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Uneasy peace and simmering conflict: the Ethiopian town where three flags fly

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In Moyale, southern Ethiopia, a road marks the long-contested frontier between Oromia and Somali regional states. Photograph: Tom Gardner

Three different flags flutter in the breeze along the road that runs through Moyale in southern Ethiopia. The first is green, yellow and red: the colours of the Ethiopian federal state. Then, on the side of the road: red, black and white, with a tree in the centre, the colours of the Oromo. And a third: the green, white and red, with a camel in one corner, of Somali state.

Moyale, deep in Ethiopia’s dusty south-eastern drylands and straddling the border with Kenya, is split sharply down the middle. The fresh tarmac of the road that divides it marks the long-contested frontier between Oromia and Somali regional states.
These flags fly side-by-side in Moyale as a testament to the success of Ethiopia’s distinct model of ethnically based federalism, established in 1994.

But it is also a measure of its failings: Moyale has two separate administrations; segregated schools; parallel court systems; rivalrous police forces, and adversarial local militia. More than 20 years after ethnic federalism was introduced, tensions between the two sides – Borana Oromo and Garri Somalis – are as fraught as ever.

“There is a serious problem emerging,” said Ibrahim, an elderly Somali man in the courtyard of a hotel on the Oromo side of the road. As a clan elder, he has freedom to sit in places that younger Garri men would avoid, he said. Ill feeling between the two communities stretches back decades, but recent events have reopened old wounds.

A clash between two armed groups near Moyale in April resulted in tit-for-tat killings, with at least one Garri and one Borana reported dead (both groups claim more), and injuries on either side. Locals reported similar deadly flare-ups early this year.

Yet violence in Moyale has remained fairly contained, in part due to the town’s bloody recent past. In 2012, fighting over land between the pastoralists in the surrounding area led to 18 deaths and forced tens of thousands of Moyale’s residents to flee across the border into Kenya.

Memory of this has helped to maintain the peace since, and a community accord struck between clan elders has kept the younger generation in check. But with the latest outbreak of what he calls “revenge killings”, Ibrahim said he was worried that the accord could be broken.

Ethnic tensions here are part of a wider confrontation that stretches all along the border from Moyale in the south to Dire Dawa, some 1,000km (620 miles) north. Ethiopia’s government, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), imposed a state-of-emergency in October following widespread protests against the regime in Addis Ababa, the capital, which resulted in at least 669 deaths.

But while stability returned to the rest of the country in the following months, the Somali-Oromo regional border saw an outburst of violence on a scale that many said was unprecedented.

According to residents in Oromo districts along there, violent incursions by Somali militia began in December and continued sporadically over the next three months. Human Rights Watch, which received reports of dozens of casualties, said these clashes were of a different order to the pastoralist struggles over water points and farmland that have long afflicted the region in times of drought.

Instead, the clashes involved heavily armed men on both sides in locations all along the border. Schools were looted and civil servants shot in their offices, said Fekadu Adugna, an academic at Addis Ababa University, who specialises in Oromo-Somali relations.
Residents on the Oromo side also reported widespread rapes and said they had found ID cards belonging to members of the controversial Somali special police, know as the “Liyu”, among the remains of the dead. The worst of the violence took place in the area around Negele, another frontier town about 500km from Moyale.

There has been no official investigation into the events and there are no exact figures for the numbers killed. According to Ibrahim Adam, a conflict-resolution field officer for Igad, an east African regional bloc, more than 100 people died and thousands were displaced in February and March in the Negele area alone. Oromo activists have claimed much higher numbers.

Few now dare take the road from Moyale to Negele, which runs through both Garri and Borona districts. Residents of Moyale claim that young men at roadblocks have been threatening travellers from a different ethnic group.

An indication of the scale of the conflict came in March when the prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, referred to it in a speech to parliament. For the first time, it was framed not as a dispute over resources but as a battle between two regional militias and police forces. “The problems have no relation to ethnic conflicts,” Desalegn said. “It is our lower political leadership that commands these actions.”

This surprisingly candid explanation tallies with those given by Moyale residents, who see the conflict as one waged by local officials with expansionist agendas. Both regional governments have claimed contested territories in the past couple of years. “This is no longer just between two communities but between two governments,” said Fugicha, a Borana. “It serves their interests.”

Last month, the federal government stepped in to administer a peace agreement between the two sides. It promises to enforce the border that was demarcated following a referendum in 2004, and settle the status of Moyale, which was excluded from that referendum because its ethnic politics were deemed too complex.

Moyale’s Oromo, in particular, have expressed concern about the outcome of the peace agreement. Rumours of a second referendum, and Somali encroachment in a town regarded as historically Oromo, were behind last month’s revenge killings, they said.

Somalis, on the other hand, have pointed to the assertiveness of the new Oromo regional government that came to power in the wake of last year’s protests. It recently issued an extensive list of claims on Addis Ababa, which activists regard as rightfully Oromo too. “The Oromo have never accepted the division of Moyale,” said Ibrahim, the clan elder.

