Daily Archives: October 2, 2014
In July 2006, about 60 Oromo youth met in Minneapolis, Minnesota for what was initially planned as a leadership conference. At the end of the three-day gathering, which featured, among other activities, leadership exercises, social activities and speeches by invited guests, the attendees formed the International Oromo Youth Association (IOYA).
It was meant to serve as an umbrella organization for Oromo youth groups around the world (in part because most of the delegates at that conference came representing their local youth associations).
After years of lethargy, IOYA is showing signs of rejuvenation, and deserves all our support. On September 26, IOYA leaders co-presented a report on the rights of children in Ethiopia along with the Minnesota-based Advocates for Human Rights at the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva, Switzerland. During the weeklong engagement, IOYA representatives participated in several meetings discussing human rights issues related to Oromo, spoke at a side event looking at diaspora engagement on human rights (with Ethiopia as a case study) and met with the U.N. Committee in a 2.5 hour, closed-door session.
There are several reasons for IOYA’s resurgence. Two of them are worth mentioning here. First, most of the organization’s earliest protagonists have moved on. This created an opportunity for younger leaders to calibrate the organization’s mission and vision in the context of the current state of Oromo affairs.
“Seeing its decline was particularly devastating to me,” Amane Badhasso, the current IOYA president, told OPride during a recent interview. “That is why we dedicated several months to formulating strategies to revive IOYA. We are determined to strengthen IOYA’s capacity as an international organization and build global networks not only to advance our goals but also to ensure the organization’s sustainability.”
Badhasso and her executive board members seem to be doing a phenomenal job in that regard. In 2011, IOYA appeared on the brink of dissolution because no one was willing to step up and take over the reins from the then-outgoing board. Despite this, however, even through years of ups and downs — which in all fairness is not unique to IOYA — its leaders continued to hold annual meetings and partner with Oromo community organizations on human rights causes.
The 2012 executive board faced a unique challenge: guiding IOYA through a year of transition and rethinking its mission. They set in motion the changes that enabled the current board to revive the organization’s advocacy arm in few months. The new vision emphasized leadership training, cross generational dialogue, networking and the creation of “a space to address issues pertaining to Oromo communities in the diaspora.” In some sense, this was a slight departure from the organization’s initial goal and proved key to the current turnaround.
In 2006, there was a palpable sense of urgency to define the place of youth in Oromo struggle and for the youth to take leadership roles within their diaspora communities. The enthusiasm and sense of Oromummaa at the conference was overwhelming — so much so that everyone cried at the farewell gathering. The sense of shared passion and dreams made saying goodbye that much harder. Over the years, many had told this writer that it was “the best summer and event” of their lives. A handful of the attendees, including some who met for the first time, have built long term personal relationships and friendships.
But in restrospect there was also a clear lack of strategy on that which the group set out to do. For the first few years, IOYA organized well-attended human rights rallies in Minnesota and Washington, D.C. It issued press releases reacting to human rights violations in Ethiopia, including a government crackdown on their peers at home.
But it’s fair to say that IOYA fell far short of becoming a formidable umbrella organization for Oromo youth around the world. It faced many hurdles, including lack of clarity around membership, dues, etc. Its main problem has always been leadership and inability to translate the overly broad mission and vision into actionable advocacy.
The new leaders have now taken IOYA through the corridors of the United Nations. No small feat. Much of IOYA’s success seems to be a result of collaboration with others and changes in leadership.
In June, IOYA launched a three-day social media campaign to demand the release of Oromo students arbitrarily rounded up by Ethiopian security forces during #OromoProtests. The initiative generated a lot of awareness and media coverage. But it also afforded the group an opportunity to partner with The Advocates. On July 1, 2014, IOYA and The Advocates submitted a detailed report to the United Nations Pre-Sessional Working Group of the Committee on the Rights of the Child.
The report, which focused on the government crackdown on Oromo students, identified numerous violations of the rights of children in Ethiopia. It concluded that children of certain ethnic groups, particularly ethnic Oromos, face severe discrimination and rights violations. Other issues pertaining to liberty, security, privacy, freedom of expression and association, family, basic health and welfare, education and leisure and cultural activities were also included in the report. The high-level advocacy at the U.N. is a result of that ongoing collaboration with The Advocates.
