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What Ethiopia needs is a new federal arrangement

After just four months in office, Ethiopia's reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed already managed to make the nation hope for a better, more peaceful and prosperous future. His domestic and foreign policy achievements already exceeded all expectations.

Ahmed also managed to make some progress in resolving Ethiopia's ever present ethnic tensions that helped catapult him into power. He acted as a unifier and managed to restore peace and stability in some of the country's most problematic regional states.

However, Ahmed's efforts to unite Ethiopia has not been completely successful. Ethnic tensions continue to simmer between some ethnic communities, such as Ethnic Somalis and Oromos in Eastern Ethiopia and Oromos and the Gedeo in South Central Ethiopia.

What happened in the Somali region?

Unrest between ethnic Somalis and Oromos first broke out along the border between the Somali and Oromia provinces in September 2017, killing dozens and displacing nearly a million people.

The spectacular upsurge of violence appeared to be caused by grazing rights, even though the tensions between these two communities had many other complex causes - local, regional, political and economic.

Back then, Ahmed was not the country's leader yet; however, as deputy president of the Oromia regional state, he oversaw efforts to contain the situation. Unfortunately, he achieved minimal success.

Nonetheless, the violence gradually subsided and when Ahmed came to power in April, security was improving in the area - even the return of those displaced during the conflict was about to commence. As soon as he took office, Ahmed started working to speed up the normalisation process, even choosing Somali regional capital, Jigjiga, as the destination of his first domestic trip.

However, it soon became apparent that the Somali region's president, Abdi Mohammed Omar, did not support Ahmed's reform agenda. Omar remained loyal to the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), which dominated the country’s ethnic coalition before Ahmed's ascend to power. With TPLF' support behind him, Omar repeatedly refused to meet officials from Ahmed's federal administration and made it clear that he is not willing to collaborate with them to bring the region back to normalcy.

Moreover, Omar continued to use regional para-military forces known as "Liyu" Police to attack ethnic Oromos across the borders between the two regional states. And in early July, Human Rights Watch published a report on torture in a notorious prison in the Somali region and called Abiy Ahmed to order investigations and hold regional authorities accountable. Ethiopia's own Human Rights Council also put forward reports detailing human rights abuses committed by local authorities in the region. These reports were soon corroborated by widespread popular protests against Omar's oppressive rule - protests that the regional leader tried to suppress using threats and violence. Read more...

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