OPINION] Ogaden: a self-imposed isolation
Published 07/08/2008 - 6:15 p.m. GMT
Opinion: By Ismail Ahmed, Dire Dawa
Although Barre’s regime has collapsed like a cardboard castle nearly two decades ago, there is a Somali clan in Eastern Ethiopia that has not yet laid down its arms. For the Ogaden clan, the war is not yet over. The Ogadeni’s erroneous misconceptions that the war is not yet over for the them is akin to the Japanese soldiers of the Second World War, who refused to laid down their arms before they received orders from their superior officers. These Japanese soldiers were hiding in thick jungles in some of the Pacific islands for many years before they were traced out by fishermen who broke the news to their authorities. Although Ogadens are quite different in many aspects from the Second War Japanese soldiers, still the unwavering enmity they harbor against other fellow Somalis in Eastern Ethiopia and Somaliland Republic is something in public domain. They entertain a wrong conception that the non-Ogadens were largely responsible for bringing the Barre’s regime to its knees - the regime that treated them as one of privileged clans in a country where they had no regions of their own.
To understand the root causes of the present deteriorating relationship between the people of the Somaliland and the Ogadens in Ethiopia, one should first try to get some answers for some of the outstanding questions that individuals ask themselves to day:
Why among all Somali speaking nations in East Africa (Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya and Somalia) the Ogaden is the only clan that sees Somaliland as beta noire?
Is declaring war against the peace loving people of Somaliland is the only way forward for the Ogadens to achieve a unilateral secession from Ethiopia without the support of their fellow Somali Ethiopians?
Would the non-Ogadens who make up the majority of Somalis in Ethiopia simply watch idly by, while the Ogadens, led by unilaterally formed Ogaden Liberation Front (ONLF) fuel unprovoked conflicts in the region?
To fully understand the “whys”, we must first look back at the history behind the Ogaden’s current unflinching opposition to Somaliland’s independence. At the height of genocidal campaign against the people of Somaliland in 1988, the Ogaden generals with approval of their sultans signed a secret agreement with government of Siad Barre .According to this agreement, the Ogadens, who formed the bulk of the government’s fighting forces in Somalia would be given a sweeping power to take over the Northwest and Awdal regions, where major cities , such as Hargeisa, Gabiiley, and Boorma are located and where already 35000 had been resettled as refugees. The conditions attached to the permanent resettlement of Ogadens in Somaliland were :if possible, the complete obliteration of the indigenous Somalialnders; and adopting systematical ways of up-rooting the original Somalilanders that would have paved the way for more Ogaden’s occupation, giving greater emphasis on living quarters of the major cities where government sponsored development projects would be created for the new settlers.
The existence of such secret agreement has been officially confirmed by Somalia’s former defense minister, General Aden Gabyow, who delivered a keynote speech at a public gathering in Hargiesa in July, 1988, after the SNM forces retreated to the adjacent highlands.
At rally marking the “Absamization” of the Issaq-land, held in Hargeisa, General Aden Gobyow delivered the following speech which was kept in the secret archives of Somali TV before it was ransacked during the fighting that ousted Siad Barre:
“Today marks the end of thousands of years in which this land belonged to the Idoors (Issaqs). Some people are luckier than others. We, Absame, as the heroic sons of Darood, must congratulate each other as the luckiest people on earth, for taking over permanently such splendid cities as own properties, for Issaqs would never come back to re-take them again. I saw petty scuffles over the ownership of some abandoned buildings and other properties left behind by fleeing Idoors. You congratulate those whose lucky gave them those better buildings than others. History is in the making. It is a dream that come true. Yesterday, we were taking alms as homeless refugees in the same city that we own today. Those who once owned this city have become hapless refugees in foreign countries.”
In a colorful military outfit, the former member of Waber Artist, Mohamed Abdullahi Sangub blessed the ceremony with a recitation of poem. The ceremony, marking the eviction of Issaqs from their homeland ended in chorus of yaps and yelps, punctuated with abracadabra of traditional Ogaden songs known as Hirwo.Sangub, who was promoted to the rank of a major for mobilizing his clan against the Hargeisan has been ostracized by the rest of Somali societies everywhere, after a court in Minnesota, USA found him guilty of molesting a small refugee girl in 2005.Nothing is more humiliating than a septuagenarian grandfather found guilty of raping a small refugee girl, whom he baited with sugar candies. What a shame! Shame upon him! He fell from grace.
