Recently, Adam Farah, a Somali Ethiopian, shook his fingers at the government of Tigray. He was threatening it with “legal measures” if it holds local elections defying the law passed by the Ethiopian parliament. Adem Farah made the statement not as private citizen, but in his capacity as a speaker of the House of Federation.
Although Somalis occupy the second largest geographic area, and are the third largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, they have never held a government position as high as the House of Federation. Now things are changing!
Ahmed Shide, another Somali, is the minister of the Ministry of Finance. Mrs. Filsan Abdullahi Ahmed leads the Ministry of Women, Children, and Youth. Today, a number of other Somalis also represent Ethiopia as ambassadors in foreign countries.
However, the presence of officials at the federal government offices does not tell all about the Ethiopian Somali people. They are big in number and geography, but they are invisible to the eyes. They are on the land, but their histories do not exist in the archives of a country that boasts of thousands of years of recorded history.
Generally speaking, Ethiopia doesn’t know nations and nationalities, and more so the Somalis. More Ethiopian Somalis live in Nairobi and capital cities of many countries than in Addis Ababa. More Ethiopian Somalis live in Minnesota than in all regions of Ethiopia combined, perhaps except Oromia. There are no Somali restaurants, boutiques, and cafes in the capital city of their own country.
However, the political change in Ethiopia following the overthrow of the TPLF-led government has provided the Somali region with a unique opportunity. It has a chance not only to occupy TPLF’s place but also to change the Ethiopian politics which has been dominated by the cultural and religious values of north Ethiopia.
In the Ethiopian federal system, regions (states) have the right to both self-rule and shared rule. They have the autonomy to decide on their region’s affairs but also to participate in a shared rule of the country. This places the Somalis in a unique position to shape the Ethiopian politics which has been dominated mainly by elites from three ethnic groups: Oromo, Amhara, and Tigray.
The Somali region is a home to the largest Somali clan and shares borders with Djibouti, Somalia, and Kenya. It’s cultural and religious link with these countries is a big asset not only for the region but also for Ethiopia. It can be an anchor of peace and stability. It can also be a magnet for investors and tourists.
Somalis’s visibility in Ethiopian politics also has the potential to change the East African politics. Prime Minster Abiy Ahmed is probably the first Ethiopian leader to understand this. A year ago, he made a smart decision to delegate ambassador Mohamud Dirir to mediate a peace deal among different groups in Sudan. As expected, a multilingual and veteran diplomat has succeeded. Abiy has also sent Ahmed Shide and other Somali politicians to Djibouti, Somaliland and Somalia to strengthen relations.
Generally, Somali region has a potential to be a peaceful and prosperous region to its people, an indispensable force to shape Ethiopian politics, and an anchor of peace and stability in East Africa. Are the politician ready?