ONLF: Hope against Hope!

The Ogaden National Liberation Front superseded the former Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF) which lost her existence in 1977-78, after the reprehensible war between Ethiopia and Somalia. ONLF has been advocating since long-time self-determination for Somalis in the Somali Region of Ethiopia which is political right and guaranteed by the Ethiopian constitution, especially Article 39.

The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) is the second oldest opposition in Ethiopia after Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), and was established in 1984. ONLF used to fight against the Dergi system under the leadership of the Amhara ethnic. The Ogaden region was suffering long-time under patrimonial leadership of the Amhara’s chauvinism. In 1994, when ONLF wins the local election with landslide victory in the Somali region, the Tigray regime under the former prime minister Atto Meles Zenawi nullified the ONLF’s victory. Since then, ONLF embarked fighting and confrontations against the Tigray government, and also rejected, refuted, refused and repudiated the Ethiopian constitution which was adopted in 1995. Almost, the whole period of Tigray rule under EPRDF party, both parties (EPRDF and ONLF) were reluctant and dithering to reach out an agreement and ceasefire. Because, the Tigray government was shambling and crawling to recognize ONLF as a Nationalist Movement. In addition to that, the Somali region administration under the former president Abdi Mohamud Omar, aka Abdi Iley was hunting and demonizing the members of the ONLF. Because, the Tigray government was using Abdi Iley as a puppet in order to deplete and dilute the existence of the ONLF in the Somali region. Though, several times Abdi Iley invited ONLF to the negotiation table, but all the efforts ended-up with in vain.

On the other hand, when the Tigray rule was obliterated and get rid of the power after the demonstration in 2015 which led ultimately the resignation of the former Prime Minister Atto Hailemariam desalegn, and supplanted by the incumbent Abiy, the negotiation with the oppositions resurrected. Ethiopia’s parliament on Thursday 5 July, 2018 removed three opposition groups from the country’s list of “terrorist” organizations in a bid to mend fences with the political opposition namely Ginbot 7, Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF). And this temerity taken by Abiy’s government paved the way to hammer out.

On August 12, 2018 ONLF declared a unilateral ceasefire and some of its members have returned to Ethiopia. Since ONLF evoked unilateral peace with Ethiopia, enormous people were foretelling that, this was breakthrough. While, plenty of others were showcasing that, ONLF capitulated its long struggle and problem of yore with Ethiopia, and now they are encountering the forfeit. However, this is the first formal peace talk between ONLF and the Ethiopian government. This unprecedented unilateral ceasefire taken by the ONLF, and other indirect talks were paved the way to direct talks between Ethiopia and ONLF which was taken place in 18 September, 2018 in Asmara which both “parties have reached a common understanding on the issues discussed and way forward. They agreed to work together peacefully to protect the interests of the people of the Somali Region and collaborate on national issues including the future of Horn of Africa integration.”

The second meeting was 21 October, 2018 where Ethiopian government delegation led by Foreign Minister Workneh Gebeyehu have signed a peace deal with the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) delegation led by Admiral Mohamed Omar Osman, the former chairman of the ONLF in the Eritrean capital, Asmara. According to a statement from ONLF, “the two sides have reached a historical agreement regarding the political rights of the people from Somali Regional State and genuinely addressing the underlining causes of the conflict and incongruity between ONLF and the Ethiopian government.”

The peace deal, the discussion of which was also attended by Ahmed Shide, Finance Minister and Chairman of the Somali People’s Democratic Party (SPDP), Mustafa Muhumed Omer, deputy/acting  president of the Somali regional state, Redwan Hussein, Ethiopia’s ambassador to Eritrea, as well as senior officials from ONLF, including secretary general Abdirahman Mahdi and foreign secretary Ahmed Yassin, also saw the establishment of “a joint committee to further discuss substantive issues pertaining to the root causes of the conflict in the Somali region through continuous engagement inside the country.

According to a one page statement released following the discussions. In addition to establishing a joint committee, both parties have agreed to “end vendetta toward each other” and for ONLF to “pursue its political objectives through peaceful means, with the assurance that the FDRE will respect and uphold the provisions of its constitution,” the statement added.

Ultimately, On October 21 2018, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and the Government of Ethiopia signed a historic peace deal. The one-million-dollar question is, what has been achieved about the agreement?

