Monthly Archives: August 2014

FOR OROMO, ‘SURVIVAL ITSELF IS A REVOLUTIONARY ACT’

By Ayantu Tibeso*

It is a great honor to be part of the 50th anniversary celebration of the Macha Tulama Association. For a people facing complete erasure, survival itself is a revolutionary act.

The fact that we are gathered here today to honor the founding of Macha Tulama 50 years ago speaks to the fact that despite all odds, we, as a people are survivors. Ethiopian history is full of attempts to annihilate the Oromo—culturally, politically, socially, economically, in all and every ways possible.

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Oromos — cast as foreign, aliens to their own lands, have been the targets of the entire infrastructure of the Ethiopian state since their violent incorporation. Our identity, primarily language, religion and belief systems and cultural heritage have been the main targets of wanton destruction.

Oromo and its personhood were already demonized, characterized as embodiments of all that is inferior, shameful and subhuman from the beginning. Oromo people were economically and politically exploited, dominated and alienated.

Oromo cultural, political and religious institutions have been under massive attacks and dismantlement by consecutive Ethiopian governments. Oromos were rendered slaves on their own lands by a colonial land tenure system.

Given the huge systematic and structural forces that have been mobilized against Oromo people and its peoplehood, it is truly astonishing that we have survived. But we have survived not by some miracle, but because our ancestors have continuously resisted violent assimilation, dehumanization, economic exploitation, and complete eradication.

We have survived because our people have courageously and wisely Organized, sang, fought and sacrificed. We have survived because of brilliantly organized Oromo institutions such as Macha Tulama, which have held our communities together.

For five decades, this organization has been the vanguard of the Oromo people’s struggle for freedom, liberty and autonomy. Macha Tulama was conceived at a time when Oromo people desperately needed institutions that would provide direction, leadership, and mobilize the financial, human, intellectual and creative resources to empower Oromo communities.

At the time of its founding, the association was confronted with dire economic, social and political predicaments the Oromo were facing. One of the most important tasks of this organization has been rebuilding the confidence and trust of Oromo people in their own cultural heritage, language, belief systems and identity.

Creating opportunities and spaces for a people who have been historically denigrated and traumatized to regain their self-esteem was and is no easy task. This is a project we must continue, until Oromos are able to have complete control over their fate and future.

There was nothing easy about being Oromo and being young 50 years ago. Young people, students and others, risked their lives, limbs and property to organize, to publish leaflets and other literature that would become vital sources of national consciousness raising and empowerment. Macha Tulama leaders, members and others affiliated with the organization-faced torture, death, imprisonment, excruciating pain, and harassment.

Every gain that has been made by this association has been because of the huge sacrifices paid by individuals and by the collectives to which they belonged. We are here today celebrating the 50thanniversary of this association’s founding because of the sacrifices made, and most importantly, because of the vision of the leaders and members of Macha Tulama — a vision that one-day Oromos can live with dignity and freely on their own lands.

Macha Tulama has been an inspiration as a symbol of unity, national consciousness, wisdom and strength in leadership and has provided us with a new and rich understanding of the power of inclusive pan Oromo movements.

Surely, much has changed since it’s founding, but not so much so that Maaca Tulema has become irrelevant to Oromos living today. Macha Tulama’s vision — of promoting, empowering and liberating Oromo people remains as relevant today as it was when it was founded.

The Ethiopian socio- political establishments, who have always opposed and mercilessly attacked any pan-Oromo movements, have not changed very much in nature. This is why we are here today commemorating the 50th anniversary of Macha Tulama outside of Oromia, rather than on our lands, Oromia.

The work began by Macha Tulama must continue. It is critical that we continue to build inclusive pan-Oromo movements and institutions that empower our people for self-rule. My generation should look into the history of the Macha Tulama Association. They will find themselves moved by the vision, mission, courage, ingenuity and principle of the leaders and members of this organization.

We must ask ourselves how these brilliant and innovative groups of people were able to accomplish the impossible during one of the darkest periods of Oromo history. What techniques, methods and leadership styles did they employ to build a pan-Oromo organization at a time when using the word Oromo itself was a crime?

