(The Tigrean People’s Liberation Front)
By David Makuria
Western democracy is built on the principles of a majority rule while respecting minorities’ rights. This norm is nowhere more evident than the United States of America. Although the Greeks have a legitimate claim to be the oldest democracy in some form, currently, the United States can claim the guardianship of modern democracy. This is not to say other Western democracies have no equal claim of their own. The theme of this article is not to compare Western democracies, but rather, to draw some parallels to show the genesis and demise, the political representation and lack thereof in the current political discourse in Ethiopia. The emergence of the current Ethiopian regime in the national political arena in 1991 is no accident in that citizens of Ethiopia had enough with the previous military junta, the Derg. It is after this change in people’s attitude that the current regime marched to the capital, Addis Abeba without much resistance. It does not; however, appear that the TPLF regime recognizes this reality on the ground. Once they occupied the Arat Kilo Palace, they have done everything to maintain their control on power without paying due regard to citizens interest. Yet, there are numerous signs that power is slipping away from this regime.
There are some telltale signs that the TPLF regime is losing its grips on power. After all, a minority regime which serves only itself and neglects the will and interests of the overwhelming majority has no future, but eventually succumbs to the will and demand of the people. Arbitrary arresting of journalists/bloggers, jamming opposition radio and TV channels, indiscriminate labelling members of a certain ethnic group who do not comply with their political agenda as terrorists, firing at and killing peaceful student protestors as young as teenagers, the list can go on and on. But, what more signals do we need as a proof for the decaying of this repressive state. All the aforementioned measures indicate actions taken by a desperate and repressive regime such as TPLF. There is no doubt that this regime will disintegrate sooner than later. The question is not if but when? However, what worries many political observers in the Horn of Africa is that out of desperation they will vent their anger on the general public who is unarmed and unprepared especially in Oromia region. Nevertheless, one can argue they are already doing just that, the recent measure they took on peaceful student protestors against the Addis Abeba Master Plan (AAMP) being a case in point.
In another clear sign of desperation, the Ethiopian repressive state has tightened its shackle this time on the diaspora community. In this case, they just wanted to play the terrorist card on Somali descendants who are leaving away from their homeland. They don’t shy away to label all the members of a certain ethnic group as terrorists when in fact they are the one who are terrorizing the 90-plus million people in Ethiopia for the past 23 years. By their definition, almost all the members of the Oromo, Somali, Sidama, Benishangul-Gumuz, Gambela, Hadya nations, et. al. are terrorists, since according to TPLF, they all support ‘terrorist organizations’ such as the OLF and other liberation fronts. The OLF is an Oromo organization established by the Oromo people for the Oromo people, there is no denying that! Likewise, ONLF is an Organization for the Somali people. Allow freedom of choice in Ethiopia and see which political parties the public elect as their representatives!
It is a tragedy to be considered a terrorist in one’s own country just because one belongs to a certain ethnic group. There will come a time when they can’t play this game anymore in the face of international community in general and Ethiopian community in particular. However, this political deception and mockery has been going on for far too long and needs to end now before it is too late. The Western world, especially the US and its allies need to see this repressive state for what it is. Throwing tax payers money to this regime and hoping it will get better is self-deception at best. In fact, the aid money Ethiopia gets in some ways exacerbates the problem rather than solve it since the regime uses part of this money to buy ammunitions and other logistics to suppress the public. The TPLF regime is comprised of callous, cold-blooded murderers. There are already multiple instances of mass-murder committed by this regime. To protect its power, it doesn’t hesitate to shoot at its civilian citizen. Unless corrective measures are taken by the West, a civil war is in the making in Ethiopia in the not too distant future. Ethiopia could become president Obama’s Rwanda. Let’s hope this day won’t come, but hope by itself is not enough unless it is followed by concrete plan and actions.
What more evidence do we need for this repressive state to be considered genocidal. The recent attempts to silence peaceful mass demonstration throughout Oromia implicate this scenario. According to some observers, Ethiopia is one of the countries at greatest risk of state-led mass killing based on ethnic origin. In a sign of complete intolerance to peaceful dissension, time and again, the Ethiopian repressive state has shown its callous nature by taking excessive force and firing live ammunitions at unarmed protestors by its ‘Agazi’ force. This ‘Agazi’ force is a composition of special military and federal forces organized for just this purpose, i.e., to quash any opposition against the regime. This force is mainly recruited from the ruling Tigrean ethnic minority, particularly those who are in the upper leadership positions. Supposedly, Oromia state has its own police force to take care of its domestic affairs such as dealing with peaceful demonstrations. However, the regime does not trust this police force. This shows complete lack of federalism where individual states denied exercising their constitutional authority.
