Oduu Haaraya

The Struggle over Finfinnee is the Struggle for Oromia

By Mekuria Bulcha

Part Two

Protest Against Lethal Crimes Committed in the Name of Development

As I have indicated in Part One of this article the message in the slogans of the Oromo rallies at home and abroad, among other things, is against evictions caused by land grabbing. The Oromo are evicted from their land which is being leased or sold by the TPLF-led Ethiopian regime to foreign and domestic land grabbers.  The so-called Integrated Development Master Plan for Addis Ababa, which is generally known as the Addis Ababa Master Plan (AAMP), is part of the same scheme. Whether it is for urban expansion or commercial farming, the eviction of the indigenous landowners is conducted in the name of development. The TPLF regime is accusing the opponents of the AAMP as instruments used by “terrorist” organizations to disturb peace and oppose democracy (BBC, May 2, 2014). Although it is instigated by the AAMP, the present student uprising in Oromia is against the crimes which are being perpetrated by the TPLF regime in the name of development. In addition to the defense of Oromia’s territorial integrity and identity mentioned in the previous part of this article, the protest is against eviction and displacement inflicted upon the Oromo as well as about the environmental destruction caused by urban and rural “development” schemes of the present Ethiopian regime.

As correctly indicated by the Oakland Institute (OI, 2011), land lease or land grab is a “legal” transfer of ownership rights forever. What is being transferred is the right belonging to the indigenous peoples such as the Oromo and the Anuak. Of the 3.6 million hectares (36,000 sq.km. or one and half times the size of the state of Djibouti) of land which the TPLF regime has transferred to domestic and foreign land grabbers (up to 2011), over 1.3 million hectares (13,000 sq.km.) are located in Oromia (OI, 2011). This does not include the thousands of hectares of land leased to mining companies such as the British company Nyota Minerals in western and MIDROC in southern Oromia. It should be noted here that MIDROC’s Laga Dambi gold and tantalum mines and Nyota’s new concessions at Tullu Kapi (read Kaphii) cover thousands of hectares of forest and farm lands. The Addis Ababa Master Plan, which covers 1.1 million hectares of land, constitutes an additional transfer of Oromo ownership rights to others forever. It will, as the farming and mining companies have done, displace tens of thousands of Oromo households from their homes without proper compensation which often means no compensation.

The commercial farmers and the miners are not only displacing the Oromo from their lands, but are destroying the eco-system that nurtures human life. They destroy the future of the indigenous populations by cutting down forests and polluting rivers, lakes, and underground water. As expressed gleefully by Mr. Karmjeet Sekhon, the manager of the Indian company, Karuturi Global, the land lease program of the TPLF regime has opened an opportunity to foreign and domestic investors to make enormous profits. But, as revealed by reporters (see for example John Vidal, “Ethiopia’s land rush: Feeding the world”, March 21, 2011, Video) it has brought disasters upon communities such as the Oromo and Anuak who were evicted from their homes as their farm and pasturelands are leased to foreign speculators. The environmental destruction being caused as the consequence of the policy is beyond estimation. Mr. Sekhon told John Vidal the environment editor of the Guardian that the destruction of the forests and trees that cover much of the 300,000, hectares of land (about 3,000 sq.km.) which his company is leasing for 50 years in Gambella is inevitable. The owners of Karuturi Global will stay in Gambella as long as the farms bring profits. They will depart as soon as the profits start to decline leaving behind a desert-like landscape, contaminated soil, polluted sources of water and a local population who are suffering from diseases as the consequence of toxic chemicals they had dumped into the soil and sources of water to make quick profits from the farms.

The disastrous consequences of land grabbing for the Oromo are reflected clearly in the rivers and lakes of the Rift Valley which are polluted by chemicals used in the flower farms and processing plants in central Oromia. Ethiopia is the second largest cut-flower exporter in Africa after Kenya. The availability of fertile land, cheap labor, free ground water and generous tax free holidays has brought hordes of land grabbers to Ethiopia starting the year 2000. In 2008, there were 814 flower plantations covering about 1,400 hectares of land nearly all of which is located in Oromia in four clusters in the districts of Bishoftu, Sabbata, Managesha and Ziway. The first three clusters of farms are located within a distance of 30 to 50 km from Finfinnee while the Ziway cluster is about 100 km away from it. The implementation of the AAMP will evict the rest. Four in five (83%) of farmers leased land from the government and the rest rented it from private owners (Abiy Tamrat, Flower Industry Threatens Right to Water in Ethiopia, 2011).It is important to note, in connection, how land grabbing (eviction of the indigenous Oromo population) for commercial farming is overlapping with the AAMP here. A large section of the Oromo peasant households in Sabbata, Managasha and Bishoftu districts are already displaced by the flower farms. Moreover, if the AAMP is implemented, it wouldn’t be long before the districts lose their Oromo culture and language.

