Regional Dimensions Of The Human Rights And Humanitarian Situation In The “Ogaden,” Somalia, And Beyond


Testimony before the United States House of Representatives

Committee on Foreign Affairs

Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health

October 2, 2007

 By Dr. J. Peter Pham


The Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs

James Madison University

I am honored to have the opportunity to appear once again before the Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health and am grateful for the opportunity to add my voice to those who have already spoken on the worrisome developments in the Horn of Africa, especially the Somali Regional State (the so-called “Ogaden” region) of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and the territory of the onetime Somali Democratic Republic.


Since, aside from expressing my admiration for the personal courage and leadership of Judge Bertukan Mideksa and Dr. Berhanu Nega, there is little that I can add to what has already been laid before the members of the Subcommittee on the question of democracy in Thousands upon thousands of cassette tapes and master reels were quickly removed from the soon-to-be targeted buildings. They were dispersed to neighboring countries like Djibouti and Ethiopia, and since, unlike Ms. Fowsia Abdulkadir, I do not have the benefit of more recent firsthand knowledge of either the current conditions in the ethnic Somali regions of Ethiopia or the disposition of some of the forces in conflict—like many non-Ethiopians, I have not been allowed to venture into those parts of late and has been just over two years since my most recent foray there—I would like to concentrate on the regional context which affects the human rights and humanitarian situation in the Somali Regional State, Somalia, and other parts of the subregion. In fact, I would submit that without an appreciation for the broader dynamics, it is impossible not only to chart a course past the current conflicts to the peace, stability, development, and democracy sought by the peoples of the Horn of Africa, but also to secure the significant national security interests that our own United States of America has in that geopolitically sensitive and significant subregion.


The most salient feature of the contemporary geopolitical landscape of the Horn of Africa subregion is the vacuum that has existed in what was, until January 1991, the territory of the Somali Democratic Republic. Apart from the area that was the colonial era British Protectorate of Somaliland—a subject to which I will return later—this area roughly the size of Texas has not had a functional government for over a decade and a half. Just last week, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s Index of African Governance, developed by Professor Robert Rotberg at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, rated Somalia as the worst governed among the forty-eight countries of Sub-Saharan Africa. It was partially in response to this chaos that the Islamic Courts movement arose. Unfortunately, within the latter was a not-insignificant number whose members had formerly constituted the nucleus of the Somali Islamic Union (al-Itihaad al-Islamiya), a group established in the 1980s which sought the creation of an expansive “Islamic Republic of Greater Somalia” embracing all ethnic Somalis, and perhaps even all Muslims, in the Horn of Africa. In the early 1990s, amid the collapse of the Somali state, al-Itihaad tried to seize control of strategic assets like seaports and crossroads. Although it temporarily held the northern port of Bosaaso and the eastern ports of Marka and Kismaayo, the only area where it exercised long-term control was the economically vital intersection of Luuq, in southern Somalia, near the Ethiopian border, where it imposed harsh shari’a-based rule from 1991 until 1996. One might add that this was an experience foreign to the Somali tradition of Sunni Islam characterized the jurisprudence of the Shāfi̒ī school (mahdab) which, although conservative, is open to a variety of liberal views regarding practice, and the charisms of the Sufi brotherhoods (tarīqa).

From its base in Luuq, al-Itihaad encouraged subversive activities among ethnic Somalis in eastern Ethiopia, especially among some members of the Ogaden sub-clan of the Darod, some of whom carried out a series of terrorist attacks, including the bombing of two hotels and the 1995 attempted assassination in Addis Ababa of Ethiopia’s then Minister of Transportation and Communications (and later Ambassador to the United Nations), Abdul Majeed Hussein, an ethnic Somali who opposed secessionists. The exasperated Ethiopian government finally intervened in Somalia in August 1996, wiping out al-Itihaad bases in Luuq and Buulo Haawa and killing hundreds of Somali extremists as well as scores of clearly non-Somali Arabs who had flocked to the Horn under the banner of jihad.

After that defeat, al-Itihaad changed tack and, as the longtime scholar of Somali affairs, Professor Iqbal Jhazbhay of the University of South Africa, has noted, “rather than prioritize a strategy of developing an independent military base, decided instead on what could be termed a more ‘hegemonic’ approach whereby it would be working within Somali political and clan structures such as the Islamist Courts.” While the courts were credited with marked improvements insecurity in many areas of Somalia, they also represented al-Itihaad’s new stealth strategy of achieving an ascendant position in society in general and within the courts movement in particular through its access to external financial resources as well as its superior internal organizational capacity. This predominance would allow it to impose its radical theology and extremist political agenda against the wishes of a majority of Somalis.

