Thursday, 21 March 2013

The Ogaden Region: The Eastern African Valley of Death

By Hodan Heello.
There once was a beautiful land in the far corner of Eastern Africa. This was a very special land for it had many riches and natural resources. Green grass, tall trees and you could find breath-taking water falls every step of the way. People were very frantic and friendly to one another. There existed no strangers in this land everyone that came to visit was reached out with kindness and hospitality. The small communities that occupied this region had close ties with each other and supported one another.

The elders were well respected; the youngsters were cared for; the mothers were supported, and the fathers were encouraged to work hard to build better future for their families. Everyone in the community helped each other to contribute to a productive society. If there ever had been a utopia it must have existed in this region. This seemed like one of the stories in books and movies with happily ever after titles except this wasn't a fairytale it was real. In fact this exceptionally gorgeous land was once called the Ogaden region. It once was the heart of Eastern Africa; the attraction of all the tourist, and the one destination where people loved to go for sight seeing and connecting with nature.

The Ogaden region is located in the Horn of Africa and its people are Somali yet they find themselves within the borders claimed by modern day Ethiopia. Here is what Wikipedia says about the location of the region. “The inhabitants are predominantly ethnic Somali and Muslim. The title "Somali Galbeed", which means "Western Somalia," is often preferred by Somali irredentists. The region, which is around 200,000 square kilometres, borders DjiboutiKenya, and Somalia.[1] Important towns include Jijiga (Jigjiga), Degehabur, Gode (Godey),Kebri Dahar (Qabridahare), Fiq, Shilavo (Shilaabo), Kelafo, Werder (Wardheer), and Denan.” 

This region is a hotbed in the conflict between the Ethiopian regime and its Somali inhabitants. The people in this region consider themselves Somali; they share language, culture, and religion with Somalia. The issues in here are far from border issues and much more complex than one would think. You have a group of 6 to 8million people who are geographically stuck in Ethiopia yet disconnected from the rest of the country. It has been like this since about 150 years when the British and the Italian colonies put these borders in place. The Somali people of the occupied Ogaden have been trying to break from Ethiopia ever since then. Sadly, they aren’t treated as Ethiopian citizens and they don’t consider themselves Ethiopians either.

This region is the Death Valley of Eastern Africa today and that is why I like to call it the forgotten land of horror. Its people are hung, killed, tortured, raped, and strangled to death. The so called government of Ethiopia violates the human rights of these people yet the world sits back and watches. At any given day there are crimes against humanity taking place in this part of the world. Women are subjected to gang rape, torture, and being burnedalive. If the government suspects you of not supporting the current administration you will be hung and your dead body will be displayed in the street. Families don’t dare to pick up their loved ones’ dead body that has been displayed as an art piece in the middle of busy streets by merciless mercenaries masquerading as the Ethiopian army.

I have never been to the region but both my parents were born and raised there. My father, may he rest in peace, spent all his life fighting for the rights of Somalis in the Occuped Ogaden. I don’t remember much about him because he was always on the go to fight a war somewhere in the Ogaden region. I hated the fact that the Ogaden cause took my father away from me; however, as I grew up I fully understood and supported the noble job he was doing. He saw injustice and wanted to change that even if it would cost him his life, and me and my siblings the fatherly bond we dearly missed.

It has been 19 years since my father’s death and the struggle of the people of Ogaden still continues. The situation in the Ogaden region hasn’t gotten any better, in fact it has worsened. One would think it is the 21st century; that colonization ended in the early part of the 20th century, but there is an ugly one that has been maintained by the Ethiopian regime in the Ogaden. 

The Somalis of the Ocupied Ogaden experience far worse treatments than any of the colonies in the past. They have no food, water, access to education, and the right to voice their concerns. Plus, they are subject to horrific crimes everyday of their lives. Isn’t that what colonies did in the past? 

The world promised no more genocide after the Holocaust yet watched the Rwanda genocide. Another promise was made to no more genocide yet Darfur happened. Now there is an active one in the Ogaden region. I wonder how many promises does the world need to break to stop the genocide that is taking root in places such as the Ogaden. If the world truly means to put genocide to full stop this should be it. 

Why not now? Why not the Ogaden region.  How many more children do we put to the grave yard before their 5th birthday? How many more women do we have to watch and witness as they get gang raped by Ethiopian soldiers? How many more innocent lives have to pay a terrible price till we do something about this issue? 

Let’s make a promise this time and fulfill it. Let’s pledge to no more genocide and this time truly mean it and act on it. Let’s end the sufferings of our fellow humans. And please let’s end the genocide that is currently taking place in the Ethiopian-occupied Ogaden region. Let’s hold hand and escort this genocide now. Let us prosecute its perpetrators. I hope, and wish, that the world would end the Ogaden genocide Now and Give a child a second chance in life. 

The author, Hodan Heello can be reached at hodanha@gmail.com