Search Results for The Peoples

Citizenship versus Identity: the current political discourse in Ethiopia

By Alemayehu Biru (PhD), September 26, 2019

This topic bears a very common binary way of putting complex sociopolitical issues by politicians and, at times, even by scholars, as if those binary concepts are as distinct entities as orange and banana.

This is expressed in its most rudimentary form in the current Ethiopian political discourse. Raise any kind of sociopolitical issue, you are prone to be categorized either as citizenship or identity politics promoter. The binary choices are considered to be the only two alternatives in representing political interests or ideologies of the country; And they are often presented not just as two different concepts but rather as antonyms. We are told, those who are pro citizenship are more of a political, rational and universal perspective, while those with identity politics are more of a primordial, particularistic and emotionally charged perspective. Such categorization makes no exception: It applies almost to all positions in respect to every specific policy issues such as education, economy, environment, election, democracy or any other roadmap issues that are related to the future political course the country ought to follow. Such a very general but ironically a narrow categorization has been pronounced even by the regime whose coming into being was justified by its opening-up of the political space. Opening up the political space while narrowing down the horizons of political thought itself! A very interesting paradox!

This article aims at examining whether this binary way of understanding is, theoretically, tenable and, practically, be helpful in resolving the major political issues of the country. Let me embark on the issue at once, without much methodological pedantry, by asking: Can the so called “Citizenship Politics” be exclusive to that of Identity? In order to provide answer to the question, we need to know what citizenship is in the first place.

Citizenship as Membership

I don’t think there is a single conception of citizenship as such. Leaving aside the historical disparities, there are different conceptions by different political thoughts such as liberals, social democrats, socialists or republicans. For liberals citizenship is a membership to a given political community whose primary responsibility is to fairly distribute, secure and protect the basic liberties of each member. Republicans see it as a membership to a political community that should have a practical expression in collectively participating in the decision-making-process and the corollary sense of patriotism based on a historically established public moral virtues. Social democrats and socialists give much emphasis to equality, welfare and solidarity as the most binding elements of citizenship.

Whatever differences these conceptions may mean, there is one common understanding among all of them: citizenship as membership to a political community.

Membership is not however a wholesale affair. As much as it designates inclusiveness to those it is conferred upon, it also implies exclusivity to those not. The best example to mention here is the conception of the Ancient Greek, generally, much eulogized to be the source of modern understanding of citizenship and democracy.

In ancient democracy, citizenship means membership to the free male inhabitants of the city states. The adjective free immediately implies the unfree, the slaves, who were mostly war prisoners, as much as the adjective male outrightly disqualifies the female. Citizenship is valued for the privileges it bestows upon some in exclusion of others. In other words, what makes one appreciate or enjoy the value of citizenship lies more in its exclusivity than in its inclusivity, in its negativity than in its positivity. A citizen is one who is not a slave or a female. A citizen is defined by what he is not. This is because the talk about citizenship makes little or no sense, if all human beings in that community are equally citizens.

As the saying goes “freedom for the pike is death for the minnows”, the privilege of the citizens can only feed itself on the inhibition of the non-citizens.  All those rights of citizenship – be it property right, social, legal or political rights, can only be realized by and through those who are deprived of those very rights. The liberty to be a proprietor, a politician, an artist or a philosopher presuppose in practice, as Aristotle honestly remarked, the existence of physical laborers for them to have the necessary leisure time to exercise their privileged activity. The liberty to be a slave master presuppose the existence of slaves and the necessary jurisdiction and theoretical justification for the relationship. The concept citizenship was conjoined therefore with membership to each city-state as defined and justified in its legal, political and philosophical system.

As long as this membership is in respect to individual-state relationship, not in respect to ethnic or religious identities, one may argue that the Ancient Greek conception of citizenship is purely political. But this is a very superficial understanding as the issue of ethnic or cultural diversity was not at all an issue in ancient Greek city states. All city states were culturally, linguistically and even ethnically homogeneous. Besides this fact, there is nothing political, for example, about the natural identity of a female-exclusion except, on the contrary, that ascriptive identity is politicized in order to justify male domination. What is political about the alien who became a slave because he was conquered, if it is not the otherness in him be politicized in order to justify social stratification, political domination and thereby economic exploitation? Because each city state was considered to be a sovereign political entity albeit parallel to the nation-states of the modern time, political membership was eventually determined by identity (by gender identity or the city state to which one belongs). Therefore, the interplay between political and identity based membership in defining citizenship is already apparent in Greek democracy itself. It came to be even more apparent in the Eras of the Roman Empire and the subsequent aristocratic European colonial empires.

