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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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26 TALkINg PEACE IN THE OgADEN al-Muja’eddin (al-Shabaab), as well as the election of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud in Somalia in September 2012. Different Darood clans—to which the Ogaadeen belong—appear to have realized they needed to unite if they were to improve their prospects, particularly if they wanted to counter rivals such as the Marehan or Hawiye in southcentral Somalia. The Darood narrative is also fuelled by the rise of several Darood strongmen such as former Puntland President Abdirahman Farole (from the Majerteen clan), Abdi Mohamed in Ethiopia’s SRS (Ogaadeeni), and Ahmed Madobe in Jubbaland (who is also Ogaadeeni), as well as the rising influence of Ogaadeeni politicians in the Kenyan government since 2008.

For the Darood as a clan family, controlling the economically important Jubba region, Somalia’s southernmost area bordering Kenya, is seen as a key strategic objective, and one which also requires improving relations with Ethiopia.

Indigenization of the confrontation Historically, counter-insurgency campaigns by the Ethiopian state pitched predominantly non-Somali military personnel against local Somali populations. In the last three years, however, both the perpetrators of violence and its victims have been mostly Somalis. After the Abole attack in 2007, most Ethiopian government repression had been carried out by the federal ENDF, but from 2010 onwards, the liyu police—the regional militia composed of ethnic Somalis, mostly Ogaadeeni—has been running counter-insurgency activities against the ONLF and its supporters. Human rights organizations, political observers, and Ogaadeeni activists have accused the liyu police of numerous human rights violations and atrocities against civilians. The conflict between the Ethiopian government and the ONLF has thus become indigenized, increasingly resembling a civil war between Ogaadeeni and other clan groups rather than a confrontation between highland Ethiopians and lowland Somalis.

The escalation of the conflict has led to tensions within clan lineages, and even within families torn between the regional government and CHANgINg CONFLICT DYNAMICS 2007–2012 27 its liyu police on the one hand and the ONLF on the other. As a result, Ogaadeeni in Ethiopia and the diaspora are split between three broad tendencies. A first group consists of those who continue to push for armed struggle as the only means to ending the military occupation of their homeland, a position often voiced by individuals who have been victims of the conflict or whose relatives have been victims. A second group consists of an increasing number of Ogaadeeni who argue that continued armed insurgency invites further violence and increases the suffering of local communities. This group embraces Ogaadeeni intellectuals who would like to return home, along with former ONLF supporters and various political opposition figures. The third group is made up of supporters of the regional administration who are the followers and clients of the SRS president, himself seen, perhaps ironically, as sponsoring Ogaadeeni against non-Ogaadeeni.

It has become increasingly difficult for Ogaadeeni to overcome these internal divisions, and the indigenization of the conflict has important repercussions for peace talks. The ONLF essentially refuses to acknowledge the existence of the dynamics described above. It argues instead that the liyu police are merely a tool in the hands of the federal government;

that Ogaadeeni who support the kilil—an Amharic term for an ethnicallydefined regional state—are either irrelevant or EPRDF stooges; and that the ONLF is the only legitimate political representative of Ethiopian Somali interests. The ONLF’s refusal to discuss conflict resolution with any parties other than the federal Ethiopian government might make sense in the short-term but is problematic in terms of long-term peace building, which will also have to include Somalis who oppose the ONLF.

Conflict casualties Both the ONLF and the Ethiopian government regularly report battle victories involving the death of anything from a handful to hundreds of enemy combatants. The ONLF reports these in military-styled communiqués disseminated by the ONLF’s Radio Freedom and other media outlets supporting the Ogaden cause. Most Ethiopian state media outlets at the federal level then go on to reject the ONLF’s claims.

28 TALkINg PEACE IN THE OgADEN If it is correct to assume that both sides exaggerate their victories, it is impossible to guess by how much. Between March 2007 and January 2013, a period of almost six years, the ONLF claimed to have killed about 3,350 Ethiopian army and liyu police personnel combined. Over the same period, the Ethiopian government reported that it had killed about 560 ONLF rebels.38 While the ONLF may exaggerate more, the Ethiopian government only ever reports the casualties it has allegedly inflicted in response to it.

