The forgotten and neglected Somali Region of Ethiopia

Editor’s Note: This  paper  was presented at the Symposium on the Human Rights abuses in the Somali Region of Ethiopia, co-sponsored by Students against Human Rights Violations and Amnesty International at the University of Toronto, Canada. November 13, 2001.

This region lies in SE Ethiopia, bordering on Somalia and Kenya. It is an arid region, inhabited by Somali pastoral nomads. Upon the scramble and partition of Africa in 1884 by the Europeans, the region remained given to Menelik II of Ethiopia during 1891-97, but the territory was totally engulfed in 1954. The region has been in wars, cyclic droughts and total devastation since then, but mostly since 1960 up to now and State policies met with varying levels of resistance. The people of the region are naturally peaceful and where never allowed to exercise their right for self-determination, but rather subjected to longstanding hidden-sufferings and abuses by ruthless successive Ethiopian governments.

The only sign of other Ethiopians present or living in this region is the presence of huge military garrisons, which are there only for repression and destruction of lives, both humans and animals. The Ethiopian populations is 64 million and are living in the 9 regions of Ethiopia, Oromonia is the largest region in Ethiopia, while the Somali region is the second. Ethiopia is considered by many experts to be the poorest country on earth, yet the present Ethiopian government has currently over 350,000 soldiers, the largest army in black Africa, and about 100,000 of them are in the Somali region, which is populated by 4-5 million Somalis, that is 8% of the Ethiopian population. The presence in our region by this unjustified huge army tells us more about the plight of our people. Successive Ethiopian governments have not allowed the Somalis to join the army, police and security services, except for some local notorious spies who work with the Ethiopian soldiers by spying only on Somalis, and that kind of employment remains to be the most lucrative work in our region! Forced conscription of young Somalis to join the army and fight in other troubled regions of Ethiopia has been quite common for the last century. More than 20,000 Somalis where forced against their will and participated in the Ethio-Eritrean fighting of 1998-2000. The majority of them, about 16,000, remained unaccounted for to this day, while those who survived where ordered to go back to their agonized families   without being paid any salary for the three years that they were fighting at the front lines.

The Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) soldiers in the region are themselves the courts, judges, prosecutors, executioners, the police and you name it…!!!, that is to say all the powers in the region are in their hands. They kill people indiscriminately at their own will, without the rule of law, since they have the green lights to do so unchecked from those in Addis Abeba. Every aspect of decent human life remains neglected in this region and the people in this unfortunate region lack the minimum basic standards of human beings in the 21st century such as follows:

