Monthly Archives: July 2014

Twenty Oromo journalists dismissed, in hiding

By Tom Rhodes,  CPJ’s East Africa Representative*

(A4O, 12 July 2014) “If they cannot indoctrinate you into their thinking, they fire you,” said one former staff member of the state-run Oromia Radio and Television Organization (ORTO), who was dismissed from work last month after six years of service. “Now we are in hiding since we fear they will find excuses to arrest us soon,” the journalist, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal, told CPJ.

On June 25, 20 journalists from the state broadcaster in Oromia, the largest state in terms of area and population in Ethiopia, were denied entry to their station’s headquarters, according to news reports. No letters of termination or explanations were presented, local journalists told CPJ; ORTO’s management simply said the dismissals were orders given by the government. “Apparently this has become common practice when firing state employees in connection with politics,” U.S.-based Ethiopian researcher Jawar Mohammed said in an email to CPJ. “The government seems to want to leave no documented trace.”

The journalists, some of whom had worked for the state broadcaster for over five years, can only speculate on the reason for their dismissals. Two of them told CPJ they believe it is linked to student protests earlier in the year.

On April 25, students at Ambo University, Oromia State, protested the government’s “Master Plan” to cede parts of Oromia State to the capital, Addis Ababa, a federal region, according to news reports. The state claimed in a statement that eight people died in violent protests in Ambo over a plan designed to provide urban services to rural areas. Oromo citizens say that many more died in Ambo at the hands of security forces for demonstrating against a proposal they fear will lead to the federal government grabbing their land and reducing local autonomy, news reports said. More student and civil society protests ensued soon after the Ambo University demonstrations and authorities were determined to quell any reporting on the unrest.

But the Oromo state broadcaster, listened to by millions of Oromo citizens, hardly covered the protests, according to local journalists. ORTO only discussed the protests after they had concluded, dismissing one of the region’s largest social actions as an illegal initiative conducted by violent elements, one journalist said.

Prior to the protests, however, TV Oromia aired a short segment where ruling party members criticized the plan to cede parts of Oromia State to the capital, local journalists told me. Many were surprised by the critical coverage coming from the state broadcaster, the same sources said. Senior members of Ethiopia’s ruling party may also have been surprised.

Last month, senior ruling party members such as former Communications Minister Bereket Simon and the pro-government Director of Fana Broadcasting, Waldu Yemasel, led an indoctrination program called “gimgama” (meaning “re-evaluation”) for the ORTO staff at the station’s headquarters in Adama, journalists who attended the program told me.

“The main purpose of the training was not to build the skill and profession of the journalists, but rather to identify the political positions of the staff,” said one of the journalists in attendance. The 180 staff members were divided into 12 groups with two ruling party cadres in charge of evaluating the staff within each respective group, the journalist told me. Some of the ORTO staffers suspect the government decided to rid the broadcaster of staff who sympathized with the protesters. The management told one source that the government was not pleased with them for not producing “developmental journalism,” a term local journalists define as “positive reporting on government projects.”

The fear of being imprisoned next is not unfounded. Ethiopia is the second worst jailer of journalists in Africa, trailing only Eritrea, with 17 journalists currently behind bars. They are all imprisoned on trumped-up charges or none at all, according to CPJ research. Under such conditions, local journalists told CPJ, many resort to fleeing the country to evade arrest. CPJ has assisted 41 Ethiopian journalists in exile since 2009.

New employees, Jawar said, now fill the 20 positions and it is business as usual at the state broadcaster. Following this purge, the Oromo–Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group with around 27 million people–will likely hear even less about civil society’s concerns in the future.


*Tom Rhodes is CPJ’s East Africa representative, based in Nairobi. Rhodes is a founder of southern Sudan’s first independent newspaper. Follow him on Twitter: @africamedia_CPJ



oromianot4sale(A4O, 8 July 2014) — In his book The Dictator’s Learning Curve, journalist William Dobsonwrites, “revolutions, if they are to be successful, require planning, preparation, and an intelligent grasp of how to anticipate and outwit a repressive regime that thinks of little beyond preserving its own power.”

As activists around the world get more sophisticated with the use of technology and out-organize repressive states, governments have also learned to wait it out and sup momentum out of otherwise formidable movements.

In a sense, time seems to be the worst enemy for activists. Too often passion burns out and social movements falter as quickly as they begin. In the last five years, horizontal movements such as Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring used social media to mobilize a critical mass and proved more effective than states. However, they failed to overcome this test of time.


In one of the least connected corners of the world, students in Ethiopia’s Oromia region have also uncovered and harnessed this power of technology. Beginning in mid-April, Oromo students across various campuses in Oromia began to peacefully protest the expansion of that country’s capital —quickly getting images, videos and firsthand accounts of government crackdown out on social media.

Ethiopia criminalizes all forms of dissent and heavily monitors independent reporting. As such, the world only got a glimpse of the government clampdown on protesters via Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Oromo-centric websites and blogs. With ongoing global solidarity rallies and petitions, the growing Oromo diaspora was instrumental in amplifying the students’ voices. From Malta to Melbourne, South Dakota to Toronto and anywhere in between, silence was not an option. Activists used #OromoProtests and #FreeOromoStudents across various social media platforms to draw attention to the repression and demand mainstream media coverage.

