By EUE Consultant Dr Ahmed Yusuf Farah, 27 September 1995
Major Characteristics of the Ethiopian Somali Region
The Ethiopian Somali Region is located in south-eastern Ethiopia. It has en extensive border with Somali populated political entities in the neighbouring countries of the Horn. It is bordered with the Republic of Djibouti on the northeast, with Somalia on east and south and with Somali populated northeast region of Kenya on the south. Of the ethnically and linguistically based autonomous regions of the country, it is the second in size to the largest, neighbouring federal state of Oromia. The border between these big states is in some places blurred by culturally assimilated groups- Oromised Somalis or Somalised Oromos. Teherfore, administering these socially fluid border areas acts as a source of friction.
The Ethiopian Somali Region is one of the least developed parts of the country , making development and change very challenging for the so far unstable regional authority, the central government and the international community. Shortage of skilled manpower, inadequate basic infrastructure and acute shortage of communication facilities, constitute formidable constraints. This dismal situation could largely be attributed to traditional neglect of the region by the previous hostile regimes and past wars between Ethiopian and Somalia over the control of Ogaden. Instability of the weak regional administration did very little to augment the situation. Given the absence of effective modern administration outside the main urban centres, primary nomadic groups in the remote pastoral areas of the region rely upon traditional system of governance in which elders regulate lineage affairs.
Low and erratic bi-modal rainfall and generally high temperature, make a fragile environment that t is suitable for traditional livestock husbandry but marginal for farming. The predominant livestock economy depends upon herding a primary stock of camels, flocks of sheep and goats, and cattle associated with agriculture in areas where conditions are favourable. In spite of the fact that areas bordering the perennial rivers which transverse the region, Wabe Shebelle and Genale, provide potential for irrigated agriculture, the region is largely marginal for crop production. Cultivation of the main food crops of sorghum and maize is carried out in large quantity under dry-farming in the Jijiga plains and in other localized areas usually bordering the relatively higher and wetter areas bordering the cultivating Oromo Region.
As a result of economic and political marginalisation of this vast lowland region in the past, as well instability of the weak regional administration since the change of government in the middle of 1991, the region maintains a weak link with the relatively developed highland regions. This weak connection contrasts with the strong cultural and economic link it has with the neighbouring countries or regions populated by the Somalis. In spite of the fact that southwestern part, e.g. Moyale and Liben areas, are connected to the northeast region of Kenya and southern Somalia, the rest of the region and Somalia form a single cultural and economic zone. The close social, economic and physical integration of the region with neighbouring Somali political entities, is most marked in the case of Jijiga zone where the refugee camps are located and northern Somalia (home area of the refugees in eastern Ethiopia).
The Somali population in Jijiga zone is primarily composed of transnational clans practicing traditional stock breeding. This nomadic economy depends on a strategy in which pastoralists and supporting stocks are moved between season grazing region and dry season deep wells. The often scarce and seasonally varying resources of pasturage and water are distributed on both sides of the porous border, which is practically notional for seasonally migrating transnational nomadic clans.
The vital pastoral economy in Jijiga zone and northern Somalia supports more than half of the population in this region. It also produces live animals as the major regional export commodity. Live animals brought for sale by nomadic families to trade centres on both sides of the border, are exported to the Gulf countries via the northern ports of Berbera and Bosaso. The proceeds from exported live animals forms the region_s principal source of cash economy. A secondary source of the region_s cash flow is derived from agricultural goods (chat, coffee, fruits and vegetables) that are exported to Somalia and Djibouti .
The proceeds from exported live animals are used to purchase manufactured goods and food stuff from Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the Gulf states. These consumer goods are imported through Djibouti and ports in northern Somalia. Part of the imported merchandise is traded in northern Somalia while a significant amount is transshipped to the Ethiopian Somali Region through transit centres such as Hartisheik ( refugee camp) and Dire Dawa. This trade network linking Jijiga zone with northern Somalia, Djibouti and Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the Gulf states, is crucial to the survival and well-being of the inhabitants in the Ethiopian Somali Region. Undoubtedly, it is more important to the Ethiopian Somalis than the weak link their economically and politically marginalised region has had with the highland regions of the country- traditionally the seat of political and economic power.
Since the 1977/78 war between Ethiopia and Somalia over the control of the Ogaden, relief assistance delivered to established camps sheltering a large number of refugees has become a crucial part of the economy of this war-ravaged and drought prone region. This conflict had driven a large exodus of about 600,000 Ethiopian Somalis to Somalia. In 1984 , a second wave of about 140,000 Ethiopian refugees, both Oromo and Somalis, fled to northern Somalia to swell the number of Ethiopian refugees existing in Somalia. Partly as a result of the forced villigazation programme, these Ethiopian refugees were displaced by clashes between Somali and Oromo liberation fronts. The former was supported by Siad Barre_s military regime and the latter by the rival Dergue military government.