The brutal crackdown on the Oromo people is not new, but recently the extent to which it is done is alarming. In a sign of desperation the regime is becoming even more repressive. The Oromo public at home is bearing the full force of this repressive regime. For the Oromo public, the choice is either to join the regime or be labelled as a terrorist, there is no middle ground. Life is very hard unless one is a member of EPRDF, the ruling party for the past 23 years. EPRDF is a pseudo-TPLF, where the minority party (TPLF) has a complete control and stronghold on the political and economics of the country. Employment opportunity is preferentially given to members of this ruling political organization. The same is true for Oromo farmers; fertilizers, selected seeds, pesticides and herbicides are given to EPRDF members only. More importantly, in another sign of callousness, in areas were drought and famine is persistence, even foreign aid is denied unless one is a member. To recruit members they use starvation as a weapon, talk about a heartless regime. All these show that ordinary citizens’ livelihood is drastically affected based on ones affiliation to EPRDF.
Another weapon they utilize effectively against the general public at home is fear. One can argue the reason why they take excessive measures against any opposition is to instill fear in the psyche of the people. As an example, the disproportionate measure they took against Ambo students peaceful protesters in opposition to the AAMP is to create fear among students in other university campuses in Oromia so that they will refrain to do so. This is a regime trying to prolong its power by fear, intimidation, harassment, persecution and whatever measure under its control. But, we need to overcome fear and face the challenges like the students throughout Oromia have shown time and time again. Currently, TPLF has an unmatched army; however, they need to realize the fact that they do not have the public backing and also the truth is in our corner. They might intimidate us, shed our blood, break our bone; but they will never break our will and our determination to restore our God given right and our freedom!
One apparatus they use effectively to shackle the public in fear is the Kangaroo court they instituted against any opposing individual and opposition parties. This legal system is designed to inflict the most severe and harshest of penalties to create fear among the public rather than to serve justice. This legal maneuverings play key roles by legitimizing the regime’s repression by fabricating charges against any opposition and this fake, Kangaroo court prosecutes the alleged defendants under the guise of due process. This system makes sure that whoever is deemed a treat to the hegemony of TPLF political apparatus will be found guilty by this court. Loaded words such as ‘treason’, ‘conspiracy’, and ‘terrorism’ are used most often to punish political prisoners with maximum penalty. To legalize this Kangaroo court, the TPLF-led parliament passed the so-called proclamation of anti-terrorism and the charities and societies law. Because of this decree, Oromo activists such as Bekele Gerba and Olbana Lelisa, prominent Muslim leaders and several independent journalists and so many political prisoners are languishing in TPLF prison camps today. Even female prisoners who are due to deliver their babies are not spared from this cruel scepter of law and forced to give birth in prison cells. There are also numerous incidents where political prisoners were denied medical attention and ended up passing away in prison. The torture and brutal murder of Engineer Tesfahun Chemeda and Aslan Hasan can be mentioned as examples here.
This is an ongoing dilemma for the Oromo public currently residing back home. Oromo identity has become a reason for extrajudicial killing, harassment, imprisonment, eviction from one’s own land. There is no more humiliation than this, for Oromos to be considered second class citizens in their ancestral land. Even for the OPDO members who work for their masters, TPLF, there is mistrust in that they are constantly spied upon. Those who do not follow strict orders from the TPLF leadership would lose their job to the extent of being thrown into jail. For OPDO, the choice is clear, before it is too late; to disavow TPLF and join their Oromo brethren to fight for the legitimate Oromo question or be subjected to eternal humiliation. If it weren’t for the OPDO, TPLF cannot withstand the current Oromo movement. It’s time for OPDO to learn from history and rectify its course and join the legitimate Oromo question. The train is about to leave the station, the time is right and it is better late than never! One crucial question OPDO members should ask themselves is how Oromo interests are better served under TPLF leadership rather than by authentic and independent Oromo organizations such as OLF?
