By Hassan M. Abukar
Ibrahim M. Hussein—better known as “Ibrahim Dheere,” the Chairman of the United Western Somali Liberation Front (UWSLF) in the Somali region of Ethiopia—is now in the news, after many years of silence.
Sporting a well-trimmed beard, Ibrahim Dheere taped a statement on July 20, 2018, that he dubbed a “press conference” and presented some interesting proclamations. The timing of his appearance on social media recently has raised more questions than answers. Why now? What does he want?
The controversial cleric once served as an imam in a mosque in Seattle, Washington, but was arrested by the U.S. authorities on allegations of immigration fraud and terrorist ties and was deported to Kenya. Back in Somalia, he headed the UWSLF, an Islamic group, which was engaged in guerilla warfare inside the Somali region of Ethiopia.
In 2010, Ibrahim and his group decided to lay down their arms and sign a peace treaty with Addis Ababa. They were given amnesty and they renounced violence and insurrection against Ethiopia. Ibrahim’s political capitulation generated intense debates among Somali nationalists; some were caught off guard by his move, while others denounced him as a “sellout” and a “traitor.” Among Islamists, the treaty was the subject of much discussion and speculation. Some castigated him as a heretic, while others welcomed the treaty as a realistic move to give respite to a small Islamic group in which victory had eluded.
But again, where has Ibrahim been for the past several years?
It depends on who you ask.
The man himself has a simple explanation: He said he’s been busy working on “peaceful endeavors” to help his people better their lives and conditions by providing them with social, economic, and political services. However, his services, he said, have been torpedoed by what he calls the evil machinations of the “past federal regime in Addis Ababa” and the regional state in Jigjiga under the leadership of Abdi M. Omar, also known as Abdi iley.
“They [the federal and state governments] were anti-reform and anti-change,” Ibrahim said.
Ibrahim does not mention in his statement that he had a fall out with Abdi Iley several years ago and that he has been in Malaysia pursuing graduate studies.
The subject of Malaysia is rather painful for Ibrahim, as this writer had learned the hard way when he tried to interview him last year. It connotes the kind of remoteness—both physical and emotional—that politicians don’t like to be reminded of by their followers. For them, the mantra is: “I am still here and relevant.”
After Ibrahim had signed the treaty with the Ethiopian government, he was in celebratory mood. In Jigjiga, he and his associates were received with jubilations and fanfare. Speeches were given lauding the treaty and songs and dances were performed—white pigeons were even released.
But the honeymoon between Ibrahim and Abdi Iley was short-lived. It was followed by rancor and accusations by Abdi Iley, who accused Ibrahim and his associates of disloyalty and conspiracy. Finally, the two leaders went their separate ways and Ibrahim left Jigjiga. Ibrahim’s group floundered, and some of his former fighters found a new home in Abdi Iley’s brutal Liyu Police.
For Ibrahim’s detractors, he had become a non-factor. For some of his loyalists, the turn of events was a big disappointment.
“Ibrahim has squandered many opportunities after the peace treaty,” said one cleric, who is still a supporter of Ibrahim. “No one talks about him anymore, and that’s the death knell of a leader.”
Ibrahim wants the Somali people in Ethiopia to know that he has something to offer. He gives the appearance of someone who has not been absent for the past few years, but rather was busy working on their behalf and the improvement of their welfare. He said he has to speak up now because “the situation in the Somali region has become untenable.” It is an environment beset with murder, torture, banishment, and fear.
In spite of this climate of fear, Ibrahim assured his audience that his group was instrumental in helping with the talks between the Ethiopian government and the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), the only remaining armed group in the region, early this year. Those talks, Ibrahim, lamented, had failed.
Now that there is a new administration in Addis Ababa headed by Prime Minister Abiye Ahmed, Ibrahim declared he supports the premier’s changes and reforms. In fact, Ibrahim explained, that he “supports all those who want to bring change to Ethiopia.” The Somali region is the only federated state in Ethiopia, Ibrahim said, that has not experienced any viable change or reform. The blame, he said, falls on the shoulders of Abdi Iley in Jigjiga and his toxic leadership.
In his statement, Ibrahim admits a shocking revelation.
“We knew what was going on in ‘Jaill Ogaden’” he said, referring to the notorious prison in Jigjiga that serves as torture chamber.
If Ibrahim knew about Jail Ogaden, why was he is silent all these years?
Perhaps, he himself was afraid of Abdi Iley. Or, could it be that his silence was merely political expediency?
What about Abdi Iley and Ibrahim after their split a few years ago?
“During Ramadan this year,” Ibrahim said, “I met Abdi Iley in Jigjiga and pleaded with him to spearhead the change sweeping through Ethiopia or to step aside.”
When Abdi Iley refused, Ibrahim said he pleaded with the strong man to expand his power base, but to no avail.
So far, no statement from Abdi Iley has been made about this supposed meeting.
At the end of his statement, Ibrahim called for Abdi Iley to resign immediately. He also called for a national conference to be convened to discuss the situation in the Somali region. He recommended that this conference develop what he called a “roadmap.” Finally, Ibrahim requested that the new Ethiopian prime minister send federal troops to end the ongoing killings between the Somali and Oromo nationalities.
Ibrahim’s statement sparked bewilderment and outrage in certain circles. Some have seen it as an opportunity for the former rebel leader to add his voice to the growing chorus of reform-minded people clamoring for change in Ethiopia. Some believe Ibrahim himself was a victim of Abdi Iley’s ruthless regime, as one supporter of Ibrahim said. Then, there are others who took a long view — a gloomy one — of him.
“This man betrayed his people and is now trying to jump from a derailed train,” said one young critic.
Time will tell.
Hassan M Abukar
Hassan M. Abukar is a contributor to Wardheernews and the author of Mogadishu Memoir. He can be reached at [email protected].
–Ibrahim Dheere and Ethiopia seven years later By Hassan M Abukar
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