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Published On: Mon, Aug 10th, 2015

Ogaden Issue needs a Brain, not a Bullet.

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By Ali yare

Usually as human beings, if something doesn’t work for us for any reason, we immediately change our strategy as well as operational approach. It is natural for us to seek an alternative way to do things to reach our intended goals. We think, reason, use our intellect, and come up with another way of doing things. God privileges us by giving a very sophisticated brain and powerful intelligence which differentiates us from other animal species. Thus, we are supposed to utilize this precious gift (i.e. the brain) for the betterment of our daily lives and solve difficult issues that we face every day. But failure to use our God given brain rationally, bloodshed, brutality and destruction will never stop in this world. Many of us keep making the same mistakes over and over again either intentionally or because of ignorance and that is why the world affairs are more complicated today. There is a saying which says “If you use the same equation and expect different answer, something is wrong with you”. Unfortunately, this is what the majority of Ethiopian politicians have been doing for so long. It seems to me that many of them don’t want to use their valuable assets, the brain, to find a political solution for the chronic conflict that has been going on in their country for last several decades. For many years the Ethiopian successive rulers have inherited Ogaden problem from one to another, but none of them looked at the situation carefully and came up with different solution. They all used the same failed policy to achieve their ultimate goals.  Despite their miserable consecutive failure, every single one insisted on solving the Ogaden issue militarily.  Surprisingly, these leaders were stuck with the same formula to deal with Ogaden crisis which was to pacify that land at the gun point. No one took advantage of his powerful intellect to understand that dialogue is the only way out of the Ogaden political mess.

No one was more determined than the former dictator, Meles Zenawi, who vehemently tried to suppress the freedom movement in Ogaden through force; however, we all know that his use of force cost him dearly. He achieved nothing but more deaths, more material loss and more political damage. His failure of the military mission in Ogaden is the indicative of complexity of the situation in that territory and how everlasting peace can never be achieved by intimidation, killing or torture. Zenawi, as well as his successor, the current insignificant prime minister, seemed not to grasp the strengths of the movement led by ONLF. They both underestimated the power of the resistance because of their overconfidence in their army forces which led them to believe that no one could stop them. Nevertheless, the outcome of Zenawi’s military adventure in Ogaden in 2007 proved that he was totally wrong. His stubbornness, arrogance and dictatorial behavior led him to his political disaster as well as military defeat. In my opinion, the result of that military operation broke his heart and caused his health to deteriorate until he died.

The military operation in which ONLF destroyed the Chinese oil company in obole including the Ethiopian military base sent shock waves to Addis Ababa regime and brought Zenawi and his inner circles to the reality. The “Shockingly successful” attack on the Chinese oil company caused so much fear among the Ethiopian leadership. “Attack was an embarrassment for the EPDRF, its failure to protect the oil project site and respond immediately against the attackers” the American ambassador in Addis Ababa Yamamoto writes.

Before ONLF attacked the Chinese Oil Company and overrun military garrison protecting them, the former dictator Meles always tried to avoid from talking his concerns about ONLF. He was afraid that mentioning ONLF would make him look weak in the eyes of the international community and his words would be interpreted as a kind of recognition.  Nevertheless, the situation reached a level where he couldn’t ignore it anymore in terms of its magnitude and danger.  The ONLF’s successful operation on the Chinese company in Obole shook Meles’ regime. It forced himself to speak out about ONLF publically.

There was no doubt that ever since the ONLF took guns against the his regime, Zenawi and EPRDF leadership felt the pressure, and as WikiLeaks reported they have been paranoid about ONLF; however, Zenawi kept hiding his feelings pretending as if ONLF doesn’t exist at all. But his fear toward ONLF was revealed in the diplomatic channels.  “In a diplomatic cable  sent by US ambassador Donald Yamamoto in Addis Ababa in November 2007 and recently leaked by WikiLeaks, it is made clear that the insurgency by the ONLF The Ogaden National Front (ONLF) is strongly worrying the Ethiopian government.” It continues “Because, the government of Ethiopia’s core Tigrean people’s liberation front (TPLF) sees in the ONLF an image of itself two decades ago when it overthrew the brutal communist Derg regime, prime minister Meles and his chief of defense force, General Samora Yonus, consider it vital to eliminate the ONLF before this insurgent group gains wider support” ambassador Yamamoto sums up.