Both sides are pessimistic. One widespread theory is that the federal government’s failure to step in early to end the violence was politically motivated. “People here think the TPLF [the Tigrayan ethnically based political party] initiated this to weaken Oromo resistance to the central government,” said Fugicha. Others have suggested that flashes of ethnic violence suit a regime that defends its heavy-handedness as necessary to prevent the country unravelling.

Whatever the truth, the wider problem is more intractable. Ethiopia’s ethnic-federal model has helped ensure the recognition of minority groups – and kept the peace, many say – but it has also aggravated regional tensions by binding once-fluid ethnic identity to administrative control over territory.

“Federalism brought this problem,” said Adam, the Igad officer. “People now think no one else can live in their area.”

KENYA

Kenya stands with AU on Trump’s ‘extremely upsetting’ remarks

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Kenya has joined the African Union in demanding an apology from Donald Trump following reports that he termed some countries shitholes.

The AU said the US president should withdraw the remarks and apologise to Africans. The union noted a “huge misunderstanding” of the African continent and its people by the current administration.

Trump denied that he used this language while discussing immigrants from Haiti and African nations.

Government spokesman Eric Kiraithe issued a statement on Thursday following reports that he said Kenya did not have a problem with the US leader’s alleged remarks.

“Of course we align ourselves with the positions expressed by the AU but we are studying the context to see whether it is worth the attention the media has been giving it.”

Kiraithe said the remarks were “extremely upsetting” but noted that it was not an official matter.
“It was not an official matter directly related to our relationship between Kenya and America. We enjoy very cordial relationship with the government of America.”

Earlier, former US Ambassadors to African countries wrote to Trump expressing their anger over the remarks.

The 48 ambassadors asked him to reassess his views on Africa and it’s citizens, and recognise the important contributions Africans and African Americans have made and continue to make to the United States’ history.

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Five al Shabaab abductees on police radar after escaping from Somalia

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Security agencies are hunting for five al Shabaab abductees who escaped from cells in Somalia.

Sources within the security circles said the five were due to be executed by the militants for communicating with al Shabaab fugitive Ahmed Iman Ali.

They suspect the five have sneaked into the country to seek refuge from the terror group.

Ali, who was a vocal Al Shabaab propagandist, fell out with the leadership of the terror group in mid last year.

This was after several Kenyans were executed allegedly for over spying and leaking information to Ali and the Kenyan government.

Ali was against the executions as it targeted mostly Kenyan fighters, most of which he was responsible for their recruitment.

Read: Residents desert border village after al Shabaab attack, put up flag

The five militants, who are originally from Lamu and Malindi, are said to have been taken into custody towards the end of last year.

Reports indicated that Ali is seeking asylum from the government amid several attempts by al Shabaab to kill him.

Animosity and hatred has been rife within al Shabaab with intelligence reports indicating that Kenyans in the group are the most affected.

At stake is that local Somali fighters, who consider Kenyans as moles for the security agents, have isolated the Kenyan foreign fighters.

Al Shabaab has been fighting for years to try to topple Somalia’s central government and rule the Horn of Africa country in line with their interpretation of Islamic Law.

The terror group has in the past publicly executed Kenyans who they accuse of collaborating with the Kenyan troops.

Those killed in the last one year include former Moi University student Jared Mokaya Omambia, Faraj Abdulmajid, Ahmed Yusuf Hassan, Ahmed Nur Abdi Osoble, Abdullah Talal Musa, Hashim Othman Selali among many others.

The mistrust between the native Al Shabaab Somali fighters and other foreign fighters has also seen the eruption of several splinter factions emerging from the group.

The indigenous Somalis are in support of the establishment of ‘Somali only’ Al Shabaab group while foreign fighters have threatened to join a splinter group pledging their allegiance to the Islamic State.

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I will form my government even from exile, says Raila

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Opposition leader Raila Odinga has vowed to form a rival government when he is sworn in on January 30 even if it is based outside the country.

He spoke as 13 opposition MPs said they will have all the National Super Alliance (NASA) affiliated lawmakers to support the oath by swearing affidavits declaring they will only recognise Mr Odinga as president.

In an interview with Voice of America, the opposition leader said his oath of office will be based on the results of the August 8, 2017 election, which he claims he won.

He said he will form a cabinet and run a government even if it will be from exile.
“This is no joke. An illegitimate government is in office, and the one that the people actually wanted to be there is outside. On January 30, we will end this. We will be sworn in with the August 8 results that shows we won,” he said.

President Kenyatta has warned that the law will take its course if Mr Odinga acts against the Constitution while Attorney-General Githu Muigai has said the oath will attract a charge of treason, which attracts the death penalty.

SHAM ELECTION

On Wednesday, the AG said he has to listen to the interview before responding. “I will listen to it and come back to you,” he said on the telephone.

In the August 8 election, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) declared President Kenyatta the winner with 8,203,290 votes (54 per cent) followed by Mr Odinga’s 6,762,224 (43 per cent). Nasa declared the election a sham and went to court to have it nullified.

