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Past and Present

by Abdirahman MAHDI

1. Background

The Ogaden Somali territory lies between Oromia to the west, Afar to the north-west, the Republic of Djibouti to the north, Kenya to the south and the Somali Republic to the east. Somali agro-pastoral people have a single language, culture, and socio-economic structure inhabiting the Ogaden territory.

The Ogaden Somali people were independent and powerful until colonial powers from overseas came to Africa and started arming the Abyssinian chiefs in the north, the present-day Ethiopia. Using the arms and expertise provided by the colonialists, the Abyssinians captured Harar in 1884 and started raiding Ogaden Somali villages in that area, killing men and selling women and children as slaves. The Ogaden Somalis vehemently resisted the encroachment of the Abyssinian expansionists and succeeded in halting their advance. Even though the Abyssinian military campaign to conquer the rest of the Somali territory failed, the colonial powers recognised its claim over the Ogaden Somali-land and signed treaties with them.

From 1896 to 1948 Abyssinia (renaming itself Ethiopia) waged a constant war of conquest against the Somalis but failed in gaining any further foothold in the Ogaden. In 1935, Italy invaded Abyssinia and captured it along with the Ogaden and the territories of other nations in the area. Then the British defeated Italy in the Horn of Africa in 1941, and it administered the Ogaden for eight years until it transferred part of the Ogaden (Jigjiga area) to Ethiopia for the first time. The other parts were transferred in 1954 and 1956. Thus Ethiopia gained control over the Ogaden without the knowledge or the consent of the Ogaden Somali people. From then onwards, successive Ethiopian regimes mercilessly suppressed the Ogaden people and whenever the liberation movements seriously weakened and threatened Ethiopian colonialism, a foreign power directly intervened to re-establish the colonial rule over the Ogaden.

Thus, since the beginning of this century and up to now, Ethiopia has been characterised by a single ethno-nation using the powers of state to subjugate and exploit all the other nations within that artificial system. For almost one century, the Abyssinians have been abusing the concept of sovereignty and statehood to deprive the rights of other peoples living under the oppressive rule of Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is a state founded on colonial doctrine. Its rule is based on the use of force and emergency measures for oppressing the majority of the people and exploiting them. Whereas Ethiopia inherited the Ogaden territory from the colonial powers, at the same time, it boasts to be the only African state that was never colonised. The fact remains that Ethiopia has been a participant and a partner with the colonial powers that divided Africa among themselves but has never relinquished its colonial possessions.

To maintain such a colonial state, the rulers had to build massive military machine and embark on forcefully maintaining one of the most vicious authoritarian rules in the third world. The resultant resistance from the people and the inevitable taxing of material and moral resources of the oppressive elite became Ethiopia Achilles’ hill and brought about the downfall of its successive regimes. Both Haile Selassie’s rule and that of Mengistu’s military junta were brought down by the relentless resistance of the colonised nations and the consequential resource drainage.

2. The Current Regime in Ethiopia

After the fall of Mengistu Hailemariam, the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF)—a new name adopted by the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) to camouflage its narrow ethnic base and rule in Ethiopia—succeeded in capturing Addis Ababa with the help of Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front (EPLF). Although most of the nations under Ethiopian colonial rule contributed to the weakening and the downfall of the derg politico-military machine, TPLF captured the seat of power and succeeded in gaining international recognition.

At first, the new Ethiopian rulers, feeling weak and aware of the international climate and the demise of totalitarian regimes, forwarded a reasonable and plausible programme for addressing the burning issue of Ethiopian colonialism and its solution through recognising and granting the right of nations to self-determination through peaceful process.

EPRDF agreed to the charter programme, which recognised the right of nations to self-determination up to secession and stated that a transitional period of two years has to relapse before the nations could exercise that right. Thus, EPRDF recognised the colonial nature of Ethiopia in principle.

Considering the burden of the long struggle of the Ogaden Somali people and cognisant of the value of resolving the long standing conflict between Ethiopia and the Ogaden people through peaceful means, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) decided to give peace a chance and avert a costly and unnecessary war.

