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Natural Resources

‘Humanitarian Crisis’ for Ogaden Living Near Ethiopia’s Oil Fields

There are unconfirmed reports of the Ogaden’s predominantly pastoralist population in southeastern Ethiopia being forcefully removed from land close to oil deposits. Credit: Rudolph Atallah/IPS

ADDIS ABABA, Feb 23 2014 (IPS) - New allegations of scorched earth evictions of the Ogaden people have raised concerns that a lack of benefit sharing could escalate instability in the region and reinforce separatist tensions as foreign energy companies prepare to extract oil and gas from troubled southeastern Ethiopia.

“The resources in this region will make Ethiopia rich but will keep us impoverished. A settlement is all we can hope for to protect our claim to some of the economic advantages of our natural resources,” Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) founder Abdirahman Mahdi told IPS.

The demise of Ethiopian dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam triggered a two-decade conflict between the government of Ethiopia and the ONLF, which began in 1994. The ONLF has been fighting for self-determination of the eight to 10 million Somali ethnic population living in the Ogaden basin within the Somali National Regional State (SNRS).

The government’s heavy paramilitary response to the insurgency has created “a humanitarian crisis throughout the Ogaden [basin] where half of the population live through famine,” said Mahdi.

Reports of forced evictions and human rights abuses in the vicinity of oil and gas fields is creating a new wave of grievances against the government in local communities.

“The army came to our community and burnt our homes and our crops. Our situation is getting worse as the military want many villages removed because of the search for gas.

“Many people in this area have been arrested. We don’t know where they are or if they are alive. Our situation is very bad,” one Ogaden man, who asked to remain anonymous, told IPS.

  • The confirmation of huge oil and gas reserves in the Ogaden basin is set to spike Ethiopia’s wealth as investment starts to pour in from foreign energy companies.
  • Gas deposits in the Ogaden basin are estimated at 2.7 trillion cubic feet over an area of 350,000 square kilometres.
  • Currently there are three oil companies finalising exploration in the area: Africa Oil (Canada), South Western Energy (Hong Kong) and GCL Poly Petroleum Investment (China).

Ethiopia has been Africa’s fastest-growing economy in recent years and could soon be an oil-producing economy. However, a government embargo on the Ogaden has severely isolated the region’s predominantly pastoralist population from Ethiopia’s development gains. Any prospect of consultation over resource extraction at this stage look slim, says Ogaden expert Professor Tobias Hagmann from the Roskilde University in Denmark.

"Our situation is getting worse as the military want many villages removed because of the search for gas. Many people in this area have been arrested. We don’t know where they are or if they are alive." -- Ogaden villager

“It is very unlikely that the local population will be consulted about local projects. They are not allowed to voice political dissent. How can they be allowed to participate in local decision-making related to development plans,” he told IPS.

Government spokesperson Shimeles Kemal told IPS that oil and gas riches “will contribute to the development of the SNRS including the Ogaden region.”

The Ethiopian government has been criticised by rights organisations for preventing NGOs from providing humanitarian aid to one of the poorest regions of Ethiopia and creating an exodus of thousands of refugees.

Amnesty International’s researcher on Ethiopia  Claire Beston told IPS that the Ethiopian government’s clampdown on the Ogaden Somali population “has severely restricted access to and within the region, including that of humanitarian agencies, and has also placed major restrictions on information coming out of the region about the true state of the humanitarian and human rights situation there.”

In December 2013 the Ogaden European Diaspora Association sent a letter to the European Union requesting that aid to Ethiopia be withheld as long as human rights abuses continue against the Ogaden.  “We are living under political and economic embargo. We demand that NGOs move freely as the humanitarian situation is critical,” Mahdi said.

Chinese oil company, GCL Poly Petroleum Investment, signed a deal with Ethiopia in November 2013 to develop gas reserves at Calub and Hilala in the Ogaden region.  A month later, the ONLF accused government militia, the Liyu police, of burning swathes of pasture belonging to communities close to Calub and Hilala gas fields.

A military clampdown in the region has made verifying such reports impossible. However, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported in 2012 that the Liyu police had been responsible for extra-judicial killings as a form of collective punishment.

