Ethiopia-Ogaden (2007– first combat deaths)

Tasneem Jamal Africa

Updated: April 2017

Conflict at a Glance

Who: The government of Ethiopia is fighting various rebel groups, notably the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). Insurgents seek varying levels of independence from the central government. Both the ONLF and the OLF want autonomy. Although OLF and the ONLF have periodically clashed over territorial claims, the two bodies now collaborate through the People’s Alliance for Freedom and Democracy (PAFD).

What: There have been longstanding tensions between the Ethiopian government and the Ogaden. The region was part of Somalia until 1936 and its inhabitants are predominantly ethnic Somali and Muslim. In 1976 and 1977, Somalia launched attacks to reclaim the Ogaden region, but suffered humiliating defeat when the Soviet Union shifted its support from Somalia to Ethiopia. In 1984, the Ogaden National Liberation Front emerged, seeking full independence from Ethiopia.

The Oromo Liberation Front was founded in 1973 and seeks to establish the autonomous state of Oromia, which would include all of central and southern Ethiopia, excluding the Ogaden and Omo River areas (Global Security). The Oromo people are Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group.  The minority Tigray people (six per cent of Ethiopia’s population) dominate government and other elite positions (Central Intelligence Agency). The OLF has protested this disproportionate distribution of power and wealth (The Guardian).

When: The most recent phase of conflict began in 2007 when the ONLF attacked a Chinese oil field. The government responded with major counterinsurgency operations. In 2010, the Ethiopian government signed a peace accord with a major faction of the ONLF. In October 2012, mediation talks with another ONLF faction failed after the faction refused to accept the precondition that they respect the country’s constitution.

Where: Clashes have occurred largely in the Ogaden region in eastern Ethiopia. Disputes between the Oromo people and the Tigray-dominated Ethiopian government have occurred in other parts of the country, including protests in the capital and largest city, Addis Ababa.

Summary
Type of Conflict
Parties to the Conflict
Status of the Fighting
Number of Deaths
Political Developments
Background
Arms Sources

Economic Factors 

Summary

2016 The plan to expand Addis Ababa was halted at the beginning of 2016, as protests against the government escalated. However, protests and violence persisted over such concerns as land rights, violence against peaceful protesters, arbitrary arrests, and other human rights abuses by government officials. Several ethnic liberation groups banded together to create a political alliance to topple the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) regime, whose members dominate the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition that holds all seats in parliament. Numerous protests turned violent and fighting between the government and rebel factions resulted in many casualties. In October, the Ethiopian government declared a six-month state of emergency.

2015 Parliamentary elections in May returned to power the incumbent Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and their allies. In September a new coalition opposition movement, Salvation of Ethiopia through Democracy, was formed. Human Rights Watch raised concerns about the use of laws that repressed and restricted freedom of speech and media. In December protests broke out in Oromia state in response to a government plan to expand capital city Addis Ababa into that region. The Grand Anwar Mosque in Addis suffered a grenade attack in mid-December.

2014 Violence this year was minimal, with only 14 deaths linked directly to the Ogaden conflict. However, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) advised that there were deaths linked to aid denial and violence had taken place in other parts of the country. There were concerns about attacks by the Somali al-Shabaab insurgent group; joint operations between al-Shabaab and the ONLF were notable. Talks by Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia concluded in a decision to hire an outside firm to evaluate the effects of the ongoing construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam on the Nile in northern Ethiopia. Human Rights Watch raised concerns about government surveillance and arrests that hindered the press, and criticized the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative for approving Ethiopia’s candidacy for membership, despite its human rights record. The United Nations Universal Periodic Review of Ethiopia took place in May.

2013 Protests that began in 2012 were prominent in July and August, resulting in clashes between police, military forces, and protesters. The violent crackdown was condemned by opposition groups and Amnesty International. The ONLF reported in May that more than 300 civilians had been killed in fighting since the beginning of the year. The government’s “villagization” program continued, uprooting people in Gambella. Ethiopia’s intentions to divert the flow of the Nile River for the construction of Africa’s largest hydroelectric dam, the Grand Renaissance Dam, raised tensions, particularly with Egypt. Ethiopia had failed by the end of the year to reach an agreement with Sudan and Egypt on the dam.

2012 Long-time Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, regarded as one of Africa’s political strongmen, died in August and was succeeded by Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. Government use of anti-terror legislation to silence opposition figures and media critics continued and widespread political detentions sparked countrywide protests. After some initial success, government peace talks with the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) stalled. Low-intensity fighting continued in the Ogaden and Gambella regions. Desalegn signaled an interest in Qatari-sponsored efforts to normalize relations with Eritrea, providing hope for improved cooperation between the two countries.

2011 The year saw continued fighting between the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and government forces. During what the World Health Organization called one of the worst droughts in the Horn of Africa in recent decades the regime of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi set up blockades and embargos on trade and humanitarian aid in areas of the Ogaden in which there was known support for the ONLF.

