New Movement in Ogaden: Somali Region Justice and Democracy Movement (SRJDM)

8th November 2016  By Melody Sundberg

Reports of serious human rights violations are continuously coming from Ogaden, a large region in eastern Ethiopia. A new movement, the Somali Region Justice and Democracy Movement (SRJDM) aims to bring the locals together and to work for implementation of human rights. 

Many reports coming from the Ogaden region tell about conflict and crimes against humanity, but due to the media blockade, no one knows the full extent. On paper, the regional states of Ethiopia are autonomous, but in reality, the Ethiopian government, the EPRDF (Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front), has the power. Ogaden has a president, Abdi Mohamoud Omar, but the president is under EPRDF. The president is notoriously known for performing serious abuses against the locals, who predominantly are Somali.

The Somali Region Justice and Democracy Movement (SRJDM) was presented during a press conference in Stockholm, Sweden on November 7. According to chairman Jemal-Dirie Kalif, there is a great need of change in Ogaden.

Spokesperson Ahmed Ali Abdille.

Spokesperson Ahmed Ali Abdille.

– The past regime, and the current regime, have been killing people for the last 50 years. They have done whatever crime you can think of. People were burned alive, buried alive and raped systematically. Genocide has been committed. Go today to Ogaden to ask them what they think. They are, to this day, crying for their rights. They are saying: “No, we want our rights, we need to be free, we want to govern ourselves”.

According to a statement presented by spokesperson Ahmed Ali Abdille, the movement aims to mobilize the people of the region to transform their “struggle for self-determination into a new phase”. Their mission is to mobilize the people to “resist the systematic denial and violation of their political, economic, social and human rights and to enable them to regain their dignity and cultural values”. In the future, they hope to see a Somali region where the citizens lives, safety and human dignity is respected and where people can make their own social, political and economic decisions without external interference.

– We have actually been doing this individually before the movement. We stood up for human rights. Now, coming together as a movement, we are pushing it forward to raise awareness about human rights violations in our region and in other parts in Ethiopia. We have a lot in common with human rights organizations, said Abdullahi Hussein, vice chairman of foreign relations.

An important discussion is how to unite the Somali people in the region.

–  How we are going to unite the Somalis? How are we bringing them together? Because there are different views, and traditionally we are also a divided people. The first issue to be addressed was: How do we bring our people, irrespective of their views, into this movement so that they can support? said Jemal-Dirie Kalif.

Abdullahi Hussein explained that the movement is not political.

– We are not a political party. We are a movement of citizens, of the people in the Somali region. Our interest is in mobilizing the people, bringing people together despite of their different political views and different… whatever views they have. In short, we are not a political party and we are here only for the interest of our people – in order to mobilize our people and raise the awareness of our people.

Ethiopia is divided into different regions and consists of over 80 ethnic groups. According to the statement, the movement is “committed to join hands with other marginalized and oppressed nations, nationalities and peoples in Ethiopia  in the pursuit of justice, freedom and democracy”. Jemal-Dirie Kalif commented on the topic. According to him, the problems in Ethiopia is not only restricted to the current regime, but to a deeply rooted culture of tyranny and dictatorship. To make a real change, people need to work together.

–  It is very important to have connections, to have relations with the rest of the Ethiopian people, be it Amhara or Oromo or whatever they are. It is only if we cooperate that we can bring change. Oromo alone will not bring a change, that’s for sure. The Amhara alone will not bring a change. The Somalis have already tried it for a very, very long time. To this day, we are still in the same situation that we have been for the last 30-40 years.

Mohamed Hassan, secretary general, hoped that the new movement will help bringing the people of Ethiopia – and the Horn of Africa – together, no matter their ethnic group. He said that one of their objectives is to bring young people together no matter what ethnic group they belong to, and that it is important that they meet and talk to each other.

–  The Somali people in Ethiopia will be a pillar of bringing a bigger democracy in the Horn of Africa. Because our brothers, who are Somali, also lives in the republic of Somalia. They live also in Djibouti. They live also in Kenya. We could build a bridge of bringing all Ethiopian people, and all people in the Horn of Africa, to pacify the horn of Africa; to integrate the Horn of Africa.

The board of SRJDM knows that their work will be challenging.

– It is very challenging to work in Ogaden now. It is a place where ideas and the dissemination of information is considered to be a crime. What we are going to do is a design that we have been discussing for the last two years, considering the dangerous situation that we are in. There are strategies that we have designed so that we can bypass the information blockage that was imposed in the region, says Jemal-Dirie Kalif.

According to the statement, SRJDM’s program will be shared with the public in subsequent weeks.

Melody Sundberg
Project manager of Untold Stories. Photographer and artist. Educated in Psychology.

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