ONLF: Shifts from freedom fighters to political party

 Closely, it is one year and half when ONLF departed from armed opposition to official political party in April 2019. Since their registration, ONLF embarked to lobby and advocate their political will in the Somali region, and they received lukewarm welcoming, muck kudos and enormous accolade from the Somali region. Though, the pseudo administration in the Somali region showcased hostile-reception towards ONLF’s members.

ONLF joins a new coalition

In January this year, Ogaden National Liberation Front joins a new and unprecedented coalition, the so-called the Alliance Multination Democratic Federalism (AMDF). Arguably, this new coalition is the broadest ethnic based organization. This pioneering coalition advocates and lobbies Freedom, Federalism, Parity, Democracy, and Unity in diversity.

The chairman of this new alliance was elected by Daud Ibsa, who is the chairman of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), while Dr. Maadey, who is the chairman of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) was elected as the deputy-chairman of the AMDF. Despite their zealous towards promoting and maintaining the federal system in the country which conglomerates tremendous ethnicities, there are plethora of challenges and grueling factors. For instance, Amhara, as a chauvinist, which is the second largest community in Ethiopia is always advocating central government under their patron and tutelage. Abiy, the prime minister himself is paralyzing and eviscerating the federal system in the country. So, if we juxtapose, another new coalition, the so-called Coalition for Democratic Federalism. This new coalition party was announced in January this year, and conglomerates three parties, namely Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), and Oromo National Party (ONP). Regrettably, some of the prominent figures in this new coalition including Jawar Mohamed, and Bekele were arrested. The government accused them that, they were urging violence and chaos in the country. But, many people believe that, they were just exercising their political freedom, and some of them like Jawar was going to contest the forthcoming election with the incumbent. So, Abiy arrested for antidote. Some political pundits foretell that, if ONLF and other AMDF members try to express their ideas, or become dissents, they will encounter the same treatment which Jawar and his team is suffering now. And this conspicuous threat can jeopardize and undermine the activities of the AMDF, and ultimately could lead them to become lame-duck coalition.

ONLF and MILF: Similarities and Differences

If we juxtapose these two organizations, they have some commonalities. For instance, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s aim was, having independent Islamic state from the republic of Philippines. This organization used to fight in the Southern Philippines, and was active since 1978. MILF had plenty of fighting against the Government of Philippines, and died more than 120,000 people. Finally, the president of republic of Philippines Rodrigo Duterte signed a new law in July, 2018 which gives Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. And this milestone and breakthrough ended-up the long-struggle of the MILF.

Ogaden National Liberation Front was active since 1984, and carried enormous attacks against the Ethiopian government. ONLF’s ultimate aim was self-determination for Somalis in the Somali Region of Ethiopia. And this right of self-determination is enshrined in the Ethiopian constitution, especially article 39. The hallmark is, MILF used to get a support from the Malaysian, and Libyan governments, while ONLF didn’t get any tangible hand from any government. The other difference is, ONLF didn’t attain its goal yet.


The other side of the coin, Abiy’s complacent and covering his blindside, political rookie, gimmick paved the way to demean and crunched ONLF’s activities in the Somali region.

Additionally, the Somali region’s administration under the handpicked interim leader Mustafa, aka Cagjar ratcheted up pressure against the ONLF’s movement in the region. And now you can see how Ethiopia is applying on ONLF (The cattle class treatment), and this propelled ONLF’s aspirants towards leading the Somali region peacefully. Ethiopia is doing all these deplorable and horrific things deliberately in order to discomfit and discombobulate ONLF’s political inveterate over their Somali region in Ethiopia.  And the ultimate goal of Ethiopia under Dr. Abiy leadership is, becoming ONLF cancel culture within Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa region. Because, it’s not no-brain to survive and take an office Ethiopia’s dog eat dog policy at this time. While, some political commentators’ ad hominem is, ONLF should catch up this ragtag policy, demonstrate resilience and engage this political headwind so as to survive its people while flat-footed.

Anwar Abdifatah Bashir (Freelance Journalist/Independent Researcher and Horn of Africa Geopolitics Analyst). The writer is the Author of Four Books, including “Horn of Africa Geopolitics, with especial consideration, the Somali region in Ethiopia”.

The Author, recently acquired his Fourth Post-Graduate Degree in KOREA majored in (Global Governance and Political Economy) at Korean Development Institute (KDI)


- Advertisement -