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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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This is followed by an analysis of recent conflict dynamics involving the ONLF, the Ethiopian government, and the SRS administration. Chapter 3 focuses on the gradual securitization of regional politics, the internationalization of the conflict and the indigenization of the day-to-day fighting in recent years. Chapters 4, 5 and 6 are dedicated to an analysis and discussion of the two parties to the conflict, the various branches of the Ethiopian federal government, the ONLF, and other important stakeholders, most notably the SRS administration. Chapter 7 provides a review of past attempts by the two parties to find a peaceful solution to the conflict, in particular the two rounds of peace talks held in Nairobi in September and October 2012. Chapter 8 identifies key issues and interests that have motivated the positions of the ONLF and the governments of Ethiopia and Kenya vis-à-vis peace talks so far. The report concludes with a number of general observations about the prospects for renewed 12 TALkINg PEACE IN THE OgADEN talks, and highlights a number of policy considerations for donors and other external actors.

It is necessary to clarify some of the terminology used in the report.

With the exception of the historical section, and unless otherwise specified, the phrase ‘Ogaden conflict’ refers to the armed confrontation between the ONLF and the Ethiopian government. While the ONLF refers to the entire Somali-inhabited part of Ethiopia as ‘Ogaden’, its administrative name, the Somali Regional State, is used. ‘Ogaadeeni’ refers to members of the Ogaadeen, a sub-clan of the Darood clan family.

The use of ‘Ogaden’ refers to the Ogaadeeni heartland of the region only, encompassing the five zones of Nogob (Fiq), Fafan (Degehabur), Qabridehar (Korahe), Shabelle (Gode), and Dollo (Wardheer). When not specified otherwise, ‘Somali’ refers to persons who are ethnic Somalis, not nationals of neighbouring Somalia. Many Somalis are known by their nicknames rather than their given names; in this report these names are shown in inverted commas.

2. Historic roots of the Ogaden conflict The conflict in and over the Ogaden has, from the late nineteenth century to the present day, been characterized by repeated cycles of armed Somali resistance to the Ethiopian state on the part of both Ogaadeeni and non-Ogaadeeni clans. State-sponsored violence in the form of counterinsurgencies that target civilian populations has shaped the lives and experiences of Somalis in Ethiopia for the past half century. State violence on the Ethiopia /Somalia frontier has in many ways become normalized.4 Successive regimes—be they imperial, socialist or, in the case of the EPRDF, self-declared ‘revolutionary democratic’—have carried out almost identical counter-insurgency campaigns, each of them including arbitrary arrests, executions, torture and disappearances. Counter-insurgency campaigns do not distinguish between combatants and civilians, and treating entire populations as enemies tends to produce more opposition to the government. Authorities have restricted the mobility of people and livestock, denied them access to food and water, and used violence to send a threatening message to the general population.

A historic characteristic of the Ogaden conflict is the absence of moral, judicial or political redress for this. Perpetrators from all sides—Ethiopian, Somali and others—have meted out violence to civilians with complete impunity.5 Imperial conquest The convoluted political history of the Ethiopian Ogaden dates back to the expansion of the Ethiopian imperial state at the end of the nineteenth century into what are now the south-eastern Somali lowlands of Ethiopia.

4 Tobias Hagmann and Benedikt Korf, ‘Agamben in the Ogaden: Violence and Sovereignty in the Ethiopian–Somali Frontier’, Political Geography 31 /4 (2012), pp. 205–14.

5 Hagmann, ‘A Short History’ and ‘“We Live in the Dark Age”’; Hagmann and Korf, ‘Agamben in the Ogaden’, pp. 208–12.


For Emperor Menelik, the Ogaden held economic and strategic value because an important trade corridor—linking Harar with the ports of Zeila and Berbera in northern Somalia—crossed it. The Ogaden was and continues to be a livestock reservoir. It also functioned as a buffer zone against encroaching Italian, French and British colonialists.6 Between 1891 and 1906, imperial Ethiopian soldiers conducted campaigns into the Ogaden to extort tributes from Somali pastoralists. These military incursions—known as zämächa in Amharic—involved thousands of imperial soldiers and usually lasted several months, resulting in the confiscation of large numbers of livestock.7 The Ethiopian empire thus expanded its reach in the borderlands between Ethiopia and Somalia, building up its administrative presence until the entire Ogaden region was under its administration in 1927.8 Imperial politics in the Ogaden evolved from a ‘military-fiscal’ mode— involving tax collection, military campaigns, and exploitation—to a ‘tutelage’ mode of governing, characterized by a patrimonial relationship with selected Somali clans, leading to an increase of the Ethiopian state’s administrative capacity.9 Control of the region was greatest in the fortified garrison towns—known as kätäma in Amharic—where Amhara and other settlers and soldiers were concentrated. It was much less pronounced in the more remote parts of the region.

