Oromo Human Rights Advocates Presentation at George Mason University

March 8, 2012 (ayyaantuu.com) – We were invited by the George Mason University on February 28, 2012 to speak to students of Social Work that are working on their masters degree. They gave us adequate time to speak about our own experiences and we thank them for listening to us with respect. We do not want to go in to details about our personal issues. We were more interested in the issues that made us to get involved to defend our human dignity.

We also tried to connect them to what Oromo scholars and other experts have observed about the brutality of the TPLF regime in particular and Abyssinians in general.

“Are You Involved’? Yes, I am!

It was in 1988, the year I graduated from Finfinne/Addis Ababa University. I was walking from Sidist Kilo Campus towards Arat Kilo. Three university students were walking in front of me. They were not only walking and talking but they were also laughing and giggling. I got closer to them to listen to what makes them laugh like that. One of them was telling them about their King of Kings, Immiye Menilik II of Ethiopia. He was telling them about a bill (awaj) that was written into law by their favorite King. The bill was written into law when automobile was brought to Ethiopia for the first time. He was quoting from this bill to please his friends: “Sawu magdal kilkil nawu; Gaallam bihon”. It means it is illegal to kill a person even a Galla. To make us angry they also usually say, it is illegal to kill an animal even a Galla.

What was a pleasure to them was a very painful experience for a young Oromo college student. They almost took it as their absolute right and they never cared whether it hurts somebody’s feeling or not. Specially, what makes this a sad experience is when it comes out of the mouth of the so-called educated young people.

I directly went to the theology campus in Arat Kilo to tell this story to my friend who was studying for a master’s degree. My friend said, “Take it easy. Their pride will soon be deflated.” He knew one fact. He was certain change was coming. After few months, he gave me a book. I read it several times and while I was trying to return the book he said, “I want this book to be read by as many Oromo college students as possible. But, as you well know, it is very risky if we try to copy it.” I assured him to take the risk to duplicate the book. I gave him four additional photocopies of the book and I retained another two as my own to give to friends I trust to read it.

I lived in Finfinne/Addis Ababa for more than two decades and I am a testimony to Professor Asafa Jalata’s popular paper “Can Oromummaa and Ethiopianism be Reconciled”? I am not interested to repeat the verbal violence and piety indignities that were being directed against the Oromo people. Adding insult to injury, I have also been a victim of physical and psychological violence.

The title I have used for this piece is one of the many questions I was asked by the National Religious Campaign against Torture (NRCAT). When I was asked: “Are you involved”? I answered, yes, I did. Professor Asafa Jalata has recited the major ones out of the many verbal violence against the Oromo people on Ayyaantuu.com as follows:

The Impact of Ethiopianism on Oromos

Dr. Asafa Jalata (ajalata@utk.edu) is a Professor of Sociology, Global Studies, and Africana Studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He has published and edited eight books and authored sixty refereed articles in regional and international journals and several book chapters.

The popular discourse on Oromos is full of racist prejudices and stereotypes. When Habashas want to make a point of the alleged inferiority of Oromos on the racial/ethno-national hierarchy, or to deny them their humanity, they debase an Oromo and her or his nationality by asking, “sawu nawu Galla?” (Is he or she a human being or a Galla?) This query shows that Habashas consider Oromos as inferior human beings. Even Orthodox Christianity is used to promote racism in Ethiopia. For instance, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church publication denounced sexual relations between Habashas and Oromos by saying that Jesus would punish those who had sexual intercourse with “the cursed, the dumb, the Moslems, the Galla, the Shankilla, the Falasha, the horse, the donkey, the camel and all those who committed sodomy.” This religious tract was written in Geez (an old Abyssinian language) and translated into Amharic in 1968. While its original date of writing and authorship are unknown, the piece has been popular and widely recited by literate Habashas.

Oromos, Ethiopian Jews, Muslims, and various peoples were categorized with beasts, such as horses, donkeys, and camels. The implicit intention of the Orthodox Church was to draw a racial/ethno-national boundary between Habashas and non-Habashas to maintain the racial/ethno-national purity of the former. Habasha stereotypes depict Oromos as a dirty people: the expression “Galla na sagara eyadare yigamal” compares Oromos to feces and claims that Oromos continue to stink like feces with passing days. This expression warns that the closer you get to Oromos, the more you find how dirty they are. This racial insult is used to create tension between Oromos and Habashas. Another expression depicts Oromos as a rotten people (“timbi or bisbis Galla”). Yet another expression explains that Oromos cannot be clean even if they wash themselves again and again: “Galla na Shinfila ayitaram,” which literally means, “Even if you wash their stomach lining, a Galla will never come clean.”

