Mustafa Omer, the acting president of Ethiopia’s Somali region, told VOA’s Somali service that he will prioritize human rights in his new role.

By Salem Solomon & Sahra Abdi Ahmed (VOA)

Earlier this month, Mustafa Omer lived in exile. Now, he’s the acting president of Ethiopia’s Somali region and one of the country’s most powerful people.

The dramatic turnaround comes less than three weeks after federal forces stormed the regional capital, Jigjiga, and forced the previous regional president, Abdi Mohamoud Omer, also known as Abdi Illey, to step down.

With no political experience and no mandate from the 4.5 million people he will lead, Mustafa faces formidable challenges addressing ethnic tensions and balancing Somali peoples’ desire for self-determination with their role within Ethiopia’s federalist government.

But Mustafa’s popular rhetoric and personal history have raised hopes that he’s the right person to lead the Somali region through a period of challenging transition.

Priority for Mustafa Omer: human rights

Mustafa Omer, an iconic activist, told VOA’s Somali service that he will prioritize human rights in his new role.

“Since 1954, when the region came under Ethiopian rule, there was no democracy and human rights,” Mustafa said.

“Over 27 years, people in the region were living under harsh crimes against humanity, the most painful ones committed in the past 10 years, so we will restore human rights.”

Mustafa added that he plans to create space for dissenting voices critical of his administration.

‘A lot of things to clean up’

“Expectations are genuinely high. People feel that he’s the right man for the job at this time,” Juweria Ali, a doctoral candidate in Politics and International Relations at the University of Westminster in London, told VOA.

“There’s a lot of things to clean up,” Juweria added.

In the Abdi era, violence, displacement and imprisonment touched many Somali people’s lives.

For 10 years, Abdi ruled the Somali region as a warlord, punishing critics with impunity and overseeing the Liyu police, a special force that human rights groups say committed atrocities and agitated ethnic violence, particularly between Somalis and Oromos, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group.

Earlier this week, Human Rights Watch called for an extensive, independent investigation into years of abuses, human rights violations and war crimes to redress wrongdoing and hold perpetrators accountable.

Continue reading this story at VOA
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