The recent escalation of hostilities between the Ethiopian army and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) army is a dangerous development that could sink the promise of a democracy for the whole of Ethiopia to the brinks. This reckless adventure on the part of the much acclaimed reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has the potential to boomerang on him as he is singling out Oromo army. The Oromos will soon realise that this war is more than just a mere war against the OLF, but also a war against all Oromo nation and by extension against Oromo nationalism.
Oromo youth revolting
THE YOUTH (QEERROO’S) UPRISING
In the struggle for self-determination, the Oromos were tortured for their political beliefs. They witnessed friends and families shot dead by government security forces. They were forced to cut their hair and give up other cultural traditions. This year, they managed to ignite a revolution that changed Ethiopia’s political discourse for generations to come. Young men from Ethiopia’s Oromo, the country’s largest ethnic group, proudly declare “we won” when describing their role in the rise of 42-year-old reformer Abiy Ahmed, also an Oromo, to become prime minister.
Across the Oromiya region, many of those young men claiming victory now want Abiy to deliver – and fast. The “Qeerroo”, an Oromo term meaning “bachelor” adopted by politically active young men, are demanding practical solutions for their tacit struggle.
Will there be justice for friends and families who died during strikes and protests over the past three years? Will their rights as Oromos be respected? When will Abiy’s pledges of change help the impoverished Oromo communities?
Whether Abiy can answer those demands without favouring his home region over the rest of the country will dictate whether the young men remain an asset to him or become a dangerous liability. Time will tell.
ABIY ON THE SPOT
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed
In spite of the variety of neo-liberal strategies adopted by the current regime for the past few months to put Ethiopia on the path of sustainable development, the peculiarity of the regional government, structural deficiency, systemic conflict, and the lack of political will to push initiatives to a logical conclusion contributed to the failure of these strategies.
Among the rationale for the government orchestrated war put forth by PM Abiy’s regime is that it is only the government which has that very sole prerogative right to be armed in a democratic state. However, that argument is not only cosmetic but also too shallow in its entirety. For instance, in the UnitedStates, there is a constitutional guarantee that allows well-regulated militias to own and bear arms. And the express reason for this constitutional right is to protect the people from a possible tyranny of the government.
In Ethiopia where there has been persistent instances of oppressive governments, the right to bear and own arms and form ragtag militias is even far more relevant than in the United States.
Be that as it may, if the reason for this war is that the OLF ought to be disarmed, then all other militias in the country including those in the Tigray state, the Amhara state, the Somali state, the Benishangul state and Gimbot 7 should all also be disarmed. In fact, in those other regions save for the Oromia, the people are arming themselves to the teeth at an alarming rate and yet the government is turning blind eyes to this stubborn fact.
The million dollar question is; why is Abiy so much obsessed with disarming the OLF only? Is it because it is the Oromo umbrella organisation that stood the test of time? If so, why are there other Oromo fringe parties that are operating freely in Ethiopia? I will try to crack my crystal balls to delve into this but before that let me post an excerpt of humble plea from one of the gallant son of Borana–Oromo when PM Abiy took over the government on the planks of Oromo people’s power
Dr. Abiy, with authority vested in you, we appeal to you to revisit the greater border disputes between Region 4 and region 5. With greater emphasis on Borana Zone and Moyale in particular.
We cannot continue to lose lives of innocent herders and peasant farmers in the hands of trained militias and armed mercenaries forcing disproportionate displacement of people from what they know and own as ancestral lands. The long border disputes along Borana – Oromo and Somalia in Ethiopia that is spanning over 27 years in one way or another has to be confronted and resolved holistically once and for all. We cannot continue to see our kinsmen crippled, maimed, tortured and killed ruthlessly in their own land. The prime perpetrators of this heinous crimes should be brought to fair hands of justice. A fair system of remedy and restoration should be put in place for the victims of tribal clashes instigated by mercenaries, tribal chieftains, and warlords.
We also demand that the people Moyale be treated with fairness, justice and equality and that there quest and call for governing them under one Oromia administration be heard and affirmed sooner than later. – By Ismail Guyo
Even though Oromo students and parties played pivotal roles in empowering the last three people’s revolutions in Ethiopian history, when it comes to realising the aspirations of the Oromo people, reactionary forces always pushed back and stole the victory from the Oromo people. There are underlying salient reasons for that.
The first narrative is attributed to a pervasive anti- Oromo stereotype sentiments that they have their roots in the past when Oromos were considered children of lesser gods. Consequently, those who subscribe to such school of thought believe that power is always a preserve for the Amharas.
The other dogma pertains to eccentric fear that the Oromos would retaliate and destabilise the geopolitics of Ethiopia owing to past oppression they were subjected to by successive regimes, if they were ever allowed to put their hands on the pedestal of power. This position not only acknowledges and buttresses that Oromos have always been marginalised, but it is also an endorsement that they should always be treated likewise for the “sake” of the populist politics.
