President Abdi M. Omar Leads a Movement: Reconciliation, Reform and Restoring Relationships
Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), Ethiopian Government Officials and Kenyan Government Officials in Nairobi, Kenya
By Hafsa Mohamed
Ethiopia is currently facing a ray of complex internal issues; protests, pockets of undefined reform, resignation(s), ethnic tensions — and high hopes for change are felt throughout many parts of the country. Regardless of the obvious uncertainty and censorship, it is healthy to address the determination of the Somali Region of Ethiopia to lead the narrative of resolution between communities, political and non-political groups – to essentially promote peace and unity not only internally but also externally. Reconciliation is easier to participate in, but it takes a whole lot of bravery to lead and sustain. (First, let us acknowledge and commend the peaceful resignation of Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn.) President Abdi M. Omar of the Somali Region, in the last few months, has took it upon himself – and encouraged his political counterparts and government – to endorse, activate, organize and disseminate the integration and unification of communities living in the Horn of Africa.
De-marginalization of Somali’s Gabooye Tribe and Eradicating Tribalism
The 2018 new year, in the Somali Region of Ethiopia, was welcomed with a historical community conference calling for the end tribalism and the de-marginalization of the Gabooye Tribe in the Horn of Africa. The Eradicate Tribalism Symposium was led by the Ethiopian Somali Regional Government and participated by diverse groups, clans and tribes, academics, officials, artists, religious leaders and the general community. The conference was far from rudimentary, as tribalism is a complex issue amongst ethnic Somalis; it is not that only one group is relegated, tribalism is multifaceted and affects economic opportunities, all forms of social interactions, mental health, and the common involvement of families in public and private engagements. President Abdi M. Omar commenced the convention by presenting on the history of Somali tribalism, the various marginalized Somali tribes, the reasons and myths behind ostracising certain groups and how to principally erase the inter-tribe and ethnic antipathy from within ourselves and cultivate a new culture of inter-kinfolk/people love, appreciation and exchange knowledge. The opening presentation was followed by discussions, activities, listed community propositions for triggering this “new culture” of reconciliation and love, and religious and cultural condemnation of tribalism. Participants pledged to avoid tribalism in every aspect and to educate community members on how tribalism hinders the growth and success of the Horn of Africa. But, as we all know, it is easy to pledge, as promises are simple commitments beginning and ending in spoken words. So, something surprising and remarkable happened. The President of the Somali Region, Abdi M. Omar, set an example and made a meaningful, monumental and influential pledge: supporting one hundred marriages between Gabooye tribe members and other Somali tribe members. The conference attendees were shocked, as Somalis are normally used to prominent individuals addressing social issues but never taking action – especially when it comes to sensitive matters such tribalism. Not only did the President of the Somali Region propose to support these uncommon inter-tribal unions, he also pledged to sustain the eradicate tribalism measure by enabling region-wide job creation, support systems / focal persons in each governmental office, the following-up of complaints, legal actions against tribalists who commit hate crimes [verbal and non-verbal] and incorporate the eradicating tribalism narrative in schools so that children begin learning tribal equality early. Furthermore, certain government offices decided to further the President’s commitment by encouraging the inter-tribal marriages through offering attractive incentives such as houses, land and monetary giveaways. Addressing negative social norms is one thing, but imagine putting all pride aside and being the first in contemporary Somali history to take the first significant [and concrete] action towards solving ageless Somali tribal segregation in the Horn of Africa. That is exactly what the Ethiopian Somali Regional State’s President, Abdi M. Omar, did – and Somalis all over the world countersigned, in agreement and admiration.