“The Liyu police had summarily executed 10 men during a three-day rampage on a series of villages. These attacks, as previous abuses that get carried out by the Ethiopian government as part of its counter-insurgency campaign, take place in a context of complete impunity,” HRW researcher Laetitia Bader told IPS.

Much needed dialogue seems to be the only way to reduce feelings of disaffection in the major Ogaden clan, the Darod, which accounts for close to half of the Somali population in Ethiopia and constitutes the backbone of the ONLF.

However, faltering peace talks between the ONLF and the Ethiopian government broke down in Kenya in September 2012 and the resumption of talks could be further delayed since the abduction of two ONLF negotiators in January by Ethiopian security in Nairobi.

“The ONLF has a valid claim about the lack of accountability of international oil companies operating in the Ogaden. Further, the major clan family in the region is very much frustrated by continuous harassment and an absence of political and civic rights,” said Hagmann.

“They support the ONLF because it is the only organised opposition. It’s not the best choice since many Ogaden don’t support the ONLF but it’s the only choice for those marginalised by government policies.”

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  • mesfin

    so funy to see a Gojam pesant from north ethiopia as ogdene guy. full lies IPS. do not get jelious for the oil

  • mesfin

    ethiopia smomalis are 4million not 10million Mr. mahadi and we know u r not ethiopian somali rather u belong to the one failed state called Somalia.

  • Geesi Hanad

    The OIl and gas of Ogaden region belongs to us not Ethiopian highlanders ..without our consent no-body can exploit imagine the American Oil Company ,Tenneco first found out the Ogaden basin in 1970s , Why does Ethiopia use our natural resources as a political tool while it is annihilating our children,women and men alike. We have strong enough to protect our natural resources as long as a single soul of us lives.

    You,Abyssinian highlanders ( Ethiopian ) stop your day-dreaming we are men and women that stands to defeat you as we were defeated you aforetime.

    Somalis have been fighters ever since the down began and we as Somali Ogaden believe that we will knock the doors of Mekele and Axume again . You had better to learn from your history book. I am a somali and the son of Ahmed Gugey that taught how to eat the raw-meat . You need one more lesson again come to Ogaden and try to drill oil and gas.

    Our Natural Resource is political weapon ,we don’t need less than full Independence and Britain should regret and repent for its previous decision of hanging Ogaden into Abyssinian highlanders.

    Humanity will prevail against the Hebesha and so-called Agames or woyane cannibals .

  • Jeelle Cali

    Good Article by Interpress. The people in Ogaden are undergoing a full blown genocide and the world is ignoring that. unless urgent drastic measures are taken to ameliorate the situation, the Ogaden will become a cauldron for extremism. I have been following Mr Hagmans article about the Ogaden and ONLF. What I don’t understand is his unsubstantiated swiping remarks about about ONLF. Did take a census among the Ogaden people and found that most of them do not support the ONLF? we know that no country in the world support ONLF with material support, so if their people are not supporting them, do they live on grass and fight with sticks?
    As far as we know ONLF gets the full support of the Ogaden People and that is why it succeeded in stopping Ethiopia get the full control of the Ogaden. The only weakness I know people attribute to ONLF is that it fights a gentleman’s fight and try to respect international norms. This world only respects those who are immoral and vicious and I applaud ONLF for holding its head high from such depravity. To me that is ONLF’s strength, but some will like to smite your name with false allegations such as you use mines or you kill civilians, or Ogaden people do not support it or that it is only from one clan, blah blah blah, in order to show that they are neutral and try to apportion the blame.
    Keep up the struggle, you are the only sane and not clan based Somali force in the Horn of Africa. We, from Somalia envy your resilience, patriotism and insatiable desire to liberate the Somali in Ogaden from Ethiopian inhuman rule. Go get them!

  • Shemsu

    Good news to the people of that area first, then to the country then to the region then to the continent, even to the oil dependent non-African countries. Regardng the narration: the picture you put in the news is completely not in Ogaden. Correction: you need to take the statistic of the people of Ogaden from national statistics; Zero journalism ethics.

