Thursday, June 11, 2009
In an effort to stay informed about developments in the Ethiopian Ogaden, also known as Somali Region, I met in Washington on June 9 with representatives of one wing of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF). They were Salahdin Abdurahman Maow, chairman of the Supreme Council of the ONLF, and Abdiwali Hussein Gas, director of social and diaspora affairs. The meeting was cordial and informative for me. See the picture below. Earlier this year, a number of leaders broke away from the original ONLF which has been led for many years by Chairman Mohamed Osman. (For the sake of full disclosure, I should note that I met in Washington on September 10, 2007, with Mohamed Osman and several of his lieutenants.) Osman continues to serve as chairman of the original ONLF organization. The new wing of the ONLF said that the failure of Mohamed Osman to hold a party conference and allow the election of new leadership caused it to break with the organization. The ultimate goal of the new wing, like that of the Mohamed Osman wing, is the eventual independence of the Ogaden from Ethiopia. I will leave to Chairman Maow and his colleagues to explain the positions of their wing of the ONLF. I want to use the occasion of this meeting, however, to make clear my own position concerning the Ogaden. I do not, of course, necessarily speak for the U.S. government. While I am sympathetic to legitimate Somali grievances in Somali Region of Ethiopia, I do not support independence of the Ogaden. Such a development would constitute the first step in the break up of Ethiopia as it is known today. I do not think such a development is in the interest of the United States. The only way to end continuing pressures by the ONLF and others to try to detach the Ogaden from Ethiopia is for Ethiopia to deal more effectively with Somali grievances throughout the region. While some Somalis will never be satisfied with Ethiopia’s efforts, I believe a majority could be convinced that it is in their interest to remain as part of Ethiopia if there was more local autonomy and a more serious effort by the Ethiopian government to develop the region. An Ethiopian response based largely on a military presence and reaction is not the answer. UPDATE: Pictures from the meeting are also posted on this site, maintained by Bartamaha Media.