July 24, 2009
Once again, the axiom: you can’t defeat insurgency with military force has been disproved by the Ethiopian Defense Forces. Nevertheless, sometimes it is important to talk about the things that are not happening, and the dogs that are not barking.
Recently Petronas, the Malaysian oil giant announced it has decided to resume oil and gas exploration in the Ogaden area of Ethiopian Somali region. This is good news for many reasons. But from my point of view, the most important one is related to security in that region. As we all remember, Petronas suspended its operation after the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) massacred it’s Ethiopian and Chinese field workers in 2007. So the fact that Petronas and other oil and gas companies are engaged in exploration shows how confident they have become in country’s ability to secure their work.
Before explaining how that security is achieved, let me briefly look into the chronology of the Ogaden conflict.
Regional perspective: to understand this conflict one has to look through the region’s geo-political paradigm. Because its roots are interwoven with events outside the locality. There are three factors that have been the driving forces in this strife.
The Somalia proper factor (F1).
Somalia got its independence in 1960, and the most important issue in post independent Somalia has been the unification of all areas inhabited by ethnic Somalis to create “Greater Somalia”. To that effect, Somalia instigated a rebellion by Kenyan Somalis of the Northern Frontier District. In 1964, Somalia waged the first of the two conventional wars against Ethiopia in an attempt to incorporate the Ethiopian Somali region into its own. After its defeat by Ethiopia, it created an armed group called the Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF); this group is the precursor to the ONLF.
The External factors (F2).
It is unfortunate but a fact that Ethiopia has what we call traditional enemies. These are countries who would do anything to undermine its unity, security or prosperity, or at least subjugate it. They are mostly Arab nations led by Egypt. These countries have always considered Somalia as their front line state against Ethiopia. However, now there is a new kid on the block, which is willing to do anything for anybody to follow orders as long as the ultimate goal is to harm Ethiopia. That new kid is the ASKARI regime of Eritrea.
The Internal Factor (F3)
There is no denying that like any other nationalities, the Ethiopian Somalis had faced social and political injustices in the past; and such reality have initially empowered the rebellion.
However, since 1991 F1 and F3’s role has changed dramatically. In the case of F1: since the fall of the then dictator Siad Bare the country has been embroiled in civil war. Somaliland (the North Western region of the country has declared independence and is leading a relatively peaceful society. Puntland (the North Eastern part) has become a defacto separate country. The above two regions are inhabited by two of the four major clans in Somalia, Isa and Darode respectively. Meanwhile, the central and South part of the country, which includes the capital Mogadishu, has become the centre of civil and sectarian war and wanton destruction. Nevertheless, this is the part of the country that is becoming a security threat to our country.
In the case of F3: since 1991, a new system of political equality of all Ethiopian nationalities has emerged. There is no denying some problems still persist, but there is a system of governance in the country, that recognizes and attempts to address them.
When the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) defeated the Mengistu regime and assume power, it invited all those armed national groups to join in the proposed transitional government. Almost all of them agreed including the ONLF. One of the most important tasks of the new government was to draft a new constitution that would be relevant to the country’s reality. Among the radical tenets of the new constitution is article 39, which was then and still is the source of heated debate. This particular clause was pushed by the national groups who were looking for a shield against domination and the acknowledgement of the collective rights of nations and nationalities. Article 39, explicitly recognize the rights of nations and nationalities in the country for self determination up to succession. In other words, if any nation decides to get out of the union it can do so following a legal and democratic referendum in which the will of the majority would be respected.
Consequently, EPRDF conceived an ethno-regional federalism as its political strategy to achieve political freedom and economic development through self-administration. Accordingly, the Somali region become one of the self-governing entities, with full and complete autonomy in its internal affairs.
This formula combines, openness, asymmetry and centralization. Of course the success of such federalism depends above all upon the good will on the part of all players, who must see themselves as members of the same team.