Thus the situation faced by the current Ethiopian government last year was one which any Ethiopian government would have found untenable: a movement increasingly dominated by proven enemies—one should not forget that Hassan Dahir ‘Aweys, the chairman of the shura council of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) was previously vice-chairman and military commander of al-Itihaad and before that a colonel under the dictator Muhammad Siyad Barre who was responsible for the “Ogaden War” of 1977-1978—was rapidly taking over a neighboring country. (‘Aweys has long been a significant player in the world of Islamist terrorists, making the cut onto the list of 189 terrorist individuals and organizations specially designated by the U.S. government under Executive Order 13224 in the wake of 9/11.) While one might hope that any alternative to the government of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi might have managed things better, I suspect that absent the political will of the international community to allocate resources to resolving the ongoing crisis of Somali statelessness, any prospective Ethiopian government would have had to consider acting preemptively in self-defense.

Unfortunately, the vehicle the Ethiopian government used to legitimize its intervention, the so-called “Transitional Federal Government” (TFG) of Somalia, could not have been more ill-suited for the role scripted for it. As I advised the Subcommittee on African, Global Human Rights, and International Operations last year, the TFG, constituted in 2004 as the fourteenth attempt at an interim Somali authority in as many years, was an unrepresentative group of self-appointed warlords with meager prospects even before they became associated with the Ethiopians. Since its creation at an internationally-funded kaffeeklatsch outside Somalia, the TFG has proven itself to be, at best, a notional entity whose day-to-day physical survival is—aside from the generous U.S. and other international aid flows—due entirely to the continuing presence of the Ethiopian intervention force which rescued it last December from certain collapse in the face of an assault by the forces of the ICU, which at the time controlled Mogadishu as well as most of Somalia and were threatening to overrun the provincial outback of Baidoa, the only town which the interim “government” even had the pretense of running. And, if it were not bad enough that the TFG is dominated by fellow members of “President” Abdullahi Yusuf’s Majeerteen sub-clan of the Darod clan from northeastern Puntland—a make-up that renders the would-be regime utterly unpalatable to the powerful Hawiye clan which predominates in Mogadishu—its ham-fisted style—documented in the August 13, 2007, a report by Human Rights Watch covering the first four months of the year, as well as independent reporting by a number of journalists and non-governmental organization representatives, including some who have paid with their liberty or even their lives—has driven potential constituents en masse into the arms of its opponents, who are increasingly embracing a broad spectrum ranging from Islamists with foreign ties to alienated members of marginalized clans.

And, as the opposition to it coalesces, rather than examining the reasons for the dissatisfaction—including its failure reach out to leaders of other clans and moderate Islamists as well as its corruption and lack of transparency—the TFG has lashed out against independent voices that should be pillars of any attempt at nation-building, including the members of the press, representatives of non-governmental organizations, and other exponents of civil society. Instead, labeling these groups as “Hawiye terrorists,” it has sidelined them where it has not shut them down and arrested or killed their leadership. Even the TFG’s own chief justice, Yusuf Ali Harun, is not immune from this arbitrary capriciousness as he learned to his sorrow two weeks ago when he was taken from his home in Baidoa by security officials and dragged along with another judge to a Mogadishu prison on orders of “Justice Minister and Attorney-General” Abdullahi Dahir Barre after the pair criticized the regime’s misappropriation of United Nations Development Programme funds for legal reform. (This last maneuver has provoked a crisis in the TFG leadership itself as “Prime Minister” Ali Mohamed Ghedi subsequently sacked the justice minister and his deputy who, in turn, refused to accept their dismissals saying that they were answerable only to “President” Abdullahi Yusuf.)

Thus the abject failure last month of the internationally-financed “national reconciliation congress” packed with cronies of the TFG came as no surprise to those following developments in Mogadishu. Likewise not unexpected is the fact that the TFG, its Ethiopian defenders, and the woefully undermanned African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM)—the last-named consisting of a sole Ugandan contingent, the promised Nigerian, Ghanaian, Burundian, and other units being “no shows” (and, even if the entire authorized force materialized,  it remains beyond delusional to think that a modest contingent of 8,000 Africans can succeed where the infinitely more robust UNITAF and UNOSOM II forces, with their 37,000 and 28,000 personnel respectively, failed barely a decade ago)—face a burgeoning armed resistance which, as I noted earlier this year is “repeating almost step-by-step the tactical and strategic evolution of the Iraqi insurgency,” complete with suicide bombings, a tactic unknown in Somalia until last year. Assuming a leading operational role in the insurgency is al-Shabaab (“the Youth”), an extremist group originally led by Adan Hashi ‘Ayro, an al-Qaeda-trained kinsman and protégé of Hassan Dahir ‘Aweys, but which may have splintered since the Ethiopian intervention. (The split may have been exacerbated this past week with a reported rift between ‘Ayro and former ICU defense chief Sheikh Yusuf Mohamed Siyad, a.k.a. “Indha’adde,” over who should command in Mogadishu.)

