated into clan fiefdoms. It got divided into entities that call themselves Somaliland, Puntland, the perpetually chaotic South, Al-shabaab, Ahlu-sunna-waljama’a and many more others; under the leadership of clan warlords; that constantly fight one another for supremacy and legitimacy. Obviously, ex-Somali republic does not possess the means or the will to support ONLF. They are in dire straights to survive themselves.
2-Arab and Islamic world either does not know the plight of Ethiopian Somalis or they do not care about them. Anyway ONLF does not get any assistance from Arabs or Moslems.
3-The Western World fully support the Ethiopian government. Western nations do not support the idea of any unit or ethnic group to get independence from Ethiopia. Thus ONLF could not secure any sort of assistance from the Western nations.
4-African nations including the African Union support the Ethiopian government; because all African countries have different ethnic groups who want to secede. The boundaries between African countries were drawn by European colonial powers; without regard to the ethnic groups. You can find an ethnic group in three different countries and therefore it is an impossible task to re-draw the boundaries. ONLF could not get assistance from the African nations.
5-Asia as a whole –Japan, China, Indian, Pakistan etc-etc- does not know the existence of something called ONLF ; for this reason there is no help from Asia.
6-Ethiopia today has one of the most powerful military establishments in Africa. The army and air force are highly trained and they have the latest equipment. The military have the full support of 70 million Ethiopians behind them. Ethiopian armed forces get annual assistance to the tune of 3 to 4 billion US dollars from the United States of America alone. It also gets military assistance from other Western nations. It has also its own considerable resources. On the other side ONLF does not get any sort of assistance from anywhere in the world. ONLF does not even have support from other Ethiopian Somalia clans except Ogaden clansmen.
Due to the above-mentioned helplessness, ONLF leaders have got divided into two camps. One group is led by Eng. Salahudin Macow. This group is expected to sign peace agreement with Ethiopia within the coming months. The supporters of this group are traditional leaders such as Ugases, Suldans, Grads and intellectuals and religious ulemas. This group has also the support of the common people like businessmen, rural communities, students and most of the nomadic clansmen. All these different groups of people had made it clear that peace is indispensably necessary and that Macow’s peace initiative with Ethiopia is the right to way save the people.
The other camp is led by Admiral Mohamed Omar Osman. This camp believes in the failed delusional policy of continuing the armed struggle of liberation against Ethiopia. The admiral is a benevolent leader but the reality is since he is in his eighties or above he can not understand the present day reality in the field. This task needs younger blood. This group who are trying to liberate the country by armed struggle, does not have any financial, military, logistical or even moral support from anywhere in the world. This is their lot; deception, misleading the people, fantasy of Ogaden clan grandeur and paranoia.
The supporters of admiral Osaman at the present moment are young men and women in the diaspora. These are innocent and extremely naïve young men and women. Almost all of them were born outside of the Somali regional state. They have never seen the country for which they are fighting- even for a short visit. In reality they know next to nothing about that country. They are very good young people who believe in romaniticized and highly idealistic dogma, fed to them by the admiral’s foot soldiers. They have fantasies of unatainbale, unrealistic and unsustainable notion of liberating the country at the expense of poor suffering people back home. They are day dreamers and due to their naivety they are far from reality. This category of people live comfortably in America, Europe and Australia and to repeat it again they don’t have how life is hard back home. Fortunately, when peace agreement is signed between Macow and the Ethiopian government, we are sure the admiral
’s group will be irrelevant and normalization of life will be back to the country.
Besides the two divided ONLF camps, there is another group that is known as United Western Somali Liberation Front(UWSLF). UWSLF was formerly known as Al-Itihad Al-Islami. They were from fundamentalist Islamic extremists. But the hard field realities taught them a lesson and therefore they signed a peace agreement with EPRDF regime; and now they are busy propagating peace through the mass media.
As I mentioned above, Eng. Macow’s wing of ONLF will have a grand conference inside the country; in which the members of the society will participate, and in which they will re-organize and re-elect the future leader of ONLF. After that they will sign a peace agreement with Ethiopia. ONLF and UWSLF will unite in the implementation of the peace process; and people hope the admiral’s group will be thrown out of the window; and it is clear they will totally be irrelevant regarding Ogaden.
But there are very big Ifs here. For instance, if the two ONLFs and UWSLF unite in the name of peace, if every Ethiopian Somali hands over his weapon to the Ethiopian authorities, if all Ogaden people troop in front of prime minister Meles Zenawi ‘s office genuinely chanting peace slogans, is it possible that the Ethiopian government will give peace a chance? Many people are skeptical Ogaden will ever be a peaceful place.
The federal government of Ethiopia has all sorts of resources-foreign and domestic. It can utilize these resources to restore peace to Ogaden. What the people need is to have equal rights with other Ethiopian ethnic groups. They need to be treated as humans and not as fourth class citizens. They need to get the respect and human dignity bestowed upon them by God. If Zenawi’s government decides to establish peace in Ogaden, it has all the means and ways necessary to do so; if it wants war, instability and perpetuation of the inhuman conditions prevailing in Ogaden, it can do so. But the fact of the matter is the primary responsibility of ushering in peace in the region, lies upon the shoulders of the federal government of Ethiopia.
By Mohamed Ugas Muhumed