The Ogaden region of Ethiopia is the site of widespread, egregious human rights abuses by the Ethiopian military against ethnic Somalis. As the principal cause of tension between Somalia and Ethiopia, the Ogaden Region is a source of significant instability in the Horn of Africa. The international community, and the United States in particular, must play an active role in achieving peace and stability in this region and finding a lasting political resolution to this centuries-old conflict.
Map of Ogaden
The Ogaden region is a disputed region between Somalia and Ethiopia. Also known as the Somali Region of Ethiopia, it is located in the southeastern part of Ethiopia bordering Somalia. The Ogaden is part of Ethiopia; however its inhabitants are almost exclusively ethnic Somalis.
The ethnic Somali population of the Ogaden is repressed by the Ethiopian government. The Ethiopian military occupies this region and uses the tenuous security situation and the porous border with volatile Somalia as justifications for brutal repression of the civilian population. The Ethiopian Government has cut off most supplies to this region, and therefore locals obtain many of their basic necessities through neighboring Somalia. Poverty and unrest are widespread. Food and other aid donated by the international community are regularly diverted to Addis Ababa, and the Ethiopian military has made the region unsafe for relief workers.
The Ethiopian government pursued a strategy of Amharization in the Ogaden, in which it transferred tens of thousands of ethnic Ethiopian settlers to the region in an attempt to change its demography and dilute the Somali Ogaden identity of the area.
The Ogaden has strategic importance as a border zone between two warring countries, but it is also a potential economic prize. Oil has been discovered in this region and a Chinese-run oil company is currently engaged in exploration there.
Background of the Conflict
The conflict over the Ogaden is ethnically-based, with a history that began over a century ago. In the late 19th Century, while European powers were attempting to divide Africa among them, the Ethiopian King Menelik took advantage of the opportunity to extend Ethiopian’s borders to encompass the Somali region of the Ogaden. During this period, in 1896, the British entered into a treaty with the Ogaden clan in which Britain promised to protect the sovereignty of the Ogaden. The treaty stipulated that changes to the treaty can only be valid with the consent of both parties. Only one year later, however, the British ceded the Ogaden to Ethiopia in a secret treaty.
In the 1930s, Italy took over Ethiopia and annexed the Ogaden to Italian Somaliland, which it administered from Mogadishu. After the defeat of Italy in World War II, the British established rule in the Ogaden. However, King Haile Selassie of Ethiopia relentlessly pursued the annexation of the Ogaden to his state.
In a 1954, Britain ceded the Ogaden to Ethiopia. Contrary to the principle of self-determination, the populations of the Ogaden were not given the right to choose among independence, annexation to Ethiopia, or annexation to what was to become independent Somalia. Widespread peaceful protest in the region was put down violently by the Ethiopian military.
From 1954 to 1957, Italy pursued an international political solution to the situation of the Ogaden, specifically the question of the boundary between Somalia and Ethiopia. Italy argued that the Ogaden should be included within the boundaries of the future independent Somalia. Italy and Ethiopia held talks but, in 1957, they reported to the United Nations that their negotiations had been unsuccessful.
Troubled by the long-term regional consequences of a Somali region occupied by Ethiopia, the General Assembly asked the King of Norway to nominate an adviser to assist in resolving the dispute. Trygyve Lie, the former U.N. Secretary General was appointed in August, 1959, but failed to secure an agreement on the status of the Ogaden between the parties. In 1959, Italian, Ethiopian and Somali representatives agreed that a provisional line should remain in force until a final settlement was reached on the Ogaden. This provisional boundary settlement remains in force and no permanent solution has ever been agreed upon.
Somalia gained independence in 1960 and then set out to regain the Ogaden, which it viewed as a lost territory. In 1964, the first major clash occurred between Ethiopia and Somalia over the Ogaden. Tens of thousands of civilians were killed and vast numbers of refugees fled the region. Intense low-level guerilla warfare began at this time as the Ethiopian occupation became unbearable for the Ogaden population. Ethiopia appeared to be primarily concerned with retaining the region as a buffer against Somalia and did not pursue development or political incorporation of the region.
In 1977, war once again erupted between Ethiopia and Somalia in the Ogaden region. The Ogaden War of 1977-1978 grew out of shifting alliances in the region. The Cold War resulted in a regional arms race and the development of Superpower client states in the region in the 1970s and 1980s, with the United States supporting Ethiopia and the Soviet Union supporting Somalia until 1977. In 1977, these alliances shifted, and Somalia launched an offensive against Ethiopia in the Ogaden and briefly gained control of the region. Ethiopia, now supported by the Soviet Union, and with the approval of the OAU, launched a counteroffensive and recaptured the Ogaden.
Thereafter, during the late 1980s, both the Ethiopian and the Somali military began occupying border towns with the other state’s territory. Ethiopian opposition groups, supported by Somalia, overthrew the Communist regime in Ethiopia in 1991, which also led to the separation of Eritrea and, with it, Ethiopia’s valuable access to the sea. Similarly, armed Somali opposition groups overthrew the Somali regime of Siad Barre in 1991, plunging Somalia into the clan-dominated anarchy that persists today.
After the fall of the Ethiopian regime in 1991, Ogaden clan leaders from the Ogaden region entered into a charter agreement with the new government in which the region was granted autonomy and political representation, and the Ogaden leaders gave up their armed struggle. However, after an election in the region gave 84 percent of the seats in parliament to The Ogaden National Liberation Front members and many of these newly elected representatives began calling for their share of Ethiopian federal resources, many of the elected leaders of the region were either assassinated or forced to flee the country.
In 1994, the ONLF called for a referendum on Ogaden self-determination since it was guaranteed by the newly adopted and agreed upon constitution. It was the guarantee of self-determination by the constitution that many armed groups who overthrew the Mengistu’s Communist dictatorship agreed to disarm and accept regional autonomies. Shortly thereafter, Ethiopian security forces started a mass crackdown on all ONLF political activities and began the assassination of many elected leaders. The ONLF then fled to the country side and began an armed struggle that continues as of today.
The entire Horn of Africa region remains extremely unstable, and the Ethiopian military continue to occupy the Ogaden and engage in brutal repression there. In addition, the Ethiopian military continues to create political chaos in neighboring Somalia by arming warlords and criminal entities as to prevent a viable government from forming that will politically challenge Ethiopian policies in the Ogaden. They also continue to block the demarcation of the Ethiopia and Eritrea boundary through the Boundary Commission set up by the United Nations.
Report on the Findings from the UN Humanitarian Assessment Mission to the Somali Region View PDF Report on the Findings From The UN Humanitarian Assessment...
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