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Repatriation Forum


By Abdullahi M. Sadi Former First President of Somali Region (Ogadenia).

Part 1 of 3

One who studies Abysinian feudal Empire State (Ethiopia) history will be compelled to arrive at the coming conclusion: The Abysinian feudal Empire State was the extension of the rule of the Abysinian people (Amhara and Tigray rulers). The Abysinian Empire regimes enslaved the whole Horn of Africa Nations and people, i.e. Somalis, Oromos, Afars, Eritrean, Sidamo and others. The causes of the present instability in the Horn of Africa are a combination of the legacy of Abysinian expansionist rule, its colonial legacy and European colonial intervention. The result of the colonization has produced continuos civil and national war, in Ethiopia, which has a history of despotic and dictatorial regimes. As a matter of fact, Ethiopia has never enjoyed democratic constitutional governments.

Moreover, all the available indicators, illustrates that Ethiopia is one of the most backward countries in the world. The basic characteristics of Ethiopia socio-economics life are political instability, civil war, poverty, famine, and illiteracy.

Historically, Ethiopia participated and emerged from the partition of Africa in Berlin in 1884 as a black Christian state which had a royal lineage, claiming descent from the legendary son of king Solomon and the queen of Sheba, which not only survived but actually profited from European partition. Like the European empires in Africa, Ethiopia was a conquest state. Its core people were the politically dominant Semitic-speaking Amharas. Socially the Amharas comprised a loose three- tier hierarchy with military aristocrats and clergy living off the surplus production of a cereal-growing lay peasantry, which also reared cattle. Amhara stratification contrasted sharply with the traditional egalitarianism of the nomadic Cushitic-speaking pastoralists. The Muslim Somalis, were organized in segmentary lineages, led by assemblies of elders rather than formally appointed chiefs. The Abysiinian Empire unlike European empires in Africa or the European-settler states, was indigenous centralist nationalism.

Abyssinian conquest and expansion reached its furthest extent under the Emperor Menelik, an astute and forceful participant in the ‘scramble' of Africa, who exploited European competition for predominance in the area to modernize his army and routed the Italian at Adowa in 1896. In a series of treaties Menelik awarded trading rights to Britain, France and Italy together with recognition for their various spheres of influence along the coast, while in exchange they supplied the international recognition to legitimize his recent conquests. Consequently Eritrea and three-quarters of the Somali people were brought under European rule, while the remainders (the Somali Ogadenia) were assigned to Abyssinia (Ethiopia).

To cement and legitimize its occupation of Somali Ogaden, the Ethiopian embarked on a large-scale diplomatic offensive to counter Mr. Ernest Bevin, The British foreign secretary who proposed, the Somali nation should be put together as a trust territory, and to win the American support.

In December 1943 Roosevelt received the first Ethiopian minister to the United State, and in February 1945 on his way home from the Crimean conference the president met king Haile Seliassie of Ethiopian empire, appropriately as one of the victims of fascism, won further international leverage as a founder member of the United Nations. Shortly after the end of the war it commissioned an American public relations consultant, J. C. Cairns, who enlisted the help of prominent personalities, including Mrs. Roosevelt, to ensure popular goodwill was translated into effective diplomatic support. There was no Somali lobby to counter the support of African-American organizations and such celebrities as Paul Robeson for Ethiopia in what they believe to be a British attempt to bully a small black state with which they personally identified.

Pre-war geological surveys by the Italians indicated that Oil might be found in the Ogaden. In 1944 the American-owned Sinclair Oil Company, backed by the state department, began secret negotiations with the Ethiopian government for sole prospecting rights. Should oil be found in commercial quantities such a monopolistic agreement would give the United States greater power to fix world oil prices? In 1945 when the news broke that Singlair had succeeded in secretly negotiating such a deal during wartime in a Britain area of operations there was anger in London and disquiet elsewhere. An amalgam of sentiment, suspicion and hardheaded commercial interest worked against the presumed ‘special relationship' in the Horn. Here was a fine opportunity for the United States to demonstrate anti colonial credentials while protecting the interests of an American oil company. Henceforth the three-way relationship between Britain, Ethiopia and United States provides an intricate study in the diplomacy of dependency, with the emperor attaching himself firmly to the United States just when the British were being forced to come to terms with American dominance.

