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Ethiopia: Prospects for Peace in Ogaden
Ethiopia: Prospects for Peace in Ogaden
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Ethiopia Must Continue to Help Stabilise South Sudan
Ethiopia Must Continue to Help Stabilise South Sudan
Report 207 / Africa

Ethiopia: Prospects for Peace in Ogaden

The most credible attempt at talks to end decades of armed conflict in Ogaden may soon resume, but concerted efforts need to be made to guide them to a peaceful resolution.

Executive Summary

Nearly a year after the talks facilitated by Kenya between the Ethiopian government and Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) rebels stalled in October 2012, there are signs that the process may restart. Ostensibly, it was the ONLF’s refusal to recognise the Ethiopian constitution that halted the initial dialogue, but that issue covers more fundamental divides, and these remain. Nevertheless there are solid reasons why this is a promising time for both parties, as well as neighbouring countries and other international partners, to try to renew meaningful talks. Two decades of deadly conflict – especially an intense five-year, relatively successful government counter-insurgency campaign – have exhausted the local Ethiopian-Somali population sufficiently to push the ONLF back to the table. Likewise, Addis Ababa’s determination to accelerate economic growth, especially by exploiting the resources of its lowland peripheries, not least hydrocarbons, also argues for sustainable peace.

Ethiopia’s commitment to the talks is important but undermined by a parallel strategy of piecemeal deals with disgruntled ONLF members. Concessions to the rebels risk alienating the “loyalist” stronghold that the federal government has built up within the majority clan – the Ogaadeni – in the Ogaden region, formally called the Somali National Regional State (SNRS). These tactics have proved useful in the counter-insurgency campaign, but a meaningful peace process will have to address the clan tensions and exacerbated intra-communal violence they have also deepened.

The drive for peace has suffered from the death in August 2012 of longstanding Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who took a strong personal interest in resolving the Ogaden conflict and had the power to negotiate a deal. Though his successor, Hailemariam Desalegn, is a potential dove, he lacks the political strength to challenge the military-security hawks who led the counter-insurgency operations and are, at best, sceptical of the need for a deal with the weakened ONLF.

The ONLF’s leadership lacks a unified vision of the talks’ outcome, shifting along a spectrum of options, between reconciliation with the state in return for significant autonomy and outright secession. Though the Ethiopian constitution formally allows for secession, it is not a real option for the government and is complicated by pan-Somali irredentist dreams, driven by the Ogaadeni clan’s transnational reach. In its attempts to guard against the subversion of its cause by wider Somali interests, the ONLF has been forced to look for allies further afield, especially Eritrea, whose invaluable tactical support has embroiled an internal Ethiopian issue in wider regional rivalries. Unless its regional relations, especially with Eritrea but also with Somalia, improve, Addis Ababa will continue to view the Ogaden issue through a national security lens.

Kenya’s involvement in the peace talks is based on security cooperation with Ethiopia, especially over Somali issues, as well as growing aspiration to increase bilateral economic ties. Transnational clan links also pushed it to take on facilitation, led by a team of Kenyan Ogaadenis, including a government minister, two parliamentarians and an ex-civil servant. However, Nairobi was distracted by its March 2013 election, which partly contributed to loss of momentum in the process. The team has now had its mandate renewed by President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government, but its task is complicated by the growing instability in Kenya’s Somali counties and the Kenyan military intervention (under the African Union Mission in Somalia, AMISOM) in neighbouring southern Somalia – two regions dominated by the Ogaadeni clan.

Balancing Ogaadeni interests in the three neighbouring states would make it more possible in the longer term to build sustainable regional peace. The international community – traditional donors and new economic actors interested in Ethiopia’s resource-rich peripheries alike – should give their attention to renewed talks. Development aid and economic partnerships could significantly improve prospects for Ethiopian-Somali communities exhausted by years of counter-insurgency, marginalisation and political violence. But the peace talks can only transform sub-regional economic integration if they address fundamental governance issues – especially resolution of historical Ethiopian-Somali grievances.

A meaningful peace process requires unprecedented concessions from both sides and, potentially, enhancement of Kenya’s role from facilitator to guarantor, as well as the channelling of technical support through the regional peace and security organisation, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). To improve the prospects of a new round of talks, the parties could consider a number of options:

  • a greater role for Kenya’s good offices in light of its shared security concerns with Ethiopia and the shared stakes of its Ogaadeni facilitators for regional peace. IGAD could also conceivably play a role, especially through its Conflict Early Warning and Response Mechanism’s (CEWARN) Rapid Response Fund designed to prevent and mitigate pastoralism-related conflict;
     
  • shared acknowledgement of the post-1991 devolved administration’s achievements, especially the investments of the last five years, and of the potential for further reforms in the regional government (in partnership with the existing SNRS administration), particularly if a balance is maintained between ensuring security and pursuing much needed development; again, IGAD’s technical programs on pastoralism could be supportive;
     
