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New interim president installed in Ethiopia's Somali region after tense military standoff

Hiiraan Online
Monday August 6, 2018

Ahmed Abdi Mohamed known as (left) is the new President of the Ethiopia Somali region; he replaces Abdi Mohamoud Omar (right) who stepped down on Monday following a rift with the federal Govt of Ethiopia. FILE

Jigjiga (HOL) - Ahmed Abdi Mohamed has emerged as the new President of the Somali Regional State (SRS) in Ethiopia, following the Ethiopian Ministry of Information’s announced that embattled Somali regional President Abdi Mohamoud Omar (Abdi Iley) has agreed to step down from power after a bloody weekend in Jigjiga, the capital of the Somali regional state in eastern Ethiopia, where at least 30 people lost their lives.

Ahmed Abdi Mohamed, the 32-year-old regional Minister of Finance ascended to the presidency after tense negotiations which began on Sunday between the Ethiopian government and Somali Regional State officials lead to what has been described by one source as an “amicable settlement” to the military standoff that has gripped Jigjiga and its surrounding areas. Officially, Ethiopia’s Federal government has remained tight-lipped on the escalating tensions in the Somali region, the easternmost of the nine ethnic divisions (kililoch) of Ethiopia. However, state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporation has reported on Monday that additional troops have been sent into the city to "restore order." There are reports that the Liyu Police have been ordered out of the city as the military is sent in to take over security responsibility in Jigjiga.

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An aide to former Somali regional president Abdi Mohamoud Omar insisted that despite stepping down he will remain in Jigjiga.

Both Ahmed Abdi Mohamed and Abdi Mohamoud Omar are members of the ruling Ethiopian Somali People’s Democratic Party (ESPDP) where the former climbed the ladder serving in various posts. Born in Garbo, a small town in eastern Ethiopia located in the Fiq Zone of the Somali Region,  He first major entry into politics was his appointment as the finance chief in Godey, the former capital of the SRS. He progressed rapidly and was later promoted to the Mayor of Qabridahare (Kebri Dahar) before his appointment as the regional finance minister.

Ahmed Abdi Mohamed will be the interim president for two months until the ESPDP holds a conference to elect a new president.

Ostensibly, the removal of Abdi Mohamoud Omar (Abdi Iley) as President of the SRS is aimed at pacifying Ethiopia’s second largest region where there were widespread reports of looting, destruction of property and violence over the weekend has led to death and displacement. Officials say that at least 30 people have been killed in the chaos and at least eight Ethiopian Orthodox Churches were also set ablaze.

The political drama began unfolding on August 1st when the Liyu Police - a controversial paramilitary force established by the Somali regional government as a counter-terrorism unit -  attempted to break up a meeting in Dire Dawa - one of two charter cities in Ethiopia (the other being the capital, Addis Ababa) - of state parliamentarians, clan elders and citizens which was viewed by Abdi Illey’s administration to be hostile to his ironist rule. Participants of the Dire Dawa meeting called on the Ethiopian government to address the gross human rights violations perpetrated by Abdi Iley’s government. 

Alarmed at the presence of the Liyu Police, the Dire Dawa city council moved to establish a joint military command post with city police and the Ethiopian military.

The Ethiopian government called on Abdi Iley to cancel an impromptu session of Parliament that he scheduled and to attend a meeting with the federal government, security officials and intelligence officers. Angered at what he perceived as federal overstep into his authority, he threatened to invoke Article 39 of the Ethiopian constitution which allows the unconditional right to self-determination including the right to secession.

Relations between the Federal Government of Ethiopia and the leaders of the Somali region were said to have reached a flashpoint after reports emerged that attempts to summon regional president Abdi Iley failed. On Saturday morning, the Ethiopian government sent armoured tanks and personnel to Jigjiga and strategically positioned themselves in key installations including the regional Parliament, the Presidential Palace, main roads leading in and out of the city and the television station. The move prompted supporters of Omar to take to the streets to protest and within hours there were widespread reports of youth groups engaging in violence and vandalism against different ethnic groups in the region.

The situation unfolding in eastern Ethiopia is the first major domestic test for prime minister Abiy Ahmed, an ethnic Oromo, who has enjoyed a tremendous amount of goodwill and support since coming into power in April. By releasing prisoners, pardoning dissidents and closing the notorious Maekelawi detention center in just a few short months, he is seen as many as the progressive leader to lead Ethiopia into the future.

Abdi Iley’s has ruled the Somali region in Ethiopia with an iron fist since and both him and his Liyu Police have been accused by human rights groups of committing a litany of abuses against the population. His increasingly autocratic rule was sanction by the previous Ethiopian federal government to quell unrest in the unruly region.

However, the region’s by strong secessionist sentiments and history of internal ethnic violence between the Oromo and Somali communities will be a difficult test for his government’s reformist agenda and Ethiopia’s model of ethnic federalism.

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