In Search of an Identity and the Somali Region in Ethiopia

In search of an identity and harmony, the Somali people in Ethiopia should consider their collective identity, existence and unity. The Somali Regional State has endured numerous problems and suffered from political mayhems and disapproving divisions. At one time, the region’s inhabitants identified themselves with different names on the basis of the territories under which they lived. Some territories were called ‘Hararghe’, other territories were called ‘Ogaden’, whereas other territories were called Haud and Reserve area. Despite their different names and diversified geographical characters, though, the territories symbolized one community: Somalis. Somali is the mother tongue spoken by almost all the region’s residents.

The Somali people have lived in Ethiopia since time immemorial and contributed to the prosperity of the country. They have worked under harsh conditions in order to eke out a living and contribute to the development of their country; however, the region’s inhabitants have never been able to get their rightful place in Ethiopia. They have been marginalized, underserved and abandoned at some times. Indeed, to be a citizen of a country implies that one should get every right and privilege that any other citizen of that particular country is entitled to get; therefore, the region’s residents are entitled to get all the rights and privileges that other Ethiopians get, or else identifying with Ethiopia becomes a mere claim and purposeless endeavor. Having said this, nevertheless, the current Ethiopian system is one of the best regimes under which the Somali people have ever lived.

The Somali people in this region have historically maintained their collective identity by preserving the name “Somali-Ethiopian”. In spite of the aforementioned different territories, the region’s residents have preferred to be called “Somali-Ethiopians”; they are ethnically Somalis and geographically located in Ethiopia. But, when it comes to lineages, the numerous clans that inhabit the region identify themselves with different tribes, such as Darod, Dir, Hawiye and the like; these are major tribes that reside in Somalia proper. Although the region’s residents are extremely interwoven in terms of blood and intermarriages, they have no other identity—not to mention their respective clans—except that of being Somalis and citizens of Ethiopia; thus the name “Somali” has bound the different clans that inhabit the region together and enabled them to coexist peacefully and live side by side.

When the deposed Ethiopian imperialist empire attached the name ‘Ogadenya’ to some parts of the region, the intention had not been to do any good thing to Somalis; the intention had been to set fire to Somalis and hit them against each other continually. One should not instill division and enmity into the region’s residents by imposing divisive names on them. The name ‘Ogadenya’ divides and disjoints the region’s inhabitants; while this name excites the mindset of some Somalis, this very name devastates the mindset of other Somalis. The name has already driven people apart and damaged their relationships in a terrible way; a shiver may take hold of someone when one meticulously observes how the divisive name affects the psychological well being of many Somalis and makes them stay away from each other.

The conflict-ridden name has, to reiterate, driven relatives apart and pit them against each other; for instance, the name has already sowed bitter enmity among the Absame people, people who belong to the Darod clan. Then, the question is: if the name ‘Ogadenya’ creates enmity and severe friction between two brothers and makes them harm each other frequently, will it do any good to other distant relatives and common folks? I leave the answer for the individual reader and analyzer. Of course, nothing is sadder than having relatives and brothers killing and betraying each other routinely. Imposing divisive names on the region’s inhabitants is like shoving inedible food into one’s throat forcefully; the above stated name is not palatable because it does not serve the collective interest and identity of the inhabitants. Moreover, the name brings about disarray, which devastates the residents; it ignites civil wars and severe conditions, which divide the residents; and it deprives the region’s dwellers of their collective identity and harmonious coexistence.

In every sense of the word, this name is not compatible with the residents’ common good and interest, and it cannot bind them together, simply because it is not an all-encompassing one. Simply put, naming the region after ‘Ogadenya’ is akin to naming Ethiopia after Amhara, Tigray, Oromo or Somalis; or it is like naming Somalia after Darod, Hawiye, Isaq, to name but a few clans. Let unity and collective identity be the end to which Somalis in the region strive. Unless all clan-based names are put aside, the Somali people in the region will not work together in the same direction; consequently, they will remain in a state of weakness and misunderstanding. The name “Somali-Ethiopian” works for all Somalis in the region despite their differences and tribal affiliations. Conversely, other clannish names such as Ogadenya, Jidwaqenya, Issenya and the like do not work for the region’s residents and represent them equally.

Clannish names can only sensitize the region’s inhabitants to continual conflicts and internal strife, and they evoke futile discussions and fruitless debates. This argument might sound a bit of bad idea for some individuals, but it is a standpoint espoused by many people who hail from the region and from the Horn as well. Divisive names benefit nobody but selfish individuals. To avoid division and undesirable disputes, the region’s people must hold fast to their collective identity and interest. Honestly, t he interest and peaceful coexistence of the residents are more weightier and important than maintaining a name for the sake of its adoration. And human beings should not be hooked up to clannish ideologies and interests to the extent that the clannish ideologies make them oblivious to the common good.