2010 Low-level fighting between Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) rebels and government forces continued, flaring up in September when 123 ONLF rebels were killed on the Somaliland coast. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), was reelected to a fourth term in May. Rights groups, opposition parties and international observers cited harassment, voter intimidation, and, in one case, the murder of a candidate in the pre-election period. International observers concluded these accusations did not necessarily affect the overall election outcome. Attempts to challenge the results and demands for a rerun were denied by the National Election Board and subsequently rejected by the Supreme Court in July.

2009 Humanitarian and human-rights organizations were severely restricted in 2009, making information-gathering difficult. Conflicts for which there was information were primarily over resources such as water and pasture land, as well as the oil-rich area of Ogaden. An estimated 300,000 people remained displaced. Tensions were rising ahead of elections in 2010. The Forum for Democratic Dialogue (FDD), a coalition of eight opposition parties, emerged to foster peaceful discussions with the government to ensure fair elections in 2010. The border between Ethiopia and Eritrea continued to be contested, and the UN continued to accuse Eritrea of maintaining forces along the shared border with Djibouti.

2008 Ethiopia and Eritrea failed to agree on their border in 2008 and so the border was demarcated by the Eritrea-Ethiopia boundary commission (EEBC). Eritrea accepted this demarcation; by year’s end, Ethiopia had yet to comment. There was a total of 50 conflict deaths in Ethiopia in 2008. Some occurred as a result of clashes between Eritrean and Ethiopian armed forces. Additional attacks were carried out by Islamic guerillas over Ethiopia’s continued involvement in Somalia. Tribal clashes in southern Ethiopia added to the death toll, as the Konso and Borena tribes clashed over territory, water resources, and land ownership. In February, Eritrea forced the withdrawal of the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE); the UN Security Council terminated the mission on July 31. The Ethiopian government was accused by Human Rights Watch of abusing its own people in Ogaden during its counterinsurgency campaign in June.

2007 The Ogaden region experienced a dramatic increase in armed conflict after an April attack on a Chinese-run oil field by the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF). The government of Ethiopia then launched a counterinsurgency attack on rebels in the region, with the ONLF claiming that brutal force was used against Ogaden civilians. Old conflicts between Ethiopia and Eritrea also emerged as the deadline to demarcate their joint border loomed at the end of November. Both sides began to remilitarize border areas.

Type of Conflict
State formation

Parties to the Conflict

1. Government of Ethiopia: Following the death of Meles Zenawi in August 2012, his deputy, Hailemariam Desalegn, became Prime Minister. He was formally elected Chair of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) in September 2012. The EPRDF is a four-party political coalition comprising the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM); the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO); the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement (SEPDM); and its most powerful member, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). The Ethiopian armed forces continue counterinsurgency operations against the ONLF in an effort to gain control of the Ogaden region and its natural resources.

2. Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF): TPLF is commonly known as Woyane, Weyane, or Second Weyane, in reference to the Woyane rebellion of 1943. The rebel-group-turned-political-party was founded in 1975 in the former Province of Tigray (now Region of Tigray) in the north of Ethiopia, bordered by Eritrea. The precursor to the TPLF sought to topple the military junta that took power in 1974. TPLF was established shortly thereafter, seeking independence from the Ethiopian state. The TPLF later renounced this aim, joining other political groups to form the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition. In 1991, the coalition managed to oust the Mengistu regime. Under the umbrella of the EPRDF, the TPLF has controlled much of Ethiopian political life since then. Today the TPLF controls all key aspects of economic and political power in Ethiopia, although the Tigrayan people only represent approximately six per cent of the population (The Guardian). The TPLF is currently chaired by Abay Woldu.

3. Woyane Militia: This militant group is funded by the government of Ethiopia and stationed in the Ogaden region. The Woyane Militia allegedly enriches the Tigrayan people at the expense of the other ethnic groups in Ethiopia, and they have been accused of abuses such as stealing land, unlawful imprisonment, and unlawful use of force against peaceful protesters (Strathclyde Telegraph).

4. Liyu Police: The “Special”/Liyu Police are a paramilitary group that operates in the Ogaden region. The Ethiopian government created the group in 2007 as a counterinsurgency force against the Ogaden National Liberation Front. Partially financed by the United States, this force is composed of approximately 10,000 to 14,000 ethnic Somali fighters (The Guardian). Human Rights Watch has accused the Liyu Police of human rights abuses near Ethiopia’s porous border with Somalia, including summary executions and torture. Currently, the Liyu Police maintain the full support of the TPLF (The Hill).

Versus

5. People’s Alliance for Freedom and Democracy (PAFD): Established in October 2015, the PAFD is a political alliance between five liberation movement groups: the Bensishangul People’s Liberation Movement (BPLM), Gambela People’s Liberation Movement (GPLM), Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), and Sidama National Liberation Front (SNLF). According to the ONLF website, the PAFD seeks to create a new political order that will guarantee the right to self-determination for all nations and peoples in Ethiopia (Ogaden National Liberation Front). The PAFD’s Office of Presidium Statement indicates that their aim is to coordinate activities and resources to topple the TPLF regime and create a transitional arrangement that respects democratic and self-determination rights (PAFD Office of Presidium Statement).

6. Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF): Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF): Formed in 1984, the ONLF sees itself involved in a struggle for the autonomy of the Somali population in the Ogaden region and the protection of their lands from international resource extraction firms. They primarily target the government and corporate infrastructure, using grenades and landmines. Peace talks with the Ethiopian government faltered in 2012. In October 2015, the ONLF formed the PAFD with four other groups to coordinate their armed struggles for self-determination.

7. Oromo Liberation Front (OLF): Founded in 1973, OLF is an armed group in southern Ethiopia fighting for the self-determination of the Oromo people (Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada). OLF has suffered from internal divisions, but insists that its operations will continue. Although OLF and the ONLF have periodically clashed over territorial claims, they now collaborate through the PAFD.

8. Benishangul People’s Liberation Movement (BPLM): The BPLM is a political party representing the interests of the people residing in Benishangul. It was established in the late 1980s by Amhara, Tigrayan, and Oromo settlers (Richard J. Reid, Frontiers of Violence in North-East Africa: Genealogies of Conflict since 1800, 2011, Oxford University PressIt drew support from the Muslim Berti (Funj) tribe, as well as the Gumuz, Koma, and Maa ethnic groups. In January 2005, the BPLM signed an agreement with the ruling EPRDF, but the agreement broke down a year later and conflict resumed (Armed Groups Along Sudan’s Eastern Frontier).

9. Gambela People’s Liberation Movement (GPLM): The GPLM was established in 1979 by the Anywaa tribe of the Gambella region in western Ethiopia. Its members collaborated with the EPRDF in the struggle against the Derg, or Coordinating Committee of the Armed Forces, Police, and Territorial Army that ruled from 1974 to 1987 (Asnake Kefale, Federalism and Ethnic Conflict in Ethiopia: A Comparative Regional Study, 2013, Routledge). They were allied with the OLF in the 1990s, and continue to fight for regional autonomy against the central Ethiopian government (Nick Ridley, Terrorism in East and West Africa: The Under-focused Dimension, 2015, Edward Elgar Publishing). In spite of their early support for the EPRDF, the GPLM in March 2010 declared that the EPRDF “must stop destruction of natural resources and systematic displacement of indigenous people of Gambela from their land.”

10. Sidama National Liberation Front (SNLF): The SNLF, until 1999 the Sidama Liberation Movement, is a political front working to achieve constitutional self-determination rights for the Sidama people of southern Ethiopia. In August 2016, the SNLF issued a press statement rejecting the violent measures taken by the TPLF regime against peaceful protesters, as well as the continued displacement of Sidama farmers in what they called a “scheme of federalizing Hawassa,” the Sidama capital. They demand that the government respect the constitutional rights of the Sidama people.

11. Arbegnoch Ginbot 7 for Unity and Democratic Movement: Formerly known as Ginbot 7, the group merged with Ethiopian People’s Patriotic Front (EPPF) in 2015 and formally adopted the new name.

12. Gonder militias: The armed groups are located in the Semien Gondar (or North Gondar) zone in the Amhara Region of northwest Ethiopia (The Guardian). Gonder militias reportedly killed 18 and captured 20 government troops in September 2016 (TESFA News).

13. Afar Revolutionary Democratic Unity Front (ARDUF): Founded in 1993, the ARDUF functions as a political party under Ethiopia’s opposition coalition, the United Ethiopian Democratic Forces (UEDF). An ARDUF-affiliated armed wing has engaged in low-intensity conflict with the Ethiopian government in the northern border regions, which is fueled by economic deprivation and marginalization. The ARDUF seeks the unification of areas occupied by the Afars, traditionally stretching across Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti.

Status of Fighting

2016 Violence in Ethiopia has increased as tensions between the government, the Oromo majority, and other non-dominant ethnic groups have grown. State security forces in Ethiopia have used excessive and lethal force against largely peaceful protests that have swept through Oromia, the country’s largest region, since November 2015. It is estimated that more than 400 people have been killed, thousands injured, tens of thousands arrested, and at least hundreds have been disappeared (Human Rights Watch). Plans in 2015 to expand the capital, Addis Ababa, were cancelled in early 2016 after an outburst of mass protests. However, OLF continued to protest police brutality of unarmed civilians. As broader economic, political, and cultural grievances were expressed, other ethnic groups were emboldened to share their own grievances against the state and anti-TPLF protests took place all over the country.

In February, the government continued its crackdown of largely peaceful protests in the Oromia region. In a clash between armed men (believed to be local militia) and security forces seven officers were reportedly killed. Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn claimed that the violence in Oromia was instigated by Eritrea and other foreign forces. In August, clashes between security forces and anti-government protesters reportedly left at least 87 protesters dead and hundreds detained. In October, security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disrupt an anti-government protest at a festival in Oromia, triggering a stampede that reportedly killed more than 100 people. The government responded to the continued anti-government protests by declaring a state of emergency. In December, the government said that it would release 9,800 people who had been arrested for participating in anti-government protests since the start of the state of emergency (International Crisis Group).

2015 Al-Jazeera reported that in April more than 100,000 citizens marched in a government-supported anti-ISIS rally in Addis Ababa. The event ended violently when protesters clashed with police, who arrested at least 100.

