Usual as it has been in the past twenty or so years, four Oromo refugees have been arrested or kidnapped in Nairobi, Kenya on the first of this month of February, 2014, and taken to an unknown destination. Below is an URGENT ACTION issued by the HRLHA regarding the current situation around the lives and whereabouts of the four Oromos who have been taken away by Kenyan Security agents:
The Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA) expresses its deep concern regarding the safety of four Oromo refugees from Ethiopia who were arbitrarily arrested by Kenyan anti-terrorist squad from Isili area in Nairobi on different dates of operations and taken to unknown destinations.
According to information obtained through HRLHA correspondent in Nairobi, Mr. Tumsa Roba Katiso, (UNHCR attestation File#: NETH033036/1) was arrested by members of Kenyan anti-terrorist squad, who arrived at the scene in two vehicles, on February 1, 2014 at around 10:00 AM from 2nd Street in the Isili locality in Nairobi on his way home from shopping. The other three refugees, Mr. Chala Abdalla, Mr. Namme Abdalla, and the third person whose name is not known yet were picked up from their home which is located in the same Isli area in Nairobi, Kenya on February 3, 2014 by members of the same anti-terrorist squad of Kenyan. The whereabouts of those Ethiopian-Oromo refugees is unknown until the time of compilation of this urgent action.
The HRLHA is highly suspicious that those Ethiopian-Oromo refugees might have been deported to Ethiopia. And, in case those Ethiopian-Oromo refugees have been deported, the Ethiopian Government has a well-documented record of gross and flagrant violations of human rights, including the torturing of its own citizens who were involuntarily returned to the country. The government of Ethiopia routinely imprisons such persons and sentences them to up to life in prison, and often impose death penalty. There have been credible reports of physical and psychological abuses committed against individuals in Ethiopian official prisons and other unofficial or secret detention centres. Under Article 33 (1) of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (189 U.N.T.S. 150), to which Kenya is a party, “[n]o contracting state shall expel or forcibly return a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his . . . political opinion.” This obligation, which is also a principle of customary international law, applies to both asylum seekers and refugees, as affirmed by UNHCR’s Executive Committee and the United Nations General Assembly. By deporting the four refugees and others, the Kenyan Government will be breaching its obligations under international treaties as well as customary law.
- Under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1465 U.N.T.S. 185) to which Kenya acceded in 1997, Kenya has an obligation not to return a person to a place where they face torture or ill-treatment. Article 3 of the Convention against Torture provides:
No state party shall expel, return (“refouler”) or extradite a person to another state where there are substantial grounds to believe that they would be in danger of being subjected to torture.
2. For the purpose of determining whether there are such grounds, the competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the state concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights. We strongly urge the government of Kenya to respect the international treaties and obligations it has signed
The Kenyan Government is well known for handing over refugees to the Ethiopian Government by violating the above mentioned international obligations. It is very disheartening to recall that Engneer Tesfahun Chemeda, who died on August 24, 2013 in Ethiopia’s grand jail of Kaliti due to torture that was inflicted on him in that jail, was handed over to the Ethiopian Government Security Agents in 2007 by the Kenyan Government.
Tesfahun Chemeda was arrested by the Kenyan anti-terrorist forces, along with his close friend called Mesfin Abebe, in 2007 in Nairobi, Kenya, where both were living as refugees since 2005; and later deported to Ethiopia. The Ethiopian Government detained them in an underground jail in a military camp for over one year, during which time they were subjected to severe torture and other types of inhuman treatments until when they were taken to court and changed with terrorism offences in December 2008. They were eventually sentenced to life imprisonment in March 2010. (Mesfin’s death sentence was later commuted.)
The Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA) is highly concerned about the safety and security of the above listed refugees who were recently arrested by the Kenyan anti-terrorist forces; and for those who are still living in Kenya. It urges the government of Kenya to respect the international treaties and obligations, and unconditionally release the arrested refugees, and refrain from handing over to the government of Ethiopia where they would definitely face torture and maximum punishments. It also urges all human rights agencies (local, regional and international) to join the HRLHA and condemn these illegal and inhuman acts of the Kenyan Government against defenseless refugees. HRLHA requests the governments of the Western countries as well as international organizations to interfere in this matter so that the safety and security of the arrested refugees and those refugees currently staying in Kenya could be ensured.
- The march to the river for cleansing
Oromos in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) and other cities in Ontario and other parts of Canada warmly celebrated this year’s Irrecha Holiday yesterday, August 31, 2013 in the suburb of Whitby, a typical countryside environment that closely resembled that of Oromia. The 2013 Irrecha of Toronto has also attracted some Oromos from cities like Washington D.C and New York, from across the border in USA. There were also visitors from Germany.
As usual, this year’s Irrecha celebration in Toronto included ceremonies such as dhibaayyuu or sacrifice, cleansing or cuphaa, hulluuqqoo and darraa-gubaa or firework. Irrechaa, which is often described by anthropologists as “The Channel to God”, in all its senses is equivalent of what the Westerners call and celebrate as “Thanks Giving”. Particularly the “Dhibayyuu” part of the Irrecha ceremony is the part that signifies the saying “Thank you” to God aspect of the Holiday. Oromos of all religions, ages and gender join each other in celebrating Irrecha. Some video clips on this year’s Irrecha in GTA could be watched at: http://youtu.be/s1h7SqVOiE0, http://youtu.be/Dhu4cOxYKRA, http://youtu.be/_Q98Xw-SrDo
- The components of "dhibaayyuu": cuukkoo, buna-qalaa and itittuu/aannan
- Firewood displayed for sale at a rural marketplace in countryside Ethiopia
A year after the death of former Ethiopian leader Meles Zenawi, hopes for change in the African country remain bleak, including for local aid groups struggling to cope with a wide range of restrictions over their work. The Ethiopian government passed in 2009 a law that restricted NGO fundraising activities and operations, and imposed stricter requirements for registration, like asking charities and civil society organizations to secure a letter of recommendation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Four years later and with the dictator out of the picture, the law remains a burden to aid groups, whose numbers have decreased since. Prior to 2009, there were reportedly some 3,822 registered civil society organizations in Ethiopia, but today there are no more than 1,500, according to a local aid official. In fact, the official told Devex the situation for NGOs has “worsened” under the current regime.
A year later, sources inside the country note the government of current Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn has failed to make it easier for these organizations to do their job. “The majority of Ethiopian local NGOs are in depression” due to limited funds and registration difficulties, noted the official. Many groups depend heavily on a small pool of foreign donors. And the Charities and Societies Agency, created in 2009 to regulate CSO activities, implements according to this source “double standards” during registration, being more welcoming to NGOs that support the ruling party. “Some optimists hoped that with new leadership the Ethiopian government would change track and carry out human rights reforms, including amending the abusive CSO and anti-terrorism laws,” Laetitia Bader, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, told Devex. “Disappointingly, instead we see much the same patterns on the human rights front — including large scale arrests of peaceful protestors and prosecution of dissenting voices.”
But what seemed to particularly upset the local official is that donors do not seem to be helping to ease these restrictions on CSOs. For instance, the official finds British support to build the capacity of the CSA as helping the government weaken the CSO sector: “DFID [is] repeatedly helping the Agency while civil society [is] in crisis.” The U.K. Department for International Development has a program whose aims include improving the dialogue between the government and civil society sector, and bridging the gap between the two. The program began in 2010, a year after the NGO law was passed, and eventually included capacity building for CSA to meet the program’s objective.
But an annual review of the program concluded in November 2012 noted: “CSO perception of a conducive political and legal environment is not improving; the Agency database is neither publicly accessible nor currently up to date; federal-regional cooperation is not moving forward (to our knowledge); Agency understanding of the civil society sector is not improving (partly due to high staff turnover); and the guidelines and regulations have only received a very minor amendment due to pressure from CSOs and DPs.”
This is not the first time that DfID has been subject to criticism over its work in Ethiopia. The agency made headlines last year following its alleged plans to use part of its foreign aid budget for Ethiopia to train a police force accused of committing human rights abuses. DfID has dismissed the issue. Bader said: “We are concerned about any approach to the CSO law that is based on negotiating individual exemptions or waivers. This just allows the government to cherry-pick agencies, which completely undermines freedom of association. The law violates Ethiopia’s constitution and international human rights standards and needs to be amended; without fundamental changes it will be impossible to achieve a significant improvement in the working environment for NGOs.” Michael Shiferaw, communications officer for the Civil Society Support Program, which is managed by the British Council in Ethiopia and is also receiving some criticism, noted they are aware of these concerns, sometimes perhaps due to some misunderstanding or miscommunication. “We try to bridge the gap between what the agency does and what CSOs in general are doing by finding a common ground,” he told Devex. These realities are not helping address the country’s multiple problems, such as unemployment, high cost of living and corruption.
