Afaan Oromoo: The official Language of Ethiopian prisons

Afaan Oromoo: The official Language of Ethiopian prisons

Afaan Oromoo is an official language in Ethiopian prisonsNotorious Ethiopian Prison, Qilinxoo (Kilinto), and its Secrets

By Abbaa Ormaa

Today, Ethiopian prisons write in Qubee!

Some years back Siye Abraha, ex-leader of Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), and Minister of Defense, after fallout with his comrade the late ex-Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, spent six years in Ethiopian prison for bribery and corruption.

During his six years in prison he had time to reflect on many things and also got the chance to speak, eat, listen to their stories, and laugh with Oromo prisoners he helped imprison.  On his release he told us something we have known all along.

“Ethiopian prison speaks Afaan Oromoo.”

Afaan Oromoo is the language spoken by about 40 million Oromo people in Ethiopia, representing the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia. Ethiopia has about 100 million population.

Ironically, Britukan Mideksa, an Oromo ex-Federal judge, dropped all his charges and set him free only to be re-arrested as he was leaving her courtroom by the government and spent the next six years in jail.

This is a testimony that the Oromo people believe in the rule of the law. This is the principle encrypted in their brains by the Gadaa institution.

Make no mistake; he shares equal responsibility in the killings and incarceration of thousands of Oromo young and old, adults and children, women and men. But we must give him credit for listening, perhaps trying couple of Afaan Oromoo words, and telling the world the plight of the Oromo people in a very candid way.  He must have seen the heart and generosity of the Oromo people to feel their pain for no wrong doing but raising their voices against injustice.

What has changed since he left the prison? Nothing much!  His ex-comrades continued to kill and incarcerate Oromo people indiscriminately in mass; the minority TPLF-led government of Ethiopia is draining Oromia of its youth in search of the so-called “handful of disruptors” as in the saying “If You Can’t Catch The Fish, Drain the Sea”.  The numbers of Oromo jailed that are coming out of Oromia after the “ state of Emergency” is staggering. The head lines from Human Right groups read like:

‘’ Ethiopia state of emergency arrests top 11,000’’

Today, with the mass incarceration of the Oromo youths, Ethiopian prisons not only speak Afaan Oromoo but also write in Qubee.

The word “Political Prisoner” is a badge of honor everywhere in the world. Only people who stand up for principle and justice in bad and good times get this prestigious honor.

By incarcerating Oromo youth, Oromo leaders, and Abbaa Gadaas, the minority Tigray-led government of Ethiopia is honoring these heroes of the Oromo people.   Today, there are thousands of Bekele Garba;s in Ethiopian prison.

If there were such a thing as Zombies apocalypse in Ethiopia, the Zombies would be speaking Afaan Oromoo with pockets of Amharic here and there.


Abbaa Ormaa

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Ethiopian Prisons Speak Afaan Oromoo – What Does It Mean?

01 Nov 2014

It is accepted fact that the majority of political prisoners (prisoners of conscience) in Ethiopia are Oromo. This is confirmed by international human rights organizations and other observers. I hope there is no argument on this fact; the argument may be on the interpretation of this fact.

Some unwitting individuals in these form and other places try to mock and criticize Oromo for being the majority in Ethiopian prison houses because of their political opinion. During the last part of Derge regime, the majority of the prisoners in Ethiopia were Tigregna speakers from Eritrea and Tigray. The majority of prisoners in Sudanese prisons in 1990 were South Sudanese, the majority of prisoners under Apartheid South Africa were members of ANC. This can tell someone who has analytical ability.

Oromos are the majority political prisoners in Ethiopian prison because they are spearheading the struggle against Woyane regime. No political group or social group or language group fought Woyane like Oromo. The struggle Oromos launched against Woyane regime is unparalleled. Oromos have been fighting Woyane with determination and with perseverance. As a result, the Woyane regime categorized Oromos as enemy number one who has the potential, determination and power to overthrow it from power. Because of that enmity the Woyane regime imprisoned thousands of Oromos. Oromos are fighting their enemies face to face, on their land, in their country. They never backed out in fear of imprisonment and death. Kudos for Oromo nationalist!

Those cowards who are entangled with fear and shivering in their bedrooms in country and out of the country, who are not bold enough to stand in front of Woyane are trying to criticize the brave Oromos who challenged and fought Woyane for being the majority political prisoners in Ethiopia. These opportunists are waiting Woyane to willfully relinquish its power so that they can grab the state power and govern the country. For them, those who fight for freedom and pay sacrifice are foolish. The objectives of these cowards are to wait for the conducive opportunity and snatch power with no cost which never happens

“In Ethiopia, the Prisons Cry in Afaan Oromoo”

Oromo Press, 5 July 2013

I noticed old big scars on Abdata’s wrists while he was telling me the story of his attack. I asked him about them. “I got these scars when I was in prison in Ethiopia and when they tortured me.” Then, he started to tell me his incredibly moving story. Before he started, I asked him if I could publish his story, he agreed. After I knew his story, I asked him again because it was so personal a story and he gave me so much details. He told me he wanted his story to be published because he wanted us to know what happened to his people, the Oromos in Ethiopia, he wanted us to know the persecution they endure. He wanted us to understand how painful it is when he is called an “Ethiopian.”  “I am not Ethiopian, I am Oromo, the Ethiopians are those who tortured me.” My motivations to publish is the same as Abdata’s–to let people know about the suffering. Furthermore, I wanted to destroy a stereotype presenting the African refugees as economic migrants and more particularly those coming from the Horn of Africa. Abdatta has not become a refugee after he was recognized. Abdatta was recognized because he was a refugee.

