Indefatigable Quest for Freedom in Oromia amid Massacre

August 14, 2016 | By Gabisso Halaale

“I prefer liberty with danger to peace with slavery.” Jean-Jacques Rousseau
“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” Marthin Luther King Jr.
In the past ten months, the gallant Oromo nation unequivocally rejected slavery and demanded freedom. Freedom from political and social marginalization, and wanton economic exploitation by the colonial regime of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).  Their unflinching determination and burning desire for liberty in the face of wholesale and pitiless slaughter by the Agazi killing squad has been unprecedented in the history of the Ethiopian empire in the past 130 years or so.  To date, over 600 civilians have been brutally massacred while over 50,000 Oromo civilians have been imprisoned and made to disappear without trace.
TPLF is committing crimes against humanity in Oromia before the eyes of the international community. The political crises in the middle east and other parts of Africa cannot in any way justify tacit endorsement of massacre by the western powers who prop up this rogue regime with financial aid. No legitimate alliances can be made on war on terror with a regime that terrorises its own civilians on daily basis. In spite of the massive human cost, the Oromo nation refuses to capitulate because freedom is never given voluntarily by the colonizers; it must be demanded by the oppressed.
A minority rule or a colonial rule
To confront our oppressor, it is essential to understand its salient characteristics. It is my conviction that among the oppressed nations of the south, only the Oromo nation and to some extent the Somali nation who clearly understand the innate characteristics of the oppressor.  It is exactly because of their higher national consciousness that the Oromo are confronting the oppressor armed to the teeth with bare hand while other oppressed nations remain in the shadow. I am afraid that the rest of us the oppressed nations do not comprehend who our oppressor is. And I believe that our inaction in the past 10 months against the repeated plea to stand by the Oromo nation emanates from lack of understanding of the oppressor. How does the south perceive the TPLF rule? Is the TPLF rule a minority dictatorship in a country that is a home to all nations, or a subtle colonial extension of an infamous empire imposed on hitherto independent nations who are still today treated as inferior conquered subjects to be ruled at any cost? The answer is unambiguous for two reasons.
First, TPLF or its predecessor, the Tigray National Organisation (TNO), was created in 1974 with the sole objective to secede from the Ethiopian empire and create an independent state of Tigray. Without doubt therefore the TPLF was fundamentally against the Ethiopian empire and had no commitment to protect and preserve its territorial integrity. TPLF’s unwavering support for the independence of Eritrea in 1993 is a living testimony of this fact. The question one should then ask is why did the TPLF occupy the rest of the Ethiopian empire it helped to partly disintegrate when the military regime collapsed in May 1991? The TPLF would tell us that it updated its manifesto from seceding and creating an independent Tigray state to “ensuring the rights of the Ethiopian peoples to self -determination” and that it occupied the south to “liberate” them. The TPLF would lament, as it does today, that it was committed to create a new country where the “rights of all nations to self-determination” were fully respected.  The truth of the matter is TPLF had no business fighting to liberate Oromia, Sidama, Somali, Afar, Gambela, or any other nations of the south for the simple reason that it was and is solely a Tigray political organisation.
Most nations already had political movements which were the counterpart of TPLF that were fighting against the Ethiopian empire even before the creation of TNO or TPLF, regardless of their successes or failures to topple the incumbent regime/regimes. The Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) founded in 1973 was older than TNO or TPLF and had unwavering support from the Oromo nation and had fought gallantly against both the imperial and the military regime. The Sidama Liberation Movement (SLM) established in 1973, the Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF) created in 1976, and the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) founded in 1984 all fought against the military regime concurrently with the TPLF and EPLF.
The victory against the equally repressive military regime was therefore not solely attributable to the TPLF and the bravery of its fighters as the TPLF colonial rulers would want us to believe today. The military regime crumbled due to relentless opposition from all nations of the empire, low military morale, the collapse of the domestic economy and the global socialist system. It did not collapse solely due to the bravery of the TPLF fighters!
Political organisations of the oppressed nations had similar objectives and desire for liberty for their respective nations as TPLF had for Tigray. Therefore, had TPLF’s change of heart not to secede from the empire been genuine, it would have agreed to work with the OLF, SLM, ONLF and other political organisations of the oppressed nations to ensure self-determination of the oppressed nations.  But instead, TPLF branded these organisations as its nemesis and occupied the rest of the empire.  TPLF’s expansion and occupation of Oromia and the south at large after 1991 was therefore indisputably a new colonial expansion and occupation to takeover and rule the remaining parts of the empire. It was an empire building project. The Transitional Government created in 1991 in which OLF, SLM, ONLF other opposition political organisations participated was a hogwash and a publicity stunt to hoodwink the global community and the unsuspecting south.
