Population: 4,439,147 (2007 Census)
Capital City: Jijiga
Area: 279,252 km²
Language: Somali (95.9%), Oromifa (2.24%), Amharic (0.92%), and Gurage (0.033%)
Ethnic Groups: Somalis (97.2%), Oromo (0.46%), Amhara (0.66%), foreign-born Somalis (0.20%) and Gurages (0.12%)
UNPO REPRESENTATION: Ogaden National Liberation Front
Ogaden is represented at the UNPO by the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF). They were admitted to the UNPO as a member on 6th February 2010.
Ogaden, also know as Western Somali Region or Ogadenia is the eastern most region of Ethiopia’s nine ethnic divisions and borders Djibouti to the north, Kenya to the south west and Somalia to the north, east and south.. The capital of the region has been Jijiga since 1994
The Ogaden region is comprised from what has long been considered the traditional territory of Ogaden, and the pre -1995 Ethiopian province of Hararghe. Demographically the region is dominated by ethnic Somali’s who constitute around 95% of the entire population. They have long sought cooperation with the rest Somalia, and end years of Ethiopian occupation. These sentiments provided much of the antagonism for the Ogaden war in the 1970’s when Somalia invaded Ethiopia in support of local guerillas.
The region has an estimated population of around 4,439,147 people (Central Statistics Agency of Ethiopia), with nearly 98% of the population Muslim.
Due to years of war and neglect at the hands of the Ethiopian government, the quality of life in the Ogaden region has significantly deteriorated. For example the average household is estimated to have nearly 7 incumbents, showing a clear lack of available properties. In terms of access to drinking water and other necessary amenities the problem is still considerable. Only 38% of the population has access to safe drinking water and that is mainly limited to the urban areas. Education access is limited with literacy rates of 22% for men and 9.8% for women and an infant mortality rate of 57/1000.
The region is largely dependent on agriculture as its main source of economic stimulus. Land rights issues have been the cause of much tension between the people and the local and national governments.
Against a background of instability in Ethiopia during the 1970’s, the struggle for self-determination of Ogaden began. With demographics showing over 90% Somali’s, the current political situation began in earnest with the events of the Ogaden war. There is a systemic belief in the area that the Ogaden region should be a part of Somalia rather than Ethiopia, and to regard the current Ethiopian rule as an occupation. This came to a head in the 1970’s as the pro-Somalia Western Somali Liberation Front took up the responsibility of attempting to break away from Ethiopian rule and establish a ‘greater Somali region’. They argued that the ‘colonization’ of the region by Ethiopia had lead to the confiscation of lands, and persecution based on ethnicity. Attacks on government outposts began in 1975, and by 1977 the conflict had erupted into widespread violence and confrontation. The war caught the attention of several international superpowers including the USSR, which lead to a vast militarization of Ethiopian forces. Against a resurgent Ethiopia, the WSLF and its supporting Somalia forces where forced to concede defeat by March 1978. In the immediate aftermath of the conflict, violence and confrontation regularly occurred, until a depleted guerilla movement was forced to limit their activities to sporadic hit and runs.
Throughout the 1980’s, during the Cold War, Somalia played a key role in American activities in the region. The support of the American forces subsequently allowed the independence movement to continue to operate, albeit with limited success. A second period of armed clashes emerged again in 1988, however was quickly reconciled. Under Ethiopian rule the population of the Ogaden region has been subjected to economic and political discrimination, leading to an appalling standard of living in the region, and a lack of direct political representation. The military forces have been constantly accused of human rights abuses, which they employ to counter insurgency activity. The ONLF, on behalf of the people, have accused the government of excess force during their military crackdown that began in 2007. Somalis, who inhabit Ogaden, claim that the Ethiopian military kill civilians, destroy the livelihood of many of the ethnic Somalis and commit crimes against the nomads in the region . There has been accusation of crimes that violate the ‘laws of war’ according to Human Rights Watch, and that the population is still suffering greatly at the hands of their ‘occupiers’. Issues in the region are based on the right to self-determination, access to land and amenities and mistreatment of the local population. The discovery of natural resources in the area, most notably natural gas, has added further tension to the rights to the land and its contents.
The UNPO strongly condemns the violence by the Ethiopian armed forces and the marginalisation of the Ogaden Somali’s. Decisions on sovereignty must not be conducted by force, rather by peaceful, productive negotiation and dialogue with respect for the principles of self-determination, democracy and tolerance. Citizen participation in politics and society is vital to strong democratic leadership and the UNPO strongly believes that the Ogaden population has a greater role in determining their own future.
