My name is Ugaas, I am from the Ogaden a region mainly inhabited by people of Somali ethnicity. The Ogaden has a population of 5 million people, the residents are mainly agro-pastoralists they live in a simple life tendering to their livestock and moving along ancestral pathways. Illiteracy rate is high and most of the locals do not read or write they live hard but honest lives in tune with the land and the past.
Most of the people have never accepted the presence of Ethiopian troops, they regard them as colonists. There is history of rebellion between the Ogaden and Ethiopia`s past and current regimes and it dates way back to the scramble and partition of Africa. The Ogaden was separate from the larger Ethiopia until the British protectorate divided the regions in the Horn of Africa in their divide and rule policy and so there has been a prolong resistance in the region, the regional resistance against the Ethiopians never ceased but its intensity varied from time to time and whoever studied the Abyssinian feudal empire State will conclude that the political instability in the horn of Africa are caused by a combination of the legacy of the Abyssinian expansionist rule and the European colonial intervention, the result of colonization has produced continuous civil war in the Horn of Africa.
In 1994 Ogaden Liberation Front (ONLF) was formed to fight against Ethiopia, They use gorilla tactics and basically they don’t have official military bases and when they attack the Ethiopian security personnel, the Ethiopian security apparatus collectively punishes the local communities,so we innocent people who have no affiliation with ONLF have been always caught in a cross fire. I always remember an African proverb that says when two bulls fight the grass suffer, we the Somali people in the Ogaden are that proverbial grass.
Razing of entire villages to the ground, extrajudicial killings, mass arrests, disappearance of people, rape of women, down to dusk curfews and arbitrary arrests are the order of the day in the Ogaden region. The region has no good infrastructure and it looks like a military garrison; there is always a huge presence of military personnel in the region. Human rights groups and international aid providers remain persona-non-grata in the Ogaden region.
The Ogaden region is reported to be rich in natural gas that was first discovered when the Italians under dictator Benito Mussolini.They occupied Ethiopia for 9 years in the 1930’s. The Ethiopian army and the local security organisation in the Ogaden always engage in organised displacement, collective punishment and there are always incidents of gang rapes in different villages in the Ogaden.
I went to Dambas primary school from 1999-2007.and I later joined Dambas high school where I completed my A-levels in 2011 with grade A ;that was the highest grade a student from that region has ever scored in the history of academics in that region and I was the 5th best nationally.
Allow me dear reader to take you a short journey about my life.Life for a growing boy wasn’t all a play at least not for boys with parents like mine, my mother had never had the benefit of formal education herself but she was determined that I should be sent to school at the earliest opportunity and my father probably due to my mother’s persuasive power he was strongly in favour.
When I was growing up there were a lot of injustices that was taking place around me and as a kid ,I couldn’t understand why no one was ever brought into book. Injustices that consumed people’s lives and separated loved ones ,which also made me a victim. The wheels of justice were frozen and not spinning the way it was expected .later on I realised that there was no justice but only pain spread equally. If I had the power I could have to make sure justice for them was meted in a different way for what they have done and what they have allowed to be done in the Ogaden.
When I was young I had dreams like any other kid in the world, one day I will see an airplane on the sky and i will point at it and tell the little man growing inside me that one day I will fly and be inside “that thing”. At that time, I even couldn’t imagine how the inside of a plane. Looked like; I only knew the man or the woman who makes “that thing “to be in motion was called a pilot.
However, it was when I was In high School that I realised my dreams.I was good in academics and I knew my dreams were valid, yes I wanted to be a journalist, i wanted to talk about my people to represent their grievances to people somewhere in the world who understand justice and knows what humanity is. You know to have some sense of humanity isn’t just walking or standing on two legs, but it rather means to have some kind of conscience to know rights from wrongs. Humanity in the Ogaden has lost its meaning and it’s coming to a screeching halt everyday.
Unfortunately my huge dreams , all my life the charming, ever-dreaming boy inside me was killed when I was tortured countless times and arrested multiple times due to unfounded suspicions and allegations that I was a member of ONLF just because I was bringing large groups of students to raise their educational standards and some other community empowering initiatives. They thought that I was recruiting fighters for the a fore-mentioned group. I was arrested by a notorious police unit called Liyu police that are famous for the heinous crimes they commit against the Ogaden people In Ethiopia.
They are poorly paid, non-educated and rigid-numb-nutted bureaucrats. The federal government of Ethiopia controls the Liyu police in theory and practice. They use killings as an object lesson to over awe the rest of the Ogaden into submission and their misbegotten strategy is always a mistaken conception that hurts. Members of the LIYU police conduct themselves in obnoxious manner, they are menace to law and order who hold theories which are antagonistic to the orderly process of modern civilization.
