Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Ogaden Shall be Free

Africa has been through rough times including slavery and slave trade, European colonialism, neo-colonialism and dictatorship. Currently it is experiencing economic slavery, African slavery and oppression of select societies who are struggling for self-determination, religious freedom, and political involvement. A case in point is the oil and natural resources rich Niger Delta of Nigeria inhabited by the Ogoni people who have been denied a share of the national cake. The Government of Nigeria has underdeveloped the Ogoni people by denying them their inalienable rights. This part of Nigeria has become a forgotten region yet it is where Nigeria's 'Black Gold' is extracted. Discuss indepth with Ogonis in the Diaspora and you will be amazed by the strange stories they narrate. Followers of Africa's events will recall the hanging of Ken Saro Wiwa who was an academic, writer, poet, politician, and a businessman by Sani Abacha's regime on a trumped up crime in the morning of November 10, 1995. "The blood of Ken Saro Wiwa will stain the name of Shell..." was a statement given by Greenpeace on learning the death of this great man. He was a man who fought for ecological and social justice for his people. Surprisingly, there is no armed liberation struggle in Ogoni land except a few armed groups who wish to highlight their plight to the world through abductions and blowing up of pipelines that have adverse effects on the economy of Nigeria and other fuel-dependent nations.

Now let's come back to the beautiful Horn of Africa and have a quick look at the Ogaden region in Ethiopia. The Ogaden is dominated by Somalis, was given to Ethiopia by the European colonial powers in the aftermath of the Scramble for Africa, and has remained underdeveloped ever since. The region has been an issue of contention between Somalia and Ethiopia for a long time and yet no nation in the international community has ever bothered to intervene. The inhabitants of this region have been victims of successive Ethiopian expansionist emperors and dictators with killings and imprisonment, rape and abductions, burning of villages and towns, underdevelopment and isolation and other inhuman means of torture being the methods used by the state machinery to silence dissent. Somalia and Ethiopia went to war over this territory several times; the most recent being the 1977-1978 war that saw Ethiopia getting material and moral support from the former USSR, Cuba, and communist Yemen while Somalia stood alone in her endeavors to reclaim it.

Ethiopia has always denied commiting human rights violations against the people of this region yet recent satellite images taken from razed villages and towns reveal the contrary. Towns and villages that were intact and thriving a couple of years ago have been found razed to the ground, thanks to modern human technological advances in the space sciences. The Ogaden region has experienced the worst natural disasters including flooding of rivers that devastate crops and livestock that is the only means of survival for its impoverished pastoralist society. The region lacks schools, hospitals, roads, and viable infrastructure. The Ethiopian Government employs stooges from the region to advance its propaganda and political constipation.

A quick search on the name 'Ogaden' in the internet search engines reveal tons of information on the cultural, historical, and political struggle of the Ogaden people. Some document daily atrocities and incidents as they evolve. Intenational organizations carrying out humanitarian activities in this region have been suppressed by successive Ethiopian governments with some facing expulsions for voicing their concerns. The government is using relief supplies as a tool to garner support from its oppressed inhabitants.

The discovery of oil in this region has increased tension and competition among energy-starved powers most notably China that has a big stake in Ethiopia's oil drilling and mineral exploration. The storming of an oil installation manned by a Chinese firm by the Ogaden National Liberation Front ONLF) and the subsequent killing of many of its workers contracted to the drilling and extraction of this precious element a few years ago brought the world media to attention. This incident made the world aware of the prevailing inhuman conditions and the treasures in the Ogaden.

Despite the huddles of getting access to the region because of government restrictions on travel and stringent visa procedures coupled with media censorship, several media houses were able to penetrate the region's most affected parts relaying credible information that could be used to indict those suspected of commiting human rights violations and genocide. Al-jazera televion, often referred to as the 'CNN of the Middle East', in an exclusive documentary on the Ogaden region, showed harrowing images of destitution and suffering that were visible on the faces of many it was able to interview.

Ironically, successive Ethiopian governments have used inhuman methods to underdevelop this region including:
(1) unequal distribution of wealth
(2) Misuse of donor funds meant for the Ogaden and other impoverished regions
(3) Ogaden region represented by select members from the Tigrei community
(4) Relief aid diverted for military use
(5) High illiteracy, high unemployment, and high mortality rate
(6) Amharic language forced on to the people
(7) Lack of veterinary services for livestock
(8) Poor farming techniques contribute to poor crop yield
(9) Biased state media
(10) Somali-Ogaden civilians conscripted in to Ethiopian army to fight wars
(11) Print and electronic media in Amharic and censorship of Somali speaking media

Ethiopia's involvement in many wars has given the ONLF the will to expand its influence in the region. ONLF is now a much bigger force than it was before as it boasts political representations in many foreign countries garnering support from the Diaspora and sympathizers for its just struggle against black colonialism. In this era of communication and globalization, it is aboslutely impossible for oppressive governments to conceal deliberate inhuman acts from the glare of publicity. The election irregularities that led to the subsequent arrest and extra-jucicial killigs of opposition figures and university students in the streets of Addis Ababa, the capital city, in 2005, still echo in the minds of Ethiopia's bitter multi-cultural societies seeking abrupt regime change.

For now, the international community knows very well aware of the human rights violations being committed by Meles Zenawi's regime in the Ogaden and in other parts of Ethiopia, though, to the surprise of the people of Ogaden and their sympathizers, none among the world powers in the forefront for universal suffrage campaign, not even the UN, the world governing body, is willing to see further fragmentation of landlocked Ethiopia since Eritrea's legal divorce in 1991.

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