Citizenship as Kinship

Under the Roman Empire and all the subsequent empires, social stratification and the corresponding privileges have been diversified with more hierarchical membership to the state. Though that hierarchy has been changing with the ever expansion of the empire, there were generally four kinds of membership to the Roman Empire: proper citizens of Rome who were called civesLatins, the surrounding Latin language speaking people (who had some abrogated rights with the possibility of promotion to cives), the so called peregrines, the alien or outlandish, and finally the slaves, the conquered, devoid of any human rights whatsoever. The qualification for citizenship emanated not merely from residence membership to Rome but rather from the status of parents. It was to be inherited by birth. Therefore, simple membership must be determined by kinship.

In order to control and verify citizenship as a kinship, the Roman Empire is known for its creation of what we know today in the Western world as a three-part name – whereby the last one should bear the name of the tribe from which the individual under discussion descended all through generations. The tria nomina, as it was called, was a sign of Roman citizenship, legally prohibited for others to adopt it, in order to protect and preserve the purity of the Roman citizenship.

This tradition has descended to the later emerging feudal systems to the point the concept citizenship be identified only with the aristocratic class by reducing all others to mere subjects. Later on, even the aristocratic class came to be denied that status with the ascendance of absolute monarchy to the point the very purpose of State and politics itself became nothing but to full fil the Will of God in and through the Emperor. Since the Emperor was constitutionally above the law, there was no any sort of right or liberty of any one that could be taken for granted. Even members of the ruling class were not all citizens as long as their liberties and rights are ultimately dependent on the Will of the Emperor – not on the law of the state. The law itself is an institutionalized expression of the Emperor’s Will, which was tantamount to the Will of God as the Emperor was proclaimed to be an elect of God Himself. So there was no basis of the concept citizenship under the system of empires, which were basically territorial states rather than nation-states.

Ethiopian Political Orthodoxy

There is no a more perfect example in the modern time than the Ethiopian Empire in demonstrating the alienation of the entire political community itself to the status of subject,  not to speak of the mass of peoples.

I don’t really know the etymological root of the Amharic word zega or zeginet, equivalent of the concept citizen and citizenship, respectively. But we all know for sure that the concept must be alien to Ethiopia since there have never been citizens in the entire history of the country to this date. A minister or a senate dignitary in the parliament oaths and presents himself as a personal servant of the Emperor, never of the Nation-State. This tradition has continued to be practiced even after the abolition of the monarchy under the personal dictatorship of Mengistu and Meles Zenawi. Loyalty to the leader is the most important measure for public office. Government and heads of government are the only sovereign entities.

Even the concept state is missing in Ethiopian vocabulary in the sense that the modern world understands state as an organized political community based on the will of its people. The Amharic word for government is Mengist, but it also means state. It appears therefore that government and state are conceptually interchangeable as they have been in political practice. Mengist in Ethiopia is apriori to society and state both in its practical importance and logical primacy. In other words, Mengist has always been the raison d’etre for the existence of state and society, not vice versa. This is true not more about Ethiopian political history than it is about its present political condition.

In Ethiopia, citizenship has never been a reality so far in which ever form it may be. However, it became everything all of a sudden in the current Ethiopian political discourse, particularly, for those political forces who consider themselves unitarist as opposed to those federalists. The reason is obvious. The unitarists consider the issue of citizenship as uniting, but not clear as to how it can be uniting without appealing to the issues of identity which much of the largest political community consider of the essence in defining the very concept of citizenship itself. In order for the concept of citizenship to be uniting, universal and political, as the unitarists often claim it to be, it needs at least, conceptually, to be inclusive of what it considers to be particular, primordial and sentimental. Otherwise, the concept citizenship would turn out to be a universalized particularity, to the best, or an empty abstract concept which has no political relevance whatsoever.