This was the situation when Bevin took up the cause of Somali nation by proposing the reunification of all the Somalilands, including the Ogaden, as United Nations Trust Territory. In Bevin's eyes this amounted to simple justice. He read the treaties of partition, which underwrote colonial and Ethiopian boundaries, gloosed by the Somali experts in the British Military administration, and agreed that the Europeans and Menelik had reached their agreements at the expense of the Somali people. Indeed, some of the treaties, which were regarded as giving a legal basis for incorporating the Somali within alien political structures, seemed to have been willfully misinterpreted. But Bevin's proposal to reunite the Somali nation met some opposition, not just from sections of American opinion, but also from Molotov in the 1946 Paris meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers. Britain generally took the same line in the immediate post-war discussions between the ‘Big Three' as it had in the war, ‘that nineteenth century imperialism was dead in England, which was no longer an expansionist country'; in this particular case Bevin ‘was merely trying to right nineteenth century wrong.'

Molotov, intended on forcing recognition for the pro-Soviet Bulgarian and Romanian governments pounced: England has troops and military bases in Greece, Denmark, Egypt, Iraq, Indonesia, and elsewhere. The Soviet Union has no bases beyond its border, and this shows the difference between expansion and security. He also, mischievously, suggested that the Soviet Union be granted an African colony, such as Tripolitania; should none of Italy's be available then the Belgian Congo would do nicely. (The location, as he did not need to remind his Anglo-American audience, of their strategically vital supplies of uranium.) Pierson Dixon, Bevin's private secretary thought the Soviet attack on ‘United Somaliland' was designed to impress the American: The Russians know the American phobia about the British Empire'. Bevin decided to cut his losses and withdraw the Greater Somalia plan, at least for the time being, much to surprise and chagrin of many of his officials. (There is an obvious parallel between Bevin's clash and American support for Zionism to the neglect of Palestinian rights, which was developing at the same time) Instead of a greater Somalia under joint trusteeship, with the threat of Soviet participation, the western allies now proposed a brief revival of Italian colonialism to be devoted to guiding Italian Somaliland to independence under United Nations' mandate.

British officials were reluctant to accept their government's abandonment of united Somali nation. Officers in all ranks of the Military Administration, drawn from the army which had defeated Mussolini's forces, still believed they had the right to redraft boundaries unilaterally and promised the Somali there would be no returns to Italian rule whatever the safeguards. They established a close working relationship with the nascent political party, the Somali Youth League (SYL) which was founded in 1943, which was similarly committed to Somali nation unity. It was a direct continuation of the Dervish struggle 0f 1889-1921 which were brutally suppressed by Britain with the use, for the first time in colonial wars, of aerial bombardment. As the four powers determined the inhabitant's wishes for unity, rival factions clashed in bloodies riot in Mogadishu, resulting in the infamous "Dhgaxtuur confrontation". There was a hidden Italian agenda behind this and it facilitated an immediate several British senior officials who had worked closely with nationalist were replaced and Bevin, goaded by Attlee's wishes not to be saddled with further 'deficit', determined to withdraw as quickly as possible from both the Ogadenia and Somalia.

The Ogadenia was, therefore, relinquished to Ethiopia. What had been Italian Somaliland was made into a United Nations trusteeship, much smaller than that projected by Bevin, under Italian administration, to last for 10 years. In 1952 the General Assembly decided that Eritrea be federated with Ethiopia as a locally autonomous state, despite evidence of considerable opposition from the large Eritrean population. The highly centralized Ethiopian regime regarded such autonomy as dangerous and from the outset sought to reduce Eritrea to an ordinary Ethiopian Province.

Undoubtedly Haile Selassie profited from this four-way play involving Ethiopia the United States, Britain and Italy. So did the United States. With Italy originally sidelined, readmitted as a badge of rehabilitation, the main losers in European colonialism's end-game at the horn of Africa were not the British-who, in any case, even if they did not get all they wanted in this instance cashed in on the Anglo-American relationship elsewhere, notably in Cyrenaica. Just as at the start of colonialism at the ‘scramble', it was the un-centralized, egalitarian peoples of the periphery, notably the Somalis, who lost out in Ethiopia's transactions with the west.