In the context of United Ethiopia, the current government understands Ethiopian Somalis preoccupation with their language, culture and identity. But beyond that it accepts nationalities desire for self governance within a federal Ethiopia. Such virtues of federalism have already put ethnic nationalism on the defensive. Thus the new generation of Somalis, Afars, Amharas, Oromos, Tigreans… have come to the realization that their national future as enxtricably linked with a united Ethiopia. Because, while federalists have provided proof, as well as clear and specific explanations of the advantages of their preferred option (unity), on the other hand separatists have failed to provide explanations as the modus operandi of independent Ogaden or Oromia… etc.
On the other side, there were and still are Ethiopians who don’t support federalism. They had this primordial fear that ethnic based federalism is a precursor to secession. But the opposite is found to be true. It is the refusal to share power that led to armed conflicts. The proof: During the previous government there were more than 20 ethnic based armed groups fighting the regime and put the country on the brink of disintegration. To the contrary since the current government assume power, no nation or nationality have raised a gun. If this isn’t the testimony or a vote of confidence to the new system I don’t know what it is.
That is why Ethiopian Somalis become quite content to accept the new reality and embrace their Ethiopian nationalism.
The ONLF claims it is fighting for the rights and self-determination of Ethiopian Somalis. Yet, we have a constitution that recognizes all those right the ONLF wants to achieve. So why resume the shooting?
The answer can be phrased in two words Factor three (F3).
Let me elaborate. As I stated earlier, in 1991, the fates of Ethiopia and Somalia proper start moving in different directions. However, back then, to the outside world our fate was not viewed positively. When EPRDF defeated the Deng and assume power, our traditional enemies thought the country will never survive, at least not in the some form or content. But after a couple of years of confusion and period of transition Ethiopians liked what they were seeing and start embracing the new government. The country seemed entering a new phase of stability. That was bad news to our enemies.
As I stated earlier, they (our enemies) didn’t think the EPRDF would keep the country together. They thought the new political arrangement would lead to balkanization and separation. But the reality have proven them wrong; and exposed their long track record of misreading Ethiopia. They hoped and therefore believed the new government wouldn’t succeed in keeping the country together. Contrary to the dooms day predictions of our enemies the new system have brought a new sense of unity and belongingness.
But our hell wishes were not about to sleep and were determined to hold hostage the economic development of the country. In the early 90s, the situation in Somalia proper was getting worse. Out of that mayhem there emerged a terrorist group which it called itself Al-itahad Alislamia. The group was formed by one of the major clans of Somalia, the Hawiya. There is credible evidence the group was financed and supported by Egypt, Libya and South Arabia, to be used as an instrument in destabilizing Ethiopia. By 1994, AlItahed, instead of dealing with the paramount problems facing its people, it opted to wage war against Ethiopia. For that purpose its sponsors (Ethiopia’s traditional enemies) found it necessary to revive the dormant ONLF to be used as a propaganda tool.
After few months the combined forces of Al-Itahed and ONLF started a wave of terrorist acts in Ethiopia. Especially in the Somali region and the capital Addis Ababa. Ethiopian Somali intellectuals and politicians become their convenient targets. It was then the Ethiopian government decided to deal with AlItahed once for all. The Ethiopian Defence Forces went after that group, making incursions deep inside Somalia. In few weeks AlIthad’s military capacity was destroyed, and its leadership began fighting for its own survival and began a turf war against the war lords in Somalia. But the buttered Al-Itahad lost ground and was pushed into oblivion.
After two years (1996-1998) of peace on all fronts, when the country has fully focused on the economy, something unexpected happened. In 1998, the Eritrean regime did the unthinkable – invaded Ethiopia in the pretext of a border conflict. But without any sign ofpre-invasion friction between the two governments, what could have persuaded Eritrea to commit such a betrayal?
When one examines the circumstances leading to the invasion and post invasion activities it obvious Eritrea had co-conspirators.
First, since 1996 Ethiopia had made clear its intention to utilize all available resources at its disposal in its fight against poverty. That includes its water resources. In late 1996, the Egyptian President made it clear that his country would go to war if Ethiopia tries to use the River Nile or its tributes for irrigation. Ethiopia rebuffed his bluff by stating, Egypt nor any other country have the capacity or the right to prevent Ethiopia from its goals.
