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Ethnic violence displaces hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians



Lifting her robe the young woman revealed undulating scar tissue blanketing her breasts, stomach, and extending up her neck and along her arms.

“They poured petrol over me then lit it,” said 28-year-old Husaida Mohammed. “They were Somali boys.”
When IRIN met Mohammed she was in a camp of about 3,500 displaced Oromo people on the outskirts of Harar, the ancient walled city in Ethiopia’s Harari Region.

It had taken her over a month to make the 100-kilometre journey to safety from Jijiga, the capital of Ethiopia’s far eastern Somali Region. For weeks she lay hidden in an empty Oromo-owned house tended to by friends as she recovered from her injuries.

Next to her in the large warehouse being used to shelter the displaced was a woman in a striking pink robe. She had no visible injuries but didn’t utter a word.

“She was throttled so badly they damaged her vocal chords,” a doctor explained. “She can’t eat anything, only drink fluids.”

Tit-for-tat ethnic violence in Ethiopia’s two largest regions of Oromia and Somali began in September and has forced hundreds of thousands from their homes. Local media have reported upwards of 200,000 displaced, humanitarian workers at the camps talk of 400,000.


The unrest began when two Oromo officials were reportedly killed on the border between the two territories, allegedly by Somali Region police.

On 12 September, protests by Oromo in the town of Aweday, between Harar and the city of Dire Dawa, led to rioting that left 18 dead. The majority were Somali khat traders, a mildly narcotic leaf widely chewed. Somalis who fled Aweday said the number of dead was closer to 40.

In response to Aweday, the Somali Regional government began evicting Oromo from Jigjiga and the region. Officials say this was for the Oromo’s own safety, and that no Oromo died as a result of ethnic violence in the region – a claim disputed by those displaced.

In addition to the camps around Harar and Dire Dawa – cities viewed as neutral safe havens – they have popped up elsewhere along the contentious regional border.

In these camps Oromo and Somali tell equally convincing stories of ethnic violence. They accuse the regional special police – in the Somali Region known as the Liyu, and in Oromia as the Liyu Hail – of being behind many of the attacks.

Both regional governments deny their police forces were involved.

The federal government faces fierce accusations ranging from not doing enough, to deliberately turning a blind eye to the violence.

The Oromo see this as punishment after their year of protests against the ruling party that led to a state of emergency.

There has also been a legacy of distrust of the Somali Region in Addis Ababa. The perception is that among the population there is revanchist sympathy for the idea of a Greater Somalia.

Another possibility is that the government simply has not had the capacity to effectively respond, so widespread has been the violence.

Oromia and Somali share a 1,400-kilometre long border. The Oromo are Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, numbering about 35 million, a factor Ethiopia’s other ethnic groups remain deeply conscious of – especially its 6.5 million Somalis.

History of hate

Ethnic conflict along the common border and in the rural hinterland has long existed – with Oromo migration a particular source of friction.

The ongoing drought, which has put pressure on pasture and resources, could be another.

“As you move west of the regional border the land becomes higher with more water and pasture,” said the head of a humanitarian organisation who spoke on condition of anonymity over the sensitivity of the issues.

“Where the regional border runs is very contentious – you’ll find different maps giving a different border,” he added.

At the same time, many of the displaced spoke of their shock at how the violence broke out in formerly close-knit communities that had integrated peacefully, often for centuries, and in which intermarriage between Oromo and Somali was the norm.

Some of the history and scale of this violence can be found 80 kilometres east of Dire Dawa, just over the regional border in the Somali Region, where two giant camps for displaced Somalis are co-located in the lee of the Kolechi Mountains.

In the older camp are 5,300 Somali households displaced by a mixture of drought and ethnic violence since 2015. In the newer camp are 3,850 households – roughly six to 10 people each – all made homeless by the recent trouble.

One Somali man who arrived nine months ago, before the current surge of unrest, recounted his experience at the hands of Oromia’s Liyu Hail in Oromo’s Bale zone, hundreds of kilometres to the southwest.

He said a violent mob of Oromo militia had come to his village so he and a group of about 40 men went to the regional police to request protection.

“But the man in charge ordered his men to fire at us,” the Somali man said. “Everyone fell – I wasn’t hit but I was covered in so much blood from the others the police thought I was dead, and I escaped.”
He claims 200 people in total were killed and 893 houses were burned: “Everything was looted, all livestock taken – it was unimaginable.”

The people in both camps pull back clothing to reveal old bullet wounds, scars, and lesions from burns, and broken bones that never healed.

A number of displaced Somalis say they survived thanks to the intervention of soldiers from the Ethiopian Defence Force during the recent violence. But it wasn’t enough to persuade them to remain, or to return.
“If the federal government sends forces to keep the peace, they stay for a week or a month, and then after they leave it happens again,” said one Somali man. “We can’t risk staying.”

What next?

The violence has also crossed borders with reports of Oromo leaving ethnically Somali Djibouti and Somaliland, where two Ethiopians were reportedly killed in the capital, Hargeisa. It’s believed this could have been the revenge of relatives of some of the traders that died in Aweday.

For the Oromo and Somali displaced from their homes, the next step is to find a long-term solution.
But Ethiopia’s federal system devolves quite a bit of power to ethnic regional states. With sectarian anger still running high, this leaves the government in a quandary over how to respond to the crisis, some commentators have pointed out.

“[Those displaced] could be integrated in the communities where they are now, resettled elsewhere, or returned to their original communities,” said one official in an international organisation who asked for anonymity.

“The government [is] committed to everyone being able to return home, as is their constitutional right to live where they want, but for most [of them] we are not sure whether this is possible.”


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.

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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.

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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.

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