Ethiopia-Ogaden (2007– first combat deaths)

Tasneem Jamal Africa

Updated: June 2015

Conflict at a Glance

Who: The government of Ethiopia versus rebel groups, notably the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF).

What: Rebel groups seek various levels of independence. Both the ONLF and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) are seeking an autonomous state.

When: Although there have been long-standing divisions between the government and the Ogaden region—primarily starting with the emergence of the ONLF in 1984—the most recent phase of the conflict began in 2007.

Where: Clashes have occurred largely in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia, which hosts the Somalian population, though disputes have also occurred in other parts of the country, including protests in the centrally-located capital.

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

Economic Factors 


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 (HRW).  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 criticised the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) 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 again prominent in July and August, resulting in clashes between police, military forces and protestors. 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. Regionally, 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 replaced by former deputy prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn. Government use of anti-terror legislation to silence opposition figures and media critics continued in 2012 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 signalled 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 Melese 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 throughout the year, flaring up in September when 123 ONLF rebels were killed on the Somaliland coast. Prime Minister Melese Zenawi, of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), was re-elected 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 in 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 oppositional parties, emerged in 2009 to foster peaceful discussions with the government to ensure fair elections in 2010. The joint 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 demarcate their joint border in 2008 and 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 were a total of 50 deaths in Ethiopia in 2008. Some of these deaths 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. The UN Security Council officially withdrew the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) after Eritrea forced its withdrawal in February, and the mission was terminated 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 2007 attack on a Chinese-run oil field by the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF). Since then, the government of Ethiopia has launched a counterinsurgency attack on rebels in the region, with the ONLF claiming that brutal force was being 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 Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in August 2012, Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn became Prime Minister. He was formally elected Chair of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition in September 2012. The Ethiopian armed forces continue counterinsurgency operations in the Ogaden region against the ONLF in an effort to gain control of the region and its natural resources.

2. Woyane Militia: a militant group funded by the government of Ethiopia stationed in the Ogaden region.

3. Liyu Police: a paramilitary group that operates in the Ogaden region, the Liyu police were created in 2007 by Ethiopian authorities. It conducts recruitment of forces within the province and is comprised of approximately 10,000 to 14,000 Somalis (The Guardian, 2013). Human Rights Watch has accused the forces of human rights abuses, including summary executions and torture.

4. Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF): The TPLF was founded in 1975 in the northern province to fight against the military government and for secession of the Tigray province, a goal that was later renounced. It later joined other groups to form the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition, which achieved state control in 1991. A BBC investigation in 2010 claimed that nearly $100 million sent to Ethiopia by Western governments and charities from 1984-85, intended as aid for famine victims, was siphoned off by the TPLF and used to buy weapons; the allegations were denied by the TPLF. This regional political group is currently chaired by Abay Woldu.


5. The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF): Formed in 1984, the ONLF claim they are fighting for the autonomy of the Somali population in the Ogaden region and for the protection of their lands from international corporations extracting resources. They primarily use grenades and land mines. Peace talks between the ONLF and the Ethiopian government faltered in 2012. According to Aljazeera, the ONLF has seen significant decline, partially due to their inability to remain cohesive.

6. 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.

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


8. The Oromo Liberation Front (OLF): A rebel group operating in the south of Ethiopia. They are fighting for the autonomy of the Oromo people. In 2010, 250 fighters surrendered after crossing the border into Kenya. OLF has suffered from internal divisions, but insists that its operations will continue. The OLF and the ONLF have periodically clashed over territorial claims. According to Aljazeera, the OLF, like the ONLF, has seen significant decline, partially due to their inability to remain cohesive.

Status of Fighting

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, with reports of close to 50 fatalities. Prime Minister Desalegn warned that authorities would take direct action against Eritrea for alleged support of armed Ethiopian opposition groups and launched a counter-attack on July 10, in which 30 were  reportedly killed (Crisis Watch).

Protests erupted in the Oromia region over the government’s plan to expand Addis Ababa into that territory. International Crisis Group reported 75 civilian deaths and four police fatalities. Amnesty International raised concerns that the government’s viewing Oromo protesters as terrorists would lead to 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 being used against them, including the killing of Ogaden populations in Ethiopia and Kenya. Violence outside Ogaden included the killing of at least eight protestors 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 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 is reached, claiming the area is unsafe. In March, four senior leaders of the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front resigned, possibly to allow younger party members to take over. Anti-government protests in Addis Abbaba became increasingly heated in July and resulted in clashes with police and military forces. In August, at least three police and ten protestors were killed during protests, causing Amnesty International and opposition groups to condemn reports of government violence and crack downs.

