By Faisal Roble
Ethiopia’s political crisis is at its zenith since the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) took power in 1991. A multitude of disorders come at a time when the once powerful EPRDF shows weakness and partiality to Somalis. A sign of this weakness is its failure to bring under control the Oromo “Qeerro” (the Afan Oromo term for “young men) killers commissioned by Oromia. Although the killing of innocent civilians has taken place in many regions, the deadliest organized violence befall Somalis.
Stubborn Imperial Culture Impede Democratization
Successive regimes in Ethiopia have attempted to reform the ancient empire created by emperor Menelik II at the turn of the last century. One such attempt was the 1948 constitution promulgated by Emperor Haile Selassie, King of Kings, and the Lion of Judah. This change came at the urge of the US administration at the time. The 1948 constitutional reform sought to create a “democratic monarchy.” Its implementation document, however, conditioned the provision of services (education, health, water and power) to non-Christians only if they first accept the “Dawit,” or the “Gospel” by non-Christians. In the document, Muslims (Somalis and Muslim Oromos) were referred to as “aramanes,” or “non-believers.” That reform ended up in the dust pins sooner than the King anticipated.
Following was the Dergi’s socialist regime. With yet another constitution, the Dergi tried to reform the ancient empire and win the hearts and minds of the masses by nationalizing agricultural resources, reforming land tenure including urban real estate, channeling development to the peasantry class, and giving limited “self-rule” to certain regions. A case in point is the “Ogaden ras-gaz,” or “Ogaden self-rule.” Even that failed for it did not fully address “the right of nations and nationalities, including and up secession.” It also squeezed Somalis into 1/3rd of their territory, by putting most of Fafan region in Eastern Hararge, and Shinile into what it erroneously called “Issa and Gurgura ras-gaz”
With a new charter that subsequently evolved into a federalist constitution (1994), the empire created by Emperor Menelik II had morphed into a multinational ethnic-based federalist state. The late Meles Zenawi as the leader of EPRDF has made a meaningful attempt to extend full-scale self-rule to all nationalities. Such rights were codified in Article 39 of the Ethiopian Federal Democratic constitution.
Meles Zenawi and his cohorts’ efforts to address the empire’s internal dynamism have roots in the radical movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
At about 1969, a dozen of PLO-trained commands led by the late Mohammed Ali, an Aden-born Somali, crossed the Gulf of Aden on speed boats. They had planned to start an armed struggle. Before Mr. Ali and his team, which included Easter (Muslim) Oromos, reached the border on their way to the highlands of Jinacsane, Dakhato, Faafan, and Gaaramulata, they were apprehended by Somalia. The commandos remained in jail until 1975.
Once freed from prison, they were joined by Yusuf Dheere, Abdi Shimbir, Ahmed Gadhle, Mohamed Tube, Ahmed Ali Nuur, Ahmed Yasin (Burcawi), and others to form the armed wing of the Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF).
There were Eritrean groups on the north pressuring the empire. Other than that, WSLF is believed to have launched the first armed struggle in Ethiopia on behave of “the question of nations and nationalities.” Groups such as the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), the Sidama People’s Liberation Front, and the Afar Liberation Front came to the scene much later.
Parallel to these armed enterprises were intellectual and/or radical groups that synthesized the question of the empire’s nations and nationalities question. Groups like the Ethiopian People’s Liberation Front (EPLF), the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party, and All-Ethiopia Socialist Movement (MESON) later on developed into left-leaning political parties. The common thread binding these groups with national movements was the commitment to the notion of the equality for nations and nationalities. Another commonality was that the Somali government helped and financed most of these progressive movements.
Whereas radical thinkers and affiliated movements in Europe/America, Algeria as well Addis Ababa supplied the theoretical framework for the struggle for equality in Ethiopia, Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF) spearheaded the armed aspect of the revolution. Dismantling or reforming what was called the “prison of nations,” alias the Ethiopian empire, was a common value held by all. Today’s ethnic-based federal constitution, therefore, has its roots in this era of armed/radical movements.
Meles’ Ethnic federalism represented a serious effort to address the vexing question of nations and nationalities and reform the empire. Unfortunately, beneath the veneer of the federal system Meles created still sit layers of stubborn Dergi and feudal cultures inherited from previous systems that resist democratization and the equality of nations and nationalities.
Therefore, the root cause of the current Ethiopian crisis is nothing more than the failure of Addis Ababa to fully implement, as Herman Cohen said, the issue of self-determination as stipulated in Article 39, which states the following: “Every Nation, Nationality and People in Ethiopia has an unconditional right to self-determination, including the right to secession.” As will be argued bellow, it is this failure on the part of EPRDF – to protect lives and properties – that fueled the massacre against Somalis.
Somali Massacres in a Historical Timeline
Episodic massacres of Somalis are not uncommon. As far back as the beginning of the 20th century, Somalis have witnessed massive mayhems both in the hands of European explorers and by gun touting Abyssinian colonizers. In “Seventeen Trips through Somaliland and A Visit to Abyssinia,” Major H. G.C. Swayne of England chronicles a gory level of mayhem against lowland Somalis in the hands of Abyssinians. These expeditions and their associated massacres were part and parcel of the violent annexation of Somali territories to the Abyssinian Empire.
Then was the large scale massacre in British Somaliland in the hands of Great Britain’s troops that mercilessly tailed and harassed Sayyid Mohammed Abdille Hassan of the Dervish movement.
Equally unforgettable is multiple massacres carried out by Ras Mekonin, governor of Harar and father of Emperor Haile Selassie. As if that was not enough, Emperor Haile Selassie followed suit of his father’s footsteps, and carried out several cruel expeditions into Banka Diida Waaleed, Dhagaxbuur, Qorahay, Ina Guuxaa, as well as in Aisho all of which took place in the 1950s and early 1960s, respectively. The hitherto history of Somalis in Ethiopia has been the history of massacre of subjugated people.
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