The flowers farmers are accused of intensive chemical and fertilizers application, criticized for lack of skills for waste management, and improper use of water. There is no proper inspection or monitoring by concerned authorities. Pollution is most evident in Lake Koka; and flower plantations are pointed out as its main cause. In February 2009 the Al Jazeera TV produced a documentary titled the Green Lake. The lake was once beautiful, and a source of clear and fresh water. Today much of it is covered by green algae. A deadly variety of algae known as microcystis produce the green color. The algae release toxins that cause severe health impacts to human beings. Professor Brian Whitton of the Environmental Research Centre of the University of Durham who studied the case concluded that the high level of phosphates found in agricultural runoffs and factory effluents are the causes of the excessive growth of the deadly algae in Lake Koka. His study linked the phosphates to flower farms and factories which are located on the banks of the Awash, and its tributaries the Akaki (read Aqaaqii) and Mojo Rivers, which flows into Lake Koka. More than 17,000 people who live in the villages around the lake use it as source of water for drinking, cleaning, animal watering, recreation, irrigation and fishing. The consequences of the pollution to the human and livestock population of the area have been terrible. The human tragedy is reflected in Amina’s story (Al Jazeera, February 21, 2009) who said

“I gave birth to nine children. Six of them died: Makida, Hadiri, Tahir, Sultan, Kasim, Kalil. Three survived. My husband also died. I have lost seven members of my family. They were all vomiting and having diarrhea with blood in it. We visited a health center, but we were told the problem was associated with water. I feel sad about my dead children and husband. I wake at night thinking of them, and I now worry if my remaining children will survive. I don’t even know if I will survive. Except for God, we have no hope.”

There are tens thousands of mothers who share Amina’s tragedy throughout Oromia. Her grief and fear are shared by all mothers in Oromia and elsewhere who are victims of similar developments in their rural communities. For the Oromo communities which depend on Lake Koka, the economic consequences of pollution are equally disastrous. According to the Al Jazeera report, most of the fish in the lake are dead. The livestock are also dead. The toxic water not only kills humans, but also livestock. The government does not want to let environmental concerns to slow down its economic exploitation of Oromia. Flower farmers and factory owners are not held accountable for the pollution which their economic activities are causing.

The Al Jazeera report reveals the hopelessness felt by the affected inhabitants. A local farmer whose family drinks the contaminated water tells the reporter that his wife has died, and adds

“We are all internally ill”. Another local resident says “It is better to die thirsty than to drink this water. We are drinking a disease. We told the local authorities that our cattle and goats died due to this polluted water, but nobody helped. We are just waiting to perish.”

A social worker who shares the agony of the local residents told the Al Jazeera reporter that

“The people here have great potential, but we are losing them, specially the children. I am very upset. If I have the ability to do something, I will do it. But I can’t do anything.”

The medical workers who serve the community say the same thing. They reported thousands of people are sick and that the cause is the polluted water they drink. But the concerned authorities have been criminally negligentConsequently, the Oromo are left hopeless and helpless against the environmental destruction and water pollution caused by the commercial farms and industries owned mainly by outsiders. 

It is important to note here that it is not only those who use the contaminated waters of the Awash, Mojo, Akaki rivers and Lake Koka for drinking and washing that are affected by the flower farms in question. Since proper safeguards are not provided by owners of these businesses, workers who are employed on the farms and in the packing workshops are also victims of various diseases related to the chemicals used in the plantations. In addition, since the wage they earn is far below subsistence level, workers cannot afford the medical expenses for the job-related health problems they often experience. A worker is paid about one US dollar a day which is less than the cost of a single rose in Amsterdam or Stockholm. Yet flower farming is said to be the most profitable industry in Ethiopia. According to the Ethiopian Horticulture Development Agency (EHDA, 2010), Ethiopia exported cut-flowers for US$250 million in 2010.