A week after he spoke at rally in Hargeisa in front of Somali TV Camera that would be judged by the next Somali generations , General Aden Gabyow gave a similar interview to the Italian RAI Television, which till today remained intact as it is being preserved in its achieves.
General Gabow was not alone in unveiling publicly an agreement that was hitherto kept secret from the public for many years.
General Abddulkadir was one of the most feared extremist elements in Barre’s government. During the last days of the regime, he emerged as one of the unflinching diehard officials who fought tooth and nail to keep in power a family based dynasty, despite the fact that the security situation was at stake as the combined forces of USC/SNM forces were visible everywhere in the country. He travelled the width and breath to the regions controlled by the government forces to mobilize, mainly the Darood people against what he called the “anti-revolutionary forces”.
Birg.Gen.Abdulkadir Haji Mohamed, (Inna Massaleh), Deputy Chairman of SSRP was sent to Bassaso by General Barre, to immediately mediate Dashishle and Osman Mohamud of Majeerteen, who fought over resources early in 1989. Speaking pompously to a group of elders from both sides in Bassaso as Barre’s special envoy, he delivered the following speech, as Abdirahman Aden’s TV Camera rolled:
“First of all, I would like to convey to you a special message from our beloved leader, who was stunned by such senseless and unnecessary fighting between two Darood sub-clans, at the time when other Daroods were celebrating a historic victory over Issaqs.The timing of such fighting is a great concern for every one of us. Such fighting contravenes the road map that we laid for the Daroodization of all productive regions in the country, which, according to our expectation will inexorably yield fruits that every one of us will enjoy soon.
But, we are desperately in need of a strong and united Darood community that seriously and relentlessly safeguards the achievements of our glorious revolution. Needless to say, today, we are suffering from severe shortages of highly skilled manpower in the regions that we have already Daroodized in the north of the country. Conquering a country is so easy, but effectively keeping it, has proved immense difficulties. But we succeeded in uniting our people against the anti-revolutionaries as much as we differ on certain issues. We have a common interest that binds us all together. In this regard, our unity remained stronger than ever.
In this juncture, I would like to give you a brief account of what the government has done for its Darood people. Hey! Just look at the barren sunburned rocks that encompassed your districts from vertical horizon. The prospect of raising families in the near future in such an unproductive and sun-scorched hostile environment is dim. For your future overall developments, we made relentless efforts since the inception of our revolution. We, as active members of the government are responsible for taking over the most productive agricultural areas in the Lower Shabeele Region, where thousands have now become rich landowners of what once used to be the Italian “Azendas” (banana plantations). These Darood individuals have become rich through the long-term bank loans which most of them have been written off by the beloved president. We have resettled in the country more than five hundred thousand Ogadenis under the pretext of refugees. Those Ogadenis are now actively serving in the forefront to secure the lands that have been already “Daroodized”. We made diversification of funds from other sectors to build long asphalt roads; a modern harbor, water supply and electricity here in Bassaso.The Daroodization policy has worked so fast even beyond our expectation. But to our dismay, you are at one another’s throat, fighting for meager local resources that had already evaporated. It took us all by surprise that those who were supposed to safeguard the achievements of our glorious revolution were locked in a senseless fighting and petty squabbles over minute issues. Have your imagination as mentally grown up men! For Jaalle Siyaad (comrade), nothing is more worrying him than your recent fighting. Now, I would like to witness your immediate renouncement of any further hostilities with oath taking ceremony by shaking hands as our traditional way of burying the hatchet. Mind you, the fate of our Darood nation would be sealed in blood.”
Abdulakdir Massal’s speech reflected the official policy of the government of the day. The government that was supposed to preserve the national unity was instead mobilizing its forces for the destruction of a large section of its population that it pilloried as subordinates and vassals whose regions and properties should be taken by its devotee loyal subjects.
The air force pilot who crashed-landed his Mig-17 fighter on Djibouti beach in 1988, after he consciously defied his superior’s orders to bomb indiscriminately the unarmed civilian population in Hargeisa, has told a horrifying story.