The second reason for IOYA’s comeback has to do with the makeup of its leadership. Unlike previous years, the last two IOYA boards were largely made up of women. This sounds hasty and simplistic, but it is important in the context not only of IOYA’s remarkable achievements but also the makeup of Oromo political and civic leadership. To the writer’s knowledge, no other Oromo organization, anywhere, has more women in the position of leadership than IOYA. In fact, it’s been said that to some extent the paralysis in Oromo struggle can be attributed to the lack of Oromo women’s participation. This is not to say Oromo women did not contribute to Oromo struggle or activism. They do. But rarely are they given leadership roles. Their contribution to the struggle, arts, academia and other areas of Oromo life is seldom acknowledged.
Two years ago, OPride put out a banner with a photo of about a dozen Oromo martyrs during the annual memorial. Readers immediately noted the absence of a single woman martyr on that poster. The Internet is awash with photos of Oromo leaders, past and present. But one would be hard pressed to find an image of Oromo heroine along with her male counterparts. This need to change. More girls and women need to be recognized and encouraged to take leadership roles in our communities and youth organizations. IOYA offers the clearest example of efficiency and effectiveness when women take leadership roles.
By Jennifer King
Have you ever been on a crowded train with your face wedged into someone’s shoulder, or complained to friends about the lack of legroom on your flight to wherever you are travelling?
Spare a thought for Lamaa Kuruu and his fellow refugees, jammed into a vehicle, one person lying on top of another, for days on end with no food and little water.
This is what Lamaa endured to seek a new life for himself.
Now he has arrived in Brisbane on a humanitarian refugee visa and is grappling with learning English and trying to build a future for himself and his wife, Ayantu Daba.
Finding his feet
Lamaa is an elite runner. Prior to fleeing Ethiopia four years ago, he lived in a house with 60 other runners and two coaches, training twice a day on the track and in the forest.
Last weekend he entered his first Australian road running event, the Twilight Bay Run. He was confident of winning the 5km event but was nervous about deciphering the route.
His English is limited, and as a track runner road running is a novelty, especially in a new country.
Taking advice from well-meaning fellow runners, he followed the lead bike. But no-one realised the bike would stop before the runners went into the final finish chute.
So Lamaa stopped too, not understanding that the finish line was still 500 metres away.
It was not until the second runner and eventual winner, Patrick Hagan, yelled “keep going” as he ran past that Lamaa realised his mistake.
With a finish time of 16:53, he lost by just five seconds and was devastated. If he had finished as he hoped, he would have begun to lay down the foundations for a new running career in Queensland.
Lamaa is competitive and he wants to win.
“I love Australia. I want to win for Australia,” he said in halting English.
Escape from beatings
Pulling up his shirtsleeve, Lamaa reveals scars he says he received from the random beatings by government forces in Ethiopia which he says would occur at any time for any reason.
Eventually worn down by oppression, Lamaa says he joined a group of about 30 other refugees who had each paid a man $1,300 to be led out of the country.
In recounting the story, Lamaa refers to this person as “the manager” and says that once underway, he demanded more money but Lamaa had none to give. He had left with just the clothes he wore and one small bag.
Lamaa and the other refugees then walked to Sudan.
Communication with Lamaa is difficult. His English is extremely basic. He speaks two African languages – Oromo and Amharic – and is undertaking regular English lessons at TAFE.
Yet he is adamant they walked more than 1,000km from Addis Ababa to Sudan where they stayed for two months.
“Yes. We walked. It was very hot. Very hot. Very difficult. And no water. No food,” he said.
From Sudan the group travelled to their final destination, Egypt. They travelled there by foot and by vehicle.
Bodies stacked one on top of the other
Again, it is difficult to ascertain what kind of vehicle but Lamaa said it was not a bus. He tells of being forced to lie in the vehicle with bodies stacked one on top of the other so that 30 people would be packed in.
He says people died on the journey. There was no light or food and very little water. When not in the vehicle, the group walked until they reached Egypt, all the time avoiding capture.
In Egypt, Lamaa met his wife, also an Ethiopian refugee. They lived in Cairo in a house with others from the Oromo community.
The pair were assessed by the UNHCR, referred to the Australian Government and granted permanent refugee status.
The couple flew to Australia, arriving in Brisbane in July 2013. They have Medicare cards, receive a Centrelink payment and attend regular English classes at South Bank TAFE.
Their transition has been made a little smoother by the Multicultural Development Association which provided a case manager for their first six months here, helping them adjust to their new lives.
Lamaa is very keen to improve his English and find work, but most of all, he wants to run and win races.
In a gesture representing a positive running future for Lamaa, the organisers of the Twilight Running Festival have donated a pair of running shoes to him.