Since TPLF took power in May 1991, a new Oromo generation has come of age. This new generation also referred by the name ‘Qubee Generation’ has a worldview unlike any previous Oromo generations. This ’Qubee Generation’ has arrived at the political scene of Ethiopia equipped with unadulterated and authentic Oromo values, history, culture and language. Their core political belief is shaped not only by the Oromo nationalism question, but also by what is transpiring in Ethiopia. They are at the core of the current political discourse in Ethiopia and spearheading the reviving Oromo nationalism, ready to restore the dignity of the Oromo nation at whatever cost. In this sense, they are a force to be reckoned with! To ignore their legitimate Oromo nationalism question is foolish at best and political suicide at worst in the long run. The regime’s measure recently taken to quell their legitimate question about the expansion of Addis Abeba by taking away millions of Oromos’ farmland around the capital city is another futile effort which escalates the situation rather than solves it. Most of the ‘Qubee Generation, like any other Oromo generation, are the sons and daughters of Oromo farmers. To take away their ancestral farmland is like to deny them their means of livelihood. Like most Oromos, they strongly denounce and oppose this land grabbing scheme in the name of development.
For too long, the Oromo question is ignored by all the regimes ruling the Ethiopian empire since its inception some 130 years ago hoping it will go away. The Oromo public has forcefully been assimilated in its own land ever since the Ethiopian Empire came to existence. We were forced to abandon our own language and adapt a foreign one, the Amheric language. The Oromo people have been systematically marginalized from the economic and socio-political discourse. For far too long upward mobility and educational opportunities were intentionally limited or denied for the Oromos. Like its predecessor, the TPLF regime has created an Apartheid-like economic system where they hand pick who to succeed or to fail. Not only is employment opportunities in governmental organizations are preferentially given to EPRDF members but in the private sector, money lending is mainly available to close kin and party affiliates. In fact, there are reports that the Tigrean elites do not even pay taxes on their businesses. On the other hand, plenty of well-established Oromo businessmen were either put to jail for no apparent reason other than their identity or forced to flee the country abandoning their businesses.
An all-out war on the Oromo public at home has been waged in all fronts: social, economic, and political for far too long. Yet, there are some achievements attained such as using the Oromo language as a working language in Oromia since 1991. However, there are groups including the current Ethiopian regime who are trying to reverse this achievement. Ignoring the political aspiration of the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, i.e., the Oromos will have disastrous consequences in the long run. Scarifies are made in blood and treasure, generations of Oromo nationalists paid dearly for this cause, there is no going back. Underestimate this ‘Qubee generation’ at your own peril! Not only the fate of the Oromo nationalism movement depends on this ‘Qubee generation’ but the future direction of the country in general will depend on this golden Oromo generation. The current movement by the ‘Qubee Generation’ across institutions in Oromia region points to this fact.
The ‘Qubee Generation’ cannot liberate the Oromo people alone from tyranny. It is imperative on the rest of us especially those of us who live abroad to stand by their side. In light of the current effort by the TPLF regime to legitimize its barbaric act on civilians, they instituted a draconian law. Any dissent is judged by this draconian prism. Tens of thousands of Oromo citizens are jailed for no apparent reason other than their identity. By some account, most Oromo intellectuals and businessmen are either in prison in Ethiopia or fled the country. In an effort to hide its murderous rampage, the regime has also expelled independent journalists especially from Oromia. In the still ongoing student movement episode, particularly in the town of Ambo, scores of unarmed students were shot at and killed. The full extent of this rampage is not reported. So, it is incumbent on those Oromo nationals who live in the West to expose this heartless misdeed. Needless to say, it is encouraging to see passionate diaspora Oromo public showing its support to our fellow citizens at home. Oromo nationals residing abroad in small and major cities converged to show their solidarity by soliciting the Oromo cause to the world. This movement does not appear to calm down any time soon.
Moreover, it is very encouraging to see the efforts put toward to strengthen civic societies by the diaspora Oromo community. It is more important than ever to reinforce the existing Oromo civic societies and to establish new ones. TPLF is doing all it can to dismantle the fabrics of Oromo society. It has waged an all-out war on Oromo-way of life out of fear for the growing Oromo nationalism. The closing of Macha and Tulama, and land-grabbing of native Oromo farmlands around Addis Abeba without due consultation and proper compensation points to this undertaking by the regime. But, there are some very promising activities among the diaspora Oromo communities to undo just that. The formation of AFAAN Publication to teach Oromo values, language and culture to kids of the diaspora Oromo families and ultimately to all Oromo kids is one effort worth mentioning. In her own words Toltu Tufa, the person responsible for the initiation of AFAAN said “her dream is to create a book in the Oromo language for every Oromo child in every family, in every home.” This is a dream worth fighting for and we should support her. National identity is a reflection of one’s own language, culture, norms and values and should be passed to posterity and AFAAN is set out just to do that. Another very important recent achievement among Oromo communities is the establishment of media organizations such as Oromo Media Network (OMN).
