Site hosted by Build your free website today!

Somalis in Ethiopia

Somalis in Ethiopia

Anne Pitsch

13 August 1997 and June 1998



Incorporated into the Ethiopian Empire in the late 19th century, ethnic Somalis live mainly in Eastern Ethiopia in Somali Regional National State. Somali State includes the Ogaden which has been an area with secessionist tendencies since Somali independence in 1960. From 1963-1969, Somali and Oromo people were engaged in a major insurgency in Bale Province that was supported by the Somali Republic and put down with difficulty by the Ethiopian state. Again in the mid-1970s, the Somali Republic encouraged ethnic Somalis in Ethiopia, especially the Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF), established in 1975, to rebel. In 1977 the Somali Republic invaded the Ogaden, but they were pushed back by Ethiopian troops. By the late 1980s, Ethiopia and Somalia agreed to end their support for insurgent movements based in each others= countries. In 1987, the Derg offered Ethiopian Somalis two autonomous regions: Dire Dawa and Ogaden. From this point forward, most Somalis had little reason to want to join their brethren in Somalia. This became more and more apparent in the 1990s when the Ethiopian civil war ended and democracy was slowly ushered in while at the same time, Somalia was increasingly torn apart by factional fighting.

Since independence, ethnic Somalis have been organized in a number of political and military organizations which pressed for greater autonomy for the Ogaden and/or a greater say in the Ethiopian government. The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and the Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF) operated in eastern Ethiopia and worked for self-determination of the region during Ethiopia=s civil war. Once a transitional government was put into place in 1991, the Somali organizations agreed in principle to unite their causes and continue their push for self-determination. Yet, for the most part, Somali organizations have worked in the political arena for greater autonomy during the 1990s. In 1994, a new constitution divided Ethiopia into regions based on ethnicity in an attempt to ease ethnic tensions by giving the largest ethnic groups some control over their traditional territory. Throughout the transitional period, some Somali groups, particularly one faction of the ONLF, continued to wage low-level warfare against the government of Meles Zenawi. In January 1994, the ONLF and other Somali groups declared their continued fight for self-determination of the Ogaden. The Ogaden was tense and police reportedly harassed people, arrested suspected supports of the opposition, and committed arbitrary executions. After the ONLF announcement, ten other Somali organizations in the region denounced the secessionist intentions of the ONLF and pledged their continued cooperation with the transitional government. These groups merged to form the Ethnic Somali Democratic League (ESDL) which went on to win regional elections in 1995. The ESDL remains more popular than the ONLF, and it appears that Somalis for the most part want peace and development for their region and are willing to work through the democratic process in order to achieve these goals. One faction of the ONLF has merged with the ESDL, as has the WSLF, and younger members of the organization are more willing to cooperate with the government of Meles than older, entrenched members.

One other problem that has surfaced in the Somali/Ogaden region recently is the rise of Islamic fundamentalism with the appearance of al-Itihad al-Islam. The organization is based in Somalia and has carried out raids in the Somali region of Ethiopia. It has encouraged Somalis to fight the Ethiopian government and has declared its intentions to rule Somalia by political or military means. For the most part, Somalis have resisted the call to engage in a Aholy war@ against the state, yet the government remains concerned about the movement. Meles= troops have carried out raids into the Somali Republic and currently occupy some border towns. They captured the town of Luq which has been the al-Itihad al-Islam headquarters. Since Somalia has no central government at this time, Ethiopia=s invasion has gone largely unchecked. Ethiopia, with an equal split between Christians and Muslims, hopes to remain a secular state and the government is unlikely to tolerate armed rebellion from Islamic, or any other, extremists.


4C: Christianity became the state religion in the ancient city-state of Aksum kingdom, which is now Ethiopia.

6C-10C: Aksum flourished. But from the 9th century, like all the other Christian kingdoms of North Africa and the Nile, Ethiopia was threatened by Islam. Christianity managed to survive due to Ethiopia=s isolation.

12C: King Gadla Lalibela began to build grand churches in Lalibela.

1769-1855: Political power in Ethiopia, ruled by fifteen puppet emperors went through a process of decentralization.

1855: Emperor Teodros II consolidated his authority and reunified the Ethiopian empire.

1855-1908: Successive Ethiopian emperors from the Amhara and Tigre groups expanded the influence of their own peoples by securing territories occupied by other ethnic groups. Since the mid-1800s, the emperor=s army had erected ketemas, garrison towns, to rule Oromo and Somali areas. Political authorities imposed the Amhara-Christian culture upon those residing in ketemas in the southern periphery and extracted resources from them.

1880s: Italy expanded its colonial sphere to include most of what is now Eritrea.

