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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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of the broader EPRDF coalition—and decision making, via the party apparatus, remained highly centralized.23 The SRS or ‘Region Five’ became one of these entities, allowing Ethiopian Somalis to administer themselves for the first time and to use the Somali language as a medium of instruction and government.24 The newly-created Somali Regional State comprised the former Ogaden province as well as parts of what were previously Eastern Hararghe, Bale and Sidama provinces. Its first administration was run by the ONLF, which had successfully competed in local and regional elections in 1992.25 After the fall of the Derg, the ONLF had begun to build-up both its membership and its presence within the SRS, successfully inserting itself into a political landscape that placed a premium on ethno-national identity, which in the Somali context translated into clan-based political competition. The ONLF achieved a dominant position in regional politics in the 1992 elections—with its co-founder Abdillahi Mohamed Saadi becoming the SRS’s first president—but its administration lasted only two years. In early 1994, when the ONLF demanded a referendum on self-determination, federal security forces forced it out of office.

The movement took to the bush to launch an armed insurgency, and non-Ogaadeeni politicians who enjoyed EPRDF backing established the Ethiopian Somali Democratic League (ESDL), taking over the regional 23 See Lovise Aalen, Ethnic Federalism in a Dominant Party State: The Ethiopian experience 1991–2000 (Bergen: Chr. Michael Institute, 2002), pp. 38–105, and ‘Ethnic Federalism and Self-Determination for Nationalities in a Semi-Authoritarian State: The Case of Ethiopia’, International Journal on Minority and Group Rights 13 /2–3 (2006), pp. 243–61; also International Crisis Group (ICG), ‘Ethiopia: Ethnic Federalism and Its Discontents’, Nairobi/Brussels, 4 September 2009; Edmond J. Keller, ‘Ethnic Federalism, Fiscal Reform, Development and Democracy in Ethiopia’, African Journal of Political Science 7/1 (2002), pp. 21–50; and Paulos Chanie, ‘Clientelism and Ethiopia’s Post-1991 Decentralisation’, Journal of Modern African Studies 45 /3 (2007), pp. 355–84.

24 Tobias Hagmann and Mohamud Hussein Khalif, ‘State and Politics in Ethiopia’s Somali Region since 1991’, Bildhaan: An International Journal of Somali Studies 6 (2006), Article 6.

25 John Markakis, ‘The Somali in the New Political Order of Ethiopia’, Review of African Political Economy 21 /59 (1994), pp. 71–9.

20 TALkINg PEACE IN THE OgADEN government.26 The ESDL was replaced by the Somali People’s Democratic Party (SPDP) in 1998, bringing together Ogaadeeni and non-Ogaadeeni politicians loyal to the EPRDF. The SPDP has been ruling the SRS as a single party ever since.27 26 For a detailed chronology, see Abdi Ismail Samatar, ‘Ethiopian Federalism: Autonomy versus Control in the Somali Region’, Third World Quarterly 25 /6 (2004), pp. 1131–54; also Hagmann and Khalif, ‘State and Politics’, pp.1136–48.

27 Tobias Hagmann, ‘Fishing for Votes in the Somali Region: Clan Elders, Bureaucrats, and Party Politics in the 2005 Elections’, in Contested Power in Ethiopia: Traditional Authorities and Multi-Party Elections (eds. Kjetil Tronvoll and Tobias Hagmann) (Leiden / Boston: Brill, 2012), pp. 61–88.

3. Changing conflict dynamics 2007–2012 In April 2007, an ONLF attack on the Abole oil field in Degehabur became a turning point in the Ogaden conflict. At least 65 Ethiopian soldiers and oil workers, as well as nine Chinese employees of the Zhongyuan Petroleum Exploration Bureau, a subsidiary of Sinopec Limited, a Chinese oil and gas company, were killed in the attack.28 The incident was a major embarrassment for the Ethiopian government in its relationship with China, triggering a counter-insurgency campaign by Ethiopia’s National Defense Forces to isolate the ONLF from local communities. The years 2007 to 2010 were marked by numerous human rights violations, including intimidation and arrest, forced displacement, disappearance, torture, and extrajudicial killing.29 This strategy of ‘total war’ authorised Ethiopian soldiers stationed in the region to perpetrate a variety of abuses: the killing of civilians in retaliation for ONLF attacks or as a way of discouraging local populations from supporting the rebels; coercing villagers to denounce the ONLF or other ‘anti-peace’ elements; forcing individuals to act as informants;

arresting, interrogating, and torturing thousands of Ogaadeeni civilians Ethiopian security forces suspected of aiding the rebels; securing bribes in exchange for the release of civilian detainees; raping women and girls as a way of humiliating their communities; killing ONLF fighters and displaying their bodies in public places; controlling population 28 ‘In Ethiopia, Fear of Army Brutality’, New York Times, 18 June 2007. The Abole attack occurred shortly after Ethiopian troops ousted the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) in Mogadishu. Ethiopia accused Eritrea of masterminding the ONLF attack while Ethiopia’s own troops were fighting in Somalia.

