Addis Abeba, August 21/2019 – At a press briefing he held today at Hilton hotel in Addis Abeba, Abdirahman Mahdi Madey, chairman of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) said ONLF wants to see Ethiopia’s upcoming general election, scheduled for 2020, to take place “on time.” But if for any reason the election is postponed, opposition forces and liberation forces should be integrated into the federal structure.
“ONLF believes that the election should take place on time. If for any reason the election is postponed there should be a mechanism to integrate other opposition forces and liberation forces into the federal structure so there could be a power sharing and genuine representation for all,” Abdirahman told local media.
ONLF, formerly a rebel group active in the Eastern part of Ethiopia, is currently undergoing the process of transforming itself into a political party and processing its registration with the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) the chairman said, and that was happening along side the group’s intent to participate in the ongoing peace process and reconstruction efforts both in the regional state and the country in particular and the horn of Africa in general.
In October 2018, Ethiopian government delegation led by former Foreign Minister Workneh Gebeyehu signed a historic peace agreement with ONLF delegation led by Admiral Mohamed Omar Osman in the Eritrean capital, Asmara. Since then the formerly exiled liberation front, which was branded a terrorist organization by the Ethiopian government, has returned home and begun the process of transforming itself into a political party. The group held its first party congress since returning home in April 2019.
Now, despite its name as a “Liberation Front” which will remain the same, ONLF says it is processing its registration with NEBE not as a regional party but a national party in order to be able to pursue its agenda of participating in peace building and democratization process not only for the people of Somali but “for all the nations” in Ethiopia. “ONLF categorically declares that it will pursue the rights of Somali people and that of all nations in Ethiopia through peaceful political means,” Abdirahman said. In doing so, it has set its primary target to be “peace building, reconstruction and democratization of Ethiopia,” he said. To that end, ONLF will work towards ensuring the constitutionally enshrined rights of “full and genuine self-rule for Somali people and all nations in Ethiopia through peaceful means.”
Protects the constitution
The chairman further said “ONLF believes that all nations in Ethiopia have shed their blood for more than a century and have paid heavy price to achieve self-rule and self-determination, which was recognized legally in 1995 in the present constitution. That right is a key factor in keeping the peace and ONLF supports and protects that right.”
The current federal system is the minimum safeguard for peaceful coexistence among all nations in Ethiopia, according to him, and this is particularly so in the Somali region where “people have been marginalized repeatedly and brutalized. The Somali people “cherish that principle of federalism and self-rule” he said and warned that “any attempt to dismantle it or water it down will restart a conflict all over Ethiopia, probably.”
However, ONLF believes “the federal arrangement is still incomplete and needs to be improved, and the rights [enshrined] in the constitution for self-administration need to be implemented.” ONLF also believes that all nations are “not equal in the federal structure” and hopes that “remedial actions will be initiated and implemented by the federal government as soon as possible.”
To that end, ONLF is intent in taking an active role to participate in the process including by taking part in the coming election. ONLF “hopes the election will be free and fair and that peace will reign all over Ethiopia.”
Asked if he can distance himself from a news report quoting Admiral Maxamed Cusmaan ( Mohamed Omar Osman ) as saying the former rebel group was still seeking self-determination in the form of secession, Abdirahman said that while the senior official may have been misquoted, the question of secession is not the decision of ONLF but that of the Somali people for whom the right to self-rule up to secession is “sacrosanct.” “Whatever it is, the right is there; it is in the constitution of Ethiopia [and] it is the will of the Somali people; we are not the custodian of that right, we do not speak for them”, he said. But clarified that ONLF’s agenda was no longer to “push for secession” but to work towards “creating a peaceful democratic Ethiopia.” ONLF’s position is “not to run away but to participate in the peaceful reconstruction of Ethiopia.”
Supports PM Abiy
Abdirahman said ONLF believes Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed “is genuine in bringing peace and democratic change in Ethiopia and therefor it fully supports his efforts and will work with the federal government in the democratization process.”
However, ONLF is concerned about the role of the Somali people in shaping the federal agenda and would like to see more representation of Somali people in the decision making process of the federal state in particular, he said, and ONLF should have a key role to play when major decisions are taken.
He also urged both the federal and regional governments to work together towards maintaining peace and resettlement of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the Somali regional state. Both must pay more attention to that issue and ONLF will take part in such process not only in the region but also in other regional states bordering Somali region such as Oromia and Afar. He also called for a coordinated effort from the federal and regional governments as well as humanitarian partners to mitigate the devastating effects of the two years successive drought that left thousands vulnerable and in need of humanitarian support in the region and beyond.
Finally, the Chairman warned that ONLF will not allow “any group to set up shop in the region with the intent to destabilize the region and the country “whatever the cost” may be. The region is emerging from long lasting conflict and violence, he said, and what it needs is peace, democratization and reconstruction. AS
Editor’s Note: Addis Standard’s exclusive interview with Abdirahman regarding, discussing, among others, his alleged connections with ex-president of the Somali region Abdi Mohammed Omer, a.k.a, Abdi Iley, who is facing criminal charges at the Federal court, and his position on the ongoing developments in Jubaland will be published soon after.