But, as with other social movements, the passion seems to be burning out. The government continues to hunt and imprison anyone suspected of organizing these protests, as the students begin to lose control of their movement, #OromoProtests seems to be losing more steam. Amid major world news events such as the turmoil in Iraq and Brazil’s World Cup, the ongoing arrest and alleged torture of Oromo students is not receiving the attention it so deserves. Hundreds of students have gone underground to avoid arrest. The lack of access to prison records and difficulty of getting facts on the ground weakens diaspora’s efforts to generate awareness. On June 27, the International Oromo Youth Association launched a three-day social media campaign to draw attention to ongoing arrests and demanding justice for those who were killed in the crackdown. While the group’s creative use of various modes of communication including a short documentary in English is commendable, judging from the reception even among the Oromos, momentum is clearly running out.

Future of #Oromoprotests

The road for Oromo recognition has not been easy. Under the circumstances, Oromo students can take solace in the amount and quality of the media coverage their movement garnered. Ultimately, politics is a game of patience and activism is fueled by passion. Coordination and centralized leadership is key to sustaining the movement, especially in a country as repressive as Ethiopia.

All successful non-violent movements had one similar characteristic: strong leadership. When leaders effectively articulate the goals and hopes of the movement, it creates a central message and a sense of unity. Take the Ethiopian Muslims movement for example. In early 2012, the movement appeared on the cusp of winning major concessions from the government through disciplined nonviolent movement. The activists were trained in nonviolent ways of resistance and responded peaceful to government provocations. Unable to slow down the resistance, the government arrested the protesters representatives (the Committee) in July 2012. The silent protests and sit-ins continued for months. But, with the central leadership languishing in jails, once the most sustained nonviolent movement in Ethiopia’s recent history (if not ever), it is now all but dead.

Nevertheless, the experiences offer valuable lessons for Oromo students. First, the student movement needs to solidify the non-violent stance. Nonviolent resistance requires coordination, discipline and patience to respond peacefully to an act of aggression. As such, even if the government responds with violence, the movement must respond with more peace, for violent reaction would only exacerbate the situation.

Second, the Oromo diaspora must also do more than holding rallies, writing press releases, changing profile pictures on Facebook and sending out few Twitter updates a day. A peaceful movement feeds off of ideas and intellectual conversations. Besides, given the ubiquity of information on social media networks, in order to make journalists and the international community understand the students’ position, reliable information should be gathered, synthesized and organized into easily accessible formats. The website was a great stride in that direction. But more can be done.

There were also other encouraging efforts (in places such as Minnesota) to hold community forums to discuss the best way to respond to the crisis. But those sessions must not be for mere therapeutic purposes where we express our anguish. Protesting in our respective communities gets the story out, but without a unified message the story fades. The #hungerstrike and resolutions passed by Minnesota legislature because of the community’s efforts are worth noting. While efforts to organize global day of action was also commendable, there appeared very little communication and coordination between the organizers. It would have had more effect if all Oromo activists across the U.S. went on hunger strike at the same time, and more local resolutions were passed. This would have undoubtedly received more media coverage and better response from U.S. lawmakers.

Third, have a clear message. The message should highlight the lack of human rights and less of the factional politics. The focus should be on getting the story of innocent student massacres into the international news cycle.

There were also moments where different factions of Oromo leaders sought to own the narrative. This is wrong. The students had legitimate grievances and their call for the respect of the constitution was unambiguously clear. We must put away our political ambitions and differences and focus on getting the information out to a broader audience.

Finally, it is important to seek out and build solidarity across ethnic lines. The government propaganda equates the struggle for Oromo rights with Oromo attempts to takeover the government. While many in Ethiopia fear an impending Oromo domination, Oromo students raised legitimate, constitutional and fundamental questions of group rights. This message of peace needs to be stressed to ensure all freedom advocates and those who feel unfairly marginalized or unjustly treated by Ethiopian government can join in efforts to make Ethiopia into a democratic nation. The EPRDF regime thrives by making different ethnic groups to fear one another. Instead of playing into government hands and perpetuating tyranny, rights advocates in Ethiopia must build bridges on common principles of human rights, freedom and justice. Patience and passion channeled into rational actions can go a long way in bringing change to Ethiopia. Factionalized outbursts of heated reactions benefit only the regime.


Ethiopia: an empire initiated, established and maintained by violence

(A4O, 6 July 2014) Study reveals Ethiopia is an empire initiated, established and maintained by violence targeted against the Oromo and its neighbouring nations.

According to the concluding remarks of researcher Denebo Dekeba, the current government of  Ethiopia has committed despicable crimes against humanity including genocide; arbitrary arrest, torture ,and other inhuman or degrading treatment of people ; economic exclusions and discriminations ; land grabbing and eviction from land; violation of freedom of thought and expression of opinion.

The question remains: How long and what does it take to stop the ruthless  violation of human rights and crimes against humanity committed by the government of Ethiopia? May the international community show solidarity to victims of the crimes against humanity as committed by the government of Ethiopia? If so, what action must be taken by the international community in response to the mounting evidence proving that crimes against humanity are being committed by the government of Ethiopia?

These and other questions concerning the issues of democracy, human rights and rule of law need to be addressed by all actors including researchers, policy makers and, of course, those “democratic” countries providing the government of Ethiopia with financial aid in the face of such appalling crimes against humanity.

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