After the Last Year’s August (2005) Elections and the Somali Region in Ethiopia

The Somali region in Ethiopia is one of nine autonomous regions that make up Ethiopia and one of the least developed, insecure and unbalanced regions of the whole country. After one century of gloom and total segregation, the region became autonomous in early 1990’s. Ever since, the region has had its ups and downs. If the infamous Berlin Conference of 1884 (the Scramble for Africa) had not paved the way for the region’s inclusion in Ethiopia, the region would have probably been a significant part of Somalia today. Europe, due to geographical strategies and other benefits, decided to colonize Africa and to divide its communities that once belonged to one another and owned everything in common.

President Abdullahi Lugbuur

The European colonialists devastated the lives of many African communities by dividing them, dislocating them and deepening their differences. They (European colonialists) were blind to what they were doing to those people and communities whose land they (the colonialists) were dividing and demarcating. They put unending, concrete walls between many African clans and communities, including the Somali people irrespective of their contemporary names and locations. The above stated infamous plan that aimed at dividing African homogeneous clans has had a devastating impact on Somalis, whether it is conceded or not. The Somali people have been divided into five territories, one of which is the Somali region in Ethiopia. Of course, the division had not come out of Somalis’ choice, but was imposed on them by coercive, inconsiderate colonialists. In the months of June and July of 1960, two provinces of the aforesaid territories gained their independence and joined their hands in order to form the Republic of Somalia, a state whose stability is uncertain thus far.

Ethiopia’s complete control of the Somali region occurred in the year 1954. Haud was the last part annexed to the then Amharic Empire led by the late emperor Haile Selassie. The annexation process had taken several phases and different shapes, and each annexation strategy was different from the other. Apparently, residents of each area abhorred and resisted the annexation process, but they were ultimately overpowered. It is to be mentioned that the region’s residents had the dream that they would–along with other Somali regions–form greater Somalia (Somaliweyn); but the dream has never materialized, and it is, at least in the foreseeable future, far from happening. Because of this dream, former Somali governments and administrations had mobilized forces and tried to convince the world that the Somali people could not be segmented and scattered over various territories ruled by non Somali head of states.

The instant Somalia had become an independent country, it committed itself to regaining its lost region to Ethiopia; the ultimate goal that Somalia was committed to its achievement had been to detach the region from Ethiopia. Therefore, throughout the period extending from early 1960’s to late 1980’s, the region witnessed powerful insurgents backed and supported by Somalia’s former governments. One of the most powerful insurgents was the “Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF)”.
This was an umbrella that united all Somali clans and coordinated their efforts. It epitomized Somalis’ homogeneity and common goals because the front was free from clannish ideologies and interests. Although liberation efforts took momentum and Somalis tried their best to realize their dream, WSLF’s endeavours had failed, but it was alive and functioning up until Somalia had collapsed and knelt down before the international community for urgent help. The Ethio-Somali war over the region in 1977 displaced huge numbers of residents and drove them out of their homes in different directions; the bulk of the residents escaped to Somalia, where they received hospitable welcome and good treatment, even though things deteriorated afterwards.

Somalia’s civil war coincided with the collapse of Ethiopia’s socialist regime led by Mengistu Haile Mariam. When Mengistu fled the country and its power was taken over by the current administration, thousands of Somalis returned to their towns and reoccupied whatever of their properties was left. However, many people had to fight hard so as to regain their properties from illegitimate settlers. The Somali returnees brought expertise and experiences with them, thereby making the returnees profitable for the region. The returnees did not, unlike other former Ethiopian regimes, need to get permission from Ethiopian authorities or pay them cash in order to live in the land. Indisputably, a good number of the region’s current administrators are former employees in Somalia’s governments, and they (the civil servants) hail from all Somali clans and from all walks of life.

The region’s current situation is incomparable to what it had been before the autonomy. Its situation is better off than it was before, and this argument needs no empirical evidences. During Ethiopia’s former successive regimes, there were no mentionable education institutions, no agriculture projects, no constructions and no useable roads to be trekked on. In fact, all Ethiopian regimes that preceded the current one considered the Somali region to be a place where Ethiopia could not easily administer and invest in it. Therefore, Ethiopia neglected the region and made it a peripheral place with no development projects.

At the present time, and unlike its past condition, the region has seen numerous development projects since it gained autonomy. For example, almost all districts in the region have primary schools, where parents are welcome to send their children to these schools if the parents are able to do so. Similarly, there are livestock and farming oriented projects in the region. The projects aim to enhance the quality of livestock and the fertility of both farm and grasslands. Add to this the undeniable construction projects that are taking place in many of the region’s cities and districts. None of these projects existed before the autonomy, and the region’s residents can virtually vouch for the truth of this statement.

Despite the fact that the region’s situation is much better than it was before the autonomy, there have always been factors that have affected the smooth functioning and progress of the region.
Since the autonomy, the region has struggled with numerous problems, some of which are caused by careless administrations and clan feuds. Compared to other Ethiopian regions, such as the Amharo and Tigray regions, the region is terribly lagging behind. Development projects carried out in the region are minimal compared to other regions. Yes, the region may never be equated with the above two stated regions, as they are the traditional rulers of the country and have preferential treatment per se. However, it appears that Tigray and Amharo regions’ administrators are more patriotic and committed than the Somali region’s administrators.

Carelessness and putting responsibilities on others are widespread phenomenon in the region. There is no “a can-do” attitude on the part of many administrators. Hence, they are blamed for many problems that exist in the region. Oddly enough, the administrators just sit, wait and whine about solvable problems. The region has domestic resources that can nourish its inhabitants if the resources are improved and managed properly; besides, the region receives hefty budget from the federal government. Nonetheless, the vast majority of the region’s residents are unable to cover the basic necessities of life. Among the worst problems that countless number of the region’s inhabitants face are an acute shortage of water, especially in dry seasons, and pathetic medical services. Many towns have no access to potable water, and thousands upon thousands of residents have no medical services in their localities.

