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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

Work on Kenya-Somalia border wall suspended | Al Jazeera English

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Kenya has suspended construction of a 700-kilometre border wall after confrontations between security officers and people from a nearby Somali town. Locals say the partially-built wall has helped prevent al-Shabab fighters from crossing into Kenya. Hundreds of people have died in attacks by the armed group, but other areas remain unsafe. Al Jazeera’s Catherine Soi reports from Mandera, on the Kenyan-Somali border.

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KENYA

Work on Kenya-Somalia border wall suspended

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DAILY NATION — The much publicised security fence on the Kenya-Somalia border has temporarily stopped to allow further negations between the two states.

This was revealed on Friday by Mandera Governor Ali Roba and his Gedo counterpart Mohamed A. Mohamed from Somalia.

BORDER WALL

While on a meet-the-people tour in the border towns of Mandera and Bulahawa, they said the two countries have agreed to temporarily stop the project that would separate the two towns.

According to the two, President Uhuru Kenyatta and Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo will soon meet to agree on a few “thorny issues” before the project proceeds.

Governors Ali Roba and Mohamed M. Mohamed.

Governor Roba said the decision was reached to quell the rising tension among people who live near the border.

“There is a lot of negative propaganda particularly on the Somalia side with respect to border security programme but we are here to confirm that all that is false,” said Mr Roba.

He said locals on the Somalia side of the border have been made to believe that the fence would lead to their eviction and the demolition of their houses.

TALKS

The Mandera governor said consultations have been ongoing for the past two-and-a-half years over the security programme initiated by the Kenyan government.

The construction has been slow since its inception in 2015 because the local community has to be involved at every stage.

“We are here as neighbouring governors to inform the public that the project has been halted so that a solution for the houses lying directly on the border can be found,” he said.

This, he said, was agreed on during a meeting last week attended by North Eastern Regional Coordinator Mohamud Saleh in Mandera Town.

“I can confirm the contractor has been asked to demobilise temporarily pending engagement by the two national governments to discuss a solution in an amicable way,” he said.

A section of the completed fencing along the Kenya-Somalia border in Mandera on March 3, 2018. PHOTO | MANASE OTSIALO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Kenya-Somalia border.

Gedo Governor Mohamed said Presidents Kenyatta and Farmajo had already talked on the phone and agreed to meet soon.

“Our message here is that the construction stops until the two national governments come together to agree on some issues on the table,” he said.

According to Governor Mohamed, issues to be discussed include the reason for the project, its effects on daily activities and the fate of the homes that would be affected.

Mr Mohamed wants the Kenyan government to consider the social interaction of the communities along the border before separating them with a wall.

“The people living here have a long history of depending on one another and separating them needs negotiations to solve the problem,” he said.

Sixty-four homes have been marked for demolition along the border to allow the completion of the project, which is supervised by the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) engineering department.

Kenya-Somalia border.

Kenya announced it would build a security wall to prevent Al-Shabaab militants from getting into the country, following the deadly April 2, 2015 attack at Garissa University College that left 148 people dead. Most of those killed were students.

The project was later changed to a wire fencing with a parallel trench. Eight kilometres have been completed.

However, the residents on the Somalia side of the border opposed the project and demanded to be compensated for their houses that are in the no man’s land. They have been marked for demolition.

They also asked the Kenyan Government to accept those who have Kenyan ID cards to settle in Mandera.

Some demands that the Kenyan Government is reluctant to implement include allowing students from Somalia to learn freely in Mandera.

Residents on both sides of the border have said the fence would disrupt business, social interactions and movement of livestock when herders search for pasture.

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Briefing Room

KENYA: Raila beaten as Miguna Miguna fights off citizenship nightmare

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The pensive face of Nasa leader Raila Odinga as he helplessly watched security officers grab Miguna Miguna by the waist in a bid to force him out of the country on Monday night told it all.

The former prime minister’s reputation as a troubleshooter for his lieutenants was on the line, especially in the backdrop of the March 9 handshake between him and President Uhuru Kenyatta that was meant to build political bridges.

