Connect with us


Clashes threaten Ethiopia’s delicate ethnic balance



AFP — She was not one of them, but Saada Youssef had lived alongside the Somali people of eastern Ethiopia for years. Then came the day local officials told her to leave or die.

“Even on the truck, people were throwing stones at us,” Saada said, recalling her escape in a vehicle sent to rescue people of Oromo ethnicity living in the Somali region where tit-for-tat ethnic violence killed hundreds last month.

Saada found refuge in a collection of abandoned buildings in Adama, a city far from her home in the eastern town of Wachale, one of several areas in Ethiopia’s Oromia and Somali regions that have seen fighting between two of the country’s largest ethnic groups.

The bloody clashes threaten to upset the delicate ethnic balance of Africa’s second most populous country, where the all-powerful ruling party last year declared a state of emergency to end months of sometimes deadly anti-government protests spearheaded by the Oromos.

The unrest raises questions about the future of Ethiopia’s “ethnic federalism” system of governance, which is supposed to offer a degree of self-determination to the country’s diverse peoples but which critics say is often overruled by the federal government.

– A permanent rupture? –

What triggered September’s violence is unclear, but its results are not.

A government spokesman said hundreds of people have been killed in recent weeks and a local official in the eastern city of Harar said that more than 67,800 Oromos alone have fled, not to mention the Somalis who have moved in the opposite direction.
Survivors of the ethnic fighting blamed the government for not doing more to stop the bloodshed. They are worried it might lead to a permanent rift between the country’s Somali and Oromo communities.

“This could be ethnic cleansing,” said Molu Wario, an Oromo who fled fighting in Moyale in the south along the border of the Somali and Oromia regions, after a land dispute turned ugly.

“It has led to hostility, and the relationship between us will never be the same as before,” he said.

The logic of ethnic federalism sees different communities running their own affairs, so Somalis are in charge of the Somali region while Oromos run Oromia, but communities mix in all nine of Ethiopia’s regions and squabbles over land and resources are common, though not always so violent.

This time, Somali and Oromo leaders alike allege atrocities committed by the other to justify their attacks.

Somalis point to a clash in Awaday, a town in Oromia, where they claim Oromos killed 18 Somali traders who were selling khat, a leafy plant that is a mild stimulant when chewed and is hugely popular in Ethiopia.

They also claim Oromos burned eight children to death in a district along the shared regional border and murdered patients in a hospital.

The claims could not be independently verified, though a diplomat in the capital Addis Ababa said the Oromia region’s police force took part in the clashes.

Whatever the truth of the allegations, the retribution they have spurred is real.

– ‘I have nothing left’ –

Fleeing Oromos say the Somalis who chased them away from their homes with knives and guns cited the attack in Awaday.

Abdel Jabbar Ahmed, who escaped from Wachale, said he was told: “The Oromos killed 20 Somalis in Awaday, so we are going to take all the Oromos inside Somali region out.”

Other dispossessed Oromos said their Somali friends and neighbours sheltered them when violence broke out, but that the regional security force — known as the Liyu police and repeatedly criticised by rights groups — was responsible for the worst of the excesses.
Ayub Abdullah, an Oromo day labourer who lived for 15 years in the Somali regional capital Jigjiga, said he was confronted by a mob at work, who demanded to know his ethnicity.

Then, four Liyu police attacked him and throttled him with a rope. Afterwards Ayub fled to a camp for displaced Oromos on the outskirts of Harar, a walled city near the border between the two regions.

“I work with lots of different people, but it was only Oromos who were being targeted,” he said.

The military now guards major roads along the flashpoint border areas, gradually restoring calm to restive areas such as Jigjiga and Moyale.

But among the displaced, there’s little talk of return.

“I saved all I had for 20 years and I lost it at once. Why would I go back there?” Saada said. “I have nothing left there.”

Continue Reading
Click to comment

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply


Number of Ethiopians entering Kenya hits 8,500, more expected – Red Cross



REUTERS — The number of Ethiopians who have crossed into Kenya for refuge since March 10 has risen to at least 8,500, Red Cross has reported.
This is an increment of 6,500 from figures reported on Tuesday, as Ethiopia deals with the killing of several civilians in what the military said was a botched security operation targeting militants.

In a statement on Thursday, Red Cross Secretary General Abbas Gullet said the number may keep increasing.

“Reports indicate that more families are on the way to Moyale,” he said, adding displaced persons are currently concentrated in Sessi (3,080 people).

Others are in Sololo (2,300), Somare (1,830), Cifa/Butiye (890), Maeyi (300), Kukub (91), Gatta Korma (51) and Dambala Fachana (50).
Some have integrated with host communities.

