2nd January 2021 at 1:28 am #612
Founded in 1973, Adda Bilisummaa Oromoo (ABO) – the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), is one of the oldest political parties in Ethiopia whose household name among the Oromo people is a synonym of their identity than a political party with a discernible presence.
A party which spent a good part of its presence in the armed struggle both at home and in exile, the OLF has endured multiple fractures from within, and a war that significantly changed its trajectory for the last 30 years.
But in the wake of Ethiopia’s sweeping political liberalization after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office in April 2018, OLF became one of the half a dozen exiled parties to return to Ethiopia in hopes of emerging from an armed struggle to a peaceful political party that its constituents waited for decades since its establishment. As such, its September 2018 homecoming had received a rapturous welcome.
But that only lasted a few months. Soon, bickering began to consume the party when leaders of its various factions who had fallen out with each other while in exile began to return home, and a few had taken up positions offered by the Oromia regional state government.
Soon a continued armed struggle by yet another breakaway faction, the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) has embroiled the mother party OLF, led by veteran party leader Dawud Ibsa with endless controversy. While struggling to distance itself from the armed group of OLA, OLF has once again fallen into a familiar schism that threatened to disintegrate what’s left of a party with a massive support across Oromia.
It started with house arrest of Dawud Ibsa
Following the deadly violence that broke out across Oromia in the wake of the assassination of the renowned Oromo artist Hachalu Hundessa on the evening of June 29, 2020, restrictions were imposed by the government on the personal movements of the chairman, Dawud Ibsa. Geda Oljira, head of the OLF headquarters in Addis Ababa told BBC Amharic that Dawud was forced to stay at home as of July 17 by federal police and armed police officers were deployed in and around his house.
At that moment Geda indicated that the chairman was told to stay at home for “the sake of his own security” without any further details. Geda also added that no one was allowed to enter or leave the premises until further order and that they could not communicate with the chairman either in person or through telephone that was disconnected shortly after the stay at home order. Dawud’s mobile phone was unresponsive and merely signals the line being unavailable. The media tried to verify the telephone disconnection issue with government officials, however our reporters were repeatedly told that the line works well, and that it is the chairman who keeps changing his phone number. The ‘in house stay’, what largely seemed to hold the chairman incommunicado, has totally incapacitated his interactions with other party members and their activities within the increasingly active politics at the time.
The July 26 Meeting
Apparently, the relationship between the OLF and the government took a new low as instability spread across Oromia and doubts began to surface that pro government individuals within the leadership of the OLF had infiltrated the party.
The July 26 meeting called by Ararso Biqila, the vice chairperson right after ‘in house stay’ imposed on of the chairman was held at the OLF headquarters in Gullele, raising some eyebrows with rumours that it was a possible coup attempt against the chairman. This led members of the central committee to have diverging conclusions on the legitimacy of the meeting.
Meanwhile, Geda Oljira (Dr.) [head of the party’s headquarters] alleges that the meeting was summoned by the vice chairman who has no consent of the head of the party. Geda told the BBC at that time that he called Dawud and confirmed that the chairman had no knowledge of the said meeting.
Similarly, Bette Urgessa, then finance head of the party, told DW – Amharic that the meeting was called without the knowledge of the chairman and suspected a change in the leadership.
On the contrary, however, Qejela Merdasa, head of public relations of the party told DW – Amharic that the statement given by Bette Urgessa was not true and Bette has no mandate to give out such a statement. Rather the meeting had the acknowledgement of the chairman, according to Qejela. He asserted that an emergency meeting was held by the central committee and that the chairman knew the details. The vice chairman, Ararso Biqila, told BBC that he had spoken to the chairman over the phone to advise him on the meeting but their talk was disconnected. He also added that the agenda of the meeting was on current issues and to discuss the gains and losses of OLF’s return from exile.
The arrested OLF leadership members
OLF alleges imprisonment of several leadership members particularly in connection with the violent unrest that broke out in Oromia region in the aftermath of the assassination of Hachalu Hundessa has affected the party’s performance. The OLF says hundreds of its members including top executive committee members Michael Boren, Kenessa Ayana, Dr. Shigut Geleta and Col. Gemechu Ayana were arrested since Hachalu’s death.
What caused the latest leadership fracture?
The OLF has generated enough headlines indicating its demise when some of its executive members took to the media to publicize conflicting reports separately. The announcements, which were keenly promoted by state owned media and loyalist social media activities, included decisions on the suspension of certain members of the key leadership, including its current chairman Dawud Ibsa.
Bette Urgessa, who has since been appointed as OLF Interim Public Relations Officer, told Addis Standard that despite confusions and widely publicized divisions, the Front was still intact as an organization. However, he said, members of its executive committee had been victimized by an act of mutiny from within.