But it became obvious soon to Ogaden people that EPRDF was only buying time and was laying the ground for keeping the colonial legacy it inherited and was scheming to attain the submission of the Ogaden Somalis to its colonial rule through demagogy and token democracy. In doing so, the EPRDF grossly miscalculated the gravity and depth of the Ogaden vs. Ethiopian problem.

The EPRDF, blinded by its sudden and unexpected victory and the temporary absence of challenge and armed opposition from the ONLF, grossly miscalculated the severity and gravity of the conflict between the Ogaden people and Ethiopia and the unbending desire of the Ogaden Somalis to regain their sovereignty and independence. Again the EPRDF, forgetful of the bitter experience of its people under the previous rulers and despite its rhetoric of being committed to democracy and the rule of law and respecting the right of nations, began the construction of its politico-military structures to maintain the colonial empire of its predecessors.

Hence, all people concerned in ending the long-standing conflict lost an excellent opportunity and EPRDF planted the seeds of the next cycle of bloodshed and violence in the region. It started by trying to divide the Ogaden Somali people and undermine the leading role of the liberation movement by creating pseudo-organisations based on clan lines. At the same time, it spread its intelligence network and military garrisons all over the Ogaden. In early 1992, the EPRDF government masterminded the killing of the leadership of the ONLF. Then EPRDF attacked the headquarters of ONLF in an effort to wipe it out but withdrew after sustaining high casualties and postponed its plans.

In spite of all the intrigues and harassment of EPRDF, ONLF and the Ogaden Somalis persisted in avoiding confrontation and continued rebuilding their political and administrative institutions. In September 1992, the Ogaden people went to the polls to cast their votes in a free and fair election, for the first time in their long history, to elect their district councils and representatives for the regional parliament. EPRDF strongly campaigned for its surrogate parties and members, but in a landslide victory, the ONLF won about 84% of the seats in the newly elected regional parliament.

In mid-1993, the regional government complained to the government in Addis Ababa about its flagrant interference in the day-to-day affairs of the Ogaden region, an act that contradicted the commitment to regional autonomy and devolution of power to the regions. EPRDF retaliated by freezing the regional budget, diverting international aid, discouraging international non-governmental organisations (NGO’s) from working in the Ogaden, as well as obstructing all initiatives and projects deemed necessary for the development of the region. In late 1993, the Ethiopian security forces arrested the president, vice-president and secretary of the Regional Assembly, and transferred them to a prison in Addis Ababa. They were released after ten months without trail.

Finally, when EPRDF established itself as the government of Ethiopia in the eyes of the international community, and its military and economic resources was enhanced, it felt confident enough to mount a military campaign against the Ogaden Somalis at the end of the transitional period. Moreover, in order to get the raison d’être for its campaign of terror and subjugation of the Ogaden people, EPRDF dictated to Ogaden Somalis an unacceptable choice. It told them to endorse a compulsory constitution that would legalise the colonisation of the Ogaden people by Ethiopia and the participation in an election where their role would be to endorse EPRDF nominated candidates. The EPRDF strategy was to deceive the Ogaden Somalis into sanctioning its colonial rule while at the same time eliminating themselves from the political structures it intended to maintain its hegemony over the nations and avert any future threat. In addition, if the Ogaden Somalis oppose what it proposed, the aim was to acquire the pretext for declaring war on the Ogaden people and extricate itself from honouring the pledges it entered in its moment of weakness and maintain the Ethiopian colonial legacy.

After deliberating on the moves and intentions of EPRDF and understanding the choices put forth by EPRDF, the Ogaden people decided that it was unacceptable to succumb to the designs of EPRDF and forgo their quest for self-determination for which so much blood was shed and so many have suffered. The Ogaden Somali people were made to choose choice either relinquishing what they had fought for so long or to fight.

On 28 January 1994, at a press conference in Addis Ababa, ONLF called for referendum on Ogadeni self-determination. On 22 February 1994, a cold-blood massacre took place in the town of Wardheer, where more than 81 unarmed civilians were killed by TPLF militias, who tried to kill or capture alive the chairman of the ONLF, Mr. Ibrahim Abdalla Mohamed, who was addressing a peaceful rally in the centre of the town.

