Thousands of people have fled from Ogaden Region after the Ethiopian regime unleashed a crackdown and collective punishment campaign against the civilian population in its battle with independence-seeking movement, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) especially after the ONLF asked a referendum according to the Transitional Charter of 1991.

As a result, majority of the rural population have become Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) inside Ogaden, while many of them fled to neighboring countries. Those who remained in Ogaden live in desperate condition without any access to basic services or peace for themselves and their animals. Their misery is further compounded by the constant violations they encounter from Ethiopian government army and allied Liyu Police militias. They frequently get detained, tortured, and their little remaining livestock constantly confiscated.

I have managed to interview several people whose livestock was confiscated. One of them is a 56-year old woman from Fiiq area named Fatima Ahmed who fled the Ogaden and currently lives in a neighboring country refugee camp.

“There was a severe food shortage in Fiiq,” said Fatima Ahmed, the 56-year-old mother whose family livestock had been confiscated. “Ethiopian troops came, took away my livestock and slaughtered them for food.” “That Regime made our lives horrible,” she added.

Since 2007 the Ethiopian government imposed an embargo on Ogaden and stopped all commercial trucks entering the Ogaden from region’s long porous border with Somalia, causing a dire humanitarian crisis and exacerbating the already fragile situation of the region. Cut from its economic lifeline and trading route to Somalia, and humanitarian agencies expelled from the region, the inhabitants of Ogaden live on the edge and are constantly facing starvation.

The Ogaden region has been economically connected to the nearby regions of Somalia, mainly Somaliland and Puntland, and has no any trade or cultural connection to the Ethiopia highlands. The Region exports livestock to the Arabian Peninsula through the Port of Berbera and Bosaso, and Djibouti.

Halima Qaw-dan, a 35-year old widow who fled the Ogaden recently told me that they survived by eating leaves while fleeing the Ogaden region. “We ate leaves from the trees to reduce hunger,” she said.

The mainly nomadic pastoralist people of Ogaden depend on rainfall to sustain them, and famine is only a failed rainy season away. The little food that comes from The World Food Programme (WFP) does not reach the venerable people; it ends up in the hands of Ethiopian government troops and allied militias.

“Army Commanders, Liyu Police Officers, and district governors share the food and sell it in the markets “, said Faysal Mohamoud Abdi-wali, a 40-year old, former top Liyu Police Officer that recently defected from Ogaden and lives in neighboring country.

Not all Ogadens are made to suffer hunger though. “If you cooperated with the regime and spied for them by accusing people of being ONLF sympathizers, you would get opportunity to receive UN food giveaways.  But fingers were pointed to innocent civilians and accused of being ONLF sympathizers in order to get food,” said Mr. Faysal Abdiwali.

Hospitals, clinics, and drug stores were totally empty, many people died because of curable diseases, the nearest place to get proper medical treatment is the main cities such as Jig-jiga or Dirdawa and the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa. Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) was denied access to do its humanitarian work in the region by Addis Ababa, a decision “deplored” by the MSF. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was expelled from the region in 2007 for allegedly “aiding members of the separatist Group,” a charge they strongly deny.

“We could get a good medicine when MSF was operating in the area”, said Abdulkader Yusuf Mohamoud, 28, a former Degeh-bur resident who is suffering from 3-year-old TB infection.

Jakob Kellenberger, President of ICRC demanded a permission to resume ICRC to the region in 2011 in order to carry on its humanitarian work but Addis Ababa rejected the request.

Despite under-developments, the state-owned television station – Ethiopian Somali TV (ESTV) – constantly airs signs of paved streets and the construction of new buildings that are limited to the Regional capital Jig-jiga. Many Ogadens believe that it is a cheap propaganda show aimed to attract the Diaspora community which has suffered long time in exile and feeling homesickness.

For the last 6 years, many Ogadens crossed into the borders of Kenya, Somalia and Djibouti, escaping the harsh life back home and in search of safety and a better life. Many of them feel better and safer now in their new host countries than they were in Ogaden .

The Ogaden region is believed to contain huge gas reserves and oil deposits, but many attempts to exploit the regions oil resources have failed due to the on-going armed liberation struggle in the region.

Ogaden National Liberation Front released a fresh warning against African Oil Corporation (AOC). “ONLF calls upon African Oil to desist from paying blood money to Ethiopia until a just settlement of the conflict is achieved and the people of the Ogaden are in a position to be masters of their wealth and interest,” the statement said.

The Rebel further said in a statement that the company is “conspiring with the government to exploit the region’s oil.”

The Ogaden region lies between Oromia to the west, the Republic of Djibouti to the north, Kenya to the south and the Somali Republic to the east.

Ogaden was ceded secretly to Ethiopia by Great Britain in 1954 and that decision was rejected by the Ogaden Somalis. The ONLF is a local, grassroots based movement which has been fighting for the region’s independence since 1984.

By: Ahmed Abdi a freelance writer


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