In its latest report, Ethiopia: Prospects for Peace in Ogaden, the International Crisis Group examines the roots of longstanding conflict in the Somali-inhabited region of Ethiopia and the prospects for renewed dialogue. The first direct talks between the government and the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) began last year, facilitated by Kenya, but stalled, ostensibly over the rebels’ refusal to recognise the constitution. That procedural obstacle, however, concealed deeper divisions between the parties, as well as uncertainty in an Ethiopian political leadership still finding its way following the death last year of long-time Prime Minister Meles Zenawi; the ONLF’s relative inexperience in negotiation; and the Kenyan team’s distraction by their country’s March 2013 elections.
The report’s major findings and recommendations are:
- The talks are an historic opportunity, but a durable agreement will require unprecedented concessions by both sides. Each needs to develop a broader political vision in order to negotiate a shared and inclusive peace.
- A peace deal could build upon investments the federal government has made over the last five years in the Somali regional state and accelerate the opportunities for economic growth in the marginalised region, not least by enabling oil and gas exploration. But without a new political compact between Ethiopian Somalis and the Ethiopian state, the existing gains and potential growth will be fragile.
- An end to the Ogaden conflict could also bring significant benefits of wider peace and economic integration, including across the borders in Kenya and Somalia, but big projects such as the Lamu Port-Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (LAPSETT) Corridor must be matched by community-level, cross-border political and economic ties.
- The presence of a Kenyan team as a third-party mediator is a brave and welcome innovation, but its role needs greater recognition and support. Institutional and technical backing could be provided by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the regional peace and security organisation that is already engaged in relevant processes.
“There are solid reasons why this is a promising time to move to meaningful talks”, says Cedric Barnes, Crisis Group’s Horn of Africa Project Director. “Two decades of deadly conflict and a relatively successful government counter-insurgency campaign have exhausted the local Ethiopian-Somali population sufficiently to push the ONLF back to the table”.
“Any renewed peace talks in the fast-evolving regional landscape will face considerable challenges”, says EJ Hogendoorn, Crisis Group’s Africa Deputy Program Director. “But despite the gloom surrounding last October’s impasse, the opportunity to transcend decades of conflict should not be missed”.