  • Godefay

    This is another attempt by the western lobbyist working for Egypt. Absolutely, there is not truth in this accusation. Western agents Egypt’s payroll are disseminating this kind of negative propaganda to so as to brew fighting and crisis in the region. I have friends from the Ogaden and they’re proud Ethiopians. Those behind ONLF’s sinister activities are enemies of Ethiopia–Eritrea, Egypt and some western lobbyist in Egypt’s payroll. Ogaden is a sovereign Ethiopian territory and ONLF doesn’t represent the people in the region. It’s a terrorist organization and its leaders should be apprehended and face the full force of the law.
    God bless Ethiopia.
    IPS and other lobbyist. We know better; your old tactics of divide and rule is not going to work. We know what you are doing and we know who is behind this propaganda. THE NEW FOUND OIL WILL BE EXTRACTED! BTW, according to other independent geologists and analyst, Ethiopia has THREE TIMES as much oil in Tigray region as there is in Saudi Arabia. Thanks to fracking the oil will soon be extracted and all will help alleviate poverty in my country.

  • Zee

    That is not a farmer from the Ogaden, but from another part of Ethiopia. Why are Ethiopian farmers always wear filthy clothes? Seriously.

  • to the author

    A day ago there was a report that oil was found in a well basin. If you were very considerate and what you spoke was true why couldn’t you’ve mentioned it when it happened. You make me sick bunch of soldout lobyyists

  • to the author

    liar pricks, go to hell since when is a farmer from gojjam in the ogaden you are all bunch of cocksucker pricks

  • hamza

    Godefay I can see how u aree sensiless and billindless eyes you wanna rule the ogaden Region do you know the times your horrible army come to ogaden to terrify the people in the region and operate as a terrorist army ihave another question for you does the ogaden people belong the land u always complain its yours or its the the of the ogaden community we defeat u before and beat u badly while you was crying under western nations and again i know always how to beat you


    Some people like Mesfin, yet they don’t recognize what Ogadenia stands for. It is the Land of Ogadenians by Ogadenians; whether they are 500 or 50mil not the bloody thick mouth Ethiopians; those eat the routine meat. Ogaden becomes the grave of many Tigray guys and I am sure u will lose many more and finally Ogaden people will be the one who still remains to rule all of it. Free Ogadenia.

  • Hassan

    Mesfin? You miss the point about the Gojam farmer in Ogaden. This farmer represents the greed of the Ethiopian regime and, in this regard, IPS is right to use the farmer to symbolize this greed.

    Mesfin? This is my turn. No more free ride for you.

  • Lee

    Real talk (as we say in America), there must be some kind of white supremacist conspiracy against black Africans, whenever there is even a flicker of hope of progress. On the very day New Age, a British oil company, discovers promising deposits of oil and gas, an article like this just happens to get published on a timely fashion. Leftists like Ed Mckenna do all they can to discourage investment in countries that badly need it by shaming them away. I mean, who would want to know that their activities are helping to facilitate human rights violations? It’s a theoretically powerful way to keep investors out of Africa, and Africans perpetually dependent on the “civil” societies who claim they know what’s best for Africans. It’s a very twisted paternalistic view of black people that the mainstream media shares with their cohorts in the environmentalist and indigenous rights organizations. They have deep seated contempt for blacks. And I think on some level they fear an Ethiopia that rises to its fullest potential. The thought of ancient Abyssinia returning to her former glory is terrifying to white supremacists – and Arab supremacists. The same goes for other black African countries. These nations, like Ethiopia, are rich in resources and if they realize their fullest potential this is a major global threat to the white supremacist establishment. And so, they feverishly write articles like this trying to counter any good news from Africa or… simply ignore the good news. Since they have acted as the gate keepers for informing society, to not mention the positives or to make those positives appear illusory, is to make them as if they don’t exist at all, so they can go along comfortably in their lives knowing those blacks are still beneath them.

  • Hassan

    That is according to your own wishful thinking!!!

  • Lee

    The divide and conquer strategy… it never gets old with “well meaning” racists. They always disguise their racism with compassion and side with the supposedly oppressed and more sympathetic political group, and more often, the displaced ethnic minority. By doing this, these organizations like Human Rights Watch, Survival International, Oakland Institute, etc… play racial politics, claiming to “give a voice” to the disenfranchised. And like clockwork, whatever ethnic group that might be, blindly sides with them thinking these organizations are really fighting for them, when they are just fighting to destabilize the entire country.

