You have heard of the big country of Ethiopia, Right? You probably have visited Ethiopia or to say the least, you may be planning a journey once in your lifetime. If that is on your to-do list, then you chose the right place to experience the beauty of the world again.
By Ahmed A. Abdulahi
Independent blogger at Voices of Somalia
If you are emotionally too vulnerable to react to sad stories of war, please don’t read this article. It contains some tragically moving lines.
Ethiopia by history is one the oldest countries in the world dating back centuries before the Arrival of Prophet Mohamed’s صلى الله عليه وسلم companions in Abbyssinia. It’s geopolitical location in the Horn of Africa developed interest in Mediterranean traders And Persian merchants in 1534. The old states of Damat and Punt served as long distance trade hubs between the Mediterraneans and local merchants. The exchange of commodities between overseas merchants served as the primary means of currency and trade items.
Ethiopia waged a fierce struggle against the European colonial ambitions in the Horn of Africa, successfully defended its mainland territory from the Italian Aggressors. Ethiopia confronted Italians at the battle of Adwa in 1889 forcing Italian mercenaries to retreat. The battle of Adwa not only ended Italian colonial ambitions in the northern parts of the country but later became a symbol of black victory in Africa’s struggle against European colonies. History says that Ethiopia had never been colonized but experts doubt about the credibility of Ethiopian contextual History. Much of Ethiopian history concentrates on the northern frontiers where anti-colonial struggles existed the most but the British had dominated much of the south eastern parts of Ethiopia in what used to be Western Somalia or famously known Hawd Reserved plateau in today’s Somali state of Ethiopia. Much of Ethiopian history focuses on the northern and central parts of the country. A little is mentioned in Ethiopian history textbooks regarding the southeastern part of the country where I was born and Ethiopia’s largest part of its mainland borrowing biases of problems and critics among the popular historians.
I was born here in Somali state in mid 1994 when this state was neither part of Ethiopia and Somalia. It was a breakaway state illegally claimed and controlled by Ethiopian government for no known legitimate law. The native Somali people of this state had withstood a decade of war against the British rulers who had explored through the region as part of their colonial expansion in Africa. Once the British forces planned to leave the region for its own people, they proposed a dangerous and one of their biggest colonial mistakes which was to unlawfully scede this tiny semi-desert territory to Ethiopia during the reign of Haile Selassie Regime in 1958. This can be referenced to The root causes of the political problems in the Ogaden. Since then, Ethiopia internationally claimed for what could be one-third of the total Somalian landscape—but the region had soon begun a fierce gorilla war against Ethiopian occupation. The main opposition came from the heart of the region’s largest ethnic clan Ogaden National Liberation Front but this wasn’t one clan’s bloody sacrifice rather it later became a national and inclusive internal struggle against the brutal rule of Ethiopian occupation.
The silent Desert story
My mother was born in a conflict-prone area in the heart of clashes in the mainland Ogaden territory where ONLF’s active guerrilla war was the order of the day. She spent her early life witnessing the killings of local villagers by the Ethiopian forces. My mother often told me the tragic stories of war between the ONLF and Ethiopian forces. I once accompanied my mother to a countryside visit deep in the forest of ONLF-administered Hotspots—and a strategic hideout for ONLF fighters. This was our occasional trip to the Miyi (country) with my family during the school breaks. ONLF freedom fighters often lived in the community but they had little trust in being with villagers for long as Ethiopian military would routinely expedite in the forests in search of people they thought were part of the Ogaden liberation fighters.
One day around 10am in sunny clear sky, my mother saw an inventory unit of Ethiopian paramilitary troops circling around our huts and shacks. My mother who was standing outside the left corner of our house ran back to me as fast as she could in a state of frustration. she quickly dictated me some dos and don’ts; “If a soldier walks into the house and asks you, have you seen any ONLF fighter? Say NO” “Don’t panic or scream!” she added up as though they were about to see me in twenty seconds. In a spare of minutes, They started to come out of the jungle and moved towards us pointing their loaded guns towards everywhere. They were as though they were at a war front.
I was watching their activities from a narrow pupil-sized hole in a traditional Somali woven piece of collection made up of woven mats, roots of acacia trees and grass branches inside the house where I was hiding in. The closer they got to us, the more my fear grew but I had to stick to my mother’s rule, the big NOs. I felt extremely frustrated and anxious as they headed towards the direction of our houses. My mother stood up in front of the house as I fearfully hid back off. They finally made our house and started their house check-out procedures looking for Men they believed were members of the ONLF fighters. my frustrated mother had formed herself as a wall of protection as they began to enter our house. Usually the military would interrogate the community about potential information about the ONLF before they did anything harmful.
