On August 14, armed militias from Ethiopia’s Afar region intervened in the villages of Andhufo and Dallahelay, in the area near the border with Ethiopia’s regional Somali state.
According to local press reports, the toll of the attack reportedly resulted in the death of 20 civilians among Somalis of the Issa clan, while the reasons for the attack were said to be the continue border disputes between local communities (https://allafrica.com/stories/202208140026.html).
According to the Somali regional state authorities, the Afar militias that perpetrated the attacks enjoy the support of their regional political authorities, and were allegedly incited to carry out these violent actions in the border areas.
Of a different opinion are the Afar regional authorities, according to whom both kebelè (the smaller administrative units of the Ethiopian system) have been not only always within their own regional territory, but also far from the border areas with the Somali regional state.
Bloody clashes had also occurred in the same area in October 2020, when authorities in the Afar regional state lamented the deaths of 27 civilians at the hands of nomadic herders from the neighboring Somali regional state, who have long been encroaching into the Afar region for the conduct of their trade and especially, further north, to exert control over the waters of the Awash River (https://addisstandard.com/news-at-least-27-killed-in-clashes-in-the-border-between-afar-somali-regions/).
The dynamics of the violence on August 14 is an expression of a phenomenon that is widespread throughout the Horn of Africa region, where areas administratively part of a state or a regional articulation thereof have in fact long been predominantly inhabited or frequented by nomadic or settled groups from neighboring areas. Situations that, progressively, give rise to border disputes that not infrequently result in open violence.
Not different is the matrix of the problem in the specific case of the villages of Andhufo and Dallahelay, which are located deep within Afar territory, along the course of the A1 highway, about 70/80 km from the border with the regional state of Somali, but are inhabited mainly by ethnic Somali communities of the Issa sub-clan.
These communities have long expressed a desire to be integrated within the Somali regional state, while the Afar government is unwilling to accept any territorial claims from what it considers settlers illegally installed on its territory.
In 2014, the two regional states finalized an agreement to grant some kebeles in the area (three specifically, Andhufo, Gadamaytu, and Adaytu) a special status to prevent the permanence of Issa communities from generating territorial claims while authorizing their activities by preventing violence. However, the agreement was challenged by the leaders of the Issa communities and violence has been repeated over time, resulting in increasing numbers of casualties and displaced people (https://addisstandard.com/clarification-gadamaytu-undufo-and-adaytu-are-inside-afar-the-regional-state-says-in-a-letter/).
In March 2019, the authorities of the Somali regional state announced their willingness to unilaterally withdraw from the 2014 agreement, leading to the Afar authorities adopting greater rigidity in their control of the area. This resulted in new and more intense violence with Issa communities, who refuse to submit to Afar administrative control, with recurrent clashes.
According to Afar authorities, therefore, the dynamics of the August 14 clashes were reportedly driven by an attempt by Somali Issa militias, supported by Somali state Liyu paramilitary forces (from the Ogaden region), to take control of the affected villages, provoking Afar militias to intervene.
According to the Afar authorities, there is also a deliberate attempt underway by the Issa communities – and the Somali regional state – to make the intervention of their militias appear as encroachment into Somali territory by defining the area affected by the violence as Sitti, when on the contrary the villages where the Afar militias intervened are in the Gabi area.
Finally, the president of the Somali regional state, Mustafa Mohamud Omer Agjar, instead announced the replacement of the commander and deputy commander of the local paramilitary Liyu militia, appointing Abdi Ali Siyaad to lead the unit. The decision was made after images and videos of numerous Liyu militiamen captured by Afar militias in the streets of Andhufo and Dallahelay villages circulated on social media.