  • Hassan

    My response “That is according to your own wishful thinking!!!” was not in response to Lee but to Mesfin’s allegation that the Somali people under the Ethiopia’s colonial rule “are 4million not 10million”.

  • Abdi

    Cut the B.S. and stop acting like a victim playing the African vs white card. Ethiopia is not a regular african country but a colony that hasn’t left. That region is populated by somalis and the region belongs to the somalis in the Ogaden region and not Ethiopia.
    The Brits are the ones that gave the country away and now you’re calling them what?

  • mesfin

    @hassen, gantaalxwo ethiopian somali people get their right. administring by their own people, learn by their own languge, freely preaching their own religion. hospitals, schools, roads, huge irrgation name it you will find the present ethiopian somali.
    ganataal illitrate and inferior people tend to insult. please be wise.
    apart from that non of u belong to ethiopia somali people. for sure u r from that failed state. if u r brave enough come and try ethiopian soldir. ooops i forget we are inside that failed state

  • hamza

    what so Ever its the land for ogadenians not for Tigreys nor amhara but what aim sure is u understand by gun you dont understand though the negotiation and what is possible for any other countries in the world you dont deserve to respect your disguisting words and your meaningless policy our land is the grave of what you call brave army and the hynes and lion eat their cheap dead bodies loolz be there as men but dont cry and Uk and U.S.A when ever you feel serious attacks from the Holy warriors

  • Zee

    Stop being so silly. Ethiopia and Africa have been so horribly backward and primitive for so long it is embarrassing to say that they are seen as a threat to anyone. Have you seen the hovels Ethiopians build for themselves to live in in the countryside? Can’t even build a decent traditional hut. What glorious Abysinnia? The one that can’t feed herself. The only threat we have ever been is to ourself. Seriously, get over race mongering, blah, blah, and let us figure out how we can work with the world to better ourselves and catch up with the world. We do have a great culture, so we have potential, but cut this grandiose crap.

  • Okello

    About 99.5% of this story is a complete lie. WOW.

  • Okello

    I think you are one self hating habesha. You do not see the motive behind this article? Lee is right. You are so aware of our poverity and backwardness, but you can’t even understand why. Almost all European countries at one time or another tried to invade us, colonize us, and enslave us. Our poverty and backwardness are the results of years of endless wars imposed on us. Now this man calls a spade a spade you are so offended. Give me a break!

  • Okello

    yeah right. Harrarge is Ethiopian region. No discussion.

  • Okello

    yeah yeah…..the usual somali talk.

  • Jeelle Cali

    Mesfin, aka TPLF,
    It is the right of Somali people to learn in their own language not a privilege. We know that many people in detention, many women raped , that there is an economic and aid embargo, that the Ethiopian army kills the civilians with impunity and that the majority of the people are under duress. Therefore, do you think you can fool people? What human beings want is their dignity and democratic rights. And that can only be achieved when people are free to choose their destiny, not when patronised by people like you. The words Ethiopia and Somali are like water and oil. They cannot be mixed so don’t waste your breath by claiming that there are Ethiopian Somalis.
    As for being Somalia, or Somalia being a failed state, that does not give the right to invade them. That just shows how shallow and callous your mindset is. it further is a lesson for those misguided Somalis who believe Ethiopian are their friends, so it good for you to tell them that they too are being colonised by Ethiopia.
    Finally Somalis chased away in 2006 and expect them to do the same again. We have a Somali saying that say Aabow ka yar iga cell, kan wayn anaa iska celine, o father I can deal with the big guy, but please help me with the small boy. The moral of the story is I am afraid of the smaller boy-ONLF and people will shame because I cannot defeat it, but I can fight Somalia and if I am defeated not one will blame me . So run to Somalia and away from ONLF! Run keep running there are no longer the Warsaw pact- Russians, Cubans, Yemenis and East Germans kkkk

  • Zee

    Yes, I am a self hating Abesha… I hate the way we are unable to break out of our cycle of dysfunctional politics and poverty. What “all european countries” tried to invade us, colonize us or enslave us? I only know of one and that is Italy. Are you hallucinating? How about all our internal wars and enslavement of each other? Do you know Ethiopian history? All nations in the world have been threatened by foreign powers at one time or another, and still many do okay for themselves. Look at Kenya. Our poverty and backwardness can be easily overcome if we had the will to correct our harmful political culture. I hate it when we blame others for our own faults. Our elders never lied to themselves, were always honest, strong and independent, never self pitying. What the hell happened to the generations that followed? Self-pitying, waiting for handouts, self-destructive, beggars some of us have become.