They are arrayed in opposition to ONLF,to decency and to violence in the Ogaden. I was always in a dilemma, for the urge to be a man was frustrated by limitations imposed on me by Liyu police.
That was not the only time i found myself in detention broken, battered ,bound, beaten, betrayed and busted. My parents tried to help me but they couldn’t do anything and one of the most terrifying things in the world you can never hope to see is your parents wide-eyed, helpless and truly scared out of their wits. I suffered all the times i was locked ,I was not brought into trial and I was locked in rooms that had no amenities of decent life it did not had water supply, no sink no pantry no nothing it was unthinkable primitive life. I was interrogated many times by Liyu police when they kidnapped me they didn’t tell me where they were taking me or what they wanted from me. I had studied them closely; I looked at their eyes, their weapons and the uniform they wore and at first I couldn’t reach a conclusion on who they were, my instincts pulled me into different angles every time I thought about them. Three of them were youngish may be somewhere between 30-35,they were fit and may be in some stage in their lives they had a vigorous training.
Some kind of training that may be taught them how to act together with a degree of efficiency, some kind of drill. To me they looked like military. Again another angle of my mind says that “they don’t look like military “.Yes, they were organised and I remember them mentioning a chain of command. But something in them didn’t look official they were arguing among themselves . Their appearance too betrayed them. They looked liked some cheap mercenaries.
They were rude, tense and noisy. Later through interrogations I came to know that they were Liyu police. They asked me rhetorical questions, teased, mocked and beat me every time I answered their questions in the negative. They questioned me about the activities I organised in the school and in the village. I told them of how we were just academic minded students with no power to influence any one.
In the Ogaden if you refuse to swore allegiance to the Liyu police, you are branded a “A DAWAQODI” J which means a “spy”. The Ogaden is different from the world where you complain to one and blame the other, here every personnel or person in authority treat the Ogadenians the same. its like out of the frying pan into the fire. Get into trouble and you have your own self to blame. My dad once went to speak with the Mayor of the town and the top brass of the ONLF. He was told that if he cant tame me, I will be tamed by force. Can someone please tell me the meaning of Taming?.
I spent a couple of days in detention before my parents paid extortion Money. I was released on a condition that I would cease the activities I was organising. There was nothing for me to “cease” because there was nothing fishy I was doing that could raise the ire, Finally I came home bruised, beaten and bleeding with scars all over my body that I still bore. I was detained again by Liyu police and on all occasions their behaviours was a replica of my previous encounter. Their questions was the same though they were different individuals it was as If they were reading from the same script. I had a phone with me and they asked me to account for every number in my contact list.it earned me rough kicks.
They accused me of trying to play “Clever”.I eavesdropped while one them was saying “let’s put this cough before it comes a whooping cough”. Every morning I would wake up to rough footsteps as it crashed on dead leaves and small rocks outside and to the rattle of the padlock to my cell and every time the door opens I would be able to see a bar of bright sunlight as it feels across the room. After that my life seemed completely without pattern or propose I lost everything I couldn’t dream no more, my whole life became uncertain like I was walking on a a toilet paper nothing was making any sense.
I don’t believe in any armed persons whether its individuals or organisations in Ethiopia. Liyu police are murderous, whose minds and heart had been as dark as the blood that soaks everything around them. They are dangerous just like the other uncouth and hard-core security personnel in the country. They had tormented, tortured and killed innocent Somali people in the Ogaden and they call it “maintaining law and order”, And unless the historical injustices are addressed ,the effect will go on and on like it has ever been, like a stream of oil bleeding to the ocean.
I got so involved with the things that happened to me. I always think about my family that I don’t notice anything else going on its like you know you’re acting on stage, some place and pulling out all stops, dreaming of giving a performance that will go down in history and suddenly you look up and see there is nobody out there. …All seats are empty and the whole place is dark. You have no audience. …finis. ..The things I have been through in the Ogaden had impacts on me that sometimes it puts me into a stop.Until I was tortured, detained and lost family members I had never faced real adversity in my personal life and I had never acquired the skills necessary to cope and even now as I had acquired them unwillingly, I had wielded them clumsily and uncertainly. My family are out of balance now and to be without them suddenly made me to become an amputee.
The Ogaden region is a dark place and if my instincts are not wrong it’s on fire. This darkness is not merely lack of light it’s real viscous darkness thick and heavy; darkness that is not caused by loss of light but by forceful removal of light, light violently avoided and replaced by oppression, extrajudicial killings, rape, torture etc. You can almost reach out and touch it as it were a wall, it feels so real. The density of the crazy smoke assaults everyone.to live in darkness will make us crazy eventually, Ogaden needs lights let’s come together and find light for Ogadenia.
Ali is a refugee from the Ogaden. follow the next edition from my diary in Qoraxey online.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Qoraxey`s editorial policies.
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