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ONLF and its supporters Confronted by reality
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by Abdishakur Garad
Friday, February 29, 2008

 

A famous quote was "Beauty is truth, truth is beauty - that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” Well, I have to say reading all these articles written by ONLF affiliated individuals that they realized what many of us have been telling them from the start, in fact since ONLF was invented. That, no matter what your grand visions are, no matter what you think of the rest of us and no matter how much you underestimate or despise us, we hold the key to their goals and the road passes through us. That is “Non-Ogaden” clan Somalis.. In 1998, I talked to a friend of mine who was a senior ONLF leader based in London and I asked him, if he and other ONLF leaders truly believed that they can get independence for the region without the other Somali clans supporting the ONLF. And this is what he had to say, to this day, I didn’t forget because of his tone in the statement and the seriousness in his eyes, “Somaligalbeed goes as Ogaden clan goes. The Ogadenis are the engine of the region that drives the region” and I was quick to remind him that yes, the “Ogadenis are the Engine of Somaligalbeed but an Engine needs tires to move” and his reply was, “No, I don’t believe in this case”. Just recently, I was fortunate enough to meet the same friend in a Cafe and after chatting for a while and discussing the politics of Somalia and Ethiopia; I reminded him his famous quote in 1998. To my surprise and to his credit, he was quick to realize and admit that he was wrong with his thinking. He was also quick to blame the inaction of Non-Ogaden Somali clans in the Somali region and then tagged them “Tigray Lovers” and “Sellers”. Well, we knew then and we know now that the ONLF will not reach anywhere without having the majority of Non-Ogaden Somali clans on board. They are late to admit and shamed with their realization what most of us knew and told them long time ago. However, the ONLF needs to do more than just admitting their past failures and wrong misconception of the region. This is where my discussion today comes in and I will argue that unless ONLF moves away from their biggest Idealism, then, they will continue with their failures of the past. I'm not going to discuss or address a particular subject but I will do a few political commentary and observation about the ONLF, the Somali regional State which I visited last year and the cult-like culture that has become of the ONLF and its supporters and the reasons why.

 

I'm strongly on the opinion and I'm sure majority of the region's natives would agree with me that a new organization need to be formed and the current ONLF need to be dissolved. I'm open to the idea of re-inventing, re-naming the ONLF and fixing its flawed charter. I believe the majority of Somalis are not happy or satisfied with the current affairs of the Somali region of Ethiopia. Everyone I talk to complains about the current political turmoil, the manipulation of the region, the Marxist and the ruthless treatment against defenseless civilians and the raw deal, in fact I will argue, a discriminatory purpose treatment given to the region by the current Zenawi administration. The Somali region and its people deserve better than the current affairs which is somewhat better than the previous dictator bun nowhere near where it needs to be and no where near what the region's inhabitants deserve. Once again, the region has been turned into a buffer military zone and relegated to a mere recipient of food Aid from international NGOs and looking more like a big refugee camp. I have been there as recently as last July and I'm not exaggerating here. I have spent 6 weeks in Ethiopia and I was distressed to the point of depression when I saw what was happening in the region and how the people looked, almost all of them malnourished to the point where they looked like tuberculosis patients, or victims of the Nazis in the concentration camps. I hear all these wonderful developments and big projects going on in the Somali region but that is an absolute exaggeration when compared to what is going on in other parts of Ethiopia. With the exception of Jijiga and Godey, the rest of the development projects are just petty projects in my view. What I have seen is an attitude of a government that was deliberately approaching development in the Somali region a completely different angle compared to the rest of Ethiopia. That of token petty projects to silence or avoid critics. I didn't see any meaningful developments in the Somali region that I have seen in other parts of Ethiopia, developments that both create jobs and have impacts on the regions long term economy. What I have seen in the Somali region is a government policy that is both discriminatory and intended to mislead, by both showing and giving some false hope of developments going on in the region. don't get me wrong, the region is far better off than it was under the previous dictator but we are not looking just better, we want real change both political and development for our region and people. We want to be equal if not better than the rest of Ethiopia because if given the chance and opportunity, our people and region have the natural resources and capacity to reach to their full potential and realize real prosperity. If nothing else, the ONLF should by now benefited the region by coming up with at least new forward looking political ideas that are modern, and beneficial to the region. Instead, the ONLF has introduced destructive, divisive Clan politics into the region on top of all its unwanted baggage that has only caused misery and backwardness.