It is no wonder that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported last Friday that nearly 500,000 people, almost one-third of Mogadishu’s population, have fled in recent months as the city has become effectively partitioned between the zone where the TFG’s writ—such as it is—still runs and the areas controlled by opponents of the regime, with the northern part of the city turned into a battlefield while the famed open-air Bakara market in the southern part, one of Africa’s largest, is effectively closed for the first time in living memory (the sprawling bazaar was open for business even through the madness of the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu).


Irrespective of the motivations for their insurgency, the opponents of the TFG, Islamists and clan loyalists alike, are only able to carry on their fight thanks to outside support, which evidence indicates to being channeled largely through Eritrea even when it does not originate there (much of it is). This is certainly the judgment of the international technical experts of the United Nations Security Council Sanctions Committee Monitoring Group for Somalia, who concluded in June of this year that “huge quantities of arms have been provided to the Shabaab by and through Eritrea” and, noting that they “has observed a clear pattern of involvement by the Government of Eritrea in arms embargo violations,” concluded that “the Government of Eritrea has made deliberate attempts to hide its activities and mislead the international community about its involvement.”

The conduct of the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ)—formerly the Eritrean People’s Revolutionary Front (EPRF)—regime in Asmara, while unjustified, has a rational basis behind it: the tiny country with a population of under 5 million is locked in a border dispute with its much larger neighbor, Ethiopia, with its 76 million people. Between 1998 and 2000, the two countries fought a conventional war that claimed over 100,000 lives and displaced 1.5 million others over a near-worthless strip of desert around the town of Badme (pre-war population, 1,500). Tensions between the two countries are escalating as the international arbitrators on the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC), which awarded the ruined town to Eritrea, announced at The Hague last month that they would finalize the border coordinates by November before the panel’s mandate expires, notwithstanding the deadlock between the two countries. (In a letter to his Eritrean counterpart last week, Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin stated that his government was being forced to consider terminating the accord between the two countries to abide by the EEBC’s eventual demarcation given Eritrea’s material breach of the agreement by occupying the demilitarized zone and restricting the United Nations ceasefire monitors.)

Thus Eritrea funnels arms to Somali insurgents attacking Ethiopians in as a way to weaken its foe and potentially open a yet another front in its proxy war against it, a front that might prove invaluable if direct hostilities were to break out along the 912-kilometer armistice lines between the two countries. As I noted in May to a joint hearing of this Subcommittee and the Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights, and Oversight, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) have received support from the single-party PFDJ regime for their activities within Ethiopia for at least a decade. More recently, Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki has also spread his largesse to other opponents of his nemesis, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, including the Afar National Democratic Front (ANDF), the Ethiopian People’s Patriotic Front (EPPF), the Gambella People’s Liberation Force (GPLF), the Southern Ethiopia Peoples’ Front for Justice and Equality (SEFJE), and the Tigray People’s Democratic Movement (TPDM)—all of which have staged high profile attacks on Ethiopian government forces or installations in recent months.

However, presently it is in Somalia where the Eritrean regime’s destabilizing influence is most exercised and the reason that the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs announced two months ago that a dossier was being assembled with a view toward formally designating the country a “state sponsor of terrorism.” Last month Asmara hosted to a “Congress for Somali Liberation and Reconciliation” which led to the formation of a new umbrella group calling itself the “Alliance for the Liberation of Somalia” (ALS). It should be noted that not all the members of the Somali opposition alliance are Islamists, much less Islamist terrorists, although it appears that militant Islamists form the core of the movement. In addition to hard-line Islamist ideologues like ‘Aweys, the ALS includes clan chieftains like Husayn Mohamed Farah, a.k.a. “Aydiid Jr.,” a onetime U.S. Marine who is the son of General Mohamed Farah Aydiid of Black Hawk Down infamy; political opponents of the TFG like its deposed parliamentary speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adan; as well as more moderate Islamists like Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmad, who was chairman of the ICU during its rule in Mogadishu and who was named executive head of the ALS. On the one hand, this disparate group seems to have little in common other a desire to drive the TFG from Mogadishu: one indication of its ramshackle nature was that the congress’s conclusion, it elected no fewer than 191 members to the “central council” to be chaired by former TFG speaker Sharif Adan. On the other hand, there is also the possibility that we are witnessing the birth of a pan-Somali alliance consisting of elements from throughout the Horn with the potential for destabilizing the region.[1]

