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



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.”


Chaos and gunshots as Raila Odinga enters Nairobi CBD



Chaos, teargas, running battles and suspected live bullets marred Nasa leader Raila Odinga’s entry into Nairobi city centre upon his arrival from the US on Friday.

Mr Odinga left Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in a convoy of tens of vehicles accompanied by a host of Nasa leaders and hundreds of their supporters.


Chaos started immediately the convoy left the airport, with the vehicle ferrying Mr Odinga taking the wrong side of Mombasa Road.

This was because the route heading to Mombasa had a gridlock stretching kilometres following violent confrontations between police and Mr Odinga’s supporters in the morning.
The Nasa supporters wanted to force their way into the airport but police lobbed teargas canisters at City Cabanas and other sections of the road to arrest their march.
The convoy later diverted from Mombasa Road to Jogoo Road but the chaos followed Mr Odinga and his team as police engaged youths in running battles.

Their plan was to march through Jogoo Road on to Haile Sellasie Avenue, then into Uhuru Park, the venue of their rally, but the violent confrontations just would not stop.


The clashes between Nasa supporters and police brought business to a standstill on the busy road that serves eastern parts of the capital.

The City Stadium roundabout was brought to a standstill as police blocked the road in their bid to stop the chaos from spilling over into the town centre.

For the better part of the afternoon, no traffic was moving as traders closed kiosks and fled for their safety.
A minibus belonging to Forward Travellers sacco, a police lorry and two pull carts were torched outside Burma Market on Jogoo Road.

Along the road, smoke from burning tyres billowed and competed with the teargas police were firing without stopping.


From Rikana Supermarket all the way to Muthurwa Market, the road was littered with the rocks Nasa supporters were using to engage the police.

The chaos took a different turn at Muthurwa after Nasa supporters were engaged by rival group believed to be Jubilee supporters.

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s supporters are opposed to Nasa demos, which they argue disrupt businesses and lead to destruction of property and loss of lives.

Police used verbal orders, teargas and live bullets to restore calm and order on the road without much success.

They also sprayed the youths wit water canons but the Nasa supporters would not stop charging at them.

At some point, police resorted to using live bullets, with gunshots heard for a few minutes near Muthurwa Market.

A man was seen in writhing in pain on live TV after he was allegedly shot in the foot.

Reports indicate some protesters sustained fatal injuries in the clashed that lasted for over five hours.


Motorists and journalists were not spared as they were attacked and injured in the chaos.

A Nation car has been hit by a teargas canister lobbed by the police. The canister hit and smashed the car’s windscreen.

The officers fired the teargas as the car made its way through the Likoni roundabout to join Jogoo Road.
Inside the car the Nation reporters Silas Apollo, Brian Moseti, photographer Denis Onsongo and driver Nicholas Musyoka.

Earlier, police assaulted Mr Moseti at the airport and snatched him his staff badge.


The officers accused the journalist of taking their pictures as they battled the protesters.

The attack on the car occurred in the convoy of Mr Odinga who was en route to the city’s central business district.

KTN journalist Duncan Khaemba was also hit and injured on the head as he reported the violence that was covered live by national TV stations.

Later, Mr Odinga, while addressing his supporters in Upper Hill, condemned the violence and accused President Kenyatta of sending police to disrupt his reception.

He vowed to soldier on with his quest for electoral justice and thanked his supporters for standing with him.

“This (police response) is a sign of a crumbling regime,” he said.

“The third liberation is unstoppable.”

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KDF on the spot over Shabaab charcoal exports in Somalia



Kenya Defence Forces units assigned to the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) are failing to enforce a ban on charcoal exports by Al-Shabaab, a team of United Nations monitors charges in a new report.

Shabaab earns at least $10 million (Sh1 billion) a year by shipping charcoal from ports in southern Somalia where KDF units are stationed, the UN panel says.


“Amisom, whose Kenyan Defence Forces contingents remain deployed at the ports of Kismayu and Buur Gaabo, has neither assisted the Somali authorities in implementing the charcoal ban nor facilitated Monitoring Group access to charcoal exporting ports,” the report states.

Poor implementation of the five-year-old UN Security Council ban “enables Al-Shabaab financing and undermines counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency efforts in Somalia,” the report observes.

As an example of Shabaab’s continuing ability to thwart counter-insurgency efforts, the UN team cites an attack on a KDF base at Kulbiyow on the Kenya-Somalia border that killed at least 67 Kenyan soldiers.

Shabaab militants have also taken the lives of scores of civilians and police officers inside Kenya in the past two years.

It is not the first time UN experts have made allegations of KDF non-compliance with the charcoal-export ban.