We must closely study the life, achievements and challenges of giant individuals such as Alemu Kittessa, Haile Mariam Gamada, Haji Robale Ture, General Taddesse Birru, Astede Habte Mariam and so many others. I am endlessly inspired and encouraged by the stories of these great Oromo leaders.

There is a lot for us to learn about how to organize in a way that dignifies and solidifies people’s bond, ways that create a real sense of community, and a sense of cohesiveness that is based on recognition of diversities as well as the commonalities that bind us.

We are here today because of the sacrifices made by thousands of Oromos, in every corner of Oromia. Most of their stories have not been told—the stories of ordinary people who have resisted century old colonial domination, exploitation, and assimilation.

Our elders have been so preoccupied with the task of surviving and with the task of laying the ground upon which we can hold our heads high and walk. It is this we must remember as we go about the tasks of organizing, documenting, painting, writing and creating institutions to build our communities’ capacity for the next fifty years and beyond.

We must learn from the founders of this association that quality of leadership, vision, principle, innovation and good faith in leadership are necessities for our continued survival as a people. I would like to end with an excerpt from a quote from one of my favorite African American thinkers and writers. Audre Lorde calls it a litany for survival

For those of us who live at the shoreline

standing upon the constant edges of decision

crucial and alone

looking inward and outward

at once before and after

seeking a now that can breed

futures like bread in our children’s mouths

so their dreams will not reflect

the death of ours:

For those of us

who were imprinted with fear

like a faint line in the center of our foreheads

learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk

for by this weapon

this illusion of some safety to be found

the heavy-footed hoped to silence us

For all of us

this instant and this triumph

We were never meant to survive

And when the sun rises we are afraid

it might not remain

when the sun sets we are afraid

it might not rise in the morning

and when we speak we are afraid

our words will not be heard

nor welcomed

but when we are silent

We are still afraid

So it is better to speak

Remembering

We were never meant to survive

*Ayantu Tibeso is a researcher and communications consultant based in North America. She can be reached at atibeso@gmail.com  or on twitter @diasporiclife.

Melbournians Hold a Concert for Oromo Human Rights

(A4O, 12 August 2014) The Human Rights Concert for Oromia was held in Ascot Vale, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia, on August 9, 2014.

Bonsen Dhabasa, 10 years old boy who was six months old when his father was arrested; five years old when his mother was imprisoned presented his memoir of persecution account on this Human Rights for Oromia concert  in Melbourne.

Melbourne’s diverse communities came out to support the Oromo people’s struggle for human rights, and oppose the ongoing human rights violations against Oromo students and civilians by the Ethiopian TPLF regime.

The people coming together as one and uniting against a common enemy! Corrupt power. The big messagae of the day was, “We are the voice of the people!”

This is dedicated to those suffering under suppression and Human Rights Abuses. The people on the ground who are treated like collateral damage by those who have vested interests and no concern for human values or human rights!

Currently, thousands of Oromo students and civilians are languishing in Ethiopian government’s prisons in connection with #OromoProtests, a movement which opposes the Ethiopian TPLF regime’s Master Plan to expand the boundaries of Addis Ababa (Finfinne), and subsequently to dispossess Oromo farmers surrounding Finfinne of their lands, and evict them from their ancestral lands.

 

Addis Ababa Doubling in Size Gives Africa Another Hub

Photographer: Giorgio Cosulich/Getty Images People near Kasancis district on July 3, 2014 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The Ethiopian government has recently launched a new urban plan for the modernization of the city, providing massive construction operations entrusted mostly to Chinese companies, for the construction of roads, bridges, railways, offices, condominiums and shopping centers with the completion of the work in 2020.