It is hard to overlook the crucial role social media and independent media organizations play in a repressive state such as Ethiopia. In the absence of objective and independent journalism at home, the establishment of OMN does no come at a better time. The Oromo public at home is a victim of TPLF’s deceptive propaganda machine. To counter this completely false and misleading propaganda, we need authentic Oromo news outlets such as OMN. Almost all independent journalists are either in prison or fled the country for fear of persecution. Particularly, in the context of the ongoing Oromo students’ movement, an independent Oromo media such as OMN plays a crucial role. Just a few months have passed since the inception of OMN; nevertheless, it is hard to overstate the role it is playing by shedding light on the barbaric act of the TPLF regime against those peaceful protesters. The grim pictures of our fellow citizens depicted on these media outlets are reminders that we need to redouble our efforts to expose this tyrannical regime. Perhaps, it is our overriding duty to support as well as nurture these quintessential Oromo media organizations. Remember, wars are not only won in battlefields, but also in media outlets!
Another very important tool in this information technology age is social media such as Facebook and Tweeter. Although the Ethiopian government controls the communication apparatus and intentionally keeps the internet penetration rate very low; even with this tight control and limited access, social media can still play a vital role to debunk the dissemination of false propaganda by the regime. We all remember the impact of social media on the Tunisian Revolution (also known as Jasmine Revolution) and The Egyptian Revolution of 2011 (locally known as the January 25 Revolution). Both revolutions benefited tremendously from the utilization of Facebook and Tweeter. Citizens of both countries were propagating and sharing messages using Facebook and Tweeter in the absence of traditional media outlets such as TV or radio. Unlike these traditional news outlets, the dissemination of information through social media can reach many more audience quicker than ever. Moreover, it does not need the infrastructure hurdle required to establish radio and TV stations.
Another essential body the diaspora Oromo communities should establish is a Legal team. Diaspora Oromo legal experts should play vital and leading roles. This body can bring the perpetrators of these heinous crimes to justice; give legal advice to different Oromo civic societies; lobbies representatives, senators and executive brunches. We should all remember that we are the representatives of the Oromo nation; we have to solicit for the Oromo nationalism question, interests and values. One thing the TPLF regime does very well is to hide its atrocious crime and present itself as a democratically elected government. But, the truth cannot be any further than this! By some estimation, the regime’s 40 % annual budget comes from foreign aid. Essentially, in some ways our tax money goes directly or indirectly to suppress our people. At the very least, by exposing this repressive state we should influence the West to revise its policies toward this regime. There are mounting evidences that this regime has committed ethnic cleansing and mass murder. We should be collecting and organizing all the evidences which implicate the regime’s endeavors and present these evidences to committees such as Foreign Aid Appropriations Committees of the US Congress. That day will undoubtedly come when these murderers will face justice, but we should work tirelessly before it is too late!
The recent discovery of mass grave site is another revealing sign that this repressive, genocidal state is desperate to hide its wrongdoings. Most of the citizens of the empire are facing subjugation and inhumane treatment, the brunt of which is imposed on the Oromo people out of fear of Oromo nationalism. The scrambling of the regime to hide this mass grave site is another telltale sign that the TPLF regime is on its last gasp. It is reported that in the Western zone of Oromia, West Hararghe in Hamaressa district a mass grave site was uncovered by the residents. There was also a report that a clash taking place between the locals and the regime on this issue culminating in the injury of few members of the local community by the regime force. On this same site is built a military camp, which the regime has been using for the past 23 years. Do they have anything to hide? I believe so, since, if they do not have anything to hide, they would have led the investigation and let forensic experts take care of the truth. In fact, if what they have done in the past 23 years is any lesson, they would have organized the heralding event themselves with fanfare and camera crew for the world to watch the uncovering of this mass grave. On the contrary, the effort they have put to hide this site so far shows anything but their innocence.