While the current regime may be trying to reach that by trying to improve infrastructure, many see this dream as far-fetched. “It looks like an illusion … still we are in agrarian society and majority of rural areas are food insecure … When [I] go to rural Ethiopia, I consider myself as if we are living in inhuman way of life,” explained the official. “For example, I was born from farmers family [and they are still] depending on me. I monthly send [them money]. If I keep quit even for one month, they can’t exist.”
Source: International Development News, www.devex.com
- Engineer Tesfahun Chemeda
Engineer Tesfahun Chemeda, a political prisoner and prisoner of conscience, has died in Ethiopia’s infamous jail of Kaliti. According to a report by the human rights agency Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA), Engineer Tesfahun Chemeda, an Oromo national who had been in prison since April, 2007, died on 24th of August, 2013 in Kaliti Penitentiary due to severe and repeated tortures inflicted on him at different detention centers during his imprisonment in the past six years. HRLHA has also reported that denial of medical treatments has highly contributed to Engineer Chamada’s death. Engineer Tasfahun Chemeda was one of the 15 Oromo nationals who were sentenced to life in prison in 2010 by the Ethiopian court simply for holding a political belief different from that of the ruling EPRDF/TPLF party and the government of Ethiopia.
Engeener Tesfahun Chemeda, was handed over to Ethiopian security agents by the Kenyan authorities in April 2007 from Nairobi, Kenya where he was living as a refugee after being granted the (refugee) status from UNHCR. He fled his homeland to escape persecution by the Government of Ethiopia. Although it falls on deaf ears in most cases, such are the reasons why human rights organizations like HRLHA strongly oppose to deportations of refugees back to their countries of origin particularly when their cases involve political issues.
HRLHA in its report has strongly condemned the inhuman treatments and atrocious torture that the Ethiopian Government is inflicting against its own citizens and holds the Government accountable systematically subjecting Engineer Tesfahun Chemeda to death through persistent torture and denial of medical treatment while in prison “… in violation of the 1984 Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment which Ethiopia has signed and ratified in 1994”.
According to HRLHA, by handing over Engineer Tesfahun Chemeda and other Oromo refugees back to the Ethiopian Government, the Kenya Government is breaching its obligations under international treaties as well as customary laws, and therefore shares accountability in the death of Engineer Chemeda.
The Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa has called up on the Ethiopian authorities to immediately conduct an independent investigation into the death of Engineer Tesfahun Chamada, including the roles torture and denial of medical treatment have played in his death, and disclose the findings to the public. It has also demand that those who were found responsible be brought to justice.
URJII publishers would like to extend their condolences to the families and friends of Engineer Tefahun Chemeda while they are mourning his loss as a result of injustice.
- Part of the scene during the Kofele crackdown
According to reports by some media and human rights groups, twenty seven innocent civilians including five children have been killed, hundreds have been injured and hospitalized, and thousands of others have been taken into custody in two separate incidents in the first week of this month/August. The casualties were all the results of the heavy-handedness of the armed security forces against peaceful protestors who attempted to exercises some of their fundamental rights that are provided for in the country’s constitution and international human rights instruments.
In a clash between armed security forces and Muslim protestors that happened on the 3rd of August, 2013 in the Kofele locality of Arsi Zone in Central Oromia, twenty five civilians, four of whom were children, were shot dead while hundreds of others were injured and taken to hospitals in Asela and Shashamane towns. In another incident on the 8th of August, 2013 (which was the Ed-Al-Fitir Holiday) in the Capital Addis Ababa/Finfinne, an expecting women and a six-year old boy were beaten to death by the police at two different locations while thousands were reportedly taken to different concentration camps around the City after being detained for hours at the national stadium where they were gathered early in the morning for Id-Al-Fitir mass prayer that marked the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. The arrests include two journalists – Mr. Darsemo Sori and Mr. Kalid Mohammed – who have been working for a radio station known as “Radio Bilal”.
Both the media and the human rights groups, Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA) in particular have reported that similar protests by Muslim communities and clashes with security forces as well as the resultant arrests during this past week in particular have been in different parts of the country. These include Waldiya and Desse towns in Wollo Zone, Northern Ethiopia, the Afar Zone, and Waliso town in Showa Zone, in Illubabor Zone in Western Ethiopia.
Although similar protests have been taking place at different times in the past two years by Muslim worshipers in opposition to the government’s interference in the election of their representatives in the Council of Islamic Affairs and the imprisonment of some of the leaders of the Council, this is the first time that the country witnessed such brutal killings by the armed forces. And this has clearly demonstrated the Ethiopian Government’s violent reaction, despite the constitutional provisions, against peaceful demonstrators not only to extra judicially punish its citizens who attempted to exercise their fundamental rights but also to intimidate others into silence.
Reports by the Oakland Institute in USA have shown how Western development assistance is supporting forced evictions and massive violations of human rights in Ethiopia. Below is the details of the reports:
The Ethiopian government’s controversial “villagization” resettlement program to clear vast areas for large-scale land investments is funded largely by international development organizations. The first report, Development Aid to Ethiopia, establishes direct links between development aid–an average $3.5 billion a year, equivalent to 50 to 60% of Ethiopia’s national budget–and industrial projects that violate the human rights of people in the way of their implementation.
The report also shows how indirect support in the form of funding for infrastructure, such as dams for irrigation and electricity for planned plantations, plays a role in repressing local communities by making the projects viable.
Ethiopia is one of the largest recipients of US development aid in Africa, receiving an average of $800 million annually–even though the US State Department is well aware of widespread repression and civil rights violations. A strategically located military partner seen as a leader in the “African Renaissance,” Ethiopia is gently described as having a “democratic deficit” by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Yet this phrase does not begin to describe or justify the kind of routine violence and coercion taking place on the ground and documented in the Oakland Institute’s new report, Ignoring Abuse in Ethiopia: DFID and USAID in the Lower Omo Valley.
The massive resettlement of 260,000 people of many different ethnic groups in the Lower Omo Valley has been fraught with controversy and has set off an alarm among international human rights groups. Information around forced evictions, beatings, killings, rapes, imprisonment, intimidation and political coercion, has been shared, and these tactics have been documented as tools used in the resettlement process.
In response to allegations, DFID and USAID launched a joint investigation in January of 2012. After completing their visit, they came to the puzzling conclusion that allegations of human rights abuses were “unsubstantiated.” The contents of this new report, which include first-person accounts via transcripts of interviews that took place during the aid investigations last year, overwhelmingly contradict that finding and question the integrity of the inquiry.
The interviews paint a very different story from what DFID and USAID reportedly saw and witnessed, and for the first time are made available to the public here.
“[The soldiers] went all over the place, and they took the wives of the Bodi and raped them, raped them, raped them, raped them. Then they came and they raped our wives, here,” said one Mursi man interviewed during the investigation. Another man added: “the Ethiopian government is saying they are going to collect us all and put us in a resettlement site in the forest. We are going to have to stay there. What are the cattle going to eat there? They are our cattle, which we live from. They are our ancestor’s cattle, which we live from. If we stay out there in the forest, what are they going to eat?”
It is worrisome that aid agencies rubber stamp development projects that are violating human rights. Worse, they have chosen to ignore the results of their own investigations.
“Bottom line, our research shows unequivocally that current violent and controversial forced resettlement programs of mostly minority groups in Ethiopia have US and UK aid fingerprints all over them,” said Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute. “It’s up to the officials involved to swiftly reexamine their role and determine how to better monitor funding if they are indeed not in favor of violence and repression as suitable relocation techniques for the development industry,” she continued.
The Oakland Institute is an independent policy think tank working to increase public participation and promote fair debate on critical social, economic, and environmental issues. Starting 2011, the Institute has unveiled land investment deals in Africa that reveal a disturbing pattern of a lack of transparency, fairness, and accountability. The dynamic relationship between research, advocacy, and international media coverage has resulted in a string of successes and organizing in the US and abroad.
The Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa has reported that three innocent civilians have been killed and two others wounded in eastern Oromia’s Regional State, in Ethiopia in a violence that involved the Federal Government’s special force known as LIYYU POLICE. According to HRLHA’s report, the three dead victims of this most recent attack by the federal Liyyu Police/Special Police that took place in the early morning of July 7, 2013 in the Gaara-Wallo area in Qumbi District of Eastern Hararge Province in Eastern Ethiopia were:
- Mr. Ibrahim Henno, 38,
- Mr. Mahammed Musa, 26
- Mr. Mohammed Yusuf , 27
The two wounded victims of this same violent action were Mr. Nuredin Ismael (age 25) and Mr. Ali Mohammed (age 27). HRLHA has confirmed that both Mr. Nuredin and Mr. Ali have since been being treated at the Hiwot Fana Hospital in the city of Harar. More shocking, according to HRLHA, was that the bodies of the three dead victims were eaten by hyenas, because there was nobody around to pick and burry; as the whole village was deserted when the villagers were forced by the armed federal forces to leave the area. According to HRLHA correspondents and other sources, the forced eviction has been taking place in the name of alleged border dispute between the two neighbouring states of Oromia and Ogaden; although the Ogadenis have reiterated that they have not made a land claim along the border. The victims claim that the forced displacements, that have been going on for over six months, were always accompanied by dispossessions, lootings, and confiscations of properties.
