The Westerners call the Berlin Wall as the “Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart”, Easterners call it the “Iron Curtain”. But, many Africans believe that it was the fruits of what Germany had to harvest when Berlin partitioned Africa in 1884-1885 as a process of invasion, occupation colonization and annexation by European powers during the new imperialism period between 1881 and World War I in 1914. Now, the partition of Africa is over and the partition of Germany is over. The Berlin wall collapsed on October 3, 1991. But, there is still one piece of the wall remained that must collapse now – that is the Ogaden.
As Albert Einstein said “There are only two ways to look at life: One as though nothing is a miracle, the other as though everything is…”, whether you see the freedom of Ogaden as a miracle or not, it is going to occur before long. But, for some Somalis who are preoccupied with the fear of the name of the Ogaden as a new disease that we must take it to the lab for scientific refinement, this will be a bit of a dark horse to them, and I am telling them that the darkest hour is just before the down,
The human tragedy in the Ogaden started after European leaders agreed to partition the African continent into neatly bordered spheres of influence, which became a temptation to Abyssinians to think of colonizing the Ogaden. In April 10th 1891, Ethiopia’s Emperor Menelik II said in his circular letter addressed to Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia: “If Powers at a distance come forward to partition Africa between them, I do not intend to be an indifferent spectator.”
During the Second World War, after the expulsion of the Italians from the Horn of Africa, in 1941, the Ogaden came under British rule, and it remained subject to British military administration until 1948. In 1946, the British foreign secretary, Mr. Ernest Bevin proposed the Somali nation including the Ogaden as a trust territory. The Bevin Plan met with unanimous opposition from the other Powers. The petitions of Ogadeni elders to the conference also became dead letter.
On September 23rd 1948, the British government decided to cede a great part of the Ogaden to Ethiopia without the knowledge and consent of the Ogaden people. Peaceful demonstrations against this act were brutally suppressed and scores of people were killed, in Jigjiga and elsewhere in the Ogaden. Haud and Reserved areas were the last part of the Ogaden, which were handed over to Ethiopia by the British Authorities, on February 28th 1955.
During Haile Selassie’s rule, the Ethiopian Imperial Army committed unspeakable crimes against the defenceless civilians in the Ogaden. In 1961, the towns of Dhagaxbuur, Qalaafo and Ayshaca, were razed to the ground by the Ethiopian occupation forces.
In 1974, when the military overthrew emperor Haile Selassie’s theocratic rule, they put in place a communist military dictatorship led by the Red Negus colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam. The Dergue military junta, in Addis Ababa, enforced more oppressive policies in the Ogaden. Summary executions, arbitrary detentions without charges or trial, dispossessing the people of their properties, emergency laws and dusk to dawn curfew were commonplace. In its Amharisation policy, the communist regime of Mengistu has transferred thousands of Ethiopian settlers into the Ogaden in an Attempt to change the demographic nature of the region, eliminate the Ogadeni-Somali national identity and to transform the Ogaden into a region of Ethiopia, in which indigenous Ogadenis will be an insignificant minority.
In 1991, after Mengitu’s downfall, Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) formed a new party called Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), composed of TPLF and converted prisoners of war from Oromo and Amhara nationalities in order to cover the Tigre domination in the new party.
After the installation of the TPLF dominated government in Ethiopia, EPRDF presented a new charter as a guiding principle in its rule during the so-called transitional period of two years. According to that charter, among other things all democratic principles, human rights, and right to self-determination of all nations should have been recognized and fully respected. Also, the resources of the country and international donations would be shared equitably.
The new Charter was welcomed by Ogaden people, who suffered from a century of repression and exploitation under the Imperial and Military regimes, which ruled the empire-state of Ethiopia respectively.
Nevertheless, the aforementioned international human rights treaties were not translated into action by the Ethiopian government, which has no respect whatsoever for its international obligations and commitments. A new era of darkness begun in the Ogaden where by the worst and unprecedented incidents were seen throughout the 52 districts of the region since 1991.
The international legal definition of the crime of genocide is found in Articles II and III of the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide stating that
Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national ethnical, racial or religious groups, as such (1) killing members of the group; (2)causing serious bodily harm to members of the group; (3)deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (4)imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (5)forcibly transferring children of the group to another group .
According to Fowsia Abdulkadir’s analysis in her article on “Genocide Policies and Poor Human Rights Record in the Ogaden” presented at the Fifth International Biennial Conference of The International Association of Genocide Scholars on June 7th to 10th, 2003 in Galway, Ireland, “the genocide that has taken place, and often still does in The Ogaden would easily fit in the first three categories”. This paper shows many incidents that supports this analysis. Also many evidences are shown in many reports of OHRC and other previous studies.
THE PARADIGM OF HATRED
For quite a long time, the Ethiopian communities saw lack of national political will to apply laws written in the papers and redressal mechanisms to ensure justice for victims. As a German diplomat said in 1999 “It seems that there is no independent justice system in Ethiopia. Judges and Public Prosecutors are being discharged if their judgment is not according to EPRDF political convenience .” This is further compounded by the fact of continuous violence in the state, the economic deterioration, regular famine and malnutrition and uncontrolled HIV/AIDS prevalence in the country.
Despite the fact that Ethiopia was not colonized, there is no doubt that the peasants and nomads faced the worst colony and abuses in the history of mankind resulting from abuse of power of the very few people in power and autocratic ruling of the ethnic group dominating the country.
History tells that Emperor Menelik II (1889 - 1913) founded Addis Ababa previously known as Finfine in Oromo language and initiated building the railway from Djibouti to Addis Ababa with the help of France. It was just after that time, when the first modern school and hospital were constructed, and the first bank was introduced. It was also that time the name Ethiopia was introduced. Before Menelik’s conquest, there was Abyssinia and other independent states such as the Ogaden. Oromo, Sidama, Kafa, Harar and so on. When Emperor Menelik was expanding his power to the South and East as the foundation of the Ethiopian State, the idea of the civilized communities and uncivilized communities came into being.
By overlooking the rich culture of the Oromo and the contribution of Oromo peasants to the economy, Menelik II started calling Oromo as wild people who contributed nothing to the Ethiopian civilization. Similarly, he termed Somalis in the Ogaden as nomadic opportunists who are led by their herds and immigrants in search of grazing and wet areas and contribute nothing at all. Sidama, Gurage, Waleyta and many other nationalities in Ethiopia were made to accept that they are underprivileged and lower in dignity. These created increasing antagonistic development between the dominant nationalities and others, because they were powerless to address their problems in ways that enhance their existence and freedom. It was the European colonialist who were supporting Menelik in oppressing these innocent people.
The problem here is that, this equates the Abyssinian history, culture, and political tradition with that of the entire country. As Lewis (1992) stated
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