It is no exaggeration to state that, while the Tigrayan ruling elites and businessmen, and foreign land grabbers are getting rich, the majority of the Oromo people are becoming poorer and hungrier than ever before.Gold, Ethiopia’s second largest export commodity after coffee fetched US$ 578.8 million in 2012-13 (William DavisonBloomberg News: July 6, 2013). Following the recent discovery of large deposits of gold, particularly in western and southern Oromia, revenues from its export are expected to triple soon.  However, the realization of profits and revenues from the extraction of minerals and precious metals by investors and the Ethiopian government does not benefit the Oromo people. For them, the consequence of gold mining has been eviction from their land, irreversible environmental damage and severe health problems so far. Consequently, the country’s largest gold mine at Laga Dambi in southern Oromia has been a source of conflict between the local Oromo population, on the one hand, and MIDROC Company and the Ethiopian state, on the other since 2009. Many students and members of the local population who demanded environmental protection and compensation for the damages caused by the mining companies have been imprisoned and persecuted on several occasions during the last five years (see for example Environmental Allegations generate Protest, Mass Arrest” report by the US Embassy, Addis Ababa, February 22, 2010, released by Weakileaks, August 30, 2011; Gadaa-com, Sept 15, 2011).

In general, it is no exaggeration to state that the Tigrayan ruling elites and businessmen and foreign land grabbers are getting rich while the majority of the Oromo people are becoming poorer and hungrier than ever before. As noted above, public health is deteriorating and Oromia is undergoing an irreversible ecological devastation. One often hears people quoting the late Meles Zenawi who said allegedly that “a majority can be reduced to a minority and that a minority can be made to become a majority.” Whether what he meant was political influence or demographic size was not clear, but it is speculated by observers that his comment was about Oromo demography. In fact, given the intensity and multi-dimensionality of the ongoing persecutions, and the rate of displacement that is making Oromo livelihood difficult and almost impossible, the reduction of the Oromo to a minority is not surprising.A noted scholar has argued that masses of people may not be killed overnight, in a week, or in a month for genocide to occur. Small scale killings, repression, and violence that target a category of people, can develop into large scale killings and then into genocide (see Ervin Staub, The Roots of EvilThe Origins of Genocide and Other Group Violence, 1992). Human history is filled with cases where settler minorities have successfully reduced politically oppressed majorities to minorities. The white settlers in the Americas and Australia were for example settler minorities who overtime reduced indigenous majorities to insignificant minoritiesIn Ethiopia, the killings I have described in previous articles (see Mekuria Bulcha in Gadaa.com; or Ayyaantuu.com, May and July 2013) are signposts on the road to large scale killings unless we stop the present development in time. Genocide is committed, not only through physical destruction of a community, but also committed by imposing conditions that make the survival of its members impossible.The large scale sale of farm- and pasturelands to domestic and international farming and mining companies which are poisoning the rivers, lakes and ground waters in Oromia, and the disintegration of communities by displacing them from their ancestral homes are part of the ongoing process of destruction which the policy of the TPLF regime is inflicting on the Oromo people. The AAMP is part of the disastrous process of destruction and genocide.

In 1993, John Markakis asked the late Meles Zenawi why the TPLF had abandoned the idea of an independent state of Tigray (which was its objectives in the beginning) and decided to capture political power in Addis Ababa. The TPLF leader’s answer was, “When we reached the borders of Tigray, we looked back and saw nothing there” (Markakis, Ethiopia: The Last Frontier, 2011: 192). Meles was talking about the grinding poverty that had affected Tigrayans and the dearth of natural resources of his native province. The situation is quite different today. Tigray is in no desperate need. As indicated above, the Tigrayan middle which came into being during the last two decades is the most powerful and probably the most prosperous class in Ethiopia today. The experience of the Oromo people is the opposite. They are poorer than ever before and are grossly persecuted. They are pushed to the edges and are dehumanized. As I have indicated above, they are being killed in the manner mad dogs are killed in societies that do not have respect for animal life. The ongoing student protest is an uprising in defense of Oromo humanity. It is a struggle for life worthy of human beings.