  • a potential role for both traditional clan- and state-based justice in accounting for crimes committed during the conflict and achieving reconciliation within Ogaadeni sub-clans and with other Somali clans, perhaps including a commission of inquiry, led by neutral Ethiopian and Kenyan elders, into the 50-year legacy of conflict in the region;
     
  • commitment to greater transparency of the trade and customs regime in SNRS, including creative concessions, eg, incentives to pay duty on cross-border Somali trade with Kenya and Somaliland; and
     
  • recognition of the federal government’s authority over oil and natural gas concessions, but also shared commitment to public scrutiny of exploration’s impact on pastoral livelihoods and consultation on regional social and economic development if commercial exploitation starts.

Nairobi/Brussels, 6 August 2013

Commentary / Africa

Ethiopia Must Continue to Help Stabilise South Sudan

Addis Ababa can win economic and security gains if it perseveres with its impressive commitment to peace efforts in South Sudan. With its new two-year membership on the UN Security Council, Addis Ababa has the opportunity to better connect regionally-led political processes to UN action. 

Ethiopia’s commitment to peace-making in South Sudan has been critical for regional stability. It has much to gain from continuing this engagement, including a secure border and trade with a stable neighbour. But achieving lasting peace after South Sudan’s two-year-long civil war is a long-term undertaking.

Ethiopia has shown strong leadership and a level of direct involvement in peace efforts in Sudan and South Sudan that few countries can match.

The African Union High Implementation Panel (AUHIP) peace talks on the conflicts are held in Ethiopia. Addis Ababa led the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD, a regional body) peace process on South Sudan and is a guarantor of the August 2015 Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCSS). It deploys peacekeepers to the UN Mission in South Sudan and is the main contributor to the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (on the Sudan-South Sudan border). It is also expected to be the lead contributor to the 4,000-strong UN Regional Protection Force (RPF) based in Juba.

Ethiopia’s two-year membership on the UN Security Council (UNSC) should be an opportunity to better connect regionally-led political processes to UN action.

Implementing the ARCSS and the Regional Force

Following the July 2016 fighting in Juba, ARCSS has been reshaped, and the RPF and national dialogue process created to reinforce its principles. Concerted support is required from Ethiopia, fellow IGAD member states, the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC, overseeing ARCSS implementation and reporting to the IGAD heads of state) and the UN to reduce conflict under an inclusive government.

These processes, and the RPF’s role in supporting them, are fluid and interconnected. For example, a successful negotiation between the transitional government and an armed group increases the chances of successful dialogue between communities caught up in the conflict. There is now a window of opportunity to shape and provide capacity-building to efforts to make the new South Sudan transitional government more inclusive.

Given the trust deficit that exists between South Sudan’s government and opposition figures, the UN’s RPF has a role to play in helping create conditions conducive to ARCSS implementation and national dialogue.

Ethiopia’s support for talks between these parties makes it a critical partner in supporting inclusivity in Juba. For this to take place, the RPF must deploy and demonstrate its worth. In addition to JMEC, the RPF provides a direct link to Ethiopia and other IGAD leaders in their oversight of ARCSS and efforts to form a more inclusive government.

On the sidelines of the forthcoming AU summit, Ethiopia and IGAD leaders should consider what can be done to expedite RPF deployment and how it can be better tied to political engagement to support genuine efforts toward greater transitional government inclusivity.

Mutual Security and Prosperity

Ethiopia’s mediation and peacekeeping efforts also support stability at home. During Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn’s 28 October visit to Juba, he and President Kiir made assurances that they would not support rebels in either country ­– a critical restatement of a mutual understanding between the two countries.

Ethiopia’s border with South Sudan hosts cross-border communities that experience multiple, overlapping communal tensions that can lead to violence. A large Murle raid from South Sudan into the Gambella region last April required the Ethiopian army’s temporary deployment into South Sudan to secure the return of abducted children and to monitor both sides of the border. This took place during a separate period of intercommunal conflict in Gambella, which was exacerbated by the large numbers of refugees in the region.

Supporting South Sudan to reduce political and communal conflicts along their shared border – which requires effective and inclusive governance from Juba – will improve security in Gambella and reduce refugee inflows, which tend to exacerbate intercommunal tensions in the border region.

Violence and displacement are detrimental to the mutually beneficial cross-border trade that was growing fast before South Sudan’s civil war started in 2013. Stability and security can enable development rather than humanitarian crisis in the impoverished border regions and beyond.

Ethiopia should not waiver in its commitment to ensuring a peaceful South Sudan and use the many tools at its disposal – IGAD, ARCSS, JMEC, the RPF and its term since January on the UN Security Council – to support an inclusive and stable government in Juba. Successful peace-making will ensure greater stability in Ethiopia and facilitate sustained trade and economic development – which is to everyone’s benefit.