«Talking Peace in the Ogaden The search for an end to conflict in the Somali Regional State in Ethiopia Hagmann, Tobias Publication date: Document ...»
The composition of the Ethiopian delegation—especially its heavy military bias—could be seen as a deliberate attempt by the Ethiopian security apparatus to sabotage the talks. Given Major General Abraha Wolde Mariam’s dominant position in military affairs in the SRS, and his relation with regional President Abdi Mohamed, many Ogaadeeni observers speculated that the latter had orchestrated the talk’s demise.
The second round of talks clearly indicated that senior Ethiopian military officials had a stake in the SRS and a strong influence on any future agreement and regional political reconfiguration. On a more positive note, the Ethiopian delegation tabled a number of offers to the ONLF, namely amnesty and the option of becoming a political party.
The second round also demonstrated the limited ability of the Kenyan facilitation team to steer the process when the Ethiopian delegation grew uncompromising. Kenyan facilitators were themselves in the middle of an election campaign, and hampered from giving the negotiating process their full attention. A Kenyan source said that Ethiopian insistence on getting the ONLF to agree to the constitution was ‘just a trap’ to halt the talks.
TALkINg PEACE IN THE OgADEN 63 As the second round of talks had ended abruptly in disagreement, many observers assumed the talks had collapsed entirely. Yet, both parties reiterated their interest in pursuing further dialogue.
Towards renewed talks By late 2013 preparations were underway to convene a third round of talks. Following the election of President Uhuru Kenyatta in March 2013, the Kenyan facilitation team embarked on a round of shuttle diplomacy to clarify the expectations of the two parties before they reconvened. In a meeting with senior Ethiopian officials in Addis Ababa, they reportedly raised the issue of the proportion of military representation in the Ethiopian negotiating team. In September 2013, they met the ONLF chairman and foreign secretary in London, informing them that the Ethiopian government was ready to resume talks. In mid-October, the Kenyan facilitators met once again with Ethiopian officials in Addis Ababa.
In a parallel process, Conciliation Resources, a London-based peacebuilding organization that has been advising both the Kenyan facilitation team and the ONLF delegation, visited the US city of Minnesota in February 2013 to meet members of the Ogaadeeni diaspora. Many of those who met them suggested that the Ethiopian constitution should not be allowed to become a stumbling block for further talks, particularly as the ONLF had already worked within it as part of the SRS administration from 1992–1994.
The ONLF has publicly affirmed its commitment to continue the peace talks. Following a meeting of its central committee in the Eritrean capital of Asmara in August 2013, its chairman Mohamed Omar Osman announced on ONLF radio that the rebels were ready to return to the negotiating table, partly to see carried out the referendum they have long desired.93 93 Ogaden Today Press, ‘ONLF Concludes its 6th Central Committee Meeting’, 23 August 2013.
64 TALkINg PEACE IN THE OgADEN The ONLF’s foreign secretary, Abdirahman Mahdi, has emphasized the key issue at stake is one of ‘democratic rights with international guarantees’: ‘We are not stuck on the idea of a referendum,’ he said, ‘but we want … something that is implementable.’ Another ONLF member has expressed his optimism about a third round of talks, conceding that ‘both the problem and solution are in Ethiopia’s hand’. In October 2013, senior ONLF leaders held a three-day meeting with members of the Ogaadeeni community in Pretoria, South Africa, to discuss the Ogaden region, including prospects for continued peace talks with the Ethiopian government.
Observers close to the ONLF believe it is ready to accept the Ethiopian constitution as a framework for future talks while more substantive constitutional and political issues are being addressed. The Kenyan facilitation team has a written commitment from the ONLF stating this, according to another source. There is speculation as to what the ONLF will ask for in exchange, but also indications that it may demand a ‘transitional period’ in the SRS to pave the way for what they would want to see as an ONLF-endorsed or even ONLF-led, regional administration.
