By Dalha Nour
Many nations, nationalities and peoples who have distinct tradition, history, and culture call Ethiopia as their homeland. Inequalities, political or otherwise, among the different ethnic groups of the country are relative (rather than absolute), based on the situations of the societies under consideration, whose statuses are to be compared. For example, while Tigrians and Amhara continue to be at the top of the political pyramid, the Oromo are in a much better position in the hierarchy than the Somalis in Ethiopia. Thanks to the position of the OPDO in the EPRDF, unlike Somalis, the Oromo are represented in every federal institution and political making forum.
It is crucial to note that everything that exists has certain connection with the past, and no matter how new it appears to be, it carries some of the history with it. The position that Ethiopian Somali speakers have found themselves in today’s Ethiopia has a lot to do with the past.
For instance, it was not an accident that in his attempt to answer the question of “what are the people of Ethiopia composed of?” Wallelegn Makonnen put the Somali nation in unique and undesirable position. Listing some of the nationalities in Ethiopia, he said that “in Ethiopia there is the Oromo nation, the Amhara nation, the Tigre nation, the Wellamo nation, the Adere nation, the Gurage nation, the Sidama nation and, however, much you may not like it the Somali nation.” Another example is when during the 1973 – 74 disastrous drought, a provincial medical officer demonstrated Ethiopian go
vernment disregard for Somali victims by reasoning that “people have always starved down in the desert and help has never reached them before.” More importantly, in a letter to Belata Ayele Gebre, (the governor of Harerghe) Emperor Haile Sellasie considered Somali region as nothing more than the fence of Ethiopia.
The statement emphasises clearly that the region is outside the main part of the house and should be treated as such. Similarly, and perhaps more distressfully, the recent reactions by the government and the oppositions alike to the ongoing conflicts between neighbouring Ethiopian Somali speakers and the Oromo communities expose the painful fact that some are more Ethiopian than others.
The Oromo and the Somali Ethnic groups have been living together peacefully and maintained constant interactions of various forms for centuries. Surely, localised conflicts over water points and grazing lands were common and the two communities had developed effective mechanisms with which such conflicts could be addressed.
The emergence of the regional states and the political inequality that came with it worsened the situation. The Somali and Oromo regional states share over 1000 km long border and frontier communities have worked out symbiotic arrangements in which they have managed to live together. The majority of the communities occupying the interface between the two regional states are bi-lingual and inter-marriage and cultural blending are common. A significant proportion of these people did not think of themselves as Somali or Oromo – they would rather identify themselves as Issa, Gabra, Borana, Garre etc. However, the issue of identity was raised when the demarcation between the regional states came.
Most likely, due to the political inequality between the two regions, overwhelming majority of the disputed areas were decided for the Oromo. Even to further expose the political power disparity between the two regions, Moyale voted in favour of the Somali, but the Federal Government has yet to implement the decision of the people and the district is still considered as disputed area – damaging the credibility of the government as an impartial body.
In the recent conflicts, in which over hundred individuals have lost their lives and tens of thousands have been displaced, the federal government institutions, the opposition figures, the ESAT TV and the local media analysts have, intentionally or otherwise, twisted the facts. For example, the government’s Spokesman, Dr. Negeri Lencho has recently announced through the national media that hundreds of Oromo and some Somalis have been killed in the conflict between the two regions. Unfortunately, the spokesman appears to have forgotten that as a federal entity and a senior member of the ruling EPRDF, he was supposed to represent all Ethiopians, regardless of their ethnic, political or religious backgrounds. While I do not have the exact figures, I strongly believe that there are more Somali casualties than the Oromo – at least the figures are conservatively comparable. To the surprise of many, there are more Somalis displaced from their homes than the Oromo. This fact is even supported by the data collected by the federal government and international NGOs. In addition, while overwhelming majority of the displaced Oromo are youths who sought job opportunities in Somalia and Somali region, the displaced Somalis are those who identified themselves as Somalis during the demarcation process – this means that they are being evicted from their ancestral homes.
Similarly, the Foreign Minister of Ethiopia Dr, Workneh Gebeyahu has recently visited Jijiga. As part of the visit, the Minister went to Wajale, where about three thousand Oromo returned from Somaliland were camped. But on his way back from Jijiga to Harer, Dr. Workneh failed to ask the situation of the thousands of the displaced Somalis who have been sheltered in Qollechi, just few kilometres from Babile toward Jijiga. Yes again, the respected Minister is an Oromo, but he is also an executive member of the ruling organisation, sitting the forums and discussions in which very important national agendas are decided. Can the minister represent the interests of all Ethiopians, including Somalis, rationally and impartially? Would he be biased against the Ethiopian Somali speakers in international forums, in which he attends, as Ethiopian top diplomat?
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