Since 1994, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) had been waging an armed insurgency in the Somali Regional State of Ethiopia, fighting for self-determination for Somalis. Attempts at peace talks had always failed as the warring parties lacked negotiation skills and failed to involve the wider population.
But by 2011, both sides had concluded that there could be no decisive military victory and that the conflict could only be resolved through a negotiated settlement. Talks reopened, and Conciliation Resources (CR) was invited in to provide technical support and consultancy on the process.
The UK and Swiss governments provided £521,000 to fund the work – a fraction of the $250m that the Somali Regional State was spending annually on security.
Not only did CR provide skills and technical advice to the Kenyan facilitation team leading the negotiations, but it also provided the ONLF with advice and training in negotiation and articulation skills, and helped it to develop a political roadmap to transition from an armed group to a political party.
The charity also consulted with local people, including fighters in the armed group, and diaspora and refugee communities in other countries, feeding all these views into the process.
Local ownership underpins all of the charity’s peacebuilding activities – developing partners’ skills and influence so that they can lead initiatives that respond to the needs of communities on the ground.
In September 2018, after six years of talks, the Ethiopian government and the ONLF signed a peace deal. The ONLF disarmed and is now an official political party taking part in elections. Ending 25 years of war, the deal has allowed many thousands of refugees to return home and transformed the lives of 10 million people living in the region. While increasing violence has been seen in other parts of Ethiopia in 2020, the Somali Region remains relatively stable, with the peace deal still holding.
CR is continuing to work with the regional government, the ONLF and local civil society to support initiatives designed to sustain peace.
Charity Awards judge Ruth Davison described CR as “very progressive and at the forefront of inclusive leadership”.
She said: “This is really complicated and carefully thought-out work and I thought what they were achieving was exceptional in terms of ending the conflict, which underpins the causes of much poverty and injustice.
“Since they were founded 25 years ago, their whole principle has been based on how to help local people broker their own peace deals. They train local conciliators, bring in participatory skills and deep expertise and build local capacity. It’s the opposite of white saviourism and exactly the kind of model I think we should be seeing more of in international development.”
CC Reg no. 1055436