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«Talking Peace in the Ogaden The search for an end to conflict in the Somali Regional State in Ethiopia Hagmann, Tobias Publication date: Document ...»

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Talking Peace in the Ogaden

The search for an end to conflict in the Somali Regional State in Ethiopia

Hagmann, Tobias

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Hagmann, T. (2014). Talking Peace in the Ogaden: The search for an end to conflict in the Somali Regional

State in Ethiopia. London: Rift Valley Institute.

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Download date: 21. Oct. 2016


Talking Peace in the Ogaden The search for an end to conflict in the Somali Regional State in Ethiopia TOBIAS HAgMANN


Talking Peace in the Ogaden The search for an end to conflict in the Somali Regional State in Ethiopia TOBIAS HAgMANN Published in 2014 by the Rift Valley Institute 26 St Luke’s Mews, London W11 1DF, United Kingdom PO Box 52771 GPO, 00100 Nairobi, Kenya


The Rift Valley Institute (www.riftvalley.net) works in Eastern and Central Africa to bring local knowledge to bear on social, political, and economic development.


The RVI Nairobi Forum is a venue for critical discussion of political, economic and social issues in the Horn of Africa, Eastern and Central Africa, Sudan and South Sudan.

THE AUTHOR Tobias Hagmann is associate professor at the Department of Society and Globalization at Roskilde University in Denmark.

CREDITS RVI ExECUTIVE DIRECTOR: John Ryle RVI PROgRAMME DIRECTOR: Christopher Kidner RVI HORN OF AFRICA & EAST AFRICA REgIONAL DIRECTOR: Mark Bradbury RVI NAIROBI FORUM PROgRAMME COORDINATOR: Nuur Mohamud Sheekh RVI INFORMATION & PROgRAMME OFFICER: Tymon Kiepe EDITORS: Catherine Bond and Fergus Nicoll DESIgN: Lindsay Nash MAPS: Jillian Luff, MAPgrafix PRINTINg: Intype Libra Ltd., 3–4 Elm Grove Industrial Estate, London SW19 4HE ISBN 978-1-907431-32-6 COVER: An ONLF soldier rests inside a destroyed school (2009).

RIgHTS Copyright © Rift Valley Institute 2014 Cover Image © Jonathan Alpeyrie 2009 Text and maps published under C

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Political affairs in the Somali Regional State (SRS) of Ethiopia are a sensitive, contested topic. Researchers face considerable problems of access to the Ogaden as all the parties involved in the conflict operate with a great deal of secrecy. It is also difficult to obtain reliable information about key determinants of the conflict, including the parties’ shortterm and long-term objectives, as well as the personnel, organization, strengths, weaknesses and areas of operation of the Ethiopian military, of the regional government’s liyu police (‘special police’), and the rebel Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF).

In the absence of much independent media reporting on Ethiopia or systematic human rights monitoring by credible, impartial organizations, there are also no reliable casualty figures. Levels of violence can thus only be gauged using proxy indicators, including the casualty figures of armed combatants, though these are often inflated by the ONLF and understated by the Ethiopian military.

Many Ogaadeeni have sought sanctuary in countries neighbouring Ethiopia in recent years, providing another indication of the severity and extent of the violence. Many, however, live without registering as refugees. It is unclear, for example, how many of the 350,000 refugees registered as ‘Somali’ by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in camps in Kenya, are from the SRS as opposed to Somalia itself.1 Reports in the Kenyan press reflect the presence of Ogaadeeni refugees in Nairobi and the north-east of the country; the Kenyan press has also reported the apparent murders of several ONLF members and their sympathisers on Kenyan soil, allegedly by Ethiopian agents.2 1 UNHCR report, 28 February 2014.

The Standard, ‘Foreign Battles Fought in a Refugee Camp’, 4 January 2012.

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This report draws on the author’s prior knowledge of political developments in the Ethiopian Ogaden, as well as a review of existing literature and more than 30 interviews conducted in person by phone and via Skype between mid-September and mid-October 2013. These interviews were with key informants involved in political and military affairs in Ethiopia’s Somali region, as well as others well-versed in what happened at peace talks between the Ethiopian government and the ONLF in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, in September and October 2012.

The report further draws on interviews by Rashid Abdi, as well as recent unpublished research by Tobias Hagmann and others.3 To assure confidentiality and the safety of the interlocutors, all sources are kept anonymous, and for the most part, direct quotes have been excluded.

This report is indebted to Aden Abdi, Cedric Barnes, Mark Bradbury, Mohamed Mealin Seid and others for their valuable comments and suggestions on a previous draft. The author bears responsibility for all remaining errors.

3 Tobias Hagmann, ‘The Return of Garrison Rule in the Ethiopian Ogaden, 2006 to 2012’ (paper presented at the Center for African Studies, University of Florida at Gainesville, 16 March 2013); ‘A Short History of Political and Mass Violence in Ethiopia’s Somali Region, circa 1960 to 2012’ (DSF research paper, 31 May 2013); ‘“We Live in the Dark Age”: Accounts of State-sponsored Violence and Prospects for Transitional Justice in the Ethiopian Ogaden’ (DSF research paper, 9 August 2013). The author is indebted to the German Foundation for Peace Research for funding the research grant for ‘Transitional justice in protracted conflict: local and diaspora conceptions of retributive and restorative justice between shari’a, customary, and human rights law in Somalia and Ethiopia’s Somali region’.

Summary Peace talks between the Ethiopian government and the ONLF, which began in 2012, represent the first real opportunity to solve a near 20  year-old conflict that has exacted a heavy toll on civilians in eastern Ethiopia. The second round of talks facilitated by the Kenyan government in October 2012 ended in stalemate. In early 2014, the parties to the conflict were preparing for a third round of talks.

