Ethiopia hosts the fifth largest refugee population in the world. For a developing country, recurrent droughts and conflicts put a massive economic strain. But more worrying is the internal displacement of people caused by inter-regional disputes; the nation's capacity is bursting at the seams. What started as a dispute among few individuals took a turn for the worst forcing people to flee their hometown and seek refuge in camps. SAMSON BERHANE, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER, delves into the lives of the internally displaced people.
It had not even been a year since Fetia Abdurahiman, who recently enrolled in college, got married to a person from her hometown. Her happiness was shortlived though.
Unfortunately, the 21-year-old student’s husband severed ties with her for a dispute over the recent inter-regional conflicts between the Somali and Oromia regional states.
“Ever since the violence between groups from the two regional states broke out, our relationship changed for the worst,” she evokes. “We ended up separating after my husband forced me to leave his house.”
Soon after she fled to a small camp in the Fafan Zone, Somali Regional State, 70Km from Jigjiga, the place where her parents were born and raised.
The camps, covering an area equal to at least 15 stadiums, house people mainly from the neighbouring Oromia regional state who were displaced following the recent violence along the Somali and Oromia border.
Each day there are 30 more people added to the camp, according to eyewitnesses. This rise has strained food supplies at the camp where food security has reached a critical level.
“We are doing our best to feed the people despite the shortage,” said Mohammed Dayib, a director for risk reduction at Somali’s Disaster Preparedness & Prevention Bureau.
Fetia is one of more than 6,000 newly displaced people living in Fafan since the beginning of the Ethiopian year, September 11, due to the outbreak of the inter-regional conflicts resulting in the deaths of hundreds of individuals.
On the other hand, many people including Mimi Gelana, 30, separated from their loved ones leaving behind everything they owned. They now face the reality of life in displacement camps and sites.
Mimi Gelana, born in Addis Abeba, has been living in Jigjiga, 600Km from Addis Abeba, for the past 15 years. Before the protests began, she had a good life in the town with her daughter and husband for over half a decade.
The situation is anything but normal and Mimi and her family are now officially referred to as internally displaced people (IDP), forced to leave their home due to the violence in Jigjiga.
“From the start of the crisis, kebele 19, where I had lived with my family, has become a place of murders and all kinds of abuses,” she said. “Suddenly, our neighbours became our enemies.”
Politeness and admiration that once characterised relations between neighbours have transformed into extreme hatred.
Over hundred individuals from both regional states were murdered; although accurate figures are yet to be released by both regional states or the federal government.
One of over the 634,000 people displaced from both Oromia and Somali regional states due to the inter-regional conflict, Mimi now lives in Rift Valley University’s Gotera campus, which houses no less than 500 people.
She moved to the place after hearing that the major shareholder of the University was offering places for displaced people in its premises located at Nifas Silk Lafto district.
The recent outburst of inter-regional conflicts between Somali and Oromia regional states is not the first of its kind for the regions.
Studies indicate that the duo has been in dispute for decades over the demarcation of boundaries, even resulting in a referendum in October 2004.
Oromia and Somali, being the biggest and fourth largest regional state in size, respectively, share a border extending more than 1,400Km, according to the Central Statistical Agency (CSA), with a population of 32.8 million and 5.7 million, correspondingly.
The latter’s economy is pastoralist, whereas both pastoralism and farming are exercised in the former.
Many argue that the border areas being inhabited by pastoralists of the regional states triggers such conflicts.
These situations have aggravated and eventually resulted in the displacement of thousands, like Abdurahman Mohammed, from their hometowns to the Fafan Zone, thereby raising food insecurity.
“We are not getting sufficient food to feed our family,” said Abdurahiman, who is in his 70s.
The Disaster Preparedness & Prevention Bureau donates 20Kg sorghum, five kilograms of sugar and six kilograms of peas monthly to feed his 14 family members since his displacement two years ago due to the inter-regional conflict.
Those who have arrived recently also face such challenges.
“It has been a week since I came here. But, I haven’t received any food aid yet as the registration at the Bureau was delayed,” said Fetia, whose relatives have been providing food for her since she joined the camp.
The country has been facing such protests and unrests for some years now.
Almost three years ago, a protest against the 10th master plan of Addis Abeba, drafted to expand the capital horizontally, claimed the lives of many. In the same year, more than 104,000 people were displaced due to inter-regional conflicts and severe drought.
The problems have not abated since. In the past year, anti-government protests, particularly in Oromia Regional State, had resulted in the deaths of over 400 people, according to a report by Human Rights Commission. Likewise, the number of people displaced surged by three folds to 347,000, adding to the 740,000 refugees the country is hosting.
Flower farms and manufacturing companies were ransacked, destroyed and vandalised by protestors, putting the country under state of emergency for almost ten months until August 2017.
Yet, the problems seem to increase without any solution in sight.
The humanitarian and security crisis in the eastern parts of the country, specifically in the Oromia and Somali regional states, have spread distress beyond Ethiopia’s borders. Its impact was event felt in the self-declared republic of Somaliland, where two Ethiopian nationals were killed in its capital, Hargeisa.
The displaced individuals, officials and politicians have varied opinions regarding these disputes.
“I believe the discontent over the demarcation, 13 years ago, is the root cause of the dispute; recently exacerbated by a disagreement over resources,” a political analyst asserts.
While recently displaced people from Jigjiga like Zenebe Degefa believe the excessive action taken by Somali Special Police Forces spawned these unrests.
“We were tortured and some of our neighbours were beaten to death by the special force,” Zenebe claims.
President of Somali regional state, Abdi Mohammoud, in a press conference held last Sunday at his office, chose to skirt around the issue while responding to the questions raised by journalists over the use of power by the special force.
“Although there is a claim that the Somali Special Police Force participated in the inter-regional conflict, we can’t come to a conclusion as further investigation is required,” said Abdi, who has headed the regional state for eight years. “But, anyone who is found to be involved in the case will be held accountable.”
Abdi preferred to agree with Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn relating the ongoing violence among the two regional states to rivalry over Khat and rampant contraband trades as well as smuggling of forex.
Head of Oromia Regional State’s Communication Affairs Bureau, Addisu Arega, on his part, explained his region’s plan to solve the crisis.
“Our regional government is striving to respond to the problem quickly with assistance from people who are concerned about the issue,” Addisu remarked, on his Facebook page on December 21, 2017.
Sources confirmed that the regional state, through town and wereda officials, has approached investors to contribute in kind or cash to relocate the displaced people.
Alemayehu Amdemariam (Lt), a shareholder and founder of Tommy Hotel and Alema Farms, is amongst investors who have forwarded donations to help the displaced people in Bishofu (Debreziet) town.
“We are building houses for the displaced,” he said. “I recommend others to join us to urgently respond to the victims.”
Nonetheless, the violence continues despite the efforts of the regional state administrations as well federal governments, potentially destabilising one of the world’s fastest-growing economy.
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