When the United Nations General Assembly eventually disposed of the Italian colonies in 1949, its president, General Romulo of the Philippines declared, with unconscious irony, that the decisions taken constituted a triumph for the principle of self-determination. In the very process of decolonization, the Empire State of Ethiopia thus triumphed over the Somali People in Ogadenia.

The Congress of all Somali National that was held in Mogadishu on February 1, 1948 sent a petition to the United Nations secretary general. The petition contained the desire of all Congress members to end colonial presence in their land and unify the five regions of Somali territories, that were then under British, Italian, French and Abyssinian Empire State (Ethiopia).

Unfortunately on the 24 September 1948 Britain acted unilaterally, and handed over to the Empire State of Ethiopia once again to Somali Ogadenia, despite the renewed and better opposition of the people who expressed themselves in riots throughout the country. In many towns these up rising were ruthlessly put down, the Ethiopian Soldiers shoots 25 persons and led to a waning of SYL activities in the occupied Somali Ogadenia. However, Britain's generosity to Ethiopia continued and in 1954-55 Britain completed hand over the remaining portion of the Somali Ogadenia. This was the final act of British government betrayal, and its not at all surprising that today Somalis, without rancor, blame Britain for much of their troubles in that their land was illegally and secretly handed over to their traditional enemy. The cost in human misery is incalculable.

In 1960 the former Italian Somaliland and British Somaliland became independence. These two territories were united and became the Somali Republic.

Overnight a minor Abyssinian chief-tainship was transformed in a Feudal Colonial Empire State, by not only establishing its politico-economic structure and building for it a strong military equipped with modern weapons. The Ethiopian State elite, lacking the sophistication and economic and technical advancement of former colonizers could not meliorate or mask its exploitation and colonial presence nor did it have the necessary power to establish adequate control. Instead of posing as a national state advancing the interests of its subjects and providing some measure of services and low and order it confined itself to armed presence and extreme suppressive measures. The Somali Ogadenians nursing the wounds of treachery done to them were further antagonized by the savage and unwarranted treatment they received from the occupation army.

This inevitable led to a popular uprising and formation of an organized resistance. The Somali Ogadenia People had no choice but continue the liberation struggle with its present specific identity: the Somali Ogadenia struggle for self-determination. The prominent leaders of the Somali Ogadenia led by Dr. Ibrahim Hashe began thinking seriously and formed in 1950s, underground movement that would lead organize political consciousness of the people. The movement constituted itself into a party Nasrullahi. Because of the pressure of Ethiopia repression and surveillance the movement moved its headquarters to the capital of Somalia in 1960.

After new political restrictions were introduced by Abyssinian empire state government that made the Ogadenia be governed by martial law after the 1948 events. Public gathering of more than five persons were banned at one place.

Hence, Ogaden Liberation Front (OLF), under the leadership of Makhtal Dahir had emerged from such long traditional of liberation movements in 1963, as response to the new situation. It started its armed struggle on 16th, June 1963 when the first congress was held at Hodayo, inside Ogadenia. The Ogaden Liberation Front began its resistance in the remote areas of Ogadenia and appealed to the local people to intensify the resistance and widen its scope. This enabled the OLF to wage offensive operations as well as ambushes and skirmishes with impressive results. The reaction of the stunned Ethiopians was to desert the more remote areas of the country and leave them to the unchallenged control of the OLF.

The Ogaden Liberation Front soon succeeded in forcing the Ethiopians to surrender or evacuate villages and small towns. Thus, leaving the major part of the rural areas under the control of the OLF. By 1964 the Ogaden Liberation Front was poised to attack the major towns of the Somali Ogadenia. The Ethiopian Government then decided to escalate the war by invading the young Republic of Somalia in February 1964, claiming that the Somali Republic was attacking the Ethiopian State. It is worth mentioning, in 1959 Haile Selassie's cabinet formulated Ethiopia's policy towards the Ogaden. The policy recommended a series of measures ranging from propaganda to diplomacy, to brutal oppression all aimed at transforming the Ogadenia from Its colonial status to a border dispute with Somalia. Ethiopia, fearing the consequences of popular armed struggle and understanding the political ramifications immediately blamed Somalia on expansionism and turned the issue into border dispute. Through the intervention of supper-power and regional organizations, both Somalia and Ethiopia were forced to accept a negotiated settlement in 1965. The Ogadenia issue was ignored and the new movement was retarded.

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