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Ethiopia's Somali rebels ONLF elect new chairman

By Abuga Makori in Nairobi , Garowe Online

GODEY, Ethiopia - Ethiopia's separatists Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) on Monday elected longtime foreign secretary Abdirahman Mahdi as the new chairman.

The group which controls the Somali region sometimes known as Ogaden held a conference on Monday at Godey town to bid farewell to outgoing chairman Mohamed Omar.

During the closely contested polls, Mahdi received 340 votes to his closest challenger Ahmed Yasin who managed 347 votes. He will now be steering the group's interest by engaging Addis Ababa.

ONLF was one of the organizations that were previously labeled terrorist organizations until the Abiy Ahmed-led government introduced political reforms that called upon rebels and Ethiopians in exile to return home.

The agreement which was signed at Asmara in Eritrea in October 2018 stipulates that both sides would end hostilities and that the ONLF would "pursue its political obligations through peaceful means".

The Somali state and ONLF also agreed to work together to end decades of poverty, human rights abuse and maladministration of the Somali people, according to the local media portal Addis Standard.

"A scene of jubilation in Jigjiga, the capital of Somali regional state. ONLF was once branded a terrorist – by law. As history changed its course, today’s agreement was attended by hundreds of ordinary Somalis as well as regional & federal authorities," Ethiopian Standard had reported.

Formed in 1984 amid a resurgence of separatist sentiment in the ethnically Somali Ogaden region on Ethiopia’s border with Somalia, ONLF describes itself as “a national liberation organization that struggles for the rights of the Somali people in Ogaden and has no involvement whatsoever in Somalia’s multifaceted conflict at all.”

The geopolitical significance of oil and gas-rich Somali region – Ogaden has increased since Ethiopia began to extract natural gas from the territory, whose reserves are at about 8 trillion cubic feet, expecting to earn about $7b a year once production reaches full capacity.

Monday's peaceful transition in ONLF is significant progress for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who is increasingly facing internal challenges at home since taking over.

In October this year, over 78 people were killed at Oromia region following clashes between the police and supporters of media entrepreneur Jawar Mohammed.

Ethnic tensions have engulfed Ethiopia for months now, a move that also saw over 58 people killed in August 2018 at the Somali region. Most victims of the violence were non-Muslims.

Taming ONLF which has been agitating for secession was one of Abiy Ahmed's major achievements within Ethiopia after taking over from Hailemariam Desalegn.

Last month, Ahmed was declared the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize ostensibly for the role he played in restoring peace and stability in neighboring Eritrea.

Besides the internal frictions, Ahmed is also at loggerheads with authorities in Jubaland state for allegedly working with the Federal Government of Somalia to interfere with local leadership.

Last week through the intervention of United States President Donald Trump, Ahmed managed to reach s consensus with Sudan and Egypt on construction of Grand Renaissance Dam along the Blue Nile.


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