Replying to questions put to him by local reporters as why he defied his superiors’ orders to destroy Haregisa with Russian made deadly 500 fab bombs, Flight Lieutenant-Colonel Ahmed Mohamed Hassan said:
"Another Somali pilot and I were given orders to fly our Mig-17 jet fighters to Hargeisa to undertake intensive aerial bombardments of the city. Already there were air force technicians in Hargiesa, but both of us were given specific assignments to fly to Hargeisa in order to carry out many sorties of aerial bombardments with aim of killing as many civilians as we could. The Mig-17 jets were the only planes in the Somalia air force that could carry the heavy 500 kilo bombs known as “Fab” to cause maximum devastations. Unfortunately, this was a sad chapter in my life and in our history. Remembering the devastations caused by aerial and ground bombardments, personally, I still feel the pain, but it is an issue that has to be discussed in depth by Somalis for many years to come.
Col.Ahmed Dheere, who was on a private visit to Hargeisa in June, 2008, the city he left in 1988 with his Mig-17 fighter jet, now lives with his family in Luxembourg as that country’s naturalized citizen. He received a hero’s welcome in Haregisa.
Asked the difference between now and then, he said, “I left a city in ruins, and I returned back to a sprawling modern city.”
The bold decision taken by Lt.Colonel Ahmed Mohamed Hassan has encouraged other Somalis, particularly; those in Mogadishu and other major cities to speak out publicly by refusing to take part the genocide campaign. An Abgal, who was frustrated by the continuous silence of other Somalis while systematically massacres were in full swing in Hargeisa, sent the following message to his own clan in the form of the following poem:
Dalkeyga daafac diidmayo,
Issaq ku duul doonimaayo.
Translated into English:
I do not refuse to defend my motherland,
But, I will never ever carry out,
A cowardly craven attack on the Issaq
Despite the fact that General Barre is now in three feet deep, where he is being mercilessly grilled for the crimes he committed against humanity, still for the Ogaden the war is not yet over. As it has been repeatedly stated by its leaders at several occasions, ONLF is till technically at war with Somaliland. During his fundraising trip to London three years ago, Admiral Mohamed Omer, the ONLF leader, explained to his Ogaden audience that his clan was still technically at war with Somaliland government and its people. Admiral Mohamed Omer, who was known as Barre’s spittoon carrier, was speaking his mind. The Admiral’s statements once again stoked the embers of what has already been smouldering in the region.
Another Ogaden who does not equivocate about the war that he his faction is intended to launch against Somaliland is Col.Hassan Turki. Col.Turki, who indiscriminately massacred innocent nomads in brutal fashion in Odweyne district, as General Morgan’s brigade commander in 1988, is camouflaging with Islamic religion as a cleric somewhere in Somalia. Behind the white Muslim gown that he wears, there is a werewolf.
Ogaden’s relations with rest of Somalis
The root cause of the current deteriorating relations between the Ogadenis and the majority Somalis in the region goes back to the unilateral disbanding of the Western Somali Liberation in 1977.The dissolution of WSLF, which widely represented all Somali Ethiopians, has created a hitherto unprecedented chasm that finally reached unbearable stage. The Ogadens, under the leadership of General Barre’s former soldiers are seen by majority of non-Ogadens as security menace to their own regions. The creation of Ogaden Liberation Front (ONLF) by General Barre, essentially to become a full-fledged division in the Somali army forces’ has compelled the non-Ogadens to draw their own policy strategy through their democratically elected representatives in the Federal Parliament of Ethiopia.
The non-Ogadenis, whose vast territories stretch from Gaashamo in the East to Aware- Afdam in the extreme West, near Awaash valley, and from Ceel-kari in the Southwest to Feer-feer in the East, have separately initiated their own inter-clan defence pact with aim of heading off any terrorist infiltrations into their regions. The traditional sultans and clan chiefs of non-Ogadenis have spoken in a loud and clear language by sending the following message to the Ogadenis through their elected deputies in the Federal Parliament of Ethiopia:-
1. Whether to secede or not is solely a matter for Ogadenis, so long they do not claim our vast territories which do not belong to them. Calling our regions as “Ogadenia” amounts to a declaration of war on us.
2. While maintaining peace and security in our regions, we support and upheld the Federal Constitution, which gives all ethnic groups the right to self-administration, the right to preserve their tradition culture, the right to use their own language in their own regions, and above everything else, unrestricted right to self-determination up to secession, in internationally supervised referendum, as the in the case of Eritrea.
3. In line with official policy of the Federal Government of Ethiopia, we respect the territorial integrity of all Somali speaking nations, such as Djibouti, Somaliland, Somalia and Kenya, with whom we share fraternal ties.
4. We support the special relations that Ethiopia currently maintains with Somaliland Republic, which gave us a lee way to benefit from commercial goods we receive through border customs controlled by both governments.
5. We call on the Federal Government of Ethiopia to conduct immediate statistical surveys to determine the majority clans with whom future negotiation could be held in the Somali region
Lack of traditional wise men
The absence of Ogaden traditional wise men to negotiate peace with other Somalis in Zone-five has created a society prone to conflicts. Taking advantage of the mistrust that today exist among the different clans in the region, the ONLF exacerbated the situation by riding a roughshod over the traditional system of solving inter-clan disputes in the region.
The ONLF leadership has mischievously undermined traditional co-existence of different Somali clans which formed the very fabrics of Somali society. Somalis belong to a closely knitted society that one cannot live without the other. There is no a single family that has no close relatives with other clans in the Zone-five. It is beyond exaggeration that, for every ten Ogaden-reer Issaq in Dagahbour district, seven of them have matrilineal affinity with Issaqs of the same region. The same affinity relation goes the other way round. One’s matrilineal relatives such as, uncles, nephews, nieces and ants are closer that one’s patrilineal affinity when it comes to visceral feelings. Six of the eight active military generals, (including the current ONLF leader) whose mothers came from Issaq clan were responsible for frog marching their Ogadeni militias into Hargeisa to take part in the genocidal campaigns, thus, destroying the traditional fabrics in which Somalis solved their disputes through peaceful means. These generals once formed the backbone of Barre’s army forces.
The people of Ogaden clan had never been offered from their own traditional chiefs an alternative solution to war. The traditional leaders have gone haywire. They fell into a perpetual dilemma from which nothing can extract them. In other Somali regions, chieftainship however, carries a lot of weight and unquestionable loyalty and authority.
Fully supporting Col.Yusuf’s phantasmal presidency
It is irony, that the Ogadenis whose guerrillas are fighting with the Ethiopian government to form a purely “Ogadenian state” with “Ogadenian flag” in Eastern Ethiopia (excluding the rest of other major tribes) have rallied their undying support behind the phantasmal president of the so called transitional federal government of Somalia, Col. Yuasuf, for his current Mogadishu’s racial onslaught, with help of Ethiopian soldiers. The Ogadenis, who blame Ethiopian government for allegedly committing human rights violations in their own region, are supporting Prime Minister Melese Zenawi’s intimate friend, Col Yusuf, who brought into Somalia thousands of Ethiopian troops to annihilate the giant Hawiyes from the surface of the earth. It is here where history repeats itself. For the Ogadenis, the daily artillery bombardments of the residential areas of Mogadishu that claimed so far thousands of innocent lives are simply “the pranks” of Barre’s October celebration. For the Ogadanis, the daily report on the nearly millions of Hawiyas who are facing humanitarian crisis in open areas outside Mogadishu, is simply a hogwash, designed to discredit Col .Yusuf’s policy. It is a belief widely held among the Ogaden’s elites in the Diaspora and their Majeerteenian allies, that the creation of a government which would serve their own interest is possible only if Hawiye clan is weakened considerably with help of Ethiopian troops. The Ogadenis who have no a region of their own in Somalia, except that tiny tsetse fly infested town of Afmadey, near the Kenyan border, see the TFG a springboard to resuscitate a General Barre’s type of government. In this regard, one of Col.Yusuf’s top security advisors is Col.Ahmed Omer Jess, formerly, General Morgan’s deputy commander in Somaliland at the height of genocidal campaign. This kind of belief has been echoed recently by one Col.Yusuf’s close confidantes. During his recent private visit to Kenya, the TFG’s Minster of Post and Telecommunication, Mohammud Tarrax, has been quoted by his own cousin as saying that his clan has no other alternatives except to support Col.Yusuf’s efforts to bring the Hawiyes into their knees in order to form a future stable government, which would serve their interest. Mr.Tarax, who served in Barre’s government as Head of the National Refugee Commission with status of a minister without portfolio that enabled him to participate in the cabinet meetings, said, in his words:
“We, Ogadenis have adopted a new lifestyle in Somalia which is quite different from the nomadic harsh living conditions in Ethiopia. Our living style has been changed dramatically during the long years we lived in Somalia as government officials. I personally can not go back to that dusty town of Dagahbour where everything is at stake. Dagahbour is no longer my hometown. This opinion is shared with me by every Ogaden in the parliament.”
Tarax’s statement was simply a confirmation of a long held view which the Ogadens received through the sieve of Barre’s orientation centres. The Ogaden officials whose families live in better and secure places in Europe and USA must understand that they are gambling with lives of their innocent civilians who already became victims of wide devastations caused by manmade conflicts and droughts. This kind of talk is poppy-talk. It further isolated them from other Somalis in Somalia.
