Members of Minnesota’s Oromo community are rallying at the State Capitol to protest how their East African homeland’s government handles protests.
Minnesota is home to the largest U.S. diaspora of Oromo, Ethiopia’s most populous ethnic group, earning the state the nickname “Little Oromia.” Two St. Paul demonstrations in December drew hundreds to decry a crackdown on protesters in Ethiopia who oppose a plan to expand the administrative control of the capital Addis Ababa into neighboring Oromo farmland.
“It’s a very sad time for the entire Oromo community,” said Awol Windissa, a local community leader.
After fielding hundreds of calls from Oromo constituents, three members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation wrote Secretary of State John Kerry recently to demand a stronger U.S. stance over the unrest.
A Human Rights Watch report this month said 140 college students and others have died in the demonstrations since November. The protests erupted over concerns the plan would displace Oromo farmers.
The government has said it would not roll out the plan without getting more public feedback. A recent U.S. government statement urged Ethiopia to keep that promise and respect the right to peaceful protest.
Meanwhile, Oromo in Minnesota held their own protests and reached out to elected officials. U.S. Census data, which tends to undercount immigrant communities, puts the number of Ethiopia natives in the state at about 18,000. Local leaders say more than 30,000 live in the state.
Organizers are planning a silent protest as part of a Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration at the Capitol on Monday. Their efforts are paying off, Windissa says. In their letter to Kerry, Democratic U.S. Reps. Keith Ellison and Betty McCollum and Republican Rep. Tom Emmer urged him to use U.S. aid to Ethiopia as leverage to press for changes.
“We cannot look the other way when our allies are violating the human rights of their citizens,” they wrote.