Growing Ethiopian control of the Ogaden met with armed resistance from different Somali clans and was instrumental in fostering national sentiment in reaction to what Somalis saw as Ethiopian and European 6 Tibebe Eshete, ‘Towards a History of the Incorporation of the Ogaden: 1887–1935’, Journal of Ethiopian Studies 27/2 (1994), pp. 69–87.

7 Peter Garretson, ‘Ethiopian Expansion into the Ogaadeen and its Relations with the Somali (1887 to 1906)’ (mimeo, 2001).

8 Eshete, ‘Towards a History’, p. 78.

9 Cedric Barnes, ‘The Ethiopian State and its Somali Periphery, circa 1888–1948’ (University of Cambridge, PhD thesis, 2000).


colonization of their homeland.10 Most prominently, Sayyid Mahammad Abdille Hassan—dubbed the ‘Mad Mullah’ by the British—waged, with his dervish militia, an armed struggle against Ethiopian, British and Italian troops between 1899 and 1920.11 The Sayyid’s family (the Bah Gerri sub-clan of the Ogaadeen clan in the larger Darood group), was from the Ogaden. Sayyid fought against foreign invaders in what are today the regions of eastern Ethiopia, Somaliland and Puntland.

The colonial scramble for the Horn of Africa exacerbated international competition, pitting Italy against Ethiopia, both of which sought to extend their political influence and physical presence in the Ogaden.

After Italy’s defeat by European Allied forces in 1941, most parts of the pre-1937 Ethiopian empire, including the Ogaden, were administered by Britain.12 It was only after the negotiation of a staggered withdrawal that Britain ‘returned’ the Ogaden to Ethiopia.13 The Ogaadeeni heartland was handed over to Haile Selassie’s government in mid-1948, while the eastern Haud—a grazing area of regional importance for Somali herders—was transferred to Ethiopia in November

1954.14 The handover of the Ogaden to Ethiopia, approved by the international community and sanctioned by the United Nations, rather than to an expanded Somali state, was a disappointment for Somalis.

10 I. M. Lewis, A Modern History of the Somali Nation and State in the Horn of Africa (Oxford:

James Currey, 2002), pp. 63–91.

11 Said S. Samatar, Oral Poetry and Somali Nationalism: The Case of Sayid Mahammad ’Abdille Hasan (Cambridge: CUP 1982), pp. 91–136.

, 12 Cedric Barnes, ‘The Somali Youth League, Ethiopian Somalis and the Greater Somalia Idea, circa 1946–48’, Journal of Eastern African Studies 1 /2 (2007), pp. 277–91.

13 Tibebe Eshete, ‘The Root Causes of Political Problems in the Ogaden, 1942–1960’, Northeast African Studies 13 /1 (1991), pp. 9–28.

14 John Markakis, ‘The Ishaq-Ogaden Dispute’, in Ecology and Politics: Environmental Stress

and Security in Africa (eds. Areders Hjort Afarnäs and M. A. Mohamed Salih) (Uppsala:

Scandinavian Institute of African Studies, 1989), pp. 157–68.

16 TALkINg PEACE IN THE OgADEN Armed resistance Ethiopia’s successful claim to sovereignty over the Ogaden as part of the Ethiopian nation-state did not settle the issue. As early as the mid-1950s, a first generation of clandestine activists from within the region, mobilized Somali nationalists in the Ogaden and Eastern Hararghe provinces against the imperial government.15 Known by the Arabic name Nasr Allah (‘Victory of God’), this secretive organization was active between 1950 and 1956. It had branches across the Ogaden and was connected to influential Ogaadeeni leaders within the region and outside it, including the cities of Hargeisa and Mogadishu in the neighbouring territories of British-administered Somaliland and Italianrun Somalia. The Ogaden Company for Trade and Industry (OCTI)—in reality a clandestine group lobbying for Ogaadeeni self-determination— emerged at about the same time as Nasr Allah. Both groups had branches

in what were then the Ogaden’s four main administrative urban centres:

Degehabur, Qabridehar, Kelafo, and Wardher.16 The first concerted challenge to Ethiopian rule in the Ogaden after British withdrawal took place in the early 1960s. The independence of a united Somali Democratic Republic—comprising what are now Somaliland, Somalia, Puntland and Jubbaland—on 1 July 1960, spurred nationalist sentiment in all Somali territories. Ill-feeling towards imperial rule increased in the Ethiopian Ogaden when the government of Haile Selassie, based in Ethiopia’s Christian highlands, imposed a head tax.