1889: In the Treaty of Ucciali, Emperor Menelik accepted Italy=s colonization of Eritrea. During the 19th century, Ethiopia had joined the Great Powers (i.e., Britain, France, and Italy) and had expanded its territory beyond Gondar and Shoa to include the Ogaden.

1896: The war between Italy and Ethiopia (after Menelik refused to accept an Italian protectorate over all of Ethiopia and renounced the Treaty of Ucciali) resulted in an Ethiopian victory at the battle of Adwa.

1908: The current boundaries of Ethiopia were established. Four successive emperors (until the overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie I by a military coup in 1974) built and consolidated their power.

1930: Haile Selassie I became Emperor. Under his regime, the country=s major economic resource was coffee produced mostly in peripheral Oromo areas. The relations between Amhara-Tigre landlords and Oromo tenants had become set. A similar pattern was established in the Afar and Somali-residing Ogaden region for large-scale government-run agribusiness schemes.

1936-1941: Italian Fascist Mussolini conquered Ethiopia. Haile Selassie was exiled.

1941: After the collapse of Mussolini, British military administration was established in Eritrea. British armies liberated Ethiopia and restored Haile Selassie to his throne. Haile Selassie then successfully deflected ethnic sentiments for self-determination of the Oromos, Somalis, and Afar and reconsolidated his authority.

1952: Ethiopia was joined in a federation with Eritrea (former Italian colony) by the United Nations. However, Haile Selassie abrogated the federation and attempted to unify Ethiopia and Eritrea under his control within the next ten years.

1958: The Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF), mostly consisting of Muslim separatists, was formed in Cairo by students and workers.

1961 November: The ELF launched an open rebellion in western Eritrea, armed with weapons brought in from Sudan.

1962: Haile Selassie had the Eritrean Assembly dissolve the federal executive and integrate Eritrea fully into Ethiopia.

1972 February: Three groups split away from the ELF and established the Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front (EPLF).

1973: The Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) was formed. The legitimacy of the Haile Selassie regime was widely challenged as the country=s economy fell into disarray and patterns of inequality persisted.

1974: Emperor Haile Selassie was deposed by revolutionary Marxist-Leninist military leaders.

1975: The monarchy was abolished by the armed forces. Rebellion in Eritrea gathered momentum.

The Tigray People=s Liberation Front (TPLF) was established.

The Western Somali Liberation Front was formed. It sought to secede and join Somalia.

1976: A Marxist military regime, the Derg (Amharic for Committee) was formally established in Addis Ababa. The Derg advanced no policies to accommodate minority groups.

1977 February: Lieutenant Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam seized power after an internal struggle within the military leadership.

1977 April: Relations between Ethiopia and the United States were severed when the Mengistu regime turned to the Soviet Union for military aid. Several groups opposed the regime because of ideological and political differences.

The country was severely challenged by nationalist movements and rebellions in Eritrea and in the Ogaden between 1976 and 1978.

1983: Drought and war with Eritrea caused one of Africa's worst famines. Millions died in spite of massive food and medical aid from Europe and America.

1984: The Workers= Party of Ethiopia (WPE) was set up in order to control politics and to legitimize Mengistu=s policies. Although the WPE was declared to promote democracy and popular participation in party activities, no ethnic groups were represented among the mass organizations constituting the WPE. Those who raised nationality issues were labeled Aanti-revolutionaries.@

The feudal land tenure system was dissolved under the Mengistu regime. All rural and most urban land became the property of the state. For the first phase of the Mengistu regime, there were dramatic enhancements in formal educational opportunities (the illiteracy rate dropped from 90 percent to less than 40 percent) and health care. The country=s economy experienced slight improvement during the middle years of the Mengistu regime, but, between 1980 and 1988 agricultural production had declined by 0.4 percent per year. The last days of the Mengistu regime manifested the patterns of inequality of the imperial regime.

1987 February: A civilian (Marxist-Leninist) Constitution was introduced, proclaiming the People=s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (PDRE). The PDRE was led by an 835-member National Shengo (assembly) which aided Mengistu in consolidating his power.

1987 September: The Shengo initiated regional reorganization by creating 24 administrative regions and five autonomous regions (Eritrea, Assab, Dire Dawa, Tigre, and Ogaden) in order to deflect nationalist discontent. The government=s intention in granting autonomous status to the country=s core economic regions Assab and Dire Dawa was to placate them so that they would not ally with the regions of Eritrea and Ogaden within which were operating secessionist elements. Most nationalist movements such as EPLF, TPLF, and OLF dismissed the PDRE=s initiative and began to coordinate military strategy to increase their anti-government activities.

1988 November: Mengistu announced reform policies to promote private sector investment.

Late 1988: The Mengistu regime faced another major drought and intensified ethno-nationalist movements. When Mengistu was informed that the Soviet Union would soon stop providing military aid, he declared a state of emergency.

