President Jacob Zuma President of South Africa Union Buildings Private Bag X1000, Pretoria 0001 South Africa Dear Honorable President Zuma:
On behalf of many Oromo refugees in South Africa, Oromo refugees all over the world and Oromos in Ethiopia who are experiencing severe and violent oppression under the Ethiopian People Revolutionary Democratic Front, I congratulate the African National Congress, the People of South Africa and you on the 104th anniversary of the ANC.
Oromo is one of the largest and indigenous African groups on the continent and the largest single ethnic group in Ethiopia. During the nineteenth century, the country of Abyssinia was never colonized by any European power as happened to nations and regions across the rest of Africa. However, at that time, there was a struggle for power in Abyssinia. The King of Shewa (later Emperor Menelik II), in his pursuit of the imperial crown, saw an opportunity to augment his wealth, military power, and territorial domination by expropriating the lands of the Oromo people lying to the south of Abyssinia and directly or indirectly enslaving many Oromo children. He also imposed taxes on all Oromo slaves (almost all children) taken through his kingdom en route to the Arab slave markets across the Red Sea. In this way, Menelik II managed to bring the Oromo people to their knees by breaking their resistance, taking away their land, their livelihoods, and their children. The fall of the Oromo nation paved the way for the conquering of all the southern nations and nationalities including the expropriation of their lands to create the territory defined and known today as Ethiopia.
Since colonization by Menelik II, Oromo have suffered at the hands of successive Ethiopian rulers. A recent historical study has shown that a group of sixty-four liberated Oromo slave children arrived at Lovedale Institution in 1890 where they were cared for and educated. By 1910, one-third had returned home, one-third had died and one-third (23) chose to remain in South Africa. Among these was Bisho Jarsa, the grandmother of the late Dr. Alexander Neville, the renowned intellectual, educationalist, human rights activist and struggle hero.
When Menelik II was succeeded by Emperor Haile Selassie, conditions became even worse for the Oromo people and the other colonized nations and nationalities. It was under this regime that Oromos and others started to organize themselves clandestinely. The first Oromo civil organization called the Macha-Tullama Welfare Association was founded in 1960 by General Tadesse Biru and other Oromo nationals from a different part of the Oromia regions. The objective of the Macha-Tullama Welfare Association was to create awareness and lay the foundation for the Oromo liberation struggle. This civil organization was later banned by the regime of Hailie Selassie and General Tadesse Biru and others were jailed. Many members were killed and others forced to leave the country.
General Tadesse Biru was not only the founder of the Macha-Tullama Welfare Association but was also among the founding members of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). When the late President Nelson Mandela arrived in Ethiopia in 1962, General Tadesse Biru personally trained him in guerilla warfare.
The death of Haile Selassie and the rise of Mengistu Haile Mariam failed to bring about desired change, the change that the oppressed people had hoped for. Instead, the Soviet-backed group proved even worse, creating a one-party Communist state in 1975 under the name of Derg.Opposition political parties and civil organizations came under attack. The “red terror” under the Mengistu regime crushed all organizations and people who sought freedom, peace and democracy. Many people were treated in the barbaric and brutal manner (including the jailed General Tadesse Biru). Many Oromo sons and daughters were mercilessly murdered, their bodies tied to cars and dragged on the streets of Addis Ababa and other cities. Parents were forced to buy the bodies of their loved ones bodies in order to bury them.
Under the regime’s program of villagization, Oromo land was once again taken from them and given to settlers from the northern part of the Ethiopian empire, especially to the Amharas and Tigreans. The regime tried to stamp out the identity, language and culture of the Oromo people, replacing these, through a National Literacy Campaign, with the language and culture of the Habesha (the Amhara, Tigray and Gurage people).
After 17 years of iron-fist rule, the Derg regime was overthrown by three organizations namely the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), the Ethiopian People Revolutionary Democratic Front (ERDF) and the Eritrean People Liberation Front (EPLF).The above mentioned three main organizations formed the Transitional Government of Ethiopia under a Transitional Charter.
There was great of hope for the people of Ethiopia in general and the Oromo nation and other colonized nationalities in particular. The oppressed people of the empire envisaged that they would soon enjoy full democracy and that all human rights would be safe-guarded in terms of the right to self-determination as recognized internationally and enshrined in the UN charter. Article 39 of the Ethiopian Constitution, adopted in 1991, clearly indicates the right of self-determination up to secession: “Every nation, nationality or people in Ethiopia shall have the unrestricted right to self-determination up to secession.”