A crime with multiple dimensions – a crime of the century   

Surprised by what he was told by Mr. Karmjeet Sekhon about the conditions under which his company Karuturi Global Ltd. could lease such a vast area of virgin fertile land in Gambella from the Ethiopian regime, John Vidal (The Guardian, March 21, 2011) exclaimed this is “the deal of the century!” In deed it is. Vidal was talking about not only the give-away price of £150 a week at which the Karuturi Universal Ltd. leased the 3000 sq.km of land for 50 years, but also the freedom the company was given to do what it wants with the land and water. The TPLF land deal is the cheapest in the world. Mr. Sekhon told Vidal that his company was given the land almost for free, and that they grabbed it.  As described by Mr. Sai R. Karuturi, CEO of Karuturi Global Ltd., his company’s contract with the Ethiopian government is “mouthwatering” in that it includes tax holidays, hassle-free entry into the industry at very low lease rates, tax holidays, and duty free. Mr. Karuturi, who is not only a shareholder in the vast Gambella farm mentioned above but also owner of 11,700 hectare farm in Bakko and 100 hectare flower plantation in Oromia, said that his firm has no commitment to build infrastructure or services that may benefit the local population. He maintains that “There is nothing in the contract that stipulates anything, but payment in cash. The Ethiopian government expects us to pay in cash and we are doing that.”

In other words, his entry into business is “hassle free” because: it includes no commitment to workers’ safety or worry about environmental protection. In general, water for irrigation, whether it is drawn from underground sources, or the rivers, is free of charge. The terms of the contract signed by Karuturi Global Ltd. with the Ethiopian regime do not limit the amount of water the commercial farms can draw from the rivers and the underground water sources. Aditya Agarwal, director of the Emami Biotech company which has leased 30,000 hectares of land for oil seeds cultivation in Oromia says: “We have chosen Ethiopia for investment because of availability of cheap labour, contiguous land and congenial business environment” (OI, 2010:14).

Regrettably, the policy that makes business engagement “hassle free” or “congenial” for investors in Oromia and other places in Ethiopia has filled the life of the affected people such as the Oromo with untold tragedies. As we have seen above, it has brought death to thousands of families who fetch drinking water from Lake Koka. The same can also be said about the tens of thousands of families who depend on water from the Awash, Akaki and Mojo rivers for human and livestock consumption. Karuturi’s flower farm, which is the biggest flower farm in Ethiopia, is one of the contributors to the pollution of Lake Koka.  While the hassle-free and congenial policy of the TPLF regime enables domestic and foreign land grabbers to make huge profits, it denies thousands of families the basic human rights of access to food and clean water. The best fertile land on which Oromo farming communities of Ada’aa Bargaa, Akaki Basaqaa, Galaan, Shanoo, Bachoo, etc. produced food for themselves and for city dwellers in the past is leased by the TPLF regime to commercial farmers who produce cash crops, particularly flowers for export. Farmers who were food producers twenty years ago are starving beggars in town- and city streets today. I am not blaming the lucky businessmen such as Mr. Karuturi, but a regime that has betrayed the people it claims to represent.