The aid organisation said it will distributing food and non-food items and provide integrated medical outreaches, health education and other support.

These interventions target families that have already settled in Moyale and Sololo areas, as well as the newcomers.

On Tuesday, the society said most of those crossing into Kenya are women and children, including “pregnant and lactating mothers, chronically ill persons, those abled differently and the elderly”.

Some of those fleeing had moved with their livestock, compounding pressure on struggling relief agencies, the Red Cross said.

A state official in the Oromiya region told Reuters on condition of anonymity that tens of thousands of people have also been internally displaced.


Ethiopian state media reported on Sunday that soldiers had been deployed to an area near the town of Moyale in Oromiya, a region that borders Kenya, in pursuit of Oromo Liberation Front fighters who had crossed into the country from Kenya.

The Front is a secessionist group which the Ethiopian government describes as terrorist.

But faulty intelligence led soldiers to launch an attack that killed nine civilians and injured 12 others, the Ethiopian News Agency said.

Ethiopia has said that five soldiers who took part in the attack near Moyale have been “disarmed” and are under investigation, while a high-level military delegation has been dispatched to the area to inquire further into the incident.

Outbreaks of violence have continued in Oromiya province even after Ethiopia declared a six-month, nationwide state of emergency last month following the resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.

Desalegn said his unprecedented February 15 resignation was intended to smooth the way for reforms, following years of violent unrest that threatened the ruling EPRDF coalition’s hold on Africa’s second most populous nation.

His successor as premier and EPRDF chairperson is expected to be named before the end of this month.

Continue Reading


Ethiopian soldiers kill nine civilians mistaken for militants



ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopian soldiers killed nine civilians and injured 12 after mistaking them for rebels near a town along the country’s border with Kenya, state media said on Sunday.

The soldiers were deployed to the Moyale area of the country’s Oromiya region in pursuit of Oromo Liberation Front fighters who had crossed into Ethiopia from three locations, the Ethiopian News Agency said.

“Nine civilians were killed and 12 others were injured during an operation that was launched with faulty intelligence,” members of the armed forces told the agency.

Several soldiers have been suspended and are under investigation, it said, adding that a high-level military delegation had been dispatched to the area to launch an inquiry.

The Oromo Liberation Front is a secessionist group which the government has branded as terrorist.

The incident took place at a time when outbreaks of violence have continued to plague the country, mostly in Oromiya.

Last month, Addis Ababa imposed a six-month, nationwide state of emergency to tamp down unrest in Africa’s second most populous nation.

The move was made a day after Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn announced his resignation in what he said was a bid to smooth the way for reforms.

His replacement is expected to be named this month.

Continue Reading


Civil strife in Ethiopia has the potential to destabilise the whole region



Ethiopia is experiencing ethnic and political tensions that could have far-reaching implications for its neighbors in the Horn of Africa, and beyond.

Abukar Arman is a writer, a former diplomat and an activist whose work on foreign policy, geopolitics and faith is widely published.

The Horn of Africa is among the most congested, eventful, and most volatile geopolitical intersections on earth. It is where the West meets the East in a highly competitive game of strategic positioning for economic or hegemonic advantage.

China and Turkey who, more or less, employ similar soft-power strategies have tangible investments in various countries in the region, including Ethiopia. However, the widespread discontent with Ethiopia’s repressive impulses and its ethnic favoritism that led to a particular ethnic minority (Tigray) to exclusively operate the state apparatus has inspired Arab Spring-like mass protests. These protests have caused serious rancor within the ruling party. It is only a matter of time before this haemorrhaging government might collapse.

So, who is likely to gain or lose from this imminent shockwave in the region’s balance of power?

The Nile Tsunami

Ethiopia — a country previously considered as a stable regional hegemon, a robust emerging market, and a reliable counter-terrorism partner — is on the verge of meltdown, if not long-term civil strife.

Today, the Ethiopian government is caught between two serious challenges of domestic and foreign nature: the Oromo/Amhara mass protests tacitly supported by the West, and the water rights conflict with Egypt, Sudan and Somalia.

Ethiopia is claiming the lion’s share on the Nile that runs through it and other rivers that flow from its highlands for the Grand Renaissance Dam – thus presenting existential threats to the connected nations.

For the third time in three years, the Shabelle River has dried up, putting millions of Somalis at risk of starvation.

But the current government is not ready for a substantive change of guard. The longer the mass protests continue and the minority-led government continues to offer artificial or symbolic gestures of prisoner releases — while declaring a second ‘state of emergency’ in two years— the faster Ethiopia will become destabilised and the faster foreign investments will fizzle away.