The issue at hand is not whether the question of citizenship should occupy a central importance in the future Ethiopian politics but, rather, whether it should be all inclusive or not. All federalist forces recognize its importance but not as a means of self-negation. They conceptualize citizenship as membership to a political community in which different interests are considered to be independent agents in determining the very nature and form of that political community. That means citizenship for them is more of a substantive right than being merely a procedural one. It must include among others the right to make the political community itself, not just the right to maintain it as unitarists consider it to be. According to the unitarists, citizenship right in Ethiopia would be achieved, if fair and free election takes place without much structural change. According to the federalists, however, citizenship cannot be achieved short of making a socio-political contract that guarantees the sovereignty of the peoples as it is the case with all modern democratic societies. Citizenship should be understood as authorship.

Citizenship as Authorship

It was only in 18th century pioneered by the Enlightenment movement that nation-state started to emerge as a reaction to the extremely suffocating empires. Nationalism became the new galvanizing ideology that gave birth to democracy and nation-states. As Habermas correctly put it “The nation-State and democracy are twins born out of the French Revolution. From a cultural point of view, both have been growing in the shadow of nationalism”. Freedom of the individual from the tyranny of the state and society, on the one hand, and freedom of nations from the yoke of empires, on the other, are considered to be necessary corollaries.  Thus a new conception of citizenship as authorship.

Since the French Revolution, democratic nation-states started to understand themselves as associations of free and equal citizens. Membership to a political community depends on the principle of voluntarism as it has been articulated in socio-political contract theories by the great minds – ranging from Thomas Hobbes, John Locke through the Frenchman Jean-Jacques Rousseau to the contemporary American political philosopher, John Rawls. They all underlined in their theories that no state or political authority should any longer be justified by appealing to Nature or God. Because all human beings are by nature rational and therefore free and equal, they are autonomous agents whose will and only will matters in the creation and maintenance of a political community. The social agreement made among its inhabitants is the only source of legitimacy both for its coming into being and further maintenance. All the institutions such as state and government emerged thereof are only instruments of that popular covenant and, therefore, means never ends in themselves. Peoples’ sovereignty is sacrosanct. It is precisely this sovereignty which is the bedrock of citizenship. Citizenship is not just a set of rights that enable citizens only to elect their government every four or five years but essentially authorship to the very law that creates and governs a political community. Freedom and authority are no longer contradictory in this case since people should abide only to their own will.

Those great contractarian theorists assumed ethnic and cultural homogeneity for their theories to be true. Nation-State was both their premise and objective. In case assimilation is successful, as it was with France, the nation-state is the premise from which the contract should proceed. If a nation failed to be a state as it is the case with pre-Bismarck Germany, the contract theory provided the rational to create it. And in empire states like Austro-Hungary, the contract theory has justified their disintegration and encouraged, instead, the emergence of new nation-states as natural course of socio-political development.

Alternatively, it also envisioned federal system as a means to coup-up with the new reality in those empires like Great Britain, Spain, Belgium etc. so that group identities be preserved, protected and promoted within the larger political union. Multicultural citizenship is taken, in this last case, as a mediating concept between the universal values of freedom of the individual, on the one hand, and freedom of cultural, linguistic or ethnic communities, on the other. Self-determination (voluntarism) both at the level of individuals and communities became the key to understand what modern citizenship should be. This has become an international norm particularly in post 2nd World War and even more so in post “Cold War”. With the ever globalization of democracy as a World order, it became imperative to recognize collective identities such as race, ethnic, culture, gender etc. Ironic as it may sound, globalization must be conjoined with pluralism – as the coming into being of the European Union became the main reason to thematize pluralism as the most important concept of political philosophy in our time.

Liberalism, communitarianism & Pluralism

In the last three decades, there have been a steadily growing interest in the issue of group diversity by political philosophers. Tension between globalism and nationalism, mass immigration and the rise of minority rights, ethnic conflicts and breakup of nations in  Eastern Europe, increasing integration of the European Union conjoined with the persistence of sense of distinctness among members, ever rising strive of gender, sexual orientation, environmental movement etc. are some of the major practical reasons for this. Explaining the issue of how right claims of those diverse forms of group identities be related or connected to the established liberal-democratic principles of freedom is the major theoretical issue of our time. Basically, liberalism and communitarianism are the two contending school of thoughts in that regard – theoretically initiated by an American philosopher John Rawls in his monumental work A Theory of Justice. The third line of thinking I termed above as pluralism is a dialectical outgrowth of the debate between the two.