29 Human Rights Watch (HRW), ‘Collective Punishment: War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity in the Ogaden Area of Ethiopia’s Somali Regional State’, New York, 2008.


movements; intimidating the traditional authorities, civil servants and traders; and cutting-off villages and towns from their food supplies.30 The onset of peace talks five years later between the Ethiopian government and the ONLF was very much the result of changes on the ground after—although not necessarily as a direct result of—the 2007 Abole attack. Three broad, parallel trends have marked the Ogaden conflict since: the securitization of politics in Ethiopia’s SRS, the internationalization of the conflict, and the indigenization of the day-to-day fighting.31 Securitization of the SRS The escalation of the ONLF insurgency, and the scale of Ethiopia’s counter-insurgency, has accelerated the securitization of politics in Ethiopia’s Region Five, the Somali Regional State. Security concerns have always been important in the region but they have come to dominate all other considerations.32 Security has been used to justify a range of political and military tactics, almost to the point where the rule of law and due process no longer exist. Instead, there is despotic and personalized rule, and a new set of security-driven patron–client relationships.

30 Mohamud Hussein Khalif and Martin Doornbos, ‘The Somali Region in Ethiopia:

A Neglected Human Rights Tragedy’, Review of African Political Economy 29 /91 (2002), pp. 73–94; Ulf Terlinden, ‘Ethiopia: An Inventory of 28 Conflicts’, internal draft report, UN Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, January 2003; Hagmann and Korf, ‘Agamben in the Ogaden’, pp. 210–12; HRW, ‘Collective Punishment’; Integrated Regional Information Network of the United Nations (IRIN), ‘Ethiopia: IRIN Special Report on the Ogaden’, Nairobi, 11 May 2000; Ogaden Human Rights Committee (OHRC), ‘Human Rights Violations in the Ogaden by the Ethiopian Government, 1991 to 1996’, Godey, July 1996; OHRC, ‘Ogaden: An Endless Human Tragedy’, Porrentruy, April 1998;

OHRC, ‘Ogaden: Graveyard of Rights’, Godey, 23 August 1999; OHRC, ‘Mass Killings in the Ogaden: Daily Atrocities Against Civilians by the Ethiopian Armed Forces’, Godey, 20 February 2006; OHRC, ‘Ogaden: Ethiopian Government Forces Massacre, Displace and Starve Out the Civilian Population with Impunity’, Geneva, 8 August 2007; also interviews by Tobias Hagmann for this report.

31 The following paragraphs draw on Hagmann, ‘The Return of Garrison Rule’.

32 Tobias Hagmann, ‘Beyond Clannishness and Colonialism: Understanding Political Disorder in Ethiopia’s Somali Region, 1991–2004’, Journal of Modern African Studies 43 /4 (2005), pp. 509–36.

CHANgINg CONFLICT DYNAMICS 2007–2012 23 The securitization of the region’s politics started with the Ethiopian military and was driven by both its counter-insurgency agenda and the government’s need to protect oil and gas fields. The Ogaden basin is divided into 21 energy blocks with the most significant deposits in the Kalub and Hilala gas field in the Shilabo area. In recent years, Petronas (Malaysia), Sinopec (China), Africa Oil Corp/ Lundin (Sweden), and SouthWest Energy (Ethiopia), have all explored oil and gas reserves in the SRS.

The systematic harassment of Ogaadeeni civilians had begun before the Abole attack, in 2005, when the Ethiopian military came up with a ‘peace plan’ that combined military strikes against the ONLF with collecting intelligence about its civilian supporters. Discrediting and dismissing political rivals by accusing them of supporting the ONLF was not a new tactic, but the hunt was increasingly extended to inside the regional administration. Previously, such accusations meant that the individual involved would lose his or her job, or go to prison; after 2007, these allegations became a matter of life and death. As a result of increasingly harsh punishments by the security apparatus, a culture of fear and intimidation set into the region.33 In 2008, almost 400 police officers were expelled or imprisoned after a gem gema session—literally, ‘critique and self-critique’—in which they were accused of collaboration with the ONLF.34 The securitization of regional politics did not only lead to greater violence; it also had a substantial impact on the region’s political elites.