Worse — though seemingly unthinkable — the ‘favorite nation’ status granted to Ethiopia after becoming the US’ main partner in the global ‘War on Terroris’ is slowly corroding.

Despite this week’s visit from US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the US State Department is gradually turning its back on Ethiopia for a number of reasons; chief among them, is its double-dealings on the South Sudan issue.

Despite the facade of US/China collaboration to end the South Sudan civil war, the geopolitical rivalry between these two giants has been pressuring Ethiopia to pledge exclusive allegiance to one over the other.

With China’s huge investments on Ethiopia, Sudan and South Sudan’s oil fields – making a choice won’t be too difficult.

The Kenya Factor

Several years ago I wrote an article arguing that the two most stable nations in the Horn (Kenya and Ethiopia) will become more unstable as Somalia becomes more stable.

Today, the Ethiopian government is facing the most serious threat since it took power by the barrel of the gun, and Kenya has a highly polarised population and two presidents ‘elected’ along clan lines.

Kenya — the nerve center of the international humanitarian industry — could just be one major incident away from inter-clan combustion.

The Somalia Factor

The Ethiopian government has launched a clandestine campaign of strategic disinformation intended to fracture or breakup opposition coalitions and recruit or lure potential comrades.

Ethiopian intelligence officers and members of the diplomatic corps together with some ethnic-Somali Ethiopians have been recruiting naive Somali government officials, intellectuals and activists with a Machiavellian disinformation campaign.

Meanwhile, IGAD — Ethiopia’s regional camouflage — calls for an open-borders agreement between member states. Despite broad-based public perception that for a fragile state like Somalia, such an agreement would be tantamount to annexation, some Somali politicians are eagerly carrying its banner.

These kinds of desperate campaigns and the abrupt resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn only underscore the fact that the government’s days are numbered.

The Sudan Factor

Sudan is caught in a loyalty triangle (Ethiopia, Egypt and Turkey) with competing powers. Sudan needs Egypt to address threats faced by the two nations regarding the diminishing access to the Nile by reasserting rights granted through the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty.

It needs Ethiopia to protect China’s economic partnership and to shield President Omar al Bashir from Western harassment through IGAD.

It also needs Turkey for development and for a long-term strategic partnership. Sudan has become the second country in Africa to grant Turkey a military base, with Somalia being the first.

The Eritrea Factor

When neocons dominated US foreign policy and the global ‘War on Terror’ was the order of all orders, Eritrea was slapped with sanctions. It was accused of being the primary funder and weapons supplier to al Shabab.

Today, though neither the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia or Eritrea nor any expert free from Ethiopian influence holds such a view, yet the sanctions have not been lifted.

The Ethiopian lobby and certain influential elements within US foreign policy-making circles continue to label Eritrea as a Marxist rogue state that undermines regional institutions such as IGAD and international ones like the UN Security Council; a closed society that espouses a deep rooted hatred towards the West.

Against that backdrop, the UAE has been investing heavily in Eritrea since 2015 or the beginning of the Yemen war that has created one of the the worst humanitarian disasters. The Emirati military (and its Academi/Blackwater shadow) now operates from a military base in Assab. Whether that’s a Trojan Horse or not, is a different discussion altogether.

Ins And Outs

The current wave of discontent against the Ethiopian government is likely to continue. But, considering how the Tigray has a total control on all levers of power, a transition of power will not be an easy process.

Ethiopia is also rumoured to have created an ethnically Somali counterinsurgency force in the Liyu Police. This ruthless force has already been used against the Oromos as they were used against Somalis of various regions that share a border with Ethiopia.

The extrajudicial killings and human rights violations are well documented. Despite all this, the Oromo and Amhara are set to reach their objectives albeit with bruised and bloody faces.

Will their coalition remain or, due to their historical distrust, will each eventually invoke its constitutional right to secede?

Whatever the outcome, any scenario of civil war or chaos in Ethiopia could put the entire Horn in danger and create a potential humanitarian catastrophe, especially in Somalia.

Meanwhile South Sudan is a lightyear away from sustainable political reconciliation especially since the foreign elements fueling the fire are not likely to stop any time soon. Djibouti remains the host of the most intriguing geopolitical circus. So, that leaves Eritrea as an island of stability in the region.

In the foreseeable future, Turkey could divest her investment out of Ethiopia into Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea. China will diversify her portfolio to include Eritrea. And the US — with no new policy — will continue droning her way through geopolitical schizophrenia.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.

We welcome all pitches and submissions to TRT World Opinion – please send them via email, to

Continue Reading