Conciliation Resources attends historic Ethiopia peace deal signing

Horn of Africa Programme Director, Aden Abdi, was invited to provide technical support and witness the deal, which marks the end of over 20 years of insurgency and counter-insurgency in the Somali regional state:

I have accompanied every twist and turn in this peace process and am so proud to witness the signing of this peace deal. This marks the end of Ogaden insurgency – now the hard work of building sustainable peace begins.

The Ethiopian Government delegation, led by Foreign Minister Workneh Gebeyehu signed the peace deal with the ONLF delegation led by their Chairman Admiral Mohamed Omar Osman in the Eritrean capital, Asmara. In a statement the ONLF said:

The two sides have reached a historical agreement regarding the political rights of the people from Somali Regional State and genuinely addressing the root causes of the conflict between ONLF and the Ethiopian Government.

The deal brings to an end hostilities in the Somali region and paves the way for the ONLF to return to the region and pursue its political objectives through peaceful means.

The ONLF has been waging an armed insurgency against the Government of Ethiopia in the Somali Regional State since 1994. It’s a conflict that has threatened the stability, security and development prospects of Ethiopia, but is often overlooked – both regionally and internationally.

The Asmara deal is the culmination of a series of negotiations between the two sides, which began in 2012 in Kenya under the facilitation of a government of Kenya team led by Garissa Senator, Mohamed Yusuf Haji. Conciliation Resources supported these talks, providing technical advice to the Kenyan team and the conflict parties throughout the six years of negotiations. This has included providing training in preparing for negotiations and the wider peace process, and sharing relevant experiences from peace processes elsewhere. Conciliation Resources has also supported dialogue meetings with diaspora communities, to help them feed their ideas on peace in the region into the formal negotiations. Aden explains:

What was different in the Asmara talks, is the genuine political commitment by both parties to address the Ogaden conflict. This deal would not have been possible without the recent political changes in Ethiopia.

In July this year, Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed made the surprise announcement that the ONLF would be removed from the country’s list of designated terrorist organisations. Then, in August the ONLF announced a unilateral ceasefire. This weekend’s deal follows fresh peace talks, which began in September in Asmara.

Although the signing of this peace deal is an historic step forward, it does not signify the end of the peace process, as Aden explains:

What is needed now is an all-inclusive Somali dialogue and reconciliation process. Such a process would bring together the Somali Regional State Government, ONLF and various political and social groups, and be backed by the federal government. The ONLF insurgency is only one element of the conflict and insecurity facing the Somali region. Issues of federal-state relations, cross-border conflicts between states and ethnic groups, land and natural resource ownership and self-determination, all continue to cause tensions.

History of the ONLF insurgency

For more than two decades, the ONLF has been fighting for self-determination for Somalis in the Ogaden region. The Somali Regional State (SRS), in the East of the country, was one of the self-governing autonomous states, created by Ethiopia’s ruling party in 1991 as part of efforts to address the country’s historical and geographical inequalities. 

The ONLF formed as a secular, nationalist group in 1984, with the aim of self-determination for Somalis in the Ogaden region. They quickly established a grassroots network and in the absence of other organised political and military groups in the region, won the elections for the first SRS regional assembly in 1992. Two years later they demanded a vote for secession – it was a step too far for the rulers in Addis Ababa. The federal state removed the ONLF-led SRS executive and arrested and killed ONLF leaders. The group turned to armed insurgency.

The conflict has left the Somali region one of Ethiopia’s poorest states – on average, nearly two million people are dependent on food aid each year.  Peace talks between the ONLF and the Government of Ethiopia began in 2012, led by a facilitation team from the Kenyan government.

A significant barrier to this peace process was that the ONLF were, until July 2018, a proscribed group – Ethiopia added them to their list of designated terrorist organisations in 2009. As well as making it illegal to be a member of the ONLF, proscription also banned providing support to the organisation.

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