A nefarious conspiracy by the Ethiopian government could be behind recent Afar-Somali clash

Deadly conflict in Garba Isse between Somali and Afar regional forces may have been the result of a larger conspiracy. 

Conflicts between Somali and Afar communities in Ethiopia have been reoccurring since Mustafa Omer was unexpectedly named president of the Somali Regional State in 2018. Although border towns between the Somali and Afar regions have been under dispute for a couple of decades, direct conflict and military engagement between the two regional forces became more common after the installation of Mustafa’s interim administration.

Afar and Somali people are neighboring communities who share similar cultures, faiths, and other traditions. Both communities desire a peaceful coexistence. However, it appears as though leaders in Addis Abeba, Semera, and Jijiga have made a habit of exacerbating violence for various political agendas.

In the most recent example, over 300 Somalis were killed by Afar militias–aided by Afar regional forces–in a conflict that began on 24 July. Following the incident, the bodies of Somali victims were found littered all over the roads of Garba Isse.

Somalis living in Garba Isse were unarmed and no Somali regional force member was present in the area, as they had been deployed to Amhara regional state to support federal and Amhara forces in the Tigray war.

As they took full control of the small town, Afar militias and authorities prevented the burial of Somali victims, according to family members of some victims that I have contact with.

Somali regional forces were mobilized to enter Garba Isse and push out Afar militias following the attacks, which was initially successful. After carrying out the short-lived campaign to free Garba Isse, Mustafa ordered the Somali forces to vacate the town. This decision permitted Afar militias to capture Garba Isse once again and continue killings.

Although Mustafa is yet to give a statement denouncing the attacks or express condolences, protests condemning the violence against Somalis in Sitti Zone and Garba Isse were conducted in numerous parts of the Somali region.

A senior Prosperity Party member and Somali federal representative, Dr. Abdiwasa Bade, posted on his personal Facebook page that those responsible for the inter-ethnic violence should be held accountable and that Somali victims must be supported.

Somalis around the world showed their support to Dr. Abdiwasa. This outpouring of support demonstrates how members of the Somali community are desperate for their pain and deaths to simply be acknowledged. Sadly, Dr. Abdiwasa was ordered or pressured, according to some colleagues, to remove his personal yet controversial Facebook post, and he did so less than two days later.

Larger conspiracy?

Some Somali locals that I have contact with suspect that this gruesome carnage is not just a Somali-Afar border conflict. Rather, they think it could be an incident that has been, to an extent, orchestrated, exacerbated, and used by the administration for ulterior gains in the Tigray war.

Following the incident, officials in the Somali region and diaspora activists with large followings and close ties to the administration instrumentalized the massacre. The goal was purportedly to motivate protests condemning the violence, but there was also a hidden agenda to encourage blocking the trade route connecting Djibouti’s port to Ethiopia.

The Djibouti route being Ethiopia’s main trade and humanitarian route, blocking the rail means blocking aid going to Tigray. This shouldn’t be surprising since numerous reports have shown that the Ethiopian government is willing to engage in whatever nefarious activity so long as it deems it helpful in crushing the TPLF.

The government, of course, understands that directly blocking aid from the most important import, trade, and humanitarian route would cause an international uproar, risk sanctions, and exacerbate political instability, and this explains why Prosperity Party officials felt the need to come up with a more sophisticated, malicious plan.

Somali protesters were encouraged by pro-Prosperity Party social media activists to exert pressure on politicians in Addis Abeba, since federal government officials seem to be indifferent to Somali deaths. Dire Dawa residents, Sitti Zone communities, and Somalis throughout the Somali Region overwhelmingly condemned these attacks.

The Somali youth protestors were largely successful in blocking the road and rail routes. However, one must recognize that the blocking of Ethiopia’s main trade corridor is well beyond the capacity of few local protestors. And, this further indicates that this has indeed been orchestrated by government officials.