In its URGENT ACTION that it issued regarding violent action by government armed forces, the Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa has urged the Ethiopian Federal Government and the Regional Government of Oromia to discharge their responsibilities of ensuring the safety and stability of citizens by taking immediate actions of interference to bring the violence to end, and facilitate the return of the displaced Oromos back to their homes. It has also called upon all local, regional and international diplomatic and human rights organizations to impose necessary pressures on both the federal and regional governments so that they refrain from committing irresponsible actions against their own citizens for the purpose of political gains.
URJII, March 19, 2012
Fear of Torture and Deportation
HRLHA Appeal and Urgent Action
His Excellency Lieutenant General Omar Hasan Al-Bashir president of the Republic Sudan,
President’s Palace, PO Box 281, Khartoum, Sudan
Fax: (00 249) 11 771651, (00 249) 11 787676, (00 249) 11 783223
Dear Honorable President,
First of all, Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA) would like to express its appreciation to the people of the Republic of Sudan and to its government for their hospitality and kindness over so many years towards thousands of refugees who have fled their homes to escape government persecutions in Ethiopia, Eritrea, and other neighboring countries at different times and now living in Sudan.
However, what has been happening to refugee seekers in Sudan over the past two Months is contrary to the good tradition of the Government of the Republic of Sudan towards the asylum seekers for many decades. According to information obtained by HRLHA through its informants in Khartoum, Sudan, the refugee seekers in the country, most of who are from Ethiopia have been subjected to different kinds of harassments, intimidations and detention.
According the report HRLHA received from its informants a number of Oromo national from Ethiopia have been (and are being) indiscriminately hunted and arbitrary arrested in the capital, Khartoum, in ma’imura detention center on Feb 15, 2012 in violation of Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 14 (1) “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution” which guarantee the asylum seekers to enjoy freedom and protection in the country they are looking for an asylum.
The HRLHA informants managed to get the following fifteen among many asylum seekers believed arrested by the Sudan Security forces at different places and time from their temporary shelter on Feb 15, 2012..
Kadir Martu, an Oromo artist who was severely beaten and tortured in Ethiopia prison for his songs in which he criticizes the TPLF/EPRDF Government for its discrimination against Oromo, Jaba Morkata, Amin Ahmed, Amin Haji, Muzayan Sidiqo, Seyifu Hussen, Sa’ada Shube (female), Rukiya (female), Rabiya Aman (female), Muhamed Galato, Muhamed Hassen, Seifadin Hassen, Shukriya Hussen (female), Hussen Majid and Abdusalam Kassa Erbu.
Artist Kadir Ka Mertu
The HRLHA is highly suspicious that there might be a plan to deport those refugees to Ethiopia; In case those Ethiopian refugees would be deported, the Ethiopian Government has a well-documented record of gross and flagrant violations of human rights, including the torturing of its own citizens who were involuntarily returned to the country. The government of Ethiopia routinely imprisons such persons.
There have been credible reports of physical and psychological abuses committed against individuals in Ethiopian prisons and other secret places of detention. Under Article 33 (1) of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (189 U.N.T.S. 150), to which Sudan is a party, “[n]o contracting state shall expel or forcibly return a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his . . . political opinion.” This obligation, which is also a principle of customary international law, applies to both asylum seekers and refugees, as affirmed by UNHCR’s Executive Committee and the United Nations General Assembly by deporting the detailed asylum seekers and others, the Sudanese government will be breaching its obligations under international treaties as well as customary law.
1. Under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1465 U.N.T.S. 185) to which Sudan acceded in 2002, Sudan has an obligation not to return a person to a place where they face torture or ill-treatment. Article 3 of the Convention against Torture provides:
No state party shall expel, return (“refouler”) or extradite a person to another state where there are substantial grounds to believe that they would be in danger of being subjected to torture.
2. For the purpose of determining whether there are such grounds, the competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the state concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights. We strongly urge the Government of Sudan to respect the international treaties and obligations it has signed..
Please send appeals to the Republic of Sudan Government officials as swiftly as possible, in English, Arabic, or your own language using the above contact addresses
Urging the Republic of Sudan Government set free the detainees without any pre condition ,
Your Concerns at the apprehension and fear of Torture if they return to their home country
Urging the authorities of Republic of Sudan to ensure that these asylum seekers and refugees are protected depending on the 1951 refugee convention.
This appeal and Urgent action is copied to:
• UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
United Nations Office at Geneva 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland Fax: + 41 22 917 9022
(particularly for urgent matters) E-mail: email@example.com This e-mail address is
UN High Commissioner for Refugees
Case Postale 2500
CH-1211 Genève 2 Dépôt
+41 22 739 8111 (automatic switchboard).
• International Committee of the Red Cross
19 Avenue de la paix CH 1202 Geneva
Tel: +41 22 734 60 01
Fax: +41 22 733 20 57
• African Commission on Human and Peoples‘ Rights (ACHPR)
48 Kairaba Avenue, P.O.Box 673, Banjul, The Gambia.
Tel: (220) 4392 962 , 4372070, 4377721 – 23 Fax: (220) 4390 764
• U.S. Department of State
Tom Fcansky – Foreign Affairs Officer
Email;-TOfcansky@aol.com>Washington, D.C. 20037
• Amnesty International – London
Fax number: +44-20-79561157
Email;- TGibson@amnesty.orgThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots.
• Human Rights Watch – New York,
By Messay Kebede:
Since the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the iconic leader of the opposition to the military rule, Burma’s (Myanmar) political evolution has become an important discussion topic for political observers and analysts. Detecting a promising shift toward democratic opening, Hillary Clinton recently visited Burma and held talks with political leaders. The hope is that, after decades of a dictatorial military rule and deferred promises of democratization, Burma is finally engaging in the serious path of political reforms and transition to democratic government. On the other hand, Ethiopia, which had a fleeting experiment with free and fair elections in 2005, is going through the reverse process of a repressive and dictatorial government whose notable outcome was the holding of an election in 2010 that was anything but fair and free and resulted in the regime claiming 99.66 % of parliamentary seats. The purpose of my analysis is to compare the two countries with the hope of clarifying the reasons why they took divergent political paths and assessing the implications of Ethiopia’s democratic retreat, together with the political options offered to opposition forces as well as to the ruling party.
Lest of being accused of comparing oranges with apples, I must begin by showing that the two countries are indeed comparable. Notably, one immediate and weighty counterargument would be to say that the Ethiopian regime has all the characteristics of a civilian government while that of Burma is a military rule, itself the result of a coup in 1958 against the then legitimate civilian government. I grant the difference but also remind that, while open military regimes indeed materialize the hegemony of military elites in the form of a direct or indirect rule––the latter often done through the conversion of military rulers to civilian politicians––there is an intermediate form in which the military elite forms a tight coalition with a ruling civilian elite. My contention is that the latter applies to Ethiopia, there being no doubt that both the history of the TPLF as a guerrilla organization and the privileged treatment that the Meles’s government accords to the military produce a de facto alliance between the civilian leadership and the repressive apparatus of the regime. Since the regime has lost any legitimacy in the eyes of the majority of Ethiopians, the use of military and police forces alone ensures its survival.
There is more to the matter than the above similarity. Though belonging to different continents and histories, Ethiopia and Burma share many striking similarities. To begin with, not only in a way similar to Burma Ethiopia was subjected to a repressive military rule for an extended period subsequent to a coup that overthrew a civilian government, but also the military rule in both countries was coupled with the implementation of a socialist policy. Just as the Derg traded its initial nationalist platform for a socialist agenda, so too the military junta that ruled Burma announced in 1974 the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma.
As a result, both countries suffer from a legacy of economic mismanagement imparted by the nationalization of the means of production and the subsequent spread of corruption and lack of accountability. What is more, after the disavowal of socialism, a skewed policy of privatization of state-owned enterprises has led in both countries to the formation of conglomerates owned by ramifications of the ruling parties or their closest cronies. Just as in Ethiopia privatization meant the corrupt practices of passing ownership to extended organs of the TPLF, in Burma, too, denationalization changed state property into the private property of generals or their cronies. Unsurprisingly, the prevention of a healthy and open competition and the drainage of the financial resources by the monopolistic and corrupt practices of the conglomerates failed to improve economic outputs so that real economic progress has remained elusive in both countries.