Thus, after 1984, 740,000 Ethiopian refugees were supported in large camps scattered throughout Somalia. The number of refugees has always been contentious. It does not correspond to the actual size of the refugees but it is rather based on the number of beneficiaries or card holders. As a matter of fact, it represents a compromised solution negotiated between the actors in the aid programme, namely the Somali government, donors and the UNHCR. It also does not account for the large number of invisible Ethiopian refugees who did not seek assistance but melted quietly into the Somali society.
In the late 1980s, a mass exodus of Somali refugees took place in the reverse direction. This large influx from northern Somalia had settled in large refugee camps in Jijiga zone in 1988. The refugees consisted of Isaq clansmen displaced by the civil war in the north between the Isaq-based Somali National Movement (SNM) and Said Barre_s military forces. Isaq refugees settled in large refugee camps at Hartisheik and Aware.
The take over of the north by the SNM in February 1991, produced an exodus largely composed of non-Isaq groups, such as Gadabursi, Darod and Isa, who sought refuge in Teferiber, Dher Wanaje, Kebri Byah and Aisaha camps. These refugee groups, particularly the Darod, contained a large number of refugees who were supported in the camps in the north. The Darod were associated with the fallen regime of Siad Barre, and the Gadabursi fought against the SNM during the civil war because of fear of Isaq hegemony. The Isa cooperated with the SNM in the war against the Gadabursi in Awdal region, but differences developed between the Isaq and the Isa who were suspected of harbouring a secession tendency- to annex their traditional territory in the disputed Zeila district in the north-west to the neighbouring Djibouti. Thus, non-Isaq refugees fled from the north because of fear of reprisal from the SNM and political uncertainty.
According to planning figures, there were 600,000 Somali refugees and 100,000 returnees in the camps in Jijiga zone., a rather inflated number based on cards on cards but not head count. This disputed number also does not take into account the large number of refugees and returnees who preferred to settle outside the camps with their rural and urban kinsmen . In 1991, an SCF (UK) Ogaden Needs Assessment Helicopter Survey, estimated the number of returnees living with their rural kinsmen at about 250,000 individuals. This survey also found out that the nutritional status of the local children was similar to those of the returnees. This was rightly attributed to an altruistic sharing of resources between the two kin groups - locals and returnees.
In 1993 UNHCR halved the ration delivered to the camps in Jijiga zone. This was done on the pretext that the beneficiaries hold multiple cards. This was due to the fact that more than half of the original refugee population voluntarily repatriated without UNHCR assistance, particularly Isaq refugees, to northern Somalia after the fall of Said Barre_s regime at the beginning of 1991. In collabouration with the security forces, the national counterpart of UNHCR, the Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARA), conducted a revalidation exercise in 1994. This reduced the case load from an inflated number of about 800,000 to about 184,000 beneficiaries. As of July 1995, the number of refugees supported by UNHCR in the camps in Eastern Ethiopia is estimated at about 275,189. Out of this, 90,289.00 are new arrivals who forced to return to the camps by the latest round of violence which erupted in the north on October 1994.
Since 1977-78 an important part of Somalia_s economy and that of the linked Ethiopian Somali region derived from relief assistance delivered to camps sheltering a large number of refugees. Foreign aid in the form of humanitarian assistance to the refugees constituted an important component of Somalia_s economy which chiefly depended upon export of live animals and to the Gulf and remittance informally repatriated from abroad through kinship organized channels. From 1977-78 refugee camps in Somalia became the principal source of grain for the commercialised nomadic economy on both sides of the border. Pastoral families herding stocks in the Ethiopian Somali Region, received relief grain from refugee clansmen in well-established and generously supported camps in Somalia. Those with out refugee relatives purchased cheap grain from the market. After 1984, camps in Jijiga zone sheltering Somali refugees and returnees from northern Somalia became an important source of grain for linked economic and forming a cultural region.
Characteristics of the Camps
An overwhelming majority of the refugees in Jijiga zone are Somalis from the northern region, although some Ogadeni returnees from the Ethiopian Somali Region and ex-soldiers from southern Somalia are also found in the camps. The non-Somali population comprise of a small number of Jarso group who are mainly found in Darwanaji and Teferiber camps. The Jarso is a greatly Somalised Oromo group who live with the traditionally "aristocratic" Geri clan (Darod) in mixed agricultural villages north and north-east of Jijiga which were devastated in 1991-1992 by inter clan strife.
Refugees from northern Somalia in Jijiga zone tend to reproduce their segmentary social formation in the camps. In general, each camp is located in the sphere of influence of a transnational clan, with clansmen belonging to local clan forming the largest number of beneficiaries. Different lineages of the local clan tend to settle in distinct sections of the camp. Refugees belonging to different clans live as hosts with local clan and settle separately in distinct sections of the camp along lineage lines.
