A Robust ONLF Political Wing Is NeededOn January 19 2011, Southern Sudan will hold a referendum to decide if the South should secede from the North. It is all but certain that Southern Sudan will be the newest country in the African Union. The South’s secession sets new precedent in Africa. Such precedent presents ONLF with an opportunity to reaffirm and further their struggle to win independence from Ethiopia. The ONLF has enjoyed military successes against the Ethiopian Armed Forces but on the political front, the organization’s efforts have been lacking. There is no visible ONLF political wing that advocates for the people of the Somali region at the international level, works towards uniting all Somalis in the region behind the cause for independence, solicits financial or material support from friendly countries and Somali Diaspora, and informs the world of the humanitarian crisis and the human rights violations in the Somali religion. For ONLF to seize any opportunity, a robust political wing must be formed and put into action. An active political wing is essential in the long-term and must assume the following roles.
ONLF needs to have official representatives operating in the world’s important capital cities including Washington D.C. and London. Ethiopia first occupied the Ogaden region in the late 19th century. In 1936, the Ogaden was annexed into Italian Somaliland during the Italian invasion of Abyssinia. In World War II, Italy lost the control of all its Somali colonies including the Ogaden to Britain. In 1945, Great Britain entertained the idea of uniting all Somali lands under one administration. As expected, Ethiopia was opposed to the idea since this would have resulted in them losing the Ogaden. During the London Conference of the Allied Powers in 1945, Ethiopia pleaded before the Allied Powers and asked them to give her control over the Ogaden. The effort was unsuccessful but in 1948, after years of intensive lobbying Ethiopia was granted the right to incorporate the Ogaden into its jurisdiction. Though we would never know, it is possible an equally intensive lobbying by Somalis could have persuaded the Allied Powers in establishing one United Somalia. Regardless, Ethiopia has long tradition of successfully lobbying Western and Eastern Powers in order to achieve its goal of becoming regional hegemony. The Selassie Administration and Derg constantly appealed to the West and the Soviet Bloc for political, financial and military support. It is with the help of Western Powers that Ethiopia has succeeded in continuing to subjugate the Oromo, Somali and other nationalities. The Zenawi Administration has perfected the art of lobbying as the administration hired many lobbyist firms and have access to influential people. ONLF needs to counter Ethiopian lobbying by sending official representatives to major capital cities. Obviously, the organization does not have the resources to send emissaries to every capital; it must however send representatives to all major donor nations. The United States, United Kingdom, Canada and the Scandinavian nations are the biggest aid donors to Ethiopia. The ONLF can afford to send officials to these countries and target Ethiopia where it hurts the most. There are several advantages to having official representatives in these capital cities. These include:
- Persuading donor nations to halt military aid to the Ethiopian Armed Forces
- Exposing the humanitarian and human rights violations by Ethiopia
- Garnering political support for independent Ogadenia
- Establishing the legal framework for independent Ogadenia
- Making the Ogaden conflict a global issue
- Making sure that ONLF is not branded as terrorist organization.
ONLF representatives can take the lead in advocating for the rights of all subjugated peoples including the Oromo. It must assume the leadership and make its presence felt.
The Consensus Builder
The struggle for independence needs the support of all Somalis. The people in the Somali region are deeply divided and the Zenawi administration has pitted Somali tribes against each other. The divide and conquer strategy is a tool used by all colonizers and the Ethiopian administration have turned it into an art form largely due to Prime Minister Zenaw’s intimate knowledge of the Somali clan system and the Somali clan politics. Any ONLF political wing should make a concerted effort to broaden the support base. The struggle for independent Ogadenia is a Somali struggle and the ONLF must take all measures in words and deeds to entice all sensible Somalis to join the fight for independence. The Somali political culture and the very nature of the Somali people are very complex. There are and there will be some Somalis who will never support the ONLF regardless of what the organization does or does not. The views of these Somalis are already predetermined and any attempt to reason with them is futile. That said, it is incumbent upon the ONLF to make overtures even to those that they already know will not join the cause. This is matter of practicality and a good measure against the Zenawi administration’s divide and conquer strategy. For all other Somalis interested in freedom from Ethiopian hegemony, the ONLF must make a genuine effort in incorporating them into the struggle. The organization should invite and sit down with these Somalis. They must listen and not just hear to the concerns of these Somalis. They should understand that no Somali wants to live under an oppressive colonizer. They must establish a common ground and unite the disparate Somali clans thereby transforming the ONLF into a unified Somali force. The ONLF has to establish a well thought plan to unite all Somali clans. Before any plan can be formulated, the ONLF must be cognizant of the following facts which are the roots cause of Somali disunity in the Ogaden:
- Tribal wars are usually over scarce resources such as limited grazing lands for domesticated animals
- There are historical grievances and prejudices against certain Somalis tribes
- The political Somali leadership does not represent or speak for any Somali tribe as the leadership is handpicked by Addis Ababa.