Another noticeable similitude is that both countries have suffered and still suffer from ethnic quarrels and insurgencies. Like Burma, Ethiopia is an ethnically diverse country with a history of armed insurgencies fuelled by a longstanding grudge against a dominant ethnic group. In Burma, ethnic groups have complained about the dominance of Burmans, who constitute 60% of the population, and the policy of Burmanization that resulted in minority groups being economically and culturally marginalized. We know that the source of ethnic conflicts in Ethiopia is the complaint about the dominance of the Amhara and the policy of Amharization. In the face of ethnic insurgencies, the central state in both countries has assumed the responsibility of defending national unity through the formation of a strong military force.
In terms of ethnic conflicts and their outcomes, there are, however, notable differences. Contrary to Burma, the Amhara dominance was not the hegemony of a majority, since the Oromo ethnic group can claim to be as populous (if not more) as the Amhara, not to mention that today’s dominance of a Tigrean group has plunged Ethiopia into the uncharted course of the ascendency of a minority group. Above all, the military in Burma were able to contain ethnic insurgencies, whereas armed insurgent groups defeated and destroyed the Ethiopian army. The clear outcome of this was that in Ethiopia the military junta lost power and was replaced by a guerrilla elite while Eritrea became independent. But as stated earlier, some such difference does not remove the fact that the TPLF’s rule is the result of one military force replacing another military force.
Most characteristically, the existing regimes in Burma and Ethiopia are similar in the way they react to electoral defeats. Both like to brag about the opening of the political field, which however they are quick to repudiate at the slightest challenge. Thus, in 1990 the military regime in Burma announced the holding of the long promised free election whose outcome was that the opposition party led by Aung San Suu Kyi, the National League for Democracy, won a landslide victory. The reaction of the military leaders was typical: they refused to hand over power to the victorious party and put Suu Kyi and other leaders under house arrest.
Restarting the opening process, Burma’s military rulers announced in 2003 a seven-step roadmap to democracy that would culminate in the holding of free elections. The promised elections were held in 2010, but which were far from being free and fair since, in addition to the electoral process being marred with widespread frauds and irregularities, the National League for Democracy was banned from participating and its leader still under house arrest. Even so, the ruling junta announced a complete victory by stating that the party representing it, the Union
Solidarity and Development Party, had won 80% of the votes.
We remember a similar scenario in Ethiopia. The relatively free and fair election held in 2005 resulted in the opposition gaining a substantial victory. The reaction of the TPLF was the rejection of the results, the imprisonment of the main leaders of the opposition, and the violent crackdown on protesters. A blatant intensification of repression followed, even as the holding of free elections in 2010 was reaffirmed. The promised elections were held amidst intimidation, repression, and restrictive rules. The ruling party unashamedly claimed to have won 99.66 % of parliamentary seats even if opposition parties and external observers spoke of votes being rigged and voters and candidates being intimidated and harassed.
It should be noted that the upgrading of repressive policy had comparable effects on the opposition forces. In both countries, opposition groups have failed to either force the existing ruling elites into dialogue or ease in any way the repressive policy. This failure has led to fragmentations over the right approach, some opposition groups turning more and more to armed struggles while others prefer to rely on the likelihood of a popular uprising. Thus, powerlessness has resulted in the split within the National League for Democracy, some groups having decided not to boycott the elections and work with the ruling party. Though Ethiopian opposition groups present a different aspect, still the inability to force change on the regime has caused splits and strategic reassessments.
As concerns differences, a notable factor appears in the relations of both countries with the West. Since 1996, Burma is under international sanctions organized by Western countries, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Such is not the case with Ethiopia, since despite widespread violations of human rights, Western governments have been reluctant to economically punish the Woyanne regime, mainly because the regime is considered as an ally in the fight against terrorism and appears as the only stable state in a highly volatile region. However, the difference is somewhat decreased when we note that the international sanctions against the Burmese regime are far from being efficient, given that the sanctions were not strictly enforced and that the two neighboring countries, namely, China and India as well as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, proved reluctant to support Burma’s economic and political isolation.
Where the difference becomes major is that the military regime in Burma, admitting its undemocratic nature, proposed in 2003 a roadmap that traces out a step-by-step progression to democratic government, which, it is true, many observers found painstakingly slow and unreliable. By contrast, the Woyanne regime has never been sincere enough to recognize its lack in democratic credentials, and so never offered any transitional arrangement on the grounds that Ethiopia is provided with a blossoming democracy since the overthrow of the Derg and the capture of state power by the TPLF. Some such attitude allows the holding of a bizarre discourse in which the regime interprets its crackdown on political dissents, not as an opposition to democracy, but as the defense of the democratic order against nondemocratic forces.
From the above disparity follows the Ethiopian regime’s constant game of deception, which blocks the need for a transitional process and whose consequence is the establishment of a political deadlock cornering many Ethiopians into rejecting the idea of evolution of the regime, thereby giving them no other choice than passivity or the resource to violent methods. Needless to say, to the extent that the impasse deprecates nonviolent opposition, it promises nothing but uncertain outcomes for Ethiopia as well as for those who control power.
Burma’s Incentives for Change
To understand why Burma engaged into a transitional process, it is necessary that we delve into the reasons why the military junta thought that gradual democratization is the best option for all. I have already indicated that the decision to open the political competition was not caused by the pressure of opposition forces. Then, what could impel a well-established dictatorship to open a political system that so durably and efficiently defended its hegemony? It must be said here that analysts differ in their explanation of the change of political direction.
Many observers maintain that the planned democratization is simply a fake promise designed to perpetuate military rule under civilian disguises. Others, however, are more cautious, arguing that there are some compelling reasons for democratization, however slow and unsteady the process may be. For such commentators, economic interests are the driving force behind the timid push for democratization. The first commanding point is the geographical situation of Burma, notably that it is part of a region that is going through an unprecedented economic boom. The realization that Burma, far from participating in the boom, is falling behind is incentive enough for the military to think about change.
The awakening includes the recognition that the dictatorial system in place stifles free and fair competition and encourages corruption and embezzlement, and so stands in the way of economic improvement. A dynamic market economy requires that the political apparatus be unlocked so that excluded and educated people inject their expertise, their dream of prosperity, and their social ambition into the economic system. In other words, political opening became appealing to the ruling junta in Burma, not because of internal threats to the dictatorial system, but because of the understanding that economic progress is conditional on political reforms.
A related incentive to political change toward democratization is the need to lift the economic sanctions imposed by Western countries and international financial institutions. What this means is that, once the military junta had decided to engage the country in the path of economic development, the lifting of international sanctions through slow but palpable political changes became an integral part of the new direction of the country.
Political opening became all the more attractive because of the involvement of many army generals in the sector of private business following the privatization of state-owned enterprises. The corrupt practice of privatization, which favored senior officers, had the unintended consequences of creating a business-military group with some leaning for a healthy private economy. This group of generals, retired or not, was likely to use its influence and power to bring about those changes necessary to accelerate the pace of personal enrichment. Stated otherwise, the fact that many generals privately owned businesses encouraged the gradual shift of their interests from political power to the management of their businesses.
One other reason for political overture advanced by some observers is the development of a generational conflict within the military. As the senior officers who established the dictatorial system became old, younger officers aspired to replace them. The best way to avoid generational conflicts that would undermine the unity of the armed forces is to transit to a civilian government, while protecting the interests of the military as well as of the old and retiring guard. A civilian government friendly to the military could be established if the military initiate and control the democratization process. Since the people owe democratization to the military, they would express their gratitude and their recognition of the military as the protector of democracy by favoring the party representing military interests.
Insofar as the Burmese evolution is triggered by the understanding that the establishment of a free market economy cannot come about without political reforms, it provides an important lesson for Ethiopia’s ruling clique. Meles’s government survival depends on its ability to control the repressive forces of the state. This ability, in turn, depends on Meles’s success in keeping the repressive forces materially satisfied and using them in a moderate way, given that an excessive recourse to the violent means of the state to suppress recurring riots caused by economic crises would be troubling to them. These two conditions point to nothing else but the need to realize a steady economic growth in the country. Meles understands this quite well, as evidenced by his flirtation with the idea of developmental state. To quote Addis Fortune, “having rejected democracy, the Revolutionary Democrats only have their ability to deliver economic growth as their source of legitimacy.”
Meles’s dream to bring about a developmental state must confront one undeniable fact: neither the pursuit of one’s interests nor the gratitude and the loyalty or fear of clients, still less moral exhortations, can nurture a sustained achieving drive, alone able to launch Ethiopia in a real path of economic development. A sustained productive appetite requires the challenge of a social system rejecting the ascriptive protection of clients, cronies, and ethnic associates, that is, it demands the exposure of the business community to the constant challenge of a competitive market. And since economic progress is necessary to remove the threat of popular uprisings, it springs to mind that political reforms should be an essential component of the survival strategy of the Woyanne regime.