 

But why does the current regime treat the region and its people the way it treats them and what is behind the current policy of sugarcoated, half token pot development projects. Well, look no further than the confused, directionless, paper based organization of ONLF and its less intelligent Diaspora masses. Without exaggeration, the ONLF has only added to the region's misery and aided the Zenawi administration in its current policies toward the region to the point where intelligent people might suspect some elution between the ONLF and the Zenawi administration. And before all of you ONLF supporters start throwing some profanity at me, tell me one single benefit other than misery ONLF has so far produced for the region and let me remind you ONLF has been existing over two decades now. This organization has not contributed a single political, economical idea to the region. I will argue that ONLF has only destabilized the region by undermining the clan dynamics and fissuring all the clan vault lines and consequently have led to unhealthy clan competition similar to what has destroyed greater Somalia. I will also argue that the ONLF's negligible non-significant military actions in the region brought only more economic challenges to region's inhabitants, incited and inflamed only clan civil war between sub-clans of the largest Somali clan, the Ogaadeen, and has allowed the current regime to behave and get away with human rights violation and crimes against humanity, that no government in the world will get away with, all in the name of fighting terrorists. But, why has the ONLF contributed only misery and backwardness to the Somali region? There are many factors that need extensive discussion but I will only talk about the attitude of the ONLF supporters and some sections of the Ogaadeen clan that contribute to this falseness that has become of the ONLF organization.

 

A famous painter once said “There is nothing more difficult for a truly creative painter than to paint a rose, because before he can do so he has first to forget all the roses that were ever painted.” This quote defines exactly the ONLF organization. For them to move in a new direction, they have to move away from their contradiction and what defined them, the “Ogaden clan, and Ogadenia”,  at least in our eyes or Non-Ogaden’s perception, into a an organization that embraces all ethnicities in the region, Somalia or Non-Somali that share the same grievances and the same vision for the region.  I believe very strongly, for the ONLF to move in a new direction and to correct their past failures, then, their “Ogadenia” idealism must be done away with. I know it’s very difficult and problematic for them to do that, but, it’s in essence their margin of error to move from mono-clanic based organization that failed to reach and realize its established goals to a hetero-clanic, multi-ethnic based organization that will move in a new direction, and learn from its past short-comings. The ONLF not only needs to drop its idealism which sounds more  beautiful and natural but it needs to become an organization that doesn’t run away from its responsibility and hide from its short-comings. But what are these short-comings? It’s the failure of the ONLF to acknowledge when mistakes are made such as when its combatants commit acts of brutality against civilians that are not supportive of them in the region. It’s the culture and the psyche of the ONLF to pass the buck to the enemy but you can’t mislead and lie to your own people who are experiencing your brutality first hand, without loosing legitimacy. The ONLF must stop all acts of violence against civilian population whether rural and urban population, and direct its fighting to armed Ethiopian security forces. This is because, the conflict has turned from fighting Ethiopian security forces and a defined enemy into fighting your own people and a new territory of violence that is tearing the region’s social fabric, of the people and is destroying assumptions about life. A famous quote about overcoming failures was “It takes less time to do things right than to explain why you did it wrong.”

 

 I believe the common characteristics of the ONLF and its supporters are that they use various means to ensure that what cannot be tolerated remains unthinkable and unspeakable. Among them: the victims massacred at the hands of the ONLF are taboo to speak about, while the massacres of the Somalis at the hands of Ethiopian security forces are remembered and even exaggerated, while, the ONLF leadership’s incompetence and acts of self-interest are forgotten and buried under insane excuses such as “liberation doesn’t come cheap or liberation requires sacrifices”. Conflicts and inconvenient truths find no language where they can exist. The ONLF, its leadership and its supporters make obsessive and insane attempts to expunge from memory any trace of violence, perpetrated and endured, that evokes feelings of shame. The necessary place of the hated "Woyane" in this neurotic dance is to act as the eternally needed repository of all disavowed feelings. Its not that the organization’s supporters don’t know the violence committed by the ONLF, they chose not to know. It seems they can’t bear to know, what heinous crimes are being perpetrated by the organization they support.

