By Muna Hassan
Saturday, January 19, 2008
Ask any Ethiopian Somali Speaker and they will give a long list of horrendous, humiliating, repetitive and ever-intensifying mistreatment inflicted on them by the Regime in Addis Ababa and their sons in Jijiga. Ask them what they think the solution would be and they hardly miss the word “UNITY”, without which, they believe, any other effort will prove futile. Understandably, disunity and distrust have sent them (the local population) into the depths of despair. They are too divided to discuss issues that matter to them and terribly confused to think solution alternatives. Somalis in Ethiopia have been politically weak and socially disintegrated. The air is painfully thick with fear, suspicion and unease.
The politicians and intellectuals are not less divided. The controversy starts with the name of the region and ends there – Western Somalia, Ogaden, Kilil 5 or Somali region. We all have inexcusably and surely unforgivably failed to see the important issues that lie beyond what we should call the region. We irresponsibly exaggerate our difference if there is any and go every possible distance to find or create one if there is no readily available one. The result is where we are today – it is not by accident. We are paying the consequences of our stubborn refusal to respect and listen to each other, learn from our past and present mistakes and adjust our thinking in the light of evident failure. For most of us, it is usually then to do nothing and then something messy, and finally to say that something should have been done earlier as it would not have been so messy.
If there is one lesson that we can gain from this quandary, it is that we cannot and should not remain in this situation any longer. We deserve a much better position; we can do it, and the world knows we are able people. If we stop fighting our own internal fighting and talking not about issues but to each other, we can achieve our goals and place ourselves where we rightly belong – nothing can stop us from it and everyone of us can do something historically important. It is arrogant and unwise to think that nothing can be turned around. In difficult and unsettled times like this, regeneration of sense of possibility is a very valuable thing. We should not give in to our fears and suspicions. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not underestimating the challenges – I surely acknowledge them but they are not insurmountable.
First, a word about how we reached this juncture is important. Indeed we have huge problem and many actors that contribute to it wittingly or otherwise. Hope has been very much dormant in our lives for along and it has been beaten out of us.
Role of the government: Actions are proof of objectives, regardless of what are written in a country’s constitution and policy documents. When actions fall foul of the documents, the former matter to those who want to understand the system or have been affected in the process. Contrary to constitutional provisions, in Somali Region, Ethiopian Government has been undertaking string of disastrous political and security measures in which millions (of Birr) have been looted, many innocent civilians have lost their lives and tens of thousands more have been displaced. People have had enough of promises which lack matching actions. It is because, not despite of the Federal Government’s policies and objectives that the region remains politically instable and economically backward. Peace, democracy and development proved to be hot air.
Years of occupation-like realities and operations involving relentless and unabated military raids, checkpoints, divide and rule policies (and lately) blockades, air strikes, and all the other horrors of conflict - have taken a terrible toll on Somali society in the region. Under this climate of fear many have begun to feel victimised and helpless.
The system punishes a great deal but thinks rather less about why it does so. As a result, the government has recently committed series of terrible and intensive but unforced political blunders through which it has carried out collective punishment, including mass inhumane killing, torture, gang rape and denial of access to food and drinking water. The government has inclined to shoot first and plan afterwards. Unfortunately, the system has fast degenerated into a killing machine. The measure is further increasing the sense of alienation among Somalis in the country. The region’s conventional and make-shift prisons are bursting with thousands of inmates. Significant number of populations has sought refuge in neighbouring countries and international communities have increasingly and boldly been criticising the government – a bitter outcome that few in the government planned and none has a tenable strategy for resolving. Undoubtedly, the government is bankrupt of new ideas and time is running short while challenges are mounting.