My guess is that Meles dismisses the idea of political opening because he has in mind the Chinese model of economic growth without democratic opening. Yet, he should realize that the Chinese model is off the table for Ethiopia. To start with, Ethiopia is saddled with conflicts of all kinds, especially with ethnic rivalries, mostly nurtured by the TPLF itself. The proliferation of competing elites representing various ethnic groups places Ethiopia far away from the homogeneous nature of the Chinese elite. One of the consequences of the Maoist class war has been the elimination of elite diversity in favor of a uniformized leadership structure. Such is not the case in Ethiopia where elites have tended to disperse around competing interests, made particularly exclusive by identity politics. Witness even the EPRDF is a coalition of diverse ethnic groups, and so has nothing to do with the monolithic character of Chinese political elite fashioned by decades of ideological uniformity, Spartan alignment, and an internalized sense of hierarchical discipline.
Nothing that resembles even remotely the Chinese uniformization characterizes the formation of modern elites in Ethiopia. The Chinese characteristic of the political class, the military elite, and the bureaucracy being for decades under the control of a disciplined, united, and omnipresent political party is to be found nowhere in Ethiopia. Again, take the EPRDF. In addition to being an alliance of disparate groups, the main uniting force of the political front, namely, the TPLF, assuming that it has been somewhat disciplined, fragmented in 2001. The split and its subsequent developments opened the door to an influx of arrivistes, yes-men, and opportunists of all varieties. The consequence was that recruitments into the political, economic, and bureaucratic elites were based more on loyalty to Meles and his close associates than on ideological commitment and competence. All these people associated with the ruling clan for the unique purpose of personal enrichment through political protection and illicit means. It is therefore a divagation to assume that economic progress can be achieved with so many corrupt, incompetent, and self-serving people infecting the entire political and economic apparatuses.
The Transitional Process
However compelling the need for political opening has become to accelerate Burma’s economic progress and the very interests of the Burmese military, it must not be made to seem that the military are ready to hand over power to an elected body. As already indicated, the democratization process must promote their long-interests, and so must remain under their control for a foreseeable future. How could it be otherwise when we know the corrupt source of their enrichment and the absence of a serious threat to their continued rule? For them, democratization must guarantee, not their marginalization, but their integration into the emerging system and the preservation of their privileged place.
The means to ensure the above result is to place restrictions on the democratization process such that the military still command a political leverage that gives them assurance against political exclusion. In effect, the 2008 Constitution reserves 25 percent of legislative seats and all government posts associated with defense and security to the members of the military. In addition, the Constitution allows autonomy to the military in their own affairs, just as it puts them in charge of the protection of the Constitution, security, and unity of the country.
No mistake about it, the military still have extensive power and the political opening allows anything but a fair and free contest. Nonetheless, compared to the Woyanne regime, it has the advantages of clarity and the avoidance of deception and betrayal of one’s own Constitution, such as it happens to Meles’s government every time it transgresses the promised respect of the democratic rights of all Ethiopians. Above all, the Burmese Constitution has the advantage of promising a gradual democratization while the Woyanne’s attitude of denying rights permitted by the Constitution blocks political evolution, giving Ethiopians no other option than violent uprisings.
Granted that good reasons exist to characterize the transition process set by the military as nothing but a sham, a disguised means to preserve the status quo, the fact remains that other Asian countries have progressed into multiparty systems after decades of military or civilian dictatorships. All these countries have started with slow and incremental reforms whose effect was to create a growing middle class that became interested in supporting deeper economic reforms and political changes.
It is worth noticing here that opposition forces in Burma have evolved toward the acceptance of a transitional phase and abandoned their “full democracy now or nothing” approach by participating in the electoral contest of 2010, despite the many restrictions imposed by the military. Most significantly, after her release, Suu Kyi admitted the need for a transitional phase when she said: “I don’t want to see the military falling. . . . I want to see the military rising to dignified heights of professionalism and true patriotism.” Even if we assume that the military want to consolidate their power rather than to support democratization, it is undeniable that the opening of the political system and the participation of opposition forces can lead to gradual change reconciling the interests of the military with those of the nation.
Contrary to what is in gestation in Burma, the Woyanne retractions of democratic rights as a result of election defeat in 2005 creates nothing but a deadlock and a further deterioration of the political and economic life of the country. The only way out is political opening, as shown by the evolution of the Burmese military rulers, who came back to political opening after effecting a similar crackdown on the winning opposition party. The lesson that the Woyanne should learn is that the retraction of democratic rights is a recipe for economic mismanagement and stagnation and hence is not even in line with their own long-term interests.
The initiation of political opening is, moreover, the best way to argue for and make acceptable the setting of some rules to avoid a total loss of power. The deal should be the opening of the political system in exchange for some guarantees against marginalization, which is exactly what the military in Burma have proposed. Everything is possible in due time, and the Woyanne regime should use its hegemony to do what is possible instead of using its power to repress the opposition. The good usage of power is not repression, but the implementation of reforms that have the long-term outcome of integrating its own sectarian interests into the national interests. Since this process of integration is the sure way of avoiding revolutionary uprisings, which sound the end of reformism in favor of the overthrow of the existing regime, my question is: Why wait until things get out of hands with animosity reaches a boiling point even as solutions able to reconcile all interests can be worked out?
Opposition parties as well as the ruling party should know that their goals must be based on what is achievable. To do otherwise is to raise problems that they cannot solve for the simple reason that solvable problems are those that already implicitly contain their solutions. To project goals that do not contain their solutions is to plunge into a destructive utopianism, as illustrated by the mistakes and subsequent demise of the Ethiopian leftist forces after the overthrow of the monarchy in 1974. Meles’s government cannot stifle the deep discontent of Ethiopians and the challenge of opposition parties; as things stand now, the latter (I am speaking of those committed to a nonviolent strategy) cannot force the ruling party to play the game of fair and free election. What remains but that which protrudes as reasonable and feasible by default, namely, the path of mutual accommodation.
Urjii 20, Dec 2011
Dr. Asafa Jalata
By Asafa Jalata | December 18, 2011
We have reached at the dead end in our national struggle. The Oromo national movement has lost its steam and direction as its leadership and ideology have faced deep crises. The leadership of the Oromo national movement, specifically the OLF, could not effectively lead an Oromo revolution due to some external and internal factors. The external factors have included regional, domestic and international forces (i.e. Ethiopian, regional and global forces) that are determined to destroy the Oromo struggle. The internal factors have included the lack of substantial coherent revolutionary Oromo elites, the explosion of opportunist and mercenary Oromos, the failure to transform Oromo awareness to Oromummaa (Oromo nationalism), the lack of ideological clarity, and the political ignorance, passivism, and the fatalism of the populace. These internal problems were mainly caused by the policies of the successive Habasha governments that have conspired against the Oromo people by destroying their independent leadership and institutions and by denying an education to the Oromo majority. This piece focuses on the problems of the human agency the Oromo elites and society, and proposes some urgent practical solutions.
The Oromo Elites: Recognizing Shortcomings and overcoming them
The division of the OLF into three wings due to political ineptness and immaturity, the lack of understanding of the complexity of the Oromo nation and its politics, false competition for political power, low level of nationalist consciousness, and the use of the cheap politics of clan and region have created deeper crises and confusions among the Diaspora Oromo. Furthermore, the inability of one of these branches to develop itself as a formidable liberation front has complicated the crisis of the Oromo national movement. In addition, the three branches of the OLF have failed to learn from their past mistakes and to reconcile in order to unify and rebuild the Oromo national movement. Unfortunately, other Oromo independent organizations have also drastically failed to carry out their political missions and objectives. All these conditions have given an ample opportunity for the external and the internal enemies of the Oromo nation to attack clandestinely and openly the Oromo movement in order to reduce its effectiveness or to destroy it totally. What are our national responsibilities for those of us who have understood these chains of problems and dangers for our struggle and our nation? To solve our internal problems and to mobilize and organize our people in the Diaspora in this age of apathy and confusion are going to be an upward battle.
The Oromo elites whether they are in leadership or not lack ideological coherence, political maturity, and skills for national consensus building. They focus on their narrow perceptions and agendas. Hence they jump to form political organizations that promote such perceptions and agendas at the cost of the national interest. Those in leadership position are determined to maintain their dead-end politics and status quo without effective contributions. There are also some Oromo elites who have commitment to serve the enemies of the Oromo people. In the 1970s, some Oromo elites joined Ethiopian and Somali organizations while a few created the OLF. Furthermore, the lack of ideological and political maturity led to the division of the OLF in the 1970s, and recently, in the 2001 and 2008. Without creating the Oromo national power, the Oromo elites fight on non-existence power. Some Oromo elites have also formed several nominal liberation fronts and other political organizations without engaging in armed and real political struggles. Overall, the Oromo elites did not yet establish a political and cultural mechanism that helps in resolving their contradictions. Consequently, they have failed to understand that they are on one team that must work together to organize the Oromo nation for its self-defense and liberation.