Despite what was agreed being a guarded secret between the two, opposition aides believe that rule of law was one of them. At Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on Monday night, however, Mr Miguna was on his own, forced to fight off his citizenship nightmare the brutal, bare-knuckle way.

Although Mr Miguna was not entirely blameless for the standoff — as he refused to have his Canadian passport stamped — there was hope as soon as Mr Odinga entered the airport that a solution would be found.

Mr Odinga did not speak to the media when he alighted from his car at 10.05pm. He ignored journalists’ questions and walked straight to Terminal 1E, where Mr Miguna was holed up alongside his lawyers James Orengo, John Khaminwa and Cliff Ombeta.

SURRENDER PASSPORT

After a brief conversation with Mr Miguna, the former Prime Minister was soon on his phone. Owing to his new relationship with the President, it was assumed that he might have placed a call in the hope of securing the release of his friend-turned-foe-turned-friend.

But lawyer Nelson Havi, who was at the airport, told the Nation on Tuesday that Mr Odinga might have got into the act a bit late as the decision to re-deport Mr Miguna had been made five hours earlier, at about 3pm, after the fiery lawyer refused to surrender his Canadian passport.

“We believe that was the time the decision to take him back to Dubai was made,” he said yesterday, suggesting there had been a high level consultation within the government over the manner the lawyer was handled.

However, Mr Havi does not know at what level the decision to turn Mr Miguna back was made.

SIGN PAPERS

“What we know is that when it became clear that he would not surrender his Canadian passport, and that he was not ready to sign papers to get a visa, the decision to send him back was made,” he said.

Mr Miguna has been an acerbic critic of the Jubilee government, and his role in the January 30 ‘swearing in’ of Mr Odinga the point of no return with state agencies.

He was arrested and deported to Canada on February 9 as, the government claimed, he was not Kenyan since he had renounced his Kenyan citizenship in 1988.

His return on Monday at 2.30pm came less than 24 hours after Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga exchanged niceties at the Kenya Open golf tournament at Muthaiga Golf Club on Sunday, where they re-affirmed their desire to unite the country following last year’s disputed general election.

Mr Odinga’s arrival at the airport coincided with word that the State had deemed Mr Miguna an undocumented passenger, meaning he would be deported again to his adopted Canada, via Dubai, because he had used an Emirates flight to enter Kenya.

SHORT SCUFFLE

Sources at Kenya National Commission on Human Rights blamed the standoff on Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i, who, it was claimed, had issued orders that Mr Miguna should unquestioningly comply with the demands the immigration department was making.

Mr Orengo’s arrival at the airport a couple of hours before Mr Odinga was understood to be for the sole purpose of engaging Dr Matiang’i, while Mr Odinga’s entry into the melee was proof that the Dr Matiang’i route had borne no fruit.

Mr Odinga engaged in a short scuffle with the police before settling to make a call. As the Nasa leader talked on the phone, Mr Miguna attempted to dash out of the airport, his luggage well dangling from the baggage carrier, only to be stopped by three police officers who used their bodies to barricade the door.

300 POLICE OFFICERS

It is estimated that between 300 and 400 police officers were mobilised for the operation that would see Mr Miguna picked up, in full view of Mr Odinga, whisked away, and forced into the Emirates plane.

The flight had been delayed to ensure that the Kenya government’s unwanted visitor was taken back to where he had come from

A forlorn-looking Mr Odinga, sandwiched by his security detail, emerged from the terminal minutes later, defeated and angry. Again, he did not speak to the media.

“Mr Miguna has been whisked away by about 40 undercover police officers,” Mr Orengo briefed the media shortly afterwards. “He has been described as an undocumented passenger and forced into an Emirates flight.”

MEDIA ENGAGEMENTS

His briefing, however, was cut short by heavily armed police officers, and that was the last of orderly media engagements at the airport before everything went blank.

Mr Miguna spent the night at the airport, but his lawyers, journalists and friends were barred from seeing him on Tuesday.

More than 24 hours after landing on Kenyan soil, he was holed up at Terminal 2, where he had been transferred, ostensibly to minimise the image damage to Kenya at the international arrivals, and also to better contain him, the battering of journalists looking for him, and the team of lawyers seeking to secure his release.

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