The real problem is that the conflict the Eritrean-backed ALS will foment in Somalia also creates an ideal operating space in for Islamist terrorists like ‘Ayro and Fazul Abdullah Muhammad, a long-time member of al-Qaeda in East Africa who figures on the FBI’s “Most Wanted Terrorists” list with a $5 million bounty on his head for his role in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya; as well as Hassan Abdullah Hersi al-Turki, an al-Itihaad veteran who is reputed to lead al-Qaeda’s East Africa cell; Mukhtar Robow, a.k.a. Abu Mansur, the former deputy defense minister of the ICU who fought with the Taliban in Afghanistan; Issa Osman Issa, another al-Qaeda member wanted for his role in the East Africa embassy bombings; Ahmad Abdi Godane, an al-Shabaab leader trained by al-Qaeda in Afghanistan wanted for his role in the murders of Western aid workers in the Republic of Somaliland; and Ibrahim Haji Jama, a.k.a. “al-Afghani,” another al-Shabaab leader who trained with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and is a veteran of terrorist campaigns there as well as in Kashmir and in Somaliland. While the Ethiopian intervention last year disrupted al-Qaeda’s effort to establish a base of operations in Somalia, renewed conflict could give the terrorists another go-around.

(When it is not stirring up trouble abroad, the Eritrean regime is busies itself maintaining an ironclad grip on its citizens at home. According to Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2007 country report, Eritrea is “not free,” scoring an abysmal 7 on political freedom and 6 on civil liberties—the scale is 1 to 7, with 1 corresponding to the highest and 7 the lowest level of freedom. For all its problems, neighboring Ethiopia is at least “partly free” and scoring 5 on both indices. Arbitrary detentions, torture, and political arrests are common. Non-governmental organizations are severely restricted and some categories of civil society organizations, like international human rights groups, are prohibited altogether; the last three international development NGOs working in Eritrea were expelled in 2006, a year after the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) was kicked out.

Eritrea also enjoys the dubious distinction of being one of only eight nations singled out for designation by the U.S. State Department as “countries of particular concern” with respect to international religious freedom (the others are Burma, the People’s Republic of China, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan). Since 2002, the PFDJ regime has banned all religious denominations except for Islam, the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Evangelical (Lutheran) Church of Eritrea. Members of other faiths are forbidden to worship in the country, even in private homes. However, being a “legal” denomination is no guarantee of religious liberty: in 2006, the regime deposed and arrested the octogenarian Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Abune Antonios, who had been critical of its interference in internal church matters. The patriarch has not been seen since, although Eritrea’s ambassador in Belgium recently claimed, preposterously, that he had retired to an isolated monastery. Despite the denunciation of the ecclesiastical coup d’état by Coptic Pope Shenouda III, head of the mother church of Alexandria who had consecrated and installed Abune Antonios only three years ago, President Isaias used the feast of Pentecost this year to install on the patriarchal throne a more pliant prelate, Dioskoros.)


Thus the conflict in Ethiopia’s Somali Regional State does not occur in a vacuum, but rather takes place within a dynamic regional context. Whether its newfound operational sophistication is directly attributable to Eritrean or other external inputs or not—and irrespective of historical or other justifications which might be advanced for its activities and which are beyond the scope our inquiry this morning—it is a fact that the ONLF has managed to escalate the long-simmering conflict in the last six months. It is my conclusion and that of other analysts that at least 2,000 ethnic Somali fighters, trained and armed in Eritrea to fight alongside the Islamic Courts Union forces last year and documented by the UN Monitoring Group at the time, subsequently entered Ethiopia after the Islamists were routed at the beginning of this year and linked up with the ONLF forces already operating there.

With respect to the ONLF, it should be noted that it does not necessarily represent all ethnic Somalis in the region which is sometimes incorrectly known as “the Ogaden.” The nature and extent of the group’s base is difficult to determine and subject to no little dispute. What is certain is that there are ethnic Somali sub-clans in the region whose members the ONLF clearly does not represent as well as sub-clans, particularly among Ogadeni lineages, which have considerably closer ties with the eponymous group. The fact is that the total population figures for the geographical area in question are highly contested, much less the breakdown of any aggregate figures into non-Somalis and ethnic Somalis and, among the latter, non-Ogadeni lineages and Ogadeni lineages—and then, among the last-mentioned, those for whom the ONLF speaks and those who reject its claims to being their political representative. (To cite one example, the members of the Somali-Ethiopian Peace and Development Agency (SEPDA), which pursues “the attainment of peace, economic development, promotion of democracy and respect for human rights in the Somali Region of Ethiopia,” are Ogadenis who pledge to “not let the ONLF obliterate the future of our people.”)

