Suldan A. Osman, for Addis Standard
Addis Abeba, May 11/2018 – Being one of its worst victims, Ethiopians in Somali Region erupted with jubilation as the ruthless Derg regime collapsed. The backdrop to the euphoria was a free air and a hope for the wonderland of a bright future. Sadly, for people in the Region, that outcome remains a stark anomaly. Over two decades of the ruling party EPRDF in the driver’s seat, the post-Derg utopia of establishing an inclusive politics and a more responsive governance for improved economy and better life for all people of the region remained elusive.
Life under Abdi Mahamud’s Somali Region
Setting foot in the Region will provide one with a vivid insight into the unforgiving living situations. Consistent drought, livelihood shocks, malnourishment, merciless poverty and famine pardons none. From record high unemployment and illiteracy, to lack of socio-economic infrastructure and grave human right abuses coupled with rampant rent-seeking and corruption, ubiquitous injustice and lawlessness, the Region is in ruins.
Shamefully, the Ethiopian constitution does not seem to be in clear possession of a law to protect the people of the Somali Region; and state-sponsored human rights abuses go on neither punished nor recognized. The Human Right Watch sounded the alarm bell on the Ethiopian armed forces’ crimes against humanity including executions, torture, rape, and forced displacement committed in the Somali Region as early as 2008.
Other disturbing reports abound too. In March 2012, the Liyu Police forces summarily executed 10 civilians in Raqda village. Once again, on June 2016 in Jaamac Dubad rural community Liyu Police forces massacred 21 civilians. To this date, no one is held accountable for those massacres. In fact, this are only the tip of the iceberg in to the widespread abuses that happen every day.
In a move signaling reforms, thousands of political prisoners were recently released from various federal prisons and the Ethiopian government claimed Ma’ekelawi, a notorious prison located in Addis Abeba is closed. To the contrary, in Somali Region arrests and abuses have intensified. The central prison in Jigjiga (AKA Jail Ogaden) and many others across the Region continue to be inhospitable camps of innocent civilians.
This might come as bizarre, but in Jigjiga, the capital of the Somali regional state and other cities and towns in the region, no one is be able to walk freely. To do so, one is required to pass through approximately multiple check points set up with only one purpose-humiliate inhabitants and create a climate of fear. Civilians are stopped, searched, and asked to produce identification cards. With their brutal policing tactics, security forces who are unethical to the core, tirelessly harass, torture and arrest innocent civilians.
This is contrary to the Ethiopian constitution, which is largely irrelevant in the Somali regional state. Article 14 of the constitution for example guarantees rights to life, security and liberty for all. Article 29 assures the freedom of thought, opinions and expression. Article 26 asserts that everyone has the right to privacy. This includes the right not to be subjected to searches of homes, person or property, or the seizure of any property under one’s personal possession. Ironically, the people in Somali Region do not enjoy that even when there is no state of emergency.
But what is less reported is that harassment of civilians extends to families, friends and relatives of those who dare to openly criticize the regional authorities. In violation of those rights, authorities also seize businesses, homes or any other private belongings of people who criticize or simply complain about the administration’s policies. It is a common practice to see security forces get into the pockets of civilians, take out wallets or mobile phones and go through personal belongings as they wish. They can also open laptops and search files without any court warrant. Obviously, the constitution and rule of law was laid to rest in Somali Region a long time ago.
But the most excruciating experience for ordinary Somalis living in the region is when a relative living abroad happens to criticize the administration. Homes and businesses of relatives and friends will be seized, and they can be thrown behind prison bars and subjected to torture and even extrajudicial killings. Somalis and others living in the region know that is only a glimpse of the entire picture. A look at posts like this may reveal a lot.
Ongoing protests that are not getting enough attention from the mainstream media are also other windows to look in to the rampant abuses the people of Somali region are subjected to.
Why is the Somali Region so problematic?
Evidently, the Region’s fiasco originate from a host of intermingling dynamics- some internal others external. Terrible governance and toxic leadership is the foremost disaster that broke apart the Region. The so-called Regional parliament is dysfunctional. Rather than properly carrying out their professional duties, the bureaucracy and courts serve as oppression tools.
Abdi Mahamud’s administration is a replica of his unstable personality. Apart from his lack of schooling, the president of the region astute leadership capacity. Similarly, the entire administration is not only corrupt and unaccountable but also incompetent and lacking the political clout to deliver change. In view of this, the administration in Jigjiga failed to qualify as a regional state. Instead of recognizing this long standing mismanagement however, the federal government simply labels the region as ‘underdeveloped Region’.
People in the Region rarely lived in bleaker times. For lack of an alternative and indicative of despairing mood, ordinary people have adopted a ‘wait and see’ attitude, praying that Abdi Mahamud’s patrons in Addis Abeba and those in the military will install another less brutal leader than he is.
On top of Abdi Mahamud’s leadership failure, however, the federal government’s illegal meddling into internal political dynamics in the Region have contributed to failed institutions that are unable to address citizen’s continued miseries.
What is true is that as long as the current approach continues, crafting integrated economic and political community founded on the basis of the rule of law will remain impossible. Ethiopia’s rebirth and prosperity and Somali Region’s survival for that matter hang on creating a climate were respect for human rights, good governance, inclusive and broader political economy can thrive. That is why the protesting people of the regional state are demanding a 180 degree change in approach. The federal government has no choice but facilitate this a change and fast.
Of such changes, holding the failed administration of Abdi Mahamud and to account for all the crimes and abuses inflicted upon poor Ethiopians in Somali Region should be given a priority.
ED’s Note: The writer is a former civil servant in Somali Regional state who is currently residing in Columbus Ohio, USA.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org