UNPO MEMBER PERSPECTIVE
The ONLF, on behalf of the Ogaden population request foremost an immediate end to hostilities against its people. It requires the right to self-determination, and the need to end the forced occupation. The people categorically state that the present regime is not different from its predecessors in substance. The Ogaden people, as a sovereign nation, have the right to be masters of their destiny, and are intent on actualizing that right. The people’s struggle will continue as long as the Ethiopian state remains intransigent to the rights and wishes of the people and continues pursuing its inhuman oppressive policies. They will not participate in the bogus elections Ethiopia periodically conducts as a public relations exercise to beguile the local and international communities and hide its colonial and authoritarian nature. Nor will they be taking part in its colonial administrative structures. They also call upon the people of Ethiopia not to become party to the regime’s crime against humanity.
Fundamental Considerations of the ONLF
1) The Ogaden cause is not at the heart of a dispute between the Republic of Somalia and Ethiopia. It is one of the visages of European colonialism in Africa. It is the cause of a nation betrayed by Britain and other colonial powers and annexed by Ethiopia in a manner contrary to the agreements concluded between the Ogaden people and Britain and in conflict with International Law and the charter of the United Nations.
2) The struggle of the People of Ogaden and the aim of their movement is to obtain the right of self-determination, rather than a struggle aimed at realizing the identity of a nationality. This is because Ogaden has never been historically or politically part of Ethiopia.
3) The revolution of the People of Ogaden is based upon their absolute rejection of the unauthorized disposition of their territory by the British Government; and subsequently on their constant appeals to obtain the right of self determination based on the principle that the people of Ogaden alone reserve the right to determine their political future.
It is moreover based on the charter of the United Nations and its resolutions, which call for the elimination of colonialism and on the declaration of the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1960; and on the sixth principle supplemented to the United Nations Charter regarding the elimination of colonialism.
4) The Ogaden National Liberation Front (O.N.L.F.) is a vanguard organization leading the struggle of the people in an appropriate manner; making use of the experiences gained from other liberation movements free from any kind of foreign pressure and intervention.
Ogaden was part of the Muslim Ifat Sultanate in the 13th and beginning of the 14th centuries AD. The borders of the sultanate extended to the Shewa - Addis Ababa area. The region developed its own Adal kingdom from late 14th to the last quarter of the 19th century. There was an ongoing conflict between the Adal kingdom and the Christian Kingdom of Abyssinia throughout this time. During the first half of the 16th century, most Abyssinian territory came under the rule of Adal, when Imam Ahmed Gurey, the leader of Adal's Army, took control. The Ogaden Somali people were independent and powerful until colonial powers from overseas came to Africa and started arming the Abyssinian chiefs in the north, the present-day Ethiopia. Using the arms and expertise provided by the colonialists, the Abyssinians captured Harar in 1884 and started raiding Ogaden Somali villages in that area. The Ogaden Somalis vehemently resisted the encroachment of the Abyssinians and succeeded in halting their advance. Even though the Abyssinian military campaign to conquer the rest of the Somali territory failed, the colonial powers recognized its claim over the Ogaden Somali-land and signed treaties with them. From 1896 to 1948 Abyssinia (renaming itself Ethiopia) waged a constant war of conquest against the Somalis but failed in gaining any further foothold in the Ogaden. In 1935, Italy invaded Abyssinia and captured it along with the Ogaden and the territories of other nations in the area. Then the British defeated Italy in the Horn of Africa in 1941, and it administered the Ogaden for eight years until it transferred part of the Ogaden (Jigjiga area) to Ethiopia for the first time. The other parts were transferred in 1954 and 1956. Thus Ethiopia gained control over the Ogaden without the knowledge or the consent of the Ogaden Somali people. From then onwards, successive Ethiopian regimes mercilessly suppressed the Ogaden people and whenever the liberation movements seriously weakened and threatened Ethiopian colonialism, a foreign power directly intervened to re-establish the colonial rule over the Ogaden.
Nevertheless against a backdrop of instability and with the support of Somalia, who had been the benefactor of large amounts of military aid from the USSR and Egypt, Ogaden rebels began a campaign to free the Ogaden region from Ethiopian control through force. After several skirmishes and attacks on Ethiopian military installations in the mid-1977, Ethiopia retaliated in 1977 marking the beginning of the Ogaden war. During the initial stages, thanks to their military advantages, Somali forces captured much of the Ogaden region (90%).
