Africa politics: Quick View - Tensions in the Oromia-Somali region of Ethiopia intensify

Content Type
Country Data and Maps
Institution
Economist Intelligence Unit
Abstract
No abstract is available.
Topic
Politics, News Analysis, Forecast, Political stability
Political Geography
Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia

Event

After clashes between the Somali and Oromo ethnic groups led to over 60 deaths, the Ethiopian prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, has established a task force to probe the cause of the conflict.

Analysis

Ethnic tensions in Ethiopia are intensifying and the government is struggling to respond. According to the authorities, the latest clashes in mid-December were triggered by an ambush attack by Somalis on ethnic Oromos as they returned from collecting food aid, which in turn triggered retaliatory attacks. Tensions in the region have also been heightened by violent clashes earlier in December between soldiers and protesters staging demonstrations over aggressive raids allegedly carried out by police from outside of the region.

Tensions in the south-eastern regions of Ethiopia are nothing new. Indeed, the regional states of Oromia and Somali have been disputing their common boundary for several decades, and disputes among pastoralists over resources are common. Tensions have escalated over the past year, though. The confrontations in mid-December follow another spate of clashes in September, as well as reports that the Liyu Police (a paramilitary force from the Somali region) have killed hundreds in the Oromia region during 2017. The Somali regional government denies this and retorts that the Oromia government backs an illegal group, the Oromo Liberation Front. The involvement of organised militias is unconfirmed but, as relations between rival politicians have deteriorated, clashes between citizens of the region have escalated.

The government is attempting to convince the international community that it is managing the situation by establishing an investigatory task force and stepping up policing efforts, but the Tigray-dominated government has no legitimacy to intervene in a Oromia-Somali dispute. Rebel militias do not have the capabilities to launch or sustain a civil war, so the risk of a full-scale ethnic conflict is relatively low. But owing to the absence of robust dispute-resolution mechanisms in Ethiopia's federalised system of ethnic governance, as well as the general mistrust towards federal institutions, clashes between ethnic groups are likely to continue. Moreover, since ethnic ties transcend national borders, there is a risk that the Oromo-Somali tensions will fuel unrest in Somaliland (a breakaway state of Somalia) or Moyale (a Kenyan border town, which hosts people fleeing the recent violence and which also has a history of Oromo-Somali conflict).

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