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Somali Region: A Call to Action

by Karamarda Group
Thursday February 22, 2018

For more than two decades, Ethiopia is governed by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a coalition consisting of four major parties: the Tigray Liberation Front (TPLF), the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO), the Amhara National Democratic Front (ANDEM), and the South Ethiopian Peoples’ Democratic Front (SEPDF). The other five regions of Ethiopia are governed by parties which were created by the EPRDF and are officially known as EPRDF allied parties. These parties are Ethiopian Somali People's Democratic Party, Afar National Democratic Party, the Harari National League, the Gambela People's Democratic Movement and the Benishangul-Gumuz People's Democratic Unity.

Ethiopia’s ruling party, EPRDF, and its political dispensations has been dominated by the TPLF. They have established a revolutionary ethnocentric political system, which controls the country from the Kabale to the federal system through military and intelligence apparatus. Masquerading under ethnic federalism, they have manipulated the political system, intervened in regions local affairs and incited regions with one another. In 2015 election, the ruling party won 500 of the 547 seats and the Allies of EPRDF won the remaining seats, practically eliminating any political space for opposition to operate and forbade any freedom of the press.

Strong winds of change are now blowing with a potential to reconfigure the political landscape of this country. In a statement released from Ethiopia’s ruling party EPRDF executive committee during their meeting in Dec 2017, they publically admitted that the party was facing a growing “mistrust” and “apprehension” among the four major parties that make up the EPRDF. Even though the Ethiopian masses are watching these major cracks in the EPRDF, so far, the coalition has not come up with clear and inclusive agenda to correct the course.

Continued civil obedience and peaceful protest in the majority of Oromo and Amhara regions have forced the release of prominent Oromo and Amhara political prisoners and the nominal Prime-Minster of Ethiopia Hailemariam Desalegn to resign. Faced with an immense political challenge, and amid political wrangling at the top leadership and continuing unrest in the country, the TPLF led government declared a state of emergency a few days ago. What we are witnessing is an accumulation of years of frustration from ethnic groups that have been marginalized by the government. Albeit the current political tension and the unpredictable political situation brought to bear by the continued defiance of the majority of Ethiopian ethnic regions, the Somali region seems on a different trajectory of a self-defatting path, an inter-clan conflict instigated by the current leader Abdi Mohamud Omer and his inner circle. This paper provides some background information about the current state of affairs of the Somali region and calls to action to salvage the people of Somali region from a gloomy future under the dictates of Abdi Iley and his TPLF commanders.

Somali Region and the Current Political Dynamics 

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Although the Somali People's Democratic Party claims to be the ruling party of the Somali Region, the region has been largely under military rule since 1994. The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), which has been waging a war of independence for over the last 25 years, has provided a convenient pretext for the Ethiopian military to become de facto rulers of the Somali Region, with the help of Abdi Omer, the autocratic Regional president, although other regions without armed rebellion have also been governed by parties under the TPLF tutelage.

Abdi Mohamed Omer (known as Abdi Ilay) came to power in 2011 without prior work experience in administration or governance. His carrier started as an informant for military commanders in the region who have rewarded him generously for his work and appointed him as the president of the region. All of his relationships were with security institutions and has gained strong guardianship by military commanders; which solidified his political alliance and career with the TPLF military leadership. When the Amhara uprising began in Gonder, in July 2016, Abdi immediately started a campaign to denounce the movement.  He forced the Jigjiga population to show solidarity with TPLF and provided funding for the displaced Tigray people.  Furthermore, to undermine the momentum of the Oromo upspring; he, under the TPLF direction, used the Liyu police to start a conflict between the Somali and Oromo neighboring communities. In doing so, the Liyu police attacked Oromo communities at the border towns. In retaliation for the Liyu police actions, innocent Somalis were murdered in Oromia region, resulting in massive displacement and killings in both regions. No other Ethiopian regional leader has put his people in such unwarranted warpath and bloodshed, and himself in disgraceful a political quagmire.

Despite Abdi’s unwavering support for TPLF, the Somali Diaspora all over the world has increasingly shown discontent for Abdi Ilay and the TPLF dominated administration in Addis Ababa. Even few pockets of the Somali region diaspora communities who have been sympathizers to Abdi in the past have publically protested against him. A newly formed movement in the Diaspora called “Dulmi Diid” ( holding a protest meeting in different cities led by Garad Omer Doll and Sultan Mohamed Bade in Minneapolis and its affiliated chapters in Saudi Arabia, South Africa etc. are true testimonials of the current sentiments of the people. Furthermore, there is also the newly established Somali Region Alliance for Justice, which is another significant addition to Somali Region political organizations representing Somalis in Ethiopia working towards a peaceful transformation of the current political quagmire in the Somali region. Ongoing discussions within the intellectuals of the region and with others vying for democratic and just Ethiopia is also likely to lead to consolidation of the emerging movements for just and democratic Somali region.

Intimidated by all these new movements, Abdi Mohamed has implemented cruel and more brutal attacks, indiscriminately jailing family members and relatives of those who are allegedly participating in these movements in Diaspora. For example, On February 10, 2018, alone, more than 50 members of the Jidwaaq clan have been arrested. Their assets such as hotels, gas stations coffee shops and houses were confiscated. Members of the Jidwaq clan such as Ali Abdi Issa and Abdikarain Qalinle have been used to carry out these illegal abductions of Somali citizens without any due process In Jigjiga, Lagahida and Kabri Beyah and other towns.