Formal Talks between Ethiopia and Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) Resume
In Ethiopia – due to recent unrest and domestic ambiguity – a level of public, ethnic and political-based resentment has been unearthed. This is common, as when there are uncertainties, groups of all kinds often look to blame others and this regularly results in mounting tensions, additional insecurities and, sometimes, conflicts. Since mid-2017 until now, confirmed narratives report the ethnic-based violence, displacement and tension between Somalis and Oromos in Ethiopia. This ethnic-based violence prompted dialogue and multifaceted reform, in various interconnected ways. The release of Ethiopian political prisoners, the resignation of the Prime Minister and the reshuffling of regional administration officials are all outcomes of the ongoing reform – and, perhaps, more is to come. During this critical time, it is easier to address national and obvious tribulations rather than underlining worries or issues which can later define the future course Ethiopia takes as a country. The formal talks or peace process dismantling [or assimilating] the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), an insurgent group, began around 2010 and halted in 2013 without any fruitful achievement. In February of this year, almost six years later, the Ethiopian Somali Regional Government – headed by President Abdi M. Omar – initiated a resumption to the paused talks between Ethiopia and the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) in Nairobi, Kenya. These reconciliation talks were welcomed throughout the Horn of Africa and globally; and it was dynamically participated by predominant Kenyan, Somali and Ethiopian Officials and senior Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) members. The meetings lasted for three days. Each side presented their concerns and held each other accountable. For those of you who are not aware of the primary objective of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), it to reach self-determination. Secession and Self-Determination (Article 39, FDRE Constitution) is an unconditional right of every group, nation and region in Ethiopia, but when we analyse the Ogaden National Liberation Front’s (ONLF) argument, many questions arise. Credibility is questioned, first. The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) want “Freedom for Ogaden”, so that, you know, the region is governed by Somalis, schools are taught in the Somali language and opportunities are given to Somalis. Wait? Is that not the case in the Somali Region now?! Today, schools and offices use the Somali language, mainly. Today, all opportunities are for Somalis of the region. As for the governing or leadership in the Somali Region — well, let us just say, today, the region has its own Somali semi-autonomous administration and it is led by a courageous and conscious man from the Ogaden Somali clan. Does the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) hold any plausible stance? The answer, clearly, is no. How can a group of detached individuals request liberation from their own distant relatives? Of course, between an opposition group and a government, there is and should be room to negotiate certain conditions, policies and so on. Nonetheless, if majority of the Somali Region’s populace supports the current administration and are content with being part of the country’s federalism system, what prerogative and/or jurisdiction does a non-operational group (e.g. ONLF) living outside of the African continent have to critic or deman [illusory] “liberation”? Moreover, the recommencing of the Ethiopia and Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) talks are highly important as successfully resolving an issue requires compromise, conversation and joint answerability. Silence never works for nothing ever changes; circumstances remain stagnant. Previous talks were mainly directed and steered by non-ethnic Somalis, but with the recent confident initiation made by President Abdi M. Omar, optimism has been restored amongst all involved groups and the larger East African community. President Abdi M. Omar of the Somali Region recognizes the impact of sitting down, collectively and sensibly mapping out solutions which will benefit all people of Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa. The positive and welcoming reaction to these talks is an indicator that the dialogue will continue, and an agreement most favorable for the people of the Horn Africa will be reached soon.
All in all, change, in every context, is constant – sometimes it is for the best and other times, it is convolutely not. Restoring relationships and mobilizing for varied reform are necessary actions to maintaining peace and supporting irreparable progress in multi-sector development. The most powerful act to build on is reconciliation because meaningful transformation and sustainable reform/development can be certainly achieved when everyone is on the same platform – a platform of peace, unity, fellow-feeling(s), community and sacrifice. The late Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “We’ve learned to fly the air like birds, we’ve learned to swim the seas like fish…and yet we haven’t learned to walk the Earth as brothers and sisters.” The time is now. Regardless of differences, former conflicts and disagreements, opinions or experiences, communities and people are stronger unified. Leading a movement of togetherness and persistently promoting reconciliation necessitates humbleness, sincerity, strategy, mindfulness and courage. President Abdi M. Omar transmits those noteworthy qualities in his leadership approaches and the people of the Horn of Africa are motivated.
The writter, Hafsa Mohamed, is an Ethiopian-American Diaspora member working in the development sector in Ethiopia