In early July, the Arbegnoch Ginbot 7 for Unity and Democratic Movement took its first military action in Western Tigray state, reportedly killing almost 50. Prime Minister Desalegn warned that authorities would take direct action against Eritrea for alleged support of armed Ethiopian opposition groups and launched a counterattack on July 10, in which 30 were  reportedly killed.

Protests erupted in the Oromia region over the government’s plan to expand Addis Ababa into that territory. International Crisis Group reported 75 civilian and four police deaths. Amnesty International raised concerns that the government’s treatment of Oromo protesters as terrorists would lead to a further repression of human rights (Amnesty International). A grenade attack on Grand Anwar Mosque in the capital injured 24 in mid-December.

2014 Violence was limited. A number of alarms about terrorist action were raised. The United States expressed concerns that al-Shabaab, a Somali insurgent group, would launch attacks in Ethiopia, pinpointing the Boole area as a possible target. In June the government arrested 25 people accused of being members of an al-Shabaab-affiliated terrorist cell plotting attacks on Jimma. The border between Ethiopia and Somaliland was closed in late June after concern were raised about cross-border movements by al-Shabaab. The ONLF was accused of cooperating with al-Shabaab. In December, the ONLF stated that they had killed 14 Ethiopian soldiers and wounded 16, and continued to speak of violence against them, including the killing of Ogaden populations in Ethiopia and Kenya. Violence outside Ogaden included the killing of at least eight protesters in Oromia by security forces and an attack by unknown gunmen on a truck in the Benishangul/Gumuz region that killed nine and wounded six.

2013 In January, a court convicted 10 people of plotting terrorist attacks, sentencing them to prison terms of from three to 20 years. February saw the ONLF warning Canada’s Africa Oil Corporation not to continue exploration in the east until a peace agreement had been reached. In March, four senior leaders of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front resigned, possibly to allow younger party members to take over. Anti-government protests in Addis Ababa became increasingly heated in July and resulted in clashes with police and military forces. In August, at least three police and 10 protesters were killed during protests, causing Amnesty International and opposition groups to condemn government violence and crackdowns.

2012 Low-intensity skirmishes continued on the Ethiopian-Eritrean border, punctuated by a cross-border attack on Eritrean military bases by Ethiopian troops. Seventy-five Eritrean prisoners were later released. The Ethiopian government claimed that the region had become a “launching pad” for rebel groups operating in the Afar region. The ARDUF killed five tourists in a January raid. The ONLF accused the army of killing 16 and detaining “hundreds” in the Gunagado district of the Ogaden. The ONLF claimed to have killed approximately 150 government and supporting militia forces in the Ogaden territory. A series of attacks by unknown gunmen killed 25 civilians in the Gambella region between March and April. Land-based ethnic clashes turned violent in the country’s southern regions, killing 18 and displacing tens of thousands.

2011 The year saw continued fighting between the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and government forces. In January, the ONLF displayed the bodies of 19 civilians—bearing visible signs of torture—blaming Ethiopian forces and their militias for the deaths. According to the ONLF, the rebel group launched military offensives against Ethiopian army garrisons, one in April that killed 30 soldiers and one in October that killed 107. In both offensives, ONLF rebels seized ammunition. In May, a UN driver was killed in an ambush by government troops. ONLF claimed four outspoken opponents of the ruling regime were assassinated in Kenyan refugee camps, including a Central Committee member of the ONLF that was under UN protection.

2010 Low-level fighting continued between the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and government forces. In June, ONLF rebels claimed the government killed 71 civilians. On May 19, ONLF insurgents attacked Malqaqa, killing 95 soldiers. Violence continued for the rest of the year with several clashes in the border region. In September, 123 ONLF rebels were killed and another 90 surrounded by government troops after reports that 200 rebels landed on the coast of Somaliland. The government was accused of a campaign of repression ahead of the May elections.

2009 Somali and Oromo ethnic groups clashed this year over contested land between the Oromiya and Somali regions, killing an estimated 300 people. An attack on government forces by the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) in November killed hundreds. Both the government and rebel groups accused the other of burning villages and rape.

2008 The year saw a reduction in fighting. According to independent media reports, the death toll fell to between 40 and 60. Eritrean and Ethiopian forces clashed early in the year, causing an estimated 20 deaths. Fighting between government forces and the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) continued throughout the year. The year also saw sporadic tribal clashes between the Konso and Borena.

2007 The Ethiopian military began counterinsurgency operations in the Ogaden region in May. Locals accused government forces of atrocities, including rape, murder and forced disappearances. The fighting disrupted food supplies. The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) accused the army of creating a food blockade. Conflict between the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments resurfaced after a stalemate in efforts to demarcate their joint border. Both countries remilitarized their borders; no fatalities were reported.

Number of Dead and Displaced 

Total: Between 5,079 and 6,054 people have been killed in the Ethiopian conflict since 2007 (ACLED, Realtime Ethiopia Country File, added to previously reported totals). Most deaths were caused by clashes between the government and the ONLF or OLF. However, more than 1,064 of recent deaths can be attributed to clashes between protesters and government security officials (ACLED, Realtime Ethiopia Country File, filtered for 2016 and filtered for deaths related to protests). The ONLF has reported thousands of killings, rapes and forced disappearances by the government, but their figures cannot be confirmed.

