ONLF conference crowd

At a conference, which was held in the town of Kabridhare at the heart of the Somali Regional State (SRS) in Ethiopia, the ONLF discussed their strategy for transitioning from an armed group to a political party. They also addressed some key questions around security, justice and democracy. 

During the opening ceremony, Abdirahman Mahdi, ONLF Secretary General and Chief Negotiator said:

When you transition from a position of war and conflict to democracy it is not an easy road, and we have many challenges to face. We will struggle for our rights through peaceful means. We will create a bridge of friendship among people across Ethiopia. We will strive to make this region peaceful. We want to be active participants in the politics of this country, Africa and even the world.

The week-long conference, which was attended by over 400 people, brought together a range of civil society groups, including traditional elders, youth groups and women’s organisations, and was also attended by President of the SRS, Mustafa Omer.  The conference began with a series of speeches from elders representing each of the clans in the SRS, who shared their views on the way forward for peace in the region.

The event follows the return of ONLF leaders to the region, after the signing of a peace deal with the Government of Ethiopia in October 2018. The deal was the culmination of six years of negotiations between the two sides, which were facilitated by the Kenyan government.

Conciliation Resources supported these talks from the beginning, providing technical advice and support to the conflict parties – including providing training in preparing for negotiations and helping to draft the final peace deal. During the conference Abdirahman Mahdi said:

Conciliation Resources has been a staunch supporter of this peace process from the day we started. They’ve played a vital role in training our negotiators and in working with the facilitators from Kenya to ensure that the peace process continued.

Conciliation Resources is now supporting the conflict parties in the transition to peace, as well as helping young people and members of the Somali diaspora feed their ideas into the wider peace process. ONLF leaders have taken part in learning trips to Northern Ireland and the Basque region, and learnt from international experts in the fields of justice and dealing with the past.

Suzanne Van Hooff, Horn of African Project Manager at Conciliation Resources, attended the conference:

While last year’s peace deal was an historic moment, this is by no means the end of the peace process. This conference and the Government's support of the ONLFs’ transition to a political party, shows that both are committed to making the deal stick. It is now up to the parties to work together with the Somali people to start a process of reconciliation and address the causes and drivers of conflict in the region.

The ONLF formed as a secular, nationalist group in 1984, with the aim of self-determination for Somalis in the Ogaden region. The ONLF had been waging an armed insurgency against the Government of Ethiopia in the Somali Regional State since 1994. Read more about the history of the conflict here.