My Family’s Story
I was born on September 1984 to a wealthy family. My father was a businessman in Hararghe region, Oromia in east Ethiopia. He was purchasing crops in the neighboring towns and then he was selling them in big towns like Harar and Finfinne [Addis Ababa). he also had a store where he was selling goods. I was living in a big house with our mother and my five siblings. My father was a very respected and very influential man. He wanted the Oromo people to know about their history, their culture and their language. He wanted the people to never forget the slaughter of Chali Chalanko where millions of Oromos were murdered just because they were Oromos. My father’s ancestors were among those who were tortured and killed. This is why he became involved with the Oromo cause. In 1991, he joined the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). It was right after the fall of Mengistu Hailemariam’s socialist regime, and after the transitional government was set up. By that time, OLF was part of the transitional government and we had hoped that we could live as Oromo and speak and write our language (it was forbidden under Mengistu’s and other rulers).

My father had three houses. We were living in one of them, the other one was used to store the grains. He donates the third house and started to teach the Oromo language, Afaan Oromoo, in it. All Oromo people including youths, elders, children, women, and girls joined my father’s school to learn Qubee [alphabet] in their language. But in 1992, OLF withdrew from the government and my father started to be targeted by the ruling party, the Tigire People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which now is ruling Ethiopia. He was accused of teaching OLF propaganda rather than teaching Qubee and his properties were confiscated because they were considered OLF properties including his school ,food store, our house and eventually my father was arrested.

After my father’s arrest, my mother decided to move and we rented a small house. With the money she saved, she managed to open a small cafeteria where she was selling some food and coffee to support her family. The TPLF was watching her: some of their members came to the coffee shop, ate and drank for free by employing coercion.

At the end of 1993, TPLF security killed my father and we found his body and we buried him. While all the family were mourning my father’s death, the authorities came. They wanted to know who found the body and who buried him. They took some people of my family including my mother into custody. They even came back to take Salih Amayu, the lady who cared for us. We were too young and we didn’t know how and where we could find them. From that time on, we know nothing about their whereabouts. Since then, we are orphans.

All of my siblings and I were scattered to different areas. I and Keyranas returned back to our home town and started living there with our neighbor Nouriya. Dursitu and Megarsa used to live in Mechara town in Hararghe with a friend of my father until the Ethiopian national elections in 2005. But after elections, they were suspected to have anti- government attitudes and they were accused of inciting students to vote for “anti-government parties” or opposition, and later they were disappeared. Sebaha and Firomsa were taken by our maternal aunt Hakima who was living in Hirna town.

My Own Story
I completed my primary school and then moved to another city for my intermediate school, where I resided with a friend of my father. I graduated with honor from High School and got accepted into preparatory school in 2004 along with two of the children of my father’s friend. My father’s friend paid the rent for our room and boarding and also paid my tuition.

My First Arrest
I was first arrested when OPDO decided to relocate the capital city of Oromia from Finfinne to Adama in February 2004.  I joined a huge demonstration organized by Oromos to protest against the relocation of the capital city of Oromia from Finfinne to Adama. When the police intervened, they shot at the protesters. A many of people were killed. I tried to run away, but government soldiers chased and caught up with me. They beat, slapped and kicked me and I was whipped by ropes, and their black plastic sticks [batons] and they tied two of my hands together behind my back {handcuffed me] and tied me to a tree and tortured me cruelly. They took me to the bank of a small river and tortured me severely. They wanted to know why I was participating in the demonstration and to hear about my family’s background and political affiliation. I was released 24 hours later after signing a form obliging me not to ever participate in other “anti-regime” demonstrations.

My Second Arrest
In 2005, there were sham elections in Ethiopia. And all over the country, the opposition parties won, but the EPDRF declared it the election. People started to demonstrate massively, and were arrested, killed or disappeared in large numbers. There was an Oromo club advocating for Oromo culture and language in our school. The club organized the demonstrations. However, I refused to join them because of the self-incriminating conditions I was forced to sign after my first arrest. The big demonstrations took place on 5/11/2005. Once again, the police shot people in the streets. Several of my classmates got injured and two of my friends got killed.

