The Oromo people in Ethiopia are good people and the world should hear their cries for justice, equality, peace, liberty, democracy and freedom. They are the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia and represent 34.5% of the population.
Although the word Oromo appeared in European literature for the first time in 1893 and slowly became common in the second half of the 20th century, the Oromo people have a rich history dating back thousands of years and beyond. They have always existed and their rich culture bears testimony to their long quest for peace, equality and justice.
However, in the past few months, their country, Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous nation after Nigeria, has again been engulfed in a major crisis.
Right now, tens of thousands of Ethiopians are in prison for political reasons, including opposition leaders, and all media outlets, except those fully controlled by or affiliated to the Prosperity Party, are closed. Tension is escalating by the day, and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali is failing to resolve the many crises in the country.
Outrage exploded last June after the killing of a popular Oromo singer Hachalu Hundiessa sparked massive riots that quickly snowballed into fighting in most parts of western and southern Oromia between armed forces Oromo Liberation Front fighters and government forces.
The killing of Hachalu Hundiessa, the riots and the confrontations occurred as the opposition parties in Oromia were preparing for resistance, following the decision of the government to continue in power beyond its mandate at the end of September 2020 citing the novel coronavirus.
As the protests rocked much of the Oromia region, many businesses and shops were torched or looted, while the government response to the riots left 178 people dead and a further 9,000 detained without due process of law, according to human rights organizations.
The internet was shut, curfews imposed, even as the public mistrust grew deeper amid confusing statements by the government, the arrest of opposition leaders and the failure to set up an independent inquiry into the artiste’s killing.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed made things worse in Oromia by purging over 1,700 local administrators and civil servants, dismissing senior officials, including Lemma Megersa, the Defense Minister, a former ally who was considered pivotal in prime minister’s rise to power.
All these missteps led to a political crisis that is currently not showing any signs of abating, rather, many fear it may get even worse.
Many bodies and people have tried to intervene. For instance, the African Union has been called upon to mediate between prime minister Abiy Ahmed’s government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front while a US-based Ethiopian working group has urged Washington to play a more prominent role in the escalating crisis.
Some high profile senators in the United States also wrote a petition calling on the US secretary of state to urge the government in Ethiopia to free opposition leaders and others, warning that the crisis was escalating.
Beth Daley writing for The Conversation noted that the “ongoing riots in Oromia and Wolayta; state fragmentation in the Amhara region, and the standoff between the federal government and the Tigray region have put the survival of the government in question.”
She wrote: “The Wolayta people in the country’s south have long agitated for a regional state of their own. The claims have become louder since December 2018 when the neighboring Sidama people secured a referendum to form their own regional state – breaking away from the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Regional state.
“The constitution recognises the right of any nation or nationality clustered in any of the regional states to form its own state. Following the steps required, the council of representatives of the Wolayta zone unanimously voted for a regional state, and presented its decision on December 19, 2018. But this has yet to be considered at regional or federal levels or referred to the Electoral Board.
“In protest at the silence, the Wolayta organised a massive rally and the 38 representatives to the regional council declined to attend the council meeting. The federal government responded to these developments by detaining dozens of zonal officials, elected members of the Wolayta statehood council, political party leaders, and civil society actors.
“The regime also acted violently against peaceful demonstrators demanding the release of those detained. The government also suspended a community radio station and shut down offices of civil society organizations.”
Daley concluded that “events in Oromia and Wolayta illustrate the point that the current Ethiopian problem is not limited to a dispute between the federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). It is a national one.”
It is our belief that for peace and confidence to return, Abiy Ahmed should release all political prisoners and reopen all media outlets immediately. He should also end the unlimited and unlawful state of emergency.
Using COVID-19 to postpone the scheduled elections remains unacceptable by most opposition political groups who have called for a dialogue to avert the consequences of the constitutional crisis. Abiy Ahmed should embrace dialogue and reject dictatorial tendencies.
He won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 because of his peace moves within and outside of Ethiopia. However, these days, he looks more like a dictator rather than someone who just won the peace prize last year.