In February 1994, the regional assembly passed a unanimous resolution, in accordance with the Transitional Charter. It demanded a referendum on self-determination and independence for the Ogaden people under the auspices of international and regional bodies such as the United Nations, the Organisation of African Unity, the European Union, and other independent non-governmental organisations.

The EPRDF government reacted swiftly overthrowing and virtually disbanding all democratically elected institutions in the Ogaden, including the regional parliament. Like their predecessors, the president of the parliament, vice-president and several members of the parliament, were arrested and transferred to prisons in Addis Ababa. Mass arrests and indiscriminate killings took place.

On 17 April 1994, the Ethiopian government launched a large-scale military offensive against ONLF positions and detained many suspected supporters of ONLF. On 28 April 1994, at a press conference in Addis Ababa, the then TPLF defence minister Siye Abraha claimed that all resistance movements in the Ogaden had been destroyed and stamped out.

In a petition addressed to the president of the Transitional Government of Ethiopia (TGE), Ogaden elders asked the TGE to stop the military offensive against the people and seek a peaceful dialogue to resolve the conflict, instead of opting for a military solution which complicated an already explosive situation.

In May 1994, the government sponsored a new surrogate party called Ethiopian Somali Democratic League (ESDL), which is one the satellite People’s Democratic Organisations (PDO), which exists throughout Ethiopia within the EPRDF framework. The first congress of ESDL was held in Hurso under the patronage of the then prime minister of TGE, Tamirat Layne (now in jail with a prison sentence of 18 years for corruption, see p.12), who appointed a member of the EPRDF coalition as a chairman of the new pro-government party.

On 25 January 1995, the EPRDF government hastily arranged a meeting in the town of Qabridaharre to convince the ONLF to participate in the upcoming elections. The meeting, which was chaired by the then president Meles Zenawi (the current Prime Minister), failed when EPRDF refused to allow independent arbitrators to participate in a negotiated settlement. After that the ONLF broke off all contacts with the EPRDF government, closed down its office in Addis Ababa and boycotted elections in 1995.

Since 20 April 1994, the combatants of the ONLF and Ethiopian forces are fighting bloody battles and Ethiopia is vehemently denying the engagements with the liberation forces. Certainly, the ongoing suppression of the struggle for self-determination and independence in the Ogaden continues to cause human suffering and are the basis of instability and tragedy in the Horn of Africa.

The 1991 Charter and the Constitution, which was espoused on 8 December 1994 guaranteed, as EPRDF claimed, the secession of a people if they are, ‘convinced that their rights are abridged or abrogated’. Indeed, the rights of the Ogaden Somali people is constantly abrogated and the process of negating this demand proved too costly to the ruling junta in Addis Ababa.

The tyrannical regime in Ethiopia started a propaganda campaign and public relations stunt in order to convince the international community of its democratic nature by announcing that it was conducting elections in the Ogaden. It also wanted to legitimise its continued presence in the Ogaden even after the people requested to exercise their right to self-determination. Ogaden people thwarted its attempts but it never the less announced that elections were held and its bogus surrogates had won the seats in Ogaden. At the same time to further cloak its treachery, it formed its own ONLF party and unashamedly declared that ONLF had taken part in its sham elections. This was a clear indicator of its lack of confidence and inability to hide its failure to control the Ogaden. From that time onwards, Ethiopia has been moulding and remoulding it sham representatives in the Ogaden, the so-called parties and Ogaden parliament, more than five times but up to this day it is unable to manage the situation. After failing to intimidate the people to go along with its colonial programme, EPRDF has embarked on a war of attrition with ONLF, and indiscriminate and inhuman tyranny against the Ogaden people. The EPRDF militias killed and imprisoned thousands of civilians and looted their properties. Hundreds of women were raped and for the first time in the history of the Ogaden people, male children were raped.