According to Bette, it all started when the federal government backed some leadership members of the party to illegally arrange the meeting on July 26 and 27, 2020 while the front’s legitimate chairperson Dawud was held incommunicado.
Bette says that they identified only three legal members of the executive committee who claimed to have a meeting with a fourth member and another fifth Ibsa Negewo [with a foreign citizenship], who was referred as a legitimate member. Bette said, the issues of citizenship of the Executive Committee members would reduce their numbers to just eight when other seven members, including Dr Shigut, who was since released and has left the country, were demoted to advisory roles due to mandatory citizenship issues.
However Dawud Ibsa was primarily included pending completion of his citizenship reclaim. Later he was unable to gain back his Ethiopian citizenship and failed to comply with the requirement to be an executive member. The National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) was then notified that he had been reduced from the Executive membership.
It was during such restructuring process and when Dawud was inexplicably kept in house arrest, with security forces preventing him from leaving his house and others from getting in that a splinter group gave a press statement which was broadcast widely via state media condemning failed leadership of the party including widespread corruption under its chairman Dawud Ibsa. “I didn’t want to attend the meeting either because I opposed it. That leaves the attending members of the executive committee who gave the press statement to be three,” Better said, adding “We then asked the NEBE about the statement the Ararso Bikila group has submitted to the Board on behalf of the OLF, while giving announcements to different media about an executive meeting.”
According to him the Ethics and Auditing Committee of the party then took over to investigate the matter in accordance with party’s regulation, yet the group led by Ararso declined to cooperate with the investigation. “The Auditing Committee presented its findings indicating that the group collaborated and took missions from other organizations, conspiring to abolish the organization, summoning illegal meetings and attempting to make change in leadership.”
The OLF under the leadership of Dawud has made its own decision to suspend two members of the central committee Qejela Merdassa and Arbicho Dima and Executive Committee members comprising Ararso Bikila, Atomsa Kumsa and Tolera Dhaba. This was communicated to the NEBE, which means the NEBE has received two separate letters from two groups on behalf of one party. The board replied with promise to look into the matter and seek resolution through its mandate, indicating that a panel of experts will be established by the board to investigate and provide recommendation on the matter.
“The Prosperity Party (PP) has its long arms stretched into OLF to shake and crack. The party has everything to do with what is going on because they want to obscure the danger the country is facing.” said the interim spokesperson of the Front. “We do not want to fall in the trap they set leaving the biggest picture aside. The biggest picture now is that the country is in a difficult situation facing a great danger ahead. The OLF, accordingly has requested for a transitional government to take place within Oromia Region and an all inclusive national dialogue.
“Prosperity Party (PP) has now a narrow window for a dialogue as it carelessly abandoned golden opportunities for national dialogue. Very serious preconditions are required to sit with the government for a serious dialogue,” says Bette.
Meanwhile, despite the keen interest by state owned media to broadcast the fall out, a consensus was reached within the party to contain the situation until the Audit Committee presented its final findings to the chairperson.
The NEBE accepts complaints from any member of a party and as such it has accepted the complaint from the Aararso Bikila group. “But accepting a complaint doesn’t mean they are separately recognized,” according to Bette.
The Electoral Board continued communicating with the OLF led by Dawud. On the other hand the group led by Ararso Bikila and Qejela Merdasa were receiving recognition from the ruling party PP and protection from security officials as the legitimate entity.” Meanwhile Dawud was told to stay at home for security reasons while preventing him from communicating with the outside world, including with his deputy.
“Parties are independent in resolving their internal matters through internal regulations and hierarchy and mandate in accordance with the party’s bylaw. However the ruling government, without the consent of the chairperson, called the deputy to attend a meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office,” Bette said, accusing the ruling party of playing a role at corrupting and weakening the party.
An tempt to hold a media briefing in October at its office was also interrupted when members of the Addis Ababa police harassed journalists and detained members of the party who gathered at the residence. The briefing never took place since and Dawud remains largely inaccessible for interviews. “The police were deployed around the OLF office without a court warrant,” Bette said.
The OLF has requested explanation for the actions of the police. According to the internal regulation of the OLF, the Front is represented only by the chairperson unless he/she delegates another person with a clear letter. Accordingly any agreement signed on behalf of OLF including the one that was said to be signed for the Oro-Mara political parties’ consensus was meaningless unless represented by the chairperson or his delegate. Therefore OLF has announced that it does not recognize the signing done for the OLF by Qejela Merdasa does not represent the front one because it was never Qejela’s mandate to sign anything on behalf of OLF.
