More From Alder's Ledge

January 29, 2014

Occupied And Exploited

The Silent Genocide Of Ogaden
(Voiceless series)

Endless Suffering 

Time has shown that an occupying force has few options outside of military force and the endless committing of war crimes while attempting to subjugate native populations. No matter how beneficial the relationship may seem at first, the desire for self determination and self governance will rise to the surface when oppressive foreign rule is applied. Once these aspirations manifest the occupying force will rapidly find themselves unable to cling to power without compromising their ethics (if ever there could be while occupying another peoples' land). Mass arrests often slide into mass executions. What happens behind jail walls then often makes it's way out into the streets. And with one death comes an ocean of blood. One drop must be paid for with another.

When the Italians took possession of the Ogaden region of Ethiopia their military conquest was meant to, rather perversely, rebuild a Roma Empire of sorts. Just as with the first Romans in Africa, the Italians took what they wanted and killed those who dared to try and hold onto their resources. The native peoples of Ogaden were not regarded as equals to the invading Italians but rather treated as slaves in their own homeland. Anything that could be used to benefit Italy was taken at will.

This exploitation by Italy came to an end as Mussolini's fascist rule fell to the allied forces of World War Two. Yet the colonialist minds of Europe did not dare to leave Africa's resources to her own people. Instead the British stepped in and took control of Ogaden's resources and people. Just as with the Italians, the Brits plundered what they wanted and killed those they didn't. Resistance was met with the same oppressive methods used against any other native peoples that England had encountered all around the world.

European conquest of the world has been defined by the exploitation of native peoples and their natural resources. In Africa the idea that the Europeans were somehow bringing the native peoples out of the stone age and into the modern age was encouraged just as it had been in the Americas. The white European occupier was painted in Europe as bringing civilization to undeveloped people who just happened to be black. This allowed a disturbing, and racially based, rationale for the crimes against humanity committed by European colonial powers.

In Ogaden this conquest was further complicated by the lack of foresight shown by European colonial powers as they carved up the map of Africa. When Britain decided to consolidate power in the region they made plans to annex Ogaden into Ethiopia (a well controlled region of British influence). In 1954 the Brits forcibly annexed Ogaden into Ethiopia, thus keeping it out of reach of Somalia to the East. This permitted Britain the opportunity to dissolve a portion of it's empire and lessen the cost of controlling the region through military force.

Today Ogaden's largely ethnic Somali population (around 8 million) cling to existence rather than living. They have survived European conquest, a Soviet backed invasion, countless armed and unarmed uprisings, endless war, and Ethiopia's oppressive occupation. Their villages have been destroyed routinely. Their men and boys have been subjected to mass arrests and executions. Their women and children are vulnerable to rape, torture, and violent deaths of all sorts. Today Ogaden's native population faces what many might call ethnic cleansing... what Alder's Ledge would call genocide.

Why Genocide?

Genocide is defined as:

Article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948) as "any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."

Every time the word genocide makes it's first appearance in a conversation there is a rapid reaction amongst many to cringe. Images of death camps in Poland or streets filled with dead bodies in Rwanda come to mind. So it is needless to say that the word itself as certain emotional responses. Yet it is the legal liability the word carries that makes governments across the world uneasy when using the word. For if and when it is applied to a humanitarian crisis there are supposed to be very clear and decisive actions taken to stop it. This is, after all, the UN's legal response to what was an emotional response to the Holocaust... our promise of "never again".

In a perfect world application of the word genocide to such events would trigger an immediate response. In a perfect world there wouldn't be a need for such a vile word in the first place. Yet it is precisely the lack of response to every genocide (both recognized and unrecognized) since the Holocaust that has led to a lack of concern by those who perpetrate it. Impunity for their actions has led to a certain level of comfort for those who would exercise such heinous crimes.

For the regime in Ethiopia the practice of committing endless crimes against the people of Ogaden has been reinforced by the responses given by the outside world. When Ethiopia uses the excuse of "fighting the war on terror" they are given a pass for destroying entire villages. When the government in Ethiopia refuses to allow journalists access by labeling them terrorists the outside world looks the other way. These two responses alone create a vacuum in which Ethiopia's military is allowed to operate without criticism or accountability.