The UN’s Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group said last year that Kenyan troops assigned to Amisom were receiving $2 (Sh200) per bag of charcoal illegally shipped from the port of Kismayo.


Kenyan forces’ collusion in the illicit trade may have brought them $12 million (Sh1.2 billion) in proceeds, the 2016 report suggested.

The January attack on the KDF’s Kulbiyow base also resulted in Shabaab’s capture of weaponry that included a 105mm howitzer, an armoured personnel carrier, an 81mm mortar launcher and a heavy machine gun, the new report adds.

Shabaab is further said to have used more powerful 120mm mortars, likely seized from an Amisom Burundian base in 2015, in an April attack on a joint Uganda-Somali National Army base at Baledogle.

Weapons of that calibre represent “a new and significant threat to peace and security in Somalia,” the report warns.

In another worrisome sign of an increasingly diversified Shabaab arsenal, FBI laboratory analyses have shown that the insurgents are now using an ingredient in fertiliser to make vehicle-borne bombs, the UN team says.


“The potential use of home-made explosives by Al-Shabaab would allow the group to rely less on the process of harvesting explosives from munitions, which is slow and laborious,” the monitoring team points out.

Additional weapons are being illegally imported into Somalia via the country’s Puntland region aboard dhows sailing from Yemen and the Makran coast of Iran, the report finds.

At a meeting in September with UN monitors, “Iranian authorities strongly denied any state involvement in the shipment of weapons to Somalia,” the report notes.

Along with revenues from charcoal exports, Shabaab finances its operations partly through “taxes” it levies on vehicles traveling on roads it controls, the UN team says.

“Large trucks are usually taxed $1,000 Sh100,000), with receipts issued by Al-Shabaab to prevent double taxation at subsequent checkpoints,” the monitors recount.


Other monthly fees extracted by Shabaab range from $10 (Sh1,000) paid by market traders to as much as $70,000 (Sh700,000) paid by major companies, according to the report.

Somalia’s federal government has warned businesses against supporting Shabaab financially, the monitors note.

But because the government has only limited capacity to monitor such payments, the warning is unlikely to have much effect on Shabaab’s taxation of business interests, the report adds.

Federal institutions likewise remain “incapable of addressing pervasive corruption,” the monitors observe.

The electoral process earlier this year was treated by the country’s elite as another opportunity to “capture or maintain control over state resources in Somalia at the expense of peace and security,” the report asserts.

Sums of cash were handed out to electors choosing a president last February.


Other countries became involved in the vote-buying, with the United Arab Emirates said to have been particularly overt in making such bribes.

UAE representatives frequently summoned Somali regional administrators to meetings “where they were given cash to persuade their regional members of Parliament to vote for that country’s preferred candidate,” the report says.

The UN experts’ generally pessimistic assessment of the security situation in Somalia includes the finding that a faction of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has grown significantly during the past year.

ISIL loyalists in Somalia numbered no more than a few dozen in 2016 but the group now includes as many as 200 fighters, the report says.

“The ISIL faction has demonstrated increasingly sophisticated recruitment methods, largely targeted at disaffected members of Al-Shabaab in southern Somalia,” the UN team notes.

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Uhuru rejects bill giving refugees right to jobs and land



BUSINESS DAILY — President Uhuru Kenyatta has rejected a bill that gave some 500,000 refugees living in camps the right to work and use land for business and farming, saying there was no public participation on the proposed law.

The Refugees Bill was in line with the shift to offer longer-term help for refugees to become more self-sufficient after years of reliance on donors who have found it increasingly difficult to provide for them.

Legally, all refugees in Kenya must live in camps and cannot work, even though some arrived three decades ago.

President Kenyatta said even though the bill relates to an important aspect of management of refugees in the country, there was no public participation in its formulation in accordance with Article 118 of the constitution.

“In view of the foregoing, I recommend that the said Bill should be referred back to Parliament to allow for public input in accordance with the Constitution,” President Kenyatta said. Refugees or asylum seekers with professional qualifications such as doctors, engineers and architects were to be entitled to work permits upon application in accordance with the Kenya Citizenship and Immigration Act 2011.

The proposed law allows a person who has been granted refugee status and is in possession of valid identity card to engage in gainful or wage-earning employment.

It provided for refugees residing in designated camps to have free access to land for farming but without the right to sell, lease or alienate the land.

Former Ndhiwa MP Agostinho Neto was behind the bill, which Parliament passed in June.

Lawmakers will now look at the bill once again to address the reasons cited for rejection before sending it back to the President.

There have been tensions between poor locals living around the Dadaab and Kakuma camps, who often suffer drought and hunger, and the refugees who receive free food, healthcare and education.

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