Monthly Archives: August 2015
Diaspora Action Australia recently held its second Friends Event of 2015 in Melbourne.
The diaspora organisations we work with consist largely of refugees – people who have remarkable stories of survival. On this occasion, we had the privilege of hearing from Lensa Dinka, a leading member of the Oromo community in Melbourne, who spoke about her own story of escaping war and oppression in the Oromia region of Ethiopia.
Lensa is a courageous woman who was born within the Oromo ethnic group. The Oromo people, who make up 40 per cent of Ethiopia’s population, have lived with conflict in their region for more than 100 years.
Lensa and her family were forced to leave their home during the civil war in Ethiopia in the 1970s. Amid the turmoil and violence, Lensa, her six brothers and two sisters were separated from their parents; their grandmother took them into her home and Lensa took on the task of looking after her younger siblings.
In 1991 the government collapsed and renewed conflict between political and rebel groups broke out; this time Lensa escaped to Sudan as a refugee. Lensa sheltered in Sudan until she was forced to flee from that country’s own civil war, and she was granted a Humanitarian visa, allowing her to travel to and live in Australia.
Lensa was reunited with her father before she came to Australia, however her search for her mother was a lengthy process. Neither the Red Cross nor Lensa’s friends in Ethiopia could find her mother initially. After many failed attempts to locate her mother, Lensa finally decided to send a letter to Ethiopia addressed to her mother and patiently awaited a response. Lensa held out hope that her mother was still alive and that she would hear from her – she also understood that the letter might be returned to her unopened.
Her moving story ended with her finally reconnecting with her mother.
Lensa also spoke about the many contributions that refugees make to Australia. In her own case, after coming to Australia in 1999, she went on to study nursing and since then has nursed thousands of patients. She reminded us that refugees are “not just consumers,” but are valuable contributors to the community. She also spoke of the great strength of many people in her country of birth.
DAA would again like to thank Lensa for sharing her valuable and courageous story with all of the people present at our Friends Event.
(Advocacy4Oromia) Just a few months ago, Bekele Gerba was languishing in a high security Ethiopian jail, hearing the cries of fellow prisoners being beaten and tortured. Now, the 54-year-old foreign language professor is in Washington, D.C., for meetings at the State Department. His message: The Obama administration should pay more attention to the heavy-handed way its ally, Ethiopia, treats political opponents — and should help Ethiopians who are losing their ability to earn a living.
Gerba is a leader of the Oromo Federalist Congress, a political party that represents one of the country’s largest ethnic groups. With estimated numbers of about 30 million, the Oromo make up about a third of Ethiopia’s population.
In 2011, Gerba was arrested after meeting with Amnesty International researchers and sent to prison on what he calls trumped up terrorism charges, often used in Ethiopia against political dissidents. In court he made remarks that have been widely circulated in Ethiopia and beyond: “I am honored to learn that my non-violent struggles and humble sacrifices for the democratic and human rights of the Oromo people, to whom I was born without a wish on my part but due to the will of the Almighty, have been considered a crime and to be unjustly convicted.”
Gerba was released from jail this spring in advance of President Obama’s July visit to Ethiopia. A soft spoken man, who seemed exhausted by his prison ordeal and his numerous appearances at U.S. universities and think tanks, Gerba tells NPR that Obama’s trip sent all the wrong messages.
“He [Obama] shouldn’t have shown any solidarity with that kind of government, which is repressive, very much authoritarian and very much disliked by its own people,” Gerba says.
Since Ethiopia’s ruling party and its allies control all of parliament, his party doesn’t have a voice, he says. What’s more, he says, his people are being pushed off their land by international investors.
“The greatest land grabbers are now the Indians and Chinese …. there are Saudi Arabians as well,” he says, adding that many families are being evicted and losing their livelihoods.
Gerba says those who do get jobs are paid a dollar a day, which he describes as a form of slavery. He is urging the U.S. to use its aid to Ethiopia as leverage to push the government to give workers more rights and allow people to form labor unions.
Gerba’s case has been featured in the State Department’s annual human rights reports. He describes himself as a Christian who believes in non-violence and says he spent his four years in prison pouring over the sermons and speeches of Martin Luther King and translating them into the Oromo language for a book that he hopes to see published. The title: “I Had A Dream.”