Clan feuds have become normal events in the region. These clan conflicts have frequently escalated in a number of zones, but attempts aimed at ending the conflicts have not been effective. It might be argued, therefore, the Somali region lacks concerned elders who can make everlasting peace among Somalis in the region and a caring administration that curbs conflicts whenever they flare up. Obviously, it has been part of Somalis’ tradition to have sincere elders whose main responsibility is to cultivate peace and brotherly atmospheres among Somali feuding clans. However, such elders are neither visible nor audible when it comes to reconciling Somali clans in the region. Without having homegrown and concerned elders (guurti), many of the region’s tribulations may never dwindle. Similarly, the region’s administration has never tried its best to cultivate peace in the region; instead, some administrators are reported to have inflamed certain conflicts between clans now and then. Another major problem that afflicts some of the region’s areas is the unreasonable killing carried out by Ethiopia’s military forces. It is unethical to burn houses and displace innocent people, and let one hope that the current Ethiopian administration should not repeat the barbaric actions of Ethiopia’s former regimes.

Not long ago, there was a conference in Jigjiga in which more than five hundred Somali elders attended. The conference’s theme, among other things, was how the Somali elders could participate in the reconciliation process of feuding clans and the progress of the region in general. Read this news story to get more information about the conference: Elders in Somali State Contributing to Peace and Development….

The Somali People’s Democratic Party (SPDP) won the August 2005 elections in the Somali region. The (SPDP) party is in league with Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), the party that currently rules the country.
Knowing that Tigray and Amharo ethnic groups have been at odds with one another for a long time now, the Somali region has been brought closer to the ruling EPRDF party and given preferences over other parties. Approximately, one and a half million Somalis are reported to have voted in August 2005 to elect representatives for 23 federal and 168 regional seats. The SPDP party has won and occupied the vast majority of the seats and is expected to rule the region for another five years to come. During the elections, the party deployed all its resources in order to get as many seats as it could possible get.

The only other noteworthy, contending party was the Western Somali Democratic Party (WSDP), a party that has deeper roots than the former party. Nevertheless, the WSDP party had not had enough resources with which to contend the elections effectively; therefore, it pulled out of the elections after it had been intimidated and convinced that it could not come up with satisfactory results. Elections are often fought on agendas and values, but time will tell whether the August elections were elections fought on principles or not. In the first weeks of September 2005, the eagerly awaited result of the elections emerged, announcing the number of both the federal and the regional seats that each zone had received. Some areas were satisfied with the results, whereas other areas were unsatisfied. Since Somali politics and sharing governmental seats have always been a controversial matter, the results of some zones have not been hard to believe. Some districts of the Dhagaxbur and Jigjiga zones are of the opinion that they have not adequately been represented in the system. These districts have been unhappy with the way the region’s seats have been allocated. Curiously, the Jigjiga zone is reported to be one of the most populated zones in the region, yet it has not gotten its share of the pie.

Following the results of the region’s upper and lower levels was the election of the region’s president. After a tedious campaign, the region’s parliament chose Abdullahi Xasan Mohamed (Lugbuur) to be the region’s president. Since he was elected, there have been a mixture of feelings; some people have believed that other candidates who contested for the position have been more talented and experienced than him; others have applauded the results and believed that Mr. Lugbuur has been the right choice. Mr. Abdullahi Lugbuur is an academic with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. As reports indicate, he has good journalistic skills, although he prefers writing in Arabic to writing in English.

President Abdullahi Hassan Lugbuur

The instant Mr. Abdullahi Lugbuur became the region’s president, several media groups lined up to interview him. All of them wanted to get his insights with respect to how he would rule the region and ran its affairs during his tenure. Of these media outlets was the Somali branch of the BBC London. Certainly, his interview with the BBC had been quite a long one and full with multifaceted questions, some of which were fairly boiling. Listeners phoned him from different parts of the world, but a recurring question that had been posed by several callers was how the region’s president would go about ending the clan feuds that have affected some of the region’s localities. In answering that question, among others, Mr. Lugbuur asserted that some of his first priorities would be to reconcile the feuding clans in the region, to improve the quality of education the region and to establish, over the course of his tenure, many other profitable projects for the region.

Because of ancient plans, the region has been fated to be part of Ethiopia. Now it is the fifth province of nine provinces that hold Ethiopia together. But the region is one of the least developed and insecure provinces of the country. The Somali region got its autonomy in 1992 after Ethiopia had adopted its federal system. The region’s present situation is undeniably much better than it used to be during Mengistu and Haile Selassie times, but it is yet to achieve an ideal situation in terms of peace and accomplishments. There are tons of problems that badly affect the region’s residents, and it is unlikely to solve all of the problems overnight. Nevertheless, if good efforts are paid and good measures are put in place, some of the problems can be solved sooner than later. For instance, clans that live in suspicion of each other can be reconciled, and the region’s quality of education can be enhanced indeed.

It is time for those who have won their seats in the region’s upper and lower levels to toil in the process of enhancing the living conditions of their respective constituencies and the entire region in general. The region does not always deserve to be shrouded in poverty and in a peaceless situation. Truly– a caring administration, along with sensitive and shrewd elders (guurti)–can bring about peace and tangible accomplishment in the region. As the administration continues to align fractured relationships between clans and creating quality oriented educational institutions, chances of sabotaging these noble initiatives and actions cannot be disregarded. However, the administration must take tough stances on those who intentionally disrupt the administration’s efforts and its productive initiatives.