Ogaden National Liberation Front

  (Redirected from ONLF)

The Ogaden National Liberation Front (abbreviated ONLF, Somali: Jabhadda Wadaniga Xoreynta Ogaadeeniya; Arabic: الجبهة الوطنية لتحرير أوجادين‎) is a grass roots social and political movement, which was founded in 1984, in order to campaign for the right to self-determination for Somalis in the Somali Region of Ethiopia.

Ogaden National Liberation Front
Jabhadda Wadaniga Xoreynta Ogaadeeniya
الجبهة الوطنية لتحرير أوجادين
Dates of operation1984–present[1][2]
HeadquartersKuwait City (formerly)
Somali Region (actually)
Active regionsSomali Region (Ethiopia)
IdeologySomali nationalism
Political positionCentre-left
Size2,000–3,000 (ONLF claim)
OpponentsDerg, Workers' Party of Ethiopia, People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Tigrayan People's Liberation Front
Battles and warsEthiopian Civil War
Insurgency in Ogaden
FlagFlag of Ogaden National Liberation Front.svg

Ceasefire and peacemaking effortsEdit

The ONLF declared a unilateral ceasefire on 12 August 2018. [3]

On 4 November 2020 ONLF issued a statement on the current war in Ethiopia, calling on all concerned parties to 'immediately cease the current hostilities', they also called on the international community to 'spare no effort in helping parties find a peace settlement'.[4]


The ONLF, established in 1984, demanded for the autonomy of this region and has claimed responsibility for several attacks since the beginning of 1994 aimed at Ethiopian forces in the area, which the government considers a region under the new federal system.

The area of the Somali region stretches at least about 330,000 square kilometres and has over 3 million people, mainly from the Absame Somali tribe. The ONLF claims that Ethiopia is an occupying government, despite the Ogaden being represented in the Ethiopian federal government by groups including the opposition Somali People's Democratic Party (SPDP).

The ONLF is composed mainly of members of the Ogaden clan, specifically "the makaahiil tribe of the Ogaden".[5] The armed wing of the ONLF was the Ogaden National Liberation Army (ONLA). In October 2018, ONLF signed a peace agreement with the federal government and ceased hostilities, with former fighters beginning the process of societal reintegration.[6][7]


Territories inhabited by ethnic Somalis. Area of ONLF operations, as of May 2007, shaded in red within the green area marking Ethiopian territory.

The ONLF was founded in 1984 by six people: Abdirahman Mahdi, the Chairman of the Western Somali Liberation Movement Youth Union, Mohamed Ismail Omar of the Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF), Sheikh Ibrahim Abdalla Mohamed (WSLF), Abdi Ibrahim Ghehleh (WSLF-Trade Union), Abdirahman Yusuf Magan (WSLF) and Abdulahi Muhammed Sa'adi (WSLF). The ONLF is currently led by Chairman Mohammed Omar Osman, who was elected to the post at a 1998 national convention.

ONLF was formed after the defeat of Somalia in the 1977 Ogaden War. ONLF systematically recruited WSLF members and replaced WSLF in the Ogaden as Somalian support for the WSLF dwindled and finally ended in the late 1980s. By the time Mengistu regime fell, the ONLF had fully consolidated its position among ethnic Somalis in Ogaden, and joined the Transitional Government. The ONLF announced elections in December 1992 for District Five (what became the Somali Region) in Ethiopia, and won 80% of the seats of the local parliament. ONLF nominated Abdullahi Muhumed Sa'di for the Region's presidency, and other members for the vice-presidency and the Executive body; the regional parliament elected them in a majority vote. ONLF elected officials ruled the territory until the transitional government ended with the adoption of a new constitution. At that time the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front pushed for a new partner in the region, which led to the founding of the Ethiopian Somali Democratic League (ESDL) at Hurso in 1993. The ESDL then won the Somali seats in the 1995 general elections, pushing the ONLF out of power. The ONLF then accused the Ethiopian government of oppressing its members, while ONLF was accused of killing other Somali politicians and elders.