2016 According to ACLED, there were five times as many conflict-related deaths in 2016 as in 2015, with 2,406 people killed (ACLED, Realtime Ethiopia Country File, number of deaths from each incidents totaled). At least 1,064 of these deaths were related to protests against the government (ACLED, Realtime Ethiopia Country File, filtered for 2016 and filtered for deaths related to protests).

The UNHCR reported close to 780,000 refugees within Ethiopia as of November 2016, making Ethiopia one of the largest refugee-hosting countries in Africa (UNHCR). The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre reported 450,000 internally displaced in Ethiopia as a result of conflict and violence (IDMC).

2015 According to ACLED, 570 people were killed: 507 as a direct result of armed conflict and 47 in violence against civilians (ACLED, Real time Complete All Africa File, results filtered for Ethiopia, 2015).  .

Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDP): The UNHCR reported 733,644 refugees and asylum seekers in Ethiopia in December 2015. An additional 88,149 refugees and 72,278 asylum seekers originated from Ethiopia. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) at least 413,400 Ethiopians were internally displaced in July 2015 (UNHCR).

According to the UNHCR, the government maintains an open-door policy for those seeking refuge and continues to allow humanitarian access and protection.

2014 In December, the ONLF stated that they had killed 14 Ethiopian soldiers and wounded 16. The group also reported that the Ethiopian government’s blocking of aid, combined with drought, killed some in Ogaden, although they did not give specific casualty counts.

There were some conflict deaths outside Ogaden. Human Rights Watch reported at least eight deaths in Oromia when the police fired on unarmed protesters. In April, nine were killed and six injured in the Benishangul/Gumuz region when unknown gunmen attacked a truck.

Refugees and IDPs: The UNHCR has registered 74,481 refugees and 50,471 asylum seekers originating from Ethiopia. Between 300,000 and 400,000 persons are internally displaced in Ethiopia, according to the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department.Many Ethiopians have been displaced by the government’s “villagization” program, which aims to resettle 1.5 million people in the Gambella, Afar, Somali and Benishangul-Gumuz regions. While moves were said to be voluntary, fear and intimidation tactics were used to coerce populations.

In July 2014, Ethiopia hosted approximately 587,708 refugees from Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan, and South Sudan. This increase in numbers was partially due to an influx from South Sudan. A sizeable portion of Eritrean refugees were unaccompanied children. Many refugees are hosted in camps, but Ethiopia does allow refugees to reside outside the camps.

2013 The Armed Conflict Location and Event Dataset (ACLED) reported 354 deaths. In September ACLED reported that rebel groups were involved in 32.5 per cent of all conflict events in the country. The ONLF reported in May that more than 300 civilians had been killed by the Ethiopian army and police thus far that year.

Refugees and IDPs: Ethiopia sheltered approximately 407,000 refugees from Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan and South Sudan. The UNHCR registered 73,926 refugees originating from Ethiopia.

2012 The ONLF claimed to have killed between 100 and 200 government and supporting militia forces over the course of the year. Approximately 45 civilians were killed in clashes over contested land and apparent terrorist attacks, while 16 more were killed in direct military action. A further five foreign tourists were killed in an ARDUF ambush.

2011 According to the ONLF, they killed between 200 and 300 Ethiopian forces and supporting militia forces in 2011. Verification of these figures was difficult because of limited access to the Ogaden region.

2010 According to various media reports, the number of conflict-related deaths was approximately 354, including civilians, military forces, and ONLF rebels. An estimated 300,000 to 350,000 people remained internally displaced in Gambela and the Ogaden region, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre.

2009 Fatality figures were difficult to obtain in 2009 after the government banned numerous rights groups. An estimated 300 people were killed early in 2009 in a conflict between ethnic Somalis and the Oromo people over disputed land. According to unconfirmed reports from government and rebel groups, 245 to 1,000 people were killed in Ogaden. An estimated 300,000 people remained displaced, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre.

2008 According to independent media reports, the death toll fell between 40 and 60 per cent, a significant drop from the previous year’s 1,000. Rapes, forced disappearances, and other abuses continued throughout the year in the Ogaden region.

2007 Fatalities in the Ogaden region were reported to be as high as 1,000 this year, including both militants and civilians. Included in this figure were 65 Ethiopians and 9 Chinese killed when the ONLF attacked a Chinese-based oil-exploration site in April.

Political Developments

2016 The announcement in November 2015 of the government’s Integrated Development Master Plan to expand Addis Ababa into the Oromia region sparked ongoing, largely peaceful protests throughout Ethiopia in December. The government responded with violence, but was forced to call off the plan on January 12, 2016. However, protests and outrage continued for much of the year in response to the excessive violence used by security forces against peaceful protesters (Amnesty International).

October saw the creation of the People’s Alliance for Freedom and Democracy, a political alliance among five ethnic liberation movements, which repeatedly condemned the actions of the government and its security forces.