Second, the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) was a cover-up to legitimise the colonial takeover of the remaining parts of the empire. The timing of the creation of EPRDF is a living proof. EPRDF was created hastily in 1989, just two years before the collapse of the Derg regime, as a coalition between TPLF and the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM), formerly known as the Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement, a splinter group from the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP). ANDM was supported and mentored by the TPLF to pacify the Amhara whom the latter regard as chauvinists.
Having “secured legitimacy” among the former rulers, the Amhara through ANDM, TPLF’s next move was to delegitimise liberation movements in the south by fabricating pseudo-political organisations. Consequently, to delegitimise the OLF, which was and still today is the vanguard of the Oromo liberation struggle, the TPLF gathered the Oromo war captives and Oromo defectors from the military and created the Oromo People’s Democratic Organisation (OPDO) in 1990.  OPDO was then immediately added to the EPRDF’s colonial shopping cart. When the military regime was overthrown in 1991, it was already clear that the TPLF was ready to institute an alternative colonial rule in Oromia and purge the OLF.
In the same manner, the TPLF fabricated “people’s democratic organisations” and “democratic parties” in Sidama, Somali, Afar, Gambella, Hadiya and elsewhere as local TPLF structures and purged SLM, ONLF and other legitimate political organisations. In 1993 the TPLF unilaterally dissolved the 5 independent regions of the south, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11 and created Southern Ethiopia Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Regional State and subsequently Southern Ethiopia Peoples Democratic Movement (SEPDM). Immediately the SEPDM was added to the EPRDF colonial shopping cart.
Three peripheral regions, Ogaden, Gambella and Benishangul-Gumuz were not directly added to the EPRDF colonial shopping cart due to economic and geopolitical reasons. Nonetheless, they remained under the tight control of the TPLF. By purging ethnic-national political institutions and country wide political opposition and replacing them with tightly controlled local political tentacles, the TPLF created new indirect colonial rule across the remaining parts of the Ethiopian empire.
The use of indirect rule by occupying colonial powers is not unique to TPLF. Both Britain and France, the two most powerful colonial powers, used indirect rule. They used pre-existing local structures or local structures fabricated by them to govern parts of their empires which were often referred to as protectorates or trucial states. This was primarily because they did not have adequate human resources to man government structures in all parts of their empires. It was  not because they wanted to ensure self-determination of their colonial subjects.
Likewise, the TPLF used SEPDM, OPDO, Somali, Gambella, Benshinagul people’s democratic parties, not due to legitimacy problems as some would argue, nor to ensure self-rule by the oppressed people but simply because they did not have enough human resources to govern each and every corner of their new empire.
Therefore, it is naïve to believe that the TPLF rule in the Ethiopian empire is a rule of a minority among equals. It is not. This is important because it is only when we understand our oppressor’s characteristics fully that we will be able to confront it adequately.   A minority ruler does not treat fellow peaceful citizens of the country as enemy combatants. It does not unleash full military might against the unarmed youth, children, elderly men, elderly and pregnant women. It is only colonial rulers who slaughter subjects indiscriminately. It is only colonizers who jail tens of thousands of civilians for demanding basic freedom from slavery.  This is what TPLF is doing in Oromia today. What TPLF is doing bears the hallmark of a colonial regime. Therefore, in all its characteristics the TPLF rule is a colonial rule and should be rejected unequivocally by all oppressed nations of the south.
Can Oromia invoke the constitution to achieve freedom?
One of my introductory quotes by the most famous African American civil rights activist, Marthin Luther King Jr. reads: “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” This is so true. At no time in human history did the oppressor willingly hand over freedom to the oppressed without the latter demanding it. It baffles me when some of our most respected scholars entertain thoughts of constitution and the rule of law in the Ethiopian empire.  Are we so naïve to think that TPLF as a colonial oppressor was willing to develop a constitution to bestow freedom on the colonial subjects it fought hard for 17 years to conquer and rule. The answer is no.
