Op-Ed: State Violence:  Systematic Ethnic Cleansing in Sitti Zone, Somali Region

Over a span of four years an apparent campaign of ethnic cleansing has played out in Somali region's western periphery of Sitti zone.

By: Mohamed Moussa Hadi

Over a span of four years an apparent campaign of ethnic cleansing has played out in Somali region’s western periphery of Sitti zone.  The zone may have suffered simply because of its natural endowments and geographical location.

The mass atrocities and heinous crimes have been unfolding in western Sitti, Somali region of Ethiopia, but the horror is completely hidden from the view of the world. In fact, it’s possible that you have never heard of west Sitti, whose whole community has been driven out from their ancestral land by state sponsored Afar paramilitary and heavily armed militia groups.   It is a zone that experienced brutal massacres, gross violations of human rights and serious breaches of international humanitarian law—including use of hunger as weapon of war as well as restricting of media, aid agencies and investigators.  

In 2014 Ethiopian government unconstitutionally handed over three exclusively Somali-inhabited areas located on the Afar-Somali border to Afar regional government without due process. The federal government forcefully silenced those who opposed the land transfer mandating the then notorious regional president, Abdi Iley, to sign an agreement whose terms remain unexplained to this date.  Following the new dawn in Ethiopia and the ousting of Abdi Iley in 2018, new Somali regional administration in 2019 unilaterally withdraw from the unconstitutional transfer of the western Sitti. Soon after Somali region cancelled the 2014 Awash agreement, Afar Region  begun genocidal campaign causing immense suffering  of  indigenous Somalis population in  western Sitti.

“Ethnic cleansing” has been defined as the attempt to get rid of (through deportation, displacement or even mass killing) members of an unwanted ethnic group in order to establish an ethnically homogenous geographic area. Along with outright removal, extermination, deportation, or population transfer, it also encompasses indirect techniques like murder, rape, and property devastation that cause the victim group to escape and prevent their return. “Forcible  removal, displacement and deportation of civilian population, deliberate military attacks or threats of attacks on civilians and civilian areas.”

Strategic location and resources

Sitti is located in northeast of Ethiopia and north-west of Somali regional state. It lies on the essential asphalt route that connects Addis Ababa to Djibouti port. The modern Addis-Djibouti railway line which serves as passageway to 95% of Ethiopia’s exports and imports passes through Sitti plains. Due to this geographic importance, the indigenous Somali population experienced waves of repeated mass atrocities and all forms of human right abuses including multiple genocides since 1948 when Haile Selassie annexed Somali region.  

The conflict in Western Sitti is neither clash between two regions nor civil war between Somalis and Afar but a systematic targeting of Somali civilians and premeditated  ethnic cleansing  which direct and implemented by Ethiopian government 

“Ethnic cleansing of Somali residents in West Sitti zone Somali region by Ethiopia military from the main road of Awash-Djibouti to handover Afar region there are no Somali in ENDF. Never been in history. ENDF were loading Somali people to remove from Awash-Djibouti Road and give land to Afar. They supported massacre of Somali people”   said  Bubal Abdi  twitter

spokesman of ONLF   Adaani  HIrmoge told the Dhab tv

“Federal government institutional like ENDF   are directing involve the conflict, with aim of removing the Somalis their ancestry land by for last year’s hundreds of Somali civilian had massacred   thousands were forceful displaced un unfortunately Ethiopian government not even despise to we are sorry what happen”

 Land grab policy in action 

For the last five years, Sitti has been affected by a combination of prolonged armed conflict, forced displacement, the worst drought in recent history and flash floods.  To make it worst, no aid has been offered by Somali regional government or international NGOs.  Following years of ethnic based violence orchestrated by afar paramilitary forces against Somalis, the deadliest mass killing took place in Garba-Issa town in July 2021 leaving hundreds dead and thousands displaced. An entire village was levelled to the ground subjecting properties to looting and plundering. As a result of this years-long tragedy and the mass killings in Garba-Issa, Adeytu, Undhufo, Danlahely, Allale, Biya-adde and other localities, more than 10,000 children have been orphaned while over 2,000 people lost their lives. Furthermore, more than 200,000 civilians, mostly nomadic pastoralists have been forcefully displaced ultimately ending up in congested makeshift IDP settlements scattered across all towns in Sitti zone without any aid or shelter.  The Somali regional local authorities remained reluctant to recognize IDP settlements as IDPs or to offer any meaningful support to the destitute people.

