Is it possible to be Somali by ethnic and Ethiopian by citizenship?

(Jjirde Hassan)

The impacts of colonization era and post colonization are facts that no one can deny. Westerns colonized the people of Africa, Asia and America and they left behind their culture, their way of life, in some cases their religion and they gone far than that by planting some of their native peoples in Africa and America. Colonization problems wasn’t stopped at those things but it divided the same communities into different countries putting boundaries between communities and even families and no region or country was safe from that segmentations.

After the independences and self-realization time of the 1950s and 1960s, the newly emerging countries in Africa have waked up on uncountable challenges and new realities, which they were forced to adapt with. The only option for the leaders of those countries was to accept the colonial borders as it is, in order to avoid disruptive conflicts amongst themselves. Of course it was very wise decision at that time, however, on the other side it created many rebel groups who fought (and still fighting) for the independence of certain communities, costing the lives of thousands. The South Sudanese case can be taken as an example.

Although we “Ethiopians” feel self-proud for not being colonized country, but the reality is different from that, where some parts of our great country was colonized. I am not talking here about the five years of Italian invasion and patriotic struggles against them. I am talking about 26 % of the country`s land that was under Britain and Italy occupation until 1948 before becoming part this country. It is the current Somali region of Ethiopia that used to be called Reserve Area or Ogaden region by colonialists.

Geographically, Ethiopia covers around 1,100,000 square kilometers, of which 279,252 square kilometers belong to Somali regional state of Ethiopia. The Somali region is only 5,285 square kilometers smaller than Oromia. These two regions cover more than 55% of Ethiopian land. The population of Somali regional state is around 6 million, according to the last projection by the Central Statics Agency.

Map - Ethiopian Somali region
Map – Ethiopian Somali region

The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia has one of the best constitutions in the world, which was prepared under EPRDF leadership after long struggles for the rights of all Ethiopian nations and nationalities. The Constitution was prepared by representatives of all ethnic group in this country, agreeing together to introduce an ethnic based federal system. Nine regional states and two city administrations were established and parliamentary system was implemented with two houses of parliament (House of Federation and House of Representatives).

In the House of Federation, all ethnic groups have their own representative and have the right to exercise veto power when it comes the distribution of resources amongst the country`s ethnic groups and regional states. Resource distribution and handling of territorial conflicts and boundaries are among the mandates of this house. Although the constitution established nine regional states, the federal government is directly manages huge resources outside regions proportions and job opportunities at federal level are commonly open for the whole country`s citizens.

However, this opportunity did not equally benefit the different ethnic groups. For example, federal employees are around 75000 working at different Ministers, Authorities and Agencies. No one would say Civil Service jobs should be distributed on ethnic basis. However, in any inclusive federalism system, unless there are constrains, everyone can assume all citizens who fulfill the requirements will be part of the civil service. Contrary to that, there are hardly any Somali employees among the federal civil servants. Among more than 100 appointment positions at Federal Government, Somali ethnic holds only four seats.

I am not focusing here on the appointment positions because political nominees could be appointed for any reason outside the ethnic proportion and they may go in the same way they came. What matters here is, the civil servants whom likely to stay longer on service. Some may argue that the Somali ethnic in Ethiopia do not speak the federal working language “Amharic.” My answer; is it logical not to find even 10 persons who can speak Amharic from the 6million population of Somali region? I don’t think so.

Our brothers in Oromia region are talking about using Afaan Oromo language at federal institutions, whereas the Somalis are voiceless and no one is talking on behalf of them. Few weeks ago, our brothers in OPDO has taken a very advanced step by pushing their in colleagues in EPRDF to approve the Oromo rights in “Addis Ababa” or “Finfine.” We are very much happy with that, since we are not jealous of any one to get his/her constitutional right as we wish.

Another example, Addis Ababa is the capital city of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Head Quarter of African Union, ECA, capital city of Oromia region, and Addis Ababa city Administration. The population of the city is around 3.5 million. So It is obvious for everyone that those 3.5 million do not belong to one ethnic group. They belongs to Oromo, Amhara, Tigray, Hadiya, Gurage, Somali and many others from Ethiopian nations.

When it comes to the Addis Ababa representatives at federal and local legislatures, certain ethnic groups were excluded like Somalis, Afar and others from emerging regions. Some may argue that the parliament is allocated for the city’s inhabitants. My answers is; who are the Bole Michael inhabitants? Who are the owners of those businesses and Hotels? It is Somalis. Again they may claim that those owners are refugees from Somalia. My answer is; let us check their IDs, I am 100% sure that those hotels and business owners are from Somali region in Ethiopia and they have been living in Addis Ababa for the last twenty years.

So why do not they deserve to have their own representatives at federal local parliaments like any other communities or ethnic groups in Addis Ababa?

All those things and many others remind me what Walleligne Mekonnen wrote in 1969 suggesting recognition of Ethiopia’s multi-national nature, instead of maintaining the Amhra/Tigray  dominance. In his article, he listed a number of ethnic groups: “in Ethiopia there is the Oromo Nation, the Tigray Nation, the Amhara Nation, the Gurage Nation, the Sidama Nation, the Wallamo (Walayta) Nation, the Adere (Harari) Nation, and how much you may not like it the Somali Nation”.

We can infer from these words that some, including the writer himself, do not see Somali as a part of Ethiopia. He mentioned as if there is no doubt about the belongings of the other nations to this country except Somalis, because some (most) of Ethiopian Nations and the Ethiopian Governments (Haile Selassie and Derg regime) were treating Somalis as foreigners.

In fact, Somalis themselves were part of this problem because they where hopping to join with other Somalis of the Horn of Africa to form what they called “Great Somalia” and they saw Ethiopian governments as occupying force. Therefore, both sides were not on the right track. After the collapse of Ethiopia’s Derg regime and Somalia’s President Ziyad Barre regime, the people of Somali region turned their face toward Addis Ababa willing to be a part this new Ethiopia under the rule of EPRDF.

The recognition of Somali ethnic group as part of this great country was well appreciated. We started ruling by our self by forming our own administration and started using our own language for the local administration. But there is much other remaining issue yet to be fixed by the federal government as I mentioned earlier.

In conclusion, today is the time to demand our rights in a democratic and peaceful manner and according to the Constitution, the same way the other ethnic groups are doing. During this process, we have to prioritize our demands and, personally, I believe four issues much important than thing else:

1/ Somali ethnic groups in Ethiopia are in the third place in terms of population, following Oromo and Amhara peoples, and they deserve to be part of decision making bodies in this country by joining the ruling party (EPRDF).

2/ We have to demand to get our proportional share all levels of the federal government appointments and employments.

3/ We have to demand for an increase in the number Ministers, deputy ministers and head of Agencies from four to eight, as we represent 8% of the country’s population.

4/ We have to demand to be part of the country’s defense force (military). I was surprised when I heard that some ethnic groups are demanding to increase the number their Generals in the military, whereas Somalis do not have even one colonel in the military!


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