Clashes between the Oromia and Somali regions in Ethiopia on September 11 have displaced at least 30,000 people, according to a BBC report. The number of those killed during the clash has been a source of debate among Somali and Oromo government officials: the regional Somali government reported that over 50 ethnic Somalis have died in the Oromia town of Awaday, while Adisu Arega, a representative of the Oromia government, stated that 18 people have been killed, including 12 Somalis and six Oromos.
The cause of the deadly clash has also been a contentious subject, with representatives of Oromia citing an invasion of their region by a special police unit and militia force. In contrast, Somali officials cite aggressive regional police targeting unarmed peaceful Somali civilians, according to Mohammed Bile, an advisor of the Somali regional government.
“People were killed using sharp objects only because they were ethnic Somalis,” said Abdi Mohamed, the president of the Somali region, asserting that representatives of the Oromia region had done little to prevent the deaths, according to an All Africa report. Arega publicly called these claims “shameful.” The conflict has reanimated discussions about the country’s ethno-federal structure.
The long-standing conflict between the two large regions has its roots in “territorial competition.” In April, the Oromia and Somali regional governments signed an agreement to solve the border conflict and implement a 2004 referendum, which gave Oromia 80 percent of 420 heavily contested kebeles, or “administrative units.” Somali State Chief Abdi Mohammed and Lemme Megerssa, State Chief of Oromia, officially agreed to “take administrative decisions” for 147 kebeles on the border.
The clash in September 2017 occurred over a year after Ethiopia’s national government enforced a 10-month state of emergency in October 2016 after a series of anti-government protests that ultimately resulted in hundreds of deaths, as well as 29,000 arrests, Reuters reported. The 2016 protests were a response to the government’s announcement of a development plan for the capital city of Addis Ababa. Ethiopia’s government ended the state of emergency in August.
In a recent development, the government of Ethiopia announced its plan to send troops to “areas that experienced the worst clashes,” according to a statement by government representative Negeri Lencho in an All Africa report. In another public statement, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn affirmed that “main roads that cross the regional states will be guarded by the federal police; security forces of both regional states will withdraw from the conflicting areas in order to resolve the problem quickly.”