Just when I was about to post this article, I came across one of the well-researched writings of Dr. Makuria Bulcha, a renowned Oromo scholar, about the mass massacre and imprisonment of ORA (Oromo Relief Association) Orphans by the TPLF military in West Wellega Zone during 1991-1992. In this article, Dr. Bulcha, with ample evidence, put forward how cold-blooded this regime is. In this account, he shed light on the gruesome reality of what transpired during the summer of 1992. These children of Oromo descendants were not spared from the cruelty of the TPLF regime although they were as young as 6 and as old as 17 years old. These kids were parentless, unarmed and trying to find a safe place like any other kid to play with their peers and to go to school. The ruthless TPLF army hunted down, shot, wounded and killed some of these kids cold-bloodedly while putting the rest in prison camps with military prisoners. If this is not human cruelty at its worst I do not know what is? This crime rivals that of Nazi Germany’s crime against humanity and the instigators should be brought to justice. We should organize our resources towards this end.
More than ever, the Oromo liberation movement is at its critical and final juncture spearheaded by Oromos from all walks of life. One can say in the past decade the Oromo nationalism question had some setbacks due to infighting among Oromo Political parties and fragmentations of our efforts. Apparently, mistakes have been made, but instead of pointing fingers, we all should ask ourselves the question, what did I contribute for the Oromo movement? In some ways, we all are the leaders of the Oromo movement and we all should share the blame. No Oromo has a superior moral authority to blame the other; we rise and fall together. Formation of a vibrant Oromo society depends on all of us; we should all own this movement. Better still, we should learn from our mistakes and make amends for our past setbacks. More importantly, we should consolidate our efforts toward our common goal, to liberate the Oromo people from tyranny. We should rise to the occasion like generations of Baro Tumssa and General Tadessa Biru; we need more selfless Oromos like Bekele Gerba and Olbana Lelisa.
The regime is undeniably shaken from its core and its looming fall is bound to happen, but it is up to us to facilitate its demise and alter the political discourse of the Empire in our favor. Undoubtedly, as they become more and more desperate, they will take harsher measures to silence the public. The current land grabbing scheme in Oromia in the name of development is one more deception to irreversibly alter the socio-political and economic structures in Oromia. It’s a grand scheme designed to marginalize the Oromo farmers by denying and removing them from their ancestral land. What the TPLF regime has accomplished against the Oromo public within the last quarter of a century rivals what had been achieved by the previous regimes combined in a century against the Oromo society. If we let this to happen, the fabrics of the Oromo society as we know it will not exist anymore. They are against the Oromo values, language, culture, norm and our way of life. They are racing against time to alter the social construct in Oromia to finish the social engineering project their close kin has started since the inception of the Ethiopian Empire.
However, we should not relent since victory will not come without sacrifices and it is the call of this generation Oromos to undo this injustice and heinous act perpetrated against the Oromo society. Our struggle is for the survival of the Oromo nation, the enemy is doing all it can to reduce us to a minority with no land. To answer this call and finish the work of previous Oromo generations the ‘Qubee Generation’ has risen to the occasion. Harassment, intimidation, imprisonment, torture, expulsion from higher education and killing by the regime has not deterred this determined Oromo generation. More than ever we need to redouble our effort for our cause is just and victory is within sight! For us the choice is clear, either to lose our identity and perish for eternity or restore our ‘Oromummaa’ and once more create a vibrant Oromo nation. The former is unthinkable as nobody wanted to live in bondage and humiliation while the latter is our only option and our natural right worth fighting for!
Finally, it is greatly encouraging to see one of the Oromo friends in the South, i.e., the Sidama people showing their solidarity with the Oromo movement. Notwithstanding the repeated intimidation and harassment by the TPLF regime, and after a month long protraction of the request they have made to show their solidarity to the ongoing peaceful student movement in Oromia, the Ethiopian repressive state has caved in to their demand for a peaceful demonstration. With persistence comes result! We are not alone in this fight. The floodgate is opening slowly but surely. Citizens from different nations and nationalities are openly showing their opposition to this repressive state. Too often the regime has utilized the divide and rule policy. They have orchestrated clashes between not only Oromos with other nations and nationalities, but also among different families of the Oromo nation. The recent clash between the Gujji and Borana Oromos are one such example. But, this modus operandi won’t work forever and ultimately this repressive regime will run out of deceits and its days are numbered. As the saying goes they can run but they can’t hide from their deception and mischiefs!
Victory to all the oppressed people!
Injifannoon saboota chunqurfamniif!