The scale of the fiasco has increasingly become clear, the Prime Minister and his poorly selected TPLF/EPRDF members have allegedly started to count the financial and human cost of their ill-advised operations in the region. Above all they have realised the damages to their own reputations (particularly in US on which they heavily depend) and every action they take turns out to be a worse disaster leaving them looking accident-prone and open to domestic and international charges of incompetence. Even the most guarded sense of optimism collides with one stark reality. Tigrean elites have horribly but practically proved inadequate to run the country. To topple a government is the easier part; the rest – to pull the country from backwardness and civil strife and ensure democratic system – is far harder to come to terms with. The Prime Minister who had tried to present himself (in the world stages) as a genuine democrat became a man obsessed with pursuing a baseless narrow party and individual advantages. His poor decision mechanisms have exposed colossal cracks that he has been papering over for years.
To hit us hard at the weakest link and humiliate the people in the worst possible manner, the government collects the dregs of the society and puts them at the helm. The government, wrongly making capital out of the reality Somalis are in now, tries hard to divide the communities further into sub-clans and sow hostilities among them. You read EEGGA web page (Maxkamadda) and you will realise how much they have determined to disintegrate these innocent poor communities. In all aspects the government has undermined the regional institutions and leadership. Regardless of the truth of these observations, the government must accept its share of responsibility for the state of the Somali Region (Ogaden). If a damaged society has produced dismal leaders and institutions, those who inflicted the damage cannot escape the blame.
Role of the ONLF: First to its credit, ONLF has been operating in the region for more than a decade, despite many challenges, and the government failed to get the better of it. But it has also committed a litany of errors and bad judgments of historical proportion. Brimmed with self-righteousness, the Front has seemingly never understood the enormity of the challenges it wants to overcome. It is obvious that independence is the clear wish of the Somalis, regardless of their clans, just as it is not the wish of highlanders. This means that irresistible force and desire have met an immovable object. The auguries presage an endless of conflicts with very slim chance (if there is any) of success.
ONLF failed to realise that unity of the Somalis in the region is essentially important for any objective or desire to have any chance of success. It equally failed to come to terms with the facts that there are many Somalis who are genuinely opposed to their agendas or at least tactics and strategies. The Front has divided our communities X vs. Y. Like EPRDF, ONLF did, on many occasions, kill those who they believed was their enemy. They hardly accommodate free and open discussions which are the pillars of any effective modern organisation. Honest criticism is completely stranger to its members. Intellectuals, respected elders and traditional leaders are mostly labelled as opportunists. Its diabolical performance in many aspects is attributable to their lack of vision and tolerance. I don’t think its members have ever, objectively and in healthy manner, discussed the pros and cons of the name “Ogaden”.
The actions and attitudes of the ONLF heap despair upon Somalis in the region. I can therefore, reasonably argue that ONLF and EPRDF are political twins – the existence of one greatly depends on the other one. My advice to ONLF is that they need fundamental shift and reform toward accommodating many ideas and groups of thinking. Rather than satisfying your egos and colonial name, just put your efforts to convince your brothers and sisters whose partnership is indispensable to realising the common and shared goals.
The role of other Somalis: Those of us, who were thinking that EPRDF is just against Ogaden clan members, the situation in Mogadishu could be a valuable example. The bombardment, the indiscriminate shelling, the rape of the unsullied girls, the constant harassment and intimidation that became part of Mogadishu’s daily life have awakened me and many others. Surprisingly, we mostly criticise ONLF for its insistence on the name. But when did we accept to be called as Ethiopians? We say Ogaden is a colonial name, does that mean Ethiopia is ours – which is preferable? Inaction is not choice anymore. I’m not supporting an idea and probably I’m not intelligent enough to formulate one and present it, but we have had enough humiliation and now it is time to be ourselves and stand up as Somalis.
Since those in the region are becoming the role models for our younger generations, we can imagine how bleak our future would be. We’ve already practically seen some of ours taking pride (openly) in what is happening to our innocent civilians in the region. They unctuously scribble support of the regime, painfully denying the atrocities their brothers, sisters, and mothers are undergoing on daily basis.
As Somalis, we lack none of the elements that normally cohere and stabilise community, society or organisation but what is clearly missing is a capable, committed and visionary leadership and that is what has typified our lack of success so far.
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