The ONLF continues to operate in the Ogaden as of 2011. The Ethiopian military has stepped up its actions against ONLF following the organizations stated that it would attack the Malaysian oil company Petronas, which plans to extract oil from the Ogaden Basin. Even though there are some developments including a new university in the Somali state region, new schools, hospital and Somali language television programs, full development has been restrained in the area because of the fighting between ONLF and government forces.[8]

In 2005 Ethiopia proposed peace talks with ONLF. ONLF accepted on the condition that talks be held in a neutral country and with the presence of a neutral arbiter from the international community, but the talks broke down due to Ethiopia's insistence that the two parties meet directly in a location in or around the Horn of Africa. ONLF became a part of the Alliance for Freedom and Democracy on May 22, 2006 but the alliance has not achieved any progress since its creation.[9]

On 12 August 2006, 13 members of the ONLF were killed and several commanders were claimed captured as they crossed into Ethiopia from Somalia.[10] The ONLF repudiated this claim, stating that it was intended to reassure prospective oil prospecting companies from Malaysia and China that Ethiopia is in control of the Ogaden territory.[11]

ONLF rebels practicting salat, Muslim daily prayers

Ogadenia confusionEdit

The ONLF mostly recruits from the Ogaden (clan) of Somali people, which constitutes roughly 2/3 of the regional population.[12] However, many other Somali clans and sub-clans reside in the area, and animosity between the pro-ONLF Ogadenis and other Somali clans in the area remains very deeply rooted. For many, calling the region "Ogaden" is "rightly or wrongly, associated with majority rule by the Ogaden clans, respectively with their claim for power within the Somali Regional State".[13] The Ethiopian government has exploited these rivalries by arming minority Somali militias to fight the majority ONLF.[12] Yet, some Ogaden members have pushed for other Somali clans getting represented in the regional government.[14] Writer Mohamed Mohamud Abdi states that the territory has been under occupation since the Scramble for Africa, and that the inhabitants have been unable to choose their own name Ogadenia for the land.[15]

Groundwork for an independent stateEdit

Supporters of the ONLF generally aspire to create an independent, sovereign Somali-majority state consisting primarily of what is now Ethiopia's Somali Region. ONLF supporters generally refer to the entire area of this future state as Ogaden or Ogadenia even though the name is controversial among some groups because of its clan-affiliation.

The ONLF ostensibly exists to allow the inhabitants of Ethiopia's Somali Region the ability to freely determine their own future and has thus has taken few public positions with regards to how a future state of Ogadenia would be administered. That said, the ONLF has fostered the creation of a national consciousness among Ethiopia's Somali inhabitants by adopting a national flag for Ogadenia and promoting an Ogaden national anthem, Qaran (before the adoption of Qaran, the Ogaden national anthem used by some separatists was Abab).[16]

Furthermore, the ONLF has an official political programme in which it commits to, among other things, protecting freedom of religion, democratic activity, and the women, children, and minorities of Ogaden.[17]

Border issuesEdit

The nomadic lifestyle of Somali people has led to their occupation of disproportionally larger territory than other ethnic groups in the Horn of Africa who have greater populations than Somalis, especially the neighboring Oromos. Small and big conflicts have occurred between Somalis, Oromos and Afars in the disputed border regions for several centuries. The Somali region of Ethiopia, often labeled Ogaden, also used to be known as Hararghe in the pre-1991 map of Ethiopia. The pre-1991 map showed Somalis inhabiting a large part of today's northeast Oromia, while the post-1991 map shows the Ogaden region occupying Oromia's pre-1991 Bale region. Ogaden nationalists have stated that Dire Dawa and various towns, including Mieso, Bardoda, Babille, Fanyaanbiiro, Jinacsani and other regions, were incorporated into Oromia by the Oromo Peoples' Democratic Organization (OPDO) following a 2004 plebiscite.[18] Some Oromo liberation fighters believe a large chunk of Ogaden's territory belongs to them.[19][20][21] In February 2009, 300 people were killed and over 100,000 people displaced during a conflict outside the border town of Moyale between an Oromo clan and a Somali clan.[22]

Pan SomaliEdit

Unlike other Ethiopian ethnic groups like the Oromo and Gurage, the Somali ethnic group in general (and the Ogaden sub-clan in particular) do not have religious diversity. Around 99% of the Ogaden people practice Islam.

Effects on Ethiopia and the Somali Civil WarEdit

ONLF rebels

On November 28, 2006, the ONLF threatened that it would not allow Ethiopian troops to stage into Somalia from their territories.[23] On December 23, the ONLF claimed to have attacked an Ethiopian column near Baraajisale heading to Somalia, destroying 4 of 20 vehicles, inflicting casualties and driving the convoy back.[24] No independent source has confirmed the attack.

