Photo Essay - June 2, 2004 -  MediaETHIOPIA

"Jijiga - the Gateway to the Ogaden"

A trip to Harer and Diredawa - we thought - was incomplete without a detour to Jijiga a city that marks the beginnings of the massive Ogaden region. Over some Harer beer at the old Ras Hotel in Harer, a team member suggested that Jijiga's role in the recent history of the Horn of Africa should be a necessary and sufficient condition (read a math/history minor at AAU) to require a visit. Of course the history of the late 1970s war with Somalia under Siad Barre and the emergence of the victory at "Karamara" as a symbol of the end of the Siad Barre era in Somalia (and Somalia's eventual disintegration) was what the team member had in mind. Nothing had prepared us for this rather short trip. In the end - after a day-long stay - what we found out was that Jijiga has a bigger name and influence in the identity of the Ogaden region than the city's physical smallness. The magical place for all of us was of course the 'Karamara' mountain and its celebrated pass where on a fine Sunday morning back in 1978 we finally heard that the Siad Barre Somalian forces  had finally been defeated. It is only at this location that one notices that the gates of the Ogaden and its hundreds and thousands of square kilometers of land open widely. A narrow pass of merely 75 or 100 meters - it seems - control who gets into Ogaden from this side of the continent and who gets to climb up the mountains to what is highland Ethiopia! It is a great Ethiopian story - this story of Karamara - we agreed among ourselves. Too bad that the only symbol we have for this part of our history is the 'Karamara' restaurant at Africa avenue where TPLF/EPRDF cadres (armed with pistols) come to enjoy kitfo and Bedele Beer.

In this column: Beautiful Jijiga women sell items varying from European perfumes to Chinese t-shirts. The road to Jijiga past Karamara is an artistic display of rock formations courtesy mother Nature. A lonely track heads to Jijiga from Harer.   A consistent thought that came out of our short trip to Jijiga was that given its importance, the town is still under-served with basic amenities lacking even at the standard of many of our small towns. Where are some decent houses, clinics, schools and some regional institutions (like a small college) that will cement its identity? Instead of 10 political parties for such a small town - we thought - it is time to get some real progress in this town. Jijiga is our gateway to Ogaden and if any real growth is to come in Ogaden, it should start from Jijiga! In this column: You can't it in this picture but this modest 'souk' sells the latest portable generators that money can buy. In the Ogaden, milk comes in different forms such as this goat and camel milk being transported to Jijiga from the neighboring Somali villages.  In this column: The view towards the Ogaden from the Karamara pass. Somali villages around Jijiga.

Copyright @2004

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