1989 January: The TPLF (led by Meles Zenawi) organized the Ethiopian People=s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a coalition of rebel forces against the Mengistu regime.

1989 May: While Mengistu was visiting East Germany in search of military aid, there was a coup attempt in Addis Ababa. Mengistu hastily returned and brutally put down the coup. Some army units defected and took their arms with them to join opposition forces.

Late 1989: The OLF, EPLF, and EPRDF cooperated amongst themselves. Soldiers who defected from Mengistu=s army after the abortive coup and prisoners of war were recruited to the organizations. The EPRDF created the Oromo People=s Democratic Organization (OPDO), its own Oromo affiliate, and established other organizations representing various ethnic groups. The EPRDF rejected Marxist slogans, advocated pragmatic policies, and encouraged close military and political cooperation with the TPLF and EPLF.

1990 March: The WPE=s new economic policy aimed to end the country=s centrally planned economy and initiate a mixed state, private and cooperative economy. Yet it appeared to be too late to revive the country=s economy. Moreover, civil wars worsened the quality of life. Mengistu, as did emperor Haile Selassie, failed to address the nationalities problem. The number of Ethiopian soldiers increased to more than 500,000 by 1990, but Ethiopian forces rapidly declined in military position. The TPLF and the EPRDF took over the entire Tigre region and large parts of Wollo, Gondar, and Shoa.

The EPLF controlled all towns in Eritrea except Asmara, Massawa, and Assab. The United States attempted to negotiate peace between Ethiopia and the EPLF while the Italian government tried to arrange talks between Ethiopia and the TPLF.

Early 1991: An all-parties peace conference for Ethiopia was planned in London, but the EPRDF advanced within 23 miles of the capital, Addis Ababa. The EPLF captured Massawa and closed in on Asmara.

1991 May 21: Herman Cohen, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African affairs, secured Mengistu=s exile to Zimbabwe. Before his flight, Mengistu had appointed a new prime minister, Tesfaa Dinka, for the London peace talks.

1991 May 27: Herman Cohen convened peace talks in London between the rebels and the Ethiopian regime. A cease-fire agreement was reached by all parties. Prime Minister Tesfaa Dinka boycotted the talks to oppose Cohen=s approval for the rebels to enter Addis Ababa in spite of the cease-fire agreement. There was a massive airlift of 16,000 Ethiopian Jews.

1991 May 28: The EPRDF, many of its members teenagers, captured Addis Ababa against little resistance from the government army of more than half a million. Subsidiary organizations within the EPRDF, such as the TPLF, the OPDO, the Ethiopian People=s Democratic Movement (EPDM), and the Ethiopian Democratic Officers Revolutionary Movement (EDORM), were expected to play a key part in the new Ethiopian state.

In Eritrea, the EPLF captured the cities of Asmara and Assab.

1991 July: After its victory, the EPRDF (led by Meles Zenawi) held a national conference and established the Transitional Government of Ethiopia (TGE), seeking to form a broad-based political pact. A transitional charter was adopted by a multiparty conference and was to remain in force until the general election scheduled for 1993. An 87-member Council of Representatives elected by the conference confirmed Meles Zenawi as transitional President. The OLF, the Afar Liberation Front (ALF), and several Somali organizations agreed to join the pact. But former members of the WPE and Mengistu=s followers, radical leftist groups including the Ethiopian People=s Revolutionary Party (EPRP) and the All-Ethiopian Socialist Movement, and some conservative Ethiopian nationalist groups such as the Coalition of Ethiopian Democratic Forces (COEDF), opposed the EPRDF leadership.

The TGE included an ethnically mixed council of seventeen ministers representing seven ethnic groups. The EPRDF had the largest single bloc in the Council of Representatives while the OLF was the second largest. The Council was given the authority to establish a commission which would draw up a draft constitution.

In Oromo areas, the OLF had expanded the ranks of its military (eight thousand in 1991) by recruiting local civilians and former soldiers of Mengistu=s army.

21 July 1991: The WSLF (Western Somali Liberation Front) and the ONLF (Ogaden National Liberation Front) disclosed they had merged in principle and agreed to work together in the future. They agreed to strive for self-determination of Somalis in Ethiopia.

9 December 1991: A meeting of Somali elders and leaders opened in Dire Dawa. They discussed ways of uniting the Somali of Ethiopia and agreed to unite under the WSLF.

Early 1992: In preparation for the elections, the Council declared the Aencampment@ of all armed groups, designating them (including the EPRDF) to serve as an interim national army and to provide police services. Armed conflicts erupted between the EPRDF and Oromo members in the Oromo region. The EPLF at Makele attempted to arrange talks between the EPRDF and the OLF.