- Majority of Somalis in the Ogaden desire independent Ogadenia/Somali region
The ONLF has to formulate a strategy while keeping the above facts in mind. It must study the political landscape in the Somali region and address inter-clan issues. The ONLF must appreciate the fact that the generally poor Somali tribes are in constant competition for the scarce resources in the region. Tribal skirmishes erupt over grazing lands and waterholes. In these instances, the ONLF political wing should serve as the peacemaker. The leadership of organization has to be logical in its approach and not be emotional driven (xamaasad yiidin qaadin). It can not take sides in inter-Somali tribal wars. The ONLF should understand that there are historical grievances that one Somali tribe might have against another Somali. It needs to develop a strategy to deal with issues arising from historical grievances. Finally, when trying to recruit or incorporate Somalis tribes into the cause, the ONLF must approach each tribe with the assumption that all Somali tribes want to be free from Ethiopian hegemony. The ONLF can not afford to predetermine which tribe will support the struggle for independence and which will not.
The ONLF needs the support of the Somali tribes in Somalia and the Greater Horn of Africa. The organization needs to establish relationships with every Somali clan and inform the Somali public about the crimes being committed against their brethren in the Ogaden. When approaching the Somali tribes in Somalia, the organization’s leadership must be cognizant of the realities in Somalia. Any relationship the organization seeks with any Somali tribe or political entity has to reflect the prevailing realities. The ONLF should understand that a kid in Mogadishu might not appreciate the crimes being committed against a kid in Godey. It is hard to sympathize with others when your own life is at risk. Residents in Mogadishu are caught between Al-Shabaab snipers and AMISOM bombardments. In the same manner, the ONLF must understand that kids in Garowe and Hargeysa who sit idly and watch their lives wither away might not have an appreciation for the severity of the crimes committed against the sons and daughters of the Ogaden. The organization should also be cognizant of the damage done to the Somalis by the long-running Somali civil war. There is deep mistrust and apprehension among the Somalis. That said, Somalis still have common sense of identity, brotherhood and some regard for each other. They are united by their common sufferings and Ethiopia’s callous indifference to the Somali lives as evidenced by the Buhoodle massacre, the Mogadishu carpet bombing during the Ethiopian Invasion and scorch earth policy perpuated by Ethiopia in the Ogaden. Somalis in the Horn of Africa are slowly realizing the threat posed by Ethiopia. The ONLF can engage its fellow Somalis and find a common solution to the threat. The organization can also be neutral peacemaker for Somali tribal skirmishes.
The Resource Locator
Any ONLF political wing should establish relationships with friendly countries and the Somali Diaspora in order to attain the material and financial support needed to win this struggle. Friendly countries can offer monetary funds, military training and logistical support. Friendly countries can also help injured soldiers and train health professionals. The international Somali community can be good source of funding for projects to help internally displaced people, war orphans and refugees. The community can be utilized as an advocate for the cause in their respective countries. A strategy has to be formulated to identify prospective friendly nations and engage the global Somali community.
The Ethiopian Government expelled all the humanitarian and human rights organizations from the Ogaden during its 2007 offensive. The media is severely restricted and rarely does a journalist go to the Somali region without being accompanied by security agents. Though there is media blackout in the region, there are credible reports about the humanitarian crisis facing the Ogaden. The Ethiopian government has itself admitted that there is humanitarian disaster though it claimed the crisis is caused by droughts. Contrary to the government’s assertions, the humanitarian crisis is man-made and Ethiopia is using food aid as weapon. Food is denied to those that are deemed pro-ONLF. Ironically enough, this strategy was employed by the Derg Administration during their war with TPLF, the current Ethiopian leadership. The situation that exists in the Ogaden today will require a robust ONLF political wing that will advocate for the people facing the man-made starvation and the people who are arbitrary detained and imprisoned; those who are extrajudicially killed and those who villages are burned to the ground.
The ONLF needs to have a well-established media arm that will document and report the crimes being committed inside the Somali region. The media can be used to document the stories of the refugees pouring into the Dadaab refugee camps. The organization has to advocate for the victims of the struggle. It has to ensure the world knows about the humanitarian crisis facing the Somali region. It must inform the world of the causes of the crisis. In today’s world, those who suffer in silence will go unnoticed. Recently, Bloomberg has reported that the Ethiopian government has relocated 150,000 Somalis from their homes to other regions. The world has to take note of events like this which mounts to ethnic cleansing, another strategy used by the Derg.
Any ONLF political wing unlike the military wing must adapt to the political climate in the world. The organization must be versatile and able to face new challenges. The ONLF leadership must recruit new talent that is energetic, knowledgeable and committed. The organization has to democratize, a rigid leadership can not adapt to the changing world. The organization needs to establish youth wing that utilizes the knowledge and enthusiasm of young Somalis living in and out of the Horn of Africa region. The youth and the student population in particular have to be encouraged to be politically and socially active. Only conscious minds can free the land and the people of the Somali region. A politically dormant youth is an impediment to the struggle. Student activism played useful role in many liberation movements. Student activism in the West has brought some issues like Darfur crisis to the forefront. Somali students whether in the West or in the East can be the activists needed to highlight the Somali plight. Let reform a central theme for the ONLF so that the organization will effective and efficient.
The preceding roles represent some of the tasks that a robust political organization needs to do in order to advance the struggle for independence. The gun only will not ensure the success of the struggle. It’s my hope the ONLF will take a moment to reflect and see what it can change in order to be more effective and efficient movement.
N.A. Egal is freelance writer.