Meanwhile OLF keeps on issuing statements that its leading figures such as Lemi Begna, Michael Boren, Kenesa Ayana, Dawit Abdeta, Col. Gemechu Ayana Abdi Regassa, and hundreds of its rank remained in detention without charges. OLF said they were detained inhumanly for months before some of them were allowed to appear at a court accused of allegations that they were “enticing violence” following Hachalu Hundessa’s killing and allegations of links with TPLF. Both accusation are not backed by indisputable evidence presented at a court hearing, as of yet.
“It’s a paradox that the government puts accusation on OLF of connections with TPLF.” The only interaction between TPLF and the OLF was when OLF called for peaceful dialogue early this year among political parties and the TPLF was one of the parties that responded to its call. He also said that the OLF had declined an invitation from the TPLF to attend a meeting of federalists forces in Mekelle in 2019. “We do not jump into any friendship or collaboration without first putting the dark history that took lives, injured and traumatised many during the EPRDF era of their domination to rest. We do not want to stay in hostility but we have about ten preconditions, including the whereabouts of our members who went missing during the transitional government,” he said.
The tale of the deputy who suspended the chairman
Qejela Merdasa, then spokesperson of the OLF, told Addis Standard that it was indeed them who released the 13 lengthy statement on the need to reform the party and said that the decisions were made in accordance with the by-law of the party which allows them to suspend the chairperson through the executive committee meeting held on August 7, 2020. However he said, “We kept the decision for a while before publicizing it hoping that situations could be restored through discussions.”
The faction, which was led by OLF Deputy Chairman Ararso Bikila, discussed at length differences they have with the Chairman Dawud Ibsa and his leadership. The statement depicts their views against the Dawud’s leadership in the last 21 years and indicates that the executive committee’s decision to suspend Dawud has appointed Ararso until the next general assembly would take place.
The statement didn’t only hold Chairman Dawud Ibsa accountable for bad leadership and instability within the organization especially since 1991, causing three major splits at different times, but accused him of maintaining links with the breakaway armed group OLA, currently engaged in armed conflict with the federal and Oromia region forces in western and southern parts of Oromia, an accusation with a serious implication.
According to the group led by the deputy, and which, unlike Dawud, enjoys privileged access to state media, discussions between Prime Minister Abiy and various political parties, the Dawud Ibsa was initially elected as interim chairman until the 3rd General Assembly of the organization, which was scheduled to take place in less than six months of Dawud’s election, was postponed for extended years.
Perhaps a deeper manifestation of this latest internal schism, the deputy led group further holds Dawud Ibsa accountable for being one of the main culprit in the weakening of the organization and seriously harming its interests for 21 years of his chairmanship; he deliberately disbanded the structure of the OLF in order to consolidate power around himself, they accused the chairman. Dissatisfied with his leadership many knowledgeable and talented members have left the organization leading the number of educated and experienced members in OLF to gradually dwindle.
More damning still is the accusation that the chairperson, in collaboration with TPLF, ran an operative by the name Girma Tiruneh, who served as a spy helping TPLF’s dominated EPRDF to imprison countless Oromo youths and activists, an accusation rejected by Dawud.
The party’s failure after it returned home in 2018, despite suggestions that the organization take advantage of the opportunity to meet with the public and improve the its leadership and structure, was also due to Dawud as is the endless reasons for postponing the general assembly from taking place, the statement said.
In an interview with Addis Standard Qejela he and the few members of the executive had to make the move in order to prevent the Front from collapsing “for the fourth time.” He further laments the lack of transparency within the party for the past two years, and says that members have not even reported to the management of the organization as to why, for example, the source of income for the party has not been audited.
Responding to Addis Standard ‘s question on what the ethics and auditing committee was doing all these years to tolerate the said allegations, Qejela says: “the chairman had himself surrounded with his loyal members, and so was the ethics and audit committee.” Yet he asserts the OLF “was still intact” despite this situation.
The NEBE panel of experts
Meanwhile the NEBE on October 09/2020 announced that it has decided to establish a panel of experts to look into the complaints from members of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) leadership regarding change of leadership and suspension of the chairman.
The NEBE referenced that on August 7, 2020, Ararso Bikila, in two letters dated 06 / ABO / 12 and 7/08/12 05/03/19 , number 08 / ABO / 12, indicated that the party’s executive committee informed the electoral board that it had imposed a ban on the party’s chairman, Dawud Ibsa, and asked the board to approve the decision.
Similarly, Dawud Ibsa wrote a letter dated 08/10/2020 reference number 0211 / xly / abo / 2020 addressed to the members of the executive committee Ararso Bikila, Tolera Teshome, Atomsa Kumsa and members of the National Assembly, Qejela Merdasa and Arbicho Dima have been suspended from their posts until the next general assembly, and asked the electoral board to recognize the decision.
