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Roots to the Somali Massacre: Challenging False Narrative

By Faisal Roble

Awadey’s September Massacre

Following the September 12, 2017 Awadey massacre, the United States Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, issued a press release that urged “the Ethiopian government to conduct a transparent investigation into all allegations of violence and to hold those responsible accountable.” It continued to say: “We are disturbed by the troubling reports of ethnic violence, although the details of what is occurring remain unclear.”

The Charter-based 1991 map to which Somali leaders signed as part of the new Ethiopia

This essay will attempt to unmask what had happened in Awadey, a small Khat trading town in Oromia region where about 40 Somali civilians were killed.  Sooner did the massacre took place than gory scenes of heads being severed, lymph mutilated while triumphant murders dancing over dead bodies appear; adding insult to injury, the criminals and mobs waived machetes and sickles – the murder tools – in the air and performed war dances over dead bodies lying in dirty allies.

The Somali victims were businessmen and women, including some who lived amongst the Oromos for decades. Those killed shared a common identity but had different geographic origins: they all were Somalis from Somali Region in Ethiopia (DDIS), Djibouti and the Federal Republic of Somalia.

The scene of Awadey did not look anywhere close to the scene often-described by Ethiopian nationalists (Andinet ideologues) who preached in debates that Ethiopians have been integrated for generations so much so that a massacre like this was unthinkable.

Alas, the scene of Awadey disproved that attestation, at least for now. If xenophobia left unchecked, Ethiopia can and may experience what had transpired in Rwanda and Burundi; given the defiance of the authorities of Oromia region, more of a similar massacre could be in store for Somali civilians.

Oromia authorities have neither apologized nor sent an official message of condolences either to the families of the victims or to the authorities of the Somali region. Instead, they quickly embarked on a campaign of propaganda trying to advance false narratives and to whitewash what could be crimes against humanity.

Rather, they right away initiated smear campaign and a cover of the massacre. Speaking to VOA Afaan Oromo, Addisu Arega, the Oromia regional communication director, accused the Liyu (“special” in Amharic) police in the Somali region of crossing into the Oromia region and killing a number of people. He continued to say that people were captured during the fighting, and “based on that information, we have now realized, three entities are taking part on attacking our people: Somali region Liyu police, Somali region militias and a man holding a Somali republic regular Army Identification Card, whom we are investigating.”

It is simply an untenable justification for Oromia officials to argue that members of the Somali National Army, which, in all practical terms, is locked in an existential war with Al-Shabab, came to Awadey and fought against Oromo militias. The propaganda narrative Mr. Arega invoked now is similar to one used by OPDO in 1993, when a conflict broke out between Somalis and Oromos following a concerted attack Oromo groups waged against Somalis in the area between Jigjiga and Babile. At that time Oromia authorities falsely claimed that Colonel Ahmed Omar Jess was fighting inside Jigjiga.

Despite the callous stance of the OPDO and its apologists, Somalis handled their loss in a more compassionate and forgiving way. On September 15, three days after what Somalis are now calling the Awadey massacre, the autonomous Somali Regional Government (DDIS) peacefully mass-buried 20 of the over 40 victims.  Over hundred thousand people, whose grim faces wore uncertainty and fear of the unknown that could happen tomorrow, came to collectively and peacefully mourn the dead.

In unequivocal terms, DDIS community, cognizant of its collective hurt, consciously denounced conflict and civil strife; it called for patience and forgiveness without malice to none.  The regional president, flanked by religious leaders (member of both the Muslim and Christianity), elders and government officials called for calm and peaceful mourning. Unlike their OPDO interlocutors, the Somali authority decidedly relegated the painful experience of Awadey into the past and longed for better prospects.

Timeline of past Massacres

The Awadey massacre points to yet another complete failure of Oromo leadership since the 1960s.  Here is a timeline of multiple massacres misguided Oromo masses carried against their neighbors and follow country folks.

In 1974, following the Dergi’s bloody coup in Addis Ababa the country was awash with several strains of socialist rhetoric.  One common slogan was “land to the tiller.”

Although many peasants in the country peacefully welcomed the spirit of regaining their arable lands they had lost to feudalists under the emperor’s rule, Oromo peasants felt more empowered with such rhetoric and went on rampage. Without an organized leadership, Oromo vigilante groups attacked civilians in Eastern Hararge. Just like in 2017, armed with machetes and sickles, mobs of Oromo peasants descended onto farms owned by urbanite Hararis or to the gated city of Harar to exact harm against Hararis.

Without any central government to speak of in Hararge at the time, Somalis to their credit came to the defense of their brethren Hararis; in awe, Hararis then coined the slogan that went this way: “we prefer an Amhara that we know than an unpredictable Oromo.”

One of the first challenges that the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) confronted in Eastern Ethiopia in 1991 was managing the uncontrollable massacre of hundreds of Amharas in Eastern Oromia. Following the 1991 revolution, because of a temporary power vacuum or a weak central government, Oromos once again took their anger on Amhara settlers in Oromia areas. The Oromos mercilessly attacked civilian Amharas in Ajerso Gore, Hirna, Dadar, Harar, Diridhabe, and elsewhere.

Between 1991 and 1996, it used to be a regular evening news on Ethiopian National TV to see dead bodies of Amharas being recovered from gorges and distant villages.  Some of the victims lived in these areas for over hundred years.  As a result, unabated massacre in Oromo areas became a sore point between TPLF and OLF at the time.

Out of their good conscious, Somalis again defended Amharas and Tigers in the region, particularly those in Diri-Dhaba. Why? Because Somalis believed it was their Islamic duty to defend unarmed civilians who live amongst them.  “Protection of your neighbor” is both an Islamic and a Christian value.  In comparison, not a single Amhara or Tigre was hurt in the Somali region.

In 1993, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) in collaboration with Oromo Peoples Democratic Organization (OPDO), a member of the EPRDF coalition, militarily attacked Jigjiga and placed claim on multiple Somali territories, including Chinacsani and Babili.  The late Dr. Abdulmajid, who served Ethiopia’s Minister for Foreign Cooperation and Permanent Representative at the United Nations, was hackled by members of EPRDF soldiers of Oromo extraction while he was conducting official visit in the vicinity of Jigjiga.

Remember Mr. Arega of OPDO telling VOA following the Awadey massacre that members of the Somalia army fought alongside the Liyu police in September, 2017I? As much of a lie as this assertion is, the same was said by OLF and OPDO in 1993, only that time the character they blames on all the evil was Colonel Ahmed Omar Jess, who at the time was locked in a deadly conflict over the control of Kismanyo, Jubbaland of Somalia.

Read More: Roots to the Somali Massacre- Challenging False Narrative 

Faisal Roble

Faisal Roble, a writer, political analyst and a former Editor-in-Chief of WardheerNews, is mainly interested in the Horn of Africa region. He is currently the Principal Planner for the City of Los Angeles in charge of Master Planning, Economic Development and Project Implementation Division.


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