Ogaden – The Forgotten Dirty Little War

Burnt villages, displaced populations, mass rapes, assassinations… does this sound familiar? This has become the usual pattern of new wars. Except this one does not receive any publicity and it takes place in Ethiopia, in the Eastern region of Ogaden where the Ethiopian military has been conducting operations for a little over a year.

Human Rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, have raised the alarm since June, denouncing a conspiracy of silence and accusing the Ethiopian military of war crimes:

The full report is here.

Here, as in Darfur, we find peoples from different ethnic background, a Somali pocket in Ethiopia. The situation is also an overflow of the disintegration of Somalia. When in January 2007 Somali Islamic courts were defeated, they reorganized themselves into guerillas. The Ethiopian army confronted them on Mogadishu while smaller extremist groups continued to operate in Somali regions.

This surge in activity on the part of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), created more than 20 years ago, is attributed to the Ethiopian intervention into Somalia (with the blessings of the international community and especially the US). Initially, the Ethiopian army was supposed to be relieved by an international force. To this day, the African Union has sent 3,000 soldiers whereas the UN has not sent any blue helmets. The US policy has been to placate Ethiopia, the only ally they have in this region where Sudan and Erythrea are open hostile to Washington. And so, everybody keeps quiet as to what goes on in Ogaden.

For instance, the Ethiopian military controls food aid, so, villages that are suspected to support the ONLF are not receiving food distributions. While the ONLF accuses the Ethiopian government of starving Ogaden, even the World Food Program acknowledges that the humanitarian situation of Somali populations is critical and deteriorating. A few weeks ago, Doctors Without Borders announced it was leaving Ogaden because they are unable to provide medical care. A year ago, the International Committee of the Red Cross was kicked out of the region for alleged support for the rebels.

So, as the military operations have decreased because the Ethiopian government claims to have defeated the ONLF. However, it still does not allow NGOs to operate as they want in the region and are under strict governmental control.

And all this, of course, has to be added to the current famine in Ethiopia where food aid is urgently needed, in the context of rising food prices and a major drought that has left 5 million people in a desperate situation there. So, on the one hand, Ethiopia is a country dependent upon international aid and organizations but on the other hand, it expects to be able to exercise internal policy without control or accountability. A not uncommon dilemma for African countries.