The Danger of False Narrative

As the unpredictable political crisis in Addis Ababa enters unknown territory, Abdi’s fate of holding the presidency for foreseeable future seems to fading. Hence, Abdi and his inner circle are continuing to commit crimes against humanity. He has mascaraed entire villages and communities on the pretext that one individual from these communities was part of ONLF. He has jailed countless men, women, youth, and elders in the notorious Jail Ogaden.  At a time when Ethiopia is at crossroads and TPLF domination is fading away, Abdi is borrowing a leave from TPLF’s book of dirty trick: divide people along clan lines and rule.

Abdi is spreading the false narrative that the presidency belongs to a particular clan (i.e the Ogaden clan) and it has to be defended. He also claims those who are opposing him are merely doing so because he belongs to this clan. To solidify his claims in action he has provided certain groups with more privileges than others.  For example, in his recent trip to Nairobi, he was accompanied by a number of people that have no official positions in his government; some were even past political opponents who he has reconciled with recently and granted multi-million Birr contracts, basically to divide and rule. We warn our people not to buy in such false narrative. The right path is the path for justice for all. The truth is that he neither cares about the Ogaden nor other clans in Somali region. If he cared, he would not have massacred thousands of people, jailed thousands, and displaced thousands who are in refugee camps across the Horn of Africa and beyond. This is not to say that individuals from the president’s clan do not get a bigger piece of the pie. They do. We have written about this in the past. TPLF has designated Abdi to put power in the hands of specific sub-clans of one of the clans that inhabit the region while marginalizing the other sub-clans of the same clan as well as the rest of the communities in the region. We have provided the list of names including members of his inner family who are profiteers of war. And we believe Abdi Iley and anyone in his family, his clan, other clans, and TPLF commanders and politicians who have committed the horrific and untold crimes against humanity in Somali region should all be brought to justice.

He is also propagating the false narrative that since Ethiopia is under transformation and a lot might change, we should forget about his past crimes in the name of unity. This is also a cheap narrative because there is no logic to preserving unjust and undemocratic administration that has unleashed terror to its people.  This is a false narratives designed to mislead certain parts of the community in order to prolong Abdi’s ambition to stay in power. Furthermore, one needs to go beyond the Abdi’s rhetoric and chest thumping and dig deeper. If he cares about unity, he has the perfect chance to call for a regional reconciliation conference, to release prisoners, and to resign so that the many capable leaders of the region inside and outside the country can step to the plate and not only reform Somali region but also proudly represent the Somali region in the national efforts aimed at democratizing Ethiopia, a process that neither Abdi Iley nor TPLF can stop. If he cares about unity, let him not target specific communities because of opposition by individuals from those communities. Abdi’s call for unity is trap for the naïve and tribalism minded. No one will buy it!

A Call to Action; The need for leadership and unity

While the majority of Ethiopians are fighting for representation and participation in a democratic Ethiopia, the Somali people in Ethiopia are denied their basic human rights. Abdirashid Ali Shuaa, a Somali region activist said recently “what I want for my people is to have the minimum rights other people in Dire Dawa, Addis, Oromia, Amhara or other parts of Ethiopia have. I do not want to see any more Somalis killed or prisoned because his/ her brother or sister had said something in social media or have a family member that supports ONLF”. The comments of the activist clearly indicate the horrible circumstances that Somalis are subjected to and the fear and terror they have to endure. What is happening in the Somali region is a collective punishment by the regional administration under the direction of TPLF politicians and commanders: the family members of activists in the social media who oppose Abdi Mohamed Omer’s unfair and undemocratic administration are prisoned or killed. A year ago, for example, the brother of Mustafa Omer, another well-known activist, Faysal Omer was killed in cold blood, entire family properties including homes and cars have been confiscated and the family has been forced into exile just because Mustafa commented or shared his idea on the social media.

Our region and people are at a critical time. As we are writing this paper, the state of emergency declared by the federal government, which could not be implemented, anywhere else is in full operation in the Somali regions. Reports are indicating that the resignation of the prime-minster was designed for a military takeover and the move has been seen as last desperate measure to justify TPLF control. The central government has lost any legitimacy and events are changing rapidly and there is lots of uncertainty about what might happen next.  The Somali people more than any time in recent history need a unifying leadership. The stakes are too high to be divided or to be carried away in Abdi’s sinking clan wagon.  Every clan community has suffered equally under Abdi Omer brutal directorship, be it when he was the head of the Security Coordination Bureau or now. Never has it occurred in the history of the region grandmothers to be raped in such horrific scale,  elders to be tortured and executed in such numbers, youth to be transformed into monstrous criminals in uniform ( Liyu police), who take exorbitant pride in killing their own people.  As such, it would be a gross historical mistake to even entertain to save Abdi and his criminal inner circle from accountability. 

The responsibility to unify the people of the region rests on three groups: Somali Region traditional elders, and Somali Region youth and intellectuals. Somali Region’s traditional leaders such as Garads, Sultans, and Ugases and intellectuals have to start playing their leadership role to unify the people; they have to stand against oppression and dehumanization of the Somali people; they have to end the collective punishment of the Somali people.

We call on of the Somali region youth to break the fear and go out to streets to demand their rights peacefully, and to unite with other Ethiopian ethnic groups to bring lasting changes to Ethiopia. TPLF has no respect for the Somali people; they have not released a single Somalis prisoner out of the 6000 prisoners released.  They have denied this region a fair representation, and the right to choose whom the people wants to elect and to live with dignity as human peacefully. We call on Somali people to unite against Abdi Mohamud Omer destructive agenda of inciting intra-clan conflict against each other. He does not represent any clan but the TPLF politicians and military commanders that have given him the authority to decide who should live or die in Somali Region.     

Ali Abdi
Karamarda Group
Executive Committee

The Karamarda Group is a group of Somali Regional State citizens who are interested in promoting Democracy and Good Governance in the Somali Region of Ethiopia and could be reached at [email protected]

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