Ethiopia, Africa’s fastest-growing economy, is looking to its capital to help sustain an expansion that averaged more than 10 percent a year in the past decade. Planners predict the population of Addis Ababa and five satellite towns will more than double by 2040 to 8.1 million, highlighting United Nations estimates that Africa’s global share of urban dwellers will double to 20 percent in the next 35 years. Planners envisage developing an area 20 times the current boundaries of the city. Ambitions for mass transport match the standard of central Paris, ensuring every resident lives within 500 meters (0.3 miles) of a bus or train ride to the center. One of its new residents would be Bekele Feyissa, a 45-year-old father of six who farms cereals on a plot in Sebeta. The town is about 20 kilometers south of the center and is set to be swallowed by the city. “If the city grows, it will be good for us as we will get electricity,” Bekele said, standing in the shade of a hedge as a donkey pulled a cart along an unpaved road beside him. The government’s plan for Addis Ababa is critical to its aspirations for developing into a middle-income country in about a decade, mirroring efforts by Kenya and Zambia. The continent’s economic potential will be highlighted as U.S. President Barack Obama hosts more than 40 African leaders at a summit in Washington next week.
International Monetary Fund data show Ethiopia is on the way to achieving its goal, with average annual growth of 10.9 percent during the past decade powered by spending on electricity plants, railways, roads, health and education.

A woman shelters from the sun with an umbrella as she walks along the construction site of Asmara road in Addis Ababa. The city is the third-likeliest city in the developing world to improve its global standing over the next two decades, according to an index published in April by A.T. Kearney Inc., a Chicago-based consulting company.

Photographer: Giorgio Cosulich/Getty Images A woman shelters from the sun with an umbrella as she walks along the construction site of Asmara road in Addis Ababa. The city is the third-likeliest city in the developing world to improve its global standing over the next two decades, according to an index published in April by A.T. Kearney Inc., a Chicago-based consulting company.

Investment Boom

That investment is funded by increasing tax revenue and more than $3 billion a year in Western aid, along with cheap loans from China and India, domestic state banks and institutions including the World Bank. Public investment accounted for 63 percent of growth in the fiscal year that ended July 7, 2012, the World Bank said in July 2013. Ethiopia, where civilization can be traced to the Axum Empire that began two millennia ago, is Africa’s oldest independent country and the only one on the continent to avoid European colonization although Italy occupied the country from 1936 to 1941. Fossils of human ancestors dating back about five million years have been found there. Emperor Menelik II, who also led military conquests of Oromo territory, founded modern Addis Ababa in 1887. The city, set among eucalyptus-covered hills, is the world’s third-highest capital. Soldiers overthrew the last emperor, Haile Selassie, in 1974, leading to 17 years of military rule until another revolution in 1991, which ushered in the current ruling party. While the United Nations says the formerly famine-prone land was the world’s 15th least-developed last year, it calculates the poverty rate decreased to 30 percent from 39 percent in the seven years to 2011.

Global Standing

Addis Ababa is the third-likeliest city in the developing world to improve its global standing over the next two decades, according to an index published in April by A.T. Kearney Inc., a Chicago-based consulting company. The gauge is based on 26 metrics of how well municipalities generate, attract and retain talent. Jakarta and Manila topped the rankings. The blueprint for the expansion — entitled “Addis Ababa and the Surrounding Oromia Integrated Development Plan” — provides for “a megacity of between 8 to 10 million in the coming 25 years,” Mathewos Asfaw, general manager of the master-plan project office, said in an interview at the Desalegn Hotel in the Bole neighborhood, which is dotted with embassies, mansions and malls. The plan explains how the city’s land will be used and sketches out the hospitals, schools, public transport and other services required. It also describes the steps needed to provide water, collect waste and reduce pollution by grouping harmful industries.

‘Double-Digit Growth’

While fewer than 20 percent of Ethiopia’s more than 90 million people live in urban areas, towns and cities account for about 80 percent of the economic expansion, according to the World Bank. “Addis Ababa’s role in sustaining Ethiopia’s double-digit growth should not be underestimated,” it said in a 2010 study. Half the population will live in cities and towns by 2040. Addis Ababa’s skyline already is transforming. Tower cranes are a common sight, with low-cost apartments, malls and office blocks shooting up. To make way, old residences and slums are torn down, leaving their inhabitants struggling. Tracks for a light-rail network China Communications Construction Co. is building soar above the main roads. Turkish textile companies, Chinese glass factories and international chains such as the Radisson Hotels International Inc. and Marriot International Inc. are also opening.