Oromos have been depicted as barbarians and backward people in popular discourse. A Habasha expression claims that Oromos’ attempt to be civilized cannot be successful because Oromos are predestined to fail in civilization projects. The saying “Galla sisaltin bacharaqa jantila yizo yizoral” attempts to show that even if he or she is civilized, an Oromo does not know the true essence of civility. Literally this saying translates, “When an Oromo is civilized he/she stretches his/her umbrella in the moonlight and walks around so that he/she can be seen by others.” Simply put, because Oromos are stupid, they do not know how to behave in a civilized way. The expression “Ye Galla chawa, ye gomen choma yelewum” depicts Oromos as a society that does not have respected and notable individuals. The literal translation of this expression reads, “As there is no fat in vegetables or greens, there is no a gentlemen in the Galla community.” Generally, Oromos have been targeted by Habasha expressions and are seen by Habsashas as a useless people who do not deserve respect.

Oromos have been insulted for even trying to assimilate to Ethiopian culture by speaking an Ethiopian language. Habasha have expressed their anger toward Oromos who have mispronounced Amharic words by saying that “Afun yalfata Galla; tabitaba Galla” (an Oromo is someone who cannot express himself/herself clearly). To psychologically demoralize Oromos, the Habasha discourse also depicts Oromos as a cowardly person that cannot resist domination; the saying “and Amhara matto Galla yinadal” clearly shows the essence of this discourse. Literally, it translates, “One Amhara can force one hundred Oromos into submission or subordination.” However, historical evidence indicates that until they allied with Europeans and obtained modern weapons, Habashas saw Oromo fighters as their nightmare.

Even a poor Habasha or a leper claims that he or she is better than a Galla; the expressions “Even if I am poor, I am not a Galla,” and “Even if I am a leper, I am not a Galla” clearly show how most Habashas, including the sick and the poor, claim racial/ethno-national superiority. Generally speaking, Habashas have “looked upon and treated the indigenous people as backward, heathen, filthy, deceitful, lazy, and even stupid—stereotypes that European colonialists commonly ascribed their African subjects.” Furthermore, Habasha social institutions, such as family, school, media, government, and religion, reproduce and perpetuate these racist prejudices and stereotypes within Ethiopian society. The prejudices and stereotypes consciously or unconsciously have influenced Ethiopians and Ethiopian studies.

Ethiopians, and particularly those Ethiopian scholars and Ethiopianists who have been influenced by these racist assumptions, have never respected Oromo culture and have opposed the Oromo struggle for self-determination, social justice, democracy, and human rights under a variety of different pretexts. Some assert that because Oromos are dispersed among other peoples, the question of national self-determination is not applicable to their cause. Others argue that the assimilation of Oromos to Habashas both biologically and culturally prevent them from having a cultural identity that enables them to have national self-determination. Furthermore, because Oromos are considered “invaders” of Ethiopia, some Ethiopian elites argue that Oromos do not deserve self-determination because the region that they call Oromia does not belong to them. This assertion implicitly suggests that Oromos must accept their subjugation and second-class citizenship, or they must leave Ethiopia before they will be totally annihilated for continuing to demand self-determination and democracy.

The political agenda of the destruction of Oromo society is not a new phenomenon. The West has been supporting this political agenda. And now China, India and Arab countries support Ethiopianism and Tigrayan colonial policies. The massive killing of Oromos by Amhara-Tigrayans was never condemned as genocide. Just as genocide committed by Menelik and his followers escaped world condemnation, so is the ethno-national cleansing that is systematically committed by the Meles regime. Currently Ethiopianism hides the true nature of the Tigrayan-led minority regime in Ethiopia. Supported by the West, mainly the United States, and using political violence, this regime has dominated and controlled the Oromo people and others, denying them freedom of expression, association, or organization, as well as access to the media and related forms of communication and information networks.