  • AbdulRahman

    If those Lobbying for the regime in #Ethiopia are not lying, why don’t the journalists allowed to visit #Ogaden?

    This is not a joke, the Author didn’t write 0.1% of Ethiopia’s Atrocities. Who knows? When my whole family are slaughtered by this ruthless regime, I am the one miss them the most, and I know who will pay the price.

  • Mustafa

    The Time abbysinian Amhara and Tigrai represent East African people in the Lawland has ended. Its time Kushetic Somali Oromo and Afar and nomatic people raise against all kind of oppression..

  • Ahmed-hussein

    Ogaden and the north of kenya have been stolen by the british empire and given to ethiopia and kenya but we will fight and take back what is ours: THE GREAT SOMALIA

  • Hakeem Baale

    That’s according to Wikipedia, Which hardly changes, but the pew research and few others have put the number 7-9 million in Somali region , Ethiopia. Not all Somalis ethnically speaking, but other Ethiopians as-well. Amhara, Gurage, Harari, Afar and Oromo.

    I’m Somali Ethiopian, From Warder, Waal-Waal region, Very famous place, Where the 2nd Ethio-Italian War Started. I live in London and have been home 1st Time in 2014.I left 1989, I was 8years Old, My birth place Bole, Addis, And my dads town warder In Ogden. My mums town Dire-Dawa and Harar.
    Beautiful Ethiopia.

    Ethiopia has a PR Problem. Seriously I Believed a lot of nonsense written about the current EPRDF Government, Some true and some not Especially in the Somali region(kilik5). All I can say is this brother, As a Somali-Ethiopian I have never being more prouder than I’m now. Peace and understanding is truly back now in Ethiopia. Of course U Cant make every 1 happy.

    Ethiopia is the fastest growing Economy in Africa And Somali region is 1 of the richest in terms of commerce and Business. Especially doing Business in JIG-JIG, HARAR AND DIRE-DAWA As it is easy 2 connect to Djibouti. On the issue of ONLF, AND THIS Message Is 2 Other ETHOPIANS WHO ARE NOT SOMALI ETHNICALY, Please, Please brothers thread carefully as O.N.L.F Is held very high regard within my community, Some even say and I can agree 2 it, with-out them we wouldn’t even be here, So it is a slippery slope 4 some 1 who doesn’t understand the history of ONLF, To Just Dismiss them or smear their name like (terrorist). There are what the TPLF is 2 Tigray people and don’t think u can break that tie the Tigray peoples have with them.

    For those haters ur replying to, Why waste ur Time Brother Mesfin, 1: they not Ethiopians 2: Who cares, And the Somali-Ogden is A bonafide Ethiopian, And we will never ever-ever-ever again ,Listen 2 those monkeys who want 2 divide Ethiopia. Somali Ethiopians overwhelmingly voted 2 stay Ethiopia, when the TPLF Come 2 power in 1990s. So they are not secessionist. they just wanted their right, And GOD Knows they suffered under Selassie and the Dreg. And A good note. Let me tell u what a wise man 1nce told me. If u don’t have haters, I.e. Egypt, then ur not doing well. lol ኢትዮዽያ ለ ዘለዓለም ትኑር

  • Lula

    And yet, the so called revolution fronts ally with colonialists today and destroying their own homes for the sake of money. Blaming the foreigners since past 40 years doesn’t cut it.

  • Lula

    I mean liberation fronts or death, what have you

  • Lula

    I mean liberation fronts, derg, what have you.

  • Shelai

    Haha, those writing against Ethiopia, we know that Saudis and Zionists(who are actually Turkic) have allied for years now and plotting to control oil in Ethiopia?

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