Security Network

The city has avoided violent crime that plagues other African metropolises, partly thanks to an extensive network of uniformed and plain-clothed law enforcers the state uses to maintain order. That’s also helped prevent attacks by extremists. Ethiopia hosts the headquarters of the African Union, and its troops are in neighboring Somalia, where Islamist militants have been waging an insurgency for more than seven years. Addis Ababa’s biggest growing pain may be the political furor surrounding its disputed role in a federal system arranged along ethnic lines. The structure reflects power sharing among the Tigray, Amhara, Oromo ethnic groups and about 75 other communities. The dominant language is Amharic. The city is surrounded by the state of Oromia, of which it’s also the capital. Oromo separatists have waged a four-decade campaign for more autonomy for the country’s 35 million Oromos, the most populous ethnic group.

Campus Unrest

When news of the Addis Ababa master plan spread in May, protests erupted on at least eight university campuses by students who called for it to be scrapped because it represented an annexation of Oromo territory. At least 11 people were killed when the police used live ammunition against demonstrators who became unruly, according to the government. Opposition parties such as the Oromo Federalist Congress slammed the crackdown — and the blueprint. Party General Secretary Bekele Nega described the project as a federal power grab to weaken the Oromo and a scheme by corrupt officials to transfer farmers’ land to investors without fair compensation. A lack of information on the proposals was the main cause of the protests, said Ezana Haddis, a lecturer at Institute of Urban Development Studies at the Ethiopian Civil Service University. Ethiopia’s government routinely adopts a top-down approach on policy making that involves little genuine public consultation before implementation, he said. “Those kinds of public consultations are just window dressing; they are not going to change anything,” Ezana said in a June 5 phone interview from the capital. “They will conduct lots of them, but I don’t think they will be fruitful.”

Farming Communities

The capital more than doubled in size to 54,000 hectares in the 10 years to 1994 as farming communities in Oromia were incorporated, Ethiopian academics Feyera Abdissa and Terefe Degefa said in a 2011 research paper Urbanization and Changing Livelihoods: The Case of Farmers’ Displacement in the Expansion of Addis Ababa. As the city spread, increasing from 2.1 million people in 1994 to 2.7 million in 2007, displaced farmers were often inadequately consulted and compensated, they said. Cereal farmer Bekele complains he was only compensated 700 birr ($36) when he lost half a hectare of land from his farm to a flower investor. Already companies like Diageo Plc, the world’s biggest distiller, and Turkish cable manufacturer Saygim DM have set up plants in the Sebeta area. It’s a similar tale to the north of the city around Sululta, another Oromia town to be integrated. Factories of China-Africa Overseas Leather Products and Oromia Steel Pipe Mills line the main road. Olympic winning long-distance runner Kenenisa Bekele has set up a resort with a running track. Construction sites and piles of rubble are dotted around.

Residential Developers

Gemachew Tadesse, 40, who guards a factory under construction near Sululta, says a few years ago his family lost two plots of land to hotel and residential developers. When his father complained about the level of compensation, local officials put him in jail for a night and threatened to take the land without paying anything, Gemachew said. “They said the land is the government’s, not yours,” he said. His father now sometimes doesn’t have enough to eat, according to Gemachew. “The expansion plan is not good because farming is better for us.” Corrupt land deals have been rife in areas such as Sululta and Sebeta, according to the opposition’s Bekele. The eviction of poor Oromos without adequate compensation will “continue and accelerate” if the plan goes ahead, he said. The blueprint for the expansion of Addis Ababa coordinates development in the capital with surrounding areas in the Oromia regional state and seeks to improve the lives of its inhabitants as well as local farmers, said Mathewos. There will be a “new paradigm” to bring farmers’ living standards to the same level as city dwellers by clustering them in “rural growth centers,” he said. “We shouldn’t sustain the existing productivity level or the living standards and living conditions of the rural population.” To contact the reporter on this story: William Davison in Addis Ababa atwdavison3@bloomberg.net To contact the editors responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin at asguazzin@bloomberg.netPaul Richardson, James Hertling Source: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-08-01/addis-ababa-doubling-in-size-gives-africa-another-hub.html