The Meles regime has used various techniques of violence to terrorize Oromos who are engaged in the struggle for liberation and democracy. Just as successive Amhara-dominated regimes engaged in terrorism and genocide and exploited the resources of Oromos, Afars, Ogaden Somalis, Sidamas, and others, the Tigrayan-dominated regime is engaged in similar practices to suppress the national movements of these indigenous peoples in order to maintain a racial/ethno-national hierarchy and to continue subjugation. With the intensification of the national movements of these subjugated nations, the regime has been engaged in massive human rights violations, terrorism, and hidden genocide.

While engaging in state terrorism in the form of war, torture, rape, and hidden genocide to control the Oromo people and others and to loot their economic resources, Tigrayan state elites claim that they are promoting democracy, federalism, and national self-determination. These elites use Ethiopianism to claim the unity of the colonizer and the colonized population groups in the Ethiopian Empire while committing such serious crimes against humanity. For example, in 2003 and 2004, the Meles regime committed genocide against the Annuak people of Gambella. It is no wonder that all colonized population groups in Ethiopia reject the ideology of Ethiopianism. In particular, Oromos have developed Oromummaa (Oromo-centric worldview, culture, and nationalism) to oppose Ethiopianism and to dismantle the racial/ethno-national hierarchy and Ethiopian settler colonialism and its institutions. Oromo nationalists must fight and discredit those who have betrayed Oromummaa and the Oromo national interest by joining the Ethiopianist camp.

 

Preventing Genocide in Ethiopia

Talking to the American people has further connected us to the rest of the world. I was inspired by what Thomas Jefferson has written before 2oo years and he is a very amazing U.S. President, the second smartest, next to John Quincy Adams, according to the Wilson Quarterly.

February 15, 2012 (Ayyaantuu.com) – I have the moral obligation to bring the Ethiopian crisis to your attention because Maryland University has recently released a report that Ethiopia is on a high risk of genocide, instability, and politicide. World Genocide Watch, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and many human rights groups have also repeatedly warned the international community about the severe human rights abuses in Ethiopia. The Oromo Studies Association and Oromo Women’s Association have also written a letter of concern to President Barack Obama and the leaders of major Western countries and the UN High Commission for Human Rights and the World Genocide Watch, etc.

The International Crisis Group (ICG) also advised donor countries to take governance problems more seriously but the international community never paid attention to their advance warnings about the Ethiopian crisis. Synopsis of a report by the International Crisis Group (ICG) dated September 4, 2009, Ethiopia: Ethnic Federalism and its Discontents, may help to understand how this minority group has created an ultra-big government to control the state and people by the funds it obtains from donor nations, the IMF and the World Bank.

 

It is very important to note how an elite group that claims it represents a minority ethnic group that accounts for about 6% of the Ethiopian population is controlling both state and people. The report was based on field research and it was highly credible and written by a group of high profile world experts.

 

Summary of the Report: Controlling State and People

While the elections attract international attention, everyday politics under the Ethiopian People’s Democratic Front (EPRDF) are often ignored. They are marked by top-down policymaking. Popular participation is restricted, decisions are monopolized by the de facto one party state, and there is little local room for deviating from federally fixed policy priorities.

However, the EPRDF’s authority is neither complete nor uniform. There are three distinct political spaces, in the capital, rural areas, and periphery. Addis Ababa enjoys the most political pluralism and individual liberty. Concentration of an educated middle class and foreign presence helps explain the city administration’s greater accountability and scope for dissent…

A well-organized party network extends from the federal to the regional, from the regional to theWoreda (county), and from the Woreda to the kebele and sub-kebele levels.

Given the strong link between the state and EPRDF parties, it is no surprise Meles is at once prime minister and chairman of both the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and EPRDF. Power is concentrated and most strategic decisions are taken in the EPRDF executive committee and the prime minister’s office. Meles is surrounded by a small group of old TPLF confidantes. This inner circle consists of companions from the armed struggle era… Despite the federal government’s multi-ethnic composition, TPLF officers occupy the highest levels of all ministries. The party’s dominance is particularly evident in the armed forces and the National Intelligence and Security Office. Most senior military commanders were former TPLF fighters. This remained so when, in September 2008, Meles promoted a dozen senior military to lieutenant, brigadier and major general. Eight of those promoted are Tigrayans, as is the chief of staff, General Samora Yunis. The troops stationed across the country are thus another means by which the TPLF exerts control over regional and local constituencies. The federal security agenda overrides local institutions, and in unstable and politically sensitive areas, military commanders, federal police, and security organs operate largely independently of local authorities. For example, in Oromiya Tigrayan security and intelligence personnel are felt to operate like a “state within a state”.