Second: In the meantime the young nation of Eritrea with no apparent threat to its security has been recruiting and tracing young Eritreans in the name of national service. By 1998, Eritrea had an army of 250,000 +. Ethiopia on the other hand, which had changed its focus to reviving the economy which was neglected for decades had an army of 60,000. of course Ethiopia had a contingency plan to protect itself from any predator, but that plan didn’t anticipate a hostile action by unscrupulous Eritrean regime.
Third: Since 1996, Egypt and Eritrea were setting closer and closer. Egypt had began supplying Eritrea with all kinds of arms. In fact, Eritrea received more than it needed, so much so it was selling some of it on the black market.
Fourth: On the day his troops crossed into Ethiopian territory, the Eritrean President flew to Saudi Arabia and had communicated with his Egyptian and Libyan counter parts. Informing them perhaps the execution of their command i.e. the invasion against Ethiopia.
Apparently, Ethiopia’s mortal enemies, whose option is to destroy or weaken the country have encouraged their new partner (Eritrea) to commit such treacherous action. In other words the invasion was hatched, financed and executed with the help of those countries. In fact as the war dragged on it become apparent that Egyptian military officers were advising the Eritrean army. There was even unsubstantiated rumors, that Egyptian pilots were flying Eritrean fighter jets.
But as we all now know, the war didn’t go the way they hoped would. To the contrary, Eritrea met a humiliating defeat from which it couldn’t recover to this day. As the ASKARI regime (Eritrea) start liking its wounds, its masters were embarrassed.
Then come the 2005, Ethiopian national election to the rescue.
Election 2005, was a unique phenomena in the country’s history. It was by far the most openly contested and transparent election ever. But it had also polarized the people, at least temporarily. Of course such occurrences are not unique to Ethiopia. Democracy in its infancy is usually accompanied by an unintended circumstances. Nevertheless the country nor the government was never in any danger.
But our enemies saw different picture and read different stories that fit their misleading vision.
For them the post election disturbance was considered an opportunity not to miss. They thought Ethiopians are going to “eat each other” and decided to pour fuel into the burning wood.
They sat around their drawing board and start planning the demise of Ethiopia. Once again the setting stage was the ASKARI Nation of Eritrea. The strategy was simple! Unite all the groups that oppose the government, train them, arm them and facilitate their terrorist action inside the country.
The Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), which at the time was engaged in peace talks with the government on the possibility of peaceful settlement was advised to pull out of the negotiation, and start recruiting young Oromos from the refugee camps of neighboring countries.
The ONLF which went into remission for more than two years was pushed to prepare for the resumption of fighting. The reluctant ONLF was provided an offer it couldn’t refuse. Eritrea and its masters assured the ONLF, that this time it would be able to “liberate Ogaden”.
They based their hypnosis as follows.
First – They believed Ethiopians “area divided”; and the regime will face rebellion on many fronts.
Second – They promised the people of Somalia proper will help them (ONLF) logistically as well as militarily. What they actually meant was – they will help ONLF to co-ordinate whatever is left of its small army with a stronger group that was gaining power in Somalia. The group they are referring was the union of Islamic courts(UIC). Right at a time when Ethiopia was preparing and conducting the 2005 election, its enemies were once again busy in Somalia forming yet another group to challenge Ethiopia’s security. Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Iran had helped found the UIC. This extremists Islamic group’s leadership come from Al-Itahad (the group Ethiopia destroyed in 1996). Once again, the group made it clear that one of its primary objective was to “liberate Ogaden from Ethiopian Colonization”.
Evidently, the UIC leadership was told by Eritea, that Ethiopia is divided and weak. In fact they assured them that should they (UIC) choose to attack Ethiopia they would be able to march as far as Said Bare did in 1978. for UIC and ONLF such mouth watering scenario was hard to ignore. In another twist of events, some factions of CUD (Kinijit) have joined the hapless foot-soldiers of OLF and ONLF to form Alliance for Freedom and Democracy (ADF), to tote guns and go where they were told by Shaabia.
In many cases, the objective of these different opposition groups contradict each other. But to our enemies that was just fine with them. Mind you, their mission was and still is to destroy Ethiopia not save it. Of course all these groups even combined with the Eritrean army were and still are just perky irritants buzzing around with no effect at all. They are no match to the most lethal and efficient force on the continent of Africa; i.e. the Ethiopian Defense Forces.