Thus the new Ethiopian colonial state headed by EPRDF has used every trick in the books of colonial strategy but it could not obliterate the armed national struggle of the Ogaden people and has been forced to occupy only the major towns and move in heavily armed convoys.

Then Ethiopia frantically resorted to human rights violations such as killings, imprisonment, forced conscription, exiling, intimidation and harassment, suppression of basic democratic rights which highlight the suffering of the peoples. The regime’s policies of systematic underdevelopment include economic sabotage, irresponsible plunder of resources with no regard to sustainability of the environment, denial of education opportunities, socio-cultural dismantling and subjection to conflict-ridden political and administrative structures.

Moreover in the Ogaden, the EPRDF forces and Tigrean dealers who have been given concessions and licences by the Ethiopian government dominated by ethnic Tigreans, are devastating the poor and the fragile ecological balance by widespread exploitation and depletion of forests for military purposes, firewood and charcoal. The rich wildlife, including game birds, forests and water resources has all suffered irreparable damage in the Ogaden under the Ethiopian government.

After it became obvious to EPRDF that it could not destroy the national resistance of the people and that it was gaining momentum, EPRDF attacked stateless Somalia and captured three regions following the strategies of its predecessors. The regime is intending to find scapegoats to blame for its failure in subduing the Ogaden people and their rejection of its colonial lust, in order to divert attention and bid to maintain its credibility both inside and outside Ethiopia. It is also actively engaged in sabotaging the reconciliation of the Somali people and building of a Somali state. At the same time, Ethiopia is hosting summits for the Somali leaders posing as a mentor to the Somali people and collecting funds from the UN on that issue.

The Ethiopian destabilisation plan is not limited to the Somali nation. Ethiopia attacked Eritrea on the pretext of retaking two Eritrean territories but in reality it is intent on recapturing Eritrea and colonising it again, but it received lessons from Eritrea it did not bargain for.

Ironically, the Ethiopian government which violates the very basic human rights of all citizens in the empire-state of Ethiopia, including the Ogaden Somalis and wages wars against its neighbours, poses itself as a champion of democracy and human rights in Africa.

3. The Position of the Ogaden Somalis

The following sentences sum up the views of the Ogaden Somali. Ethiopia has colonised the Ogaden people and it is viciously continuing that colonial legacy in spite of the change of regime in Addis Ababa. Therefore the people categorically state that the present regime is not different from its predecessors in substance. The Ogaden people, as a sovereign nation, have the right to be masters of their destiny, and are intent on actualising that right.

The people’s struggle will continue as long as the Ethiopian state remains intransigent to the rights and wishes of the people and continues pursuing its inhuman oppressive policies. They will not participate in the bogus elections Ethiopia periodically conducts as a public relations exercise to beguile the local and international communities and hide its colonial and authoritarian nature. Nor will they be taking part in its colonial administrative structures. They also call upon the people of Ethiopia not to become party to the regime’s crime against humanity.

It is incumbent upon the Ogaden people to call upon the current EPRDF regime ruling Ethiopia to desist from its current militaristic and aggressive attitude and accept a peaceful negotiated settlement of the current conflict between the Ogaden people and Ethiopia with the participation of third neutral parties from the international community.

4. Appeal to the International Community

The international community is informed that the Ethiopian government is violating their basic human rights and is systematically exterminating them. Ethiopia is being encouraged to commit this genocide against the Ogaden people by the lack of the international community censure over its human rights violations, and holding its rulers responsible for the gross human rights, abuses perpetrated by its army and security forces in the Ogaden.

The Ogaden people appeal to the international to recognise the colonial nature of Ethiopia and its brutal repression of the Ogaden people and hold it accountable for its acts. Furthermore, Ethiopia is using international aid for military-political programmes directed at oppressing the Ogaden Somalis and other nations under its colonial rule and in its expansionist policies against its neighbours. Whenever its war coffers are depleted, Ethiopia appeals for international aid for natural disaster victims. At the same time Ethiopia has the means to attack two neighbouring states and maintain a huge colonial occupation army in the Ogaden, Oromia, Afar, Sidama and other territories of the oppressed nations.