In any event, on April 24, the ONLF’s “Dufaan” unit launched a massive attack on an oilfield in Abole (also known in Somali as “Obala”), about 120 kilometers from Jijiga, the capital of the Somali Regional State. The oilfield was being worked by Chinese firm, the Zhongyuan Petroleum Exploration Bureau (ZPEB), on behalf of South West Energy, a Hong Kong-based company with a license to explore for oil in a 21,000-square kilometer basin in Ogaden. ZPEB was undertaking the same sort of seismic surveys that it has done throughout Ethiopia for a number of prospecting oil companies since 2003. During the fifty-minute firefight that broke out between the ONLF fighters and Ethiopian soldiers guarding the oil workers when the attackers opened up on the workers’ camp, nine Chinese and sixty-five Ethiopian guards were killed.[2] Seven other Chinese workers were kidnapped before the ONLF force withdrew. The prisoners were subsequently turned over to representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross after the government of the People’s Republic of China reacted strongly against what it called an “atrocious” attack and immediately dispatched a delegation to Addis Ababa (military analysts have not been slow note that the official communiqué from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing mentioned the “delegation” undertaking “rescue efforts,” rather than “negotiations to secure release”).

It should be acknowledged that ONLF had long been on the record as opposing the oil concession and other international development projects in the region that were based on accords with the Ethiopian government. Also, this ZPEB facility—not unlike all-too-many Chinese natural resource extraction enterprises in Africa—was apparently characterized by abusive labor conditions which, no doubt, accounted for local antipathy that translated into tacit, if not active, assistance for the attackers.

In response, the Ethiopian government has undertaken major counterinsurgency operations in the region and imposed, since May of this year, a trade blockade which exacerbated the humanitarian situation of the region’s population which, given their pastoralist economy, is particularly vulnerable. According to participants at a recent seminar convened at Chatham House, the cumulative impact of commodity food prices doubling and livestock prices halving is the effective price of basic staples has increased 400 percent in recent months. There are allegations, denied by the Ethiopian government, that having created food dependency through the blockade, it is now selectively lifting it in a manner which favors certain interests to the detriment of others. (Similar accusations, likewise denied, are leveled against the ONLF for likewise abusing food aid and not respecting the neutrality of international intergovernmental and non-governmental relief organizations.) There have been reports

The truth in the so-called “Ogaden” region is hard to come by. In July, the International Committee of the Red Cross was accused of aiding the rebels and expelled. A number of NGOs, including the Dutch branch of Médecins Sans Frontières, have reported difficulties with access. Even the death of four U.S. Special Forces soldiers in Niger on Oct. 4 has lead some in the United States, despite our close security partnership with Ethiopia, has been effectively excluded from the area: the “hearts and minds” humanitarian initiatives of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) have not been able to undertake any projects in the region for over a year. Thus even our information on actual circumstances on the ground is very limited and almost any assertion concerning the region, including basic data like population, is subject to contestation. With all due respect to my esteemed fellow witness, it should be noted that within the Ogadeni diaspora the line between civilian non-governmental organizations and political-military actors is a very fine one that is often very difficult to distinguish.[3]

The irony of this is that, at least on paper, all the elements necessary for composing the political differences in the conflict are already present. The 1994 Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia is a remarkably progressive document. Unfortunately, as my colleagues on the panel have testified, its observance has left a great deal to be desired. Responsibility for this impasse lies not only with the government in Addis Ababa and the ONLF, but also with external forces with a stake in prolonging the conflict, including the Eritrean regime and the Somali Islamists.


The most significant national interest at stake for the United States in this complex context is to prevent al-Qaeda (or another like-minded international terrorist network) from acquiring a new base and opening a new front in its war against us and our allies. This is certainly the danger posed by Eritrea’s dangerous sponsorship of anti-Ethiopian forces which include elements clearly linked to al-Qaeda and other jihadist movements.

In the long term, our objective of a stable and secure Horn of Africa is best achieved if the countries of the subregion and their peoples are secure within their boundaries and without, benefiting from the rule of law, governed by leaders accountable to their electorates, and enjoying the prospects of development. However, if we are to have any hope of getting there from where we are today, have to be careful to avoid the path of expedience: far from being our friend, our enemy’s enemy may not necessarily share our intermediate, much less long-term, interests.

