​Somali Region’s Liyu Police: Challenging the Media Bias 

(Hafsa Mohammed)

Did you know that every region in Ethiopia has its own police force? Probably not, unfortunately.

According to the constitution, it is every region’s responsibility “to establish and administer a state police force, and to maintain public order and peace within the State” (Article 52, Subsection 2). These regional police forces are screened, registered and recruited at grassroots levels (in each state) and trained accordingly.

Given that each region has special force of its own, the pressing questions here is, “why do media platforms, agencies and outlets demonize the Somali Region’s state police force (widely known as Liyu Police)?”

The Ethiopian Somali Regional State Special Police, known as Liyu Police, was established for the primary purpose of enhancing security in the region.

When understanding or conceptualizing the term “security”, one often may think of the basic “ending or preventing violence”. But that was not and is not the only objective of Liyu Police.

The aims and, perhaps, imperative(s) of Liyu Police is to heighten security in all aspects, sectors and areas. Promoting economic security, gender/family security, border security and common security.

Of course, all regional forces in Ethiopia represent similar motives – some more than others, depending on the context. For example, the Somali Regional Forces arguably serve a more significant purpose in Ethiopia. Why? Or How?

Well, for one, the Somali Region shares a border with four nations (Djibouti, Somaliland, Somalia and Kenya). These borders, some stable and some not, are protected predominantly and principally by Liyu Police, alongside federal forces.

Somalia, for instance, is one of the longest borders Ethiopia shares with another country – and Al-Shabab poses a threat but due to the vigilance and protection led by Liyu Police, no Al-Shabab infiltration has ever taken place.

Secondly, the Somali Region (and country) was once adversely affected by violent insurgents (e.g Ogaden National Liberation Front – ONLF) who frequently maimed, killed and robbed villagers. Today, these insurgents no longer exist due to the efforts of the Liyu Police under the regional President Abdi M. Omar’s leadership.

The Somali Region’s Liyu Police continuously plays a pivotal role in resisting domestic and international threats which has immensely improved the quality life in the Somali Region in such a short period of time – and has also extraordinarily activated the return of thousands of skilled and knowledgeable Ethiopian-Somali Diaspora.

The return of these Diaspora members was clearly made possible by the Liyu Police’s determination for peace and security and has since resulted in widespread development in the region and country, in terms of infrastructure, tourism, businesses, creating and expanding on markets.

All things considered, the Liyu Police serve, mainly, as civil servants who practically take on all jobs – from educators, emergency responders, constructors to artists.

Moreover, the current conflict between Somalis and Oromos has tragically claimed the lives and resources of so many, but there is an evident and dangerous narrative continuously erasing the death and horrific experiences of Ethiopian-Somalis.

Almost every article, video or report which has been published regarding this calamitous ethnic violence either over-victimizes Oromos and/or over-criminalizes the Somali Regional community, internally displaced and government.

One factual example: the current influx of Somali internally displaced persons (IDPs) are directly Somali-Oromo conflict-induced in comparison to the Oromo IDPs which are evacuation (out of the Somali Region)-induced or outcome(s) of non-violent causes.

This example is vital proof countering the false narratives that exists in the media, currently. Whether it is international news outlets or national media platforms, whether it is your average indifferent Ethiopian individual or your partially-concerned Minister of Communications, Mr.  Negeri Lencho, everyone seems to either baselessly blame and discredit the Somali Region and its special forces for the entire conflict or overlook and minimize the massacres of innocent Somalis living hundreds of kilometres into the Oromo Region – to the point where outsiders, observers and readers internalize that, perhaps, the Somali Region is somehow breaking the law and is the main perpetrator in this turmoil. How unfair.

Balanced investigations, ethical and appropriate capturing and sharing of accounts are concepts that involved agencies and persons should strongly upkeep to successfully contribute to establishing sustainable peace between the two neighbouring ethnic groups.

We must carefully note when the world discusses Ethiopia’s troubles, the ‘Anti-Ethiopian Government Oromo Voice’ dominates each space, disregarding the country’s numerous other ethnic groups’ initiatives and perspectives.

To answer our initial inquiry, the lack of media platforms and influential spaces available to the Somali Region has resulted in constant demonization and bias of its Liyu Police.

This Somali-Oromo conflict disproportionately and damagingly affects the Somali Region in terms of death toll, violence, displacement, population size, impact over media and influence on federal institutions.

Overall, it is critical and paramount, especially in times of conflict and uncertainty, to genuinely ask yourself: Who writes and produces these stories? Who benefits from the stories? Who is missing from these stories/reports?

In recent days, President Abdi M. Omar has taken the initiative to promote peace, unity and express reconciliation by inviting a large number of the evacuated and displaced Oromos and confidently noting their concerns, assuring them that their safety/security is priority to the Ethiopian Somali Regional State (ESRS) Government.

As a result of this massive public conference, the diverse people of Jijiga City were moved and inspired to create a messaging campaign (#CallforPeace) concurring with and endorsing President Abdi M. Omar’s peaceful approach in addressing the current situation.

No matter your standpoint or apathy in this Somali-Oromo issue, we must remember, peace is almost always the common goal.
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Hafsa Mohamed

Hafsa Mohamed is Executive Director of Maandeeq Women's Organisation (MWO). She is Ethiopian-American diaspora, currently working in the civil society and development sector in Ethiopia and occasionally blogs at HornAffairs.

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