Less is known about the Ethiopian position for the next round of talks. Sources in the Ministry of Federal Affairs maintain that if the defence minister, Siraj Fegessa, were to lead the Ethiopian delegation again, he would ask the ONLF to accept the Ethiopian constitution and ‘unilaterally end all armed activities’ as preconditions for negotiations to continue.
Few are confident of an early breakthrough. The Kenyan facilitation team appears concerned about the degree of seriousness and level of preparedness of the interlocutors, arguing the only way to test the commitment of the two parties is to continue the talks. In consultation with the two parties, the Kenyans have been drawing up a modestly ambitious agenda, which broadly maps out issues clustered into such categories as political, security, humanitarian, and economic.
Reports of the abduction of two ONLF delegates from central Nairobi to Ethiopia in January 2014, however, cast further doubt on the resumption of the talks. The ONLF sees the abductions as ‘a breach of confidence’ TALkINg PEACE IN THE OgADEN 65 that ‘will gravely hamper any further talks with Ethiopia’.94 It has repudiated claims by an SRS official that the delegates, Sulub Ahmed and Ali Hussein, had chosen to defect to escape ONLF assassination.95 Most donor nations represented in Ethiopia remained silent about the abductions, leaving it to Kenya to make a formal protest. The Kenyan government swiftly charged two of its own policemen in a Nairobi court for aiding the abductions.96 It also asked Ethiopia for confirmation of the status of the two delegates, saying it did not want the talks to collapse but needed to consult parties to the talks before knowing how to proceed.97 Kenyan facilitation The Kenyan team set up to facilitate and supervise the talks is exclusively made-up of ethnic Somalis from the Ogaadeeni clan. Since May 2012, it has been led by Senator Yusuf Haji. This unusual arrangement has elicited mixed reactions: the team sees their clan affiliation as a huge asset allowing them to gain the trust of the ONLF. The Ethiopian government seems content with this too; so far, it has neither objected to the composition of the team nor cast aspersions on its neutrality given the ties of clan kinship between the facilitators and the ONLF. Some fear Ethiopia may, however, use this as a pretext later to once again scuttle the process. The Kenyan facilitation team can use kinship for the benefit of conflict resolution, but not if Ethiopia chooses to raise issues of fairness and neutrality.
Kenya’s role—and the involvement of its Ogaadeeni elite—has so far been a source of strength, lending confidence and credibility to the negotiating process. The facilitation team has enjoyed the full backing of 94 ONLF statement, 27 January 2014.
95 A Week in the Horn, 21 February 2014.
96 The Standard, ’Police investigating alleged abduction of two Ethiopians in Nairobi’, 29 January 2014.
97 Ali Korane, coordinator of the Kenyan facilitation team, private communication, March 2014.
66 TALkINg PEACE IN THE OgADEN President Kenyatta, who himself drives Kenyan foreign policy. It has, so far at least, been adequately funded by Kenya’s Office of the President.
The team also enjoys the support of Amina Mohamed, Kenya’s new Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and herself an ethnic Somali.
There are, though, doubts that this is sustainable as a long-term arrangement. First, the facilitation team is by its own admission motivated by kinship and clan affiliation: Kenyan Ogaadeeni have a strong interest in pacifying the Ogaden as this could improve prospects for them in Jubbaland, where the Ogaadeen, Marehan, and Harti sub-clans vie for political control and compete for natural and economic resources. There is also an unresolved ambiguity in Kenya’s role as facilitator rather than mediator. Ethiopia’s insistence on the former accommodates its view of Kenya as a go-between. Some hope Kenya’s role will evolve towards mediation, as the more passive role of facilitation has undermined its authority.
Since the abductions though, the Kenyans have had reason to doubt Ethiopia’s commitment to negotiate, and already, some feel Ethiopia’s interest in negotiating with the ONLF is waning. The view of the facilitation team is that key Ethiopian allies, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, need to apply pressure to get the Ethiopian government to stay engaged in the process.
8. Issues and interests What motivates the Ethiopian government, the ONLF, and the Kenyan facilitation team most? This section tries to identify the major issues at stake in future peace talks and discusses possible scenarios.