The EPRDF is presently in power and has enjoyed the support of the USA and western governments since the collapse Mengistu regime. The idea of democracy, the rule of law and constitutionalism never materialized as promised. The Article only worked for Eritreans and Oromo and others again subjected to the same inhuman treatment under this new Abyssinian ruler. The subjugation, marginalization and all kinds of oppression have been perpetuated systematically. The suffering of the oppressed people increased more than ever before. The non-functioning, ethnic-based federal system was instituted to deceive both international communities and people of the country. The EPRDF-TPLF, led by the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, dominated political and economic power in the empire. Eventually, the hopes of the oppressed people evaporated and peoples’ organizations like the OLF were forced to abandon their support for the Transitional Charter. With the support of western powers, the EPRDF cemented its domination. OLF members, sympathizers and Oromo people from all walks of life have been jailed, tortured, raped, dehumanized and killed. Even the lives of those who fled, seeking refuge in neighboring countries, were not spared. They have been hunted down by EPRDF agents with the co-operation of Ethiopian embassies in these territories. These embassies have played a huge role in assassinating Oromo refugees, as well as hijacking and secretly (or openly) taken back to Ethiopia. Those who were returned to Ethiopia in this way were either killed, are languishing in jail or have simply disappeared. This happened in Djibouti, Sudan, Somalia and especially Kenya. In Kenya, not only Oromo from Oromia were faced with cruelty but also, the indigenous Kenyan citizens of Oromo origin suffered equally. The co-operation between Ethiopian and Kenya security agencies has been very strong in destroying Oromo opposition and refugees. However, the above-mentioned inhumanities have never deterred the Oromo people from demanding their birth rights. On different occasions, the people have risen against the colonizers and have continued with their resistance.
Besides organized Oromo resistance and political activities among the Oromo in the diaspora, the people residing within the empire have risen against the brutal regime of Ethiopia since the 1995 election. The system imposed at that time was marred by irregularities and the people showed their dissatisfaction and disobedience to the TPLF regime. The Ethiopian security forces and the military responded with brutality in their attempts to crush these popular uprisings.
Elections in Ethiopia are not free and fair; they are held just for formality. Post-election, many have been killed, maimed and jailed. The irregularities of these so-called elections in the empire have raised concern inside and outside the country. Many human right organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have voiced their concern but these have only landed on deaf ears in the Ethiopian ruling party and among the international governments. Instead of pressuring the regime to desist from these irregularities, international donors have increased their material aid and support. Western funding has not been used for the purposes the donations were made. Instead of being used to support intended development programs, western aid has been used to crush opposition groups, inside the country and in the diaspora. Mostly, this external funding has been used to equip the regime’s security and military forces. The recent “election,” which reflected 100% support for the EPRDF, was another indication of dictatorship and undemocratic nature of TPLF regime. Currently, there is no one single elected opposition member of the Ethiopian Parliament. Surprisingly, this regime is enjoying legitimacy according to international countries and other African countries in general.
The most powerful tool that the EPRDF regime is using is self-crafted anti-terror law. This law overrides all laws in the country—including all human rights laws. The law is designed to silence all opposition parties, especially the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF).
Currently, the Ethiopian regime is busy changing its system of oppression. In the long and arduous struggle for freedom and democracy, Oromos and other colonized nations and nationalities have regained certain rights. These rights include the development of their culture and the right to use their languages, regaining of their geographical boundaries etc. When people try to hang on to the fragments of rights(which are the fruits of many sacrifices and struggling for more to the extent of self-determination), the EPRDF regime, on the contrary, is busy reversing these hard-won rights. This pull and push situation make Ethiopia hell on earth and the situation is worst of all in the Oromia region. Current action by the brutal EPRDF regime in the Oromia region includes:
From the period of Transition, Oromos have been locked out of any powerful political positions, including surrogate organizations like the Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Organization (OPDO). Under the EPRDF, no Oromo nationals are allowed to hold any important portfolio. All key political positions are deliberately reserved for members of the TPLF.
After war after devastating war with Mengistu H. Mariam, all regions ought to have experienced programs of rebuilding and development. However, development programs mainly focused on the Tigray region while other regions remained to suffer.
Business opportunities have been given 100% to Tigray nationals. Other businessmen and women were totally illegalized, and imports and exports were reserved to Tigray son and daughters at the expense of others.
The education system was modified to accommodate the children of the current regime, scholarships being based on proven loyalty to the regime. When it comes to job opportunities, getting a decent job is not done on merit but dependent on loyalty to the EPRDF. In order for one to get a job, he or she must be a member of the EPRDF. Oromo nationals must be members of the surrogate organization, the OPDO, to be considered for a position.
In addition, to the above-mentioned marginalization and exploitation, basic human rights—like freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of assembly and freedom of expression—of all the colonized peoples were nullified. The ruling regime will not tolerate any individual or group of individuals speaking out against the regime unless these individuals or organizations support the mighty EPRDF forces. The only speech allowed is praise of the ruling regime and of the individuals within these circles. Those fundamental freedoms put on paper only to deceive western donor countries and international communities.
Land-grabbing had its roots under Menelik II. The current regime is even more brutal. EPRDF is openly putting Oromo land on sale. Under the pretext of land for investors, land-grabbing reached an alarming level. Oromo farmers are losing their lands to the so-called investors, EPRDF officials are busy selling and sharing Oromo land. The farmers have not only lost their land but also their livelihood and have been reduced to begging on the streets of Addis Ababa.