The third is script is postulated due to the symbiotic relationship that has always existed between the Oromos and Ethiopia. The Oromo land and natural resources has always been what the country depended on for eons. It is actually the basket which feeds the nation. And, if Oromos are powerful enough to protect their legitimate geopolitical interest, they fear that they would not be able to plunder Oromiya’s natural resources at their whims.
Before Abiy ascended to power, the Oromo youths had already demonstrated they could shut down parts of the country with protests and strikes, and that pressure on the ruling EPRDF culminated in the resignation of Abiy’s predecessor in February, 2018
Even as they celebrate Abiy, the Oromo youth are still frustrated with life under the EPRDF, a one-time Marxist-Leninist movement which has controlled nearly every aspect of Ethiopians’ lives since seizing power 27 years ago.
What do they want from the government?. More than a dozen young Oromo men – Qeerroo expect:
√ No more torture and oppression
√ Economic opportunity~Jobs
√ End to corruption and unfair land deals.
√ Respect for their culture.
√ Free and fair elections.
The youth moved the struggle Oromos have been undertaking for the last 50 years one step forward. The PM made a lot of promises. If he cannot walk his talk, then he’ll face the wrath of the Oromia nation.
Therefore, this is an open secret to realise that these are the powerful incentives for the disorientation and crippling of the Oromos. Consequently, all mosaic of Oromo problems stem from such systemic tendency.
And the most unfortunate thing in all of this conundrum is that the Oromos did participate in the denials of their own people’s rights to self-determination. The reasons are always the same and it will effectively goes like this: an enslaved Oromo is better for Ethiopia than a free Oromo.
Abiy Ahmed, a half-Oromo is no exception either. During early days of his his tenure as prime minister, he unequivocally declared his love for Atse Menelik raising eye-brows among Oromo circles. He was obsessed with unity of the country rather solving the inherent problems in the troubled regions and even hinted that the current federal states should be dissolved. He is also said to have wanted to contain the rise of Oromo Nationalism.
Ever since he came to power, he has systematically empowered others at the expense of the Oromos. We should question why he is attracted to people with vile and racist views against the Oromos like Daniel Kibret and TamiratNegera. We should ask why he emboldened them to attack the Qeerroos– the very same group that brought him to power – but he never defended them.
Abiy, through his inaction, enabled the attack against peaceful OLF supporters who had gathered at their capital city to receive Dawud Ibsa, the OLF leader, last September. Addis Ababa police stood by and watched as Oromos were pelted with stones while their Oromo properties were damaged including cars, banks and schools. Forty-one Oromos lost their lives in that day alone and one of the victim including a woman who was raped and killed.
In the recent past, there has been yet another communal violence in Ethiopia, an all-too familiar story. The Borana-Garri conflict in Moyale and its environs is historically old, yet it defied the test of time and efforts (albeit partisan) by successive governments and continued to claim the lives of innocent civilians, the displacement of those it spared and cause wanton destruction of property.
Moyale sits on both sides of the border, a legacy of colonial rule that has added to the tensions.
The last ten days have seen the latest of this atrocious cycle of violence. But unlike other times, the silence from the federal government and the regional states of both Oromia and Somali regional states is near deafening. In the Oromiya region, the largest in the country, there are at least four separate conflicts along ethnic lines in addition to a border dispute that risks erupting into new violence
There has been a 5% increase in inter-communal violence since Prime Minister Abiy’s swearing-in in April this year. With over 1.4 million people displaced since the beginning of this year, Ethiopia now has more new conflict-driven Internally Displace People (IDPs) than any other country in the world. The new regime should immediately put in place both short and long term interventions measure to cushion the resilient Oromo nation against incursion from the warring neighbours.
It is understandable if PM Abiy has reservations relying on security forces, given its past culture of unjustified violence and impunity against the Oromo people who put him into the most coveted seat. Its use of heavy-handed security tactics has been the main source of public grievances and outcry against the previous government.
Political pundits have noted that the public is accusing PM Abiy’s administration “of not doing enough to clamp down on ethnically-motivated killings and claim Abiy himself is turning a blind eye to the conflict in an attempt to avoid the hardline security tactics frequently deployed by the previous government”. Strangely, the defeaning silence of the President of Oromiya region Lemma Megersa is quite disturbing. For Jawar Mohammed the chicken has come home to roost. He has manifested his true colours as a scavenger for opportunity. He is indifferent to the plight of the Borana-Oromo owing to the fact that he has unhinged leanings toward his Arsi lineage.
However, PM Abiy should not be discouraged in using the security sector because of its past illegitimate use of force and abandon government’s monopoly on violence. The problem was never having a strong and effective force, nor the use of it. Rather, it was the lack of accountability and predictable institutional behaviour. Abiy should wake up from the slumber and walk the talk. It is a pay back time to the Oromo nation.
Whispers from the North is an online platform that appreciates the ecological, cultural and socio-economic diversities of Northern Kenya. We also acknowledge that the lives of the communities of northern Kenya has been shaped by a number of intrinsic and extrinsic factors which have led to complex challenge that calls for a multifaceted approach.