It is impossible to build an effective institutional order or organization without integrating formal and informal rules of the society. As a result of the lack of bureaucratic codes and procedures in Oromo tradition, Oromo political leaders and the Oromo community at-large have had no immediately-available, culturally-consistent models to draw upon when confronted with the need for establishing the bureaucratic structures that are an essential part of the overall liberation struggle. As a result, the Oromo elites have reacted in a number of different and contradictory ways. This lack of coherence in the leadership in turn has created conditions in which suspicion has flourished creating conditions that have prevented open and honest dialogue among leaders and between leaders and followers. In the absence of a coherent organizational milieu, rumor, gossip, and impression management have replaced a critical and open dialogue within the movement. Like any movement, the Oromo national movement must develop a collective identity that results in collective action. Oromo nationalists cannot develop an Oromummaa that facilitates collective action without critical discussion and open dialogue.
The role of the leader is very important in building a leadership core through persuasion, analytical capacity, capacity to communicate, and capacity to listen and learn. The leader is responsible for the creation of formal and informal networks that allow for the development of an effective leading political team by bringing together layers of people who share strategic ideas to win over others. Recently, the Oromo movement has tried to create an exclusivist leadership that does not fit Oromo-centric democratic values. While the Oromo love their heroes and heroines and admire them, they expect open dialogue and interaction consistent with their democratic political tradition. The Oromo also reject the leadership style of the Habasha. The Oromo dislike exclusivist leaders who equate their personal interests with the interests of the organization they lead and separate themselves from the rank and file members. Practically speaking, the Oromo political leadership is neither coherent nor exclusivist, although there has been an attempt by a few leaders to develop an exclusivist leadership modeled on the Habasha political culture. However, there is no question that the leadership of the Oromo national movement manifests some exclusivist characters. Just as the Oromo nationalist leadership lacks political coherence, some Oromos lack organizational discipline and engage in political anarchism or passivism. Without challenging anarchism and passivism among the Oromo populace and the exclusivist political tendency of the leadership, the Oromo nationalist movement cannot search for combinations of forms of organization and leadership, which are practically compatible with larger struggles for popular self-emancipation. Oromo nationalists need to speak up and struggle to develop leadership for self-emancipation through facilitating the integration of “leading” and “led” selves of the Oromo political leadership. While struggling to build a democratic and coherent political leadership, Oromo nationalists must fight against political anarchism, passivism, and anti-leadership sentiment that emerge in some Oromo sectors. Anarchist and anti-leadership Oromo elites discourage the emergence of strong leadership by engaging in endless debate on secondary issues—such as clan, religious, and regional identity—and by making personal attacks on prominent Oromo leaders and organizations as a means of avoiding substantive debate. While demanding accountability from their leadership, the Oromo must fight publicly against an anti-leadership ideology. The Oromo need to acknowledge, value, encourage, and support an emerging democratic Oromo political leadership since strengthening the leadership of the Oromo movement is essential in the struggle to defeat dangerous enemies. Since an amorphous and less structured leadership is functionally ineffective, the Oromo national struggle must have a more structured leadership that can provide the organizational capacity necessary to eventually take state power and establish a functioning democracy consistent with the principles of Oromummaa.
Oromo nationalists cannot build a more structured leadership without clearly understanding the processes of leadership and followership. Just as Oromo leaders do not adequately understand the essence and characteristics of their followers, the followers lack information about their leaders and leadership. While Oromo political leaders like to lecture their followers and sympathizers, they are less interested in establishing formal and informal relationships with their followers and sympathizers in order to engage them in dialogical conversation. Because they care little about the opinions and experiences of their followers, they fail to ask for the input from their followers. Leadership is a processing of influencing followers and others by changing their perceptions through closely relating and communicating with them. Similarly, much of the Oromo populace has yet to develop constructive mechanisms by which they can influence their political leaders and hold them accountable. As a result, sometimes they engage in personal attacks and debates on peripheral issues blunting the impact of their personal political efforts and delaying the development of an effective political leadership. It is difficult to identify the weaknesses of the leadership without identifying those of the followership. I recognize that the role played by the Oromo national political leadership is dangerous, complex, and difficult. This leadership has been politically, ideologically, and militarily attacked both internally and externally.
To date the movement has been able to survive by developing shared meaning, purpose, language, and symbols. But as the complexity of the Oromo movement increases and as the number of Oromo nationalists expands, the leadership will not be able to improve its organizational capacity without simultaneously developing a degree of internal cohesion, leadership expertise, and widespread support through the establishment of effective coalitions within and beyond the Oromo nationalist movement. Without (1) changing the past habits, ideologies and approaches, (2) building internal cohesion by developing Oromummaa on the individual, relational and collective levels, and (3) fully mobilizing Oromo human and economic resources, the current Oromo political leadership will continue to face more crises and may eventually become a political liability. The Oromo national political leadership must be challenged to abandon its reliance on a narrow political circle and borrowed political ideologies and practices. In addition, it must be encouraged to embrace Oromo-centric democratic values, using them to develop different forms of organizational leadership in Oromo society thus making the dynamic connection between the values of Oromo society and its organizational structure. The Oromo leadership should be pressured to speak with the Oromo people and listen as well, allowing the Oromo community at-large to engage in the process of self-emancipation by participating in and owning their national movement. More than any time in its history, the Oromo national struggle now requires a more centralized structured organization and matured national leadership that can learn about the Oromo people in order to organize and lead them to take any necessary actions for national survival and liberation. The maturation of the Oromo national leadership will be recognized by many factors; one of these factors is to know the defining characteristics of Oromo society.
The Main Characteristics of Oromo Society
After the Oromo were colonized and until Oromo nationalism emerged, Oromoness (Oromumma – Oromo identity and culture) primarily remained on the personal and the interpersonal levels since the Oromo were denied the opportunities to form national institutions. Oromoness was targeted for destruction and colonial administrative regions that were established to suppress the Oromo people and exploit their resources were glorified and institutionalized. As a result, Oromo relational identities have been localized, and not strongly connected to the collective identity of national Oromummaa. The Oromo have been separated from one another and prevented from exchanging goods and information on national level for more than a century. Their identities have been localized into clan families and colonial regions. They were also exposed to different cultures (i.e., languages, customs, values, etc.) and religions and adopted some elements of these cultures and religions. Consequently, today there are members of Oromo society and elites who have internalized clan and externally imposed regional or religious identities because of their low level of political consciousness or political opportunism and the lack of clear understanding of Oromummaa or Oromo nationalism. What makes these problems complex is that some Oromos who claim that they are nationalists confuse their sub-identities with the Oromo national identity. Oromo relational identities include extended families and clan families. Historically and culturally speaking, Oromo clans and clan families never had clear geopolitical boundaries among themselves. Consequently, there are clans in Oromo society that have the same name in southern, central, northern, western and eastern Oromia. For example, there are Jarso, Gida, Karayu, Galan, Nole and Jiru clans all over Oromia. The Ethiopian colonial system and borrowed cultural and religious identities were imposed on the Oromo creating regional and religious boundaries. Consequently, there were times when Christian Oromos were more identified with Habashas (Amhara-Tigray) and Muslim Oromos were more identified with Arabs, Adares, and Somalis than they were with other Oromos. Under these conditions, Oromo personal identities, such as religion replaced Oromoness, central Oromo values, and core Oromo self-schemas. There are Oromos who still confuse such identities with the Oromo central identity.
Colonial rulers saw Oromoness as a source of raw material that was ready to be transformed into other identities. In the colonial process, millions of Oromos lost their identities and assimilated to other peoples. Consequently, the number of Amharas, Tigrayans, Adares, Gurages, and Somalis has increased at the cost of the Oromo population. The Oromo self was attacked and distorted by Ethiopian colonial institutions. The attack on Oromo selves at personal, interpersonal and collective-levels has undermined the self-confidence of some Oromo individuals by creating an inferiority complex within them. Without the emancipation of Oromo individuals from this inferiority complex and without overcoming the ignorance and the worldviews that their enemies imposed on them, they cannot have the self-confidence necessary to facilitate individual liberation and Oromo emancipation. Because of internal cultural crises and external oppressive institutions, Oromo collective norms or organizational culture is at rudimentary level at this historical moment. So some comrades in an Oromo organization do not see themselves as members of a team, and they engage in undermining members in their team through gossips and rumors. For sake of self- promotion, they belittle their comrades in his or her absence. Such individuals do not have strong organizational culture or norm. Such individuals cannot develop a core of Oromo leadership that is required in building a strong liberation organization.