Popular frustration found an outlet in an armed rebellion led by Garad Makthal Dahir. Known as either the gesh (‘armed force’) or the jabhada (‘front’), it was also referred to as the Ogaden Liberation Front (OLF) or confusingly, Nasrullah.17 The main leaders of the gesh were Ogaadeeni

–  –  –

notables who had served the imperial government as district commissioners in their home areas. The gesh received arms and ammunition from the nascent government of Somalia and was mostly supported by Ogaadeeni.

The Ethiopian revolution of 1974, and the internal turmoil that followed the rise of what was to become the Derg—the coordinating committee of the armed forces and police that ruled Ethiopia until 1991— had a critical impact on the Ogaden. In Somalia, Siyad Barre, who had come to power in a coup in 1969, saw political disorder in neighbouring Ethiopia as an opportunity to annex the Ogaden by force. Nor was the Ogaden the only region considered ‘Somali’ by his Somali Democratic Republic: it also claimed large portions of what were then Ethiopia’s Bale and Sidama provinces, as well as the two Ethiopian cities of Harar and Dire Dawa.18 From the perspective of the Somali government, these lands were part of a greater Somali territory of Somali people, divided up by the imperial powers of Ethiopia, Britain, Italy, and France, so that ethnic Somalis had become nationals of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia proper. The Somali government referred to these territories populated by ethnic Somalis, as Soomaali Galbeed or ‘Western Somalia’.19 In the mid-1970s, the Siyad Barre government began sponsoring two separatist rebels groups in south-eastern Ethiopia. The Somali Abo Liberation Front (SALF) operated in Bale, bringing together veteran Oromo, Somali and Sidama ethno-nationalists who opposed imperial Ethiopian rule.

The Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF), a multi-clan Somali rebel group, operated in the Ogaden and parts of Eastern Hararghe.20 18 Gebru Tareke, ‘The Ethiopia-Somalia War of 1977 Revisited’, International Journal of African Historical Studies 33 /3 (2000), pp. 635–67.

19 Lewis, Modern History, pp. 178–95.

20 Markakis, National and Class Conflict, pp. 226–27.

18 TALkINg PEACE IN THE OgADEN Tensions escalated at the beginning of 1977 when WSLF and SALF rebels, exploiting the upheaval in Ethiopia’s political centre, occupied large swathes of territory in the Ogaden province and the Bale and Sidama lowlands.21 Regular forces of the Somali National Army invaded Ethiopia on 13 July 1977: with their local allies, they overran Ethiopian positions, reaching the eastern city of Jijiga in September, and later reaching the lowland city of Dire Dawa on Ethiopia’s main railway line.

The Ethiopian-Somali, or Ogaden, war of 1977–1978 was not really one but three conflicts: a local Somali insurgency against the Ethiopian state;

an intrastate war involving two sovereign states, Somalia and Ethiopia;

and a geopolitical confrontation between Ethiopia and Somalia as Soviet client states in the wider context of the Cold War. Assistance to Ethiopia from the Soviet Union and Cuba tipped the balance of power in favour of Ethiopia’s Derg, depriving Somalia, though then ‘socialist’, of Soviet aid.22 In March 1978, Ethiopian, Soviet, and Cuban troops defeated the WSLF and drove the Somali army out of the Ogaden, re-establishing Ethiopian rule on the Ethiopian /Somali frontier.

New beginnings Political dynamics in the Ethiopian Ogaden took a new direction with the fall of the Derg in May 1991, just three months after the end of the Siyad Barre regime in neighbouring Somalia. With the coming to power of the EPRDF under the leadership of Meles Zenawi and his TPLF, Ethiopia was decentralized. In theory, this regionalization would create self-governing, autonomous political entities, ruled by ethno-national parties. In reality, Ethiopia’s states were governed by member parties or satellite parties 21 Tareke, ‘The Ethiopia-Somalia War’, p. 641.

22 Lewis, Modern History, pp. 231–36.


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