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 2,673 and 3,648 people have been killed in the Ogaden since 2007. The majority of these deaths were caused by clashes between the government and the ONLF, though an estimated 300 were also killed in fighting between the ONLF and Oromo. The ONLF reports thousands of killings, rapes and forced disappearances by the government; but their figures cannot be confirmed.

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 are said to be voluntary, fear and intimidation tactics have been 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 is 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 Gambella 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 remain displaced, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre.

2008 According to independent media reports, the death toll fell between 40 and 60, 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

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, protestors, 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 Gambella.

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 that were arrested in 2012 and were on trial. Defense 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 Tigray Peoples 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 the government respect human rights, release prisoners of conscience, and repeal the anti-terrorism law. The resettlement program in Gambella continued, despite heavy criticism. The government also approved a 15 percent increase in defense spending. In August, government forces clashed with protestors at several demonstrations, resulting in over ten unarmed protestors 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 are accused of rape and torture of civilians in the Gambella 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 Melese 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, were 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 ago, 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 (ERPDF) 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 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 dismissed political motives for the attacks. EU election observers received numerous reports of harassment and intimidation which were “of concern.” But added 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 of Birtukan Mideksa, the first female oppositional party leader, whom the rights group described as a prisoner of conscience. A coalition of eight oppositional groups, the Forum for Democratic Dialogue (FDD), emerged as a threat to 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 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.


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 annexed the Ogaden region, 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 Mohammed Siad Barre government of Somalia launched a war to reclaim the Ogaden region. However, when the Soviet Union, which had previously supported Barre, shifted its allegiance to Ethiopia, the Somali army suffered a humiliating defeat, helping to undermine the legitimacy of the Barre regime.

The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) emerged a few years later, 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 protect the Ogaden’s natural resources. The government responded by launching a military crackdown in the region, resulting in many fatalities.

The Ethiopian government signed a peace accord with a major part of the ONLF in 2010. In October 2012 mediation talks between an ONLF faction and the government failed after the ONLF group 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 Ethiopia’s main supplier of conventional weapons was Russia. Although no delivery of major weapons has been reported by Ethiopia since 2005, it is likely that Russia continues to supply weapons.

From 2004 to 2008, a number of European Union states, including Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France, Hungary and Romania, reported the delivery of military equipment to Ethiopia.

In recent years, the United States has substantially increased its military support for Ethiopia, which it describes as a strategic partner in counter-terrorism efforts. Between 2005 and 2008, the United States supplied Ethiopia with $11-million (U.S.) in military equipment. The United States also provides Ethiopia with military aid. In 2008 and 2009, as well as in 2012, Ethiopia received $843,000 under the U.S. Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program; figures for 2010 and 2011 were not reported by the U.S. Department of State. In 2013, $799,000 in FMF was provided. [SIPRI Backgrounder Paper (Arms Flow and the Conflict in Somalia), October 2010] [U.S. Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security]

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.

In 2012 the Ethiopian government accused Somaliland chiefs of smuggling arms into Ethiopia and condemned ongoing fighting along the Ethiopian Somali border.

Since the end of the Ethiopia-Eritrea war in 2000, the Ethiopian government has restricted defense spending to under two percent of GDP, unless there is an imminent threat. In July 2013, the government approved a 15 percent increase in defense spending.

The defence budget for 2015 was estimated at $399-million—an increase over the previous year’s. The country’s core arsenal was Soviet-era equipment, augmented by the increasing procurement of Chinese systems.

Economic Factors

The Ogaden Basin holds most of Ethiopia’s oil and natural gas reserves. The ONLF maintains that the resources of the Ogaden rightfully belong to the Ogaden people, not the Ethiopian government, warning that it will not tolerate oil and natural gas exploration controlled by the Ethiopian government. According to the ONLF, government-sanctioned exploration has led to forced displacement and human rights abuses of the civilian population.

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.

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 (U.S.) in 2008 alone.

Construction of Gibe III hydroelectric dam, the biggest in sub-Saharan Africa, will create surplus energy that is expected to be worth €300-million a year. The government also began construction on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in 2011; when completed, this 6,000MW dam will be the largest hydroelectric power plant in Africa. These infrastructure projects alter the flow of rivers and threaten the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of people. The dams 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.

Human Rights Watch criticized the government-sponsored ‘villagization’ program in the Gambella region, noting threats, intimidation, and violence directed against those resisting the government’s decision to lease their land to commercial agriculture operators. In 2014, the UK cut funding to this program due to ethical concerns.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs warned that repeated droughts decimated the livelihood of pastoralists in the Afar region. The ARDUF insurgency is motivated by economic deprivation and marginalization.

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.


map: CIA Factbook

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