News / Africa

Kenya Backs Ogaden Peace Effort

Ogaden region of EthiopiaOgaden region of Ethiopia
x
Ogaden region of Ethiopia
Ogaden region of Ethiopia
David Arnold
One of the longest-running conflicts in Africa in the Somali-inhabited region of Ethiopia could be moving toward a resolution.
 
Peace talks broken off last year between the Ethiopian government and the rebel Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) may re-open in October, according to Kenyan negotiators.
 
Last year’s talks, hosted in Nairobi by Kenyan government officials, were overshadowed by the death of Ethiopia’s longtime Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi. They ended early without addressing substantive issues of a half-century of conflict.
 
“There was a sort of uncertainty at the top of Ethiopian leadership and about what they really wanted from these talks,” said Cedric Barnes, International Crisis Group’s Horn of Africa regional coordinator in Nairobi.
 
The driving force behind both negotiation efforts is a team of Kenyan officials who are ethnic Somalis led by a former State Minister for Defense and member of parliament representing Garissa County, Mohamed Yusuf Haji.
 
Kenya’s special envoy to the Horn of Africa, Ambassador Ali Bunow Korane, confirmed recently that the Ethiopian government and leadership of the ONLF have agreed to meet.
 
Despite recent reports of fighting near Jijiga, the administrative capital of the Ogaden, Kenya continues pushing for talks. “We’re discussing possible negotiations in October,” Korane said. The ONLF’s chief negotiator, Abdirahman Mahdi, confirmed the Kenyan initiative.
 
“There’s quite a bit of shuttle diplomacy going on,” said Barnes, author of a new ICG report on the Ogaden conflict.
 
The Ogaden talks could bring an end to a decades-long conflict that has left a large region of Ethiopia, desperately in need of development, devastated and marginalized.  But Barnes’ report warns that success “requires unprecedented concessions from both sides.”
 
After the World War II withdrawal of Italian forces, Ethiopia took possession of the Ogaden, a vast semi-arid land of shrubs and bare hills that became the southeastern quarter of Ethiopia. The majority of the 4.5 million population are ethnic Somalis whose Ogaadeni clan ties extend to major parts of Somalia and Kenya.
 
Although dates are not yet firm, Special Envoy Korane spoke optimistically of the impact they could have in the region. “I think settlement in the Ogaden could have an impact on some of the other problems of Somalis in the region.”
 
A constitutional stumbling block
 
Last year’s talks ended when the ONLF refused to accept the Ethiopia constitution as a pre-condition to talks because of Article 39, which addresses the right to secede.
 
“The constitution says they have the right to self-determination up to and including independence,” said Edmond Keller, an Ethiopia scholar at the University of California at Los Angeles. “But it’s sort of the old communist dictum: You have the right, but not to exercise it.”
 
The two sides must confront the same issue in new talks, but “what we’ve heard is that both parties are looking for a work-around,” said Barnes. “It’s not a question of ONLF accepting it, or the government insisting.”
 
“While I doubt that the Ethiopian government is prepared to accept independence or self-determination for the Ogaden region, I assume that greater regional autonomy is on the negotiating table,’ former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia David Shinn told the editor of Ogadentoday Press recently. 
 
Mahdi argues that the single goal of the ONLF, which he helped to found in the 1970s, is to permit the Ethiopians of the Ogaden to determine their own political future. “The issue has been identity and legacy of 50 years of oppression.”
 
“After the breakdown, there was a lot of campaigning to show the Somali people that they are part of Ethiopia,” said Mahdi.   “Many outsiders have been deluded by a lot of Ethiopian propaganda.”
 
But war fatigue could overcome mutual distrust.  “Two decades of deadly conflict … have exhausted the local Ethiopian-Somali population sufficiently to push the ONLF back to the table,” said the ICG report.
 
In addition to several divisions of Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) now stationed in the Ogaden, the government recruited thousands of local Somalis to form a Special Police Force stepping up military pressure on the ONLF. Both sides have been charged with abusing the civilian population by a 2010 Human Rights Watch report.
 
 “Abuses have been committed by all sides,” said Barnes. “Both sides have to reconcile that dire things have been done.”
 
