After Sudan;World should Focus on Oromo

By Kasembeli Albert*

Oromo: Wretched of the earth? 

It has never known political stability after the colonial conquest and subjugation by Abyssinia. It has never enjoyed real prosperity in spite of being one of the richest nations in natural resources in the horn of Africa with a population estimated at 33 million. It is Africa’s longest political conflict that appears to have been forgotten by the international community including IGAD and Africa Union among others. It has won the unenviable accolade of being the cradle of the world’s largest forced mass movement from one country in modern African history, namely the current exodus from Ethiopia. Welcome to Oromia, the country of the Oromo people (375,000 square miles).

In the last four decades, the Horn of Africa, with Ethiopia as an epicenter, has experienced an unprecedented wave of refugee flows, resulting in large concentrations of displaced persons. Nearly all these displaced persons are from Ethiopia. Today there are an estimated over 10 million refugees originating from Ethiopia, second only to those from Afghanistan and Iraq put together.

The influx of Ethiopians fleeing their country to Kenya has always hit headlines in the local and internal press. Ironically, most are apprehended by Kenyan authorities and handed back to the Ethiopian authorities or locked up in Kenyan prisons. Some of the refugees are said to be on transit to South Africa.

The Oromo Liberation Front has for decades been embroiled in a protracted war for the liberation of the Oromia. The most striking aspect to political pundits and academics is the manner in which the international community has accorded the conflict a blind eye, and regional governments, IGAD and AU cannot explain why Ethiopians are fleeing their country in droves.

Who will save the Oromo people from institutionalized oppression and blatant abuse of basic human rights by the Addis Ababa government? What is the IGAD and the Africa Union doing to resolve the conflict? The 140 years of continuous acts of cultural genocide by successive Ethiopian regimes is a remarkable testimony to the resilience of the Oromo cultural values and democratic heritage.

Even as the international community remain silent in the face of the conflict that has claimed lives of millions of people, it is is important to note that as a geo-cultural bridge between Europe, Africa and Asia, the Horn of Africa has always been embroiled in some world-historic events, since the times of the Roman empire. The Horn remains important in security considerations of the Middle East and the increasingly competitive global economy.

It is important to observe that the current Ethiopian regime is being sustained in power by foreign western powers for imperialistic reasons. Take the case of the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), also known as Wayyane, which was promoted in 1991 by foreign governments, particularly that of the US, to fill the power vacuum created by the downfall of the Dergue regime. As expected, this led to replacement of the Amhara regime by a Tigrean power as was evident to those familiar with the Ethiopian political landscape.

Under the pretext of opening the country for world market and democratization, traditional supporters and partners of the Ethiopian empire used the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to pump huge amounts of money into the coffer of TPLF. During the first four years of its rule, the regime received about US$3 billion in bilateral grants. The Paris Club member countries granted significant debt-cancellations and rescheduling. The TPLF regime used the multilateral and bilateral assistance to dismantle Amhara-centre state apparatus and to replace it by institutions that are nothing more than appendages of a tightly controlled party-apparatus of the Tigrean ruling class.

Today, there is no public institution, be it the military, the judiciary, the civil service, the regulatory agencies, and financial institutions outside the control of the TPLF and its surrogate parties. Thus, the regime cannot claim democratic legitimacy by any standard. Most disturbing are reports of Kenyan Borana Oromo near the border being harassed and imprisoned in Kenya. These incidents are violating international law regarding refugees. They could have been taken to Kenyan courts, if suspected of any crime.

The human rights crisis in Ethiopia is so worrying. No one seems to understand the scale of the violations. targeted and systematic tortures, disappearances and extrajudicial killings are common place in that country. There seems to be no hiding place for the victims of human rights violations under the current regime in Ethiopia. Peasants in certain areas are particularly targeted and expelled in broad day light from their farmlands for the sake of the officials and of TPLF-led government financial gains.