One might wonder why Prosperity Party officials would block Ethiopia’s main trade route, a move that negatively impacts the economy and risks further destabilization of the country. As this demonstrates, the well-being of Ethiopian citizens is perceived by Prosperity Party officials as being secondary to other more pressing concerns. At the moment, the biggest concern for Abiy’s regime is the TPLF.

Abiy has arrested or neutralized almost all political actors opposing his administration and his party’s authoritarian ambitions. In his eyes, it is only the Tigray region and the TPLF that are standing in his way–and, by extension, the Tigrayan people.  Thus, he thinks the TPLF must be crushed at whatever cost. Whether that is done via bombings, executions, displacement, or the blocking of Ethiopia’s main trade and humanitarian route, the consequences of these disastrous efforts are of little concern to the Nobel laureate.

Sadly, to the federal government, the unimaginable suffering the wider Tigrayan population goes through is negligible as long as they submit and TPLF is destroyed.

Finally, it must be stressed that such cruel plays from politicians where they use the death and suffering of innocent civilians, women, children, and the elderly for making political advances should come to an end. Also, border disputes between Somali and Afar communities require urgent attention, should be resolved in a peaceful manner, and the victims on both sides should receive all the necessary support.

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This is the author’s viewpoint. However, Ethiopia Insight will correct clear factual errors.

Main photo: Somalis in Somali regional state protesting the Afar regional forces attack on Garba Isse and the death of civilians; 28 July 2021; social media.

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About the author

Hafsa Mohamed

Hafsa is the founder and executive director of Maandeeq Women’s Organization (MWO), one of the first women empowerment organizations in the Somali region of Ethiopia. She has an educational background in sociology, women’s studies, and international development.


  • It is clear that Ms. Hafsa Mohamed does not know enough about the issue she is dealing with. The ISSAs were re-installed by the central power from 1991-1993 by EPRDF in three small towns, inside the Killil AFAR. Indeed, the story goes back even to the time of Menguistu Haile Mariam. During the famine of 1984, ISSA families were established along the asphalt road to facilitate their food supply by UNHCR. Following repeated abuses by these nomads on AFAR civilians, the DERG dismantled the installations and prohibited them from approaching 70 km from the DJIBOUTI / ADDIS strategic road.
    I say ISSA and not SOMALI, because this tribe does not recognize itself as SOMALI. It claims to be a full NATION. This idelogical identity, of colonial inspiration, was subsequently recuperated, disseminated and fed by the Djiboutian authorities, who squat all the institutions of Djibouti.
    The insecurity of the strategic artery guarantees the Ethiopian federal power the right to manage this road in a discretionary manner. While the ambition of the Djiboutian State, apart from the quest for living space to the detriment of the AFARs that the ISSA governors are pursuing in both Djibouti and Ethiopia, is to push its geographical advantage. This small state already exerts a disproportionate influence on Ethiopia, thanks to its port which supplies the landlocked country of 110 million inhabitants! By having a second lock, represented by the villages where the ISSAs would reside, it would deepen its hold on the trade of its big neighbor.
    Around this conflict revolve ideological motivations, basely political and commercial interests, and painful historical memories. Let us not forget that the AFAR are the founders of the ADAL empire in the 16th century, ‘had rallied the Muslims, in particular the SOMALI. At the time of its influence, the ADAL empire had waged a devastating war against Christian Abyssinia. The Habasha, who do not have short memories, want to avoid any rapprochement between ADAL and SOMALI. Because sometimes history tends to repeat itself. (Ali Coubba – DJIBOUTI)

    • It seems that Ali Couba is rewriting the history negatively. Somalis were living in the so called disputed areas many centuries ago. It is a well known fact that this area belonged to Somali region and
      It was the EPRDF regime that attached this area to the Affar region recently 4 political purpose. It is wise that the two communities live together peacefully.

