- Sheikh Ibrahim Abdalla Mah, the 1991-98 chairman and spiritual leader of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), died this morning in Abu Dhabi. The 67-year-old was among the founding members of the Ethiopian Somali rebel group, now posing a serious threat to the Ethiopian army.
Mr Ibrahim Abdalla Mohamed "Mah" belonged to the Somali minority in Ethiopia, which is mainly living in the Ogaden region. The scholar, who had studied in a Mecca university, became engaged in Somali nationalist politics in the 1970s, shortly after his return to Ogaden.
In 1984, the ONLF was founded to fight against the Derg, the military dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam, and Mr Ibrahim was one of six founding members. The ONLF was one of the major forces behind the 1991 defeat of the Derg, together with current Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's Tigrayan Peoples' Liberation Front (TPLF).
The fall of the Derg coincided with the election of Mr Ibrahim as chairman of the ONLF, a position he held until 1998. He presided over the decision to take part in the Ethiopian elections and opted for peace in 1991. But he also presided over the decision to wage an armed struggle after an Ethiopian government attack on ONLF headquarters.
The ONLF and the people of the Ogaden town of Wardheer saved Sheikh Ibrahim from an assassination attempt by the Ethiopian Army in February 1994. More than 80 civilians from Wardheer died in saving him. The attack hardened the Ogaden Somali people's insistence on independence from Ethiopia and greatly served to make the ONLF a force recognised by most Ogaden Somalis as representing them as a nation.
An ONLF spokesman today told afrol News that Mr Ibrahim is considered one of the greatest leader figures of the Ogaden, both as an ONLF leader and as a spiritual leader. "Sheikh Ibrahim was a father, a leader and a very spiritual person who believed in tolerance and the right of all people to live together peacefully," the spokesman said.
Mr Ibrahim was open to a solution of Ethiopian rule over an autonomous Ogaden - a region that is relatively homogenously inhabited by Somalis - instead of an attachment to a Greater Somalia. "He believed that free people who form voluntary associations is the best solution to the problems in the Horn of Africa," the ONLF spokesman told afrol News.
After retiring from the ONLF leadership in 1998, Mr Ibrahim moved to the Arab Emirates, where he continued doing representation work for the nationalist movement and was engaged in writing books and articles.
Since 2007, the conflict in Ogaden has intensified strongly, with the ONLF launching several major and successful attacks on the Ethiopian Army. ONLF is currently led by Chairman Mohamed Osman, who is a stronger advocate for total independence from Ethiopia and is known for a more militant view than Mr Ibrihim.
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