February 1992: Four thousand people died of starvation in Ogaden because of drought. An ONLF official said 91,000 more people are affected by the drought. In January, the United Nations airlifted food and medicine to about 30,000 people in Ogaden. Most of those affected were Ethiopian refugees who fled to Somalia in the late 1970s and only returned when civil war broke out in Somalia in 1991.

1992 April: An encampment accord was made between the EPRDF and the OLF.

The National Electoral Commission (NEC), consisting of ten multi-ethnic members drawn from the Council, was founded to establish local administrations with broad ethnic and political representation. As the date for the regional and local elections approached in the early summer of 1992, ethnic tensions intensified.

Following the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Oromia (IFLO), which had withdrawn from the elections earlier, the All-Amhara People=s Organization (AAPO), the Ethiopian Democratic Action Group (EDAG), the Gideo People=s Democratic Organization (GPDO), and the OLF also withdrew. Approximately 50-60 percent of the voting-age population refused to participate in the elections. The NEC had to postpone the elections in many areas and yet the elections went ahead as planned on June 21, 1992. The OLF decamped and broke into small units which triggered the resumption of civil war.

4 April 1992: Nine Somali organizations met in Addis Ababa and agreed to set up a non-political technical committee to deal with development issues in Somali region. They also agreed to cooperate with the transition government to further cement unity and to help develop the Ogaden region.

1992 June: The number of registered political parties swelled to over two hundred, but only a few had a sizable number of members. The OLF withdrew from the government (the Council of Representatives).

1992 October: President Meles officially abolished press censorship, but several provisions in the new law allowed the government ample routes to informally censor the media and to harass journalists.

December 1992: National Regional elections took place in Region 5 (Somali National Region). The ONLF and WSLF performed well in the 26 districts. There are 12 Somali organizations in the region.

ONLF officials reported famine in Ogaden.

Early 1993: The TGE made appointments to the country=s first independent judiciary. Political and economic reforms have attracted great favor from foreign donors. To reduce the nationalities problem, Meles announced that his government would form a multi-ethnic national army.

Popular discontent by those opposed to the TGE=s policy and those favoring ethnically based secession for certain groups continued to run high. However, the insurrection was largely contained.

January 1993: The founding conference of the council for Region 5 began 21 January. The executive committee members elected Abdullahi Muhammed Sa=di President, Siyad Badri Muhammed Vice President, and Mahdi Ahmad Warsameh Secretary. The president and vice president are from the ONLF and Warsameh is of the Isa and Gurgura Liberation Front.

1993 March: President Meles confirmed that multi-party legislative elections would not take place until 1994. The transitional period scheduled to end in 1993 was extended.

1993 April: Eritrea declared independence following the referendum. The TGE and the Provisional Government of Eritrea (PGE) maintained cooperative relationships.

Meles ousted five political groups (who called themselves the Southern Coalition and pressed for a dissolution of the Council of Representatives) from the Council.

1993 September: The Council issued a decree relating to elections for a constituent assembly which barred members of the WPE from participating. The Council also excluded all former security personnel and ex-soldiers who had not completed the national rehabilitation program. During late 1993, the governing coalition narrowed substantially.

1993 December: The TGE allowed a conference on peace and reconciliation organized by approximately 50 internal and exiled opposition groups. But seven participants from abroad, including the two leading figures of the exiled OLF, were arrested (and then released in January 1994). The TGE itself boycotted the conference.

26 January 1994: On 18 January, the ONLF and eight other Ethiopian Somali organizations announced a declaration in favor of self-determination in Ogaden (the Eastern part of Somali Region). The situation in Ogaden has worsened recently with the military carrying out arrests and putting down pro-secession rallies. The ONLF said three people were summarily executed while in custody and more than 100 have been arrested in recent weeks.

4 February 1994: Ten Ethiopian Somali political organizations issued a statement denouncing the demand for immediate secession of the Ogaden, supported by the ONLF. They expressed their firm commitment to the ongoing transition process aimed at establishing a civil society based on rule of law, justice and democratic principles.

12 February 1994: Ten Ethiopian Somali organizations merged to form the Ethiopian Somali Democratic League (ESDL). The groups are: Somali Democratic Union Party= Isa and Gurgura Liberation Front; Gurgura Independence Front; Eastern Gabdoye Democratic Organization; Eastern Ethiopian Somali League; Horyal Democratic Front; Social Alliance Democratic Organization; Somali Abo Democratic Union; Shekoshe People=s Democratic Movement; Ethiopian Somali Democratic Movement.