Hartisheikh and Aware camps are located in the traditional territory of the Isaq. These camps shelter Isaq refugees from the heartland in northern Somalia controlled by the Isaq. Because they are located in the sphere of influence of the trans-national Gadabursi clan, and also because its clansmen constitute the largest camp populations, Teferiber and Darwanaji camps could be described as Gadabursi camps. For the same reason, Kabari Bayah and Aisha camps could be designated as Darod and Isa camps. Of the three Aware camps, Camaboker and Rabasso are located in a sphere of influence of the Iidagale clan. Therefore Iidagale clansmen form the largest refugee population in these two camps. The remaining Darror camp is located at the buffer-zone of the traditional territories of the Iidagale and allied Habar Yonis clans (Garhajis). The refugee population in the latter camp is largely composed of a mixed population constituted of clansmen belonging to the Garhajis.
Hartisheikh camp is located in the traditional territory controlled by the Habar Awal clan, therefore the largest population in Hartisheikh A is formed of refugees belonging to this local clan. Habar Je'lo refugees are greatly represented in Aware camps because they are located in close proximity to their home area, Burao region. Because they live adjacent to Habar Awal, Arab refugees are concentrated in Hartisheikh camp B where they live with the Habar Awal.
Hartisheikh and Gadabursi camps are located at close proximity (less than 50 km) to the boundary. This violates the United Nations rule that recommends, for security reasons, the establishment of refugee camps inside the host country at a distance of more than 50 km from the border. The boundary crossed by the Somali refugees from northern Somalia is functionally notional. Northern Somalia and Jijiga zone form a single economic and cultural zone where goods and people moved freely in the past and do so to a grater extent after the change of government in Ethiopia in the middle of 1991.
This linked region provides variously distributed and often scarce nomadic resources that support seasonally migrating nomadic clansmen and their stocks. Thus, the traditional deep wells, the dry season grazing region of the Isaq clans, are located in Odweine and Arabsio area in northern Somalia, while the water-less hawd plains in Jijiga zone (the site of the refugee camps) form their wet season grazing. Ryle J. expressed the economic linkage between the camps and the nomadic environment in the following terms: "The camps thus form part of the resources of particular transnational clan groups. In some cases they have been incorporated into the seasonal pattern of movement- the camp becomes part of the ecology- so that some members of the pastoral families repair to the camps in the dry season when pasture is harder to find. Aid grazing replace dry-season foraging." . Ryle J. 1992. Where there is no Border. A Report to Save the Children (UK).
Camps in Jijiga zone were commonly established at the sites old villages their names they have taken over, not as a result of proper planning involving UNHCR/ARA but spontaneously by the fleeing refugees from northern Somalia. These previously desolate villages, some of which were devastated (eg Teferiber which had a glorious history before 1960) and never recovered from past conflicts between the two countries, rapidly become transformed to sprawling trade and political centres, mainly as a result of the large influx.
In spite of their conventional role as sources of essential relief commodities and safe haven for war-displaced population, refugee camps in Jijiga zone dramatically developed to eclipse most of the local villages. As sources of relief merchandise that are widely traded on both sides of the border and as transit centres for imported goods, they have dramatically developed to become vital political and economic centres for the transnational clans in the region. Enlarged Kebribeyah and Teferiber villages have become wareda centres of administration, while the largest refugee village, Hartisheikh had become a commercial centre, livestock market and financial centre where Somali currencies (Somali Shilling and Somaliland Shilling), Ethiopian Birr and United States Dollar are exchanged. of course instability in the north (many wealthy Habar Awal traders based in Hargeisa own second shops in Hartisheikh) and the open door policy of the Transitional Government partly contributed to the growth and prosperity of Hartisheikh.
Children and mothers constitute an overwhelming majority, more than 70%, of the refugee population found in the camps in Jijiga zone. A proportionately large number of the elderly and the infirm also live with households largely headed mothers, many of whom had to shoulder the task of supporting their children in the absence or death of the household head - the father. Depending on the circumstances, many male members of the family, fathers and adult sons, are usually absent from the camps for short or long periods. These absentee husbands and sons are either engaged in wage labour in the urban centres in the north or seek employment and other regular sources of income; while others are engaged in economic activities in the rural areas. Part of the income earned from employment or other sources of income by husbands absentee husbands or adult sons is sent to the family in the refugee camp.
Table 1. Distribution of Clans and Registered Population in the Camps in Eastern Ethiopia as of 10 July 1995.
Site/Camp Registered Pop. Listed New Arrivals** Largest Clan/Clans
1.Hartisheikh 43845 14830 Habar Awal, Arab
2. Kebribeyah 10100 6 Abiskul, and other Darod clans
3. Darwanaji 36855 6153 Jibril Yonis (Gadabursi)
4. Teferiber 41301 5068 Rer Nur (Gadabursi)
5. Camaboker 17231 14689 Iidagale
6. Rabasso 8025 16840 Iidagale
7. Darror 12261 32703 Habar Yonis, Iidagale, Habar Je'lo
8. Aisha 15282 Iisa
Total 184,900.00 90,289.00
(**) Figures of the Transitional Government of Ethiopia on the new arrivals displaced by the latest round of violence, which started in October 1994 in northern Somalia.
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Editor: Ali B. Dinar, (email@example.com)