Ethiopia: Victory for the Oromo will come from winning hearts and minds, not terrorising people

Ethiopia: Victory for the Oromo will come from winning hearts and minds, not terrorising people

On 6 May 2021, the Ethiopian House of People’s Representatives approved a decision from the Council of Ministers to designate the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Oromo Liberation Front–Shene, also known as the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), as terrorist organisations.
Is the OLA really engaged in terrorist activities and does it deserve to be labelled terrorist? And, if so, is that strategy working for the Oromo people?
 
How did we get here
 
The OLA is an offshoot of the much older OLF, one of the armed rebel groups that made peace with the new Ethiopian government in 2018 and was removed from the government’s list of terrorist organisations. The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and Ginbot 7 were other rebel groups also welcomed home from exile.
 
While ONLF and Ginbot 7 fully put down their weapons, OLF failed to do so completely. The OLF leadership agreed to disarm its soldiers within 15 days of its arrival in Addis. According to OLF leader Ibsa Negewo, OLF claimed 1,305 soldiers in Eritrea and 4,000 in West and South Oromia. Those in Eritrea were handed over to the government, but the rest refused to disarm.
 
The OLF-Shene group, also known as OLA, rejected the peace agreement offered by new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Officially, it broke away from the OLF when the OLF leadership returned to Addis Ababa from exile. But it is an open secret that OLA acts as the armed wing of the OLF.
 
The commander-in-chief of OLA Western command, commonly known as Jaal Marro a/k/a Kumsa Dirriba, or by his school name, Miliyon Diriba, is my former prison mate and colleague. Jaal Marroo denied committing atrocities against civilians in a 29 March 2021 interview titled, ‘Is Ethiopia hurtling towards all-out ethnic conflict?’.
 
Nonetheless, OLA does apparently target civilian government employees to instill fear in the public. Their intent is evidently to weaken the government by dismantling its structure.
Controlled killings
 
Most of the killings are committed against government officials at kebele, woreda or zonal level. For instance, Liban Halake, a kebele chairman from Borana zone, Dhas woreda, Gorile kebele was assassinated by OLA. On May 17, 2021, the OLA attacked two vehicles travelling from Qondaala woreda to Mandii and killed Mr. Waaqgaarii Qajeelaa, the head of transportation for West Wollega zone, along with 5 other government officials.
 
Although killing such civilians is a crime against humanity under international law, anyone, such as a kebele administrator, or even an elder, who publicly criticises the OLA is marked for death. In most cases, OLA members acknowledge their killings on their Facebook pages. For example, Daffaaraa Duuba Billee, pastoralist and kebele manager, a resident of East Gujii zone, Goro-Dola woreda, Qaraaro kebele was shot dead while walking home by the OLA on 24 May 2019. The OLA claimed responsibility on its Facebook page.
I subsequently began to find, tweet, and post news of killings and other atrocities carried out by the OLA against unarmed civilians, particularly in the Gujii zone. So far I have reported 20 assassinations, one robbery case, and one rape case committed by the OLA. My aim is to expose unlawful killings of unarmed civilians who are not police, soldiers, or militia.
 
I also wrote an article, ‘Guji Oromo Need Freedom from Liberators’. That piece expressed the sufferings of the Gujii Oromos as a result of OLA’s actions. It concluded that a large part of the Ethiopian public still believes armed insurrection is the right way to struggle against oppression.
 
‘Part of Ethiopian culture extol violence’
 
My allegation was based on my analysis that parts of Ethiopian culture extol violence. That prioritisation of violence as a virtue starts at the top. Our leaders seize power without election and use military prowess, sometimes real and sometimes feigned, against foreign enemies, some real and some manufactured, to justify disregard for human rights.
 
Every government since the formation of modern Ethiopia in the 1880s came to power through war. Power is only held by military might. Such leaders grow more lawless with success. As a result, Ethiopians have never seen a peaceful transfer of power and continue to see violence as a political solution for the future. With only brief exceptions, Ethiopian history is all about war and conflict. It’s all about “the ends justify the means” and “my way or the highway.
 
OLA, of course, is far from the first Ethiopian political organisation to think that way. All the Ethiopian political groups formed in the 1970s, including the All-Ethiopia Socialist Movement and Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party, had the same dictatorial mentality. Former President of Ethiopia Mengistu Hailemariam used to make speeches that promoted genocide and massacres. Ethiopians praised him for it.
TPLF and EPLF thought the same way too. They smashed other political organisations in communities where they operated. TPLF destroyed the Ethiopian Democratic Union (EDU) and the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP) in 1976–78 for an ostensibly “higher cause” then went on to bully Ethiopians in brutal fashion for decades.
 
The Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) similarly crushed the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) to become the sole rebel freedom fighter in Eritrea before inflicting its own cruel domination over its people that continues today.
 
Our war-loving culture mirrors the government’s violent absolutism. Ethiopians dance with guns, even for love songs. Transactional negotiation and honorable compromise have little place in Ethiopian political life.
Today’s practice of characterising an Oromo with a different, let alone a better, idea as “gantuu/ basaastuu” (gantuu means “traitor” and basaastuu means spy) follows in that same tradition.
 
‘The assassination of critics like me is righteous’
 
Thus, it is unsurprising that I have received hundreds of death threats since I began to criticise the OLA and expose its war crimes. According to the OLA, the assassination of critics like me is righteous. One OLA supporter responded to my tweet by saying, “gantuu akka kee ajjeessun itti fufa,” meaning, “killing traitors like you will continue.”
 
This kind of thinking comes from the dictatorial belief that OLF is the only possible organisation for the Oromo people, and anyone who criticises their methods is a traitor who deserves death. Even posting criticism on Facebook means you are basaastuu or gantuu and deserve to be murdered.
In doing so, the OLA violates the fundamental principles and laws of Gadaa and safuu (moral and ethical order). It is enshrined in gadaa commandments that an Oromo doesn’t kill another Oromo. In the Gumii Bokkoo rehearsal of Oromo laws, the first commandment is Gujiin Gujii hin ijjeesuu- seera. Therefore, these threats and acts of violence against one’s own clan members or ethnic group violate Oromo tradition and culture.
 
It is distressing to see professors and doctors, educated Oromos who live in the West, promote the OLA and its terror tactics. “How much is a human life worth to you?” I have asked these groups who call me an enemy of the Oromo struggle because I denounce and condemn useless, counterproductive violence.
Churchill, paraphrasing the philosopher George Santayana, said, “those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”
 
Those who endorse OLA’s authoritarian ways should remember African history because it teaches that most liberation movements that relied on violence to win power, wound up becoming oppressive dictatorships which devastated their own populations and eventually needed to be overthrown.
 
Justifying their violence
 
I gleaned from conversations with OLA leaders that they justify their violence by citing the Ethiopian government human right violations such as extrajudicial killings and arbitrary detentions of civilians during its military operations against OLA.
 
The TPLF intentionally stoked or fabricated ethnic tensions and fear as a strategy for control. Now, through exaggeration of genuine grievances or cherry picking facts, other contenders for power have borrowed the same trick for their own aggrandizement.
I still remember the childhood shame of not being able to use my own language in school. Though that situation has changed now, we are more aroused by such acts of the Amhara cultural hegemony long ago than by atrocities, such as the Irreechaa massacre, committed by the TPLF in recent years.
 
Something else is obviously going on.
 
The victim of such cynical, calculated manipulation is a frightened, angry Oromo who believes “it is not possible for Ethiopia to democratise” and the only language the “Ethiopian colonial empire” understands is “barrel of the gun”. Therefore, he or she is forced to use violence to bring about regime change.
 
Another path is possible
 
There was little awareness of the potential of non-violence as a superior method of self-liberation among Oromo militants until recently. I was one of the pioneers in introducing nonviolence to the Qeerroo movement and leading its successful nonviolence campaign that ousted the TPLF. I showed them that nonviolence is not pacifism or weakness. It is a form of aggressive economic and psychological warfare that works by teaching people how to recognize the role they are playing in their own repression. Nonviolence empowers the Oromo to remove the pillars of support on which an oppressor relies until it dissolves, just as happened with the TPLF–in tandem with Amhara protests, it should be remembered.
 
Nonviolence succeeds more often than violence in securing political power. Its adherents are sometimes killed and hurt. But the number of casualties is less than those in war, and the political gains from nonviolence tend to be more durable.
 
Victory for the Oromo will come from winning hearts and minds, not terrorising people. It will come if we broaden the teaching of civics and nonviolence at the grassroots level. We can’t wait or rely on our government to change our culture. We must do it ourselves.
 
– Nagessa Dube
Via: SRN

1 Comment

  1. This man doesn’t know the root cause of Oromo struggle. He didn’t teach Qeerroo, he was collecting money for OFC which he allegedly used for himself. Finally he joined prosperity party& became member of criminals sucking Oromo blood.

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