1994 April: The TGE attempted to implement a policy which respected the languages and cultures of historically oppressed minorities and allowed them a certain amount of regional autonomy based upon their ethnic affinities. Therefore, the TGE created fourteen new regions. A region consisted of several districts (woreda, the basic unit of national and regional autonomous government). The Oromo=s region is the largest (220 woreda out of 600 for federated Ethiopia), followed by Amhara (126), Tigre (62), and Somali (47). While the TGE controlled defense, foreign affairs, economic policy, and citizenship, the law enabled the new regional governments to have broad political powers. Still, the EPRDF clearly declared that regional autonomy should be guaranteed only within the framework of a unified, federated Ethiopia. Neither the aspirations of ethnic groups for their rights to self-determination nor ethnic tensions, however, were appeased by this new policy. For instance, some Oromo people, including members of the OLF, increased their demands for the creation of an independent state of Oromia.

30 April 1994: At the Region 5 Executive Council Meeting, Council members dismissed the Council=s chairman Hassan Jire Kalinle and his deputy Ahmed Ali. Representatives of the outgoing majority (the ONLF and WSLF hold 60 of 107 seats on the Council) denounced the decision on the grounds that only 14 members of the outgoing council were present.

1994 June 5: The Constitutional Assembly was selected in an election boycotted by non-EPRDF parties. Despite the TGE=s promise to include many groups in the assembly, the Amhara and Oromos continued to be poorly represented. The charter articulated the right of each nationality to govern its own affairs within the context of a federated Ethiopia by establishing autonomous regions based upon ethnic identities. Yet, human rights violations by the TGE were continually reported.

The heightened ethnic tensions (often with low-intensity civil war) slowed the constitution-making process. Multi-party elections to install a new democratic government were delayed indefinitely.

10 September 1994: Preliminary results of polls in Somali Region showed the ESDL winning 7 of 11 constituencies, the WSDP 1 constituency and independent candidates winning three. Figures on five other constituencies were unavailable. Elections were held 28 August.

1994 December: A new constitution, which restructured Ethiopia into nine ethnically-based federated states with a national parliament, was ratified by the country=s constituent assembly. This was the result of long-term negotiations which began in 1991 following the collapse of the Mengistu regime.

The TGE had strengthened the economy with free market policies since 1992.

Somali elders petitioned President Meles Zenawi to grant amnesty to armed dissidents in order to give rebels a chance to reconcile with the local population. Ethnic Somali leaders stated their only agenda was to achieve better social and economic conditions for the region, not to secede. About 2/3 of the Somali region=s population are returned who have not been settled since the end of civil war in 1991.

1995 January 1: An estimated 250,000 people staged a demonstration in Addis Ababa in support of the new constitution. However, opposition groups said that they would not approve a new constitution.

23 January 1996: The leader of ONLF claimed that the government killed more than 100 civilians in a punitive campaign against the local population. Sheikh Ibrahim Abdullah, while on a visit to Saudi Arabia, spoke of ongoing battles between the government and ONLF forces. In the past, Amnesty international has reported cases of arbitrary arrests, killings and torture of pro-independence elements in the Ogaden. Following the ONLF victory in regional elections in 1993, the Front called for a referendum to determine the future of the region. Ethiopia responded by removing pro-independence ONLF members from the regional assembly which triggered an armed conflict.

1995 January 28: The Founding Congress of Region 5 (Somali Region) took place. Council members belonging to the WSDP and ONLF did not attend the Congress. The Congress approved the region=s name (Somali Regional National State), language (Somali), and capital (Jijiga).

1995 March 24: A UN official said that more than 93,000 Ethiopian refugees living in Sudan, Djibouti, Somalia, and Kenya since 1991 would be repatriated this year. But the UNHCR said that no plan had been made to repatriate the 360,000 refugees from Somalia, Sudan, Djibouti, and Kenya living in Ethiopia.

1995 April 15: Voters began registering for Ethiopia=s first multi-party elections in May. The Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM), the Oromo People=s Democratic Organization (OPDO), the Southern Ethiopian People=s Democratic Union (SEPDU), and the TPLF, who ousted Mengistu and set up the TGE, were expected to dominate the elections. These groups had championed Eritrean independence and self-determination for all nationalities in a federal system for the multi-ethnic state.

1995 May 1: The International Commission of Jurists accused Ethiopian leaders of suppressing political dissent and violating human rights. Between 1992 and 1994, thousands of government opponents were reported to be held without trial for expressing their political opinions.

1995 May 4: The leaders of Coalition of Alternative Forces for Peace and Democracy in Ethiopia (CAFPDE), an opposition coalition of more than 30 parties, including the OLF and the southern Ethiopian People=s Democratic Coalition (SEPDC), boycotted and dismissed the elections as a sham. The CAFPDE refused the appeals of Western donors, particularly the United States, to join the elections, arguing that the elections only served the interests of the EPRDF.