Relentless propaganda campaign against Somaliland
The daily barrage of vitriolic attacks on Somaliland government and its peace loving people by Ogadens in the Diaspora has left a bitter taste in everybody’s mouth. A day hardly passes without the people of Somaliland being insulted as “secessionists” and “renegades”. The Ogadenis, although they had never shared a union with Somaliland as they belong to Ethiopia, still spared no efforts in campaigning for the destruction of Somaliland, ever since General Barre’s fascist regime was ousted by the combining forces of USC and SNM 1991.Such daily vitriolic attacks would have a negative effect on the thousands of Ogadens, who live peacefully in Somaliland’s major cities, mainly as businessmen without being reminded the atrocities committed by their own brothers in the past. It is beyond doubt that the opprobrium raised by the continuous hate articles posted on ONLF’s propaganda arm , will have a boomerang effect on the future relationship among Somalis where ever they are, be in Djibouti, or in Ethiopia. For instance, One of the extreme anti-Somaliland campaigners has recently crossed the dangerous redline by vehemently defending publicly the aerial and artillery bombardments of major cities in Somaliland by fascist forces.
In his article, under the title of “Somaliland: the way forward” Abdullah Doole had unwaveringly defended the atrocities carried out by General Barre’s forces in which over sixty thousand innocent civilians were bombed to death, arguing that every government has unreserved rights to put down rebellions like SNM.The same man who campaigned in London for the expulsion of SNM representatives in 1980s as one of Barre’s top diplomats, has breathed fire on Somaliland government for deporting the ONLF operatives from Hargeisa to Ethiopia, a friendly country that gave sanctuaries to nearly a million Somalilanders who fled for their lives in the middle of continuous air and ground bombardments in 1988. In another article, also posted on Wardheer Website, ONLF’s propaganda arm, he described the deportation of ONLF’s operatives as “unacceptable.” Unacceptable to whom?”
The appointment of a notorious Turkey jackanapes as ONLF’s adviser on media affairs is another example that reflects the Ogaden’s hostile attitude towards the people of Somaliland. The Greek born Turkey, Muhammed Shamsaddin Megalommotis, who has no knowledge about Africa Union’s Continental Charter, that upholds the inviolability of borders inherited from colonial powers, as the case is for Somaliland, is in fact, a despicable nuisance to the intellectual community in East Africa at large. His abusive titles, edited by ONLF’s representatives, reflected a profound ignorance about Somaliland’s historical facts. The fund allocated to such a moron who writes abusive headlines for the articles written by other anti-Somaliland’s campaigners could have been spent in the Ogaden region where, because of the continuous drought, wide spread hunger and manmade conflicts, thousands of civilians are dying on daily bases for want of food. It would have been money well-spent had it been used for buying stools for young school kids who are sitting on empty cans under tree in Wardheer.It took everybody by surprise that a notorious outcast has become ONLF’s new tintinnabulist. Hurling all kinds of silly adjectives at highly respected leadership of Somaliland is un-Somali, as it is also un-Islamic .Hurling silly adjectives at democratically elected President of Somaliland Republic serves no one’s interest. Instead, it strengthens his position as a president, whose people are rallying behind him. Such unjustified hate media campaign has brought other Somalis in to the fray.
In conclusion, to remove the present deep trust that took root during General Barre’s dictatorial rule in Somalia, the Ogadens must adopt some kind of modus vivendi that would enable them bury the hatchet with other Somalis. The spirit of tolerance and maturity shown by Somalilanders must be reciprocated amicably and positively. The ONLF’s quixotic expedition must be tethered before it ends in disaster.
My goal of presenting this article was precisely to provide a brief historical genealogy of the current Ogaden’s self-imposed isolation for which they have already paid a heavy price. I had the privilege to travel extensively in the regions inhabited by Somali Ethiopians, during which I have witnessed with my own naked eyes the prevailing state of beggar-hood. If the Ogadens do not come terms with reality, then the present self-imposed isolation will lead them to further self-destruction and self-immolation.
The writer of this article can be reached by xarshin22 [at] live.co.uk
The views expressed in this article do not represent the views of Jimma Times or its staff. The views are solely the views of the contributor. To contribute opinion articles to Jimma Times online or to submit articles for Jimma Yeroo newspaper in Oromia, contact us for full details.
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