The NEBE in its meeting held on October 8, 2020 examined the letters from both sides and other written documents submitted to it explaining the disagreement among party members. The board accordingly cited Article 74, Sub-Article 6 of Proclamation No. 1162/11 that the board will have the power to establish a panel of experts to consider the matter in the event of such dispute between members of a political party.
The NEBE also asked both Dawud Ibsa Ararso Bikila to nominate their own representatives and the Board elects another expert to chair these two panels of experts and set up an interim panel of experts. The NEBE also indicated that it will make a final decision based on the recommendations of the two bodies and the experts selected by the Board.
Bette says they are not sending the said expert whatsoever since this decision by itself was illegal because they didn’t submit an appeal rather a decision to the board. “Arbitration is not required at this stage because we didn’t take any argument to the board and were we to have any compliments from any member, it would be to the ethics and auditing committee the compliments are present according to our by-law to resolve matters internally,” told Addis Standard. Disagreements that arose due to conflicts of interests are normally resolved internally at different hierarchical levels of the structure of the party, he insisted.
Qejela on the other hand said that the electoral board did not need this time consuming steps when it has adequate input. However Qejela said “We have accepted the steps to be taken by the board to establish the panel, and we are preparing our representative accordingly. I think the Board wants to take the matter seriously and wants to take their time to examine involving other bodies due to the seriousness of the matter,” said Qejela on his comment about the NEBE procedure.
He also said they “wanted to consider arbitration through elderly mediation at the beginning, but it failed when [the other side] started to pressure us on the behalf of the Chairperson. A second mediators also came at another time but it couldn’t proceed further because there was no willingness by the other side. It was then that we decided to suspend them.”
Regarding the impact of such fracture on the party’s supporters he admitted that the situation has created confusion to the people who require “our integrity and seem to follow the situation closely.” The people “often tend to follow whoever works for a peaceful struggle and refrains from violent actions.”
The final view from the electoral board
Soliana Shimelis, NEBE’s Communication Advisor, told Addis Standard that the board was treating the situation in accordance with the Political parties registration and elections code of conduct proclamation to address different complaints instead of recognizing them differently; she stated that the matter was about resolution of dispute.
Soliana also confirmed that Ararso Bikila’s side has sent their representative for the panel proposed by the board whereas the Dawud Ibsa’s side didn’t, and therefore has been advised to send their representatives within seven days. The implementation particulars will be determined by the directive to be issued by the Board after establishment of the experts’ panel.
The panel was established with an aim to investigate issues and provide recommendations, however the claimants may or may not accept the outcome. The Board, based on the findings and recommendations of the panel, makes the final decision. “The Board does neither regulate nor intervene in such matters but it establishes the experts’ panel that looks into the matter.” Soliana said. However, the NEBE still recognizes Dawud Ibsa as the OLF Chairman and that the board hasn’t changed the communication or the legal recognition to the party’s status.
In a much anticipated decision issued on December 18, the NEBE announced that neither of the meetings by the two sides were legal. The meeting held by Ararso’s side was illegal due to the lack of attendance of two third of the members. And the meeting held by Dawud Ibsaa, was deemed illegal by the NEBE due to lack of procedural ambiguities. Therefore, the NEBE decided to have the chairman and deputy chairman remain in their positions until February 7, 2020 during which it requested both sides to conduct a joint meeting.
The board’s decision came a week after the OLF, under chairman Dawud, released a statement expressing its complaints against the NEBE for ignoring the party’s calls about the imprisonment of its members, leaders and supporters that are potential candidates and observers.
In a latest development, the OLF released another statement with news of the arrest of 10 of its members on 20 December 2020. The list included members of the executive committee and journalists.
Meanwhile, as Ethiopia gears toward the eagerly awaited general elections, scheduled to take place on June 05, supporters of the OLF eagerly await for the joint meeting with the hope that the infighting that consumed the party for months to find a mutually agreed closure.
A Sequel to the Tekle Berhe’s Rebuttal Open Letter to Esat News Analyst
It is my considered opinion that using any metric for measuring authenticity and professional journalism in the dissemination of none print media information in Ethiopia, Esat news Channel would easily top the list. And I can testify that for many of my contacts, Esat is one of their reliable source of credible information in respect the current developments in Ethiopia. Given the proliferation of disinformation and unethical reporting, the diligence and professionalism of the staff at Esat is laudable. Because of my belief in their sense of fairness and exactitude of truthful reporting, I enjoy their show and would not miss the Esat’s daily streaming. Good flow of ideas and clear language. Need I say telling the truth and insightful topical analysis makes one’s work admirable!