Three people were killed in the eastern town of Harar when a grenade was lobbed into a bar. Also, at least 15 people were killed and 10 wounded in the eastern town of Dire Dawa when a grenade exploded in a busy market frequented by ethnic Somalis. The eastern region of Ethiopia is a stronghold of Oromo and Ogadeni opposition parties which boycotted the polls and the site of a low intensity guerrilla war by ethnic militants.

1995 May 5: Elections in the Somali-speaking East and the Afar-dominated Northeast were postponed until May 27 because the government said there were logistical, rather than security, problems.

1995 May 7: Ethiopia held the first multi-party parliamentary elections in its 2000-year history. More than 15 million of Ethiopia=s 55 million people registered to vote for a 550-seat national parliament and regional councils. Most opposition parties boycotted the election. More than 280 foreign monitors were present in Addis Ababa. As expected, President Meles Zenawi=s EPRDF ruling coalition won by a landslide.

1995 May 15: The Organization of African Unity (OAU) said that the elections held in Ethiopia were free and fair. The state-run Ethiopian News Agency (ENA) reported that the Oromo People=s Democratic Organization (OPDO) took 18 of the 20 constituencies for the federal parliament and regional council in the southern region of Bale and the western region of Illibabor, both Oromo strongholds.

1995 May 17: The Ethiopian News Agency said that the OLF in the eastern town of Harar dissolved its central committee and threw out leaders in exile in order to continue to stir violence in the Ogaden region.

1995 May 26: Elections scheduled for May 27 were delayed in the ethnic Somali and Afar regions. External Economic Co-operation Minster Abdulmejid Hussein, the chairman of the Ethiopian Somali Democratic League (ESDL, a coalition of 14 groups), expressed disappointment over the polls delay. He observed that Somali-inhabited regions were more peaceful than Washington, D.C.

1995 May 27: The ONLF has given itself new management and decided to extend its activities throughout Ethiopia. A new Central Committee was named. The eviction of exiled ONLF officials was motivated by a desire to make a clean break with elements systematically opposed to the EPRDF. The ONLF took part in elections in June and September 1994.

1995: The State Department=s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1995 reported Ethiopia continued on the road to democracy in 1995 with the holding of national and regional election in May and June. A new constitution was adopted in December 1994.

The military continued low-level operations to counter armed attacks by the OLF and IFLO (Islamic Front for the Liberation of Oromiya) throughout the year.

The military, ONLF (Ogaden National Liberation Front), al-Itihad, OLF and IFLO were all reported to have committed summary executions during clashes in parts of Oromo and Somali states.

The government continued to detain persons without charge. These included several hundred Oromo youth suspected of participating in the OLF armed campaign against the government.

1995 June 10: The newly restructured ONLF has decided to participate in Region 5 elections scheduled for 18 June. A former party executive had called for a boycott.

August 1995: The Council of Representatives transferred power to the newly elected government, EPRDF (Ethiopian People=s Revolutionary Democratic Front) . Transitional President Meles Zenawi was elected Prime Minister on 23 August.

Meles named an 18 member cabinet on 24 August. Its members come from diverse ethnic groups and political affiliations. Four members are Amharas, four are Oromo, one each from the Afar, Somali and Harar ethnic groups, and seven, including two from Meles= own Tigray ethnic group) come from the Southern People=s Coalition. Eight members of the cabinet belong to the EPRDF alliance, eight are independent with no political affiliations, one is from the Afar Liberation Front and one is from the EDSL. The lower house of parliament unanimously approved the new cabinet.

1995 September 30: Three groups from the Somali Region, the ESDL, WSDP, and ONLF, announced the conclusion of an agreement to work towards unification.

1995 November 4: Seven MPs of Somali Regional Parliament were arrested on charges of corruption. The ONLF claims they were arrested because they are members or supporters of the ONLF.

23 January 1996: The leader of ONLF claimed that the government killed more than 100 civilians in a punitive campaign against the local population. Sheikh Ibrahim Abdullah, while on a visit to Saudi Arabia, spoke of ongoing battles between the government and ONLF forces. In the past, Amnesty international has reported cases of arbitrary arrests, killings and torture of pro-independence elements in the Ogaden. Following the ONLF victory in regional elections in 1993, the Front called for a referendum to determine the future of the region. Ethiopia responded by removing pro-independence ONLF members from the regional assembly which triggered an armed conflict.

Also in January, the ONLF declared a Aholy war@ against the Meles regime. The organization is thought to be close to Somalia=s Mohamed Farrah Aideed and is composed mainly of the Somali Darood subclan. It is less popular in the Somali Region of Ethiopia than the ESDL, a coalition of 14 Somali organizations, which won then regional election in 1995. One faction of the ONLF has joined the ESDL, but another remains opposed to the unity of Ethiopia.

