By: Ismael Mohammed Adi
The recent Oromo protests that led to the reversal of the decision of FDRE government to expand the base territory of Addis Ababa city came, by the way, as a total surprise to many in and outside the country but mostly to the Oromos themselves. None from the Ethiopian Oromo community ever expected such concession given the history of repression and dictatorship in Ethiopia under previous regimes.
The Oromos also hailed the protests as a gateway to increasing their ministerial leadership share within the federal government. This itself was another important surprise waiting them just around the corner. After all, as this is not Mengistu’s Ethiopia and FDRE is an elected government, good surprises like these can be a part of our lives through a government response to public demands. While the outcome from the protests in both cases should be fine with every Ethiopian, the downside is that they emboldened the Oromo political elite, from both opposition and ruling party alike, giving birth to a new attitude towards the approach of handling traditional land conflicts with neighboring ethnicities, the Somali Region being a case in point.
The mistaken and newly conceived impression that they can apply the same Addis Ababa experience to the border issue with the Somali Region is the cause for the new derailment of stability and peace in the border areas for more than half a year. With this new attitude, the frequency of attacks from Oromia’s armed militia and trained policemen has sharply risen to new levels in the past few months.
It is really not a joke that the upsurge in politically driven violence in the border areas between the two Region comes with a new catch phrase increasingly becoming common among the Oromo political elite, particularly after reversal decision. It goes like this:We have won the west; we shall now win the east. This basically means the Addis Ababa expansion plan was defeated through protests, so it is now time to take the crushing weight of the Oromo to the eastern neighbor, the Somali Region, to 3 wreak havoc and expand the Oromia territory to the east
However, the two issues in the same Oromo catch phrase are indeed very different things that can be revealed by a closer look. For instance, the Addis Ababa expansion plan dropped by the FDRE government covered territory settled by Oromo farmers but the fighting in the Somali Region is driven Oromo’s insatiable quest for territorial expansion, which is not new at all and continues through decades of history.
The consequence inherited by Somali Region currently from the ongoing border conflict with Oromia Region is not only deaths and destruction of property so far. It is also the media portrayal of a misleading picture of what this standoff is all about and its ferocity, unfairly hijacking the views of the international community and eclipsing the facts regarding the origins of the crisis, its new driving factors and why it is so different this time than those in the past.
This apparently makes the conflict one of the most misunderstood issues in the Horn of Africa today, putting the Somali pastoral communities, the real victims of this stalemate, on the losing side and the Oromiya government leadership and opposition elements, the actual perpetrators of the ongoing violence, jointly on the winning side.
The silence of the Somali regional government on the issue and the absence of its voice in the domestic and international media were not easy but understandable. On the one side, regional attention and effort was consumed by the struggle of responding to a debilitating drought affecting most parts of the Region, while on the other, regional authorities have kept the conflict to a low profile in the hope that it can be addressed peacefully through constructive engagement with its counterpart as the case has always been in the past.
In either case, such silence has not helped the situation as it has given the Oromia government and opposition activists to bury down the truth about the border crisis through the use of predatory media. This has ultimately spread a false but unfortunately unchallenged impression that Oromia Region is the perceived recipient and victim of attacks from its neighbor, Somali Region, though reality is undoubtedly otherwise.
The artificially-created confusion surrounding the conflict is not only shocking to the Somali communities and authorities affected by the inter-state border crisis but also to most ordinary Oromos who are struggling understand the real intentions and the approach of their political elite and think that the issue has been taken too far than necessary and at the expense of what is best for both Regions and communities – peaceful dialogue.
The beneficiaries of this confusion are neither the Somali nor the Oromo people but the Oromo political elite who is persistently looking for scapegoats, using the conflict to hide their withering confidence by the public and dwindling support for such elite.
Given this state of affairs between the two sides, displacing truth in favor of fabricated lies would, by anyone’s standard, yield dangerous consequences for all parties concerned in the long-term regardless of who may benefit from it in the short-term.
Most importantly, however, such act would make the prospects for amicably settling the problem more remote than ever before. In my role as an independent researcher of such issues lately, this is to provide ground level clarification of facts based on assessments I have undertaken and on the consistent outcomes of investigations made by various individuals and entities in and outside the Region.
This article is not about making conclusions by merely quoting what others have said on the matter, but also includes field visits I personally made to more than ten conflict-affected Woredas, giving me the first hand opportunity to talk to victims, assess locations of fighting and study conflict incidents in detail.
Editor’s Note: The views expressed in this article only represent the views of the author and not that of jigjigaherald.com. He can be reached at E-mail:email@example.com