At that time, the opposition believed that the entire election was tainted by “non-compliance, irregularities and improprieties” and did not ask the Supreme Court to order a manual recount of the votes which would have established if there was an error — or manipulation of computers — in declaring Mr Kenyatta the winner.

Instead, Nasa asked the court to quash Mr Kenyatta’s win and order a fresh election. The Supreme Court found in favour of the opposition and ordered a repeat poll, which Mr Odinga boycotted, citing lack of electoral reforms.

The Nasa leader says his January 30 oath is a protest against what he terms lack of electoral reforms and the failure by Jubilee to initiate dialogue over it. Asked what he will do after the oath, Mr Odinga said he will form a government.
EXILE

“We can even be a government in exile, one that works from outside. It has happened in other countries. What we are saying is that Kenyans can no longer allow an illegitimate government not elected by the people to rule them. We will work like a government, we will form a Cabinet and we will work as a government,” Mr Odinga said in the Swahili interview recorded at his Capitol Hill office, Nairobi, on Tuesday.

Mr Odinga dismissed as far-fetched claims of differences between him and his co-principals Kalonzo Musyoka, Musalia Mudavadi and Moses Wetang’ula.

Nasa insiders say the three principals have called for a stop of the swearing-in ceremony, preferring dialogue to avoid the confrontation that would come with taking the presidential oath when President Kenyatta has already been sworn in. But Mr Odinga said the Nasa team is fully behind him.

“There is no rift in Nasa at all. No problems whatsoever. My brothers are fully behind the course,” he said.

On disagreements over the sharing of parliamentary committee leadership positions in the coalition, Mr Odinga said the differences were normal.

RETREAT

“In a large family like Nasa, these things are bound to occur. There will be cases where one family is demanding a fish and vice-versa. That is normal,” he said.

Yesterday, it emerged that two meetings by the Nasa principals had not yielded fruits over the swearing-in ceremony and that they had scheduled a retreat on Friday at Maanzoni Hotel in Machakos.

At Parliament Buildings on Wednesday, 13 lawmakers led by Kakamega Senator Cleophas Malala and National Assembly Minority whip Junet Mohammed started a campaign that they said would see all the coalition’s MPs, governors and MCAs sign a legal instrument binding them to a resolution to swear in Mr Odinga and Mr Musyoka as “people’s president” and deputy. Nasa has 154 law makers — 127 MPs and 27 senators.

The MPs said they do not recognise Mr Kenyatta as President.

“We are bound by a solemn belief in the sanctity of the vote and respect for the democratic will of the people. And we stand here before you to say enough is enough. Enough with “accept and move on”. Enough with Jubilee’s electoral theft. Enough with the diplomats and their dialogue. Kenyans want nothing short of electoral justice,” said Mr Malala.

ELECTED LEADERS

“It is in this spirit that we as elected leaders representing the people have resolved to come together to further demonstrate that we do not recognise Uhuru Kenyatta as President,” he said.

However, none of Wiper and Ford-Kenya MPs attended the press conference that came just a day after the coalition’s four principals failed to agree on the modalities of the oath after two days of secret meetings.

The leaders first met on Monday at Karen Country Club and at a private residence in Lavington on Tuesday. In the affidavits, the leaders recognise Mr Odinga as the people’s president, having been elected as the president during the August 8 presidential election. They affirm that the poll, won by Mr Kenyatta, was not free, fair, transparent or verifiable.

The affidavit further trashes the October 26 repeat presidential election as a nullity because it was conducted by an electoral commission that was in contempt of the Supreme Court orders and that it was not conducted in strict compliance of the constitutional provisions and all other applicable laws.

ACCESS SERVERS

“Had the IEBC complied with the Supreme Court orders and provided access to its servers, the results would have shown that the winner of the first presidential election was Mr Odinga,” the affidavit reads.

However, during yesterday’s press conference both Mr Malala and Mr Mohammed rejected claims of disquiet in the coalition over the oath and the manner in which the committee leadership positions reserved for the opposition parties had been shared out.

“There is no fallout in the coalition and nobody has been forced to sign the affidavit. It is one of our programmes to ensure the swearing-in ceremony takes place,” said Mr Mohammed.

Mr Odinga, on the other hand, told VOA that while foreign diplomats were welcome to help Kenya as friends, the current stalemate could only be addressed by Kenyans themselves.

“This is a fire that is for us Kenyans to put out. We have stated our agenda for dialogue.” he said.

WARNED ENVOYS

“If they do not, sisi hatubembelezi mtu (We will not plead with anybody). We will do our things, let them do theirs and then we will see where we will meet,” he said and warned the envoys to keep off the push for dialogue, accusing them of siding with Jubilee.

Mr Odinga is particularly upset by US ambassador Robert Godec who recently asked Nasa to drop the “unconstitutional” swearing-in for a structured dialogue.

“They are our friends but they cannot force us. Kenya is not a colony of America. We are a free country. We will do as we want. It is not us Nasa that have breached the Constitution because they have created an illegitimate government,” he said.

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