OSA: An urgent call to thwart the escalating humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia
The Oromo Studies Association (OSA) – a multi-disciplinary academic organization established to foster scholarly studies in all fields pertaining to the Oromo people – would like to bring to the attention of prominent political leaders and influential policy makers, the building humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa; with the so-called Liyu Police of the Somali region – a paramilitary force that has been organized, trained and armed by the Ethiopian government – waging an undeclared war against Oromo communities in eastern, southeastern and southern Ethiopia. While these undeclared wars have subjected the Oromo to crimes comparable in magnitude to the one the Rohingya of Myanmar are currently facing (the offensives have already claimed the lives of thousands, and caused the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Oromo civilians)[i]; they are not gaining the attention they deserve in the global centers of power and among the international media for reasons that are neither convincing nor clear.
But for the social norms of tolerance and coexistence built over centuries of largely positive interactions, interdependence and intermingling among the brotherly peoples in Ethiopia[ii], these aggressions could have conceivably plunged the country into chaos and bloodletting that would have surpassed the Rwandan genocide. There is no guarantee that these norms will hold indefinitely with the Somali regional government continuing to unleash its unaccountable force against Oromo communities in the border areas; committing all sorts of appalling crimes, likely with the intention of uprooting them from their ancestral lands (Qe’ee). OSA is deeply concerned that this will end in humanitarian catastrophe of epic proportions unless extreme interventions are undertaken immediately to stop these unprovoked and deadly aggressions.
Some are erroneously reporting these outrageous attacks by one side as inter-ethnic conflicts between Oromo and Somali forces[iii], based on a glib observation that the former are naturally fighting back to defend themselves and their Qe’ee. The fact of the matter is that these conflicts are taking place with encouragement from, and an active participation of, the powerful group that currently dominates the Ethiopian government, aka the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Indeed, credible evidences suggest that these assaults are instigated by Ethiopian generals working in close concert with the enigmatic character Abdi Iley (the president of the Somali regional government) and his criminal enterprise known as the Liyu Police.
The Liyu Police – a Janjaweed-like paramilitary group – was instituted by the Ethiopian military in 2008 as a counter insurgency force against the Ogaden National Liberation Front[iv], an outfit that has been fighting for the rights to self-determination of the Somali people in Ethiopia. Even though this paramilitary group has been implicated in mass killings, kidnappings, rape, and other disturbing human rights abuses documented by respectable human rights organizations[v], it has never been held to account, largely because it is doing the dirty work of the Ethiopian central government. It should be noted here that numerous calls for independent investigations into the troubling activities of this group have always been rejected by the regime in Addis Ababa, with media organizations affiliated with the TPLF becoming reliable defenders of the Liyu Police.[vi] The deal is that Abdi Illey executes – through his clan-based militia – TPLF’s pernicious schemes, in return for being allowed to wield absolute political power over his captive population, while being protected by powerful forces in Addis and beyond.
Unable to stop the ever widening #Oromo Protests even after deploying its vicious army unit known as the Agazi (recall the Irreechaa Massacre of October 2, 2016 and the subsequent declaration of a state of emergency that lasted for ten months[vii]), the TPLF appears to have chosen waging a proxy war with the Oromo people using the Liyu Police, with a hasty calculus that the strategy might weaken its arch-enemy, the Qeerroo Bilisummaa Oromo (QBO) – the youth group behind the ongoing #Oromo Protests. It is to be recalled that the QBO had forced the TPLF to abandon its secretly-hatched major policy initiative – the inaptly named ‘the Addis Ababa and the Nearby Oromia Towns Integrated Master Plan’ – a ploy that was meant to empower a few fat cats in Addis Ababa at the expense of millions of farmers in central Oromia.[viii]
Finding itself in unfamiliar territory because of #Oromo Protests – and quickly losing its carefully-crafted image of a ‘strong developmental-state’ capable of ‘delivering the goods’ and policing not just Ethiopia but the entire Horn-of-Africa – the TPLF appears to be in a desperate bid to regain some of its mojo, by activating the deadly Somali-region militia and unleashing it on innocent Oromo citizens. As some have pointed out, the key rationale behind this reckless and deadly move was to goad the Oromo to start fighting with the brotherly Somali people, with the aim of deflecting their attention from (and weakening their resolve of resisting) the tyrants in Addis Ababa. The TPLF has perfected this approach in its nearly three-decades-old rule, effectively using it to exploit the pre-existing fault-lines between the elites of the two major ethno-national groups in the country, the Oromo and the Amhara. With leaders from the two groups showing signs of rapprochement, the TPLF appears to be on a fishing expedition of orchestrating conflicts between the Oromo and the Somali populations to prolong its oppressive rule in the country.
As of yet, the Oromo have refused to take the bait, by and large keeping their focus on the real enemy that has been the cause of much of their misery. Despite being subjected, essentially because of their identity, to a myriad of atrocities by the heavily-armed tag team of the Ethiopian army and the Liyu Police, the Oromo have not taken any kind of retaliatory measures against innocent Somali citizens living in Oromia; instead, they are marshalling their limited resources in trying to rehabilitate the hundreds of thousands of their compatriots that were evicted from the Somali region and the border areas, practically keeping the situation from devolving into inter-ethnic conflicts that could have devastating implications in the region and beyond.
The question responsible people should ask under these circumstances ought to be: is this a sustainable state-of-affairs? Should leaders with a stake in World peace continue to count on the goodwill and the essential comity of the Oromo people and ordinary Ethiopians to justify their lack of focus and serious interest in the looming disaster in the Horn of Africa? OSA scholars – most of whom are serving in Western universities with distinction – believe that the call for liberty and justice in Oromia in particular and Ethiopia in general can no longer be muzzled by sheer force; nor can it be twisted with any amount of political machination. Therefore, we call upon influential and responsible political leaders and policy makers in the West to find creative ways (there are plenty, as they hold the purse strings) that will force the Ethiopian government to: 1) disband the Liyu Police, bringing to justice the principal players in the violence that uprooted close to half a million Oromo civilians from their homes and livelihood; 2) rehabilitate the displaced population, making sure they are properly compensated; 3) make a complete U-turn in how it deals with the predominantly peaceful #Oromo Protests; and, 4) address – without any delay – the legitimate political, economic and cultural demands of the Oromo people and the other ethno-national groups in the country. OSA believes strongly that the cost of doing nothing will be orders of magnitude higher than the cost of measures that may have to be taken immediately to induce the TPLF to change its behaviour.
Teferi Mergo, PhD
President, Oromo Studies Association
- Donald Trump, President
The United States of America
- Angela Merkel, Chancellor
- Theresa May, Prime Minister
The United Kingdom
- Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister
- Emmanuel Macron, President
- Xi Jinping, President
- Paolo Gentloni, Prime Minister
- Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister
The Commonwealth of Australia
- Shinzō Abe, Prime Minister
- António Guterres, Secretary General
The United Nations
- Donald Tusk, President
The European Union
- Idriss Déby, Chairperson
The African Union
[vii] See, for instance, https://www.oaklandinstitute.org/blog/ethiopias-state-emergency-authorizing-oppression