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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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70 Abdullahi, ‘Ogaden National Liberation Front’, pp. 559.

71 Karamarda Group, ‘ONLF Must Reform’, 28 October 2010.

THE OgADEN NATIONAL LIBERATION FRONT (ONLF) 47 Others suggest the ONLF is weak, lacking in both technical capacity and negotiating expertise, and too beholden to Kenyan interests, and thus likely to be out-manoeuvred by Ethiopia, a large and shrewd adversary the ONLF leadership may not even truly understand.

More recently, the group has been criticized for not having a coherent strategy to deal with the idea of Jubbaland emerging as a regional state in southern Somalia. The ONLF’s attitude towards Jubbaland is ambiguous: they cannot reject it because it is an important Ogaadeeni initiative, but it is one that draws support away from the ONLF. Despite these weaknesses, the ONLF continues to draw on local support. In the absence of accountability or justice, and in the face of a despotic government, the ONLF is the only mechanism of redress available to Ogaadeeni who have been victimized by Ethiopian security forces and /or the liyu police. The reason the ONLF has survived for so long is more because the grievances that fuel it have continued in the Somali region of Ethiopia, than because of any success on the part of its leadership.

6. Other stakeholders In addition to the Ethiopian government and the ONLF, a number of other actors play important roles in the conflict between the two parties.

Abdi Mohamed Omar and the liyu police SRS president Abdi Mohamed and his liyu police are the most important stakeholders currently left out of the peace talks. Abdi Mohamed is widely reviled amongst the educated elite and urban inhabitants of the region. He has personalized his rule and built up a power base in ways unprecedented in federal Ethiopia. He rose from humble origins as a worker with an electricity company in Degehabur to regional president.

Capitalizing on the federal government’s agenda for security, he has been instrumental in allowing the Ethiopian military to subcontract the counter-insurgency from the federal to the regional government. He has also capitalized on competition between the different federal agencies active in the SRS, most especially the Ministry of Federal Affairs and the security services.

In the crackdown on the ONLF, Abdi Mohamed has portrayed himself as the best man to serve the cause of the Reer Abdille in particular and the Ogaadeeni clan family more broadly. According to one observer: ‘Those who previously supported the ONLF because they wanted Ogaadeeni hegemony in the region, found a natural ally in Abdi Mohamed’.

Despite his close connection with the federal security establishment, Abdi Mohamed is not only antagonistic towards the ONLF, but also a competitor to it, with the growth of a following of his own among the Ogaadeeni. Following the first and second rounds of peace talks in September and October 2012 in Nairobi, Abdi Mohamed’s administration embarked on a public relations campaign, casting him as the leader of all Ethiopian Somalis. Pro-government media described the ONLF as ‘Somalis sitting in the diaspora in Minneapolis’, and, to illustrate the contrast with the regional president, broadcast images of him travelling


to rural areas. Televised rallies featured individuals testifying to alleged atrocities committed by the ONLF.

Abdi Mohamed is closely associated with the formation of the special police. The liyu police was created in 2009 when he was the head of regional security and Dau’d Mohamed Ali was in charge of the presidency. It mostly consists of members of the Ogaadeeni clan, particularly the Ali Yusuf lineage (Reer Abdille) that Abdi Mohamed belongs to.

The liyu police has between 10,000 and 15,000 personnel.72 Many have described its record of treating civilians as even worse than the ENDF’s.

The international organization, Human Rights Watch, reported an incident in March 2012 when the liyu police summarily executed ten people in Gashamo, an area predominantly inhabited by members of the Isaaq clan, after a dispute between a liyu police militiamen and local residents.73 Rarely reported in the international media, dozens of similar events have occurred in the region since the creation of the liyu police.74 The special police operate without accountability, effectively a paramilitary force beyond the reach of the law.

As Abdi Mohamed built his career fighting the ONLF, arguably the only way he can guarantee remaining in power as regional president is if insecurity continues. His personal support base will wane if the ONLF resurfaces as a purely political force. Regional officials and individuals close to Abdi Mohamed are reported to have contacted Ogaadeeni intellectuals and community activists who had publicly supported the peace talks, threatening their families with reprisals if they did not change their stand.