Liberals are generally well known for their individualism.  As they are here represented by John Rawls, the individual, as free and rational being, is said to be autonomous by his/her nature. The practical implication is that liberty of the individual must be protected not only from political authority but also from the cultural one – as social norms and traditions have been oppressive to the development of human rationality.  Not only state is oppressive but also customs and cultural values. Therefore, individual liberty and freedom should be seen in contradistinction to any particular collective identity. As John Rawls aptly puts it, the priority of individual liberty is uncompromising “that even the welfare of society as a whole cannot override.” As the self is prior to its ends, individual right should be pursued independent of any conception of good. According to Rawls, the essence of citizenship lies in the liberty of the individual to formrevise and change social conceptions of the good – not in sharing definite moral values or some distant collective or national goals. Otherwise, he argues, the whole idea of social contract does make little or no sense. The social contract should serve not to come up with a pre-shared conception of Social-Good but rather to make possible a difference-blind social arrangement that can promote the right of each contracting parties to form, revise, change or pursue her/his conception of good.

For such a neutral standpoint be achieved, Rawls assumed a hypothetical society he called the Original Position. He further assumed what he calls “the veil of ignorance” in representing the contracting individuals’ ignorance about their conception of the Good or social identity prior to the agreement.  Both assumptions are justified by the need to achieve an impartial state of mind of the contracting parties in order to arrive at a neutral principles of social arrangement. It is based on these two important assumptions that Rawls later arrived on his famous two principles of justice.

The reaction to Rawls’ work was so immense that it awakened political philosophy from its long time slumber. His critics can generally be classified into two schools of thought, namely, communitarianism and pluralism. Both critics refuse to accept Rawls’ individualism. They consider his conception of individual autonomy as utopian to the best and tricky and manipulative to the worst. According to them, real individuals are not “unencumbered selves” as the priority of right to social good, the self to its ends or the assumption of the veil of ignorance under the original position suggest. In actual life, our identity is a given one, not even a matter of choice. It is often what Martin Heidegger calls “thrownness”. In real life, we all are with dense identity, as bearers of particular social role, as someone’s son or daughter, a member of this clan or that tribe, this or that nation, whose native language is this or that etc.

Although both streams of critics concede to the liberal’s main thesis that individuals are indeed the only living social agents, they simultaneously claim that collective identities are not less real than the individuals themselves. This is because, they argue, individuals are not born and raised in void. Family, neighboring and local communities, stories, tales and languages, schools and childhood memories etc. are all constitutive of the very agency of the individual. Individuals become agents only as social beings. The fact that their agency itself presuppose society as a field of self-realization shows that the rationality and freedom of the individual is anchored in being social by nature. Individual human beings are embodiments of their natural and social environment as much as they are rational agents in adopting to or changing those environments. Therefore, collective identities are real and objective as forms of social relations if not as entities.

For communitarians, particularly, those social relations are stable as a cultural or moral mark of the group under discussion. They are comprehensive and historical by their nature to be constitutive, in the strongest sense of the term, of its individual members. In this sense, communitarianism clearly stands in a diametrically opposite direction to liberalism. It postulates the primacy of community over the individual, the importance of particularism over universalism. It tends to classify and rank collective identities according to certain established meritocratic values. Communitarianism appears therefore to be a modern version of republicanism in its conception of citizenship too. Sharing a virtuous moral life, forging collective responsibility and common goals are the mark. Difference is seen as a social challenge, not as an opportunity. Here depart the pluralists.

Unlike communitarians, the pluralists value group identity not just for its own sake but, rather, for the practical relevance it has in determining the life of the individual. Its version of communitarianism is, therefore, not primordial or essentialist.  Collective identities are fluid social relations – not given and static as communitarians assume. Group identities can be better understood, according to pluralists, as dialectical phenomena – relational and changing.

We always talk of group identity visa-vice another group. Their relation is often marked by conflict and hierarchy. Institutionalized oppression and domination are the major forms of socio-political relations in determining group identities. The strength of self-awareness as a group hinges most of the time on the strength and intensity of domination-relation perpetuated by another group. This is not because groups have their own sense of rivalry by nature, but essentially because the position of the group has a direct effect on the individual members of the groups.

The opportunities and challenges of the individual agency would ultimately be determined by the position of the group to which the individual belongs or associated. A group identity can be an enabling or disabling to the individual agency depending on the power-position of the group to which one belongs. The distribution of opportunities and challenges is therefore predetermined in a multi-cultural state. This means the individual in its relation to the state is mediated through group identity to which the individual belongs (be it race, cultural, ethnic, gender or even sexual orientation).  Therefore, citizenship cannot be conceptualized as a simple unilinear individual-state relationship without considering that mediation.