6 July 1996: The Ogaden National Liberation Front and the Oromo Liberation Front have announced their intentions to coordinate their diplomatic, political, and military activities. The joint communique does not explicitly opt for independence on their territory but expresses their desire for a referendum on this issue.

1996 July 13: Spokesman Abdulkadir Mohamed Dhaqane said that al-Itihad al-Islam claimed responsibility for an attack on Ethiopian Transport and telecommunications Minister Abdul Mejid Hussein. One policeman was killed in the assassination attempt. The group also claimed responsibility for bomb attacks at hotels in January and February. Dhaqane said the terrorist attacks were meant to protest the ESDL=s grip on Somali Region. The group accuses the ESDL, which is headed by Abdul Mejid, of dividing Ethiopian Somalis. A split within ESDL has also surfaced with some members accusing the Issaq subclan of running Somali Region to the exclusion of eleven other clans in ESDL and Majeed is seen as cooperating too closely with Addis Ababa. This faction also feels ESDL could hold peace talks with ONLF and al-Itihad.

August 1996: Ethiopian forces attacked the Somali border towns of Dolow, Luq, Buhohawo, and Bohol Garas. The Ethiopian government was fighting al-Itihad al-Islam which has been engaged in hit and run battles against Ethiopian forces in Somali Region. Luq is the headquarters of al-Itihad and it has been ruled by shari=a law since the outbreak of civil war in Somalia in 1991. The group claimed 150 people were killed in the Ethiopian raid. The Somali government later confirmed the attacks.

3 December 1996: The Administration for Returned and Refugee Affairs in Ethiopia stated that there are 276,000 Somali refugees in the country.

6 December 1996: The Deputy-Governor of Somali National Regional State has been dismissed from his political and party posts for failing to discharge his responsibilities. Five other ESDL regional council members have been issued warnings they may also face dismissal.

4 January 1997: Hassan Dahir Aweys, leader of al-Itihad al-Islam, has said his group has set a goal of ruling Somalia by political or military means. Aweys said he rejected an agreement reached at the meeting of 26 Somali faction leaders in Sodare, Ethiopia. He also said he supports all groups inside Ethiopia fighting for Islam.

9 January 1997: Ethiopia was angered by the statement of Sudan=s Charge d=Affairs to Mogadishu which urged Somalis to take up arms and fight the Ethiopian government. The Charge d=Affairs had been meeting with the extremist al-Itihad al-Islam and urged Somalis to declare a Aholy war@ against the Ethiopian government.

Somali faction leader Hussein Mohamed Aidid has requested the Inter-Governmental Authority on Drought and Development (IGADD) to intervene and stop Ethiopia from occupying part of Somalia=s territory. The statement charged that Ethiopia currently occupies 30 square kilometers of Somali territory. Hussein and al-Itihad al-Islam leaders agreed to cooperate in ending Ethiopia=s occupation of Dolow, which Ethiopia captured in December.

16 January 1997: The ESDL and ONLF announced that a merger conference would be held in May. They also stated that al-Itihad al-Islam, a fundamentalist organization based in Somalia, is trying to interfere in the continuing process of forming a strong regional government in Somali region . The ESDL and ONLF stated they would fight with the people of the region and the regional council against al-Itihad.

18 February 1997: The UNHCR said about 10,000 Somali refugees in Ethiopia would return home by May.

March 1997: The government announced that emergency food aid was needed in three southern states to feed more than one million people. In December 1996, 34,000 quintals of grain were sent to drought stricken regions including Somali Regional State and Afar Regional State. About 600,000 people faced an acute shortage of drinking water. No rain has fallen in the area since September.

28 May 1997: Thirteen Oromo soldiers defected to the Islamic forces of al-Itihad which is based in Somalia. They were led by Izadin Ali Bali who was the commander of three units based along the Somali-Ethiopian border. The defectors said they had suffered ethnic and religious discrimination from the Tigray members of Ethiopia=s army.

The al-Itihad, an Islamic fundamentalist organization, was blamed for a wave of terrorist attacks throughout Ethiopia in 1996-1997.

1997 May 30: Somali Regional State head Id Tahir Farah said education and health institutions have been growing in the region since peace in May 1991.

1997 June 12: There were reports of heavy fighting between Ethiopian government forces and al-Itihad along the border region of Gedo, Somalia. Ethiopia is said to have captured Luq and Bulo Hawo towns and other villages.

October 1997: The ESDL chairman condemnd a move by the Somali Regional State council=s vice president to oust the president. After the attempted ouster, both the president and vice president were dismissed and a reshuffling of the regional committee decided. Mohamed Maalim, and ONLF representative, was named president while Rayaleh Ahmoud, and Issa, was named vice president.

Five al-Itihad leaders called for talks with the Ethiopian government. No information was available on whether the talks took place.

