Rebellion in Ethiopia
By Jonathan Alpeyrie|Oct. 10, 2006 Addis Ababa is now fighting against 9 major rebel groups from all parts of the country with the powerful Eritrean army on its eastern border. The situation has become critical, its 240 thousand man army (TPLF) does not have the resources to be fighting everywhere at the same time, so it relies on poorly equipped, under trained militias to protect the frontiers.
Since 1974, the OLF (Oromo liberation front) has been waging a guerrilla war against the Ethiopian government. The Oromos are an ethnic group, which represent close to 55% of the entire population of Ethiopia, with 30 million people out of a total of 55 million, living in central and southern Ethiopia. Their plight is a direct consequence of European rule in the East Africa during the late XIXth century, when the British put in power the Abyssinians minority, the same ethnic group in power today. Widespread abuses, and murder is still recorded daily. Thousands of Oromos, mostly students, have been arrested, some killed and beaten in the past few month.
With the help of only a few thousand troops, highly motivated, but poorly equipped, the OLF has been fighting to regain political recognition. Since the beginning of the year 2006, the Ethiopian government has launched a significant offensive on OLF positions, but due to the extreme drought in the region this year, the offensive has lost its momentum.
The international community, and specifically the United States and Europe, have been less than enthused in seeing the OLF gaining ground politically and militarily, fearing that OLF rebels would trade one dictatorship for another. The US has favored Zenawi Zenawi’s government for one simple reason, his support in the struggle against terrorism.
Are the fundamentalists present and active in Ethiopia? We know for a fact that they have been in Kenya and Somalia, hitting American interests in the region. However in Ethiopia, no evidence has been found that the fundamentalists have been active against the West. Zenawi has promised the United States to fight terrorism in return for substantial cash subsidies. For the OLF, Zenawi is using American and European money to keep his war machine oiled.
“You have to fight with courage, if you are surrounded by the enemy, always save one bullet for yourself”? says the 40 year old Abdata Basire, commander in chief of the Southern front. With this sentence as a rule to all OLF fighters, struggling to give a voice to the Oromo people, their dedication and willingness to die for the struggle is fierce. It is a reminder of the desperate situation the Oromo people have found themselves in the last 30 years. The Ethiopian government, controlled by the Abyssinians ethnic minority has survived the past 15 years putting down any signs of resistance to its rule, arresting any protestors, killing and torturing.
If a democratic election was to take place, it is clear that the Oromo majority would win and change the entire political landscape of the country. This is exactly what Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, does not want. Any democratic movement would give way to a new order and power structure.
Addis Ababa is now fighting against 9 major rebel groups from all parts of the country with the powerful Eritrean army on its eastern border. The situation has become critical, its 240 thousand man army (TPLF) does not have the resources to be fighting everywhere at the same time, so it relies on poorly equipped, under trained militias to protect the frontiers.
On the Kenyan border, the government has poured in thousands of militia units to try and contain the OLF’s constant military pressure in the region. Their lack of fighting ability is not only explained by forced conscription and low pay, but also because most of their militias fighting in the region are also Oromos. It is said by the OLF that the militias sometime refuse battle, and won’t shoot directly at OLF troops to make sure not to hurt any of their own kin.
The porous border between Ethiopia and Kenya has become a safe heaven for OLF troops. Each weapon carried by OLF soldiers, are taken from dead Ethiopian soldiers, or captured during night raids. The OLF has built an arsenal, from small arms to AK assault rifle, light machine guns, and RPGs.
The OLF fighter, made up of 5 to 10% women, can go without water for two days, moving quickly in the Ethiopian and Kenyan deserts. The soldiers are allowed no alcohol or drugs.
In the 32-year-old struggle, the OLF fighters have grown from 10 rebels to a few thousand soldiers (they wouldn’t give their exact numbers), fighting in four major fronts; Southern, Eastern, South Eastern, and Western parts of Ethiopia; and now a new front in Walo (Northern Ethiopia). The OLF has effectively put pressure on Addis from all sides, forcing the Ethiopian military to move troops from the Eritrean front and its fundamental agricultural lands around Badme, threatening their food supply.
Major rebel groups have joined the OLF’s fight including: the Muslim Sudanese, the ONLF (Ogaden National Liberation Front) fighting in Eastern Ethiopia, the EPPLF (Ethiopian People Patriotic Liberation Front), fighting in Northern Ethiopia, or the ALF (Affar Liberation Front) fighting in Southern Ethiopia, and groups like the BPM or GLF fighting in Western Ethiopia.
The three-decade long struggle is only a reflection of a much longer fight between the Abyssinians placed in power by the British. The right of self-determination has been central since the beginning of the struggle. The OLF and its allies want to negotiate with Addis to find a compromise to organize fair elections, something that Addis has so far rejected.
So can the OLF be trusted if they do gain power? Will they allow a free and democratic system to take place and allow each minority, including the Abyssinians, to be part of the democratic process? The OLF’s internal political organization does tend to believe that if victory is achieved, Ethiopia would be ruled under the banners of federalism. Each ethnic groups would have a seat in the new government, dictating their own internal affairs. But that remains to be seen, somewhere far-off in the distance.