Bekele Gerba is not sure what he will face when he returns home from the U.S. When he was jailed, his wife, a high school teacher, lost her job. His family has struggled financially and psychologically.
“Nobody is actually sure in Ethiopia what will happen to him anytime,” he says. “Anytime, people can be arrested, harassed or killed or disappeared.”
Still, he plans to return home next week. He’s expected to return to his job at the Foreign Languages Department at Addis Ababa University.
NPR: Oromo Political Prisoner [Bekele Gerba] Urges U.S. To Put Pressure On His Country Over Human Rights
(NPR) – After spending four years in an Ethiopian prison on trumped up terrorism charges, Bekele Gerba visits Washington, D.C., and says he’s disappointed that the Obama administration hasn’t been tougher on its ally, Ethiopia, over human rights. Obama visited Ethiopia earlier this summer.
Voice Source: http://n.pr/1PyWxjG
United States Senator Al Franken is among a delegation of bi-partisan US senators and congregational members visiting five African countries in a bid to bolster and foster bilateral trade ties, a statement from the senator’s office in Washington stated. The trip starts this weekend.
Countries to be visited by the delegation include Senegal, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Gabon, with a brief stop in Cape Verde.
Franken’s state is home to the largest concentration of Somalis outside of Africa and he plans to meet with Somali refugees while in Ethiopia which hosts a large contingent of them, second only to Kenya.
The state of Minnesota also boasts the largest concentration of Ethiopian immigrants after Washington, DC with the most dynamic of the Minnesota Ethiopians belonging to the Oromo community.
The Oromos have had longstanding grievances against the Ethiopian government regarding marginalization of their community. While in Ethiopia, Senator Franken is scheduled to discuss their plight with Ethiopian government officials, according the senator’s spokesman, Michael Dale-Stein.
During the trip, Sen. Franken will be visiting renewable energy projects, agriculture projects, and health care facilities. Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware is the organizer of the trip.
The other Minnesotan in the delegation is Rep. Betty McCollum. Others on the delegation include Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), and several other members of Congress.
“With Minnesota being home to so many vibrant African immigrant communities, collaborating with these countries could help support many Minnesota industries—including our agricultural and energy sectors—and would help us build bilateral trade relations,” said Sen.
Franken. “Beyond that, this bipartisan trip is particularly important to me because I’m planning to meet with Somali refugees and also discuss the crisis facing the Oromo people, which are both things that many families in our state deeply care about.”
The PPLF, which is headed by President Salva Kiir, was formed in 2010 after a national dialogue to unite leaders of all the political parties.
The PPLF says Ethiopia and Sudan should be removed from the mediation process.
It says the Compromise Agreement proposed by IGAD Plus is subjected to personal and national commercial interests from these two countries.
In statement, the group says it doubts that mediators from these countries can contribute to a genuine peace in South Sudan because their own countries are in conflicts.
The Minister of Cabinet Affairs, Dr Martin Elia Lomoro, spoke on behalf of the PPLF chairman.
“It is now our conclusion therefore that for peace to return to South Sudan, the entire IGAD Mediation team must be reconstituted,” Dr Lomoro said.
“While General Lazarus Sumbweyio may be acceptable, definitely Seyoum Mesfin and Mohammed Ahmed Mustaffa El-Daby must be replaced.”
The statement comes days after negotiators returned to Addis Ababa for the fourth round of peace talks.
Dr Martin Elia said the venue of the talks should also be relocated to Tanzania, Rwanda or South Africa.
“Not only that, but the venue of the peace talks be equally relocated to a country that has a rudimentary democracy and no rebellion,” he added.
He argued that these countries have a history of successful emersion from conflicts and would be good examples for South Sudan.
Other parties that are also members of the PPLF include the SPLM-DC, headed by Dr Lam Akol, the United Democratic Front, among others.
This group, now under the umbrella group known as the National Alliance, has disagreed with the government on key issues in the peace process, including the proposed Compromise Agreement.
Members of the national alliance were not at the press conference where the PPLF called for change of the IGAD mediators.
The Oromo Nation is the community concerned with the nominated element. The Gadaa System has been practiced for centuries and remains functional into the present among all of the major Oromo clans such as Borana, Guji, Gabra, Karrayu, Arsi, Afran Qallo, Ituu, Humbana, Tulama and Macha clans in Oromia, East Africa.