Today, the Oromo are diverse and heterogeneous people, and it is impossible to organize them for liberation without understanding these complexities. Some Oromo elites do not understand these issues. Collective identities are not automatically given, but they are essential outcomes of the mobilization process and crucial prerequisite to movement success. Oromo nationalists can only reach a common understanding of Oromoness through open, critical, honest dialogue and debate. Fears, suspicions, misunderstandings and hopes or aspirations of Oromo individuals or groups should be discussed through invoking Oromo cultural memory and democratic principles. Through such discussion a single standard that respects the dignity and inalienable human rights of all persons with respect to political, social, and economic interaction should be established for all Oromos and their neighbors who support the rights to national self- determination. Oromo personal and social identities can be fully released and mobilized for collective actions if reasonable Oromos recognize that they can freely start to shape their future aspirations or possibilities without discrimination. This is only possible through developing an Oromo identity on personal and collective levels that is broader and more inclusive than gender, class, clan, family, region, and religion.
While recognizing the unity of Oromo peoplehood, it is important to recognize the existence of diversity in Oromo society. The lack of open dialogue among Oromo nationalists, political leaders, activists, and ordinary citizens on the issue of religious differences and/or the problems of colonial regional identities have provided opportunities for those who profit from the continued subjugation of the Oromo people to employ a divide and conquer strategy by exploiting religious and regional differences among the Oromo people. Since Turks, Arabs, Habashas, and Europeans imposed both Islam and Christianity on the Oromo in order to psychologically control and dominate them, Oromo nationalists must encourage an open dialogue among adherents of an indigenous Oromo religion, Islam and Christianity and reach a common understanding of what it means to be an Oromo and the positive role religion can play in Oromo society. Also, issues of clans and colonial regional identities must be addressed openly and honestly. Since these issues are not openly addressed, reactionary forces and opportunist Oromo individuals and groups turn Oromo on one another to use them. Basing our understanding of these Oromo issues on Oromummaa eliminates differences that may emerge because of religious plurality and regional differences.
The Ethiopian colonial regions do not correspond to Oromo group or regional identities. As a result, the political diversity of Oromo society can and should transcend regional identities based on the boundaries of colonial regions. The Oromo political problems have emerged primarily from low level of political consciousness, attitudes, behavior, and perceptions that have been shaped by a culture that valued domination and exploitation and have seen diversity and equality as threats to the colonial institutions most Oromos passed through. These problems still play a significant role in undermining the development of Oromummaa and the organizational capacity of the Oromo national movement. The behavior and political practices of most Oromos and elites and leaders of Oromo institutions in the Diaspora—like churches and mosques, associations, and political and community organizations—demonstrate that the impact of the ideology of domination and control that was impacted by Ethiopian colonial institutions and organizations is far-reaching. Despite the fact that the Oromo are proud of their democratic tradition, their behavior and practices in politics, religion, and community affairs indicate that they have learned more from Habashas and Oromo chiefs than from the gadaa system of democracy.
While the social and cultural construction of the Oromo collective identity is ongoing process, this process cannot be completed without the recognition that Oromo society is composed of a set of diverse and heterogeneous individuals and groups with a wide variety of cultural and economic experiences. Hence, Oromo nationalists need to recognize and value the diversity and unity of the Oromo people because “people who participate in collective action do so only when such action resonates with both an individual and a collective identity that makes such action meaningful.” Today, those Oromo political leaders who are fragmenting the OLF into three branches and those who are claiming to have nominal political organizations cannot adequately understand the crisis and danger that the Oromo national movement is facing.
In every society, personal and social identities are flexible, and are not rigid and monolithic. Similarly, Oromo self-identity exists at the personal, interpersonal, and collective levels with this confederation of identity being continuously shaped by Oromo historical and cultural memory, current conditions, and hopes and aspirations for the future. The Oromo social selves emerge from the interplay between intimate personal relations and less personal relations. The former comprise the interpersonal or relational identity and the latter are a collective identity. The relational-level identity is based on perceptions or views of others about an individual. Thus, individual Oromos have knowledge of themselves from their personal viewpoints as well as knowledge from the perspective of significant others and larger social groups. The concept of individual self emerges from complex conditions that reflect past and present experiences and future possibilities. The self-concept allows individuals to have “the capacity to reinstate a past situation and locate themselves in it; they also have the capacity to project the self into future contexts, anticipating possible actions and their consequences for the self.” Some Oromos are more familiar with their personal and relational selves than they are with their Oromo collective self, because their level of Oromummaa is rudimentary.
Oromo individuals have intimate relations with their family members, friends, and local communities. These interpersonal and close relations foster helping, nurturing, and caring relationships. Without developing these micro-relationships into the macro-relationship of Oromummaa, the building of Oromo national organizational capacity is illusive. Organizing the Oromo requires learning about the multiplicity and flexibility of Oromo identities and fashioning from them a collective identity that encompasses the vast majority of the Oromo populace. This process can be facilitated by an Oromo political leadership that is willing to develop an understanding of the breadth of the diversity of Oromo society looking for those personal and relational identities that can be used to construct an Oromo collective identity, expanding Oromummaa. Change starts with individuals who are both leaders and followers. Culture, collective grievances, and visions connect leaders and followers in oppressed society like the Oromo. Consequently, to be effective the Oromo political leadership must be guided by Oromo-centric cardinal values and principles that reflect honesty, fairness, single standard, equality and democracy in developing Oromummaa. As one source notes, “a critical task for leaders may be to construct group identities for followers that are both appealing and consistent with a leader’s goals. Indeed, this is a critical aspect of political leadership. Effective political leaders do not simply take context and identity as given, but actively construct both in a way that reconfigures the social world.” The political leadership of Oromo society needs to understand the concept and essence of the changing selves of the Oromo. These self- concepts include cognitive, psychological and behavioral activities of Oromo individuals. Collective grievances, the Oromo language and history, the historical memory of the gadaa system and other forms of Oromo culture, and the hope for liberation have helped in maintaining fragmented connections among various Oromo groups. The emergence of Oromo nationalism from underground to public discourse in the 1990s allowed some Oromos to openly declare their Oromummaa without clearly realizing the connection between the personal and interpersonal selves and the Oromo collectivity. This articulation occurred without strong national institutions and organizational capacity that can cultivate and develop Oromummaa through transcending the political and religious barriers that undermine the collective identity of the Oromo. Oromo nationalists cannot build effective national institutions and organizations without taking Oromo personal, interpersonal and collective-level Oromo selves to a new level. Oromo collective selves develop through relations with one another.
Good interpersonal relations and good treatment of one another create sense of security, confidence, sense of belonging, strong and effective bonds, willingness to admit and deal with mistakes and increase commitment to political objectives and organizations. The individuality of an Oromo can be observed and examined in relation to the concept of self which is linked to psychological processes and outcomes, such as motivation, affection, self-management, information processing, interpersonal relations, commitment, dignity and self- respect, self-preservation and so forth. The Oromo self-concept as an extensive knowledge structure contains all pieces of information on self that an individual Oromo internalizes in his or her value systems. Every Oromo has a self-schema or a cognitive schema that organizes both perceptional and behavioral information. An individual’s self-schema can be easily captured by accessible knowledge that comes to mind quickly to evaluate information on any issue. The Oromo self is the central point at which personality, cognitive schema and social psychology meet. The Oromo self consists both personal or individual and social identities, and the former is based on an individual’s comparison of oneself to other individuals and reveals one’s own uniqueness and the latter are based on self-definition in relation to others or through group membership.
Without recognizing and confronting these issues at all levels, the Oromo movement cannot build its organizational capacity. The social experiment of exploring and understanding our internal selves at individual, relational and collective selves must start with the Oromo elites who aspire to organize and lead the Oromo people. Since the ideological and organizational tools that Oromo elites have borrowed from other cultures have reached their maximum limit of capacities and cannot move the Oromo movement forward in the quest for achieving self- determination and human liberation, Oromo nationalists must reorganize and practice their approaches based on Oromummaa and the gadaa democratic heritage. The Oromo elites have passed through schools that were designed to domesticate or “civilize” them and to mold them into intermediaries between the Oromo people and those who dominated and exploited them. They have been disconnected from their history, culture, language, and worldviews, and have been trained by foreign educational and religious institutions that glorified the culture, history, language and religion of others. Consequently, some Oromo elites do not adequately understand Oromo history, culture and worldview. Today, some of such individuals have emerged as agents of the Tigrayan elites by joining the OPDO and are terrorizing the Oromo people.
Although the Oromo movement has achieved many important accomplishments, the organizational and ideological tools that it has used did not provide an effective basis for organizing the Oromo people and enabling them to defend themselves from their enemies. At present, the Oromo human and material resources are scattered and used by the enemies of the Oromo nation. Without a structured organization and national leadership, the Oromo people cannot take effective political actions that involve national self-defense and a popular and wide rebellion through the total mobilization of the nation. For many generations, young Oromos have been forced to fight as mercenaries and defended the interest of the Ethiopian state elites that have repressed and exploited their society. Even the Siad Barre government of Somalia used Oromo fighters as mercenaries. The Habasha elites and their Oromo collaborators claim that the Oromo fighters have built Ethiopia, and hence they are Ethiopians like Amharas and Tigrayans. To be forced to fight for their colonizers cannot make a people to share identity and to own a country with their colonizers. Therefore, fighting for the Ethiopian state could not make Oromo fighters equal citizens with their colonizers; the Ethiopian state they have fought for has maintained their second-class citizenship status through violence. Therefore, the Oromo elites and society must stop the utilization of the Oromo youth as raw materials by the Ethiopian state elites or others. The Oromo national movement by learning from the gadaa system must be able to mobilize and organize the Oromo youth to fight for the liberation of their nation and their fatherland, Oromia. In addition to the major problems that I have discussed above, the Oromo national movement has some constraints that it must overcome and some opportunities that it must capture to be successful.
