The Oromo Protest: What Next?

February 20, 2016

By Mulugeta Mossissa

The Oromo people in general and the Oromo youth in particular have written history with their blood. They have broken the myth that the Oromo could have never stood as a united force against their enemies. They have proved friends and adversaries alike wrong to assume that the “sleeping giant” would sleep forever.  The assumption that the ‘Oromo was divided for the last one and half century and could never be a united political force again was seriously taken by the wider section of the Oromo communities for the last twenty-five years. That was why many Oromo elders, prominent community leaders and particularly the Oromo artists both at home and abroad, have been calling for unity among the Oromo at all levels. The call was particularly for Oromo political organisations to have a unity of purpose to lead the national struggle for freedom. Certainly, the Oromo people are united more than ever and saying to their adversaries, you are wrong; you have misinterpreted our love for peace as ignorance, and our patience as cowardice.  Certainly, our love for peace and tolerance for almost one and half a century with the expectations that change of government in Ethiopia with the passing time would bring positive changes that would reinstate the socio-political, economic and cultural rights of the Oromo people. That has never happened. And we have realized that it will never happen in the Ethiopian political structure. Now we have unequivocally understood that our destiny is in our hands.

The Oromo people have reached a stage where they defy death and face the TPLF killer machines barehanded. The Oromo protesters have shown this persistently to the whole world. From this one can clearly understand that intimidation, incarceration, torture, “disappearance” and mass killings would never stop the resolve of the Oromo people to get their freedom and be the masters of their motherland, Oromia. School children, high school and university students, Oromo farmers and workers, elderly women and men, Oromo artists and Oromo political elites, except a few belly politicians who sold their conscience, have joined hands from east to west, south to north, centre to the periphery of Oromia to protest peacefully against the “Addis Ababa Integrated Master Plan (AAIMP)” and the deliberate destruction of the natural resources and environment of Oromia.  The Oromo Diaspora are united and determined to stand with their people at home. They have made their voices heard all over the world pressing governments and the international community at large to condemn the atrocities being committed against their people.

Human rights organisations, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others have properly and timely reacted against the brutality of the government. The European Union and the United States, which are the major contributors of financial and military assistance to the TPLF government, have used strong diplomatic terms to condemn the heavy handedness of the government. For a government that can understand the implication of these diplomatic words, it is a serious warning.

The on-going Oromo protest, which started in Gincii on 12 November 2015, engulfed within no time the whole of Oromia, except its capital city Finfinnee/Addis Ababa. As the whole world has witnessed, it was the most peaceful in its kind. It was not only peaceful but also a protest march, which has given utmost care and protection for all the Ethiopian nationalities living in Oromia. These clearly indicate that while demanding their legitimate political, economic, social and cultural rights, the Oromo fully respect the rights of all members from other nations, nationalities and peoples in Ethiopia to live in peace and dignity among them in Oromia.  No one can better attest this than those who have lived among the Oromo for many years.

Contrary to the Oromo peaceful protest, out of panic or bloodthirstiness, the regime used the most lethal forces against the peaceful protesters killing more than 240 people as known so far. Among the dead were school children from the age of 8 years, pregnant women and an 80 years old man are found. According to inner sources the total toll can be double of the publicly known figure. There are lots of people who are not accounted for. Some relatives have found the bodies of their loved ones from the forests. Some are found hanged from trees.

The TPLF and its errand boys were caught out of guard. The TPLF/EPDRF forces encircled Finfinnee and muffled the residents preventing them from coming in or out in-group depriving them of information through media blackout. The TPLF’s constitution, which was for the ‘shelf and dust’, was totally replaced by Ethiopian terrorism proclamation no 652/2009. The administrative government of Oromia, which in reality was nothing but the mouth piece of the TPLF, was replaced by Central Command post headed by prime mister Haile Mariam Desalegn.  Literally Oromia has been declared a war zone. The Agazi Special Forces and the federal police have been given free hands to commit all sorts of crimes against the Oromo people.

Breaking into houses and beating the elderly and raping Oromo women by the Agazi Special Forces are common places in Oromia. The Agazi Special Forces are not only killing the Oromo people and members of other opposition groups with their machine guns but also have become the major agents that spread sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV, in Ethiopia. The role of these deadly forces is not only the concern of the Oromo people. It should also be the concern of all nations, nationalities and peoples in Ethiopia who have faced or will face them in the future and the international community at large that try to curb the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

The TPLF have committed all forms of crimes against the Oromo people. However it could not succeed and will never succeed to break the Oromo resolve to get their freedom and liberate their motherland, Oromia from the colonizers.  The more brutal the TPLF has become the more resistance the Oromo people have developed and the more they are committed to struggle for their freedom.  As the saying goes “Tyranny breads resistance.” The realities in Oromia show nothing but this hard fact. However powerful and brutal a party in power may be it cannot break the will of a people who struggle for their freedom. More than any regime that was at the helm of political power in Ethiopia, the TPLF should know this. Some of their security officials had experienced physical and mental tortures under the Derg regime. Unfortunately the TPLF has not learned form history.