On January 10, 2007, ONLF condemned Ethiopia's entry into the War in Somalia, stating that Meles Zenawi's invasion of Somalia demonstrated that his government had been an active participant in the Somali conflict with a clear agenda aimed at undermining the Somali sovereignty.[25] On January 15, ONLF rebels attacked Ethiopian soldiers in Kebri Dahar, Gerbo, and Fiq. Five Ethiopian soldiers and one ONLF rebel were reported killed.[26]

War crimes allegationsEdit

In their 2008 report 'Collective Punishment' Human Rights Watch made a catalogue of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the Ethiopian government including;[5]

  • forced evacuation
  • killings
  • burning of villages
  • rape and sexual violence
  • arbitrary detention
  • abuse and torture of detainees
  • execution of detainees
  • forced recruitment of pro-government militias
  • confiscation of livestock
  • trade embargo
  • restrictions on movement, herding and access to water sources
  • restrictions on humanitarian assistance

According to the Chicago Tribune, "As of 2007, human rights groups and media reports accuse Ethiopia – a key partner in Washington's battle against terrorism in the volatile Horn of Africa – of burning villages, pushing nomads off their lands and choking off food supplies in a harsh new campaign of collective punishment against a restive ethnic Somali population in the Ogaden, a vast wilderness of rocks and thorns bordering chaotic Somalia".[27]

In April 2007, the Ethiopian government imposed a total commercial trade embargo on the war-affected area of the Somali Region (the Fiq, Degehabur, Gode, Korahe, and Werder Zones, where the Ogadeni Somali live), prohibiting all commercial truck movement in the region and across the border into Somalia, as well as the free movement of livestock by foot.[28]

A tightly restricted and monitor tour by western journalist in the embattled region on the invitation of the regional administration reported on more alleged crimes by the Ethiopian government. A report by a Newsweek reporter detailed how Ethiopian military troops stormed a village southeast of Degahabur, accused the villagers of sympathizing with the ONLF, then razing the village and torturing and murdering many of the inhabitants.[29]

Obale Raid, subsequent conflictEdit

On April 24, 2007, members of the ONLF attacked a camp for employees of Zhongyuan Petroleum Engineering, a Chinese oil exploration company, in Obale, Somali Region, killing approximately 65 Ethiopians and 9 Chinese nationals.[30]

The ONLF claimed it had "completely destroyed" the camp.[25] Most of the Ethiopians killed in the attack were daily laborers, guards and other support staff. Some members of the Ethiopian security officials were also killed during the surprise attack however those killed by the ONLF included 30 civilians, the ONLF attack was perpetuated as the ONLF has a policy of not allowing the Ethiopian government to extract resources as this will not be shared with the impoverished and suppressed population of the Ogaden, the Ogaden is largely a marginalized region as rebels have battled successive governments claiming discrimination and most recently crimes against humanity this was backed by a human rights watch report into alleged abuses.[31] It was the most deadly single attack by the ONLF.[32] On April 27, Ethiopian government spokesperson reported that ONLF rebels had detonated a "grenade," killing one person who was attending a funeral of family member killed during the prior attack.[33]

Shortly after the attack, the Ethiopian Army launched a military crackdown in Ogaden. The latest action of this crackdown resulted in the death of foreign relations chief Dr. Mohamed Sirad Dolal at the town of Danan as he met with other ONLF members.[34] Reportedly this has led to the ONLF splitting into two factions, with one group allied to current ONLF chairman Mohammed Omar Osman, and the other led by senior leader Abdiwali Hussein Gas, who appointed Salahudin Ma'ow as the new ONLF chairman and declared that he will "bring Mohammed Omar Osman to court".[35]

Somali deathsEdit

In May 2007, a grenade attack by ONLF rebels in the Somali region of Ethiopia claimed the lives of at least 11 Somalis.[36] During a national holiday ceremony held at the Ogaden town of Jijiga, the grenade thrown at the podium of the stadium also wounded Somali regional president Abdulahi Hassan Mohammed in the leg. Bereket Simon, an adviser to Prime Minister Meles, blamed the ONLF as well as Eritrea since it arms the ONLF. However, the ONLF denied the accusations.[37] The bombing triggered a huge stampede in the stadium which led to the death of around six children.[38]

Ethiopia says dozens more Somali civilians have been killed by ONLF over the years, including women and children.[39]