Also in October, the government declared a countrywide six-month state of emergency in response to the mass anti-government protests (Aljazeera). In December, the Ethiopian officials announced that 9,800 peaceful protesters who were detained during this state of emergency would be released (All Africa). Later that week, 4,035 of the protesters were released from a detention centre in southwest Ethiopia (All Africa). However, most of the 24,000 prisoners remained incarcerated in jails and military camps at the end of 2016 (All Africa).

On December 1, prominent Ethiopian opposition leader Dr. Merera Gudina (chairman of the Oromo Federalist Congress) was arrested on his return from Europe for violating directives of the state of emergency (Ethiopian Embassy). Gudina had addressed the European parliament, criticizing Ethiopia’s state of emergency (BBC). At the end of 2016, he was investigated for ‘potential offenses related to terrorism’ (All Africa), a move which Amnesty International strongly condemned (Amnesty International).

Ethiopian athlete Feyisa Lilesa shone light on the conflict in Ethiopia during the Rio Olympic Games in August. Lilesa crossed the finish line of the men’s marathon with his arms crossed above his head, a symbol of solidarity with Oromo activists. Lilesa refused to return to Ethiopia, fearing dangerous and possibly deadly repercussions (BBC).

2015 On March 6 leaders of Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan signed a preliminary agreement on principles of the use of the Nile, including Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam project.

Ethiopia’s parliamentary elections were held in late May. The ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and its allies achieved a landslide victory, winning all 546 parliamentary seats (The Guardian). Election commission chairman Merga Bekana declared the elections credible, free, and fair; African Union observers concurred. Opposition parties claimed that the election campaign was marked by intimidation, harassment, and illegal detention (BBC). In October Desalegn was elected to his first full term as prime minister, after assuming the role following the death of Prime Minister Zenawi in 2012.

In September a new united coalition opposition movement, Salvation of Ethiopia through Democracy, was created; Mola Asgedom was appointed deputy chairman. The coalition comprised Arbegnoch Ginbot 7 for Unity and Democratic Movement (AGUDM), Afar Peoples Liberation Movement (APLM), Amhara Democratic Force Movement (ADFM), and the Tigrayan People’s Democratic Movement (TPDM).

In August the high court convicted 18 Muslim activists and journalists of terrorism and conspiracy to establish an Islamic state. Human Rights Watch raised concerns over the inappropriate silencing of journalists, bloggers, protesters, and perceived supporters of opposition parties. Human Rights Watch claimed that security forces responded to peaceful protests with excessive force and unlawful detention (HRW).

2014 The ONLF stated that two of its leaders were abducted by the government in January despite ongoing peace talks. Arrests this year included the April arrest of six bloggers and three journalists. On June 23 Andargachew Tsige (secretary-general of Ginbot 7) was deported from Yemen to Ethiopia, amid concerns that international law had been violated and that Tsige, a British citizen, might face ill-treatment and torture. International Crisis Group noted charges that were laid against newspapers in August and the sentencing of a journalist in October over the “dissemination of inaccurate information.” Human Rights Watch condemned the government’s crackdown on activists and the media and intrusive surveillance tactics. The United Nations Universal Periodic Review of Ethiopia in May made recommendations on addressing human rights concerns. In March, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) approved Ethiopia’s candidacy for membership. Human Rights Watch criticized this move because of Ethiopia’s human rights record. Protests in support of the ONLF took place in Geneva in March. Talks took place between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia on the construction of the Renaissance Dam on the Nile in Ethiopia; in October it was agreed that an international group would assess the future effects of the dam. Britain cut funding to the villagization program, intended to improve access to services, after reports of forced evictions and abuse by armed forces in Gambela.

2013 Prime Minister Desalegn was elected African Union chair on January 28. In February, the government aired a documentary about Islamic extremism, the “Holy War Movement,” which showed confessions from Muslim leaders who were arrested in 2012 and were on trial. Defence lawyers said that force was used to compel the confessions, and approximately 90,000 Muslims protested the film. March saw the arrest of eight al-Shabaab militants accused of planning to abduct UN workers. Four senior leaders of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front resigned, possibly to allow younger party members to take over. In April, Prime Minister Desalegn announced the withdrawal of troops from Somalia, met with the EU president, and denied that the government was conducting large scale land-grabbing. In May, 50 government officials and business people were arrested on corruption charges. The government also announced the diversion of Nile waters to prepare for the construction of the Grand Renaissance Dam, causing protests and demonstrations, especially in Egypt. June saw the first authorized demonstration since 2005, which demanded that the government respect human rights, release prisoners of conscience, and repeal the anti-terrorism law. The resettlement program in Gambela continued, despite heavy criticism. The government also approved a 15 per cent increase in defence spending. In August, government forces clashed with protesters at several demonstrations, resulting in more than 10 unarmed protesters being killed. Human Rights Watch criticized the government for continued restrictions on freedom of expression and association, as well as for the constraints it placed on independent media.

