Article 39 of the Ethiopian Constitution says that “every nation, nationality or people in Ethiopia shall have the unrestricted right to self determination up to secession”. Yet, Meles Zenawi, who controlled Ethiopia from the deposition of Menghistu (1991) to his sudden death in 2012, facilitated the secession of Eritrea in 1993, but was not so kind to the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). The OLF had been violently opposed by Menghistu who could not accept the secession of Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group. The Oromo, for their part, complain for the lack of development, the expropriation of their land and political marginalization within Ethiopia. Zenawi continued with Menghistu’s policy to oppose the OLF with mass arrests and intimidations of its supporters. At the end of 2011, the OLF declared a ceasefire, abandoned violent actions and claimed of wanting to compete in the political arena through democratic methods. Hailemariam Desalegn, who succeeded Zenawi, will have to take up the challenge, which will not be the only one.
In Ethiopia, in fact, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) operates, too. The Ogaden is a region with a majority of ethnic Somali. In 1977-78, Ogaden was invaded by Somali troops with the aim of creating Greater Somalia, a new state that would reunite all ethnic Somali in East Africa. In the 1980s, the ONLF asked for secession from Ethiopia and took up arms against the government of Addis Ababa. It also accused the central government of human rights abuses and of using famine as a weapon against the people. In the latter years, former President Zenawi promoted development projects and favoured investments in the region, which has been heavily militarized to contrast the Islamic terror group Al Shabaab. Soon after his election, the new President Desalegn sought a dialogue with ONLF representatives based in Nairobi, the outcome is still unknown.
More complicated still is the situation on the other side of the border, in Somalia. The case goes beyond Somaliland. If Somaliland has a tenuous claim to independence, there are other areas which aspire to autonomy, with far less convincing reasons. It is the case of northern regions of Galmudug and Puntland; both declared full autonomy from Mogadishu during the long period of unrest that hit the country in the past two decades. Puntland is the birthplace of Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, who presided over the last transition government in Mogadishu. The two regions are now in talks with the central government in view of a reunion, even though Puntland serves as the main base for the pirates who have been attacking vessels in the Indian Ocean facing East Africa and as far as the Seychelles Islands.
South of Mogadishu, along the border with Kenya, there lies Jubaland. When the Al Shabaab troops retreated from Kisimayo last September, the old project of creating here a buffer zone between Somalia and Kenya received a new lease of life. Jubaland, also known as Azania, was mentioned in diplomatic correspondence of the USA made available by Wikileaks. It seems that China offered weapons and intelligence to Kenya to support the creation of this new nation. The government of Jubaland would be offered to Mohamed Abdi Mohamed, a former minister and head of a militia. Ethiopia opposes the project because Mohamed is an Ogadeni, and there is fear that the independence fever may spread and revamp similar designs at home.
The creation of Jubaland would offer protection to the new port and oil terminal in construction in Lamu, in northern Kenya. The project has been designed to lessen South Sudan’s dependency from the infrastructures controlled by Khartoum and especially of Port Sudan. That area is also troubled by a dispute. The Eastern Sudan Front (ESF) has opposed the central government for years. A truce had been declared in 2006, when Khartoum and the ESF reached an agreement on the use of resources. Lately, some of the leaders favouring autonomy accused the government of supporting only certain ethnic groups; it seems that the old ESF militia are regrouping in Eritrea.
Eastern Sudan is not the only source of sleepless nights for President Al Bashir. The states of Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan are also leading military campaigns against Khartoum. Here the autonomy struggle is led by the Sudan People Liberation movement – North (SPLM-North). This is a group that fought with the SPLA/M for the independence of South Sudan, and now continue the struggle for their home states, which have remained in the north. The SPLM-North also reached an agreement with some of the militia fighting against Khartoum in Darfur. Darfur – a region the size of Kenya – has been at the centre of a bitter civil war since 2003. It is the conflict in Darfur, and the human rights abuses taking place there, that prompted the International Justice Court to seek the arrest and trial of President al Bashir. Even though the government of Khartoum has reached a peace settlement with one of the local militia, the fighting in Darfur continues.