As if the already existing marginalization and exploitation were not enough, the current Addis Ababa Master Plan was introduced to expropriate more Oromo land and, once and for all, to disintegrate Oromia regional boundaries. The intention was not to develop Addis Ababa but to break Oromo national unity and put down the claim of Oromo to Addis Ababa (Finfinne)—the cities surrounded by the Oromia Region—as their capital.
The current wave of Oromo resistance is to stop these unacceptable moves by Ethiopian colonizers which have targeted the very existence of the Oromo people and the Oromia Region. Many students (from primary school to university level), farmers and Oromo from all other walks of life in Oromia and in the diaspora have been openly objecting and demanding the cancelation of the Addis Ababa Master Plan. The ultimate goal is for the total freedom of Oromia from all kinds of subjugation. Oromos will continue to face unimaginable, inhumane, violent suppression and death at the hands of these colonizers unless some peace loving international communities act in time. Our nation is bleeding.
At this darkest moment, we humbly request you and your government to take timely action to save the Oromo nation and the other colonized nations and nationalities:
The Oromo people stood by the ANC and the people of South Africa during your long and difficult struggle against the illegal and unjust apartheid regime.
The Oromo people were part and parcel in fighting against the apartheid regime by giving material and technical support. In 1962, when Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela fled to Ethiopia, his personal trainer was patriot-martyr General Tadesse Biru. General Biru was the founding father of Oromo Liberation Front. While the late President Mandela lived to realize some of his dreams, General Tadesse was killed by the brutal Derg regime without seeing a free Oromia. Our humble request to you and your ANC-led government is to give attention to ending the suffering of the Oromo people.
The ANC and the South African government have significant power and influence on the African political economy. Utilizing these influences through an organization like the African Union (AU), you and your government can put pressure on the current Ethiopian regime to stop all the atrocities they are currently committing against the unarmed Oromo masses. For the sake of peace, the Article 2 of AU charter should be by-passed. According to this particular article another African country cannot interfere in another country internal matter. What is happening in Ethiopia transcends being simply an internal matter.
The current uprising of Oromo students is very similar to the 1976 Soweto Uprising. Unarmed Oromo students are falling like leaves by bullets fired by the EPRDF security forces. Primary school children as young as 8 years old have been killed. Mass arrest, torture, disappearance and rape have become daily occurrences. The current death toll has reached 178. This figure only indicates a smaller portion of the actual number of deaths. The number can be tripled but the absence of media freedom prevents such reporting. All educational institutions have become military camps and the teaching and learning process have been interrupted. While children of colonizers enjoy a normal learning environment, Oromo educational institutions have become a war front. We fear the Oromo people will be forced to produce an ignorant generation in the 21st Not only the Oromo people but the entire African continent cannot afford this. Your government can save us from this happening.
It seems the international communities have turned their backs on the African continent in generally, and on the Oromo nation in particular. The west acts according to their own interest and we have many instances indicating how their self-interest comes first rather than human suffering. Many civil wars result from neglect such as this. If the current situation Ethiopia is neglected it will lead to fully-fledged civil war which will not only destabilize the empire but the entire region as well. We have no doubt that you and your government have the power to stop this from happening.
You and the ANC-led government have experienced how failed governments eventually become the breeding ground for extremist groups and make life hell for all residents of that particular region. Refugees from these failed nations have fled as far as Europe and South Africa and have become a burden on the limited economic system. The stress on the economic system has brought about many xenophobic attacks. Solving the problem at source is preferable. This can only happen when a powerful government like South Africa can act.
There are, at long last, some signs that the international community is beginning to listen and is taking note of the ongoing human rights violations being perpetrated by the Ethiopian authorities. For example, the mainstream international media are beginning to report on the most recent uprisings starting in November in which at 178 Oromo people have been killed.
In addition, the US Department of State issued a statement on 14 January 2016 calling on the Ethiopian Government “to refrain from silencing dissent and to protect the constitutionally enshrined rights of all citizens, including the right to gather peacefully, to write, and to speak freely as voices of a diverse nation. We call for the release of those imprisoned for exercising their rights, such as political party leaders and journalists.”
And, as recently as21 January 2016, the European Parliament approved an Official Resolution of the EU on the Situation in Ethiopia which “Strongly condemns the recent use of excessive force by the security forces in Oromia and in all Ethiopian regions and the increased number of cases of human rights violations; expresses its condolences to the families of the victims and urges the immediate release of all those jailed for exercising their rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression …The EU, as the single largest donor, should ensure that EU development assistance is not contributing to human rights violations in Ethiopia.”
We call on you, your South African government, African heads of states and the international community, local and international right organizations that can play positive roles to act before it is too late.
Denge Garse (Oromo People Association)
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