December 1997: Fourteen alleged members of al-Itihad were on trial charged with killing civilians and damaging properties in various parts of the country. They were accused of being responsible for the bombings at Ghron Hotel and Wabe Shebelle Hotel in Addis Ababa and Ras Hotel in Dire Dawa and the bombing of a passenger bus. Al-Itihald is based in lower and middle Jubba regions of Somalia.

12 December 1997: Sixteen ESDL members, including the Secretary-General, were dismissed from the Central Committee and party for committing Aillegal acts opposed to the democratic system.@

February 1998: Extensive flooding since November 1997 has left thousands of families internally displaced in the Gode and Afder zones of Somali Regional State.

23 March 1998: The ONLF has released an Austrian woman held captive after being caught trespassing in February on their area of control in Ogadenia, Somali Regional State. One captor said he was sorry about her case and admitted that a lot of massacres, robberies, killing, displacement, and imprisonment are taking place in Ogadenia (though the story failed to clarify by whom these human rights violations are being committed).

27 March 1998: Dr. Kassu Illala, Deputy Prime Minister for economic affairs said special development efforts are being made to redress regional developmental imbalances particularly seen in Gambella, Benishangol-Gumz, and Somali and Afar Regional States. Establishing schools and providing skilled manpower from the federal government are two priorities. The health service bureau of Afar region says there has been a rise in health service in the region due to an increase in the number of health professionals and institutions over the past four years.

21 April 1998: About 8000 Somali refugees in Ethiopia were repatriated to Somalia. There are plans to repatriate 60,000 more in the near future.

June 1998: The ESDL and ONLF will merge into one organization next month. The groups announced the merger in January 1997, held meetings on the merger beginning in January 1998, and are scheduled to integrate in July 1998. One faction of the ONLF led by sheik Ibrahim Abdullahi, has rejected the merger and continues to oppose the EPRDF government.

5 June 1998: Fifty people were killed when Eritrea bombed Mekele, capital of Tigray province. Eritrea and Ethiopia have been engaged in a low-intensity border war for several weeks. At issue is a 160 square mile region which Eritrea says was not fully settled when Eritrea gained its independence from Ethiopia in 1993.

6 June 1998: ARDUF, which is fighting on both sides of the Eritrean-Ethiopian border, is respecting its self-declared cease-fire and has appealed to the two governments to resolve their border dispute.

12 June 1998: Eritrea said Ethiopia had withdrawn its forces from near Badda. The Ethiopian government had sent its forces into the area in July 1997 on the pretext of warding off Afar opposition forces. Ethiopia then dismantled the Eritrean administrative institutions and replaced them with an Ethiopian administration.

The Ethiopian government decided to reduce its Eritrean Embassy staff and close its consular offices in Tigray and Afar regions.

The border dispute has led to 126,000 people being displaced in Tigray region. Reuter reported that 95% of the former guerrillas of the Tigrean People=s Liberation Front had been mobilized and were driving towards the border.


Risk Assessment

It appears that the government of Meles Zenawi is sincerely trying to bring together the diverse peoples of Ethiopia under a democratic regime. After years of civil war and repressive rule, the people of Ethiopia want peace and development for their regions. In an attempt to accommodate ethnic aspirations for autonomy, the new constitution divided Ethiopia up into regions based on ethnicity. In addition, Meles has attempted to form a cabinet that is ethnically diverse. There is still opposition to his regime, complaints that the election process has not been free and fair, and grumbling for greater autonomy for some regions, but for the most part, Ethiopia appears to be making the transition to democratic rule. However, there are still reports of human rights abuses and the government has recently been relentless in its attempt to push out Islamic extremists who have been trying to motivate Somalis to engage in a Aholy war@ against the state.

Somalis remain an at-risk group because of their history of opposition to the Ethiopian state and because the transition to democracy is so recent. It is not clear that peace will be permanent. The Somali region and other regions are in need of much development and natural disasters such as drought continue to plague the region. If economic hardships continue to face the people of Ethiopia and different ethnic groups feel they are being neglected under future democratically elected governments, they may take up arms once again. At present, this scenario does not seem likely, but the history of ethnic conflict in Ethiopia is a reminder that unification of the country will take much work. The other threat to both the Somali people and the state at present is Islamic fundamentalism that is likely supported by both Somalia and Sudan. Islamic fundamentalists, especially al-Itihad al-Islam, are agitating for a Aholy war@ against the Ethiopian state, and this could affect Somalis negatively because they are Muslims and their region borders on Somalia where al-Itihad is based. Currently, the Ethiopian government is using great military strength in order to eradicate al-Itihad from Ethiopia. So far Somalis have largely avoided the conflict, but they could conceivably be dragged into it, especially as civilian victims, by either the government or al-Itihad.