Lammaa Magarsaa: A sweet-talking lackey or a genuine man of the people?

February 9, 2017

(OPride) — Street protests have subsided in Ethiopia’s restive Oromia state following the sweeping state of emergency declared in October. But a tense insecurity reigns beneath the semblance of calm. No wonder, the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) has done little to nothing to address popular discontents that rocked the country for more than a year.

In undated but widely shared Facebook video, Lammaa Magarsaa, the President of Oromia Regional State, makes an impassioned and surprising appeal to Oromo nationalism. He calls for economic revolution in Oromia and for strengthening of Oromo unity — “with new and modern thinking.” He urges the youth to remain engaged in the country’s affairs and to get organized. He received the most sustained applause when he in a clearly Gorbachevisn style mocked the hollow rhetoric of his party: Good governance,  rent-seeking, narrow nationalism, and chauvinism.

Lammaa was appointed a president in October 2016 following a reshuffle that’s meant to calm growing tensions in the state of Oromia.

On the surface, Lammaa’s (curious) comments sound lucid and even authoritative. But it is also riddled by hypocrisies. For starters, tens of thousands of Oromo activists, leaders, and artists, who have been swept up during the year-long crackdown on peaceful protesters, remain incarcerated. An estimated 30,000 prisoners, who have been released to date, were subjected to torture and Chinese-style mass indoctrination. Given this dynamic, and considering the fact that the vast majority of those who have been incarcerated are youthful, Lammaa lacks the moral authority to lecture anyone on the need for Oromo unity or to tell the youth to get organized. It is a shame that nearly the entire leadership of the only Oromo legal opposition party is in jail. How would one even get organized if the slightest form of dissent and attempt to get organized is not tolerated and peaceful protests are deemed acts of terrorism?

Lamma’s vague call for unity splashed with nationalistic rhetoric flies in the face of facts and rings hollow for the disaffected Oromo youth.

It is understandable if Lammaa’s idea of getting organized and unity entails joining the Oromo associates in EPRDF, the Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Organization (OPDO). Thousands had done so at the urging of EPRDF honcho Abbadula Gammada, who led the Oromia state as president from 2006 to 2010. As a consequence, the Oromo make up four out of seven members of the ruling party. However, this did not eclipse the continuing Tigrean domination of the country, which has stoked the protests. Hence, Lamma’s vague call for unity splashed with nationalistic rhetoric flies in the face of facts and rings hollow for the disaffected Oromo youth.

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