Instituting equal citizenship requires, first of all, the recognition of difference as a fact of life in general. It requires the recognition of those collective identities as political agents – in order to enable individual members can redress their disadvantaged standing vis-vice the state. For example, recognizing the Oromo language as a state language would enable an individual Oromo, who is not in good command of Amharic, to have equal access to public office or public hearing. Here we need to emphasize that the recognition of the collective identity, in our case the Oromo language, should not be made for its own sake or for the value one may attach to it. It is rather for its mediating role in enabling or empowering the individual to have equal opportunity, by removing the unjustly created institutional obstacle. There can be no reason consequently to consider that such recognition is not consistent with universal values of democracy which puts individual agency at the center of its conception of citizenship. There is no theoretical inconsistency between federalism as a multi-cultural conception of citizenship and that of the liberal conception based on universal freedom. Pluralism in this sense is a splendid synthesis of the two extreme doctrines, individualism and communitarianism.

This brings me back to reconsider the Ethiopian political discourse in the light of this lately developed conception of “multicultural citizenship”.

Indifference to Difference

I assume there is no question or debate about the multiethnic or multicultural nature of Ethiopia. Ethiopia is a self-declared empire just four decades ago and, a multi- nations-state since the monarchy was abolished in 1974. It was only in the last 25 years that those multi-nations and nationalities were acknowledged as political entities to govern themselves and take part in the affairs of the federal. This is just to mention the official policy of the ruling EPRDF regime as articulated in the constitution, not to imply anything further. Ethiopia is also one of the most backward countries in its overall economic development and therefore with little or no liberal or republican democratic tradition.

Given these facts, it is simply perplexing to continuously hear an ever increasing louder voice by those unitarist forces and the new government in charge of the “transition” about the citizenship politics as a magical remedy to all problems of the country in the way it reminds us of scientific socialism and revolutionary democracy during Mengistu and Meles Zenawi, respectively. More perplexing is the fact their conception of citizenship often contrasted to federalism.

In a country where inequality and, as a result, a long standing conflict alongside ethnic, cultural or religious identities have had deeper root, I hope they are not imagining that Rawls’ veil of ignorance is at its magical function in letting those living people abandon their collective identity for the difference-blind-principle to rule. There is a common man temptation to consider blindness to difference as impartiality or neutrality, though. But blindness to an existing difference is to ignore the difference so that it should further be perpetuated unnoticed. Particularly differences as a result of past inequalities and domination-relation, as it has  been the case with Ethiopian polity, need full attention – not just blatant indifference called difference-blind-principle. How indifference to difference can result in principles of justice that promote equal citizenship in the first place?

Indifference to difference is not an innocent standpoint as it appears to be. It is rather an active coverup in diffusing strives of those marginalized or dominated identities. It is an ideological maneuver in maintaining the already existing overall structure by means of reducing all group identities to what is common to all, namely, the individual. But then they portray the individual after their own image as a yardstick for all individuals so that the larger unity continue to be reproduced in the old way. It goes on camouflaging the particular for the universal. Liberal individualism is just a recipe to forced assimilation as communitarianism is to segregation. Both consider difference as otherness but, differently. Liberalism wants to do away with it through assimilation. Communitarianism wants to essentialize difference so that hierarchical social form of organization be maintained.

The Ethiopian state have attempted so far both ways: exclusion and assimilation by the Monarchy and the Dergue, respectively. But both failed; and they failed devastatingly in the way they can never resuscitate again. It is absolutely beyond the scope of this paper to explain why. But it may suffice here to echo the famous statement: “an empire dies of indigestion”. The indigestion is even more likely when the minority tries to swallow the majority as it has been the case with Ethiopia. Ethiopia has died as an empire, already, long time ago. It only continued to persist as a state. It may has been deformed or disfigured for some of us who remained nostalgic of her past but, still persisting. Another trial to swallow the different, the otherness, may even result in a very risky business of getting her chocked up for ever.