Instead of developing humanity and respect for the rights of the people they rule they have become sadistic torturers and bloodthirsty vampires.  Instead of demolishing the torture chambers in which their members had suffered in the past, they multiplied them in 100 folds. Officially condemning or blaming their predecessors for the crimes they committed against the Ethiopian people in the past, they plot behind the curtain how to eliminate opposition and the people who pose challenges to their dictatorial rule.  Instead of reforesting and protecting natural resources and the environment to mitigate periodic droughts and starvation they burn down forests under the pretext of depriving liberation fronts or “Terrorists” of covers or hiding places. They destroy the rest under the name of “development.” They have become insatiable predators who have robbed the Empire’s resources in general and Oromo resources in particular.  They have set a grand plan to tear Oromia into parts and reduce the Oromo people from majority to minority through mass killings, detaining in prisons and concentrations camps infested with transmittable diseases, creating wars with neighbouring countries and forcefully conscripting the Oromo youth and sending them to the war fronts, exposing the Oromo and others whom they do not consider as their people to starvation and neglecting them to die in mass, polluting waters which the famers use for their cattle and for themselves to drink, evicting hundreds of thousands from their ancestral lands without proper compensation and throwing them on the streets to face grinding poverty, disease and finally an inevitable death. The crimes that the TPLF has been committing against the Ethiopian people in general and the Oromo people in particular since it has come to power are too many to enumerate here.  The cumulative effects of all these have produced the Oromo protest which is different in its kind in the Ethiopian history.

What make the Oromo protest different in its kind? 

It includes Oromo of all lives of walksIt is goal oriented – Freedom, Oromia for the Oromo.It is highly disciplined and law-abiding.It is the most peaceful and yet powerful protest everIt is highly respectful and careful for the rights and safety, respectively, of all members of all nations, nationalities and peoples living in OromiaIt is persistent. It has defied all odds such as intimidation, beatings, detention, tortures, merciless mass killings, disappearances and other forms of crimes committed against the protesters.It is self-reliant and self-confident: This has sent a clear message to all concerned and the international community at large that “the sleeping giant” is fully awake and will never sleep again without reaching its final destination – freedom and the independence of Oromia.

What are the effects of the Protest?

It is a protest that caught friends and adversaries alike with surprise and sent shockwaves to the government and opposition parties who always underestimated the power of the Oromo people.It exposed the utter weakness of the TPLF to handle as a “government” the legitimate demands of the people. Lacking brains capable of addressing the grievances of the Oromo people, it resorted to the only things it has known – blackmailing, labelling as “terrorists” and killing hundreds, detaining thousands and torturing and making many to disappear. These barbaric acts exposed its true nature and mobilised the opinion of the international community against it.It exposed the non-existence of the OPDO and its powerlessness to have a say on matters that affect Oromia.It exposed how their paymaster, the TPLF, would behave towards the organisations it created – OPDO, ANDM, SEPDM – to cover up its weaknesses and pass the blame to them when it is cornered.It has enabled the Oromo people to differentiate between their true allies (friends) at a critical moment and those who use their sufferings to force them to abandon their right to self-determination. Devoid of any humanity, when the Oromo school children are being killed by the regime in hundreds, those who still ride the old colonial horse wanted to take the Oromo protest for ransom and highjack the Oromo struggle for freedom. They have tried to demand the Oromo to rally under the “Old Ethiopian flag” –green – yellow – red – abandoning theirs in exchange for their “solidarity”. The Oromo, thanking those who have shown them a true and unconditional solidarity, would like to say to those who want to highjack the struggle that Oromo children are bleeding for, “thank you we do not need a patron or a Godfather, we do not need your solidarity rapped with preconditions. We are capable of leading our struggle for freedom and the independence of our motherland, Oromia!” Even in the absence of any Oromo political organization, the Oromo people, based on their Gadaa democratic tradition can produce from among the brilliant forward looking Qubee generation capable leaders to lead their struggle.More importantly, the Oromo protest has posed a challenge to Oromo political organisations as to whether they can be up to their names by forming a solid common front and produce a strong national leadership to lead the struggle of their people to final victory or remain divided and weak, some seeking a cover under the shadows of opposition parties of their ex-colonial masters. The political ball is at their gates! As members of the leadership of one or the other Oromo political organisation, all of us, including the author of this article, have to be up to this challenge or else leave the way to the Oromo people to create their own leadership from among the dynamic, visionary and committed new blood. As far as I know there are talented, committed and visionary young Oromo in different Oromo political organisations. Particularly the OLF has such talented members in its different branches, which can be effective leaders and yet have not been seriously considered to leadership positions.

