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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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Apart from pushing for a regional referendum on self-determination to be voted on by Ethiopian Somalis, the ONLF has not so far come up with any viable political strategy that might embrace the region’s non-Ogaadeeni population. The ONLF might pursue peace talks simply to hold its eroding constituency together, signalling to its supporters that it is not a spent force.

The role of the international community The Ogaden conflict is one of the world’s forgotten conflicts; outsiders have rarely acknowledged the suffering of Ethiopian Somalis. The


EPRDF’s official narrative suggests that ethnic federalism has addressed and effectively overcome the historical marginalization of Ethiopia’s many peripheral groups, including Somalis. Despite improvements since the days of the Derg, however, this is not the case.105 Western donors have generously funded the Ethiopian government since 1991, despite continuing concerns about the curtailment of political freedoms and of human rights and political pluralism in the country.106 To safeguard bilateral relations with Ethiopia, donors have tacitly accepted the normalization of state-sponsored violence in the SRS. Shared security interests, diplomatic inertia, the need to implement important aid programmes in collaboration with the government, but also the received wisdom that criticizing Ethiopia is counterproductive, all help explain why the Ogaden conflict ranks low on the donor agenda.107 Foreign governments have so far declined to support the Ogaden peace talks in any proactive way. The ONLF has requested a number of countries—including Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, the US, South Africa as well as neighbouring countries in the Horn of Africa—to back the peace talks. With the exception of discreet technical assistance by the United Kingdom and Swiss governments, the international community has so far chosen a hands-off approach.

The Ogaden peace talks represent a small but real opportunity to address some of the many political problems that have plagued Ethiopia’s SRS. The wait-and-see approach adopted by foreign ministries is inappropriate. Given the stark power imbalance between the Ethiopian government and the ONLF, international encouragement, pressure and follow-up to the talks is crucial to enhance the chances of a sustained 105 Markakis, Ethiopia, p. 328 106 Helen Epstein, ‘Why Are We Funding Abuse in Ethiopia?’ New York Review of Books, 14 March 2013; Tobias Hagmann, ‘Supporting Stability, Abetting Repression’, International Herald Tribune, 12 July 2012; HRW, ‘Development without Freedom: How Aid Underwrites Repression in Ethiopia’, New York, October 2010.

107 Dereje Feyissa, ‘Aid Negotiation: The Uneasy ‘Partnership’ between EPRDF and the Donors’, Journal of Eastern African Studies 5 /4 (2011), pp. 788–817.

78 TALkINg PEACE IN THE OgADEN peace process. International silence over the abduction of the two ONLF delegates in early 2014—a clear violation of diplomatic protocol—illustrates a lack of interest in doing this.

The assumption that no international encouragement is needed because Ethiopia initiated the talks in the first place is convenient for donors but misguided. Donors can support the peace talks in a number of ways: by encouraging the parties to the conflict and the Kenyan government to continue 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.

External actors should draw attention to the role of human rights and accountability for past abuses against civilians by both parties to the conflict, as well as the need to include other stakeholders, chiefly the region’s non-Ogaadeeni clans, in discussions about political reforms in the SRS. The international community should also advise companies from their countries not to engage in exploration or exploitation of the Ogaden’s mineral resources until there is a political agreement. Instead, they could offer to support environmental and social impact assessments if and when a peace deal is struck.

One challenge for international engagement is the role of the Ethiopian military in the talks, as they are less accessible to donors than civilian officials in the Ethiopian government. Donors could encourage Ethiopia to seize the moment for real political reform in the SRS by pushing for a peace agreement with the ONLF that will both safeguard development investments and regional stability.

Glossary of acronyms, words and phrases

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‘Objective, analytical and balanced’ —Ibrahim Farah, University of Nairobi Since the 1990s, war in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia has claimed thousands of lives. The conflict between the Government of Ethiopia and the insurgent Ogaden National Liberation Front has impoverished the communities of Ethiopia’s Somali Regional State, swollen the refugee population in Kenya, and added to insecurity in the Somali territories of the Horn of Africa. Talking Peace in the Ogaden is the outcome of extensive research in Ethiopia, East Africa and the global Ogaadeeni diaspora. It analyses the evolution of the conflict, the

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