There are observers who argue that a rapid “economic growth” is taking place in Ethiopia under the current regime. They admit that it may have some negative effects on some people. But they blame its critics for not seeing what they call the positive side of the ongoing economic development. They tell us not to focus on what might have gone wrong in the process. The philosophy of the Ethiopian regime was summarized by Dr. Towldebirhan Gebregziabher, former head of the Ethiopian Environmental Protection, in an interview he gave to a BBC journalist in March 2009.  He said “There is no human impact that is not felt by other species or other people. Even when you walk, you kill insects”.  He was commenting the criticism directed against the construction of the Gibe III Dam by the Ethiopian regime.  However, according to Terry Hathaway, director of the International Rivers’ Africa Program, “Gibe III is the most destructive dam under construction in Africa. The project will condemn half a million of the region’s most vulnerable people to hunger and conflict” (BBC March 26, 2009). My point is that the Ethiopian regime and its supporters will, as implied in Dr.  Towldebirhan’s comment, trivialize the consequences of the Gibe III, as well as of commercial farming described above, for the indigenous populations as “normal”. They have little concern, if at all, about the agony felt by mothers such as Amina (mentioned above) over the loss of their children and worries about the future of their families. They tend to see the predicament of Oromo or Anuak households who are evicted from their land as given and an unavoidable aspect of what they call “development”. They do not recognize the helplessness of Oromo communities who are forced to drink water that is contaminated by toxic pollutants from the commercial farms run by land grabbers. Generally economists use Gross National Product (GNP) or the value of the final goods and services produced by a country per annum as a rough measure of economic growth, and not economic development in terms of the improvement of well-being enjoyed by ordinary men, women and children. Commercial crops that are produced for export and concrete high-rise buildings which stand amid shanty towns in a few of the cities constitute a significant part of the GDP growth reported by the media and are owned largely by the TPLF members and their supporters. It is true that Ethiopia is a veritable Eldorado for the leaders and agents of the TPLF regime and a goldmine for domestic and foreign investors such as the Karuturi Global Ltd. As aptly remarked by Mr. Karuturi, the fertile green stretches of land in Gambella and Oromia which are leased to investors is “green gold” (see, Planet for Sale – The New World Agricultural Order, Documentary produced by KAPA Presse TV, 2011). The consequence of land grabbing is the opposite for the Oromo, the Anuak and other peoples. They are denied their property rights by the Tigrayan ruling elites who have illegally made themselves the owners of all land in the non-Abyssinian regions of the Ethiopian state. It means deprivation, displacement, starvation and death. That is what the protest of the Oromo student movement is about.

In general, the land policy of the Ethiopian regime constitutes a crime of a special character. That is why the Oromo students took to the streets in mass everywhere in Oromia peacefully defying live bullets fired at them by the security forces of the regime. In the context of northeast Africa, and particularly Oromia, what John Vidal has called “the deal of the century” can been seen as “the crime of the century”. What makes it such a crime is the multi-dimensional harm it is causing and will continue to cause. It is harmful to human beings and nature. It is a crime against the environment and wildlife. As mentioned above most of the fish in Lake Koka are dead and the lake itself is dying. That will be the fate of the fish and marine life in Lake Ziway and of the lake itself soon. Lake Ziway, which is 420sq.m in area and is the only large body of freshwater in the Central Rift Valley, is already affected by fertilizers used on a cluster of flower farms in the area owned by domestic and foreign contractors. A high fish mortality which is associated with effluent discharge from a flower farm is reported. Growth of algae blooms similar to that in Lake Koka is observed in the lake (Tamrat, 2011). The sparkling life-giving waters of the Akaki and Mojo rivers of yesteryears are murky poisonous morass today. Let alone drinking from them, it is repulsive and at the same time painful to look at pictures that depict them. The waters of the Awash River which sustain life in the Afar desert will soon have the same qualities unless necessary measures are taken now.

As I have described elsewhere,[1] one of the consequences of the TPLF regime’s policy is the disintegration of the affected Oromo, Anuak and other communities. The process of social disintegration is eloquently articulated by Bekele Garba (Youtube), who said that in many places, land which was productive in the past is now fenced and looked after by watchmen until buildings will be erected on it. The guard often is a lonely individual, perhaps an evicted former owner of the land employed by the new owner – a land grabber. The land could be where the homestead of the watchman stood in the past. He is there alone because his family could have been disintegrated, as is often the case, by eviction.  The community to which his family belonged does not exist anymore. There are tens of thousands of individuals who share the bitter experience of the dispossessed farmer depicted by Bekele Garba. The former English lecturer at the Addis Ababa University and former Deputy Chairperson of Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM),Bekele Garba, was arrested in August 2011 and was sentenced to eight years of imprisonment for speaking the truth. He was charged of “provocation of crimes against the state and collaboration with the OLF.”Today, the regime is killing Oromo students with unimaginable impunity for speaking the same truth.

