Ogaden: Drought and lies, tales from the ‘ghost’ region
“The Ogaden is a ghost, a black hole that no one writes and no one speaks about. The pro-government militias have been committing abuses and violence against the population in the indifference and ignorance of world public opinion for years since the territory is off limits to humanitarian aid workers and journalists,” said Gürhan Ahmed, a member of the National Front for the Liberation Ogaden (ONLF), to MISNA describing the situation in the Somali-majority region.
Rich in natural gas, the Ogaden territory was annexed by Ethiopia at the end of World War II. “But the government in Mogadishu and Addis Ababa have disputed sovereignty over the territory, while we Ogadenis demand what others have received, after years of struggle, which is the right to self-determination,” says Gürhan comparing his people’s struggle to that of neighboring South Sudan, which became independent last July.
For years, due to an undeclared embargo, imposed by the central government, a population of about eight million people are forced to rely, for income, only on cross-border trade with Somalia, “since international aid, wheat, sorghum, corn and other good things, lie in the ‘coffers’ of President Meles Zenawi”, Gürhan complained, adding that” the international community closes both eyes when it comes to human rights in Ethiopia since the government is considered an indispensable ally in the region.” That which is being implemented by the leaders in Addis Ababa – for Gürhan – is a real “strategy of placing under siege an entire population in an area deeply affected by the drought, which is being deprived of a basic means of support.” The only organization allowed to operate in the area, the World Food Programme (WFP), has preferred not to disclose details of an incident in which its operators were involved in 2011 and in which government paramilitary units are said to have been involved.
In recent weeks, pro-government militias attacked the town of Gunagadonel Daghabur, in which several people were killed and others wounded. “The pattern is always the same: steal, loot, and then set fire to everything,” says the interlocutor to Misna adding that “an armed uprising is, at present, the only way for people to regain their dignity trampled by a government that is illiberal and violent.” Since 2008, the Ogaden region has intentionally been isolated by the government that does not allow access to journalists or human rights workers. Last September, two Swedish journalists were arrested and sentenced to 11 years in prison for filming the lives of the people subjected to “collective punishment and systematic” according to human rights organizations. [AdL]