Is Ethiopian Military Biased Against Somalis?

On the first of this May, the Ethiopian army entered Danlahelay village which is located along the border of Somali Regional State with Afar Region. The area is a conflict hotspot between neighboring Somalis and Afaris. Both communities in the area are vigilante so they carry arms. The Ethiopian military disarmed the Somali villagers and detained a dozen of them. Emboldened by the army steps, Afari armed militia crossed the border and massacred a dozen Somalis.

The military knew the area was a conflict zone. So, commonsense tells us they should have chosen one of two options: they should have disarmed both sides to prevent any conflict. Or they should have left both alone with their arms but stay between them to prevent any clashes.

Nonetheless, the army chose none of the above scenarios but disarmed the Somalis while leaving their rivals armed and emboldened. In addition they detained a dozen residents and transferred them to the Afari administration.

This incident is one of many of its kind. In last August when the Federal government intervened in the Somali Region to oust the former dictator Abdi Iley, the supporters of the regime mostly Heego mafia wreaked havoc in the region especially in Jigjiga, the capital. As a result, the Ethiopian army was deployed in the region to prevent chaos resulting from the power vacuum which was a right decision.

Though the army prevented the worst scenario, they committed many acts of bias and harassment against Somalis. From the outset some of the soldiers sided with non-Somalis. When any misunderstanding arose between a Somali and a non-Somali, the Somali was automatically to blame. As a result, many Somalis especially youth have been beaten and humiliated.

Even the local police forces weren’t spared from the harassment and maltreatments. In several instances army soldiers have beaten and even shot local police officers.

This behavior of the national army left many Somalis questioning the impartiality of the military institution. Is it not an army for all Ethiopians? Or is it here for the interest of only some of the citizens?

Another instance when Ethiopian army failed the Somali citizens was at the end of 2017. This was when Oromo protesters were on their toughest resistance against the oppression of TPLF dominated EPRDF. When the TPLF cabal was overwhelmed by the vigor and determination of the protestors, they ordered their puppet Abdi Iley to unleash his TPLF-created Liyu police on Oromos. Since Iley was a TPLF tool, he complied.

Unfortunately, the TPLF mafia succeeded in sowing hostility between the two brotherly nations. In December, 2017, angry Oromo mobs besieged Somalis living in Oromia region especially the area in West Hararghe Zone called Balbalayti. The Ethiopian army was briefly deployed in the area to prevent clashes. However, all of a sudden the army vacated their positions in one night leaving the vulnerable Somalis for their fate. The angry mobs attacked and massacred dozens of Somalis that day.

The Ethiopian military knew the Somalis were vulnerable and in Oromia region. They knew if they left the area the worst would happen. But they simply ignored the reality and left.

Fortunately, the discord and hostility sowed by the TPLF junta between the two brotherly nations is currently being resolved by the elders and administrations of the two sides. Hopefully, the relations between the two sides will be in its best in the near future and beyond. The same applies to the Somalis and Afaris. The tension clouds will soon dissipate and the brothers will be on the same page soon.

I believe the Ethiopian army is not institutionally biased against the Somalis or any other nation. But I do believe that some junior commanders and rogue soldiers carried out the aforementioned acts unbeknownst to the top command. The top command should take notice of this.

The army is a national institution and force of stability in the country. Presumably, they are neutral and impartial since they stand for the defense of the whole nation. The top command of the national army should be aware of misbehaving elements in the army who deviate from the impartiality principle.

Ethiopia enjoys diversity of a rare kind. Keeping the country united within this diversity requires, among other things, that national institutions stand the same distance from all nations and ethnicities. Any kind of bias against one side will surely weaken their feeling of belongingness to this country.

By Mohamed Maqadin