Part 1: Background

In April 2007, a low-intensity conflict between the Ethiopian government and an insurgency movement called the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF),1 made international news when the rebels attacked an oil site in Somali Regional State, in southeast Ethiopia, capturing and killing more than 70 Chinese and Ethiopian oil workers as well as scores of Ethiopian soldiers. Although the ONLF attack sparked international attention to the region for the first time in decades, Ethiopia’s Somali Region has been a locus of conflict for more than a century.

Although geographically within Ethiopia, the Somali Region’s ethnic Somali population remains culturally and economically intertwined with neighboring Somalia. Conflicts within and over the region have evolved in tandem with many of the 20th century’s most significant national and regional developments in the Horn of Africa. These include the colonial era division of the Horn’s Somali peoples among what eventually became four different countries2; the creation of Somalia in 1960 and the resulting spur to Somali secessionist movements in neighboring countries; and the 1991 collapse of the Somali state led by Mohamed Siad Barre, just 30 years after its creation. 

A detailed examination of the many complex and contentious events that have influenced the dynamics in Somali Region is beyond the scope of this report. However, the following chapters identify in brief key, background factors and trace the most significant events influencing the evolution of the current armed conflict.

1 In Somali, the ONLF is called Jabhadda Waddaniga Xoreynta Ogaadeenya (JWXO).

2 In 1942 the various Somali territories included French Somaliland (which opted for independence in 1977 and is now known as Djibouti); Italian Somaliland (now south-central Somalia); British Somaliland (now northern Somalia or the self-declared Republic of Somaliland ); the area now known as Puntland (since 1998, which was not part of the former British Protectorate of Somaliland); the Ethiopian Ogaden and Haud territories (now part of Ethiopia’s Somali Regional State or Region 5); and Kenya’s Northern Frontier District (renamed North Eastern Province).