The grisly war between Somali and Afar regions of Ethiopia could be averted, but it is getting bloodier. Hundreds of people from both regions have thus far perished in continual wars that have been escalating for a while now. They are based on a territorial dispute between the two regions, with each one claiming the ownership of the disputed territory.
But the Somali region believed that a number of its towns had been unlawfully handed over to the Afar regional state. This bizarre betrayal occurred when the dissolved Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) was at the helm of the country. This was a multinational political party dominated by Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which flexed its muscles and did whatever it desired, to whomever it wanted.
The Somali region suffered from unjust policies put in place by the above stated party. More specifically, the region’s Sitti zone lost some towns to the Afar region after EPRDF ordered those towns be included in the Afar region’s map. Unfortunately, the Somali region’s administration at the time agreed to the plan and signed a pact which transferred the towns to the Afar region. The Sitti zone’s residents were outraged, as theirs and the region’s was a colossal loss.
They were forced to be part of a region whose language they could not speak. This was a downright oppression, they concluded. They demanded referendum, but the EPRDF neither understood their plight, nor heed their cry. The residents were afraid of losing their Somali ethnicity, as they were being forced to assimilate in a different ethnicity. The towns’ dwellers are from the Issa tribe, and cannot turn into Afar (In fact, Issa and Afar have been neighbours for centuries; they also share Djibouti, which is mainly composed of the two groups).
Eventually, Somali pastoralists hailing from the towns took up the arms and rejected to be part of the Afar region. They began guerrilla wars and clashed with their adversaries. To silence the Somali people in the Sitti zone, the Afar region deployed mighty forces, but never succeeded to shut up the towns’ concern. They wanted their identity back. They needed to get back to their Somali region.
The towns had been under the Afar region’s administration until Abdi-Iley‘s regime collapsed. When the current Somali region’s administration led by President Mustafe Omer came to power, the aforementioned towns’ ownership has been reinstated. They are Somali towns and must fly the region region’s flag. Reinstating the towns has ushered in a new dawn for their residents, but enraged the Afar region. It has never relinquished its ownership claim of the disputed towns; conversely, the Somali region has never succumbed to its rival’s claim. It is a tit for tat matter. The Afar region argues that the towns had belonged to them long before the Somalis populated the area, while the Somali region disagrees and says the towns are entirely populated by Somalis, so they are the real owners of the towns.
Because the towns’ residents could not withstand attacks from the Afar region, the Somali regional state has deployed battalions of its Liyu police to the Sitti zone to defend the citizens from imminent attacks from the Afar region. Now, the war over the towns has transcended pastoralists’ capacities; it is occurring between trained forces from the regions, exacerbating death and destruction on both sides.
It is time for both the regions to realize that war is not only the solution. Enormous damages have already been done. The Ethiopian federal government has to intervene and mediate the warring regions. Further death and destruction can be averted if the country justly resolves disputed issues through reconciliation.