OSA’s statement on the unfolding political transition in Ethiopia

OSA’s statement on the unfolding political transition in Ethiopia

Ethiopia has experienced political transitions in the recent past, similar to the one unfolding currently. The two most significant factors that led to the demise of Emperor Haile Selassie’s regime were the national question and the land question. The latter was addressed, albeit only partially, with the ‘Land to the Tiller’ proclamation of 1975, with Oromo nationalists playing the key roles in its design and implementation. Unfortunately, the national question was left for future generations to tackle, with the military dictatorship further complicating it by attempting to suppress it, only to be toppled by the combined efforts of the various national liberation movements – mainly the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF), the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) – after a protracted conflict that destroyed the productive potential of the country for decades.

It is to be recalled that the TPLF and the OLF – the latter as a junior partner – proceeded to form a transitional government in 1991, recognizing Ethiopia’s nations and nationalities’ rights to self-determination – a basic right which was later enshrined in the country’s constitution of 1995. Nevertheless, in a dramatic turn of events that foreshadowed the intensification of the kind of oppressive grip on the Oromo people characteristic of previous minority regimes, the TPLF-led Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) banished the OLF from the political scene less than a year after the formation of the transitional government, unleashing its terror on the Oromo people – a horror that is yet to be restrained. Thousands of Oromo civilians have been executed under the pretext of having affiliation with the OLF. Thousands more have disappeared with no trace, while tens of thousands have been incarcerated with the flimsiest of pretexts, earning Afaan Oromoo the peculiar distinction of becoming ‘the language of Ethiopian gulags’ (to cite Siye Abreha, a former Ethiopian Defense minister from the TPLF).  Millions have been displaced from their homes and lost livelihood through policies that were authored and directed by the EPRDF in Finfinnee.

With the EPRDF regime being forced by the brave members of the Qeerroo movement of 2014-2018 to start undertaking reform measures unthinkable only a year or so ago, many have prematurely concluded that the days of Oromo suffering are behind us, and have euphorically joined in the celebration of a superficial victory, in a manner reminiscent of the elation that greeted the last two ‘transitions’ in the country, both of which ended tragically. The forced reshuffling of political power within the ruling EPRDF in favor of the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO) – a satellite organization that was formed and cultivated simply to protect the interests of the TPLF – is widely believed by surprisingly many as a sufficient condition for the required structural transformation of the country.

It is undeniable that the OPDO-led government has undertaken reform measures that are positive, evidently against the wishes and interests of TPLF’s generals that continue to dominate the Ethiopian army. Some of the encouraging measures include: a) the release of thousands of political prisoners, which had an immediate effect of quelling the multiplying demonstrations; b) the re-designation of certain political organizations, formerly defined as “terrorist” groups, as lawful political parties; c) tentative initiatives being undertaken by the new leaders to constructively engage with the opposition political parties, particularly the OLF.

Yet – acting in a way that ought to alarm all Oromo and persons of good conscience, dignity and prudence – the OPDO/EPRDF regime has continued to wage a war of attrition against Oromo civilians in Western Oromia, while the Somali region Liyu police has continued to wage a terrorist war on the Oromo and other peoples in the east, the southeast and the south. The Ethiopian army and the affiliated paramilitary forces have been attacking communities in these regions while the commander-in-chief, Dr. Abiy, is publicly preaching peace and reconciliation, including in the statements issued while normalizing its relations with Eritrea.

The Oromo people are thus at a crossroads once again.  Many Oromo scholars have expressed concern that the next steps that Oromo take in conjunction with other peace-seeking peoples in the country will determine their collective destiny for a long time to come.  OSA scholars are seriously concerned that the opportunity created by the selfless sacrifices of the Qeerroo to bring peace, stability, representative government and an equitably-shared development to the Horn of Africa, will be squandered yet again if measures are not taken quickly by the OPDO-led Ethiopian regime to reverse course. The following are some of our concerns that require the immediate attention of the OPDO government.

  1. The military campaign that is being waged by the Ethiopian military in Western Oromia in collaboration with the Oromia Special Force Unit.
  2. The ongoing massacre of Oromo and other citizens in the east, the southeast and the south primarily by the Somali Liyu Police, which is the main cause of the displacement of over a million Oromos and many Somalis during 2016-18.
  3. The re-emergence of the imperial “Ethiopianist” narrative at the highest levels of the Ethiopian government.

OSA has issued a written invitation to the OPDO to send a representative to participate in this year’s OSA annual conference to discuss the challenges and prospects of Oromo political parties during the current transitional process. I have also approached the organizers of the upcoming North American tour of the OPDO leaders, to see if we can have a meeting with them in order to express in person the objectives and format of the panels and symposium to be held during the OSA conference, August 4-5 in Washington, DC. But, OSA has not received a response to either of the initiatives. We are inclined to conclude, unfortunately, that Dr. Abiy’s campaign of ‘Love and Unity’ may not extend to the kind of interaction planned for the 2018 OSA Conference.  Declining or ignoring the opportunity to engage with Oromo groups that have accepted OSA’s invitation will only exacerbate the pre-existing political problems in the country.  We reiterate our call for the OPDO to accept the invitation and send a representative to participate in the upcoming OSA Conference in Washington, DC.

We also call on Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government in Ethiopia to undertake the following measures to address conditions about which OSA scholars are alarmed:

  1. The government should immediately pull out its military and the special police force from Western Oromia, and engage with the Oromo Liberation Front constructively, in order to bring a lasting political solution to the country;
  2. The government should stop sending mixed signals when it comes to the widening crisis on the Oromo-Somali border areas, and act decisively to bring the long-overdue peace and stability to the region. While doing so, it should work diligently to bring to public accountability those responsible for the massive human suffering in eastern, southeastern and southern Oromia and in other Regional States, particularly in the last few years. Since the most visible offenders are members of the EPRDF government, the Prime Minister should immediately initiate a process that will bring the criminal elements within his government to justice for the massive crimes they have been committing against ordinary civilians;
  3. The government should refrain from reenergizing those powerful and established forces in Ethiopia, which call for the dissolution of the existing multi-national federal government and the reinstitution of one form of unitary government or another. Whatever his immediate intention, some of Dr. Abiy’s rhetoric, which valorized bygone Ethiopian emperors and the imperial era without offering sufficient context, had the effect of legitimizing authoritarian rule. Such a narrative does not open the way for a new forward direction for the country; rather, it will only sow further seeds of discord by promoting a narrative of the country that has no chance of taking root among those who suffered mightily under such authoritarian rule implemented through a unitary state. Current Ethiopian political leaders should be reminded that in recent as well as past history millions have perished as a result, directly or indirectly, of the very same imperial ideas that the Prime Minister and his government currently promote.
Teferi Mergo, PhD P.O. Box 5641
OSA President, Minneapolis, MN 55406-0541
July 25, 2018 www.oromostudies.org