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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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If regional autonomy provided a compromise between the status quo and the ONLF’s secessionist aspirations, the Ogaadeeni rebels would have to work hard to convince their followers that such a project has a realistic chance of success. Although the ONLF denies that it is interested in taking over the SRS administration, it is likely that given the chance, it would push for a transitional period that could bring key ONLF leaders or sympathizers back into the region’s executive. The justification for this would be that any new regional administration that followed a peace agreement would have to implement reforms in support of greater regional autonomy, namely devolution as well as a number of other institutional reforms. Be that as it may, a peace agreement with the Ethiopian government would gain the ONLF renewed relevance and boost its standing as the only organized political group in the SRS not controlled by the EPRDF. Interestingly, although the ONLF has placed human rights issues on the agenda for peace talks, it has not so far raised accountability for past human rights abuses as an obstacle to talks.100 In addition, the ONLF might sign a peace agreement in exchange for 100 Hagmann, ‘“We Live in the Dark Age”’. The only exception is a press release by the Ogaden Human Rights Committee dated 14 September 2012 calling upon the two parties to take human rights into account in the talks.

70 TALkINg PEACE IN THE OgADEN Ethiopian assurances that it would accept de facto Ogaadeeni rule in neighbouring Jubbaland.

The Ethiopian government Interlocutors in contact with Ethiopian officials have had no indication that the Ethiopian government is inclined to make any substantial political concessions to the ONLF. The Ethiopian delegation to the talks has not disclosed any strategy that would bring substantial issues to the table.

Why did Ethiopia initiate the peace talks with the ONLF, even reluctantly agreeing to third-party facilitation, if it did not fully intend to carry them through? Ethiopia may simply have had nothing to lose in doing so. The ONLF, diminished militarily and politically in the past five years, is under pressure from its constituency to find an alternative path to armed rebellion. The Ethiopian government, under no such pressure itself, would nonetheless find a peace deal beneficial.

Firstly, it would improve the security required to accelerate the exploration of the Ogaden’s gas and oil reserves, a major economic factor for Ethiopia in view of the Lamu Port–South Sudan–Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) Corridor. The government is short of foreign currency and, according to recent projections, short of the cash needed to fund grandiose development projects underpinning its development strategy.101 Tapping the Ogaden’s resources is thus an important long term economic objective.

Secondly, investments in infrastructure and development projects have been hampered by insecurity in the SRS. Public expenditure and resource allocation would benefit from an end to hostilities.

Thirdly, convincing the ONLF to lay down its arms would deprive Ethiopia’s arch-enemy Eritrea of a proxy force in eastern Ethiopia.

101 Bloomberg News, ‘IMF Says Ethiopian Economic Growth May Slow Without Policy Shift’, 18 October 2013.

ISSUES AND INTERESTS 71 Fourthly, human rights abuses by the Ethiopian National Defense Forces and liyu policemen have, without totally alienating them, at least damaged Ethiopia’s reputation with donor nations. They have also radicalized a younger generation of Ogaadeeni in the diaspora to turn against Ethiopia. A peace deal would make good press and demonstrate the government’s stated willingness to address the grievances of its ‘nations and nationalities’ in the periphery.

Fifthly, a peace agreement would give Ethiopia a stronger hand in reshuffling the political cards in south-central Somalia, as well as in dealing with a potentially resurgent Federal Somali Government.

Finally, a peace deal with the ONLF would also allow parts of the Ethiopian federal government to rein in the influence of Abdi Mohamed in the SRS and balance the region’s competing interest groups.

According to one source, ‘Ethiopia’s understanding is that the ONLF wants to come in; they are tired and they cannot win.’ The Ethiopian offer to the ONLF has not yet gone beyond an amnesty and reintegration into regional politics. It has also so far excluded international guarantees.

This is in keeping with the EPRDF’s history of dealing with domestic opposition groups internally. It also reflects the immense power imbalance between the government and the ONLF.

In essence, it appears that Ethiopia is willing to give the ONLF a similar deal to the one it granted to the UWSLF, plus some minor concessions in view of a future process that might improve regional autonomy.102 The expected outcome of future talks are that the ONLF gives up the armed struggle in exchange for being allowed to legally return to the region, and run for office shielded from persecution and harassment.