The Ogaden Human Rights Committee (OHRC) has provided the only detailed breakdown of fatalities between 1995 and the middle of 2007, a period of 12 years, documenting about 2,395 extra-judicial killings, 1,945 cases of rape, and more than 3,000 forced disappearances, mostly of Ogaadeeni civilians.39 Most of these victims were ONLF supporters, suspected or real, and apparently punished by Ethiopian security forces for it. The OHRC details the names of victims and the dates and locations where alleged atrocities occurred. Though independent verification is very difficult, given the problems of access to the Ogaden and the justifiable fear felt by informants on human rights issues, it is plausible that several thousand civilians have died, as the OHRC says, as a direct result of violence.

For as long as it remains impossible for outsiders to accurately determine how many combatants have died on both sides, it remains equally impossible to calculate the overall human cost of the ONLF’s rebellion and Ethiopian government’s counter-insurgency response to it.40 On top of this, the OHRC figures do not include the most intense phase of the conflict that set in after April 2007, and which by 2008 had in all likelihood claimed several thousand more lives.

38 Based on a compilation of news reports by Tobias Hagmann, which is incomplete but is likely to be the most extensive made so far by an independent analyst.

39 OHRC, ‘Ogaden: Ethiopian Government Forces’.

40 Hagmann, ‘A Short History’.

4. Parties to conflict: The Ethiopian federal government The Ethiopian government is often portrayed as a single and coherent entity, but a closer look at it highlights different federal agencies with different policies towards the SRS, in areas ranging from security to development.

Official government rhetoric portrays Somalis in Ethiopia as among a number of historically oppressed ethnic groups or ‘nations’ liberated by the EPRDF and now enjoying self-administration within the framework of ethnic federalism. In reality though, Somalis in Ethiopia possess a precarious status in terms of their citizenship and political rights under the federal government and in relation to their Ethiopian compatriots.

The federal government’s security objectives in the SRS are threefold: the containment of armed resistance by the ONLF and its Eritrean patrons; securing the porous border between Ethiopia and the Somali territories from enemy infiltration, notably by radical Islamic groups like al-Shabaab and, before that, by al-Ittihad al-Islamiya and the United Western Somali Liberation Front (UWLSF); and influencing political developments in neighbouring Somalia in line with Ethiopian interests.

The Ethiopian government’s security concerns in the region have changed over time. In the mid-1990s, al-Ittihad al-Islamiya posed what the government saw as a major threat.41 A decade later, it saw as another threat, the loose pro-ONLF coalition that brought together the Somali warlord Hussein Aideed, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), and Eritrea.

As before, Ethiopia wants to keep the Gedo region of south-western Somalia a buffer zone and prevent the emergence of an ONLF-friendly 41 Andre le Sage, ‘Prospects for Al Itihad & Islamist Radicalism in Somalia’, Review of African Political Economy 28 /89 (2001), pp. 472–77; Roland Marchal, ‘Islamic Political Dynamics in the Somali Civil War’, in Islamism and its Enemies in the Horn of Africa (ed. Alex de Waal) (London: Hurst, 2004), pp. 114–41.


group in the southernmost Jubba region. It does this by sponsoring Ahmed Madobe’s Ras Kamboni militia, based on the Kenya/Somalia border, and by brokering Jubbaland peace talks.

In recent years, and partly to counter its poor democratization record, the Ethiopian government has begun to claim development successes as its own, in particular the country’s double-digit annual economic growth.42 In the SRS, the rhetoric of the ‘developmental state’ has translated into initiatives that showcase the administration’s achievements in

bringing development to the region. These are both real and imagined:

the federal government has undoubtedly made substantial investments in the SRS over the past decade, including a new international airport, a university, and new roads. The expanding road network improves the administration’s reach, with its impact on security clear, even as longterm socio-economic benefits have yet to materialize. Critics argue that this development emphasis is simply propaganda; they also say that parts of the regional budget are spent without adequate transparency. Public administration in the SRS is embryonic in urban centres and mostly absent in rural areas.43 A number of federal government agencies are responsible for security.

