By William Davison
March 20, 2015(Bloomberg) — A founder of a banned self-determination movement for Ethiopia’s most populous ethnic group, the Oromo, returned to the Horn of Africa nation to try and re-enter democratic politics, a spokesman for his splinter group said.
Oromo Democratic Front President Leenco Lata arrived in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on Thursday, Lencho Bati, a spokesman for the group, said in an e-mailed response to questions. The group held inconclusive talks with Ethiopian officials over the past two years, Beyan Asoba, the head of the U.S.-based ODF’s foreign relations department, said in a separate e-mailed statement. Leenco began the Oromo Liberation Front in 1973 before leaving to join the ODF in 2013.
“We accept the current constitution and want to participate in peaceful political struggle,” Lencho said. The former OLF leaders left the organization and created the ODF “because we currently do not believe in the secession of Oromia and armed struggle,” he said.
The Oromo comprise about 34 percent of Ethiopia’s 96.6 million population, according to the CIA World Factbook. The Oromo Liberation Front, classified as a terrorist organization by Ethiopia’s parliament in 2011, was one of the allied rebel groups that overthrew the military socialist Derg regime in 1991 and participated in the transition to a multi-ethnic federalism.
In 1992, the group fell out with the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front, a four-party coalition that has run the country for more than two decades. Members of the OLF were jailed in 2011 after being found guilty of attempting to bomb an African Union summit in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.
The ODF is seeking instead to expand the struggle for Oromo autonomy into a broader battle for democratic rights and “genuine federalism” for all Ethiopians, according to the group’s website.
Leenco’s previous influence in the OLF and his “key role” in the transitional government that ruled from 1991 to 1995 makes the return significant, said Abel Abate from the Ethiopian International Institute for Peace and Development, which was started by the government.
“His return to his country after two decades definitely will impact the political structure in the country positively,” he said Thursday in an e-mailed response to questions.
Government spokesman Shimeles Kemal in a phone interview on Thursday denied the visit had occurred.
Ethiopia holds parliamentary elections on May 24. The ruling coalition and allied parties won all but two of 547 seats in 2010 polls.