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Ethiopia tries investment as cure for Ogaden conflict

Government keen to highlight reconstruction after decades-long war with fighters seeking a homeland for ethnic Somalis.

Ogaden conflict

Eleven-year-old Bushra Saad Awsiad's father was killed four years ago.

The Ethiopian government says he was murdered by fighters from the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), a group it considers a terrorist organisation.

Bushra - along with hundreds of other children who lost their parents in a decades-long conflict between the government and the rebel group - live and go to school at a government-run orphanage.

"I want to be a doctor when I grow up," Bushra said. "I want to treat the elderly people and the vulnerable. I want to take care of them for my country."

The ONLF has been fighting for an independent homeland for ethnic Somalis in the region known as Ogaden, in eastern Ethiopia. Jijiga is the region's capital.
There is still no formal agreement between the two parties to end the conflict, but the government says the fighting is over, and it is keen to show that it is investing in infrastructure.

Meanwhile, government officials deny that tight security restricts the political and civil rights of ethnic Somalis.

The majority of the ethnic Somalis work in agriculture. Twenty years ago they had almost no access to medical services or education.

The government says it has built more than 200 health centres in recent years. A new hospital is due to open in a couple of months.

A university opened in 2007 where 21,000 students now study. There are more than 150 high schools across the region. Twenty years ago there were just two.

"The Somali regional state and the federal government of Ethiopia is the real liberator of people from poverty," Abdifateh Ahmed, adviser to the president of the Ethiopian Somali Regional State said.

"We are fighting diseases, we are fighting illiteracy, we are fighting unemployment. That's where the real war is. That's where they need to contribute."

Ethiopia has an ethnically based federal state system that, in principle, gives each state the right to govern itself and even secede.

Though the government inists it is building bridges and making investments, in a recent interview an ONLF leader living abroad said the government was still ignoring the rights of ethnic Somalis.

"The ONLF is seeking what's already in the constitution, which is: every nation has the right to self-determination," said Abdirahman Mahdi, the ONLF's self-declared foreign minister.

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