It should be noted here that the Ethiopian region and the regional state of Oromia in particular, is the “water tower” of the Horn of Africa. The Awash which sustains human and animal life in the Afar region, the Wabe Shabelle, the Ganale on which the Ogaden Somali and the inhabitants of Somalia depend for water, the Baro River which flows through Gambella and drains into the White Nile, and the Mugar, Gudar, Angar, Dhidheessa and Dabus rivers which flow into the Blue Nile contribute more than 70 percent of the water it carries down to Khartoum where it mingles with the White Nile are all from Oromia. In fact, more than 50 percent of Nile water that reaches Egypt comes from Oromia. This should compel us to conclude that the threat posed by the ongoing environmental destruction in Oromia is greater than the threat posed by the controversial Grand Dam.

In general, the extensive land grabbing in Oromia is a threat to the survival of the African peoples who depend on the rivers mentioned above. Therefore, it not an exaggeration to construe that the cause for which Oromo students are conducting peaceful protests all over Oromia, and for which many of them are suffering in Ethiopian prisons or are being killed by the Ethiopian security forces now, is also the cause of most of the peoples of northeast Africa. Regrettably, however, the crime being committed against them by the Ethiopian regime has been treated with indifference by the governments of the countries of northeast Africa. Needless to say that their silence, while the Oromo are being mercilessly murdered en masse, is tantamount to betraying the future of their own citizens.

A regime that commits crimes and tells lies without any sense of guilt

The TPLF regime has many infamous methods to suppress the voice of the people against whom it commits crimes. Deception is its modus operandi. It uses lies as an instrument to create conflict between the Oromo and other peoples in Ethiopia and to advance its divide and strategy. It tells the international community blatant lies to frame the opposition as “terrorists” bent on disrupting peace and democratic development in Ethiopia. Its leaders lack a sense of guilt. They seem to have no feeling of shame in the ordinary sense of the word. They commit crimes and accuse others as the culprits. They displace people forcefully from their land and call it “voluntary eviction” (Vidal, the Guardian March 21, 2011 on Video). In addition, the regime forces the people to participate in public demonstrations that actually contradict their interests and moral values, For example, demonstrations are organized to condemn the victims of the regime’s crimes. Lack of participation in such a “required” demonstration has risks. Those who do not cooperate face strong negative consequences. For public servants it means dismissal from their jobs. For businessmen, it means loss of work permits. For farmers it means denial of seeds and fertilizers, the distributions of which is in the monopoly control of companies owned by the regime. For those who depend on international food aid, absence from such demonstrations means withdrawal of the handouts they need for survival. Having forced the people to participate in fake demonstrations the regime tells the world that the people are supporting its policies and actions against “terrorists,” “criminals” and “secessionists,”

The regime’s notorious but futile strategy is already at work to discredit the Oromo students. It is reported that the very people who are to lose their land to the AAMP were forced to participate in a demonstration on May 17th in support of the AAMP condemning the Oromo students as “anti-peace elements.” According to the report, a similar demonstration was organized in Robe in Bale on the 16thof May. The people are forced to“support” their own destruction. Regrettably, the role of the OPDO should be mentioned here. It is pathetic to hear the same OPDO leaders who did not have courage to press their TPLF bosses to implement what Article 49 of the Ethiopian Constitution promises the Oromo during the last two decades are now coercing the Oromo to support their enemy, the TPLF regime, to implement its AAMP and to condemn their own children who oppose it.

I should add here that there are elements in the Ethiopian diaspora who, in support of the TPLF regime, will label the current protests of Oromo students as hostile against the other ethnic groups who live among them. However, the student uprising is for justice and, as such, benefits not only the Oromo but all the other peoples in Ethiopia. It exposes the lies on which the Ethiopian state is built and survives.

Courage for survival and human dignity — learning from others

In Hindu philosophy the greatest gift for an individual or a nation is courage or the ability to defeat fear. Courage was what Mahatma Gandhi instilled in the psyche of the Indian population to resist the British. Martin Luther King did the same with the African Americans. He persuaded them to defy the pain caused by police batons and the fangs of police dogs and continue their march to freedom. He taught them to face the white police without showing signs of fear. Indeed, the determination of the marching masses he had mobilized did not waver. His inspiring words instilled courage in their hearts and pulled thousands of them to join the historical march on Washington where they listened to the famous speech, “I have a dream” on 28 August 1963. Nelson Mandela’s role in the liberation of South Africa from the evils of apartheid is similar. For 27 years he armed the South Africans with inexhaustible courage to continue with the liberation struggle even from his prison cell on Robben Island.