However as the African proverb puts it subtly, ‘Every Market Place Has its own Mad Man’ so does Esat has its weakest link in the person of the gentleman by the name Ato Gizaw Legese. What he said about the future relation between Eritrea and Ethiopia is extremely immature and insensitive. I do not believe that his contribution meets the standard of the very informative, constructive and educative Esat’s daily show. But thanks God the rest of the team members do not share his illogical and outrageous thoughts. Sisay has the wisdom and intellectual grounding to put things right.
When I read the very eloquent rebuttal open letter written by my compatriot Tekle Berhe, I thought enough was said to expose the reprehensible comment of this gentleman. But then I realised he is not alone in harbouring such infantile and regressive dreams of securing access to the Red Sea by invading Eritrean sovereign territory because Ethiopia has a population 20 times greater than that of Eritrea. What an incredible logic! If so, then why not annex Djibouti which is 104 times smaller than Ethiopia in terms of population?
- What Ato Gizaw said was not a simple guff but a deceptive red-sea syndrome that afflicts some Ethiopian elite notably the few Amhara ethnic chauvinists uncleansed from their archaic mind set. It is also worthwhile that the following former TPLF members should be included in the above category of war mongers.
- General Tsadikan who ones asserted in Tigrigna that Ethiopia has unfinished business of war with Eritrea – ምስ ኤርትራ ዘይተዛዘመ ውግእ ኣሎናGenral Abebe Teklehaimanot who has been advocating with impunity for the acquiring the Eritrea Port of Assab by all means including military power
- Siye Abraha ( not sure of his title) but one of the drivers of the invasion of Eritrea in 1998
- Gebru Asrat one of the exponents of the agenda of annexing the Aseb Port of Eritrea and known for his resentful stance on Eritrean independence hooked as he is to disinformation and falsification of events of the Eritrean struggle of liberation. This man is also very hostile to anything Eritrean.
And now here we have Ato Gizaw audaciously proposing the revision of the internationally recognized border between the two countries. He states that Ethiopia should take up the issue of access to Red Sea and demand Eritrea to cede the port of Aseb on account of Ethiopia’s large population. What a triviality of thought. For this gentleman and other likeminded chauvinists, mighty Ethiopia has God given divine right to acquire land of a sovereign country as it wishes. The half a century period of fighting Eritreans endured never mind the loss of hundreds of 000’s lost lives, to realize their freedom and sovereignty would count for nothing as far as this simple-minded fellow is concerned. He thinks his magical proposal will deliver the goods. What Ato Gizaw and his cohorts fail to understand is that such futile, xenophobic rhetoric signals reverting to the resurgence of state of affairs of the defunct ancient regime. Realignment of new strategic alliances detrimental to Ethiopia in particular and the Horn area in general cannot be ruled out should this posturing of projecting military power to achieve ill-thought-out policy agenda is pursued. Eritrea would also be forced to reconsider its strategic partnership.
But here I want to draw the attention of the reader to the fact that Ato Gizaw also seems to share his standpoint regarding the issue of Red Sea access with General Abebe Teklehaimanot. The writer has personally heard Ato Gizaw absolving the General from the TPLF’s betrayal of Ethiopian. Ato Gizaw stated that he personally has high regard for the general as he knows him quite well and that the general’s attitude is that of a patriot and as such a good Ethiopian. He says he learned this from their discussions on national issues as they chat and drink coffee together. Thus a witness from ‘’Coffee mate’’. But one could not disagree more. It is also mind boggling that some Ethiopian elites either intentionally or out of ignorance never re-count the factual history relation between Eritrea and Ethiopia as it actually existed in the past. Invariably the narration is reeled with distortion, falsehood and denial.
Let me thus highlight the following critically important historical facts that every Ethiopian including school children should know and embrace as the best roadmap for the future of these two beautiful brotherly people:
- The configuration of the boundary between Eritrea and Ethiopia is a direct result of colonialism. This means the countries did not fell from heaven with their current shape. The borders have been drawn and shaped by the colonising powers during the scramble for Africa and anchored on legally binding treaties with mutual recognition and acceptance by the parties involved. All the boundaries we see between countries are of such nature and have treated as sacrosanct delineation lines. Thus no surprise here.
- Ethiopia has never had a direct access and jurisdictional sovereignty over any Eritrean coastal area prior to the dismantling of the federal arrangement and subsequent annexation of the country.
- Eritrea has never been an integral and inseparable part of central Ethiopian power. Yes at end of the II WW Eritrea was forcefully federated with Ethiopia by the UN as a temporarily measure at the behest of powerful member States pending the future status of Eritrea to be decided by the Eritreans in a plebiscite. However Ethiopia unilaterally repealed the federal arrangement and annexed the country. This triggered the decades of armed struggle which resulted in the actualisation of Eritrean independence as a sovereign country with its foundational territorial outline and member of the UN.
