CJ Werleman argues that the Ethiopian Prime Minister’s genocide against ethnic Somali Muslims in Ogaden should have been taken into account by those awarding him the international peace prize.

Identifying the conditions that spark inter-state conflict is a tricky business, hence why an entire academic field – international relations – is devoted to understanding the triggers for war and the foundations of peace. It is against this backdrop that a panel of five members appointed by Norway’s Parliament determine which individual is most deserved of the Nobel Peace Prize each year.

If a panel consisting of a mere handful of Norwegians doesn’t make you question the validity and meaningfulness of the world’s top accolade for promoting peace, then consider that it gave the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize to former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, a man who helped put more than three million Vietnamese in a grave, while at the same time executing an illegal and secretive war in Cambodia, sparking a genocide that led to the deaths of millions of people there.

Then there’s former US President Barack Obama, who received the award a mere 12 days after taking office and not long before he expanded the US military drone programme around the world – a covert programme which has killed hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians in as many as 80 countries.

Last week, the Norwegian panel added to its list of controversial choices the Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who was named winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize. His “decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighbouring Eritrea” will help create long-term peace in the war ravaged Horn of Africa, the panel argued.

In his nomination letter to the committee, Awol K Allo, a lecturer at in law at Keele University wrote: “By saving a nation of 108 million people from the precipice of an economic and political explosion, he captured the imagination of his own people and people across the African continent as an embodiment of hope… and his messages of peace, tolerance, and love and understanding are being felt far beyond Ethiopia.”

Evidently, it matters not to Allo or the Norwegian committee that Abiy Ahmed oversaw attacks carried out by government-backed Oromo militias against ethnic Somali Muslim villagers in Ogaden just months after being sworn into office on 2 April 2018 with the aim of “territorial expansion” and “land grabbing”, according to Somali human rights activists.

“There’s a genocide taking place here against Somali Muslims in north-eastern Ethiopia,” Mohamed Abdulkaadir, a Somali journalist with the independent Somali news agency Halgan News, told me.

Ogaden is a 327,000 square kilometre territory located in eastern Ethiopia and on the border of Somalia, but was once part of the Somali Ifat Sultanate before finding itself in modern day Ethiopia – despite the fact that 98% of the population there are Muslims who identify more with Somalia than the Christian-majority Ethiopia.

Ethiopia has long feared that Somalia has a desire to annex the territory from Ethiopia and thus politicians in Addis Ababa have long used ethnic Somali Muslims as a convenient scapegoat for the country’s social and economic ills.

“This is a well-orchestrated campaign of ethnic cleansing,” Abdulkaadir has said. “Entire villages and towns in the border region are being wiped out just because they’re inhabited by ethnic Somalis. Ambushes, rape, and massacres are taking place in increasing frequency.”

Ethiopia’s effort to rid Ogaden of ethnic Somalis predates the 2018 election of Ahmed, however, with previous governments using a British Government-backed paramilitary force known as the Liyu police to do its dirty work. “There have been repeated allegations against the Liyu police of extrajudicial killings, rape, torture and other violations including destruction of villages and there is no doubt that the special police have become a significant source of fear in the region,” Clair Beston, Amnesty International’s Ethiopia researcher, has observed.

Today, most of the terror and violence is being carried out by Oromo militias – armed groups affiliated with the Oromo People’s Democratic Party (OPDO), one of four political parties that has helped formed a coalition government in Ethiopia and the party in which Ahmed rose to power.

Abdulkaadir told me that Oromo militias are indiscriminately killing Somali men, women and children, while forcibly removing them from their homes and villages, which has forced approximately 100,000 displaced Somali refugees into makeshift refugee camps. “Many towns and villages have been razed to the ground and abandoned,” he said. “Anyone congratulating Abiy Ahmed for the Nobel Peace Prize is pretty much endorsing war crimes.”

Ultimately, these atrocities are taking place without drawing attention from the international community. If there is anything good to come from Abiy Ahmed receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, more people learning about the Ethiopian Government’s crimes against humanity in Ogaden could be it.

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