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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Ethiopia: Building a Better Somali Region

By William Lloyd-George

Photo: William Lloyd-George/IPS
A five-star hotel being built on Jijiga's main road in Somali Region.
For over two decades Somali Region, in eastern Ethiopia, has been devastated by a grueling insurgency.
Trapped in a time warp, it has been forgotten and underdeveloped. But in the last few years, thanks to the increased security here, a five-star hotel, eco-tourism ventures and even a large abattoir are being built by the former diaspora community.

This comes after the regional government encouraged people to return and support development in this Horn of Africa nation through global campaigns conducted in countries like the United States and the United Kingdom.

"For years, I just thought it was too dangerous to return," Zara Wale Abas, who had settled in Denmark, told IPS. "When the region's vice president came and showed us the development going on, I was really surprised and wanted to return and check it out for myself."

For many who remember Jijiga as a forgotten, war-torn region, photos of new hospitals, roads, schools and bridges - though still very few in number - have inspired many to take what they felt to be a brave step: to return home to see the development for themselves. In the last two years, over 300 people have returned, part- and full-time, to work on various projects.

In 2011, Abas came to Jijiga and ended up building an eco-tourist hotel, which she hopes will attract the diaspora and tourists. "It might still be just a few people who have returned but considering the insecurity the region endured for so long, this is a huge step for our people."

According to Axmed Maxamad Shugri, head of the government's Regional Diaspora Office, which assists those returning, the main reason for so many staying away from the region for so long is the misinformation spread by the Ogaden National Liberation Front or ONLF.

"The ONLF tell the diaspora that Somali Region is a war zone," he told IPS. "For years no one even thought about coming back, so it really is significant that people are starting to. It is just the beginning and we need everyone to come back to help the region develop."

The ONLF is largely made up of Ogaden people, a Somali clan that has fought for an independent state here since the 1991 fall from power of Ethiopian dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam. The ONLF is now in peace talks with the Ethiopian government. But after it took up arms, what followed was nearly two decades of a bloody insurgency, with civilians often being targeted by both sides.

As a result, various aid agencies were restricted from working in the region, where the residents endured several devastating droughts. Many of the five million people who inhabit the region live simple pastoralist lives, and the lack of peace and water severely disrupted their fragile existence.

Source: AllAfrica

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