National Security Council (NSC) When it comes to security issues in the SRS, Ethiopia’s executive prime minister, Hailemariam Dessalegn, turns to the National Security Council (NSC), which coordinates Ethiopia’s security policy, for advice. The key figures in the NSC are Prime Minister Hailemariam, from the Southern Ethiopian Peoples’ Democratic Movement (SEPDM); the country’s Minister of National Defense, Siraj Fegessa (SEPDM); the minister of 42 Jon Abbink and Tobias Hagmann (eds.), Reconfiguring Ethiopia: The Politics of Authoritarian Reform (London / New York: Routledge, 2013), pp. 449–55 43 Tobias Hagmann, ‘Challenges of Decentralisation in Ethiopia’s Somali region’, Review of African Political Economy 32 /104–5 (2005), pp. 449–55. See also Ken Menkhaus, ‘Somali Regional State’ on the difficulties of expanding state presence and infrastructure in the region, as well as recent improvements.


foreign affairs, Tewodros Adhanom (TPLF); the head of the National Intelligence and Security Services, Getachew Assefa (TPLF); the minister of federal affairs, Shiferaw Tekelemariam (SEPDM); the chief of staff, Lieutenant General Samora Yunis (TPLF); and the national security advisor, Tsegaye Berhe (TPLF).

The Ethiopian military forwards its assessments and recommendations made on the basis of intelligence, to the NSC, the Ministry of Federal Affairs (MFA), and the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS). The NSC assesses it and relays its recommendations on its future moves against the ONLF. It also proposes guidelines for, for example, the conduct of negotiations if they are on the cards.

This centralized but also compartmentalized structure complicates exchanges of information between the three security institutions and any decision making that results from it. All three security institutions are protective of their domain and seek to extend it. With regard to the SRS, they view each other as competitors for resources and influence.

Ministry of National Defense (MND) and the Eastern Command In the end, the responsibility for relations with the SRS and the ONLF is entrusted to the Ethiopian army, which makes all the major decisions regarding military operations. The chief of staff, Lieutenant General Samora, commanded Operation Sunset, a decisive offensive by Ethiopia in its 1999 border war with Eritrea.44 His influence transcends military affairs. Lieutenant General Samora and the country’s defence minister, Siraj, are the key figures in Ethiopia’s federal Military Command.

The army’s Eastern Command, which falls under Lieutenant General Samora’s direct supervision, has its headquarters at Harar and is responsible for protecting Ethiopia’s borders with Somalia, Kenya, and Djibouti.

44 Tekeste Negash and Kjetil Tronvoll, Brothers at War: Making Sense of the EritreanEthiopian War (Oxford: James Currey, 2000), pp. 2–3.

32 TALkINg PEACE IN THE OgADEN It is commanded by Major General Abraha Woldemariam (known as ‘Quarter’), who like Samora yields considerable power.

The Eastern Command is organized into four infantry divisions: each division or kifletor is composed of nine to ten regiments of 500 men each. While critical decisions on security in the SRS are taken in Harar, the four division commanders make most of the tactical decisions in the field. Their mission is straightforward: to contain the activities of the ONLF, which the Eastern Command views as a terrorist organisation supported and supervised by Eritrea. The Ethiopian army accuses Eritrea of providing the ONLF with intelligence, weapons, training and travel documents, enabling the group to pose a credible threat despite the fact that it mostly relies on hit-and-run tactics and has limited elbow room to recruit fighters and supporters.

The Eastern Command is pursuing, accordingly, a complex counterinsurgency mission. It constantly monitors ONLF movements by dint of convoys and patrols, which also clear improvised explosive devices planted by the rebels. The Eastern Command’s own analysis of the regional security situation assesses the three zones of Korahey, Fik, and Deghabur to be relatively insecure, with parts of the Gode and Warder zones described as partly affected.

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