Abdi Mohamed has to follow policy dictated by his superiors in the federal government, so he cannot contradict Ethiopia’s commitment to 72 Vaughan, ‘Analysis of Peacebuilding’, mentions some 10,000 fighters, while The Guardian, ‘UK tenders to train Ethiopian paramilitaries accused of abuses’, 10 January 2013, talks about up to 14,000 members, citing a Department for International Development (DFID) document.

73 HRW, ‘Ethiopia: “Special Police” Execute 10’, 28 May 2012.

74 Interviews by Tobias Hagmann for this report in San Diego and Minneapolis, 2012.

50 TALkINg PEACE IN THE OgADEN peace talks with the ONLF. Despite the key role the SRS president has played in building up the liyu police and waging the counter-insurgency, his alleged association with human rights abuses may make him expendable.

Asked about Abdi Mohamed’s future prospects in the event of a peace agreement, and whether abuses by the liyu police need to be addressed, a senior ONLF leader said: ‘We don’t blame him … he is only fulfilling the orders of the Ethiopians’. It is not clear whether a compromise between Abdi Mohamed and the ONLF is as possible as that makes it sound, nor what such a compromise would look like.

Non-Ogaadeeni clans Not much is known about the views of those from non-Ogaadeeni clans—the region’s demographic majority—towards peace talks between the Ethiopian government and ONLF. Constituting a diverse group in terms of kinship, geography, livelihoods, and political weight, non-Ogaadeeni clan lineages have in the past been very wary of what they perceive as efforts by the Ogaadeeni to dominate regional affairs.

This anti-Ogaadeeni reflex dates back to the creation of the SRS when the Ogaadeeni dominated positions and decision-making in the first regional administration.75 It is further exacerbated by the logic of ethnic-based representation in the kilil, the ethnically defined regional states brought into being after the EPRDF took power in 1991, and in Ethiopia more broadly, translating into permanent, quasi-institutionalized struggles to entrench political influence.

Since 2005, all SRS presidents have been from the Ogaadeeni clan.

Non-Ogaadeeni are most likely sceptical of a political deal involving the ONLF that would further solidify this existing Ogaadeeni hold over the region.

75 John Markakis, ‘The Somali in the New Political Order of Ethiopia’, pp. 71–9.

OTHER STAkEHOLDERS 51 The Ogaadeen diaspora Members of the Ogaadeeni diaspora are important, highly involved participants in the conflict and the peace talks. As with other diasporas resulting from state-sponsored violence and displacement, Ogaadeeni collective identity is strongly shaped by the experiences, memories and narratives of state repression. Transnational kinship networks, telecommunications, and political engagement in the SRS, explain why the diaspora is actively involved in their home region. According to the ONLF, the Ogaadeeni diaspora is present in more than sixty countries, with sizable communities in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Scandinavia, Kenya, South Africa and the Arab Gulf States.

The Ogaadeeni diaspora is far from homogenous. It consists of older men and women who were born in the region but spent most of their adult life in Somalia; others who left the Ogaden for economic or political reasons in the past two decades; and a younger generation of foreignborn students and professionals who have only recently discovered their Ogaadeeni roots. It is this last group that has become the most vocal in recent years, helping mobilize Ogaadeeni youth globally against the Ethiopian government. Most Ogaadeeni in the diaspora are bitter about the suffering in their home region and frustrated both by the lack of attention given to the conflict and the diplomatic support given to Ethiopia, often decrying this as Western hypocrisy. Many diaspora Ogaadeeni therefore accuse Western governments, especially the United States and the United Kingdom, of indirectly supporting repression in their home region.76 Given its variety, it is difficult to gauge what percentage of the Ogaadeeni diaspora supports a peace deal. Conflict weariness and an increasingly critical attitude towards the ONLF might infer a large proportion leaning towards a peace process. That said, a broad majority

76 Hagmann, ‘“We Live in the Dark Age”’.52 TALkINg PEACE IN THE OgADEN

of Ogaadeeni are highly critical too of the Ethiopian government, considering a referendum a viable solution to the conflict.

The prospect of returning and investing in the region is a powerful motive for the diaspora in terms of its support for the peace process.

Relative to its size, the Ogaadeeni clan family has had little economic clout in Eastern Africa so far.77 But the rise of Ogaadeeni politicians in Kenya and south-central Somalia has led Ogaadeeni in Ethiopia to move in a similar direction, which means putting a political settlement with Ethiopia above continued armed confrontation. Some Ogaadeeni, for example, are said to have withdrawn their funding from the ONLF when they found the rebels’ agenda inside Ethiopia working against their business interests in an emerging Jubbaland. The ONLF draws much of its support from the diaspora and may find it must adapt its negotiating strategy in line with contemporary aspirations.

