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Ethiopia-ONLF: The 2012 expected peace negotiations
“Anyone can give up; it’s the easiest thing in the world to do. But to hold it together when everyone else would understand if you fell apart, that’s true strength.“ By anonymous sage.
The students of Ethiopian politics perceive the forth coming peace talks between the ONLF (Ogaden National Liberation Front) and the Ethiopian Government as one of the toughest talks ever entertained by any Ethiopian government. Even though the peace talks weren’t officially proclaimed by the concerned parties, yet there is reliable information to that effect from trustworthy sources that the Ethiopian government informed formally the Kenyan government that it wants to talk to the ONLF in the presence of a third party. The ONLF all the way through its history was maintaining that they are willing to talk to the Ethiopian government, in a neutral country, provided Ethiopia accepts the presence of a third party to witness the progress of the talks.
The Kenyan government received the acceptance of the ONLF without a delay since it was the government of Ethiopia not the ONLF that was dragging its feet for so long from taking the offer of peace talks in the hope that it will wipe out the ONLF through brute military force. The Somali Region’s (Ogaden region) resistance to occupation stretches over a century and the region was and is a battle field between successive Ethiopian governments and national liberation forces. The region has been treated by the Ethiopian governments over the years as a buffer zone and its citizens as strangers that have no right in Ethiopia.
Ethiopia through its choice tool, military option, to address the genuine occupation question of the Somali region (Ogaden Region) made the region the least developed region in Ethiopia. Substantial number of its citizens grew up in refugee camps or in neighbouring countries for the third generation and whatever left behind either move from one IDP camp to the next at best or loiters in concentration camps called military prisons that are spread throughout the region at worst.
Human rights organisation’s yearly and daily reports consistently highlight the atrocities and human rights abuses meted against the region by the security forces of Ethiopia. The region is categorized and recognised as famine prone by the international development agencies and yet in pursuit of its military option the Ethiopian government sealed the boarders Ethiopia's starvation strategy of the region from all sides and pronounced it as no go area for international aid agencies, independent reporters and the likes. The Gaza- like status, open prison, is effective to this day and among the latest casualties of the notorious anti terrorist bill are the two Swedish journalists who ventured into the region on a fact finding mission - Ethiopia Jails Swedish Journalists
The people of the region have never been allowed to elect their representatives even at village level let alone at regional level. Since the region is garrison town under perpetual emergency rule, the army hand picks their young informers and crowns them to high offices. The educated and the elite of the region, who grow up in exile through fault of not theirs, were barred from running for public office and thus under - thirty year olds with no experience but loyalty to their appointed Tigrean masters are at the helm of the region.
The reigning Ethiopian government, under premier Zenawi, which ONLF has to negotiate with, is an authoritarian state that has no tolerance for pluralistic views in any shape or form. The politics, military and the economy of Ethiopia is dominated by his TPLF/EPRDF party which claimed that it won 99.6% of the latest staged election when it is common knowledge that the reality is on the contrary - Total Domination of Ethiopia by Ethnic Tigrean . The most draconian anti – terrorist laws ever was introduced by his party to criminalise any form of decent, repressive press laws that saw the closure of all the independent media outlets is in place and rubber stamp judiciary that are tasked to dish out lengthy prison sentences that underwrites opposition party officials, journalists, human rights activists and the likes are kept behind bars; works round the clock.
Real peace talks, between Ethiopia and the ONLF, that are pencilled to start soon heralds a glimmer of hope for the Somali Region and the horn of African countries. If the Ethiopian government is sincere about the talks and prepared to negotiate within the framework of the Ethiopian constitution, all signs are that a successful deal is within reach. The core of the talks, from the Ethiopian government’s side, should be aimed at permanently wrapping up a century of warfare, sabotage, mistrust and mass upheaval that became the hallmark of Somali region’s relationship with Ethiopia and a gaping sore to the pride and the international image of Ethiopia.
A fool and water will go the way they are diverted but not a leader
The appalling but factual scenario in Ethiopia as mentioned above has the potential to categorically chase away weak leaders that are detached from their background in its entirety but on the contrary; robust pragmatic leaders will always find, in such thorny times, an opportunity to make a difference. UWSLF (small unknown Islamist front) and Eng. Maow’s (expelled from ONLF central committee in 2004)one man show, after protracted and gruesome media coverage finally concluded what the Ethiopian government christened as peace pact with the Ethiopian government – not a single one from the serving central committee members nor a commander was signatory to the so called peace agreement . The terms of the pact fell short of the expectations of many in the Diaspora and received muted reaction from the people of the region. The two purported leaders were offered no demonstrable concessions at all with the exception of the release of hundreds of wrongly incarcerated members of the thousands of the civilian inmates in the military prisons.