    • Mr Ali it is too bad and it is barbaric i f you ignores the reality the ground. It is very dangerous for the existence of Horn of Africa communities if you any acknowledge and describes what is going as it is.
      Your premises is contraindicated itself.
      You mentioned the history of Adal state which were Afar Sultanate which is false.
      Not mentioned Somali history.

      Your argument is invalid first You said “Issa is not Somali” according the definition any ethnic groups
      Ethnic is groups of societies who belong common culture, language.
      Issa doest speak a language is not different from Somali and they same culture as the Somali s
      Second you dehumanization Somali by not acknowledged the atrocity and massacres of civilians population.
      More than 400 civilians including women, children has slutuater by Afar lp by help Ethiopia force.
      In 2014 Ethiopia government has illegal unconditionally transferred this very town to the dental state of Afar regional government.
      The draconian state of Afar regional state don’t fulfil the all agreement. In the contract the Afar region started ethnic cleansing and genocides as somali people.
      I hope you’re muslims and don’t deny the reality.
      Telling lies and groundless argument is prohibited from Islam.

  • You’re clearly biased against the federal government.
    You shouldn’t call yourself a journalist and learn to be objective.

  • Certainly it is one possiblity of the carnage, but I somewhat disagree with Musfa himself as being the main culprit or at the top of the instigators and conspiracy.. He could only be an instrument of the operation. The main players are top echelon of the PP. Just like the TPLF/ EPRDF used to instigate bloody similar conspiracies over decades by using their regional puppets like Abdi Iley who either willingly cooptef or coerced to do it. Either way , it familiar pattern now. What’s even more disturbing is when such atrocities are committed against Somali and few other groups, they get zero coverage from national press coverage, political actors and leaders by either designe or coincidence. On the other hand, if an old lady from Tigrai or in Amhara is missing , the situation is completely different.: You would think as if the the sky is falling.

  • Certainly it is one possiblity of the carnage, but I somewhat disagree with Musfa himself being as the main culprit or at the top of the instigators and conspiracy.. He could only be an instrument of the operation. The main players at are top echelon of the PP. Just like the TPLF/ EPRDF used to instigate bloody similar conspiracies over decades by using their regional puppets like Abdi Iley wh. either by willingly cooptef or coerced. Either way , it familiar pattern.
    What’s even more disturbing is when such atrocities are committed against Somali and few other grous, it get zero coverage from national press coverage political actors and leaders by either designe or coincidence. On the other hand, if an old lady from Tigtai or in Amhara is missing , the situation is
    completely different.: You would think as if the the sky is falling.

  • Thanks for the well timed insight, Hafsa. As someone with knowledge of the local context, you have demonstrated and shared plausible motives of why PP cadres may have had ‘their fingers in the pie’ – so to speak.

    Bear in mind, though, Shaebia agents from Eritrea (pretending to be refugees) have been known to take part in causing mayhem inside Ethiopia…despite being foreign, Shaebia agents are currently working hand and gloves with PP in Addis to sow doubt and suspicion among Ethiopia’s nations and nationalities.

  • The most likely suspect for the outbreak of hostilities between the Afar and Somali communities is the desperate TPLF vis a vis-a-vis its multitudes of agent provocateurs. The testimony to that is the timeline of the outbreak. Luckily it looks well contained for now.

    Communities that have lived in Ethiopia in peace for centuries have been agitated by TPLF directly and via proxies because as the Ethiopian union gets reborn, rejuvenated and flourish across every corner, sector and groups of people, the toxic dream of the treasonous, avaricious clique that have poisoned Ethiopia for decades gets destructed to oblivion by the second.

    • The two presidents are behind this senseless conflict acting in behalf of the Amhara PP/Ezema to prove Ethnic federalism has a problem. The conflict does not benefit to anyone nor achieve any goal for both regions. Particularly Mustafa’s side is very clear his leadership many of Special forces were killed and demoralised for going back and forth war without result. For over three years war he never came out one single day and denounced conflict and loss of lives.

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