“The peoples of Oromia and Kenya share a longstanding cordial relationship. In particular, Kenya, as a democratic and stable country, continues to provide safety for a significant number of Oromo refugees fleeing from persecution by the Ethiopian state. However, it is of also of grave concern that recently, a large number of Oromo refugees have been handed over to the Ethiopian authorities by the Kenyan agents who have been recruited by the Addis Ababa spy network. More worrying is the fact that their operations are not sanctioned by the Kenyan government. These refugees are sent back to inhumane torture and certain death in the hands of the Ethiopian security agents,” says an OLF petition to Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki.

The petition, copied to the country’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga further notes: “We believe Kenya could play a positive and constructive role in supporting a peaceful resolution of the conflict between Oromia and Ethiopia and that would make Kenya a legitimate player in the international arena. We respectfully urge you to appraise the situation and reconsider your policy and assure supporting the just cause of the oppressed Oromo people rather than assisting the bloodthirsty regime in Ethiopia.”

In the recent months, Kenyans authorities have been accused of illegal rendition of Oromo refugees and Kenyans to Ethiopia under the pretext of cracking down on the Oromo Liberation Front (OLP) militias. While in Ethiopia, the individuals are arraigned before special courts where they are handed heavy jail sentences ranging from death to life in prison. The ORA has accused the Ethiopian government and some elements within the Kenyan government of gross violation of the basic human rights of the Oromo refugees and Kenyans shipped to Ethiopia.

The Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) was established in 1973 by Oromo nationalists to promote the right to self-determination for the Oromo people against what they call “Ethiopia colonial rule.” There are reports that the OLF has increased its activity following the general elections of 2005 and has offices in Washington, D.C. and Berlin.

The international community particularly IGAD and the AU ought to appreciate the fact that the fundamental objective of the Oromo liberation movement is to exercise the Oromo peoples’ right to national self-determination and end centuries of oppression and exploitation by Ethiopian colonialism. The foreign policy of OLF stipulates that it respects the territorial integrity and national sovereignty of Kenya and all neighbouring countries. Kenya, the host state to the refugees has been accused of violating the 1951 UN Convention and 1967 Protocol on the status of the refugees for handing over the Oromos who have fled their homes to escape persecution.

It was through the initiative of IGAD, AU and the EU that a protracted peace deal was negotiated between SPLM and the Khartoum government, effectively putting an end to one of Africa’s longest conflict then. As the Southern Sudan people undertake a decision on the future of the nation through the referendum, it is important that the international community focus attention on the Oromo conflict to save the plight of the Oromia nation.

The Oromo people’s demand of self-determination is neither a question of secession from a country with whom they have willfully integrated nor a matter of a periphery struggling for decentralization or devolution of power from a central government. It is a demand by the Oromo people to restore the sovereignty taken away from them and to freely determine their own political status. This demand does not, therefore, violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Khartoum government. The Oromo people have never been meaningfully represented in Ethiopian political process. There has never been a moment in the political history of the Ethiopian empire-state when the state possessed a government representing the “whole people.”

Moreso, the Oromo people’s demand for self-determination is not an internal affair of Ethiopia. Many nations in the world including Kenya are shouldering the burden of refugees from the Ethiopia. UNHCR is spending millions of dollars to sustain refugees from Ethiopia. Much more too is spent on relocating some of the refugees to friendly countries in Europe. This indeed, makes the conflict a matter of interest and concern to the international community including regional bodies like IGAD, AU and relevant UN agencies. In the same vein, the liberation struggle of the Oromo people against successive Ethiopian regimes cannot be characterized as “an internal civil strife, banditry, terrorism, or civil war.” It is a struggle of people under alien domination.

What the international community must realize is that TPLF regime constantly fabricates false accusations to criminalize and demonise Oromo political organisations as a smokescreen to conceal the regime’s acts of genocide against Oromo social and cultural life. An attempt by the regime to link the Oromo liberation movement with fundamentalism and international terrorism is a fabrication to discredit and garner international community’s sympathy.

*Kasembeli Albert is the Editor, Business Journal Africa, a regional business and finance magazine

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