The ONLF swiftly condemned the leaders that opted out of the armed struggle for few pence as sell outs. Sizable numbers in the diaspora, who were initially sitting on the fence, after studying the empty pact, lent their support to the ONLF. The push factor that wooed the doubters from the fence to the ONLF camp can be credited to the lack of noticeable and structured fundamental changes as to how the regional government conducts its political businesses. The Ethiopian government, as a goodwill gesture temporarily tuned down its scorched earth campaign, to sell the empty peace agreement - hostilities and arbitrary arrest of the innocent civilians decreased significantly, hundreds of alleged ONLF supporters held in detention for so long were released, the feared and often unaccountable local police were reigned and waves of delegations from Somali regional state visited the diaspora lands to put across their argument which was in essence not more than the prolongation of the current statuesque .The officer’s talks were centred around petty things such as offering tribe X few more political posts but failed to address the fundamentals they were expected to attend to.
A little rain each day will fill the rivers to overflowing
The current peace talks are driven by a third party (Kenyan Politicians) who by all measures have an in-depth knowledge of the issue and have a genuine stake in the success of the talks. The Ethiopian government on its side understands the local and international political gains it could reap from the success of the talks and is in no mode to forgo the opportunity although it is not at any price. The ONLF on their part are eager to reach nothing short of durable and verifiable deal, with the Ethiopian government, that can offer the masses of the vast region their full constitutional rights initially with in Ethiopia. Full constitutional rights as understood by ONLF and the people of the region, is the exercise of their right to freely elect their own representatives without interference from the TPLF/EPRDF dominated federal government with the view of preparing the region for full referendum for independence within a decade along the lines of Eretria and southern Sudan if the need arises.
The 2012 peace talks calls for ONLF leaders to go to the talk’s venue with open minds and with determination to keep the negotiating going, no matter how many sittings, until a mutual compromise is hammered out. The negotiations won’t be easy as some ONLF members, although few in number, might be susceptible to fall for external interests and could create confusion and distractions as the highs of the talk is reached but the will and the steadfastness of the mainstream genuine nationalists will overcome the mice traps. The failure of the talks will have a lasting effect on the ONLF and the Ethiopian government as this puts their leadership’s diplomatic maturity under the spotlight for everyone to see.
The ONLF should understand that the goals and history of the opposition movements in the north and Oramio are largely far removed from to that of the Somali Regional State. The mantra sung in the corridors of western government’s power houses by the varied Ethiopian opposition groups can’t be taken at face value as most have ethnic based agendas concealed up their sleeves. No regional state in Ethiopia suffered as much as the Somali regional state so one size fits all paradigms floated by the Ethiopian opposition groups can’t address the grievances of the region but will rather further exasperate the situation. The region’s problems are unique and hence require tailor made solution that can redress in a significant way the long standing grievances at least partially at this instant.
Conclusion and recommendations
The peace talk on the table is not a riddle but a simple dialogue that only a wise and committed leaders that can put the interest of their people before their ego can save the day. The old adage of the cow “cow gave birth to a fire: she wanted to lick it, but it burned; she wanted to leave it, but she could not because it was her own child.” Our forefathers passed to us clearly points that no problem is insurmountable. Courageous and honest leaders can successfully circumnavigate the hurdles on the road to peace. What the region is waiting is nothing short of able leaders of high calibre that can steer the country from its impending self implosion.
The ONLF leaders ought to understand that the Ethiopian government headed by premier Zenawi and the ONLF are conjoined twins that can’t be separated for the time being as they live in the same body called federal Ethiopia. In the short-term however unattractive Zenawi may appear to some members, the organization is obliged to do business with his government in the long-term therefore necessity dictates that he should appear, in the eyes of the ONLF leadership, more gorgeous than for instance president Isias Afewerki of Eritrea or for that matter any other head of state. Although I am not condoning oppression in any form or shape but at same time I fail to see the compulsion for endless armed struggle that most often than not only harms the same people both claims to striving to better their lives.
The Somali regional state is acknowledged as the key holder to the stability and developmental aspirations of both Ethiopia and Somalia. All the ills of Ethiopia historically stem from the Somali region and its fallouts spoils the political and economic health of the region albeit to different degrees. It is said “Compromise, if not the spice of life, is its solidity. It is what makes nations great and marriages happy.” ONLF at this historical juncture is expected to look at the big picture carefully and to sign the agreement if it confers the people of the region their full constitutional rights or else risk to end up in the museum where failed organisations are safely parked.
“It is said a proverb is the horse of conversation: when the conversation lags, a proverb revives it.” As a concluding remark I would like to emphasise that the Ethiopian government should understand that the ONLF stands for the aspirations, full constitution rights for all, of the Somali regional state citizens. The ONLF is the current bearer of the torch of struggle that resistance movements have been handing down for generations and should in any way confused with the packaging of the organisation. Those who aren’t members of the front share with it the strategic goal the front is fighting for but might have a little difference on the tactical side that is bound to be ironed in the near future.
Two decades of federal army’s mass killing at industrial scale coupled by five years of Liyu Police(local government armed marauding militia ) and the shadowy peace deals with individuals with no military or political influence didn’t divide the ONLF nor brought the region closer to peace. The Ethiopian regime should understand that century old conflict is a political one and can only be ended with robust political solutions.