 

But why? Why do they tolerate and condone the violence committed by their organization against their own people? My conclusion and the plausible explanation is the ONLF supporter’s obsession with the “Ogadenia” movement which the ONLF brilliantly crafted around the Ogaden clan name. As they state it passionately and blindly most of them, the future state “Ogadenia” will only be born through the liberation spearheaded by the ONLF and therefore it’s divine. Unfortunately, the Ogaden name and the clan is conflated with the Ogadenia state and any group that committed acts of violence, the acts of which - however brutal - were thus viewed as being sanctioned by the divine. This gave people in the ONLF and in the Ogaaden Clan, permission not to think and not to remember the consequence of their actions. Violence against others is in the name of the State "Ogadenia" and is acceptable; vice versa, violence endured through the hands of ONLF combatants is divinely ordained. In this context, speaking out against ONLF brutality is unacceptable as it equates to a challenge to the state "Ogadenia" because ONLF is fighting for the Ogadenia state. This is where the organization’s relentless propaganda and clan grandisioning has set in and infiltrated the minds of the masses that support it, to the point where its brutality and violence, against its own people are accepted and tolerated. Any society that fails to recognize its wrong doings, any organization that fails to produce internal dissenter of opinion and direction, has no future. The ONLF violence repeats itself through violent acts that are both denied and vociferously repressed. This is not merely a matter of repression being unleashed on innocent people, but of an active act of forgetting the shame of being party to such acts, having tacitly supported such acts, and having endured such acts.

 

The ONLF organization needs to acknowledge and accept the violence committed in their name and endured by its own people and their others. It is through such a process - including the creation through dialogue of alternative, open, honest dialogue about our region and between different Somali Clans, that we can overcome our current problems, and the violence which has disfigured our region and its inhabitants.

 

The challenge is to convey to ONLF and those who support it, the idea that the Somali region is a complex social and geographic patchwork, with different ethnicities that add distinctive elements to the region's geo-politics. What the ONLF and its supporters don't want to acknowledge and need to accept is the diversity and not the mono-ethnic "Ogadenia" of the Somali region. The sense that the Somali region is diverse and not mono-ethnic - with, for example, important divides not just between regions but between communities within a region and even sections within a city - is a vital route to understanding about the Somali region and its diverse population and mapping out a new strategy of making inroads and much needed support from the region’s Non-Ogaden Somalis and other ethnicities.

 

Finally, the ONLF organization suffers a "totalitarian rule ", and "don't question follower ship". Very few individuals in the ONLF decide everything and groupthink predominates. Those of us who are critical of the ONLF leadership face a well-orchestrated show-demonstration in our Diaspora community. These demonstrations and Woyane propaganda are organized and sanctioned by the top ONLF leaders, all with the intention of discrediting those with genuine criticism and those with good progressive ideas, ideas that according to the ONLF leadership are not compatible with their own current agendas and personal vendetta. The ONLF inner circle accuse everyone that question their plunders as unpatriotic and sellers. This is a seductive approach for lazy or warlordistic leaders. Many who are neither frame it as the vision of a clear divide between free-thinking, progressive, modern dissidents and those loyal to or cowed by the Admiral Mohamed Omar. My great concern is not whether ONLF will continue its violence against its people, but whether its supporters will be content with it.

 

I want to remind the Admiral Mohamed Omar Hassan what once a great American leader Abraham Lincoln said while lamenting his own failures by refusing to listen to some of his good advisors and many of his countrymen, “I've lived to bury my desires, And see my dreams corrode with rust; Now all that's left are fruitless fires That burn my empty heart to dust.” My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure


 

Abdishakur Garad

E-mail: [email protected]