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Sudan Tribune

Plural news and views on Sudan

Kenya should have heeded Oromo warning

By Peter Kimani, The Daily Nation

July 15, 2005 — Against all expectations, the government is yet to announce a commission of inquiry to look into the senseless slaughter in Marsabit [northeastern Kenya], and set a deadline within which the team is supposed to table its findings.

It’s a time-buying gimmick that has worked wonders in the past. They have also changed the original version of events blaming the slaughter on an abstract enemy: Oromo Liberation Front insurgents.

No explanation, however, has been offered to demonstrate how the killing of tens of Kenyan civilians, most of them women and children, would help advance a political cause in Ethiopia.

History, most of it recent, reveals that the problem in Northeastern Province is inextricably connected with the broader turmoil that has engulfed the Horn of Africa.

The OLF came onto the scene in 1973 to push for an autonomous Oromo state and break away from the rest of Ethiopia. The area they identify as the Oromo “homeland” is about half the country.

The OLF has bases in Ethiopia and Somalia by virtue of the Oromo people being scattered across the two countries. Oromos are also found in Kenya.

Oromo fighters have also been operating in Sudan, and that country has been seen as a more potent threat to Eritrea due to its ability to stir up trouble within the larger Islamic population in the region. Eritrea has a delicate balance of Christians and Muslims in population of four million.

On its part, Eritrea has been supporting the Sudanese National Democratic Alliance, ensuring peace in the eastern parts of Sudan comes in pieces.

With its tentacles thus spread across the region, the Oromo Liberation Front remains a potent threat to regional stability, although its incursions into Ethiopia have been minimal.

OLF elements are reported to have killed 28 people in two separate “terrorist” attacks in Kenya since 2000. The first, in March of 2000, occurred when a truck from Kenya drove over a landmine placed by the OLF, although some say it was probably intended for an Ethiopian target.

The more recent attack involved a small explosive detonated at the Ethiopian Railway Commission in the southeastern town of Dire Dawa. Each attack killed 14 people.

Since the 2000 landmine disaster, the Ethiopian government has been on an aggressive campaign to eliminate the OLF, and last year, enlisted the support of the Kenya government.

The mission to help crush OLF militants said to operate in Northeastern Province climaxed in the Joint Border Commission that met in Nairobi on 3 June 2004.

“Some countries in the region,” warned OLF in a press release issued on their website last June, “are pursuing unwise policies and practices that seem to further exacerbate the already delicate situation.

“The well-planned, on-going joint military operation by Ethiopian-Kenyan military along the common border only contributes to the insecurity, instability and unwanted cultural and political tensions between peoples and even governments in the area.”

There is a chilling edge to the statement, and this week’s events could be attributed to resentment that the Oromo elements may have harboured due to Kenya’s co-operation with Addis Ababa.

Even then, it would be foolhardy to ignore earlier struggles that have pitted Kenya’s pastoral communities against one another, usually over water and pasture.

Perhaps, it would help to understand why the Modogashe Declaration of 2001 failed. This was the agreement where compensation yardsticks were set out to discourage acts of aggression.

Finally, it would be interesting to know why the government has not seen it fit to establish a garrison in Northeastern Province, and why the ominous warning by the OLF was not taken seriously.

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