  1. The Somalis remain denied of their rights to basic education. There areelementary schools and several high schools, which function irregularly. The many universities and colleges in Ethiopia very rarely accept Somali students to study in them. Only about 1-2% of our people can speak Amharic, which is the official language of Ethiopia, while 100% of them speak native Somali language.
  2. There are no proper hospitals or pharmacies but only some under-staffed health centers. More than 95% of the people do not have access to health services, while it is 47% for the rest of Ethiopians. The main access to heath services in the region remains to be that of the traditional healers, local herbal-medicine and traditional birth attendants.
  3. There is no electricity any where in the region and most of the people in the region have never seen a Television or Cinemas.
  4. No communications like postal services, and most of the people have not seen or used up to now telephones, faxes etc., because there aren’t any in the region.
  5. There are no roads in the region except dirty dusty ones and trails created by the nomads and their herds.
  6. There is no clean drinking tape water. People, their herds and other wild animals share what ever they find in dirty wells. In most of the dry Seasons the Ethiopian soldiers will occupy these wells and people have to bribe them by giving them some of their herds, because that is the only way they can get water and survive in the harsh dry seasons.
  7. There isn’t any kind of major developmental project in the whole region, but only few minor ones that are implemented by TPLF supporters from Tigray region, while local Somalis are not allowed to be contractors in their own region.
  8. There is no regular farming activities in this region, because traditionally the bandit Ethiopian soldiers will collect forcefully the harvested crops and this has discouraged the people of the region to farm.
  9. No proper buildings in the so called “shanty towns” and villages of the region and no public health services, including proper waste disposal system. Instead of schools, one will notice the hundreds of prisons that are in all over the region including even the rural villages. These awful prisons have horrendous and scary underground cells not suitable at all for humans or animals. However, true people remain herded in these man made caves!
  10. There are no commercial civilian airports or airlines that serve in the region, but many military airports as well as their fighter jet planes, which participate actively and regularly in the oppression and destruction of the people and their properties.
  11. Ethiopian-Somalis are denied of their freedom of mobility, and do not travel freely to other regions and cities of Ethiopia. Only those with permission from the TPLF-soldiers who are occupying the Somali region illegally can travel.
  12. This region has no civilian courts, judges and lawyers and Ethiopian governments, especially the present one, have been implementing a policy of targeted assassinations, unjustified imprisonment and different tactics of intimidations to the Somali intellectuals who have been forced again and again to abandon and flee their country by Ethiopian regimes,since they understand that  knowledge is power.
  13. All the mass media belongs to the Ethiopian government. There are not any private mass media, like radios, journals and Televisions in the Somali region.
  14. There aren’t veterinary doctors or veterinary services for the millions of livestock like camels, cattle, sheep, horses, donkeys, chicken and goats in the region, an activity in which more than 70% of the people are involved and upon which they survive on. Lack of Veterinary services, recurrent droughts and diseases have contributed to the gradually decline in the numbers of the livestock herds.
  15. Freedom of expression of speech, mass assembly and peaceful protest where not allowed in our region for over a century up to the present day.
  16. The government doesn’t allow the local Somalis to have NGO’s and has discouraged International NGO’S as well as Ethiopian and international journalists to visit and write about our problems by telling them that the region was not peaceful and that the government will not be responsible for their security. Successive Ethiopian governments were able to keep secret of whatever was happening in our region and that is why this region was isolated or “closed” in the past and remains so until now from the rest of World.
  17. The federal government has marginalized us and does not employ Somalis in its different ministries and agencies in Addis Abeba as well as elsewhere.There is one Somali among the whole staff of the Ethiopian Embassies and Consulates in all over the World, and one out of the 45 members of the Ethiopian cabinet. The unemployment rate in this region could be more than 95%!
  18. The central government of Ethiopia has created several clan-based ‘political parties’ in the Somali region, a privilege that was denied from us to establish our own political parties, which has never happened. These parties are clan-based and intended to divide the Somalis into clans. This is the basic present Ethiopian regime’s attitude towards the Somalisof divide and ruleby trying to create problems among the Somali clans through these ‘political parties’. Fortunately, this plan resulted in total failure and the Somalis never ever agreed with their proposals of inter-Somali clan fighting’s.
  19. The government is interfering with our religious freedom and rights, and won’t hesitate to tell the Western Nations that thesepastoral nomads are fundamentalist in order to get financial aid as well as weapons and thus continue  its atrocities against its ‘citizens’, who  on the contrary need sympathy, peace, bread, justice and development.
  20. People of this region don’t own hotels or shops and hence are not involved in commercial activities, mostly for fear of daylight looting by these Ethiopian bandit soldiers and because of this more than 70% of the people remained to be pastoral nomads. Most of the Somalis in this region do not even know the Ethiopia currency-birr, because they have been trading only with Somalia by using the Somali currency-the shilling.

When we look and analyse the above-cited status and many more, the people of the Somali region are not living in the 21st century, but rather way back in the Stone Ages. I can say without any bias that now this isolated region is the least developed and most impoverished spot on this earth.

The Ethiopian empire has brutalized and denied the Somalis their rights and the rest of the World has forgotten them. The people of the region pay compulsory huge taxes, including the so called “head tax”, compared to what they have, but unluckily receive nothing back except for more torture, destruction, death and the absolute denial of their basic rights. Successive regimes have not only failed us, but even worse kept the lid of oppression on us, massacring at will and letting their security machinery rape our mothers, wives and sisters and kill our fathers, sons and brothers. There is neither democracy nor federalism in Ethiopia, and their lip service to democracy is done only to impress Western donor countries, UN agencies and the World Bank. They propagate federalism only to cheat the Somalis and other nations and nationalities. The present Ethiopian regime is the worst one that the region has had ever seen in the last century and its “pseudo-democracy” is socked in with the blood of innocent, defenceless and tormented ‘citizens’!

All the Presidents, Vice presidents and Secretaries of the so called ‘Somali regional governments’ for the last 10 years, have ended up in jails in Addis Abeba, where they were beaten and tortured because they refused to agree and cooperate with the terrible plans of the lawless TPLF soldiers. I clearly remember when the late Hassan Jire Qalinle, who was one of the regional presidents told me upon his release “sooner or later I will die of my ordeals in that horrible underground prison”, and it materialized later on. Those who survived in their ordeals have fled the country. This regime’s soldiers were directly responsible in the extrajudicial targeted assassinations of more than 100 officials, who worked at different offices in the so called ‘regional government’ at all levels of responsibility after being  thought of being sympathetic to the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF). This clearly shows us that ‘regional government’ is a mere rubber stamp for TPLF rule over our region. Whenever they have butchered one or more of those officials, Meles and his close aids used to call and informed me the horrible news of their atrocities, just merely to judge my reactions and that was really torturing and agonizing experience. During the same period, the budgets allocated for this region weren’t utilized even to 10-15% locally at any year, but every year it was redirected for the development of Tigray region, since in the present Ethiopia, ALL ROADS LEAD ONLY TO TIGRAY REGION, when it comes to real developmental projects.