2012 With the death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in August, concerns of regional instability and power struggles emerged, but subsided with the succession of Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. The Ethiopian government continued to use anti-terror legislation to silence political opposition. Survival International accused the government of committing “flagrant and violent” human rights abuses and land seizures in the Omo Valley; Human Rights Watch reported the displacement of tens of thousands of civilians. Government and supporting militias were accused of rape and torture of civilians in the Gambela region. Countrywide protests intensified in the summer months after the Muslim community accused government authorities of interference in religious institutions and detainment of religious leaders. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom issued a report accusing the Ethiopian government of abuses of religious freedoms. Highly anticipated peace talks between the ONLF and Ethiopian government in Nairobi broke down in October, despite initial agreements on modalities and principles. Desalegn renewed a regional security agreement with Prime Minister Kibaki of Kenya and expressed a willingness to open up negotiations with Eritrea. In November, Ethiopia was elected to the UN Human Rights Council despite international condemnation by human rights groups.

2011 During what the World Health Organization called one of the worst droughts in the Horn of Africa in recent decades, the regime of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi set up blockades and embargos on trade and humanitarian aid in areas of the Ogaden in which there was known support for the ONLF. In February, ONLF reported the extraordinary rendition of nearly 100 Ethiopian refugees from Djibouti, with several dying during detainment. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, more than 150 people were arrested for collaborating with terrorists in Ethiopia. By November, 107 people, including opposition party members and local and foreign journalists, had been charged under anti-terrorism laws, including well-known Ethiopian journalist Eskinder Nega and two Swedish journalists. In August, after meeting with opposition party members, Amnesty International was expelled from the country. The International Committee for the Red Cross, expelled four years previously, failed to gain admission to Ethiopia. Also in August, the Chinese-based oil company PetroTrans Ltd., announced a contract with the government of Ethiopia. ONLF reported that PetroTrans was arming local militias against rebel groups.

2010 Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) was re-elected for a fourth consecutive term in May, winning 345 of 547 seats. Election results were disputed by the opposition and criticized by international monitoring bodies. Human Rights Watch released a report stating that the Ethiopian government was waging a coordinated and sustained attack on political opponents, journalists, and rights activists ahead of the polls. An opposition candidate in Arena-Tigray was stabbed to death on March 2; the government denied that attacks were politically motivated. EU election observers received numerous reports of harassment and intimidation that were “of concern,” but added that these election shortcomings did not necessarily affect the overall outcome. Attempts to challenge the results and demands for a rerun were denied by the National Election Board and subsequently rejected by the Supreme Court in July.

2009 Elections were scheduled for 2010. Amnesty International called for the release from jail of Birtukan Mideksa, the first female opposition party leader. A coalition of eight opposition groups, the Forum for Democratic Dialogue (FDD), emerged to oppose Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. Ethiopian rebel groups were accused of having links with Somalia’s al-Shabaab.

2008 The UN officially terminated its mission to Eritrea and Ethiopia on July 31. Ethiopia stated its intention to promote dialogue with Eritrea, but later accused Eritrea of broadcasting anti-Ethiopian statements in local languages. But peace held until the end of the year when the Eritrea-Ethiopia boundary commission established a border demarcation. Human Rights Watch issued a report accusing the Ethiopian government of human-rights abuses in Ogaden. Ethiopian military intervention in Somalia escalated tensions between Somali militia groups and the Ethiopian government.

2007 Human Rights Watch accused the Ethiopian government of blocking aid, burning homes and displacing thousands of civilians in the Ogaden region under the guise of assisting the U.S. war on terror. The government expelled NGOs from the region, saying that the organizations were spreading anti-government propaganda. In August, the United Nations sent a 14-person team to investigate claims of human-rights abuses. Tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea rose as a deadline for both countries to physically demarcate their disputed border approached.

Background 

Tensions between the Ethiopian government and the population of the Ogaden, a region in eastern Ethiopia with a large ethnic Somali population, date back to the colonial era. In 1936, Italy ceded the Ogaden, an area that had historically been part of Somalia, to Ethiopian Emperor Menelik. When Britain gained control of what had been Italian Somaliland, they advocated for the Ogaden region to be returned to Somalia, but Ethiopia’s efforts to retain control of the region prevailed.

In 1976 and 1977, the government of Somalia launched attacks to reclaim the Ogaden region. However, when the Soviet Union, which had previously supported Somalia, shifted its support to Ethiopia, the Somali army suffered a humiliating defeat, which contributed to the undermining of the legitimacy of President Siad Barre.

The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) emerged in 1984 as a movement calling for the autonomy of the Ogaden region. According to the ONLF, successive Ethiopian governments have been responsible for thousands of killings, rapes and forced disappearances.

Although tensions have existed for decades and flared up from time to time, the most recent phase of this conflict began in 2007. In April 2007, the ONLF took violent action against a Chinese-based exploration company in an effort to prevent natural resource extraction that would not benefit the impoverished Ogaden population. The Ethiopian government responded by launching a military crackdown in the region that left many dead.

The Ethiopian government signed a peace accord with a major faction of the ONLF in 2010. In October 2012 mediation talks between another ONLF faction and the government failed after the ONLF refused to accept the precondition that they respect the country’s constitution.