The ONLF has been diminished militarily and politically in the past five years, and is under pressure from its constituency to chart an alternative way. There are also indications that the ONLF is willing to accept the Ethiopian constitution as a framework for future peace talks and political reforms in the SRS. This would represent a significant concession.

While the ONLF believes that Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn wishes to pursue his predecessor Meles Zenawi’s initiative in seeking a political solution to the Ogaden conflict, but the government’s security and intelligence branches may not support this goal.

The ONLF has struggled to come up with politically coherent policy options. Over the years, the Ogaadeeni rebels have successfully popularized the notion among their community—within and outside Ethiopia—that the political problems of the Ogaden can only be resolved with a plebiscite. So the ONLF seeks what the Ethiopian constitution promises but the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which drafted that constitution, will not agree to: a referendum on self-determination. To remain credible in the eyes of its supporters, the ONLF will have to work towards a peace agreement that allows for increased regional autonomy, the best alternative to the referendum.

Observers interviewed for this report share a considerable amount of scepticism over Ethiopia’s willingness to offer anything more than a ‘retirement package’—safe return to the region as well as material benefits in the form of a job or other economic rewards—plus minimal concessions for the ONLF. As the stronger negotiating party, Ethiopia SUMMARY 9 has more to gain and less to lose from the peace talks. The ONLF is primarily interested in peace, which would bolster its standing in the eyes of supporters weary of conflict. The Ethiopian government is more interested in a deal that neutralizes the already weakened Ogaadeeni insurgency, deprives its arch-enemy Eritrea of a proxy, and prepares the ground for more investments and oil exploration in Ethiopia’s Somali region.

The Ethiopian delegation to the peace talks has been dominated by members of the security apparatus close to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the party at the core of federal power in the Ethiopia since 1991. This reflects the new realities of Ethiopia’s power structure following the death of the country’s executive prime minister, Meles Zenawi, in August 2012. It is also the outcome of a new set of patron– client relations connecting powerful officers from Ethiopia’s National Defense Forces (ENDF) to SRS president, Abdi Mohamed Omar, who is also known by his Somali nickname ‘Iley’. The military’s Eastern Command—entrusted with the protection of Ethiopia’s borders with Somalia, Kenya, and Djibouti—has economic interests in the Ogaden.

President Abdi Mohamed is closely associated with the formation of the liyu (special police), a regional militia composed of ethnic Somalis. His career has been dominated by the conflict with the ONLF, but his interests are subordinate to those of the Ethiopian military when it comes to peace negotiations.

The peace talks are problematic in terms of the constituencies represented by the two parties. The talks do not include members of non-Ogaadeeni clans, a demographic majority in the SRS. The ONLF itself represents only a fraction of the Ogaadeeni clan lineages as many Ogaadeeni have switched their support to the regional administration in recent years. The ONLF’s refusal to discuss conflict resolution with other Ethiopian–Somali constituencies makes sense from a short-term perspective, but is problematic in view of long-term peacebuilding in the region. The emergence of Darood-led administrations in Puntland, the SRS, and Jubbaland has led some Ogaadeeni clans to reconsider their political options in Ethiopia. The convergence of Ethiopian and Kenyan 10 TALkINg PEACE IN THE OgADEN interests in forming the Jubbaland administration under Ahmed Madobe, the economic potential of the fertile Jubba regions, and the prospect of developing the Ethiopian Ogaden, are powerful incentives for all parties, including the Kenyan Ogaadeeni facilitators, to reach a peace deal in the SRS. The Kenyan government’s facilitation of the peace talks is also motivated by its desire to mend its frayed alliance with Ethiopia and re-align its own policies and interests in Somalia.

The Ogaden peace talks represent a small but real opportunity to address some of the many political problems that have plagued Ethiopia’s Somali region. The wait-and-see approach adopted by outside governments is not warranted: given the stark imbalance of power between the Ethiopian government and the ONLF, factors such as international encouragement, pressure, and follow-up from the talks are crucial to improve prospects of a sustainable peace process.

The forced relocation of two ONLF delegates from Nairobi to Ethiopia in January 2014 has cast doubt on the Ethiopian government’s sincerity in terms of its commitment to continuing its negotiations with the ONLF.

If the talks resume, donors could support them in a number of ways:

by encouraging both the parties to the conflict, as well as the Kenyan government, to continue with the talks; by supporting demands for greater humanitarian access; by offering to be guarantors in case of a cessation of hostilities; and by providing assistance for a parallel demobilization of the ONLF and the liyu police if an agreement materializes.

1. Introduction This report analyses past and current prospects for the success of peace talks between the Ethiopian government and the ONLF. In doing so, it draws on conventional analytical categories used in conflict analysis.

Particular attention is paid to the changing dynamics of the Ogaadeeni insurgency and Ethiopian counter-insurgency; the broader political context in which the 2012 peace talks emerged; and the main issues at stake between the parties to the conflict.

Given the dearth of information available, considerable space is devoted to a review of the composition and motives of the two main parties to this conflict. This has required the report to give less weight to recent dynamics within the SRS administration, to attitudes by non-Ogaadeeni clan leaders towards the ONLF, and to the shifting territorial geographies of the counter-insurgency. Hopefully other researchers will take up the challenge of addressing these gaps.

This report begins by tracing the history of the longstanding conflict between successive Ethiopian regimes and Somali-based insurgencies in the Ethiopian Ogaden, from the nineteenth century to the present day.

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