Our ex-leaders as well as current leaders have made immense contributions to the Oromo struggle for freedom. Undoubtedly, the current struggle is based on the solid foundation they have laid (established). Certainly many of these leaders have rich revolutionary experiences, which the new generation can use as important assets. Equally their participation in one-way or another is important.

What next?

As we all know the Oromo protests have scored significant political and diplomatic victories. Exposing the naked brutality of the TPLF it mobilised human rights organisations and the international community against the TPLF, resulting in strong condemnations of the TPLF by the European parliament and the United States of America, both its close allies. These did not come freely.

The costs that the Oromo people have paid are huge. Many precious lives of Oromo children, youth and elderly men and women have been sacrificed. Thousands are incarcerated and tortured. Many have disappeared or fled the country. Fortunately the Oromo know that the price of freedom is very high.  They are also aware that millions of Oromo lives have perished in vain to keep the Ethiopian Status quo a system, which has kept them under the most humiliating condition for almost one and half a century. Those who died for the freedom of their people and the independence of their motherland will certainly have a place in Oromo history unlike those who died to keep the Ethiopian Status quo. Having these in mind, the Oromo will march forward.

However temporary and unreal it is, the Oromo persistent protest has forced the government to swallow its arrogance and openly suspend the AAIMP. However, the TPLF has not yet stopped committing atrocities against the Oromo People.  At the same time the heavy-handedness of the government has solidified and strengthened the unity of the Oromo people, both at home and abroad, and their determination to stand against the socio-political and economic crimes committed against them.  As a result, the Oromo protest is persisting.

It is important to note here that neither the TPLF will practically suspend the Addis Ababa Master plan nor the Oromo people will give in. Both the Oromo people and the TPLF know very well that the AAIMP has nothing to do with economic development. Neither are the Oromo people protesting against economic development and nor is the TPLF’s major concern developing the economy.  The TPLF grand agenda is to create little Tigray in the heart of Oromia by evicting the Oromo from their ancestral land thereby cutting Oromia into two parts and depriving the Oromo of their land-rights, and destroying the Oromo language, culture and social fabrics in the area. According to ex-municipality officials working for the TPLF, ‘this plan has been being implemented for the last one decade. The majority of the plots of land that were taken from Oromo farmers in the vicinity of Finfinnee (Addis Ababa) have been given to Tigrayan nationals under the pretext of development.’ Naturally they are the ones who can afford buying and investing in real estates. The rest is allotted to their supporters who are mainly residing abroad.

For the Oromo it is a question of survival as people.  The Oromo survival as a nation and the existence of Oromia as a country have become under question marks.  These must be protected at all costs. Although the AAIMP is a spark that ignited the Oromo protest, the Oromo question is more than that.  The TPLF still wants to ride on the old colonial horse with a new saddle while the Oromo are trying to bury both and make a new arrangement, as a free people, with all the nations, nationalities and peoples in Ethiopia to live together or as good neighbours.

In these deadly confrontations between the Oromo people and the TPLF, what will be the role of Oromo political organizations? Could the leaders of these organizations be up to the challenge posed against them by the Oromo people and play a leading role in the Oromo people’s movement or continue with business as usual?  One thing is certain here. The Oromo people in general and the Qubee generation/Qeerro in particular will never accept any Oromo political organization that wants to come with a backpack, or carrying Abyssinian political luggage rapped in democracy. If it dares to do that, it will sink with the old colonial ship. Business as usual is also not the option. The political turmoil that the Oromo people are in is pressing and impossible to sit and wait keeping the title or status of leadership at the same time.  There are two options here:

To be up to the expectations of the people and lead the movement of the people or, to give way for the dynamic, visionary young blood to take the leadership. People’s movement requires a strong liberation organization to lead and the liberation organization requires full participation of the people to succeed in the struggle.  The one cannot be complete without the other’s full participation. “…Not even the best-intentioned leadership can bestow independence as a gift. The liberation of the oppressed is a liberation of women and men, not things. Accordingly, while no one liberates himself by his own efforts alone, neither is he liberated by others.” [Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 48].