While Oromo political leaders have much to learn from the great leaders mentioned above, Oromo religious leaders must follow the examples which were set by religious leaders such as Martin Luther King and Desmond Tutu and preach courage from the podia in the churches and mosques. Popular resistance cannot be conducted without courage and sacrifice irrespective of the form—armed or peaceful—in which it is to be conducted. Courage is also what our community leaders must instill in the Oromo everywhere. We need to muster moral and intellectual courage to defend our rights and humanity against the TPLF regime as the Indians, the African Americans and the South Africans were armed with courage to fight colonialism and racism. Gandhi’s peaceful method may not work for us, because the British and the Tigrayans are not the same. Although the British were not happy to give up their jewel colony, India, they did not revert to systematic terror to defend their hold on it. The TPLF are unlikely to change their present position on the Oromo peacefully. The adoptability of Mandela’s approach to our situation is also doubtful for two main reasons. To start with, there were whites who fought against apartheid as members or supporters of the ANC. As bridge-builders, their contribution in making reconciliation between the white and black South Africans possible was not negligible. In the absence of their role Mandela could have not convinced his constituency to settle for a multi-racial democratic South Africa peacefully. He may have not even tried. Those type of bridge builders are not yet born in the TigrayanAmhara societies. Secondly, apartheid South Africa used terror to maintain white supremacy over the black population. But it was sensitive to the reaction of the world community. The TPLF leaders do not bother much about international opinion or about the human dignity of the people they oppress. Unfortunately, so far the UN and their foreign supporters do not seem bothered by their horrific human rights records. But that will not make us lose hope. In our present situation what we should adopt from both Gandhi and Mandela is their principled and consistent courage to continue with the ongoing revolution to achieve national freedom from the grip of oppression. We should stand for the truth and for what we believe in. In other words, whatever approach we will use to achieve freedom, we must be equipped with courage that targets the oppressor, and cares about the innocent bystander.

The Oromo struggle concerns freedom from fear

The Oromo will lead a life worthy of human beings. As the Burmese winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize and ex-political prisoner, Aung San Suu Kyi, has stated, among the basic freedoms to which humans aspire to lead a full and unhampered life, freedom from fear stands out.  The deadliest weapon which tyrannical regimes use against their subjects is fear; they create fear in the minds of those they oppress. Writing about apartheid and its laws Steve Bantu Biko, the murdered anti-apartheid activist and leader of Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) argued, “No average black man can ever at any moment be absolutely sure that he is not breaking a law. There are so many laws governing the lives and behaviour of black people that sometimes one feels that the police only need to page at random their statute book to be able to get a law under which to charge a victim.” In other words, the laws of apartheid spread among the black population a feeling of uncertainty, fear and powerlessness.The TPLF regime has been doing in Oromia during the last two decades what the apartheid regime did before its demise. The regime made the life of millions of Oromo worse than the life of the black South Africans had been during the darkest days of apartheid. Every aspect of Oromo life is impacted by feelings of fear and uncertainty. The Oromo fear the agents of the Tigrayan rulers who can put them in prison without due process of law or make them “disappear” without trace. It is common knowledge that thousands of Oromos have “disappeared” since the TPLF took power in Finfinnee in 1991. They fear the Oromo underdogs who serve the Tigrayan rulers. Through the system called “one to five” (one person spying on five others), the TPLF has planted its “antennae” in every community, every village and homestead throughout Oromia. For an Oromo, it is difficult to tell which head, among his neighbors, is the “antenna” tuned on him or which pair of eyes that are watching him. Hence no Oromo is sure when the ever-present terror of the TPLF regime will strike him or her.Ethiopia is a country of fitesha (endless search) that turns a person, particularly an Oromo, into a perpetual suspect, a criminal by birth. An Oromo is made to fear his/her neighbours, friends, and even relatives because, forced by poverty, many honest people have joined the TPLF’s pack of informers in order to survive. The sniffing dogs of the regime are everywhere, in street corners, in work places, in schools and university lecture halls, and above all in the kebeles—neighborhoods.

