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Eritrea and ONLF - An Unholy Alliance
By Mohamed Ugas
January 06, 2010

Eritrea and Ethiopia Map
Eritrea is a nation state that is situated north of Ethiopia. It gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993. The Somali Regional State (aka Western Somali and Ogaden) is still part of Ethiopia and it is located in the south-east of the country; however, there is a political entity known as Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) that claims to be fighting for the liberation of that region from Ethiopia. On the basis of my enemy’s enemy is my friend, the leaders of Eritrea and ONLF are working together, in the shadows and in extreme secrecy, to take advantage of the current Horn of Africa political climate. Here is a birds-eye-view of what is going on in that part of the world.

I will begin with Eritrea. It has a population of 3.6 million people. It got full independence from Ethiopia on May, 24, 1993. Its constitution was ratified in 1997; but is not yet implemented. The branches of the government are:

(1) Executive (the president and the cabinet)
(2) Transitional National Assembly (parliament) which is only nominal
(3) The Supreme Court.
Eritrea has one political party namely, People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ). Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is $700 million dollars; of which $250 million is earmarked for defense. The president has strict control of political, social, economic and military affairs. He nominates individuals to hold various ministries, authorities, commissions and offices. General elections have not been held since Independence and the statutes and tenets outlined in the constitution were never put into practice. Therefore, for the past eighteen long years, Eritrea has experienced a totalitarian system of governance under the dictatorship of Esias Afework and a single party that predominantly uphold supremacy over political, economic, social and cultural life of the beleaguered Eritreans.

Hence, some disgruntled brave members of the PEDJ declared their grievances in 2001 and demanded the implementation of the tenets of the constitution and called for a general election.  Instead of showing some sort of reform, or some other excuse for the delay, the government responded by putting 11 members of the party behind bars. When the Supreme Court tried to intervene by declaring the arrest of the party members as unconstitutional, two Supreme Court judges were also detained. Subsequently, a number of independent press reporters and editors were detained incommunicado and without charges.

Even though, Eritrea is still in its embryonic stage as a free county- it has only 16 years of independence- it got embroiled in four major wars with its neighbors in the very short years it existed as a free nation.  It went to war with Yemen- across the Red Sea, against the Sudan in the north, against Djibouti in the east and against Ethiopia in the south. In December 2009, the United Nations Security Council has imposed arms and trade sanctions on Eritrea, for supporting insurgents trying to topple the besieged, fledgling government of Somalia.

Politically isolated, internationally ostracized and bankrupt, Eritrea’s impoverish populace remains helplessly tethered and stifled under a faltering tyrannical regime. And, interestingly, this is the only country that ONLF has relations with.

ONLF has no contacts with the neighboring Kilil-6 (the so-called Somaliland) or with Kilil-7 (Puntland) - two shameless entities remotely controlled by the EPRDF – entities which do not have confidence in their Somaliness and have chosen to prostitute themselves to their Habasha masters. What a shame!!! How lowly. A large section of the Somali population inhabiting in these discredited entities had willfully consented to be manipulated by an unscrupulous gangs who dishonored themselves and the august Somali name for giving in to whoredom.

ONLF (Ogaden National Liberation Front)

Somali Regional State, Ethiopia

ONLF came into existence in 1984 after the failures of Nasrullahi (1960s) and WSLF (Western Somali Liberation Front in1970s and 1980s). The 1977-78 conventional war between Somalia and Ethiopia, internationally dubbed as the Ogaden war, has epitomized the opportunistic gambit of the Cold War powers. At the height of the conflict, the Soviet Union switched from Somalia to Ethiopia tipping the balance in favor of Ethiopia. WSLF which served as a convenient proxy tool for Somalia were dealt with a resounding defeat, thanks to the incomparable might of the then Soviet Union and its satellite states.

As reliably attested by historians and international human rights bodies, gross human rights violations and atrocities were committed and still being committed against the Ethiopian Somalis, by occupying Amhara and Tigrean overlords, for the past 150 years. But the question here is can ONLF liberate Somalis from the yoke of Ethiopian colony? Can the ONLF correct its long term strategies and political programs?  Can it allow elections to take place and adhere to its own constitution and procedures? Will the ONLF allow consulting with or adhering to the mainstream or consensus views from traditional elders, Ulemas and the intellectuals?