This being said, we also do not have complete freedom of choice in our partners either. The fact is that Ethiopia is one of the most important African partners in America’s counterterrorism efforts. The country has benefited from the capacity-building East Africa Counterterrorism Initiative (EACTI). The Terrorist Interdiction Program (TIP), which is designed to identify terrorists and hinder their movement across borders, is operative in Ethiopian airports. All this is more than can be said for other countries in the Horn of Africa. This partnership stands as another milestone in the long history of security cooperation between our two countries. During the first half of the Cold War, Ethiopia was not only a critical linchpin in America’s anti-Soviet containment regime along the southern tier of the Middle East—the Kagnew communications facility, for example, was highly valued by the U.S. military as part of its global radio system—but an Ethiopian contingent fought alongside U.S. forces in the Korean War (the unit, dubbed the “Kagnew Battalion,” was attached to the 7th Infantry Division and fought in a number of engagements, including the famous two battles at “Pork Chop Hill”). However, old friends, if they have any maturity, should be secure enough in their relationship to also be frank with one another.

While respecting Ethiopia’s proud history of independence, we have to encourage all stakeholders, especially the country’s government, to make progress on social, economic, and political issues. Neither we nor our partners can afford to pursue short-term objectives in a manner which creates a facilitating environment for extremism and ultimately, terrorism. As the 2002 National Security Strategy of the mass protests in cities around the U.S. against an executive order that would block millions of people from entering the United States of America rightly acknowledged: “Poverty does not make poor people into terrorists and murderers. Yet poverty, weak institutions, and corruption can make weak states vulnerable to terrorist networks and drug cartels within their borders.”

Furthermore, despite Eritrea’s frustrating role as the regional spoiler, a renewed conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea benefits no one except the Chinese arms merchants who have sold an estimated $1 billion in arms to the two sides and the terrorist forces which will exploit the ensuing chaos to their own advantage. We have to exert every effort to prevent war from breaking out, not only because of the incalculable humanitarian toll that the fight would exact on the peoples of the Horn, but of the severe damage to our security interests that it would entail.


I would be remiss if I did not avail myself of this opportunity to raise the question of the remarkable reemergence of the Republic of Somaliland amid the ruin of Somalia and multiple conflicts wracking the Horn of Africa. With the collapse of the Somali state, the Somalilanders reasserted their independence and created a functional government, complete with all the accouterments of modern statehood save, alas, international recognition.

While a full discussion of the case of Somaliland is beyond the scope of the present hearing, neither is it divorced from it. Surely if America’s national commitment to support and strengthen democracy as a bulwark against extremist ideologies and terrorist violence has any real-world application, it is certainly the case here. The point I made at last year’s hearing on the expanding crisis in the Horn of Africa is even truer today: “The people of Somaliland have made their choice for political independence and democratic progress. While they have stumbled occasionally along the way, their efforts deserve encouragement through the appropriate economic, political, and security cooperation—which, in turn, will anchor Somaliland within America’s orbit as well as international society.” I would only add that such small steps would also show the countries and peoples of the subregion our resolve to reward progress as well as give the lie to those arguments that our anti-terrorism and pro-democracy objectives are not subterfuges for an anti-Muslim agenda (Somaliland’s population is almost exclusively Sunni Muslims and the shahādah, the Muslim profession of the oneness of God and the acceptance of Muhammad as God’s final prophet in emblazoned on its flag). It would also secure the one part of the onetime Somali Democratic Republic that has managed, at considerable cost, to keep itself aloof from maelstrom increasingly spinning out of control (just two weeks ago, armed forces from the Somali region of Puntland opened fire on Somaliland security forces northwest of Las Anod in the Sool district).


I hope that I have been able to sketch out some of the regional dimensions of influencing the human rights and humanitarian conditions in the Somali-inhabited regions of Ethiopia, Somalia proper, and the Horn of Africa in general. The crisis begins in the former Somalia, but it presents challenges and opportunities to the countries and peoples of the entire subregion as well as to the international community, and, ultimately of greatest concern to us as Americans, to the United States. Human rights and democracy cannot be promoted in this geopolitically critical area if the lack of security and stability presents governments with all-too-tempting or convenient pretenses to abridge them. On the other hand, without improving the social, economic, and political environment that allows terrorists, local or international, to operate in the area and manipulate long-suffering indigenous populations for their own radical ends, all the security resources in the world are for naught. To this end, permit me to offer several recommendations:

(1)        If, as I noted at the beginning, “most salient feature of the contemporary geopolitical landscape of the Horn of Africa” is the ongoing statelessness and chaos in the territory of the former Somali Democratic Republic, with their accompanying human rights and humanitarian costs as well as the potential for terrorist penetration and the spread of conflict throughout the region, then the international community must devote the attention and resources necessary to help the people of Somalia rebuild a stable political base. This means encouraging within Somali society inclusive dialogue of all stakeholders willing to renounce violent recourse. It also means making recognition of the TFG—the only coin it really has—conditional on the would-be interim regime meeting clear benchmarks, including respecting the rights of its prospective citizens and actually proving itself an effective government, rather than simply according it legitimacy. After all, thirteen transitional arrangements have come and gone. Pulling the plug on the life support of another one that fails to live up to its promise should not prove particularly difficult.