With impunity for their actions the government of Ethiopia has allowed it's military (of which nearly half occupies Ogaden) to utilize Ogaden's people as slave labor, kill civilians at will, commit forced evictions, demolish homes and villages, rape and torture, and otherwise keep Ogaden under Ethiopian control. Each of these actions can easily be classified as "crimes against humanity" by even the most casual of observers. These crimes can then be further scrutinized, and with intent proven, only to be labeled for what they are: acts of genocide.

The forced removal of villagers from their homes falls under the legal perimeters of genocide itself. The intent is obvious once looked at and can only be justified through the targeting of the villagers due to their ethnicity and perceived nationality. Since Ethiopia's military does not treat the Ogaden people in the same way as they do other Ethiopians, nationality is part of this discriminatory and exploitative practice. Their Somali ethnicity is on the other hand the major reason as to why Ethiopia's leadership shows no remorse or intent upon reconciling their actions with the people of Ogaden.

The mass arrests, the use of torture, rape, and especially the executions of ethnic Somali civilians all also contribute to the classification of the greater crime here as genocide. Each of these crimes either directly or indirectly lend themselves to the completion of ethnic cleansing (a form of genocide) within the Ogaden region of Ethiopia. Through mass arrest, torture, and outright killings of ethnic Somalis the government weakens the targeted community and creates areas in Ogaden where life is made impossible.

Within areas of occupation by Ethiopian military forces the conditions to which the people of the Ogaden are subjected can only be described as; "inflicting on the group living conditions of life calculated to bring about the physical destruction in part or in whole..." This is made evident through Ethiopia's policy of confiscating livestock and other necessities that the native population must have to survive in Ogaden's desert climate. Access to natural resources vital to survival, such as water and grazing lands, is also deliberately hindered by Ethiopia's military presence in Ogaden. Conditions are only made more dire by Ethiopia's denial of adequate access to healthcare and humanitarian aid across the region.

When the sum of Ethiopia's crimes against the people of Ogaden are all put together there is reason to believe that Ethiopia's regime intends to either push the Ogaden Somalis out or drastically decrease their population. But why?

As with most genocides throughout history, those perpetrating this one utilize ethnic hatred to gain access to profit. In this case it is the exploitation of Ogaden's oil reserves. The fact that the Ogaden Somali community happens to set atop that oil does not seem to deter the leaders of Ethiopia. By killing the ethnic Somali community they gain both profit and rid themselves of an ethnic group they perceive to be undesirable.

The Cost Of Ogaden's Oil

The native population of any colonized area always pay the price for the gains made by the colonial power. Their quality of life, their national or social aspirations, their very existence; all of these are placed into question as the exploitation of their community and property is carried out. The lives they could have had are all stolen from them by the greed and lust of the occupier. Those dreams that all mankind has are all placed out of reach by the exploitation they suffer. 

Oil could had been a blessing to the desperately impoverished region. It could had been used to lift the Ogaden Somali community out of life of just surviving from day to day. But alas it has been made a curse for those who rightfully have claim to it. 

With international oil companies pouring into the region the quality of life has been made worse for Ogaden's Somali community. Ethiopia defends the so called "right" of these oil giants to take what they want as long as Ethiopia's government profits from it. To maintain this source of income the government has utilized genocide and other crimes against humanity to assure their flow of cash survives. 

For the Somali community in Ogaden this means that life itself is not guaranteed from one day to the next. This has led to thousands of Ogaden's Somali community seeking refuge in Kenya, South Africa, and Yemen. Fleeing their homeland has become a better option for some than to stay and die at the hands of Ethiopian soldiers. 

This is the cost of oil in Ethiopia's Ogaden region. Each drop of petrol from the area is matched by the pools of blood spilled getting them. And yet, while Ogaden's Somali community pays in blood, the outside world has yet to ask if this price is worth "cheap gasoline". 

Source Documents
(not all listed)

MLA of South Africa


Somaliland Sun

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