The oppressed nations should clearly understand that the colonial constitution of the Ethiopian empire is not meant to give them freedom. It is not even meant for them. It is true that the 106 article constitution boasts about the unlimited freedom for the nations and nationalities in the empire including Fundamental rights and freedoms (Article 13), Human rights (Articles 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 25, 27, 28), and Democratic rights (Article 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 36, 37, 38, 39, 41, etcetera). The fact of the matter is not a single provision in the so-called constitution has been respected by the TPLF in the past 25 years. Some argue that the constitution is not worth the paper it is written on. I beg to differ; the constitution was not written to grant freedom to the oppressed nations in the first place. It was a tool to legitimise the indirect colonial rule in the eyes of the international community and the local collaborators. Otherwise, why does he TPLF writes the most liberal constitution and respects not a single provision in it. Therefore, the TPLF constitution is the tool to oppress the Oromo, the Sidama, the Somali, the Gambella, the Afar, and the south at large and not to free them. The only constitution that will guarantee freedom to the Oromo nation is the one written by the blood of its fallen heroes.
Draconian labels of terrorism and anti-terror laws
Having firmly established that TPLF breaches every fabric of the supreme law of the empire, the constitution, it promulgated, what recourse in law or otherwise does it have to label any other political organisation or individual citizen of the empire a terrorist. If at all there is a terrorist in the Ethiopian empire today, it is the TPLF. TPLF is a terrorist organisation because it occupied nations without their will and imposed an indirect colonial rule over them thereby inflicting untold suffering on them directly or indirectly through its local collaborators. It terrorised the oppressed nations for a quarter of a century by unleashing an elite military killing squad, Agazi, which massacred the Sidama in Loqqe in May 2002, the Somali in 2007 and 2013,  Gambella in 2003, continue to massacre the Oromo civilians since 2015 and before.
The oppressed nations should reject the hypocritical colonial label of terror against the OLF and ONLF and should educate the TPLF the unmitigated terror it has committed against the occupied nations in the past 25 years. Thought out the human history, one nation’s hero was always the oppressor’s terrorist and TPLF is no exception.  The draconian terrorism law is a bizarre extension of such reign of terror inflicted on the oppressed south.
The terror being inflicted on the occupied nations of the empire flies on the face of the growth and transformation narrative the regime employs to hoodwink the west.  In spite of the much hyped double digit growth for over a decade, the occupied nations are economically worse off today than ever before.  Rain failure for one year due to the El Nino effect exposed lack of any rural development efforts in the past 25 years. Over 18 million people have been ravaged by famine since last year. Access to information and communication technology is the lowest in the world. While 70% of the population in neighbouring Kenya have access to internet in 2015, in occupied Ethiopia, access to internet was 3% in 2015.  The empire is kept in dark to preserve the colonial occupation. Otherwise, how would a regime block its own citizens from accessing information and communication technology that is taking the world by storm. Especially in an empire where economic opportunity is limited and millions of youth are unemployed.  Even this meagre service is regularly switched off to block the oppressed nations from organising to demand political, social and economic freedom.
Solidarity with the Oromo nation now
The Oromo nation, the most enlightened of the all the oppressed nations in Ethiopia, has rejected slavery and demanded freedom. The Oromo struggle for freedom is irreversible. Emancipation from the colonial yoke is inevitable regardless of the unfolding human tragedy. The Oromo nation will achieve freedom whether the other oppressed nations stand by its side or not. This does not mean however that the solidarity of nations is unimportant to lessen the human suffering in the course of liberation struggle. The recent protests in the Amhara region are welcome developments.

 While political coalition between the Oromo, Somali, Sidama, Gambella and Benishagula-Gumuz is crucial for freedom in the long term, in the short term, civilians in all these regions should mobilise and standby the Oromo nation. I was encouraged to learn that among a dozen university students expelled from Haramaya university by the regime for alleged sympathy with the Oromo freedom rallies, two were Sidama while all the rest were Oromo students.  These students epitomise resilience of the oppressed nations and what we can achieve when we stand together. A number of Sidama businessmen and civil servants are languishing in Qilinxo prison (transferred from Maikelawi recently) in Oromia for alleged support to the Oromo freedom movement. This is encouraging but not adequate given the scale of human tragedy in Oromia.   Our peoples should stand shoulder to shoulder from cornet to corner for freedom in our life time.  Liberty with danger is better than peace with slavery.

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