Global Gumii Oromia (GGO) letter regarding the ongoing hidden cholera epidemic in Oromia and the surrounding regions in Ethiopia
Global Gumii Oromia
6909 Laurel Ave
Takoma Park, MD 20913
October 8, 2017
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General
Avenue Appia, 20
CH-1211 Geneva 27
The Global Gumii Oromia (GGO) is writing this letter out of a painful experiences regarding the ongoing but hidden cholera epidemic in Oromia and the surrounding regions in Ethiopia. The GGO is a global Oromo Civic Organization formed to foster the Oromo democratic heritage and to promote collective and individual rights, gender equality, social justice, peace and sustainable development in the Horn of Africa. The Oromo people are the largest ethno-national group in the Horn of Africa. For centuries, they have governed themselves in an egalitarian system known as Gadaa/Siqqee. However, in the 1880s, when the European colonial expansion reached its peak, the empire builders provided a racist reasoning for providing firearms to Abyssinian kings and for making possible for Abyssinian colonization of Oromia and incorporating it into the Ethiopian empire. Since that time, the Oromo people have been denied the right to decide on their social, economic, political, cultural and environmental affairs, and instead have been ruled by successive autocratic Abyssinian rulers. Under consecutive Ethiopian regimes, Oromo institutions have been banned and the people have been denied the right to organize, identify their needs and find solutions to their problems in culturally appropriate ways. The absence of formal independent Oromo leadership and institutions has exposed the Oromo people to various diseases such as cholera and newly emerging problems such as climate change. Indeed, the formation of the GGO in the diaspora is intended to partly address the institutional vacuum created by the Ethiopian government.
Cholera is one of the oldest acute diarrheal diseases that can kill thousands of people in a few days. It is caused by Vibrio cholera bacteria, and transmitted through water or food sources that are contaminated with the feces of a person infected by cholera. Cholera outbreaks take place and spread where there is overcrowding and inadequate access to clean water, food, and proper toilets. Our experts have been working in hospitals, community health centers and have been researching health conditions in Oromia. Our records show that from 1986 to the present sporadic cholera epidemics have been killing our people. However, the Ethiopian government has been hiding this critical information from the public. Although several laboratory tests have confirmed the existence of cholera, the Ethiopian government calls it “Acute Watery Diarrhea (AWD).”As a result, cholera infections that can be effectively prevented are allowed to cut short the lives of thousands of people each year.
Frequently cholera epidemics occur where public health leadership is underdeveloped. With decreased access to clean water and adequate food, there will be increased risks of cholera. This makes the situation in Oromia and surrounding regions gloomy. As we write this letter, state sponsored conflict, mass displacement, famine and political uprisings and a cholera epidemic are going on at the same time. Conflict, famine and uprisings lead to mass displacement and rampant diseases. These conditions create favorable conditions for cholera to spread further and put millions of people at risk. For example, according to (ECDC, 2017) from January to May of 2017, Ethiopia has reported 32 689 AWD cases. Among those infected it has resulted in 776 deaths. The magnitude of the problem is higher in Somali Regional State (91% reported cases) and 99% of the reported deaths. The Somali regional state borders Oromia and now the cholera epidemic is rapidly spreading into different parts of Oromia and causing the deaths of thousands of people.
Over half of the people in Ethiopia have no access to clean water and when it comes to improved sanitation only two out of ten have access to it. These social problems are even higher in Oromia region. In the absence of proper sanitation and clean water, cholera can be transmitted very easily. The incubation period for cholera varies from a few hours to five days. If there is a lack of appropriate care the death rate from this disease can reach to 50-60%. For those reasons, cholera is one of the diseases reportable under the International Health Regulations. The World Health Organization (WHO) regulation mandates that national health administrations report the first cases of cholera on their territories within 24 hours of their occurrences. Reporting the cases are important because it raises public awareness about the disease and encourages individuals and health professionals to provide appropriate care to the community. However, not reporting them allows easily preventable epidemics to spread and further aggravates social problems in the region.
