Nothing is more attention –grabbing for our editorial board than reading horrifying news coming from afar; from Ethiopia’s peripheral region of the Somali National State.
On past Easter day of March 23, 2008, when God-fearing Christians were looking up to the Basilica in Rome for a message of peace and brotherhood, Edmund Sanders’ article, the Nairobi-based staff writer of The Los Angeles Times, had us peak into the dark side of the leaders of the autocratic regime in Ethiopia and its sponsor, Washington (a Christian Western nation). It does not take much imagination though to come to the inevitable conclusion that both Addis Ababa and Washington are not thinking this Easter in terms of humanity, but in their own real-politic-sanctioned geopolitics of the region.
The horror story of Ridwan Sahid as narrated in The LA Times, March 23, 2008, compels us to put this latest incident in a context of a century-old torturous journey travelled by the Somalis in Ethiopia; a journey characterized by a primitive style of collective punishment which successive Ethiopian governments had exacted against Somali subjects .
The saga of collective punishment first started with the expeditionary raids which Ras Mekonen, conqueror of Somalis and cousin of Emperor Menelik at the same time father of Emperor Haile Sellasie, commissioned against the Somalis between 1906 through the 1920s. During this pivotal period of Ethiopian imperial expansion from the Northern highlands of traditional Abyssinia to Somali inhabited lowland regions, Ethiopia was armed and bank rolled by the British government, who at the time acted the sole guardian of Western values. The political visions of Ethiopian expansionist kings and the British government, two imperial powers rooted in their own cruel versions of Christianity visa vi non-Christians, were united around the single objective of defeating the Somali nationalist of the time, Sayid Mohammed Abdullah Hassan, whom the Britons derogatorily referred to “the Mad Mullah.”
True to its predecessor, between the 1920s into 1957, Ethiopia institutionalized systemic looting, pillage and depopulation of the region. During this long period of intimidation and active conquest, America singly handedly armed and closely advised the feudal regime of Emperor Haile Selassie. Thus were commonplace US and Israeli commands in towns such as Harar, Jigjiga, with the commission to train the Royall forces in the art of intimidation and control. The iron grip of rule in the region was much closer to the contemporary conditions in the occupied territories of Plastain. The methods of terror were akin to the pre-Mandela’s apartheid regime in South Africa.
An excellent description of the methods of intimidation and occupation by the Haile Selllasie regime to quell rebellion for good is captured by an article, “The Psychology of Partition and the Somali Psyche,” which the Horn of Africa Journal published in 1979, where Hussein Bulhan eloquently narrates his personal experience regarding the local administration in Jigjiga, otherwise a Somali town with occupation forces, forced the residents of the town, including children (Bulhan himself was a small child in 1957) to witness what is locally known as “the hanging of the seven Geri men.” The hanging of these men represented the last vestige of the suppression of the Geri rebellion against the Ethiopian rule. This rebellion, to be crashed with the help of massive British weapons delivery to Ethiopia, lasted from 1948 to 1957.
Following a brief period of lull come the uprisings of Nasrulahi and the Geeshka rebellion of 1958-1966; during this period which had produced permanent raids, Ethiopia exacted against Somalis in the region biblical proportions of pillage, mayhem and systemic depopulation of the region. Chanting a popularly Ethiopian war time song “Saraf, Somali Saraf” (wipe out the Somalis) and armed with guns, knives, spears and daggers, nothing used to escape from such agitatedly marauding foot soldiers. In addition to razing villages to the ground (by setting a flame while occupants were inside their huts), often drunken armed supportive militia would kill livestock and poison precious water wells in this largely arid region.
Literally, every living Somali in the region has a story about death, looting and confiscation of livestock that happened to his/her family. Thus the common prayer of: Ilahow Adaa Wayn oo Waaxida ee Xabashi Jabi (O! Almighty, please remove the Ethiopian Yoke from us).
God did not grant Somalis their wishes. If impossible for Xabasha to go away, then the only prayers left is this: Ilahow Xabshi iyo Xanuunkeed Adaa La Xisaabtami (Oh! God you are the only one to whom the Ethiopians report about the pain they caused us).
With the coming of Mangistu Haile Mariam (a son of an indentured slave at the Eyu Be Liyu royal palace) to power in 1974 and the declaration of Socialism, things turned uglier for Somalis in Ethiopia. Armed with Russian style purge and pogrom, Somalis were forced to collective farming and coerced pastoral settlement schemes. This plus the war of liberation which the now defunct Western Somalis Liberation Front (WSLF) waged against the Dergi, Somalis were subjected to one of the most intensive depopulation. As a result, between 1977 and 1980 about 1.5 million Somalis were forced out of their places of origin and thousands died in their way to escape from Dergi solders.
But everything else pales compared to what the current government has been doing since the last few years. Displacement, rape and torturous killings, even hanging of innocent civilians had been common since the 1900s when Abyssinians highlanders raided Somalis. What is chillingly unique to the methods of intimidation this time is the degree of cruelty; it is the method of slitting one’s neck with iron wire rods and rope!
Government representatives can deny or attribute the causes of the region’s problems to ONLF, as did Mengistu, or Haile Selassie as much as they want. But, due to the fact that the Somali question in Ethiopia is a political and a national question, neither the strategy to erroneously paint ONLF as part of the “internationally known terrorists” network nor establishing a Bantustan-like administration works. However, both Addis Ababa and Washington know well that the Somali question in Ethiopia has been and would be there before, during and after the EPRDF regime. Short of a new approach accompanied by a renewed engagement by Washington, it is a question that will not go away whatever drastic measures employed by the regime. With unjustified and ill-advised decision of Meles Zenawi to invade and massively terrorize Somali citizens in the Somalia proper since 2006, the entire Horn of Africa region is set ablaze.
The real question is who takes responsibility for the current cruel and collective punishments and disproportionate human rights abuse, such as the case of Ridwan Sahid, as well as the indiscriminate killings in Mogadishu, which both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch had documented. Ridwan Sahid’s story is a variant of torture and intimidation committed against Somalis both in Ethiopia and in Somalia proper.