- I just want to remind all those who want to know the truth -Eritrea did not secede from Ethiopia. Eritrea was liberated by the blood of its people. Eritrea has never been a part of Ethiopia and only an integral part or region of a country be can be said to have seceded. Nor was it assisted by TPLF as is often falsely asserted by many elite Ethiopians and marshalled as a proxy to accuse the now buried Tigrean organisation.
- Those Ethiopians who push for this mutually destructive notion must accept the stark reality that the Eritrean Red Sea coastline is Eritrean and jettison the inane syndrome of outlet to the sea and stop building castles in the sky.
- I also urge them to understand at Ethiopia can fully avail itself to meet its maritime services with mutual agreement of the two countries. Incidentally this has been the stand of the Eritrean government all along.
As I conclude I just once again want to remind our Ethiopian friends and brothers that Eritrea did not secede from Ethiopia. Eritrea was liberated by the blood of its people. Eritrea has never been a part of Ethiopia and only an integral part or region of a country be can be said to have seceded. What TPLF tried but disastrously failed implies an aimed secession. Eritrea was contemptuously annexed and brought under brutal Ethiopian occupation against the will of its people. This is the true history and forget your deliberately distorted versions. It took decades of painful struggle to rectify this historical anomaly and secure the country’s rightful independence and sovereign status. This is the stark reality. Once and for all, please come to this realization, and contribute to the success of the evolving rapprochement envisioned to deliver on mutual prosperity for the amazing peoples of the two sovereign countries.
- Eritrea’s vision is a vision of reciprocity. What Eritrea wants is to partner and cooperate for shared prosperity, equity and mutual respect and recognition.
And as for the descent, fair minded, unbiased and patriotic ESAT journalists including Sisay, Mesay, Petros, Wondemagegnehu and Fasil keep the good work of building bridges and telling the truth as you have the best interest of the people of Ethiopia and Eritrea at heart. My only regret as I write this article is that we (I mean here both Eritreans and Ethiopians) need not be writing about such subject areas had it not been for the regressive and obstructive old fashion rhetoric from people like Ato Gizaw. I hope such unhelpful thoughts will fade away so that we may contribute and work for progressive and forward looking cordial and complementary relationship between the people of the two countries who share a lot.
If I have anything to say to Ato Gizaw is this: your ill-judged comment hurts deeply as it scratches the wounds of the entire Eritrean population. Take the honourable step to apologise and say sorry. Else you can turn 360 if you wish. Eritrea is not for turning!
Ethiopia Autonomous Media2nd January 2021 at 4:26 pm #625
ABIY AHMED CALLED FOR ELIMINATING THE OROMO LIBERATION FRONT (OLF)
On December 9, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed called for eliminating the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), signalling his next big move in redefining the Ethiopian state. Abiy made the perilous claim during a joint presser with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on the inauguration of a one-stop border post to boost trade between the two countries.
By M Masoo
Unprompted, he told the audience: “If we could eliminate Al-Shabaab and OLF from this region, you can see how these people can be transformed into one family, one country, one people with great joy and cooperation.”
In true-and-tried Abiy fashion, when he switched to Afaan Oromo, he left out the explosive call to eliminate the OLF—a vanguard organization etched into the consciousness and lived experiences of the Oromo nation. The premier is renowned for his doublespeak saying different things about the same thing to different audiences. Unsurprisingly, the comment excited Abiy’s Oromophobic supporters but his true intentions, perhaps inadvertently divulged, were hardly a surprise.
Abiy is on a victory lap, still oblivious to the menacing war he has begun. The Eritrea-backed military campaign against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) is not over yet, but it has dealt a significant blow to the group. Abiy appears to have won the battle thanks to Eritrea’s active involvement in the planning and execution of the war and, perhaps more importantly, the alleged involvement of drones from the United Arab Emirates.
He is now turning his attention to another ruinous political turmoil further South: the Oromo opposition. The Abiy administration’s campaign to dismantle any viable opposition in Oromia, the region he hails from, has been ongoing for more than two years. Tens of Oromo opposition party supporters and leaders have been harassed, intimidated, arrested, and some are being subjected to political show trials.
Abiy’s reference to the OLF—a legally registered party with overwhelming support among the Oromo people—in the same breath as Al-Shabab, an internationally proscribed terrorist organization, is straight out of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) playbook. The TPLF dominated EPRDF used the discourse of terrorism to delegitimize the OLF and its causes, comparing it to Al-Shabab, Boko Haram, and other terrorist organizations. His statement reignited the virulent debate on the nature of the recent changes in Ethiopian politics and the position of the Oromo within the Ethiopian state.