Local opposition groups also reported that 57 of the 61 EPRDF generals are from Tigray region, the birthplace of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia.

…The TPLF also created so-called gott and garee institutions… These institutions are an informal but highly effective mechanism by which the party hierarchy controls rural dwellers down to household level.

In this system, local party officials and “cadres” are assigned to monitor the everyday activities of their immediate neighbors. Kebeles are divided into sectors, which are sub-divided into 25 household then again into 5 house-hold units. Each unit is overseen by a party member, loyalist, or “cadre”, who reports relevant incidents to higher party officials and kebele administrators. Regular meetings are called by these sub-kebele party officials to lecture farmers on government policy…Those who refuse to attend or to make the contributions proposed by the government are branded as “anti-development”. Gott and garee officials also closely monitor opposition supporters.

Many Ethiopians perceive the TPLF’s obsession with surveiling opposition activities as deeply intrusive. Neighborhood-level “cadres” report minor occurrences to kebele officials, including residents’ whereabouts and visitors. According to many, “their main task is to monitor the people, spy on people and report to the kebele.” Barely visible to outsiders and foreigners, this party control discourages dissent and constantly reminds people who is in charge. It allows the TPLF to keep a tight grip on opposition supporters and reward its own. In situations of political unrest, sub-kebele party informant’s point kebele police and federal security forces to families and compounds where opposition is known or suspected.

A recurrent government method to silence critics is to accuse them of being the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), the Oromo People’s Congress (OPC) formerly Oromo National Congress (ONC), or Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM) members. Reporting OLF sympathizers buys favors from local administrators, including kebele court judgments in property disputes. Unsurprisingly, Oromiya has the country’s highest level of reported human rights violations. An atmosphere of suspicion, intimidation, and fear prevails.

 

Conclusion of the ICG

The international community has ignored or downplayed the problems. Some donors consider food security more important than democracy in Ethiopia. In view of the mounting ethnic awareness and political tensions created by the regionalization policy, however, external actors would be well advised to take the governance problems more seriously and adopt a more principled position towards the Meles Zenawi government.

Creating a state within a state, pouring billions of dollars in the form of foreign aid, and generously granting a huge amount of loans by the IMF and World Bank for the last two decades has significantly contributed to the empowerment of this minority group at the expense of the majority. I hope that the UN, EU, US and other Western countries must intervene to prevent another human crisis in the Horn of Africa and genocide in Ethiopia. I believe this is the right time to put international pressure and dismantle the apartheid policies of a racist and fascist regime of Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia. After foreign aid and loans from the IMF and the World Bank became scarce due to the financial crisis in the West, Meles Zenawi has put the whole country for sale – which is dubbed as “The Deal of the Century”. We will never let him sell our ancestral lands!

Note: I have summarized only the major points that I believed are relevant for this audience from the ICG report for the participants of a conference on Forensic Evidence in the Fight against Torture. This two days conference is organized as “2012 Founders Celebration” by American University – Washington College of Law (WCL), International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) with support from the European Commission. Speakers on this conference are: Claudio Grossman, WCL Dean and Professor of Law, and UN Convention Against Torture (CAT) Chairperson; Hans-Peter Hougen, Department of Forensic Medicine, University of Copenhagen, Denmark; Juan Mendez, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and WCL Visiting Professor of Law; Phil Shiner, Public Interest Lawyers, UK; Mostafa Hussein, El Nadim Center for Psychological Treatment and Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, Egypt, etc.

We have reported the details of the Conference under a heading: “Breaking the Conspiracy of Silence”, on Ayyaantuu.com, a very relevant and timely message by Professor Mendez, a UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. Getting involved and creating awareness helped us to be a diplomat for our motherland – Oromiya.

As my friend predicted, the pride of those who thought their power was eternal, is definitely deflated. There is a proverb in my language. “Kan arrabni cabse, dhidhiibbaan hin fayyisu.” It literally means, “A broken bone can heal but a person who is broken by verbal assault can’t heal by massage” We are trying to heal these wounds plus the physical and psychological wounds inflicted on us by our torturers. That is why we speak against it. We need you to join this campaign to abolish torture, a crime against human dignity.

Finally, I would like to quote Sr. Diana Ortiz, one of the founders of the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition – International: “At the core of the human spirit, there is a voice stronger than violence and fear.”

 

Kallacha W. Kune

A Torture survivor from Oromiya