After the protests, the police came to my school asking the director to give them the name of those who organized the demonstration. The director said the organizers might be the club leaders and the top ten students. I was a very brilliant student. I ranked first in a class of 92 students. They had on their list my name as well as the names of the students who ranked second, third in my class and the club’s leaders. They took us to a prison. The cell was so small. I remember the malnourishment, the smell of urine in the cell, the daily labor and the daily interrogations. They asked me a lot of questions about the reasons of my opposition to the government, my family background and my connection to the OLF. They arrested me on 6/11/05 and released me on January 2006 under restrictive conditions. Their condition stipulated that I adhere to their EPRDF party, to attend all their meetings and to report about OLF activities. When I went back to school, the director told me that I could not take the General University Entrance exam without obtaining membership card from the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization ( OPDO ). The OPDO was set up by TPLF as a satellite Oromo party that forms part of the ruling EPRDF. OPDO serves the interests of the TPLF/EPRDF. I wanted to finish my studies so I tried to get the membership card. But, I was told by the an official who authorizes memberships that I could not be a member of OPDO or EPRDF because of the activities of my father. He said that if I was granted membership, I would communicate information to OLF. However, he gave me one chance—to take my exam. I scored very high on my college preparatory exam and in February 2006, I joined the College of Technology,department of Irrigation and Water Resources Engineering.

In late 2006, I went back to my native town in Hararghe region to visit the woman who cared for me when I was a child. While I was visiting a friend, she phoned me and told me that the security forces were looking for me. I already knew a lot of Oromo students who came back from the universities and got arrested in their home areas, so I decided not to go to her house and went to Finfinne (Addis) instead. I never went back to my place of childhood.

In 2007, I was approached by the Oromo language and culture club of my University to be part of the bureau/leadership. I refused, but the club insisted so I went to my Department Head who said I could go ahead and join the club because it was not involved in politics and it was established with the permission of the university. In my free time, I served as the treasurer of the club.

My Third Arrest
I had to carry out a mandatory internship for my graduation in 2009. I went to many governmental agencies, but when they knew I was Oromo from Oromia, all of them asked my OPDO membership ID card. As OPDO refused to give me my membership before, I went to a Chinese NGO and got accepted as an intern. I wrote and submitted my proposal, but my Department Head shouted at me that I must work in a government agency. I started my fourth year of study.

In May 2009, I participated in a big cultural event. It was a festival where all nations of Ethiopia were holding exhibitions and/or presented their handicraft or goods related to their culture. The Oromo presented traditional jewelry, clothes, pictures and souvenirs. I participated as a cashier. Officials came, picked up an item on sale (Odaa tree) and left without paying.

The following day, I was working on a research project for my graduation at the library when I was called outside. I found other persons in the garden including police officers, and students who were from the bureau of the club. Armed TPLF security took us to the police station. They asked me why I was selling OLF propaganda and why I was collecting money for OLF.On the same night, on 16/05/2009, I was transferred to Ziway prison. I was tortured inhumanly in this prison. I was taken to an underground dark cell. I was suffocating in that cell because it was hot and too narrow. I was kept there alone for fifteen days and later I was transferred to another cell in which other prisoners were kept. In this cell, they used to interrogate me once per week and beat me repeatedly because they wanted me to confess because of the pain they were inflicting on me. During day time, I was subjected to hard labor such as digging holes, collecting firewood and sometimes they took us to pull out weed from the officers’ farms. We were asked to break stones and to make gravels. They asked us to lie down on the gravel without our clothes and they scourged us on our back. This is how I got this scars [showing his wrist]. I have many other scars all over my body and more particularly on my knees because we had to also walk on our knees on the gravel in hot tropical sun. This other scar [showing another scar on his forearm], they did it by burning my arm. I was taken twice at night to Danbal Lake and they threatened me with death if I don’t tell the truth and they immersed my head in the water. They used waterboarding in combination with other torture techniques.

After one year and four months in this prison, I got released on 05/09/2010 due to my serious medical conditions acquired in jail. I was suffering from serious pneumonia and regular diarrhea because of the poor hygienic conditions and the bad food in prison. I was so weak they thought I would die and so did I. They transferred me to a health center. I had to be back in prison before 1/10/2010, even if I had not recovered. Once, at the health center, I met a classmate who called my maternal aunt Foziya. A few hours after she received the call, she came to the health center. She was informed by the doctor that my health situation was beyond his capacity. With the help of one of her customers, a prominent businessman who bought her woodwork, she was able to bail me out of the Health Center. She paid 40,000 Ethiopian Birr ($2,133.48), which wiped her out because that was a big sum of money in poor country. Prison officers coerced her to sign a written promise to return me back to prison after 25 days. Then I was referred to the Black Lion Hospital where I stayed for five days and then I was transferred to Saint Paul’s Hospital to complete my treatment. There, my brother and my aunt, said I should escape. They found a smuggler who could help me to cross the border before the date I should go back to prison.

The title for this testimony was taken from the stories Abdata told the interviewer. The above account of Abdata’s persecution was published with his consent.  Contributed by @Novinha56 and edited by @oromopress