 The main reason they give for treating our region in that manner was that “the Somalis weren’t able to utilize their budgets on time, while Tigray utilizes its budgets always earlier than planned”. This was and is still the unimaginable tactic they used in deceiving the mini-developmental budgets of our region for the last decade.

This evil regime is causing unimaginable miseries to our people in the name of the special type of “Ethiopian Democracy”, which is really a unique one with multipurpose, mostly oppressive and destructive.  This government was saying loudly to the Western nations that it was establishing democracy in Ethiopia just to get economic assistance, but the fact was and is up to now completely the opposite of its propaganda. However, it is very unfortunate that many Western nations, including USA and Canada have provided it with billions of dollars in economic assistance in the last decade. The economic assistance has helped the regime to stay in power and continue committing untold gross human rights violations in the Somali region and others like Ormonia. The huge economic aid for the development of Ethiopia that has been provided by Western nations and other international bodies for the last century has been misused, and utilized as a priority in keeping the Ethiopian-empire together forcefully through its history of longstanding human rights violations.

The TPLF is sadly committing horrendous crimes and more atrocities to our people than did Dictator Mingistu Hailemariam to them during the Red Terror Campaign! In the last decade, thousands of Somalis have been tortured or killed, while many more have perished in underground detention jails and hundreds of thousands where forced to flee the country. The unjustified torture, extrajudicial killings, looting of livestock  and rape of women and even girls as young as 10 years are very common crimes committed on daily basis by these young, powerful and wild Ethiopian soldiers in this region. Those who do not yield to whatever these cruel soldiers want for remain categorized to be Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) sympathizer and targeted for collective persecution, including their families and relatives. Ethiopian officials regard postings to the Ogaden as an exile and the late Emperor Haile Selassie used to send people there as a punishment of being in a big jail! However, soldier who are transferred to this region are blessed because they can become rich quickly by looting illegally goods and livestock herds and by detaining unlawfully people, so that the families and relatives of these innocent victims will have to pay huge sums of money as a bribe to  secure their release. This was and is still the main ‘industrial’ activities of income for the hatred Ethiopian soldiers who are occupying forcefully our homeland.

I fled from Ethiopia in 1960 and lived in Somalia since early 1991. If I stayed in Ethiopia, I would not have had the chance to attend any level of schooling and would have been an illiterate nomad today, had I survived from the daily butchering of the Ethiopian soldiers. I became the deputy-minister of health of Ethiopia, representing the Somali region in 1991. I remained in that post until the end of 1994, hoping that somehow change would come and I could contribute my part to represent my people’s interests in the government. My endeavours to bring changes resulted not only with active resistance, but also put me in a black list as a sympathizer of the ONLF.  Besides my security, staying in that post will only have given the false impression that our region remained represented in the central government. Worst of all, the Ethiopian premier ordered me to hide from the United Nations (UN) agencies, embassies and the rest of the world, the outbreak of massive epidemic of cholera that killed thousands in the Somali region during 1993-1994. Among the reasons he gave me that order were “let those who are opposing us disappear in the dark of the night”, “this will compromise our export commodities” and so on. When the UN agencies and embassies got the information, the regime condemned me for the humanitarian appeal to the UN agencies and others for help and starting from that moment onwards, I remained considered to be the enemy of the regime. Clearly, Meles is a born-again dictator Mengistu Hailemariam, butchering the Somalis more than the later one did in the previous two decades.

These evil Ethiopian soldiers executed members of my relatives in the town of Degahbour in early 1994 by their usual method of collective punishment and killing measures. The remaining relatives where denied access to bury them, and their corpses were left in the open to decay, while wild animals like hyenas, foxes, wild dogs and vultures were allowed eating the corpses. Traditionally the Ethiopian soldiers butcher our people in that ill-fated manners and leave the corpses in the open, watching on to see if there are sympathizers and anyone who did so gets the same ordeals. When I complained to the premier, he told me “Wait! We are teaching those who oppose us unforgettable lesson”. These are some of the most common and wild inhuman tactics that they use to terrorize and intimidate the people of this region.