Typically the Ethiopian military would ask local people on the exact whereabouts of the rebels while scaring them in case they confess anything related to ONLF fighters but the local people had long been part of this intimidation and learned their tactics a lot. I was about ten years old at the time of this anxious moment so I couldn’t be the typical men’s age they were looking for. Literally the Ethiopian force would check in every house they came across looking for men and I was lucky that they hadn’t seen me that day. When they cleared off, I felt like I survived from a potential enemy who could kill me easily. My mother took me back to our town the very next day—but that unforgettable memory of fear was one of the few I can mention here that the people of Western Somali subjected to, for the rest of their life. I can bring up more flashy memories of war if I carry on the stories of my mother but I should stop here by now.
The Era of Truce
So now that you may recall some facts about the Somali state, I want to reflect on how a short moment of peace started to thrive in the areas of conflict for a while not that long before late 2018. In April of 2018, the Ethiopian government had a major political transformation after months of unprecedented nation-wide protests by the country’s largest ethnic population—the Oromo group. Oromo, though they made a struggle similar to that of Somali, at least they were peaceful in many parts of their land but they had also endured a century-old political subjugation and ethnic discrimination. They were killed in numbers and denied their constitutional rights. Oromo people rose up against TPLF rulers and began to protest, block roads, and made road blockades from and into Addis-Ababa, the Ethiopian capital city which ultimately forced Ethiopian prime minister at the time to end his service. This historic incident had created a huge political standoff of who would be the nation’s next premier.
It took the parliament months to fetch ideas of who would fit in the office but that time around, it wasn’t as easy as they could. At the time, the Oromo struggle continued to reach a new milestone. In March of 2018, the movement entered a crucial tipping point and this time, the government had no time to waste. Pressure from the international community grew. Massive human rights abuses and extensive force on peaceful protests reports unleashed. On April 2, 2018, the Ethiopian House of Representatives assembled a historic meeting that broke a month-long political deadlock of the fighting parts. The HOPR elected an Oromo figure Abey Ahmed who became the new prime minister of Ethiopia for the first time an Oromo leader occupied in the position of PM in centuries. Abey served as an intelligence serviceman in the past governments and his influence on the Ethiopian politics was multidimensional. Abey ended decades-long political hostility between Eritrea and Ethiopia.You can also look at this article of me back in September 2018. Abey also Proposed peace deal to the opposition parties who were in exile across various countries in Europe, America and some parts of Africa and eventually became a footprint to an era of peace in Ethiopia. Abey was shortlisted to the 2020 Nobile peace prize and expectedly awarded to the 2019 Nobile peace laureate becoming the first African leader to have such peace honor.
Peace had slowly prevailed in the country I was born, grew and educated. Life began to return and people’s freedom of speech upheld without interference. to anyone who might have heard of the big Ethiopia, it’s not as pure and homogeneous as you think. Ethiopia is a product of diverse people which make up the big Ethiopia. you might have probably heard and visited the people of South Sudan, Eritrea, Sudanise, Somalis and Afar. These diverse ethnic groups added up all together are what Ethiopia represents. a combination of different ethnic groups in Ethiopia not only needs constitutional equalities but also requires settling a varying conflicts of resource, beliefs and opinions.
Being a Somali origin, I often felt strange in the country I was born and educated not because I was 100% Somali but it was because we (Somali state) people often not treated as equal as other Ethiopian groups. We were underprivileged and underrepresented. our constitutional rights as other nations had not been prioritized and given an equal worth either. My story of being Ethiopia was always full of self-doubts but this is not my gratitude to this beautiful country of Ethiopia. rather it’s what I believed, experienced and often thought in school. Our Somali is better than before and as we continue to speak up for ourselves, our demand for justice will determine the fate of our Somali identity. I feel proud to have been part of the Somali state fight for justice for a long time in a harsh political climate and I will be part of the movement as well. This article is nothing more than my take on how I perceived my own identity, where I discovered my sense of being me and where our future as Somali state people lie in the midst of an unprecedented major political shift in Ethiopia. I pray that this country of Ethiopia will prosper and follow a peaceful path.