Abiy was catapulted to the position of prime minister by the Oromo protests, representing the Oromo wing of the EPRDF. Many saw this as a dramatic shift that signalled the end of Oromo marginalization in Ethiopia. However, the human rights conditions in Oromia over the last two years, and the abuses and heavy-handed treatment meted out to his opponents across the region shows the position of the Oromo as a whole has worsened.
Under Abiy, Oromos faced sweeping repression and egregious violations of human rights. In May, Amnesty International accused government forces of “horrendous human rights violations including burning homes to the ground, extrajudicial executions, rape, arbitrary arrests, and detentions, sometimes of entire families.” Since then, the situation in several parts of Oromia has worsened, particularly since the assassination of Haacaaluu Hundeessaa. Abiy and PP officials were quick to implicate the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) and TPLF for the killing of the famed singer.
The government used the anger and violence that followed Haacaaluu’s murder to arrest several prominent leaders of the two main Oromo opposition parties, the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) and the OLF. It closed their offices and arrested many of their leaders and members across the country, leading the OFC to announce its intention to withdraw from the next election.
OLF and the Ethiopian state
Founded in the 1970s to end the political, cultural and economic oppression of the Oromo, the OLF struggles for the Oromo right to self-determination. Since then, successive Ethiopian rulers have tried to eliminate the group. In fact, as a core member of the TPLF-led EPRDF, Abiy spent years spying on the OLF and trying to co-opt or uproot the group.
In 1991, OLF was among a coterie of liberation fronts that overthrew the communist regime of Mengistu Hailemariam. It was also part of the Transitional Government of Ethiopia that helped set in motion the introduction of multinational federalism. However, when OLF’s support in Oromia proved insurmountable for the TPLF-controlled Oromo Peoples Democratic Organization (OPDO), TPLF forced OLF out of the transitional arrangement.
The EPRDF then launched a scorched earth campaign to eliminate the OLF. Many of its top leaders were killed, many disappeared, and tens of thousands of OLF leaders and members were jailed or forced into exile. EPRDF, in which Abiy was a core member, oversaw nearly three decades of repression against every dissenting Oromo using the OLF as a pretext—so much so that former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi once insinuated, “if you scratch every Oromo, you get an OLF” – a collective demonization that had real-life consequences for many. By 2008, former top TPLF leaders remarked that Ethiopian “prisons speak Afaan Oromo” due to the disproportionate targeting of Oromo nationalists.
The repression and continued marginalization of the Oromo ignited the widespread protests (2014-2018) that ended TPLF’s hegemony and paved the way for Abiy’s rise. The new prime minister is continuing the work he did to eliminate the group as a TPLF spy.
As soon as the OLF returned to Ethiopia in 2018, the Abiy government brought back the EPRDF-era dangerous and violent image of the organization. It tried to blame the OLF for much of the chaos and instability in the Oromia state in much the same way it blamed the TPLF. Indeed, the government also linked the OLF to the TPLF, arguing that the two are working in tandem to destabilize the country.
The government tried to recast TPLF and OLF as extreme, violent, and irrational entities hellbent on destabilizing Ethiopia for no apparent reason. During a recent session, members of parliament called on the government to proscribe both parties as terrorist organizations. Abiy’s war in Tigray and his call for the elimination of the OLF is part of this ongoing pattern of criminalizing and decimating opposition to his budding personalist dictatorship.
Today, authorities respond to any expression of dissenting opinion with an accusation of OLF support. Local officials who raise questions about the direction of the country are accused of being members or supporters of the OLF and arrested. Like the pre-Abiy era, accusations of OLF support are becoming the basis for intimidating, controlling, and punishing political dissent in Oromia.
The Asmara Agreement
OLF made a jubilant return to Ethiopia in 2018 after more than two decades of imposed exile. Millions of adoring fans welcomed the party in the capital Addis Ababa. The Ethiopian parliament also lifted the “terrorist” proscription, paving the way for the group to prepare for elections.
After nearly three decades of exile and numerous splits, OLF is a shadow of the one-time formidable organization it was. However, it enjoys unparalleled emotional attachment among the Oromo mass. Abiy kept the group at bay from the very beginning. The government’s peace deal with the group was riddled with controversy even before the ink dried.
The return of OLF leaders to Addis Ababa was met with counter-protests and subsequent violence, much of which appears orchestrated by state actors in hindsight. Ethiopian nationalists see the OLF as a separatist movement and the ultimate embodiment of anti-Ethiopianism. The EPRDF spent decades drilling the anti-OLF sentiments into the hearts and minds of the urban elite.
Abiy’s Prosperity Party (PP) knew the high esteem with which Oromos regarded the OLF and that it could not win an electoral contest against such a formidable opponent. Yet as Workineh Teshome noted recently, the PP cadres in Oromia initially appeared to tolerate the group. Relations deteriorated rapidly amid counter-accusations over the implementation of the peace deal. The electoral board held up the group’s application for an election certificate. OLF vacillated on full disarmament. PP also stonewalled OLF’s efforts to form a coalition with Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) and other Oromo parties.
