The Ogaden region in Ethiopia has been an epicentre of instability in the Horn of Africa region for several decades.
The unresolved conflict has been a major obstacle to development and progress; a trigger of inter-state wars between Ethiopia and Somalia in the 1960s and 1970s; and a proxy arena for the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Since 1994, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) has been waging an armed insurgency against the Government of Ethiopia in the region.
The conflict - which includes endemic communal and clan clashes at the local level that is often indistinguishable from the regional and international insecurities affecting the area - has left the Somali region as one of Ethiopia’s poorest states.
Social costs of conflict: facts and figures
- 1.9 million people are dependent on food aid in an average year;
- Primary Net Enrolment Rate is only 51%, compared to 82% nationally;
- Antenatal care coverage is 30%, against 71% nationally;
- Safe water coverage is 44%, against 69% nationally;
(Source - DFID Ethiopia Business Case on Support to the Delivery of Basic Services in the Somali Region of Ethiopia (2012/13 - 2015/16)
The conflict has also hindered private development of one of the largest oil and gas reserves in the Horn of Africa.
Complex interlocking conflict systems
The conflict in Ogaden in Ethiopia occurs at four or more inter-connected levels:
1. At the local level - including communal and clan conflicts;
2. At the sub-national level - between ONLF and regional state government, within the Somali regional state government as well as other Somali regional state political and economic actors;
3. Between the Federal Government of Ethiopia and the ONLF;
4. In the wider Horn of Africa in the Somalia and Ethiopia conflict systems including Somali clan linkages into Somalia/Somaliland, Djibouti and Northern Kenya as well as Ethiopia-Eritrea border conflict.
Negotiations between the Government of Ethiopia and the ONLF are important and necessary first step towards finding an end to the armed insurgency in the region. However, experiences from peace processes in other protracted conflicts (such as Mindanao in the Philippines, Northern Ireland and Colombia) show the importance of seeking “multiple paths to peace” involving wide spectrum of the society beyond the negotiation table - including local and diaspora communities, private sector and political actors.
A durable peace in Ogaden therefore, requires multiple, sustained and complementary dialogue, mediation and peace efforts at the various levels of the conflict. A political settlement in the Ogaden could also have a positive knock-on impact on peace and stability in Somalia and the wider Horn of Africa region.