By 17 August elements of the Somali army had reached the outskirts of the strategic city of Dire Dawa. Not only was the country's second largest military airbase located here, as well as Ethiopia's crossroads into the Ogaden, but Ethiopia's rail lifeline to the Red Sea ran through this city, and if the Somalis held Dire Dawa, Ethiopia would be unable to export its crops or bring in equipment needed to continue the fight. The fighting was vicious as both sides knew what the stakes were, but after two days, despite that the Somalis had gained possession of the airport at one point, the Ethiopians had repulsed the assault, forcing the Somalis to withdraw. This was a source of much needed moral amongst the retreating Ethiopian forces that by this point only controlled 10% of the region. However, the balance of power swiftly changed in mid 1977 when Russia cut Somalia off in favor of Ethiopia and began supporting them with millions of dollars worth of military aid. Russia equipped the Ethiopians with the necessary weapons needed to repel the rebellion. They where also supported by both Cuban and Russian forces on the ground. The shift in power on the ground sent the Somalia armed forces reeling. After a demoralizing loss of the regional capital Jijiga, Ethiopian forces began a rejuvenated assault that by early 1978 had pushed most of the regular Somali forces back across the Somali border. By this point the Somali defenses had collapsed and every major Ethiopian town was recaptured in the following weeks. Recognizing that his position was untenable, Siad Barre ordered the SNA to retreat back into Somalia on 9 March 1978. The last significant Somali unit left Ethiopia on 15 March 1978, marking the end of the war. Following the withdrawal of the SNA, the WSLF continued their insurgency. By May 1980, the rebels, with the assistance of a small number of SNA soldiers who continued to help the guerilla war, controlled a substantial region of the Ogaden. However by 1981 the insurgents were reduced to sporadic hit-and-run attacks and were finally defeated. With the collapse of the WSLF, The ONLF was formed in 1984. It systematically recruited Western Somali Liberation Front(WSLF) members and replaced the WSLF in the Ogaden as the WSLF support from Somalia dwindled and finally dried up in the late eighties. RECENT HISTORY After the fall of Mengistu Hailemariam, the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF)—a new name adopted by the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) to camouflage its narrow ethnic base and rule in Ethiopia—succeeded in capturing Addis Ababa with the help of Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front (EPLF). Although most of the nations under Ethiopian colonial rule contributed to the weakening and the downfall of the Derg politico-military machine, TPLF captured the seat of power and succeeded in gaining international recognition. At first, the new Ethiopian rulers, feeling weak and aware of the international climate and the demise of totalitarian regimes, forwarded a reasonable and plausible programme for addressing the burning issue of Ethiopian colonialism and its solution through recognising and granting the right of nations to self-determination through peaceful process. EPRDF agreed to the charter programme, which recognised the right of nations to self-determination up to secession and stated that a transitional period of two years has to relapse before the nations could exercise that right. Thus, EPRDF recognised the colonial nature of Ethiopia in principle. The ONLF was a participant in the Ethiopian Civil War, when it fought against the Derg, the military dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam, but was not allied to the Tigrean People's Liberation Front (TPLF), the guerrilla movement led by Ethiopia's current Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi. After the Mengistu regime fell, in 1992, the ONLF had fully consolidated its position among ethnic Somalis in Ogaden and won control of the government of Ethiopia's newly formed Somali region, becoming the only party not allied to the TPLF to score such a success and joined the Transitional Government.
In 1992 the ONLF entered an agreement with the Ethiopian government and decided to seek the rehabilitation of the rights of the Ogaden in a peaceful and democratic manner. They joined the political process by taking part in regional parliamentary elections in December 1992 for District Five (what became the Somali Region) in Ethiopia, winning 87% of the votes and thereby occupying 80% of the seats in the regional parliament. This local government, in which many members of the ONLF took leading roles, was in place until the adoption of the new Ethiopian constitution in 1995. The Ethiopian regime, alarmed by this success, pressed for new partners in the region, banned the ONLF, removed them from their positions and killed many of its leaders.
Although the current regime of Ethiopia has written a constitution that accepts the right of self-determination, when the Somalis requested the exercise of that right, Ethiopia started systematic and aggressive and abusive violations of the rights of the Ogaden people.
In August 2006 the Ethiopian government offered to hold peace talks but eventually broke this effort off as they were not willing to follow through the demands of the ONLF to meet in a neutral country and have the talks observed by a neutral arbiter.
The ONLF is a member of the Ethiopian political party called the Alliance for Freedom and Democracy that was formed on 22 May 2006. This alliance also includes the UNPO member Oromo Liberation Front (OLF).
From early 2007 onwards the Ethiopian government not only sharpened its approach towards the ONLF, but generally moved away from aiming for peace by launching a major military crackdown on the region causing much hardship for the people of Ogaden.