This is not the first time that the Oromo people have been exposed to the discriminatory policies of the Ethiopian government. The experiences of the Oromo people under consecutive Ethiopian regimes are consistent with the injustices that colonized peoples have experienced. Under consecutive Ethiopian regimes, the Oromo people have experienced dispossession of their lands, widespread killings, imprisonments, forced religious conversions, state terrorism, which aggravate the problems of famine and disease. The main objective of the Ethiopian government in Oromia is to control and exploit the human and natural resources, a process that creates favorable conditions for cholera and other epidemics. Because cholera is an opportunistic disease that affects people who are displaced and starved, or those who are vulnerable to malnutrition, or who are suffering from drought, the Ethiopian government’s refusal to report the ongoing cholera epidemic is part and parcel of its longstanding discriminatory policies. As we read from past history, the Ethiopian government’s refusal to admit the existence of cholera epidemic shows that it does not care to save lives of the Oromo and Ogden peoples.
From 1991 to the present, the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF)-led government that only represents five percent of the people in Ethiopia, took power after twenty years of guerilla war. The TPLF fears and hates the Oromo people because they constitute the largest ethno-national group and endowed with rich economic and natural resources. Out of fear, hate, and desire to freely exploit the Oromo economic and natural resources, the TPLF government has developed social policies against the Oromo people that were intended to incapacitate the Oromo people. Historical evidences show that social policies developed out of fear and hate and desire to freely exploit the human and natural resources are detrimental and responsible for genocide.
The social problems that Oromo people face under the current Ethiopian regime are not limited to cholera. Human rights violations (killings, imprisonment, displacement and torture) are a widespread problem in Oromia. For example, according to the US State Department (2006) on March 8, 2005 the Ethiopian government security forces killed a young girl Ameleworki Worki Buli in Naqamte. The Ethiopian government said that she died of a natural cause. Not only that, the Ethiopian security forced her parents to say to the media that their daughter had died of the natural cause. According to Amnesty International (2011), on April 4, 2010 a young Oromo man, Biyansa Dhaba, died from torture inflicted by the Ethiopian government security forces. Even the hospital was forced to lie about the cause and produced fake evidence to that effect. Not only that the Ethiopian media interviewed the father of Biyansa, edited the voice recording, and altered the information. The widespread killings and imprisonments are intended to deny the Oromo people from developing effective leadership and institutions. The question is: if the Ethiopian government committed such horrendous crimes and distorted the facts, how would they manage when the cholera epidemic emerged in Oromia?
Developing independent institutions and leadership are essential conditions for identifying emerging problems and solving them. The Ethiopian government has deliberately worked to deny these essential conditions to the Oromo people. For example, Prof. Merera Gudina who gave testimonies about human rights violations to the European Parliament, upon his return to Oromia was charged with terrorism and now languishes in jail. The fate of Bekele Gerba and many other political prisoners who are in Ethiopian prisons are part and parcel of the Ethiopian government’s policy to deny the Oromo people leadership and institutions. Thousands of Oromo activists and nationalists are accused of terrorism and exposed to killings, imprisonments, tortures, and disfigurements. Oromo leadership and institutions would have made significant differences in preventing a cholera epidemic, improving access to clean water and sanitary conditions.
The Oromo people are unrepresented in the UN. The absence of representatives in international organizations has meant that the social problems that the Oromo people face have been unreported. Discriminatory Ethiopian social policies compounded with the absence of representation in international organizations have allowed cholera epidemics to kill thousands of people. Therefore, we appeal to the WHO and others to recognize the Ethiopian government’s discriminatory social policies and exert enough pressure on it to formally admit the cholera epidemic and provide appropriate care. The GGO also requests the UN and other international agencies to recognize the Oromo nation’s lack of representation in the global system and start to pay a serious attention to the devastating problem of the Oromo.
Begna Dugassa, Ph.D.
Chair, Health and Human Service Department,
Global Gumii Oromia
Copied to the following organizations:
WHO African Regional Office
Sam Ajibola (Brazaville, Republic of Congo)
WHO Regional Office for Africa
Telephone: +1 321 953 9378
The WHO Representative in Ethiopia
Kalu, Dr Akpaka
PO Box 3069 UNECA Premises, Zambezi building, 1st Floor, East Wing Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia
Human Rights Council Branch
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
United Nations Office at Geneva
CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Fax: (41 22) 917 90 11
3 United Nations Plaza
New York, New York 10017
P.O. Box 1169
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Human Rights Watch
350 Fifth Avenue, 34th floor
New York, NY 10118-3299 USA
Amnesty International UK
Human Rights Action Centre
17-25 New Inn Yard
Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA)
The US Department of State Secretary
WASHINGTON, D.C. HEADQUARTERS
UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs