Information about the WSLF and relations between Ethiopia and Somalia. [SOM5440]

Ever since Somalia attained independence in 1960, virtually all of its foreign policy has centred around its irredentist claim of a "Greater Somalia" which aims to incorporate ethnic Somali populations in Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti into the new Republic. In pursuit of its irredentism, the Somali government had long been giving support to Somali nationalist movements in these countries. [The historical development of the border dispute between Somalia and Ethiopia is carefully treated in: Alan J. Day, ed., Border and Territorial Disputes, 2nd. ed. (London: Longman UK group, 1987), pp. 126-132. ] While the claims over parts of Kenyan and Djibouti territories have been pursued through diplomacy and mediation, Somalia's relations with Ethiopia deteriorated to direct military conflict in 1964 and more recently in 1977-1978.

According to the Somali government's irredentist claims, the Somali-inhabited Ogaden region belonged to the historic Somali nation, before being colonized by Ethiopia during the colonial divisions of Africa in the late 19th century. Ethiopia, on the other hand, takes the position that the Ogaden is an integral part of its territory and, consequently, regards Somali challenges as acts of aggression against its integrity. Thus, while the people inhabiting the Ogaden are predominantly of ethnic Somali origin and have deep-rooted social, cultural and economic ties with Somalia, their land has legally been part of Ethiopia. [ Ibid., pp. 128-129.]

Under President Siad Barre, Somalia, through its 1974 Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Union, was able to possess one of the largest air and tank forces in Africa. [ Ahmed I. Samatar, Socialist Somalia: Rhetoric and Reality (London: Zed Books Ltd., 1988), p. 128.] Confident in its military superiority and taking advantage of the Ethiopian political chaos of the early 1970s, the Somali regime shifted its priority from internal construction to Somalia's long-standing claim to the Ogaden region of Ethiopia. [ Ibid., p. 133.] In July 1977, Somali regular forces crossed into the Ogaden to support the insurgent Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF), and fought a full-scale war with Ethiopia until their defeat in November 1978.

The Somali-Ethiopian war had devastating human and economic consequences for both countries, but the worst tragedy has been the suffering brought to the people of the Ogaden by the rivalry over who will control them and their land. [ "Ogaden: The Land But Not the People", Horn of Africa, Vol. 4, No. 1, 1981,
pp. 42-45. ] In addition to the refugee crisis, the long-term repercussion of the Ogaden debacle was that it prompted a realignment of the two superpowers in the Horn of Africa. The Soviet Union abandoned Somalia and moved across the border to arm the new socialist regime of Ethiopia, while the United States adopted Somalia as its ally and gained access to military facilities in the northern port of Berbera. [ Countries of the World and Their Leaders Yearbook 1989 (Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1989), p. 1122. ]

Despite the common commitment of the Ethiopian and Somali regimes to military socialism, Siad Barre had reportedly found the "liberation" of the Ogaden crucial to the legitimacy of his rule. The majority of Ogaden Somalis belong to the Ogadeen clan, one of the three leading clans in the power structure of the Siad Barre government. By playing a significant role in Siad Barre's tribal coalition, the Ogadeen clan saw the liberation of the Ogaden region as the highest goal for the Somali government. Also, Siad Barre's mother is said to be from the Ogadeen clan. [David D. Laitin and Said S. Samatar, Somalia: Nation in Search of a State (Boulder: Westview Press, 1987), p. 140. ]

Siad Barre's war against Ethiopia in 1977-78 had kept the country briefly united around the long-held dream of "Greater Somalia", which would have incorporated the ethnic Somalis in the Ogaden. Nevertheless, Somalia's humiliating defeat in the war and the resulting economic collapse were soon added to the pre-war silent disenchantment with Siad Barre's autocratic regime. Somalis shifted their priorities to domestic politics, and open dissent and organized opposition to the government emerged. [Samatar, pp. 137-139.]

Hostilities between Somalia and Ethiopia continued throughout the 1980s, with Ethiopia providing substantial support to the Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF) and the Somali National Movement (SNM) and Somalia backing the Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF). In 1986, the governments of Somalia and Ethiopia took preliminary steps to discuss the resolution of their long-standing territorial disputes. In April 1988, the two countries reached a peace settlement and agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations, to withdraw troops from border areas and to exchange prisoners of war. Each side also undertook to "'refrain from the use or threat of force against the territorial integrity or political independence'" of the other. Because no concrete agreement was made over the Ogaden frontiers, the border issue remained a potential cause of conflict between the two countries. [ The Europa World Year Book 1989, (London: Europa Publications Lt., 1989), p. 2284.]

Within a month of the Somali-Ethiopian border agreement, SNM guerrillas crossed the Ethiopian border into Somalia and launched a series of attacks on the northern cities of Hargeisa, Burao, Berbera and several other small towns. The government's brutal response to SNM attacks underlies the most recent human rights crisis in Somalia: its artillery and aerial shelling killed as many as 50,000 civilians, and left Hargeisa a "ghost town"; over 400,000 people fled the war to become refugees in Ethiopia; and some 1.5 million were internally displaced. [ U.S. General Accounting Office, Somalia: Observations Regarding the Northern Conflict and Resulting Conditions (Washington, 4 May 1989), pp. 4-6; Amnesty International, Somalia: The Imprisonment of Members of the Isaaq Clan since Mid-1988 (AI Index: AFR 52/41/88, December 1988), p.2. ]

President Siad Barre's twenty years of oppressive rule, and a political system based on family and clan loyalties, brought Somalia into the bloody May 1988 civil conflict. The political and economic consequences of the conflict are now believed to lead to a full-scale civil war. [ "Voting With Their Feet", Africa Confidential, 22 September 1989, p. 7.] In August 1989, in a desperate last-ditch effort to hold onto power, Siad Barre announced his government's approval of the creation of a multi-party system by the end of 1990. Yet, at a time when large areas of the country are outside government control, either because of active opposition or because of a growing attitude of indifference towards the government, Siad Barre's multi-party promise is considered by many to be a mere device to keep the opposition divided. [ "The End in Sight For Siad", Africa Confidential, 8 September 1989, p. 6.] Meanwhile, while Somalia is sliding towards chaos, family members and relatives of Siad Barre and several other senior government officials are reported to have left for the United States and Switzerland. [ "Voting With Their Feet", p. 7.]

For detailed information on Somalia's current human rights record, please find attached:

Africa Watch, Somalia: An Update on Human Rights Developments Since Mid-July (Washington, 22 September 1989), pp. 1-16.

Amnesty International, Somalia: The Human Rights Record After An Amnesty International Visit in Mid-1989 (AI Index: AFR 52/02/89, January 1990), pp. 1-13.
"6,000,000 Dispossessed in the Horn of Africa", Horn Of Africa, vol.4 No.1, London: Horn of Africa, 1981, pp.42-51.