For an Oromo in the diaspora, Ethiopia is a country which he/she visits at the risk of causing danger to his/her relatives. It is a country where an innocent telephone call from a son or a daughter from abroad can send a father or mother to prison. It is a country which makes mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters dread to communicate with a family member who lives abroad. The Oromo struggle is about freedom from the climate of fear created by the Tigrayan regime. Oromo artist need freedom to exercise their profession. He/she needs an audience to develop his/her profession as the audience needs art that makes life enjoyable. Oromo art and scholarship must serve the progress and happiness of the Oromo people and humanity at large. Therefore, for those concerned with the development of Oromo art and culture their right place is within the battle being fought for freedom. Indeed, Oromo artists have taken the front line and are making their contributions with courage. That is also what is expected from Oromo scholars: their studies should contribute to the development of the Oromo society.

The Oromo people need political independence to read what they want to read, and enjoy the music they relish without fear for being accused of narrow nationalism, terrorism or of being arrested put in jail, tortured, raped and killed. Ethiopia is a state in which the Oromo are made to fear to speak their mother tongue. They need political freedom to speak their language without fear or looking back on their shoulders fearing that someone is listening to their conversation and reporting them to the security organs of the regime just because they were “committing the crime” of talking in Afaan Oromoo. The right of speaking one’s mother tongue without worry and harassment is a human right.  Needless to say here that it is not the case in Oromia even today. It may not happen at all before Oromia is free land. This may seem banal to pro-Ethiopia Oromos who will argue that this dilemma will be solved through the democratization of the Ethiopian state. In my view, those who would hope to inoculate the Ethiopian state against the hegemonic passions of the Abyssinian ruling elites with a “democratic” constitution and empty talk about justice are fooling themselves.

A revolution in need of coordination

The fact that the Oromo people have lived in fear for a long time is not a result of cowardice, but of a deep sense of powerlessness. Today, one can see that this feeling of powerlessness is rapidly changing into a simmering anger of the Oromo population and the readiness of tens of thousands of Oromo youth to sacrifice their lives for freedom. During the last twenty years, the Oromo have expressed their grievances in poetry and music. Above all Oromo music has been an expression of the popular grievance against injustice. The price paid by Oromo youth for waging the struggle has been mass expulsion from educational institutions, exile, torture and death. Many of them were beaten to death by the security agents of the TPLF as if the victims were not human beings. The list of Oromo artists who were jailed, tortured and murdered by the Tigrayan regime for their songs against injustice is very long.

In short, the Oromo have learnt from experience the need for solidarity to defy terror and powerlessness. They are learning that fear and the sense of powerlessness are defeated when they act together. They have witnessed what common action can do in the so-called Arab Spring. Indeed, signs of common action among the Oromo have been increasing both at home and in the diaspora in recent years. The uprising which the AAMP has ignited is a revolutionary signpost of the trend described above. It is a revolution that needs coordination. The way it is coordinated and the goal it aims to achieve matter. The ability of the Oromo political organizations to use the currents which the uprising has set in motion, mobilize our people for a sustained struggle, and lead our nation to freedom is crucial.The uprising should be given the right direction to be effective and fruitful. It should give dividends which will benefit the Oromo as a nation. It is an opportunity that should not be wasted or misused. It should not be hijacked or exploited by political parties who are biding their time to ride back to Menelik’s palace in FinfinneeThey have nothing against the “Addis Ababa Plan” of the TPLF regime. As we all know, they will implement it with great pleasure if they get the chance.Let no Oromo organization become their Trojan horse or another OPDO. If they are wise enough, there is also an opportunity for the current members of the OPDO to abandon their subservient status under the TPLF, and join the national struggle for freedom not only to defend the right of the nation to which they belong, but even to regain the of respect of their countrymen and women. This is the time for every Oromo to get up and be counted on the side of justice and freedom.

[1] See for example Mekuria Bulcha, “Landownership, Land Grabbing and Human Rights in Ethiopia: The Indigenous Peoples’ Perspective and Experience”, paper presented at the OSA Mid-Year Conference, 7-8 April 2012 Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Mekuria BulchaMekuria Bulcha, PhD and Professor of Sociology, is an author of widely read books and articles. His most recent book, Contours of the Emergent and Ancient Oromo Nation, is published by CASAS (Centre for Advanced Studies of African Society), Cape Town, South Africa, in 2011. He was also the founder and publisher of The Oromo Commentary (1990-1999).

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