But since 2006, based on the previous misguided assumption ONLF and company intensified their terrorist acts. As expected Ethiopian Somali region and Addis Abeba become the target of strings of bombings. Sensing the incoming danger, Ethiopian Somali elders, clan leaders and intellectuals approached Prime Minister Meles with a noble idea. They asked him to authorize and endorse their mediation and reconciliation plan. The Prime Minister obliged and gave them the ok. The elders then traveled to all the European cities where ONLF leaders reside and tried to persuade them to negotiate with the government and find a peaceful resolution to any problems. Unfortunately their good will attempt was not successful. They were rejected and rebuffed by the leadership of the ONLF
Upon their return, the disappointed elders met the Prime Minister and informed him that they and the people of Ethiopian Somali would stand behind the government, whatever measure it decides to take including military. With such a green light from the leaders of the Ethiopian Somali the government began a limited military operation.
But ONLF activities in the Somali region become intolerable, especially when the local population began to reject it.
The reasons for the Ethiopian Somalis opposition to ONLF are as follows.
1) Although, some claim the ONLF was founded to protect the rights of the Ethiopian Somalis, in reality the group has become nothing but a storge of anyone and everyone who wants to do harm to Ethiopia.
2) The group’s leaders were not interested in peaceful settlement. As mentioned earlier high level attempts of intermediation had been made, but faltered because of their refusal
3) There is nothing wrong in struggling to bring justice and self-determination. But ONLF despised those who don’t share it’s commitment to war and terrorism as means.
4) The group’s exclusive nature: Ethiopian Somalis is composed of different clans. Ogaden is one of them. Non-Ogaden clans include Darod, Isaq, Dir… Non-Ogaden Somali clans have had hard time embracing ONLF’s agenda and its actions have undermined inter clan co-operation. In fact the non-Ogaden clans have formed their own militias and fought ONLF whenever it approaches their turf.
And then the frustrated ONLF committed an atrocious act on an oil field in the Ogaden region on April 24, 2007; killing 65 Ethiopians and 9 Chinese workers.
The moral stakes of this conflict has been reduced to his single act of savagery.
That action infuriated Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia. But it also exposed the double-standard the West and the Western media when it comes to terrorism. When committed outside their territory. The message would have been: Terrorism is a criminal affront to human values, wherever it is practiced. But that was missed by media outlets like the BBC. We couldn’t help but struck by curious double standard that afflicted BBC’s covering of that terrorist action. To the contrary ONLF terrorist action become a publicity bonanza for the group.
Shortly after the attack Prime Minister Meles let it be known his government’s intention to finish off the ONLF. Accordingly, the Ethiopian army launched a major counter insurgency operation. That decision was no doubt behind the government’s refusal to be pressured into a cease-fire, while its army was engaged in the messy but necessary job of finishing off the ONLF.
If the Western governments had gotten their way the war in Ogaden would now be in abeyance. Instead the government ignored pressure to halt its military action, standing by its decision to crush the rebellion launched more than 25 years ago.
It appears the government has achieved its goal. ONLF’s ability to wage war has been diminished. It no longer controls any territory and the bulk of its leadership has been captured, surrounded or neutralized. That doesn’t mean we are not going to hear from it. Thanks to the internet corps have a way of communicating with the living. But its days of being a threat to national security is over. And the chance for peace in the region appears better than they would have been under a cease-fire.
It is imperative now that the Ethiopian government follow through on its military victory with reconciliation. The sense of inequality that give strength to the terrorists remain and could give rise to further violence if not extinguished. That can only be prevented by recognizing the validity of Ethiopian Somalis’ grievance and work assiduously to eradicate them.
As we celebrate the 18th anniversary of EPRDF victory over the Derg regime, we are reminded that hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians of all strips have given their lives, not to bring about a victory of arms, but to achieve peace through equality.
Bringing that about would allow the Revolutionary Democratic government to legitimately claim the title of peace maker.
God bless Ethiopia.