Is there a campaign to remove Somali Muslims from eastern Ethiopia, by any means necessary?
“There’s a genocide taking place here against Somali Muslims in north eastern Ethiopia,” reads a message sent to me by Mohamed Abdulkaadir, a Somali journalist with the independent Somali news agency Halgan News.
When we spoke over the phone he told me that while the region has been plagued by conflict for a number of years, there’s been what he described as a “well-orchestrated campaign of ethnic cleansing” by the Ethiopian government and allied Oromo militias against Somali Muslims in Ogaden.
“Entire villages and towns in the border region are being wiped out just because they’re inhabited by ethnic Somalis,” he told me.
“Ambushes, rape, and massacres are taking place in increasing frequency in the Ogaden region.”
Ogaden is a 327,000 square kilometer territory located in eastern Ethiopia and on the border with Somalia. The region was once part of the Somali Ifat Sultanate before it was handed back and forth from one European colonial ruler to another, with both Italy and Britain laying claims over the land during the previous century.
Today, Ogaden finds itself in modern day Ethiopia, despite the fact that the region’s inhabitants are predominately diaspora Somalis who culturally identify more with Somalia than they do with their host country.
Around 98 percent of Ogaden’s 8 million population is Muslim, whereas Ethiopia’s hosts a majority Christian population. Ethiopia has long feared Somalia wants to establish a Greater Somalia by taking the land from where ethnic Somalis live.
The Ethiopian government has basically turned this region into an “open air prison,” or what can be more aptly described as a “free fire zone,” with Ethiopian Somalis effectively trapped in this region at the mercy of government backed militias, and with the world’s media and international aid agencies locked out.
Several members of the Ethiopian government and Oromo officials did not respond to TRT World’s repeated requests for comment on this story.
The United States is fully cognisant of Ethiopia’s repressive violence in the region, however, but turns a blind eye to its crimes against Somalis because the government in Addis Ababa is a key US ally in the “War on Terror,” according to Abdulkaadir.
This claim is demonstrably true given the US backed Ethiopia’s 2006 invasion of Somalia, resulting in a three year conflict that left more than 16,000 Somalis dead and displaced around 1.9 million.
The US-Ethiopian objective in that invasion was to overthrow the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) under the guise of the “War on Terror,” an absurd notion given the ICU had brought relative peace and stability to Somalia after nearly two decades of civil war.
Moreover, the invasion and subsequent conflict would go on and give birth to the Al Shabaab insurgency.
“For the first time in 15 years—and sadly the only time since then—Mogadishu wasn’t an abattoir. The killing had stopped, and the populace seemed indebted to the young men who had stopped it. They simply called them the Youth, but they used the Arabic word, al-Shabaab,” observes The New York Times.
While there’s no doubt Al Shabaab has since gone on to carry out grotesque terrorist attacks, culminating in the 2013 attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, which left 71 dead – but it doesn’t preclude the fact that the Ethiopian government is using the pretext of the “War on Terror” to ethnically cleanse Ogaden of its Somali Muslim inhabitants.
Earlier this year, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), the National Disaster Risk Management Commission (NDRMC) and International Organization for Migration (IOM) released a joint report indicating that close to one million people have been displaced due to the conflict along the borders of the Oromia and Ethiopian Somali regional states, making it one of the biggest humanitarian crises in the world at this moment.
Until recently, the Ethiopian government has carried out what it describes as a “counter-insurgency” operation in Ogaden by deploying a British government backed paramilitary force known as the “Liyu police,” an outfit implicated for carrying out human rights violations against Somali Muslims.
“There have been repeated allegations against the Liyu police of extrajudicial killings, rape, torture and other violations including destruction of villages and there is no doubt that the special police have become a significant source of fear in the region,” observes Clair Beston, Amnesty International’s Ethiopia researcher.
Would anyone know if a genocide is taking place?
Today, however, most of the violence carried out against Somali Muslims in Ogaden is being carried out by Oromo militias, armed groups affiliated with the Oromo People’s Democratic Party (OPDO), one of four political parties that has helped formed a coalition government in Ethiopia.
The Oromo are the majority ethnic group in Ethiopia, and Oromo political entrepreneurs, including Ethiopia’s recently appointed prime minister Abiy Ahmed—an Oromo Ethiopian—have sought to scapegoat Somali Muslims as a political tool.
Significantly, Ahmed is someone the US government has praised as a “reformer,” and a person US media outlets proclaimed as the “leader Ethiopia has been waiting for.”
According to Abdulkaadir, attacks carried out by Oromo militias against Somali Muslim villages in Ogaden began just months after Ahmed was sworn into office, with the aim of “territorial expansion” and “land grabbing.”
Abdulkaadir told me these militias are indiscriminately killing Somali men, women and children, while forcibly removing them from their homes and villages, which is where we are today with approximately 100,000 displaced Somali refugees languishing in makeshift refugee camps.
In August, Oromo militias carried out a wave of attacks, including one on a village that resulted in 18 women and children being locked inside a building that was set alight. All were burnt alive, according to Abdulkaadir.
These atrocities are taking place without any scrutiny or oversight by the international community. If another Somali village is wiped out today, no one in the outside world will know find out.
By: CJ Werleman
CJ Werleman is a journalist, author, and analyst on conflict and terrorism.