They kept me under indirect house arrest by assigning more than a dozen TPLF soldier to my residential house as bodyguards without my request and consent and supposedly taking care of me, but they were intimidating me openly and kept track of all my contacts, movements and of course were planning to assassinate me at the end of 1994. Other members of the cabinet had as bodyguard’s people from their respective regions, but when I requested to have Ethiopian-Somali bodyguards instead of theirs, the response they gave me was “No, we don’t absolutely want to have Somalis with guns in Addis Abeba as our security will be jeopardized”. I feared for my life and was forced again and only after 4 years to escape from my homeland and once more revisit my long life of being a refugee. I escaped with pure lucky as I was not allowed to travel abroad starting at the middle of 1994. I would have preferred to stay and live in my homeland for the rest of my life rather than becoming a re-born refugee. Successive merciless Ethiopian colonial governments have forced over a million Ethiopian-Somalis to remain refugees for most part of their life, me being among them. In my experience, there is no place like your own sweet homeland sweet!

The prime minister of Ethiopia presented to his handpicked council of the House of the People’s Representatives in Addis Abeba, the new 5 years developmental plan on October 10, 2001. He said that building democracy, strengthening the judiciary and promoting respect for human rights are to feature prominently in Ethiopia’s new 5 years plan. It is most unfortunate that the World Bank’s chief economist, Nicolas Stern while visiting Addis Abeba, suddenly praised the plan before even the government started to implement and said “the programme constituted a dynamic and comprehensive strategy, with very good prospects of generating sustained long-term growth and empowering the poor to participate strongly in this process”. This kind of praise is a digger deep down in the hearts of the poor and innocent Somalis and many others in the Ethiopian-empire as it gives the green light for the Western donor nations, the World Bank and other international bodies to start providing economic aid to this merciless regime. Given our past and present experiences, such initiatives are hard to swallow until they become a reality and all the opposition parties and groups in Ethiopia have expressed strong reservation to it. When the government presents developmental plans like the above 5 years one to the Western donor nations, the World Bank and UN agencies, our region is included in that plan. Amazingly, when it comes to the implementation of the plan, the Somali region remains neglected somehow or other as if it does not exist at all from the first place. The parasitic Tigray region kept on stealing with the assistance of the ruling EPRDF regime most of the projects planned for the developmental of our region in the last decade.

Again, on the 16th of October, the prime minister of Ethiopia has nominated his new cabinet, which consisted of 45 members (Ministers and Deputy-Ministers). Only 1 out of 45 is from our region, making our share 0.45%, while we represent about 8% of the Ethiopian population and the second largest region in the country. On the other hand, the Ethiopian House of people’s representatives has 547 members, mostly handpicked by the Central government in Addis Abeba. Of these 547 members, the Somali region has 22 members (4%), While the Tigray region with a population of about 2.5 million (3.9%) has 40 members (7.3%). Again of these 547 members, 481 (87.9%) belong to the ruling Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) party and there are only 35 (6.4%) opposition members, who are not handpicked by EPRDF. The discrepancies are quite clear in each of the above-mentioned examples, and our region’s share in the central government, where the real power lies, is not there at all. What kind of justice or democracy is that? Sincerely, we would have appreciated much had this regime fulfilled only 10% of the above 5 years plan in our region but for sure won’t, since it has already prepared a different plan of oppression, destruction, and death for our people.

Let us ask the great Western democratic nations, the UN and other international donor bodies: Why do you listen and worse aid a government ruled by this merciless regime in the name of democracy? Is there one system of Universal democracy in our World or are there different systems of democracy, depending upon where you are living?  How come Meles is claiming to be implementing democracy in Ethiopia, while at the same time denying our rights and is ordering the massacre of hundreds and thousands of Ethiopian-Somalis, victims who were supposed to be protected by ‘their government’, which is on the contrary the victimizer? We strongly believe that there is no democracy without rights and strangely enough, his government calls itself proudly: THE FEDERAL DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF ETHIOPIA. This misleading and false title remained used as a potent weapon of propaganda in deceiving the opinions of the Western nations and other International bodies successful during the last decade. Surprisingly, after more than a decade of ruling in the name of democracy by the EPRDF regime, it admitted openly to the World for the first time this year to be establishing a new “DEMOCRACY RENEWAL SYSTEM” in Ethiopia! What was the one-democracy that they were advocating for the past decade?  We will not be surprised if they again come up with another new system of democracy in 5-10 years, provided they stay in power with the help of the donors! The people in this region and elsewhere in the country have absolutely lost all faith and confidence in the present government and its hollow commitments to genuine democratization, protection of basic human rights and the right to self-determination for all nations and nationalities in the Ethiopian-empire.