Somaliland, Puntland and Jubbaland The days when the Ogaden was on the agenda of every Somali nationalist are long gone. The ONLF is currently surrounded by pro-Ethiopian administrations in Somaliland, Puntland, and to a lesser extent Mogadishu, as well as Kismayo, denying the rebels safe haven across the Somali border. Ethiopia’s Ministry of National Defense sees its most dependable allies in Somalia as ‘obviously Somaliland and Puntland’.78 Ethiopia has established close and beneficial economic relations with Somaliland, making use of Berbera port to receive imports, establishing banks near their common border, and initiating regular Ethiopian Airlines flights between Addis Ababa and Hargeisa, as far back as 2001. It had also established a trade mission in Hargeisa, and a quasi-embassy, upgrading it to a Consulate General in 2006. News reports suggest that Somaliland has, 77 Ken Menkhaus, ‘Jubbaland Politics in Southern Somalia’, presentation to Center for African Studies, University of Florida at Gainesville, 16 March 2013.

78 Ethiopian Ministry of Defense, ‘The Present State of Ethiopia’s Relations with Somaliland and Puntland’, memorandum, 2011.

OTHER STAkEHOLDERS 53 in turn, helped the Ethiopian government in its fight against the ONLF.79 Somaliland is not hostile only to the ONLF: the dominant Issaq clan also perceives Abdi Mohamed’s liyu police as a threat in the borderlands between Ethiopia and the Somali territories, although Abdi Mohamed has reached out to the Somaliland government in an attempt to mend relations.80 Puntland has its own military force, composed of militias who are neither structurally defined nor regularly paid, a police force, and an intelligence service known as the Puntland Intelligence Agency Security Force. The latter is considered to be efficient but, as one Ethiopian intelligence officer put it, ‘there is no need for a sophisticated intelligence apparatus in a place where everybody knows everybody’. Ethiopian involvement in Puntland is partly centred on gathering reliable information on the ONLF and preventing it from establishing a foothold in the territory. It is in this framework that the SRS and Puntland signed an all-encompassing Memorandum of Understanding on 28 June 2010 and established a Joint Intelligence and Security Committee.81 The ONLF has repeatedly denounced both Somaliland’s and Puntland’s collaboration with the Ethiopian government.82 Political developments in Jubbaland have had an impact on the Ogaden conflict; they will have to be observed closely as peace talks between the ONLF and the Ethiopian government resume. Jubbaland’s leader Ahmed Madobe—once jailed by Ethiopia for his association with the Islamic Courts Union—currently enjoys good ties with the Ethiopians. His Ras Kamboni militia has received important material supplies, food rations and uniforms from Ethiopia, and Ethiopian protection specialists have 79 BBC News, ‘Somaliland Forces Surround ONLF Rebels near Ethiopia’, 13 September 2010.

80 Somalilandinformer, ‘The President of Somali Regional State in Ethiopia Confers with Somaliland Delegation’, 10 August 2013.

81 Walta Information Center, ‘Somali States Unite to Fight ONLF’, 6 July 2010.

82 For example, ONLF, ‘Ogaden Somali Tortured to Death in Puntland’, 6 November 2009.

54 TALkINg PEACE IN THE OgADEN trained Madobe’s bodyguards. Colonel Gebre Egzabeher Alemseged, known as Gebre, has been a frequent visitor in Kismayo.83 The Ethiopian government had planned—with approval from Kenya—to establish a small liaison office at Kismayo airport.

Ahmed Madobe and the ONLF are enemies because hundreds of Ogaadeeni rebels fought alongside his rivals after he fell out with a former Somali ally, Hassan al-Turki, in 2010. Madobe had cleverly exploited the ONLF presence in the Jubba region to appeal for help from Ethiopia. This support in turn provoked rancour towards Madobe among members of the ONLF who saw him as a traitor to the Ogaden cause and a stooge of Ethiopia and Kenya.

The existence of Jubbaland offers both these states a powerful incentive to stay engaged in the Ogaden peace process. Competition between the two for influence in the Jubba region could, however, have a negative impact on the Ogaden peace talks.

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