(2)        The United States Government should make clear that it remains committed to the international accords governing relations between states in this geostrategically vital subregion, including the Algiers Agreement on the demarcation of the Eritrea-Ethiopia border, as the basis for security and stability in the Horn of Africa. Of course, support needs to be concrete, including real resources for the demobilization and reintegration of forces as well as the restoration of traditional regional trade patterns and the development of new opportunities for economic integration.

(3)        We should likewise make clear that America will not look kindly on any escalation of conflict, whether through direct military action or indirectly through state sponsorship of or activities carried out by organizations and individuals—whatever their name and irrespective of their grievance—that gives terrorists a greater opening into the region. We ought to encourage peaceful competition through electoral processes and, where absolutely necessary, even support nonviolent resistance; we should never reward armed violence, especially by non-state actors.

(4)        We should make our non-humanitarian aid to all parties in the region—those with whom we currently have partnerships as well those with whom we may enter into relations at some future point—conditional on their receptivity to the range of concerns that the United States has, including counterterrorism and security cooperation, respect for fundamental human rights, effective governance, and commitment to progress on democratization at home and peacebuilding abroad. Respect for the sovereignty of countries with which we interact requires neither our abandoning America’s legitimate security interests nor prohibits us from maintaining the standards by which we have traditionally judge those who would be our friends.

(5)        To these ends, the United States should be neither shy nor stingy with our assistance to promote human security writ large, including economic development and the rule of law. This will require not only that we engage the widest possible spectrum of individuals, groups, and, yes, de facto polities like the Republic of Somaliland, which share our objectives, but that we encourage our international partner states and institutions to do so likewise. (With all due respect, I make no apologies for constantly returning to this theme: it is to me incomprehensible that we continue to express concern about the state of democracy in the Horn of Africa while but ignoring a New York-sized region that has held internationally-monitored elections for the presidency as well as national and local legislatures. Talk of mixed signals!)

I look forward to your questions and observations. And I renew my thanks to you and the Members of the Subcommittee for the honor to come before you again today, especially alongside the members of this distinguished panel you have assembled.

* * * * *


Partial List of Ogadeni Civilians Killed in Recent Operations

by the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF)

April 24, 2007: In addition to the Chinese oil workers and their Ethiopian guards, thirty civilians were killed in the attack on Zhongyuan Petroleum Exploration Bureau oilfield:

  1. Mahad Ciise Aar
  2. Mohamed Nuur Nabad-diid
  3. Ahmed Mahdi Cabdi
  4. Mohamed Muhumed
  5. Mohamed C/laahi Faarax
  6. Nuur Cumar Xirsi
  7. Fadxi Dayib Muxed
  8. Asad Cabdi Raasin
  9. C/raxmaan Abiib Ibraahin
  10. Mohamed M Gaas Dimuqradi
  11. Mohamed Ahmed Nuur
  12. Xasan Jaamac Cabdi
  13. Mowliid Mux’ed Aadan
  14. Mowliid Kayd Muuse
  15. Iid Muhumed Nuux
  16. Dawlad Carabeey Ahmed
  17. Ina Aadan Muhumed
  18. C/laahi Cumar Hul-hul
  19. Cagewayne Muhumed Ahmed
  20. Ahmed Cabdi Xuseen
  21. Ahmed Xasan  Madoobe
  22. Ahmed Dhagoole Yuusuf
  23. Jamaal Siyaad Furunle
  24. Xabiib Mohamoud
  25. Xasan Cumar Shiifoow
  26. Cabdi Mohamed Ciise
  27. Macalin Xasan Sh. Mohamed
  28. C/rashiid Qabri-Dahar
  29. Mohamed Yuusuf
  30. Ina Gaacuur Cali

May 28, 2007: An ONLF grenade attack on a cultural gathering in Jijiga killed four middle school students:

  1. Ahmed Mohamed Aftaag
  2. Abdiwali Mohamed Tuluh
  3. Ahmed Mohamoud Bucul
  4. Leyla Sharif Hassan

May 28, 2007: In a separate attack, fifty civilians were injured, including the regional president Abdullahi Hassan, and three artists were killed:

  1. Abdi Kaamil Awale
  2. Aw-Ganbad
  3. Kalid Nur

July 1, 2007: An attack on the town of Dobaweyn in Korahey region left ten civilians dead, including two schoolteachers and a pregnant woman:

  1. Muhumed Abdi Dol
  2. Sigale Usman
  3. Dilif Mahamoud Usman
  4. Abdirahman Allele
  5. Aydid Gallery
  6. Abdulahi Abdisamad
  7. Mohamed Guled (Gamacur)
  8. Dubad Barkab
  9. Kabe Umar Un-un
  10. A young daughter of Sheikh Isman

