Conflict In The Ogaden Region

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Conflict in the Ogaden Region


The Ogaden region in the Southeast of Ethiopia has been at the centre of an ongoing dispute between the Ethiopian government and rebels of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF). Since 1984, the ONLF, an ethnic Somali rebel movement, has waged a war of secession against Ethiopia. In October 2010, the Ethiopian government signed a peace agreement with a faction of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF). In return for amnesty for its jailed leaders and a chance to become a political party, the faction, representing 80 percent of ONLF insurgents in the Ogaden region, agreed to cease hostilities against the Ethiopian government. The outstanding issues of political reform and the involvement of regional and international players in the conflict have not been addressed in the peace deal. These may undermine the peace agreement and hinder lasting peace in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia (Malone).

History of the conflict

The conflict in the Ogaden region has its origins in the Somali Youth League (SYL) movement that began to take shape in the late 1940s. Formed in Mogadishu, the SYL was a mass nationalist organization that called for the “unification of all the Somali-speaking lands into Greater Somalia”. Following independence, Somalia's constitution acknowledged the need to unite “Somali territories,” including the Ogaden region of Ethiopia, North Eastern Province of Kenya and Djibouti (Article IV of the Somali Independence Constitution).

In the early 1960s, the Somali government started arming secessionist groups in the Ogaden region, including the Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF). These efforts were stepped up following the fall of Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie, culminating in the 1977 Somali invasion of Ethiopia. The invasion orchestrated by then-President of Somalia, Siad Barre, relied heavily on the WSLF, which was formed in 1976 for this specific purpose. Ethnic Somalis welcomed the ensuing eight-month Somali occupation of the Ogaden as “liberation” from Ethiopian colonialism (Gettleman).

Eventually, Ethiopia managed to repel the Somali invasion with Soviet, South Yemeni and Cuban help. Following the humiliating defeat, the WSLF broke apart, only to re-emerge in 1984 as the ONLF. The ONLF fought alongside Meles Zenawi's Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) in the campaign to depose Mengistu Haile Mariam. After the fall of the Mengistu regime, Zenawi became prime minister of Ethiopia and the ONLF joined the new government. In 1992, the ONLF won over 80 percent of the seats in the regional parliament in the Ogaden. Two years later in 1994, relations between the ONLF and the Ethiopian government soured. The ONLF started calling for secession. This eventually resulted in a crackdown by the government that left several ONLF leaders dead . The ONLF has since waged a low-level insurgency against the Ethiopian government with help from Eritrea and Somali Islamist insurgents (Mazzetti).

It is not a coincidence that the conflict has been termed “the Ogaden conflict,” despite the existence of ethnic Somalis in the region who belong to non-Ogadeni clans. Most of the ONLF forces come from two sub-groups of the Ogaden clan. These two sub-clans, the ...
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