Abdi, 51 years old, and survivor of the Garba-Isaa  massacre recalls “during cold-blooded rampage throughout the village, we used a mosque as a relatively safe hideout, some others were given protection by non-Somali ethnic groups in the village. After two days of mass killing and destruction, Ethiopian national defence forces stationed in the town have loaded us onto military trucks as if we are foreigners.” The military watched as the spree killing continued unabated for two consecutive days.

“We consider that we are under Ethiopian state flag as citizens but Ethiopian government which claims to be a democratic state has failed protect the safety of civilians, our people were brutally massacred under watchfulness of  ENDF” said  Mohamed Adan, the Chairman of the ADF

“The central government repeatedly promised that they will protect the civilian in Garba-Issa, but the horror took place in the presence of federal security apparatus. Instead of saving the lives of civilians they watched the mass slaughter and then ENDF were  deported the survivors of massacre” said the spiritual leader of Issa-Somali Ogaas Mustafa Mohamed Ibrahim.   He added “the federal government deny release the tragedy incident to the media and national TV, because it was premediate massacre”

 State-sponsored ethnic cleansing 

There are numerous indications that this mayhem was largely fuelled by Ethiopian state in pursue of the decades-long anti-Somali rhetoric of driving Somalis out of their ancestral land on the basis of old Abyssinian policy of not trusting Somalis and regarding them as outsiders. This is clearly an identity and ethnic based violence. Credible evidences show Eritrea’s role in arming and empowering Afar insurgents and local militia from both Ethiopia and Djibouti.

Faisal roble, an American scholar hailing from Somali region, describes the situation in Sitti “looma ooyaan,” a Somali word roughly translating into ‘’expendable’’. Under TPLF rule, Somalis in west Sitti were forcefully put under Afar administration contrary to their will and to the constitutional procedures. Under Abiy, however, they got cleansed from their ancestral land just because Abiy wanted to attract Afar in the war in Tigray. Afar got rewarded given their role in the war.

 “It’s difficult to imagine how the people of western Sitti have been harmed, either individually or collectively, by acts or omissions that constitute flagrant violations of human rights or serious violations of international humanitarian law, resulting in physical or mental harm, emotional suffering, economic loss, or a significant impairment of their livelihood”   Sitti Solidarity Council tweeted.

Invading forces wreaked havoc on occupied communities, including but not limited to atrocities against civilians, weaponized gang rape, and systematic bulldozing of entire villages.

Following the devastating full-scale invasion of Somali pastoralist communities by Afar force and their alliance. Thousands of civilians were killed as a result of this genocide expedition, many of women and young girls were brutally raped and their property had ransacked.  Hundreds of thousands were loss of livelihood after compulsorily exiled from their homes and exposed to humanitarian catastrophe, however it is difficult to confirmed, because the Ethiopian government restricted access to the conflict-affected area and people.

38 years old widow survivor from Garba-Issa massacre  Filsan recounts the horror while talking to RSG media “It was Saturday. I haven’t forgotten about that day. It is the day I lost most of my families   include   my husband and my brothers were killed in front of me. I can’t sleep at night  up to  now we were fleeing  the middle of ruin of   ammunition the bullets knockout  my husband and my brothers then they were collapsed each other I have tried to arrange their bodies well.  I got shot with bullet. My hands were full of blood”  

About the Author                           

Mohamed Moussa Hadi is a humanitarian worker and independent researcher on conflict and climate change based in Somali region, Ethiopia.


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the Horndiplomat editorial policy.
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