Field and river

20th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies (ICES20)
Mekelle University, Ethiopia

"Regional and Global Ethiopia - Interconnections and Identities"
1-5 October, 2018

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KEFYALEW Tessema Semu, Lecture of History, at Madda Walabu University and PhD Candidate in History at Addis Ababa University

This article examines the interactions of polarized interests of the center and its peripheral societies in the lowlands of Bale in the 1960s-1970s. The existing studies focus on efforts of the center to control its defiant borderlands, which limit our understanding of the complex interplays of interests on both sides. To narrow this gap, oral, archival and secondary data have been collected, analyzed and crosschecked in the interpretation. The findings show that this frontier was not only marked by the dichotomy of hostilities between governments on both sides of the border, but also by the polymorphous interests of the local actors. The region was a theater of war of resistance against corrupted agents of the center, in which the Somali- and Oromo-speaking pastoralists and cultivators forged strategic but fragile partnerships. The Somali had the backing of the authority in Mogadishu, who sought to annex the region. Despite giving the priority to getting weapons for their war against the authority in Addis Ababa, the Oromo of the area lacked unity, a clear strategy and a policy towards Somalia’s irredentism that claimed their territories. Thus, though the Somali and Oromo shared logistics and faced the same ‘enemy’, a deep rift lay between their interests due to their differences along linguistic, cultural and political lines, which jeopardized their alliance when they controlled the region twice in the 1960s and 1970s. On the contrary, though the center enjoyed the service of elements of the periphery, with which it succeeded in infiltrating the ranks of the rebel leadership, its agents had subtle contempt and benefited the rebels despite their nominal allegiance to the center. The border dynamics include colonial legacies, the firearm factor, “Giragn syndrome”, power competition, irredentism, contraband, ethnic nationalism, political disillusionment, and the cultural symbolism of pastoralism to the borderlanders. These issues also had implications for the history of the region in the subsequent decades. Thus, further studies on the theme of border dynamics are indispensable to understand such intertwined interests in the volatile frontiers.