Discovery of oilEdit

As of 2009, no oil has been found in the Ogaden. The U.S. Energy Information Administration has been quoted as estimating that Ethiopia has 428,000 barrels of crude oil reserves. However, experts believe the real prize is the estimated 4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. This potential has drawn large companies such as Petronas from Malaysia and Lundin Petroleum, based in Sweden, to the inhospitable and nearly roadless Ogaden.[40] Various media sources have wrongly stated that there is oil in Ogaden but there has been no oil discovery in the Ogaden. Contrary to popular claims, the Ogaden region is a resource poor desert and has lacked development for centuries under nomadic tribes that the federal Ethiopian government receives very little income from the region. Due to the nomadic nature of the natives and due to the ONLF insurgency, the current Ethiopian government is said to spend a large portion of the budget for infrastructure development in the Ogaden region despite the government getting proportionally very little tax revenue from the locals.[41]

Other ONLF attacksEdit

An ONLF grenade attack on a cultural gathering in Jijiga killed four middle school students on May 28, 2007. In a separate attack, fifty civilians were injured, including the regional president Abdullahi Hassan, and three artists were killed on May 28, 2007 by the ONLF.[31]

An ONLF attack on the town of the Debeweyin woreda in the Korahe Zone also left ten civilians dead, including two schoolteachers and a pregnant woman. A second attack on the town of Shilavo left five civilians dead, while an ONLF-planted landmine near Aware in the Degehabur Zone exploded, killing three civilians traveling by automobile. Another ONLF unit struck in the district of Lahelow near the Ethiopia-Somalia border, targeting members of the Isma'il Gum'adle sub-clan, twelve of whom were slain.[31] Regional security chief Abdi Mohammed Omar asserted that over a two month period, some 200 civilians had been killed by the ONLF.[42]

Ethiopia has been recently accused of human rights abuses. In response, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs says there is a double standard on terrorism since the ONLF group has killed many Ethiopians and Western nations have not condemned its killings.[43] Ethiopia has been described as a partner in the United States fight against terrorists, including al Qaeda.

In a communique, the ONLF claimed to have captured seven towns in the Somali Region on 10 November 2009 after two days of heavy fighting. The ONLF reported these towns as: Obolka, near Harar; Hamaro, east of Fiq; Higlaaley and Gunogabo near Degehabur; Yucub, 40 kilometers from Werder; Galadiid, 35 kilometers from Kebri Dahar; and Boodhaano near Gode.[44] Bereket Simon denied to Reuters that the ONLF had succeeded in capturing any towns, adding, "Their attacks last week were simply the desperate act of a dying force and about 245 of their fighters were killed."[45]