The Major Opportunities and Constraints for the Oromo Struggle
The Oromo national movement that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s by a few determined nationalists reached the Oromo populace in the early 1990s. It took almost three decades and heavy sacrifices in the lives and sufferings of these few nationalists to resurrect the Oromo name, language, nationhood, and the name of Oromia from the dustbin of history. In this process, Oromummma—Oromo national identity, culture, and nationalism—has been resurrected. Currently, the external and internal enemies of the Oromo people use the resurrected names and the Oromo language while attacking and suppressing the Oromo nationalists and self-respecting Oromos. Since they could not stop the rising wave of Oromummaa, the Tigrayan colonial elites have used Oromo mercenaries to gradually destroy it.
Ethiopian colonialism had disconnected the Oromo nation from the international community for more than a century. However, with the resurrection of the Oromo national identity, culture, and nationalism, the Oromo people have started to be represented in the world by its political refugees. For the first time in Oromo history, the Oromo people started to have its Diaspora that has a great potential to link Oromia to the global community. The imposition of Ethiopian state terrorism on the Oromo to suppress Oromo nationalism created and expanded the Oromo Diaspora in the world. In this process, a few serious Oromo intellectuals emerged on the global level and dug the graveyards of history to uncover Oromo history and culture and to publish books and journals that are stored in world libraries. Furthermore, in Oromia, millions of the qubee generation (Oromo youth educated in the Oromo language) emerged as demonstrated by the recent Oromo student movement. The national projects that were designed by the Oromo national movement have produced fundamental results that have become the cornerstones of the Oromo national struggle. These achievements are great political opportunities for the Oromo nation.
Unfortunately, since the Oromo national struggle did not yet achieve its main objectives, the enemies of the Oromo people have created political constraints to abort the struggle. There are millions of Oromos who have betrayed their nation to satisfy their economic interests. By creating and building the OPDO and recruiting such Oromos to this subservient organization, the Meles regime uses them to attack the OLF and other organizations and to suppress and control the Oromo people. The regime has also mobilized several ethnonations against the Oromo people and their movement. There are also anti-Oromo forces such as Amhara colonial organizations and others who use any opportunity to undermine the interest of the Oromo nation. The constraints of the Oromo struggle are not limited to these problems. The Oromo national movement did not yet secure adequate sympathy and support for the Oromo cause from the international community.
It is very clear that the Tigrayan-led government with the support of global powers and its agents terrorize and rule the Oromo not because of their strengths but because of the weaknesses of the Oromo movement, political leadership, and Oromo society. If some elements of Oromo society are well organized under one structured organization and leadership, they can rebel and dismantle the Meles regime within a short period. The Tigrayan soldiers, cadres, and their agents can be easily dismantled in Oromia if substantial numbers of Oromos engage in self-defense and coordinated uprising. If the Oromo people intensify their struggle, the international community will recognize the political problem of the Oromo nation. The Oromo people will achieve their national self-determination by intensifying their national struggle by any means necessary and by receiving international recognition.
The crisis of the Ethiopian Empire that started in the early 1970s still continues. The popular uprisings of ethnonations, classes, and social groups have challenged the collapsing Ethiopian state for several decades and introduced some changes. These uprisings have resulted in the overthrowing of the Haile Selassie and Mengistu regimes and caused the emergence of the Meles government and Tigrayan ethnocracy. But these changes have failed to change the nature of Ethiopian colonialism. Ethiopia is still ruled by an authoritarian-terrorist government that practices colonial terrorism and clandestine genocide on the colonized peoples such as the Oromo, Somali, Sidama, Annuak and others. The Tigrayan-led regime that emerged in 1991 has intensified the crisis of the Ethiopian state and created the conditions that will give a death-below for this state. We know that the Oromo nation lost its political opportunities in the 1970s and the 1990s and remained politically insignificant force.
Learning from the past experiences of the Ethiopian state, we can understand that the Meles regime has already dug its own grave. This regime is already rotten from inside, and it only survives because of the weaknesses of different political forces in the empire and financial and diplomatic support it receive form powerful countries. What will happen if the Meles regime collapses? Are the Oromo liberation fronts and political organizations ready to use this political opportunity? Oromo nationalists, liberation fronts, political organizations, community organizations and associations should start a serious national political dialogue to overcome their political naiveté and immaturity in order to build a national political consensus that will enable them to capture state power in Oromia by any means necessary and to build multinational democracy with other nations that accept the principles of self-determination and democracy. While preparing themselves to use any available political opportunity, the Oromo national movement and society must start to fashion a national Gumii Gayyo to produce a designed political results. These designed political results can be produced through determination, hard work, sacrifice, and a collective effort of all Oromo liberation fronts, political organizations, and associations.
Immediate Political Tasks for Genuine Oromo Nationalists
History demonstrates that the determined people can liberate themselves. The Oromo elites in general and that of the Diaspora in particular must start to determine the destiny of their nation by taking the following concrete steps immediately. First, in the Diaspora, they must initiate town hall meetings in every town where the Oromo community lives and discuss about the fate of the Oromo people by focusing on their achievements, failures, challenges, opportunities, and constraints as a nation. This is not possible in Oromia because the Oromo people are denied the freedom of self-expression, organization, and the media. Second, the Oromo in the Diaspora must stop the politics of self-destruction by avoiding engaging in clan, religious, and regional politics, and by isolating the Oromo mercenaries from every Oromo community. Since the Oromo mercenaries use clan, religious, and regional politics to divide the Oromo people and turn them against one another, the Oromo community must reject them and their politics. The Oromo community must ostracize them by not relating to them and by refusing to participate in their social events such as death and marriage. Every Oromo community must identify, expose, and expel the Oromo mercenaries from their networks, churches, mosques, associations, and other social worlds.
Third, the Oromo Diaspora must challenge the Oromo activists who have built their separate organizations in order to break down barriers among different Oromo organizations and unite them under one structured organization and leadership. Fourth, Oromo youth and women should be mobilized in order to actively participate in national dialogues and town hall meetings; they must play a leading role since they are less corrupted by the ideologies of egoism, clan, religious and regional politics. Fifth, Oromo nationalists must establish the rule of law fashioning on the principles of gadaa and other democratic traditions to use it in running their national affairs. Sixth, since unconscious people cannot liberate themselves from colonial domination, the Oromo Diaspora should receive liberation knowledge through regular dialogues, seminars, conferences, workshops, lectures, and study circles. The Oromo must learn their history, culture, language, and traditions; they also need to learn about the world around them. At this historical moment, the number one enemy of the Oromo people is political ignorance; Oromo nationalists must smash this enemy.
When this is accomplished, the Oromo people are going to play their historical roles that will commensurate with their number. When this sleeping giant nation will be awakened, others cannot use the Oromo as raw materials. One of the main reasons why the forty million Oromos are terrorized and ruled by the elites that emerged from about four million Tigrayans is the low level political consciousness. Low level of political consciousness results in passivism and fatalism. Seventh, every self-respecting Oromo must realize that he or she has power to determine the destiny of Oromia. Every Oromo must be educated about his or her potential power and what he or she must do to translate it to real power. Eighth, the Oromo Diaspora movement must start building from bottom-up a confederation of Oromo political, religious, community, and self-help organizations to create a Global Gumii Gayyo of Oromia that will contribute ideological, organizational, and financial resources for consolidating the Oromo struggle and the Oromo Liberation Army and self-defense militias in Oromia.
Ninth, most members of the Oromo Diaspora must engage in public diplomacy by introducing the Oromo and their plight to the international community. Tenth, Oromo nationalists in the Diaspora must start to build a well-regulated system that can provide support and security for Oromo’s who are determined to advance the Oromo national interest whenever they face hardship beyond their control. Finally, the Oromo must believe that they will liberate themselves by any means necessary. There is no any doubt that, despite hardships and sacrifices, the Oromo “social volcano” that is being fermented will soon burn down Ethiopian colonial structures that perpetuate terrorism, genocide, diseases, absolute poverty, and malnutrition in Oromia and beyonders.
Asafa Jalata (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Professor of Sociology, Global Studies, and Africana Studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.He has published and edited eight books and authored sixty refereed articles in regional and international journals and several book chapters.