33 Farhan Mohamud, ‘Somali region of Ethiopia: a population living under a cloud of fear’, 3 March 2008, www.kilil5.com.

34 Gem gema was developed by the TPLF in its armed struggle against the Derg as a mechanism to review and improve military tactics. It was subsequently institutionalized at all levels of the Ethiopian government to evaluate civil servants. But the process has often been susceptible to abuse by officials who accuse colleagues of corruption or collaboration with the enemy in order to get rid of rivals within the administration;

Aalen, Ethnic Federalism, pp. 87–9; Hagmann, ‘Beyond Clannishness’, pp. 321–46; John Young, ‘Along Ethiopia’s Western Frontier: Gambella and Benishangul in Transition’, Journal of Modern African Studies 37/2 (1999), pp. 321–46.

24 TALkINg PEACE IN THE OgADEN The replacement of the SRS’s original leadership and rise of the region’s president, Abdi Mohamed, are evidence of this trend.

Up until the mid-2000s, the SRS’s executive was dominated by an older generation of mostly uneducated politicians with a reputation for personal enrichment. They included politicians like Abdi Jibril, the former regional president, and Ali Kunaye, a former speaker of the regional parliament. Many either lost their positions or fled when the ruling SPDP reorganized in early 2008. They were replaced by a younger generation of fiercely anti-ONLF Ogaadeeni politicians, among them Dau’d Mohamed Ali (from the Makhahil sub-clan of the Ogaadeen clan) and Abdi Mohamed (from the Reer Abdille sub-clan of the Ogaadeen).

These two became regional president and regional head of security respectively. This new generation of politicians maintained close ties with the Ethiopian military.

Abdi Mohamed became regional president in July 2010. He has earned a reputation for being mercilessly anti-ONLF, using cash and coercion to subdue, eliminate, or co-opt ONLF supporters. He has imposed lengthy prison sentences on critics of his administration. Some of the regional budget has allegedly been used to silence opposition.35 A new set of patron–client relationships has thus emerged in the SRS over the past five years, connecting important figures in the federal security apparatus, such as Lieutenant General Samora Yunis and Major General Abraha Wolde Mariam, to the SRS president.

Internationalization of the conflict A second major trend of the conflict between the Ethiopian government and the ONLF is its growing internationalization. Although violence is concentrated in the Ogaadeeni-inhabited heartland of the SRS, the conflict has drawn in more and more countries including Eritrea, which supports the ONLF, and Ogaadeeni communities living in Kenya and 35 Ken Menkhaus, ‘Somali Regional State: Preliminary Assessment’, report for Development Alternatives Inc., August 2012.

CHANgINg CONFLICT DYNAMICS 2007–2012 25 elsewhere in the global diaspora. This is both an opportunity for, and an obstacle to, conflict resolution. It gives emerging Ogaadeeni stakeholders the opportunity to propose initiatives that go beyond Ethiopia’s promises of democratization and the ONLF’s own promises of self-determination, but it also complicates politics, with decisions affecting regional peace being made as often in the US city of Minneapolis as in Ethiopian city of Jijiga.

The Ogaden diaspora, fully engaged with the conflict, is the target of competing public relations campaigns by the ONLF and the SRS administration. ONLF supporters are involved in global advocacy campaigns, raising awareness about what they label ‘genocide’ in the Ogaden. In return, the administration of Abdi Mohamed has successfully co-opted members of the diaspora, buying them plane tickets, allocating them land, or giving them other economic opportunities in exchange for their support and for their denunciation of the ONLF. This has been part of a broader, Ethiopian strategy since the 2005 federal and regional elections, when Ethiopia’s federal government sought to undermine major opposition groups in general, such as the then popular Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) and its various successors.

Abdi Mohamed has personally toured the diaspora to shore-up support for his administration. Informants in different Ogaadeeni diaspora communities keep track of ONLF supporters. As a result, politically involved Ogaadeeni abroad fear for the safety of their relatives back home.36 Another important international dynamic affecting the conflict is the changing political calculus of Ogaadeeni clans in Somali East Africa. In the last two years, there has been a revival of Darood identity across the Somali territories.37 This has been sparked-off by political prospects in Somalia following military losses inflicted on Harakat al-Shabaab 36 Hagmann, ‘“We Live in the Dark Age”’, p. 5.

37 Political identification within the Somali clan lineage system is highly fluid. It operates at and shifts between different levels of segmentation along the paternal line.

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