Ethiopian interest in peace talks with the ONLF is also motivated by other factors. If prominent Kenyan Ogaadeenis on the facilitation team pursue their political goals within the framework of a united Kenya, 102 There is a historic parallel with the Derg, which in 1987 created the Autonomous Ogaden Province, consisting of the former awrajas Qabridehar, Wardheer, K’elafo and El-Kere.





72 TALkINg PEACE IN THE OgADEN ONLF negotiators may opt to do the same within a united Ethiopia.

Ethiopia may now be open to a change of tack in the SRS, willing to adopt Kenya’s approach of using a mix of political and economic incentives to undermine secessionism and incentivize greater integration. It may have no choice but to accept that powerful members of the Ogaadeeni clan will continue to influence Kenya’s policy towards Somalia. The victory of Ahmed Madobe in the leadership race in Somalia’s Jubba region is viewed as a welcome development in Addis Ababa. His rival, Mohammed Abdi Gandhi, a defence minister in the former Transitional Government of Ethiopia, was suspected by the Ethiopians of sympathising with the ONLF and its secessionist goals. Kenya’s decision to ditch Mohammed Abdi Gandhi in favour of Ahmed Madobe in south-central Somalia improved its bilateral relations with Ethiopia.

Ethiopian policy in the SRS is not free from internal contradictions.

While the government maintains it has successfully decimated the ONLF, military and security officials still have an interest in perpetuating insecurity of some sort. The SRS is said to enjoy extensive and lucrative trans-boundary links, including contraband trade. This is important in relation to the expanded federal presence in the region: officials seconded by federal institutions to the region do not view it as a hardship posting, but as a potentially lucrative, financial opportunity.

The government in Addis Ababa has responded to this by expanding its federal police presence and launching a scheme whereby anyone who provides information about contraband is given 25 per cent of the value of the goods confiscated. These initiatives have substantially reduced the scale of the contraband trade over the past two years. Allegations persist, however, that this illegal trade involves top army officers in the Eastern Command.

Kenya Kenya’s overall strategic interest in the talks appears unchanged. The resolution of the Ogaden problem in neighbouring Ethiopia would help Kenya mend a frayed alliance with Ethiopia and re-align policies and interests in Somalia. It would also undermine pan-Somali nationalism ISSUES AND INTERESTS 73 among Kenya’s own ethnic Somali population, ease friction over the stabilization of the Jubba region, and produce economic spin-offs, such as the ambitious LAPSSET project.103 The severity of the terrorist attack on the Westgate mall in Nairobi in September 2013, however, has thrown the Kenyan establishment into disarray, and Kenya risks being diverted from the Ogaden peace process by its need to focus on counter-terrorism and its own military involvement in Somalia.

Kenya and Ethiopia share a mutual defence pact dating back to 1964.

Ever since Kenya’s strategy of creating Jubbaland in early 2009 became known, though, relations between Kenya and Ethiopia have been tense, characterised by suspicion and mistrust. A thaw in relations between Kenya and Ethiopia in the last two years, has broadened the Jubbaland process, with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) consulting Ethiopia more often and seeking to accommodate the concerns of non-Ogaadeeni clans in Somalia’s Jubba and Gedo regions, principally the Marehan.

Kenya and Ethiopia share a common anxiety over the growing influence of non-traditional actors in southern Somalia such as Uganda, Turkey and the United Kingdom. This geopolitical anxiety has fostered a common desire to forge stronger ties to avoid losing out in the competition for influence in Somalia. Each also wants to protect its own perceived national security interests.

103 ICG, ‘Ethiopia: Prospects for Peace’.9. Conclusions and policy considerations

A peace accord between the Ethiopian government and the ONLF is critical for peace in the SRS and the wider region. The rounds of peace talks facilitated by Kenya represent the first concerted effort at resolving an insurgency that has, for 20 years, exacted a heavy toll on a civilian population.