Meles is a classic hypocrite, and knows that without being checked of his brutality, the Western donor nations, after hearing the World Bank’s comments, will appreciate much his plan and will start pouring millions of dollars in aid and economic assistance. That will allow him to stay in power and continue butchering more Ethiopians particularly in the Somali and Oromo regions. Even his own TPLF central committee members are expressing dissatisfaction and are now openly accusing him of being an absolute dictator! These under-privileged and underserved Ethiopian-Somalis have been fighting for their rights and justice for over a century and will continue to do so until they win back all, including the right for self-determination. It is high time for the Western nations, the World Bank and the UN in knowing the truth and reality in the horn of Africa. We are appealing to them to assist us in wining back our rights, which were stolen from us for over a century by successive brutal Ethiopian dictators, of which the present one is the worst and is surviving only at the back of its repressive security forces!

It is time for the great Western democratic nations to understand the malpractice of the best system of governing in the World-democracy by the ruling EPRDF regime, which is the prime human rights violator in Eastern Africa in the name of democracy. The donor nations should stop aiding the likes of that government in the developing countries. It is ludicrous that aid brought to Ethiopia in the name of establishing democracy is allowing the regime to deny us of our basic human rights and freedoms. The present Ethiopian government was fully responsible for hiding from the World the horrific drought and famine that started in our region in early 1998, in which thousands of people died of starvation after losing their livestock’s. A British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) journalist who sneaked into the region was the first to report the severe and hidden drought to the World in the middle of 2000. Journalist permitted later on to report the famine to world, reported that the region was devastated and almost completely isolated from the World and even Ethiopia. What happened to the grain and medical supplies shipments during the famine crisis? The Ethiopian government diverted most of the international food and medical aid to its huge army (>350,000). Still worse, the government used the remaining international food and medical aid in our region as a weapon, giving it only to those who were appreciative of its policies, while those who didn’t were left to die in painful hunger and misery by creating an intentional starvation!!!

Those of us who have fled and are living in Europe, North America and elsewhere in the World can’t up to now criticize openly the Ethiopian government in Addis Abeba, for fear of massive retaliation to members of our families and relatives in our homeland. The Ethiopian regime is thus denying us indirectly our basic rights for freedom of speech and expression!  Those of us living abroad are distressed but hopeful that one day we will go back to our homeland free of the Ethiopian oppressive regime. The Somalis in Ethiopia have the right to live in peace without fear. They are entitled to enjoy the minimum decent human being standards of human rights and fundamental freedoms as they are accepted and adopted by the international community in which Ethiopia is a signatory member, but is not abiding to its signature.

Article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states that the right to self-determination is universal and calls upon States to promote the realization of that right and to respect it. The article provides that:

“All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political  status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural  development. All peoples may, for their own ends, freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources without prejudice to any obligations arising out of international economic cooperation, based upon the principle of mutual benefit, and international law. In no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence. The States parties to the present Covenant, including those having responsibility for the administration of non-self-governing and trust Territories, shall promote the realization of the right of self-determination, and shall respect that right, in conformity with the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations.”

On behalf of these suffering and under-privileged people of our region, we are kindly and humanly appealing to the blessed, compassionate, peace and life-loving Western nations, Amnesty International, the UN, the World Bank, Human Rights Watch and the rest of peace and freedom-loving nations of the World to intervene urgently in the plight of the Ethiopian-Somalis. They are real human beings living in sub-human conditions in this isolated, grief-stricken and war-torn region of ours. This innocent pastoral nomadic Somalis in Ethiopia are bleeding for their rights and its time for them to be relieved from their chronic underprivileged ordeals with justice and all Human dignity. They have been experiencing much more than their share of injustice and sufferings in this Universe and need a break. It is sorrowful that the powerful and lawless army of Ethiopia is again on a large scale of campaign of terror on a new offensive against its own defenceless ‘citizens’ in this region. However, in this region, the land and the space above it belongs to us and believe with strong conviction and hopes that we will persevere and sooner or later the wind of freedom, peace, liberty, democracy, justice, the rule of law and prosperity will prevail in this life time suffering region of ours!!!

United we stand one and want justice inorder to live with all human dignities as others are living in this World through the absolute recognition of our people’s right for self-determination.

November 13, 2001.

Paper presented at the Symposium on the Human Rights abuses in the Somali Region of Ethiopia, co-sponsored by Students against Human Rights Violations and Amnesty International at the University of Toronto, Canada.

Prepared and presented by: Dr. Abdi Aden Mohamed:

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