The ONLF The ONLF thrives on largely Ethiopian-inflicted grievances, especially human rights violations against the civilian population. It has, however, struggled to come up with politically coherent policies. Instead, it remains fixated on a 1970s discourse of self-determination, with the referendum the pinnacle as its programme.
Any of the possible outcomes of a referendum would be unlikely to work. Secession would be unlikely to find international support; irredentism—the transfer of Somali territory to Somalia proper—is no more realistic, as Somalia itself remains fragmented. There is little international support for redrawing national boundaries either. Regional autonomy might be a more realistic option for the ONLF but the EPRDF runs an authoritarian regime with a sophisticated constitution. In practice, the Ethiopian government is unlikely to allow greater regional autonomy towards its Somali population, or other groups in Ethiopia.
There is pressure on the ONLF leadership to accept the Ethiopian constitution as the framework for a peace agreement. Semantics are important here: while proponents of a peace deal have emphasized the ‘framework’ of the Ethiopian demand, the broader public might, if the ONLF agreed to it, want to emphasize the ‘constitution’ itself. Those encouraging the ONLF to endorse the Ethiopian constitution argue that Ogaadeeni rebels need to show they are serious about a peaceful settlement. This would mean the ONLF accepting the Ethiopian constitutional framework but also insisting on its implementation before more talks.
For those unfamiliar with Ethiopian politics since 1991, the ONLF’s initial rejection of the constitution may seem contradictory, as this constitution is among the very few in the world to feature a provision 68 TALkINg PEACE IN THE OgADEN for a referendum on self-determination. Article 39 of the constitution even provides an option for secession.98 What explains the ONLF’s reluctance to endorse the Ethiopian constitution? In Ethiopia, it is commonly held that although Article 39 exists, is not intended to be implemented. Approving the Ethiopian constitution would not necessarily bring the ONLF any closer to holding a referendum. The ONLF has been the only regional party to request the holding of a referendum on self-determination. In response, the TPLF/ EPRDF cracked down on the ONLF and the rebellion began.
So the ONLF faces a dilemma: it seeks what the FDRE constitution promises, but what the EPRDF, the drafters of the constitution, will not agree to: a referendum on self-determination. In reaction to the Ethiopian request for the ONLF to accept the constitution as a framework for the negotiations, the ONLF gave a range of justifications for its refusal, chief among them its experience in regional government in
1994. Other ONLF counter-arguments are: first, that Somalis in Ethiopia had never really been involved in drafting the transitional charter and so, free from any obligation to the FDRE constitution, should instead hold a referendum in which they would endorse or reject it; second, that the Ethiopian government needs to first implement the constitution before forcing others to approve it; third, that without international supervision, Ethiopia cannot be trusted to organize a referendum; fourth, that Article 39 remains too vague and needs to be more detailed; and fifth, that the Ethiopian government should propose confidence-building measures and agree to discuss a series of ‘substantial issues’ before focusing on the constitution.99 There are also differences within the ONLF leadership, with some members rejecting the constitution as a whole, while others refer to Article 39 to back up their request for a referendum.
98 Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, ‘Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia Proclamation No. 1 /1995’, Addis Ababa, 1995.
99 Jon Abbink, ‘Breaking and Making the State: The Dynamics of Ethnic Democracy in Ethiopia’, Journal of Contemporary African Studies 13 /2 (1995), pp. 149–63.
ISSUES AND INTERESTS 69 The ONLF appears to have moved towards an endorsement of the Ethiopian constitution as a framework for the talks. In return, it may demand that Ethiopia implements a number of political reforms. While the Ethiopian government will not grant the ONLF a referendum—not least because it would trigger a similar demand from other ethnonational groups unhappy with the current government—it might agree to a loosely defined transitional period if the ONLF abandons the armed struggle. Both parties could claim such a deal as a victory for their cause, especially if it emphasized regional autonomy. The ONLF could present it to its followers as a step towards realizing self-determination, while the Ethiopian government could claim that ethnic federalism really does work.