US Secretary of State John F. Kerry
Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington DC 20520
December 16, 2015
Dear Mr. Secretary,
We, members of the Oromo Democratic Front, are writing to you to bring to your attention the violent suppression of the Oromo people’s ongoing peaceful protests by the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) regime in Ethiopia. We are concerned that the regime’s act of violently suppressing the peaceful expression of grievances by the Oromos could have far-reaching implications for the stability of Ethiopia and the beleaguered Horn of Africa region at large.
The Oromos are Ethiopia’s single largest national community inhabiting large swathe of Ethiopia bordering the settlements of the majority of the country’s nationalities. The Oromo Democratic Front (ODF) was established abroad in late March 2013 with the intention of returning home to peacefully and legally contribute its share in refining the current federal system in Ethiopia.
Unfortunately, the ODF’S intention of returning home, despite several communications and contacts with the leaders of the regime, has not been realized due to the other party’s lack of political will to facilitate our peaceful participation in the country’s affairs. Literally, we are not allowed to return to our home country.
For the second time in as many years, peaceful protests by the Oromo people are sweeping the Oromia Regional State – the Oromo settled Region of the Ethiopian Federation – as we write. Protesters are, once again, peacefully demanding that the ruling party uphold and implement articles of the Federal Constitution concerning relations between Addis Ababa, the dual seat of the Oromia state and the Federal government, and the adjacent districts and towns located in the Oromia Regional State. Instead of passing the law stipulated in the Constitution with this respect, the regime announced policies inferring the subordination of the administration of these towns and districts to that of Addis Ababa.
The policy announcement was made without any consultation with the concerned Oromo public thereby fuelling especially peasants’ fear of eviction from their ancestral farmland without sufficient compensation or alternative means of livelihood. This fear of eviction stems from past and ongoing practices of expanding urban areas without any regard to the interests and survival of the affected subsistence farmers.
The ongoing Oromo protests are highly ironic for at least three reasons. First, the ruling EPRDF won every seat both at the Regional State and Federal levels in the general election held barely a half year ago. Hence, the protests cast a shadow over the ruling party’s popularity supposedly reflected by its sweeping electoral victory.
Second, protesters are simply demanding the implementation of the relevant articles of the Constitution – a constitution strictly tailored to reflect the interests and dominance of the EPRDF. Nothing more evidences the ruling party’s unwillingness to uphold the rule of law than its refusal to respect even a constitution framed and ratified in order to reflect and legalize its particular interests and views.
Third, the ruling EPRDF takes great pride in being the sole party in Ethiopia championing the cause of the poor, particularly the rural poor peasantry. And it has won international acclaim for its efforts to alleviate poverty by prioritizing economic development over issues of democracy and human rights. However, the supposed beneficiaries of this claim and acclaim, the rural peasantry, are at the forefront of the ongoing protests in Oromia thereby belying the official rhetoric.
Mass peaceful protests in urban and rural parts of the Oromia Regional State have being going on for the last four continuous weeks, an unprecedented occurrence in the history of contemporary Ethiopia. The ruling EPRDF has responded not by heeding the grievances of protestors but by unleashing its security forces that have killed dozens and rounded up hundreds who are once again destined to end up in its notorious gulags.
We are aware that the US Government and its international allies consider the Ethiopian regime as the anchor of regional stability in the Horn of Africa. Sadly, this focus on the role of Ethiopia as the pillar of regional stability has evidently diverted the need to evaluate the basis of stability in Ethiopia itself. That this stability rests on naked coercion instead of democratic legitimacy is clearly evident from the ongoing mass uprising in Oromia and the government’s crackdown.
Consequently, the mass protests in Oromia should be seen as the writing on the wall demanding attention and action with immediacy. Although grievances have erupted into open protests to date in Oromia alone, discontent with maladministration is gathering steam in all other Regional States. And all of this is sadly unfolding at a time when over 15 million Ethiopians are facing the threat of famine requiring prioritizing saving lives instead of squandering energy and resources on violently suppressing peaceful demands that the Constitution be upheld and implemented.
Mr. Secretary, the time to act to save Ethiopia from the fate of Somalia and Syria is now. Accordingly, we humbly ask you to publicly advise the Ethiopian regime to immediately take the following actions:
1. Cease and desist from continuing to murder, maim and imprison peaceful Oromo protesters and to implement the constitutional provisions being demanded by the protesters;
2. Release all those detained during this and previous protests in Oromia as well as all other political prisoners and prisoners of conscience;
3. Revoke all laws passed during the last decade contrary to the spirit and letter of the Constitution;
4. Join us in forming an inclusive mechanism for hammering out a country-wide common understanding on peaceful coexistence by all cultural and religious communities;
5. Allow all those who want to operate peacefully and legally to return to the country in order to partake in these deliberations.
With the expression of my highest regards, I remain
Leenco Lata, President
Oromo Democratic Front (ODF)