Notes and referencesEdit

  1. ^ As of March 2009. "Ethiopia ONLF rebels 'seize town'". BBC.com. BBC News. 2009-03-09. Retrieved 2009-03-09.
  2. ^ As of January 2009, the Ethiopian government claims that "the ONLF currently has no armed force in the state while its political existence is facing a great danger." "Senior ONLF leader killed". Walta Information Center. 2009-01-21. Retrieved 2009-03-09.
  3. ^ "Declaration of Unilateral Ceasefire". ONLF. 12 August 2018.
  4. ^ "The current war in Ethiopia". ONLF. 4 November 2020.
  5. ^ a b "Collective Punishment: War Crimes and crimes against Humanity in the Ogaden area of Ethiopia's Somali Regional State" (pdf), Human Rights Watch Report (2008), p. 27
  6. ^ https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/04/ethiopia-signs-peace-deal-ogaden-rebels-190413150450692.html
  7. ^ https://unpo.org/article/21380
  8. ^ ONLF and development issues
  9. ^ "Statement announcing the formation of the Alliance for Freedom and Democracy" (Press release). Alliance for Freedom and Democracy. 2006-05-22. Retrieved 2007-04-26.
  10. ^ [1] Archived for subscribers only
  11. ^ "O.N.L.F Statement On Ethiopian Occupation Of Somalia" (Press release). Ogaden National Liberation Front. 2006-08-12. Retrieved 2007-01-08.
  12. ^ a b Blair, David (2007-10-09). "Ethiopia's 'secret war' forces thousands to flee". Telegraph.co.uk. London: Telegraph Media Group. Archived from the original on October 11, 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-30. The rebels recruit most of their fighters from the Ogaden clan, who account for about 2/3 of the region's population. But the authorities are exploiting bitter clan rivalries and arming local militias to fight the ONLF.
  13. ^ Tobias Hagman, "The Political Roots of the Current Crisis in Region 5" Archived 2010-07-16 at the Wayback Machine, published 21 September 2007, Crisis in the Horn of Africa website (accessed 17 November 2009)
  14. ^ "The Perils of the EPRDF Politics Towards the Somali Region" Archived 2011-02-12 at the Wayback Machine, an open letter dated 7 May 2005, signed by "Elders and Intellectuals of the Somali Regional State", published on the Wardheer News website (accessed 5 June 2009)
  15. ^ Mohamed Mohamud Abdi, A History of the Ogaden Struggle for Self-Determination. (United Kingdom: Lightning Source, 2007).
  16. ^ ""Ogaden National Anthem"". Archived from the original on 2013-09-28. Retrieved 2013-04-18.
  17. ^ "Political Programme of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF)"
  18. ^ Somalis: You "ain't" seen nothing yet Archived 2008-08-29 at the Wayback Machine, Wardheer News website
  19. ^ "Oromo claim of Ogaden". Archived from the original on 2011-07-21. Retrieved 2009-03-04.
  20. ^ Current Official map of Oromia and Ogaden
  21. ^ Ogaden claim of Oromia[permanent dead link]
  22. ^ Thousands flee Ethiopia clashes (BBC News website)
  23. ^ "Ogaden rebels to resist Ethiopian army if it attacks Somali-statement". Sudan Tribune. 2006-11-28. Retrieved 2007-04-26.
  24. ^ "Ogaden rebels destroy Ethiopian military convoy en route to Somalia". Sudan Tribune. 2006-12-24. Retrieved 2007-04-26.
  25. ^ a b "ONLF Statement On Military Operation Against Illegal Oil Facility In Ogaden" (Press release). Ogaden National Liberation Front. 2007-04-24. Retrieved 2007-04-26.
  26. ^ "ONLF rebels attack Ethiopian soldiers in 3 towns". Garowe Online. 2007-01-15. Archived from the original on 2007-01-28. Retrieved 2007-04-26.
  27. ^ "Fallout from war on terror hits Ethiopia; U.S. ally battles its own insurgents" Chicago Tribune, published 9 July 2007 (accessed 17 November 2009)
  28. ^ "Collective Punishment: 'Economic war': Confiscation of Livestock, the Trade Embargo, and Other Restrictions", Human Rights Watch report, 11 June 2008 (accessed 17 November 2009)
  29. ^ Newsweek, January 22, 2008
  30. ^ Gettleman, Jeffrey (2007-04-24). "Ethiopian Rebels Kill 70 at Chinese-Run Oil Field". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-04-24.
  31. ^ a b c Dr. J. Peter Pham, "Regional dimensions of the human rights and Humanitarian situation in the 'Ogaden', Somalia, and beyond" Archived 2012-11-27 at the Wayback Machine: Testimony before the United States House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health, October 2, 2007 (accessed 5 June 2009)
  32. ^ ONLF massacre detailed Archived 2007-09-29 at the Wayback Machine
  33. ^ "Ethiopian rebels attack family mourning victim of earlier rebel assault,", Associated Press, April 27, 2007
  34. ^ "Senior ONLF leader Killed" Archived 2009-02-10 at the Wayback Machine (accessed 27 January 2009)
  35. ^ "Ethiopia: Ogaden's ONLF breaks into two factions" Archived 2011-07-13 at the Wayback Machine, Jimma Times, 3 March 2009 (accessed 9 March 2009)
  36. ^ United States House of Representatives Detail report on some of the killings of civilians by ONLF Archived 2012-11-27 at the Wayback Machine
  37. ^ "Rebel throws grenade during ceremony, injuring Ethiopian regional leader", AP wirestory 28 May 2007
  38. ^ Six children killed in the rebel attack[dead link]
  39. ^ Ogaden somalis killed by ONLF
  40. ^ Paul Salopek, "Deadly battle for quixotic prize Vague promise of finding oil drives violence in Ethiopia", 5 August 2007
  41. ^ The government in Addis Ababa puts significantly more money into Ogaden for roads and other services than it receives in taxes[dead link]
  42. ^ "Silence essential in Ogaden" Archived 2008-01-31 at the Wayback Machine, News 24 website, 29 January 2008 (accessed 5 June 2009)
  43. ^ ONLF and "Terrorism double standards" Archived 2009-12-30 at the Wayback Machine, statement by the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  44. ^ "Ogaden rebels claim capture of seven towns" Sudan Times 15 November 2009 (accessed 16 November 2009)
  45. ^ "Ethiopia denies rebels have captured seven towns", Reuters website, published 16 November 2009 (accessed 17 November 2009)

External linksEdit