September 20, 2007: An attack on the town of Shilabo left five civilians dead:

  1. Duulane Guuleed Carab
    2.   Aadan Mohamed Cashuur
    3.   Kaamil Kaydsane Iishaar
    4.   Saynab Ali Gurxan
    5.   Duulane Ali Xagaa

September 21, 2007: An ONLF-planted landmine near Aware in Dagahbour region exploded, killing three civilians traveling in automobile:

  1. Dayib Abaade
  2. Guled Abdi Dheeg
  3. Anab Hirsi-Jini

September 25, 2007: An attack on another vehicle near El-Har, just outside of Kebridahare, destroyed the vehicle, killing two civilians:

  1. Dhadoon Abdullahi Nur
  2. Mohmaed Mohamoud Dahir

September 27, 2007: An ONLF unit attacked the district of Lahelow nearby the Ethiopia-Somalia border, targeting members of the Isma’il Gum’adle sub-clan, twelve of whom were slain:

  1. Jamaal Garaad Haashi
    2.    Gooni Gaydh Muhamed Ereg
    3.    Ali Nuur Mohamed
    4.    Ahmed Atoobe
    5.    Faarah Sahardiid Gabay
    6.    Aadan Abdulaahi Diiriye
    7.    Faarah Qawdhan Aadan Cade
    8.    Carab Istabool Biihi (Guuleed Hagoog)
    9.    Nadiir Ahmed Hirsi
    10.  Awaale Ali Guray
    11.  Abdirahman Carab Maxamed Guure
    12.  Abdinuur Goofadhe Gasay

* * * * *

Exhibit 1

Leaders of the “Alliance for the Liberation of Somalia” Meeting in Eritrea (June 2007)

Regional Dimensions Of The Human Rights And Humanitarian Situation In The Ogaden, Somalia, And Beyond (From left to right) Suleiman Roble, organizer of the “Congress for Somali Liberation and Reconciliation” in Asmara, Eritrea; Admiral Mohamed O. Osman, chairman of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF); and Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adan, former Transitional Federal Government of Somalia parliamentary speaker and chairman of the Central Council of the “Alliance for the Liberation of Somalia” (ALS).

* * * * *

Exhibit 2

Ogadeni Leaders Meeting in Finland (August 2007)

Regional Dimensions Of The Human Rights And Humanitarian Situation In The Ogaden, Somalia, And Beyond(From left to right) General Abdullahi Mukhtar, a member of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) Central Committee; Sheikh Abdalla Ibrahim, onetime leader of the Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF), a predecessor and ally of the ONLF; Sadiq Abdirahman of the Ogaden Human Rights Committee (U.S.A.); and ONLF chairman Admiral Mohamed O. Osman.

[1] See the image (Exhibit 1) of ONLF leader Admiral Mohamed O. Osman (Ethiopia) meeting with former TFG parliamentary speaker and current ALS central council chair Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adan (Somalia) and the Eritrea-based Somali militant Suleiman Roble.

[2] In addition, thirty local Somali Ethiopian civilians lost their lives. While human rights violations attributable to the Ethiopian government have been widely disseminated, those for which the Ogaden National Liberation Front is responsible are less reported. To balance the record, a partial list of civilians killed in ONLF actions is appended to this statement. (The civilians whose names are listed all hail from Ogadeni lineages.)

[3] See the image (Exhibit 2) of Sadiq Abdirahman of the Ogaden Human Rights Committee (U.S.A.) with ONLF chairman Admiral Mohamed O. Osman; Sheikh Abdalla Ibrahim, onetime leader of the Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF), a predecessor and ally of the ONLF; and General Abdullahi Mukhtar, a member of the ONLF Central Committee.

Peter PhamAbout the Author: J. Peter Pham is an associate professor of justice studies, political science, and Africana studies. He is the recipient of the 2008 Nelson Mandela International Prize for African Security and Development presented by the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies, the Brenthurst Foundation, and the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

He is currently on leave from James Madison University to serve as senior fellow and director of the Africa Project at the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, a New York-based think tank. He is also a nonresident senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C.

He currently serves as vice president of the American Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa. He was the principal expert commentator on Fox News reporting: Pirates of the 21st Century, anchored by Geraldo Rivera. Pham has also authored, edited, or translated more than a dozen books and is the author of more than 300 essays and reviews on a wide variety of subjects in scholarly and opinion journals.

In addition to the study of terrorism and political violence, his research interests lie at the intersection of international relations, international law, political theory, and ethics with particular concentrations on the implications for United States foreign policy and African states as well as religion and global politics. 

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