President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
NW Washington, DC 20500
Your Excellency President Obama,
The Board of Directors of the Macha-Tulama Association (MTA), USA, is writing this urgent letter regarding your plan to visit Ethiopia in July 2015. The MTA is a non-profit organization incorporated in the USA because it was banned in Ethiopia. It advocates for human rights and for social justice for the Oromo and others in the Horn of Africa and beyond. For almost a quarter of a century, Ethiopia has been ruled by the Tigre People’s Liberation Front, which calls itself the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front. This minority regime has been engaging in sham elections, which are elections only in name. The regime disregards all the principles and practices of democracy in spite of its pretension to be democratic since 1991. The regime’s promise of democratization by restructuring the state, liberalizing the economy, and respecting and protecting human rights has been subverted. While claiming to be a democratic government in order to receive ‘development aid’ and to gain political legitimacy, this regime has killed, imprisoned and tortured the Oromo and other ethno-national groups who have struggled for democracy, national self-determination, human rights, and social justice. In fact, the Oromo people have been mainly targeted for elimination and repression because they are the largest national group in Ethiopia, and they have started to recover, manifest, and exercise their rights to culture, history, and language, which have been repressed by the state of Ethiopia for over a century.
According to a recent Amnesty International report, entitled ‘Because I am Oromo: Sweeping Repression in the Oromia Region of Ethiopia, between 2011 and 2014 alone, at least 5000 Oromo were arrested, tortured, and sentenced with extra-judicial executions because of being Oromo and for also peacefully demonstrating against the regime’s land grabbing policies and the so-called Addis Ababa Master Plan, intended to evict millions of Oromo farmers from their homelands in and around Addis Ababa (which the Oromo call Finfinnee), the capital city of Ethiopia. Since 1992, several human rights organizations have been reporting that Oromo prisoners have been predominantly populated Ethiopian prisons and other detention places. As a result these prisons and concentration camps speak Afaan Oromo (the Oromo language), as testified by many nonOromo prisoners.
It is with shock and profound sadness that we received the message of your intention to visit Ethiopia in July. As the leader of a great country that subscribes to the principles of democracy and fundamental rights and liberties for all human beings, and as the leader of a country whose foreign policy in principle is committed to promoting the ideals of human rights, the rule of law,
and democracy around the world, we believe your visit will send a wrong message to the regime and its likes across the globe that they can get away with grotesque violations of human and democratic rights as long as they remain ‘strategic allies’ to the United States.
Because of these reasons, we earnestly request that you rethink your intention to visit Ethiopia. We believe your visit to the country also sends three messages: First, it encourages the Ethiopian government to continue intensifying its repressive policies. If your government continues to support and finance the regime regardless of what it does, the regime will see no reasons for changing its violent and dictatorial policies. Second, your visit to Ethiopia demonstrates to the affected people that the United States government only gives lip service to democracy and human rights while supporting the dictatorial minority regime of Ethiopia. To the 90 million people who are facing massive human rights violations in Ethiopia, particularly to the over forty million Oromo, your visit will mean that the USA does not care for the aspiration to live in a free, open, and democratic society. Your visit will also mean that human rights and democratic selfgovernance are not part of the list of US priorities in Africa and beyond. Third, it convinces the people in Ethiopia and beyond that your policy is not different from some of your officials, such as Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, who recently undermined the process of democratization in Ethiopia by endorsing the regime’s record whose democracy, she said, is ‘improving.’ The Undersecretary has been roundly criticized, and we believe, rightly so.
In closing, we would like to bring to your attention that when, in July 2009, you visited Ghana, you made a speech in which you promised that the USA does not, and will not, support dictatorship and strongmen, and that you seek to assist the development of “strong and sustainable democratic governments” everywhere in Africa. We believe it is only appropriate now to request that you do not ignore your commitment and promise of that historic speech you made in Accra, Ghana, by visiting Ethiopia, the graveyard and prison house of thousands of men and women who have been killed, imprisoned, tortured, maimed, and disfigured only because they have aspired to exercise their God-given rights and to live in a democracy by demanding national self-determination and democratic rights in their own country.
Asafa Jalata, PhD.,
Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Macha-Tulama Association &
Professor of Sociology and Global and Africana Studies