For instance, the most important issue here is, to continue the war of liberation or to have peace with Ethiopia, particularly as the ongoing ONLF war is largely regarded as a proxy war serving only the interest of Eritrea. For the past fifteen years, ONLF has waged a war on development projects in the region, destroying vital bridges, communication lines, schools and medical facilities. All the Ethiopian Somali people rightfully believe that the issue of war and peace must be decided by the people. All segments of the Ethiopian Somali community (clans, sub-clans and sub-sub-clans) must participate in a grand conference, in which, they decide their destiny (to continue the war or to have peace with Ethiopia). This issue of war and peace is up to the people to decide. It is not up to a few miss-guided, miss-informed, self-opinionated and arrogant individuals.

Even in its current clannish shape, operating in the shadows and in secrecy, ONLF must satisfy the people, it claims to represent. There should be elections to have proper and accountable leaders as per and in accordance with the rules, regulations, procedures and the constitution of ONLF. The ONLF leadership has so far declined to convene a general conference participated by all the stakeholders in which the destiny of the people of the Somali region is discussed openly.

Another case that I wish to mention here is to remind the ONLF leaders the fact that they are a public relations disaster.  ONLF has never written or disseminated in any way or form - print or broadcast - its political program and strategic objective through any media outlet. For instance, when the ONLF leadership visits North America they usually contact with a group of untaught old women, youth and innocent who are not familiar with the historical and current developments taking place in the Somali region of Ethiopia. They ignore intellectuals or anyone who has the capacity to question their party line propaganda and countless tales of unfounded victories. In every gathering, they have the habit of declaring victory and promising the total liberation of the region within a matter of a year. They tell the people a lot of lies. ONLF leaders should stop the lies and deal with the realities on the field.

In the old Newtonian law in physics, action and re-action are equal in magnitude but opposite in direction. ONLF had categorically rejected to participate in the general elections of 1995. A few years after, it started an armed struggle against the EPRDF government. EPRDF retaliated through collective punishment, killing, maiming, intimidating and humiliating a large section of the Somali population. It is wrong that Tigrean overlords trample upon innocent citizens. However, it is the ONLF that started the war and it is partly to be blamed. People now believe that ONLF is part of the problem and may not necessarily be part of future solutions of the ongoing crisis. Was it possible that this unnecessary war could have been avoided 15 years ago?  I think so.  Therefore, ONLF is to be blamed for the current war!!! 

Furthermore, I would mention here that Ogaden (Western Somalis) supported Nasrullahi and WSLF in the ‘60s -‘70s and 1980s. Unfortunately, considering from hindsight, the reality is that some of the top leaders of these two organizations were mentally handy-capped. They really belonged to a mental institutions and not a leadership position of any aspiring organization. They should not have been in a position of leading people. Now in the 21st century are the Western Somalis ready once more to be led by another set of mentally retarded leaders who have become pawns of the Eritrean dictator?

Last but not least ONLF must cease the mindless and counter-productive measures it is engaged in – such as intimidating, harassing and murdering citizens of the Somali region who ask them a question or a point of clarification on their policies. For instance, Suldan Yusuf Suldan Muxumed Suldan (Abrahim, Makahil) was mercilessly murdered by ONLF operatives. When his family complained to ONLF leadership, they told the family that he deserved to die. That was in Wardheer district. Ibado Maxamed Axmed was also killed in Sagag by the ONLF militias. Maxamed Mursal Shiil was beaten to a pulp in Denmark. What in the name of God ONLF means by these barbarous acts?

There is another bone of contention here. The name ONLF itself has got many meanings. Many foreign countries know Ogaden as a geographical location or a country. But the reality is Ogaden is a sub-clan of the larger Darod clan. There are so many other clans, sub-clans and sub-sub-clans in the Ethiopian Somali Regional State. Does ONLF need the support of their brothers to win the war? If so; let them have good relations with them and dispense with the divisive, clan name that doesn’t serve the collective interest of the Somalis in Ethiopia.

In order for Eritrea to survive as a nation, it must have cordial relations with its neighbors- Sudan, Yemen, Djibouti and Ethiopia. ONLF must seek consensus from Somalis across the region. It should be more forthcoming; it should clarify its political program, short and long term strategies. Otherwise it is doomed to failure like Nasrullahi and WSLF did before it.

Mohamed Ugas
San Diego, California


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