Pressure from the Somali diaspora
 
The research director of the Institute for Horn of Africa Studies in Minneapolis and a native of the Ogaden, Faisal Roble, accused the Ethiopian government of abuses but said the ONLF is hurt by weak leadership.   “Frankly, the ONLF lacks leadership, the capacity to engage in international diplomacy …”
 
Roble said that attitudes are changing on both sides of the Ethiopian conflict. Somalis in the Horn are seeing Ethiopia in a new light, said Roble.
 
“There is a new prime minister in Ethiopia, and they are asserting themselves as a regional broker in peace building,” said Keller. “The central government has been reaching out to ethnic groups in the Somali region to find reasons for agreement.”
 
Somalis outside the Ogaden are now changing their views of Ethiopia, Roble said.
 
“The Ethiopian leadership is not the traditional enemy they have known for years” and diaspora Somalis are putting pressure on the ONLF to reach a settlement, he said. Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Haile Mariam Desalegne, unveiled in the administrative capital of Jijiga a statue of Sayyīd Muhammad `Abd Allāh al-Hasan, the founder of the Pan-Somali movement. Similar monuments in Mogadishu and other towns in the region have been destroyed in clan warfare, said Roble.
 
Roble said Ethiopia is “opening its heart, at least, to the history of Somalis.”

You May Like

African States Push to Keep Boko Haram Offline

Central African telecoms ministers working with Nigeria to block all videos posted by Boko Haram in effort to blunt Nigerian militant group's propaganda More

Falling Oil Prices, Internet-Savvy Youth Pose Challenge for Gulf Monarchies

Across the Gulf, younger generations are putting a strain on traditional politics More

Philippines Call Center Workers Face Challenges

Country has world’s largest business process outsourcing, or BPO, industry, employing some one-million workers More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Ali from: London
September 27, 2013 7:49 AM
According to Roble a statue of Sayyīd Muhammad `Abd Allāh al-Hasan is sufficient for the Ethiopian regime to win back the trust of the people in the Ogaden. The irony is that the Sayyid died fighting for the Somalis and today some Somalis have given away their honour to praise an enemy that has for a century from one regime to another attacked innocent civilians and continues to this day in the guise of democracy. It is plain and clear that the people of the Ogaden are oppressed and the world is standing by! The resilience of our people is why the Ethiopian regime wants to negotiate, nothing more nothing less!

by: Sivaram Ramachandran
September 26, 2013 4:25 PM
Another faint glimmer of hope in the Somali region (Ogaden) is surely indicative of the concerned parties moving in the right direction, however, the path to Peace (settlement) is littered with many obstacles that will need to be navigated around artfully. Nonetheless any settlement package must first and foremost include disarming both sides (i.e. Liyu Police and ONLF) with consequences in place for reneging. Also if history has taught us anything, an internationally monitored referendum, most recently given to South Sudan does not guarantee an end to violence; in fact it could further destabilize the region. For the author: Do you have any indication of how the most recent attacks on Kenya affects the Ogade talks?

by: Hersi from: Nairobi
September 25, 2013 1:07 PM
I hope that, this time will be very fruitful, so as to get peace in the whole region of horn of Africa.

by: Abdi from: San Diego
September 24, 2013 11:29 PM
The ONLF is the only representative of the Somali people in Ogaden,.ONLF is an organization established and maintained by its people and they simply want to exercise their universal right to self-determination and hold the peoples interest at heart. The liyuu police and the Ethiopian regime both continue to commit crimes against humanity and genocide against the civilian population and have displaced more then a million people. For peace and political resolution to occur, the peoples right to self-determination must be recognized and respected by the Ethiopian regime in power and an international monitored referendum be finally given to the well deserving civilian population of Ogaden.

by: ahmed from: nairobi
September 24, 2013 6:58 PM
dear writter thank u abt concerning ogaden region bt actually u misleading the world by hiding the thuth and right of ogaden people it seems u r writing the propaganda dat s going in dat region we r da owner and we knws what s going what we want s frm freedom

by: Gor-gor
September 24, 2013 4:05 PM
Dear writer,David Arnold,
Your article is biased and misleading the international readers.Ogaden people are doing their utmost to challenge with Ethiopian occupation and you can't help Ethiopia despite they paid you.Your hatred bispeak that you did not mention even the site that you are quating David Shinn's words,The Amhara and Tigrey helper and the enemy of Ogaden people.
I

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More