Scepticism over whether talks could deliver a substantial change is based partly on a culture of power in Ethiopia in which compromise is equated with weakness, and by an imbalance of power between the two parties to the conflict, as well as the absence of international pressure on Ethiopia.104 As a result, Ethiopia is unlikely to grant the ONLF a referendum on self-determination. The fragmentation of power at the top of the Ethiopian state following Meles’s death adds uncertainty. On top of this, the limited approach adopted by the Kenyan team overseeing the talks may serve a purpose now but risks casting the process adrift in the longer term.

Possible outcomes In spite of these concerns, and despite the January abductions, the two parties appear to be committed to continuing the talks. The ONLF hopes that successful dialogue will increase its influence as well as offer relief to local populations and ultimately sideline Abdi Mohamed. The Ogaadeeni rebels might stand to obtain a part, or even the whole, of the SRS administration if they decide to renounce the armed struggle. The Ethiopian government is betting on a peace deal that involves minimal concessions in return for big dividends, such as regional stability with real economic, political and geopolitical gains.

104 Sarah Vaughan and Kjetil Tronvoll, The Culture of Power in Contemporary Ethiopian Political Life (Stockholm: Sida, 2003), pp. 32–5.

–  –  –

While a breakthrough in the negotiations is unlikely to occur in the next round of talks, in the end an agreement might have the following consequences: within the SRS, it could lead to the dismissal of Abdi Mohamed and a realignment of Ogaadeeni interests behind the ONLF.

A peace deal would have other effects too, increasing resentment by non-Ogaadeeni who may feel left out of regional politics. Since the ONLF has been unwilling to include significant non-Ogaadeeni representation in their armed struggle, it is hardly likely that they would do so once in power.

Though an end to hostilities would increase security and accessibility in the SRS, it is therefore unlikely to improve political governance. The patron-client relations that have characterized politics in the region would probably continue. Whether the liyu police would be demobilized as part of a peace agreement, and what their future role in the region would be, is a matter of speculation. Within Ethiopia, a peace agreement with the ONLF would send a discouraging signal to armed opposition groups active in other parts of the country. In Somalia, such a peace deal would be perceived as favouring Ogaadeeni unity and influence. It would also spill over into national Somali politics where Darood representation is dominated by Harti and Marehan.

Finally, Eritrea would lose one of its most effective armed proxies in Ethiopia if a substantive peace deal were reached.

Dangers of a quick fix solution While the potential benefits of a peace agreement are obvious, so are the risks of a hasty solution that fails to address the underlying causes of the Ogaden conflict. These centre on the region’s longstanding legacy of state-sponsored violence, its deficits in terms of civil and political rights and the delivery of public services, the absence of genuine political participation, and the contested ownership of its natural resources. A peace agreement between the Ethiopian government and the ONLF can only be deemed substantive if it addresses at least some of these challenges.

76 TALkINg PEACE IN THE OgADEN Ethiopia might be motivated to agree to a deal with the ONLF that entails no substantial concessions or political reform inside the SRS, but offers opportunities for select ONLF figureheads. Such a ‘retirement package’ would fragment and weaken the ONLF and delegitimize it. If the ONLF leadership were to agree to an agreement that a part of its constituency considers flawed, it might eventually split. A break-up of the ONLF in the case of a quick-fix peace agreement would leave behind a rump of hardline Ogaadeeni rebels who refused to sign up to any agreement at all. In a worst case scenario, they might be tempted to form an alliance with radical Islamists groups opposed to Ethiopia such as al-Shabaab.

Observers have been quick to note the parallel with 2005, when the Ethiopian military requested the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) to accept the Ethiopian constitution. The result was a split in the CUD, with a small faction joining the parliament, where they were endlessly frustrated, and a larger faction opting out of institutional politics.

Alternatively, the Ethiopian government might be pursuing a strategy that will undermine the ONLF’s credibility by forcing it to change direction constantly in its effort to adapt to new demands.

Negative consequences of a possible quick fix peace deal also stem from the ONLF’s priorities and negotiation strategy. While the ONLF is the only significant organized political group in the SRS outside the EPRDFled state, it represents only a fraction of the Somalis living in Ethiopia.



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