While the Ethiopian leaders were complaining to US about the danger of ONLF posed to the existence of their regime secretly, the public were being given misleading information such as there was no ONLF in Ogaden or we flushed it (ONLF) out of Ogaden and so on. We all know EPRDF’s politicians speak on both side of their mouth with contradicting speech.  “It is our assessment that Prime minister Meles and the government of Ethiopia leadership likely view the ONLF as a long term threat to survival of the EPRDF government”, the ambassador details, mentioning similarities between the ONLF and Mr. Meles’ TPLF” he said. The Ambassador made a clear that this assessment is from Ethiopian side but not his own one. “It is apparent from our conversation that the Prime Minister, General Samora and other TPLF/EPRDF members view the military defeat of the ONLF now as critical to prevent it from posing a threat to the government in the future” the ambassador wrote.

As many of us remember, in 2007 Zenawi held a press conference in his office and declared a war on ONLF; he spoke to the media declaring that his administration was going to fight with ONLF militarily, politically and economically. Within few weeks he mobilized more than 50,000 of his army force and poured them to Ogaden territory in intention of eliminating ONLF out of Ogadenia.  “Comb ONLF out of the Ogaden territory as lice are combed from out of hairs” he said to his generals as revealed by anonymous sources.

Despite the massive manpower and military equipment, ONLF was able to engage them in a tough fight with high moral and smart tactics.  ONLF fighters had to use a 21st century an asymmetrical guerrilla warfare tactics.  Ethiopian military become easy target because of two reasons:

  • 90% of soldiers knew nothing or little of the country that they were trying to fight in.
  • They had to move in a big numbers which made them vulnerable to ONLF ambushes.

Contrary to that, ONLF was familiar with topography of the land and they took advantages of that knowledge, inflicting the Woyane soldiers on a heavy loss for the first few weeks.  After realizing that his military machine was bogged down in Ogaden, Meles immediately reversed his military mission, and called off the operation asking his generals to bring the army back to its barracks. As Zenawi’s regular army faced disastrous loss in the fight with ONLF, he started playing his last card to control the situation on the ground.

Zenawi, running out of all options, finally came up with an unprecedented plan that was unheard of in Ogaden. He started recruiting thugs, losers, street boys and camel keepers from Somali Ogadenians to be shields of his brutal soldiers from the ONLF bullets. He created what we know now Liyuu Police out of frustration and desperation because of the humiliating defeat of his army force in battle field in Ogaden. Historically, Ethiopia never trusted Somali ethnic groups with anything because ever since their colonial forces set foot on Ogaden land, rebellion movement against them never stopped. Somalis and Ethiopians are natural enemy because there is always deep suspicion between them. On the other hand, the Ethiopian successive regimes have never differentiated Somali Ogadenians in terms of for those who are on their sides or for those who are opposing them.  Regardless of their allegiance, Somali Ogadenians are always treated as enemy.

However, the formation of armed force from the Somali population by Meles Zenawi caught everybody off guard particularly for those who know a little bit about Ethiopian history. His Forming Somali militias equipped with Ethiopian weapons was something new to Ogaden Territory. We all know that Zenawi didn’t form these militias units because he wanted to, but because he had to. In realization of his inability to curb strong movement led by ONLF, and an ineffective of his regular army in battlefield, Meles had to do something to reduce his military losses as well as political ones. The Zenawi regime’s mobilization of poorly trained militias (Liyuu Police) against ONLF was unexpected but inevitable move. When I say inevitable, I mean the only tool that left for Zenawi was to organize some kind of forces among Somali Ogadenians against ONLF. He predicted his inescapable reality of losing war in Ogaden and as all colonial powers have done before, he started playing his last card to save his regime.  He created the uneducated, undisciplined militias (The liyuu police) and gave them a task that his regular army failed to fulfil. His situation becomes like “A drowning man will clutch at a straw”

As many of us expected the Liyuu police disappointed him very much because they made the situation worse. They couldn’t accomplish anything since their assignments were too huge to handle. There was, is not single achievement brought to his regime or to the current one. Basically they brought nothing but more bloodshed, more killing and more rapes; however, the situation on the ground is still the same. Now Meles is gone but the Ogaden problem is still here. It is going to nowhere until Addis Ababa regime changes its attitude toward it. Regardless of who comes to the power one thing is for sure Ogaden problem will still hanging on his/her neck.

It is obvious that Ethiopia cannot hold Ogaden by force forever and sooner or later Ogadenia will go by its way, but question is how will it go? It will either leave hard way or easy way and either way it is up to Ethiopian regime. Today the ball is in the hands of the Ethiopian prime minster Hailemariam Desalegn. My advice is that don’t let your pride blind you from the reality. Use your brain and come to the table and let us solve the Ogaden conflict peacefully.  Stop the senseless killing of the civilians in Ogaden and close the torture camps. Let us build for our sons and daughters future together and let us save the lives of our children.

Writer of Ogaden affairs:

Ali yare.



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