OLF eventually relented and handed over responsibility for the OLA rebels to the Abba Gadaa Council. The electoral board approved its certificate. After shambolic efforts to disarm the OLA fell through, PP and OLF began to collide again when the latter began opening up district offices across Oromia.
PP leaders, including the prime minister, continued to accuse the OLF of trying to play for both sides: Continuing to provide support for the insurgency while also preparing for an electoral contest. OLF leaders deny the accusations. Then, the arrests began. In October, PP officials engineered an internal coup within the OLF, side-lining the group’s long-time chairman Dawud Ibsa while openly siding with and providing tacit support for treacherous elements within the party.
The Abiy government has stepped up crackdown against the Oromo in the backdrop of the Tigray war in the name of hunting down “OLA bandits,” even arresting parents whose children allegedly joined the rebels, instituting illegal curfews and extrajudicial killings of the youth. The Oromia police said it killed more than 370 militants in November outside of the media spotlight. In early December, PP representatives in Oromia reported confiscating weapons and arresting 473 suspects, including OLA members, in the East Hararge zone, indicating the group’s presence in nearly all Oromia zones.
Abiy wasted Ethiopia’s chance of democratic transition. The country is now on the cusp of a colossal political and social fissure. The war in Tigray and the attendant ethnic profiling of Tigayans punctured the thread that weaves the Ethiopian national fabric together. After this war, Ethiopia will never be the same for Tigrayans.
The slip up in Moyale signals Abiy’s intention to outlaw the OLF, which is likely to push more Oromos toward armed resistance. If Abiy continues down this path of subjugation and violence, he will be planting the seeds of violence that will haunt his tenure and ultimately herald the disintegration of the Ethiopian state. Both the Derg and the EPRDF regime saw themselves as invincible and brought the Ethiopian state dangerously close to fragmentation. Abiy should heed the lessons of history.
Ethiopia Autonomous Media4th January 2021 at 6:19 pm #637
Stop genocide on Gumuz
After being brutally beaten and tortured, they were photographed and interviewed to force them to say what they did not believe. Ethiopia, Benshangul region. Stop genocide on Gumuz.
The Ethiopian government is getting really lazy with their propaganda. They keep exposing themselves. How are you going to be interviewing freshly beat up people? Ethiopians need to come together and over through Abiy Ahamed and his savage supporters, they know who they are.
Ethiopia Autonomous Media4th January 2021 at 6:37 pm #63927th January 2021 at 12:23 am #724
Shimelis Abdisa & Mustefa Omer sign a memorandum of Understanding
President of Oromia regional state Shimelis Abdisa & deputy President of Somali regional state Mustefa Omer signed a five year memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to cooperate in peace & development activities.
The MoU lays out joint activities promoting peace & development in 12 zones & 48 woredas between the two regional state at a cost of 222.7 million birr.
The MoU was signed at the end of a day long join peace talk which took place yesterday in Addis Ababa.
Ethiopia Autonomous Media27th January 2021 at 12:31 am #725
Oromia Tourism Commission (OTC) and the Cooperative Bank of Oromia
Oromia Tourism Commission (OTC) and the Cooperative Bank of Oromia S.C (COOP) vow to transform the tourism sector.
The two institutions have entered into a strategic cooperative agreement having identified a number of collaborating areas. In a discussion held among both institutions, it has been pin pointed that the financial and tourism sectors are mutually exclusive institutions for each other’s development which in turn contributes to the national growth.
During the MoU signing session, Commissioner of the Oromia Tourism Commission, Aadde Lelise Dhugaa said that the Commission’s work could be unthinkable without financial institutions involvement. Lelise mentioned that Oromia is endowed with various natural and cultural heritages including those that have been listed among UNESCO world heritages. However, said Lelise, it is regrettable that the Region has not benefited from these resources due to failure to develop them well and ensure beneficial ownership.
The Commission is now working to develop destinations and ensure community based and youth led tourism. To this end, we are working towards creating 500,000 tourism related jobs in the next five years, she said. Given the paramount significance of the banking sector in transforming the tourism and hospitality industry, it is a significant step establishing strategic partnership with Cooperative Bank of Oromia. Therefore, the Commission appreciates the Bank’s willingness to collaborate on a long term venture, Lelise said.
Both institutions also agreed on capacity building programs to ensure transformative services rendered by both sectors. To this end, technological development has been identified one of the critical areas of focus.
President of Oromia Cooperative Bank, Obbo Deribie Asfaw added that Coop Bank is willing to deploy its resources to benefit the youth through provision of equitable financial services and tourism products.