Arms Sources

During the Cold War, Ethiopia received arms from the Soviet Union. From 1997 to 2004 Russia continued to supply most of Ethiopia’s conventional weapons. Although Ethiopia has not reported a major delivery of Russian weapons since 2005, Russia likely continues to provide arms. Reports also indicate that EU states, including Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France, Hungary, and Romania, delivered military equipment to Ethiopia between 2004 and 2008.

In recent years, the United States has substantially increased its military support for Ethiopia, which it describes as a strategic partner in counterterrorism efforts. Between 2005 and 2008, the United States supplied Ethiopia with $11-million in military equipment. The United States also provides Ethiopia with military aid. In 2008 and 2009, as well as 2012, it provided Ethiopia with $843,000 through the U.S. Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program. In 2013, $799,000 in FMF was provided (SIPRI, Arms Flow and the Conflict in Somalia, October 2010).

Since the end of the Ethiopia-Eritrea war in 2000, the Ethiopian government has restricted defence spending to under two per cent of GDP, unless there were an imminent threat to the country. In July 2013, the government approved a 15 per cent increase in defence spending; the 2015 defence budget was estimated at $399-million. Ethiopia is a party to the Nairobi Protocol for the Prevention, Control and Reduction of Small Arms and Light Weapons in the Great Lakes Region and the Horn of Africa, which entered into force in 2006. The country’s core arsenal includes Soviet-era equipment, augmented by newly procured Chinese systems.

In 2012 the Ethiopian government accused Somaliland chiefs of smuggling arms into Ethiopia and condemned ongoing fighting along the Ethiopian-Somali border. In 2016, the Ethiopian communications minister claimed that Egypt had influenced that year’s mass protests, and accused it of training and financing the Oromo Liberation Front (The Guardian). Rebel groups, such as the BPLM, have commandeered weapons during their attacks on government soldiers (Abbay Media).

Economic Factors

Ethiopia has one of the strongest economies in Africa, with growth above eight per cent for much of the last decade. While this growth is encouraging, it has resulted in higher living costs and had an impact on the rural population as the government encourages them to farm rather than engage in pastoralism.

The Ogaden Basin holds most of Ethiopia’s suspected oil and natural gas reserves. In April 2007, the ONLF attacked a Chinese-based exploration site in Ogaden. In response, the Ethiopian government launched a major military operation against the rebels and rushed to assure international companies that the Ogaden region was safe. The ONLF maintains that that it will not tolerate oil and natural gas exploration controlled by the Ethiopian government and that the basin’s resources belong to the Ogaden people. According to the ONLF, government-sanctioned exploration efforts have led to forced displacement and human rights abuses of the Ogaden population. In 2015, Ethiopia signed a multi-billion-dollar agreement with investors from China and Djibouti, allowing them to lease large amounts of Ogaden land to exploit natural gas resources. The PAFD concluded that the project would lead to extreme human rights violations (Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization).

In 2010, Human Rights Watch called on donor nations and institutions to ensure that their aid was not being used to subvert democracy, accusing the Ethiopian government of using foreign aid to suppress political opposition and build a single-party state. Ethiopia is one of the largest recipients of aid, receiving $3-billion in 2008 alone. In 2012, Human Rights Watch criticized the government-sponsored ‘villagization’ program in the Gambela region, noting threats, intimidation, and violence directed against those resisting land leases to commercial agriculture operators (Human Rights Watch). In 2014, the United Kingdom cut funding to the villagization program. In response to Ethiopia’s human rights crises in September 2016, the European Commission insisted that no money from its Emergency Trust Fund for Africa go to the Ethiopian government or its agencies (Euractiv). In April 2015, the Oakland Institute reported linkages between the government’s forced evictions of local populations and foreign aid to particular regions. In response, the U.S. 2014 and 2015 Appropriations bills specified that U.S. development funds to Ethiopia were not to be used to support activities leading to forced evictions in the Gambela Region and lower Omo River area (Oakland Institute Report, p. 5).

The Gibe III hydroelectric dam, among the biggest in sub-Saharan Africa, opened in December 2016 and is expected to provide €300-million a year in surplus energy to be sold to Kenya, Sudan, and Djibouti (Economist). Sitting on the Omo River in southern Ethiopia, it has the capacity to double the country’s electricity input and generate electricity year round (U.S. News), although the country’s power grid is not large enough  or robust enough to absorb the increase. Criticized by environmentalists, its construction has altered the flow of the Omo and threatens the livelihood of up to 300,000 people (HydroWorld). Two more facilities, Gibe IV and V, are planned. Construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) began in 2011 on the Blue Nile near the border with Sudan. The 6,000MW dam is expected to be become operational in 2017 (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers). The projects have created tension between Ethiopia and other countries downriver, notably Egypt. Talks between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia on this subject occurred in 2014; in October, it was agreed that an outside group would assess the future effects of this dam.

Over the past few years, repeated drought in the Horn of Africa has threatened the livelihood of pastoralists in the Afar region (UNOCHA) and provoked the ARDUF insurgency. Subsequent flooding in July 2016 presented another crisis, affecting approximately 690,000 people and displacing more than 320,000 (UN-Africa Renewal).

 

map: CIA Factbook

Click to Share