Therefore, compromise on middle ground should be a categorical imperative for co-existence of diversity in unity and vice versa. The middle ground is to adopt a dual system of rights: liberal universal rights which are the same for all and specific empowering rights to group identities. The middle ground is a position that forwards an ideal of deliberative or “talk centric” democracy alternatively to “vote centric” or just liberal democracy that depoliticizes public life in general. That is precisely what I tried to term so long as a pluralist conception of citizenship as opposed to the monolithic one proposed by those who call themselves “unitarists” – while continue assuming speaking Amharic language, dancing eskista, adhering to a Coptic Church, adoring Menelik II, promoting the legendary tale of Queen Sheba and the Jewish descent of the Ethiopian dynasty etc. as a measure of a true Ethiopian citizen, Ethiopiawinet.

The author can be reached at

Appeal Letter to the International Community

by Oromo Civic Organizations

(Advocacy for Oromia, March 05, 2018) We, members of the Oromo civic and professional organizations, write this urgent letter to appeal to international organizations and governments to save helpless, peaceful citizens trapped under a repressive regime in Ethiopia which has decided to rule through state terrorism.

The Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) led Ethiopian government, representing a minority ethnic group, which has ruled Ethiopia with an iron fist since the early 1990’s, has unleashed what can be described as state terrorism in the last few years on defenseless people for peacefully demanding their basic democratic rights. The most populous state in the country, Oromia, has particularly faced the brunt of the regime’s ire, as widely documented by reputable human rights and international media organizations. Thousands have been killed, and tens of thousands have been arrested, tortured, displaced and exiled. On October 2, 2016 alone, government security forces fired on millions of people who gathered for the annual Irreecha festival, near the city of Bishoftu, killing hundreds and maiming many more. Following this massacre, the government imposed a ten-month state of emergency, during which over 30,000 people were arrested and kept in concentration camps without a due process of law. In what is arguably the worst humanitarian disaster to have befallen the Oromo people yet, close to one million Oromo have been displaced from their home in the eastern and southeastern regions, because of TPLF’s vicious proxy war on the Oromo via the so-called Liyu-Police of the Somali region of Ethiopia. Most of the internally displaced are still living in temporary shelters, facing an uncertain outcome and a bleak future.

Faced with a growing dissent, the TPLF regime has re-imposed a state of emergency on February 16, 2018, curtailing fundamental human rights and giving its army a wide latitude to take extrajudicial actions with impunity. This new law is totally uncalled for, as the government is fully in control and has no justification to use an extraordinary measure to maintain peace and order. Many foreign governments and independent observers believe that declaring a state of emergency at this time is unnecessary and counter-productive. The United States Embassy in Ethiopia “strongly disagrees with Ethiopian government’s decision to impose a state of emergency that includes restrictions on fundamental rights such as assembly and expression.” Opposition political parties, civic and religious organizations have also condemned the declaration of the state of emergency. The decree does not even meet the conditions stipulated in TPLF’s own constitution which requires an extraordinary situation to declare a state of emergency. It is, therefore, illegal.
Yet even before the state of emergency was approved, the regime has intensified its implementation, severely restricting the freedom of movement and expression. On February 23, for example, government forces prevented leaders of the Oromo Federalists Congress (OFC), Dr. Merera Gudina and Bekele Gerba, from visiting their relatives and meeting supporters in Wallaga, western Oromia.
After their release from prison just last month, they were forced to stay in an open field, 20 miles away from the city of Nekemete, because federal forces, who have been harassing and terrorizing residents, blocked the road and ordered them to go back to Addis Ababa (Finfinnee) On February 26, soldiers fired live ammunition and killed one person, Abebe Makonnen, and wounded at least 19 people. Another person was killed and 5 others were wounded in the town of Ukkee, north of Nekemte, on February 27 and 28, 2018. Further west, in Dembi Dolo, government forces have prevented the distribution of leaflet for a religious gathering and killed one person and wounded several others. On February 27, the Command Post, a military unit set up to administer the state of emergency, and led by Siraj Fergessa, Defense Minister, authorized the federal defense forces to take any action against protesters.

The Command post’s directive gives an extraordinary power to the armed forces and allows them to unleash unmitigated violence against civilians. The state of emergency clearly violates the country’s constitution and other international human rights treaty obligations that Ethiopia has agreed to observe.
The behavior of the Ethiopian regime is outrageous on many levels. While Ethiopia hosts many international organizations including: the headquarters of the African Union (AU), the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), and numerous diplomatic missions; the EPRDF regime flagrantly violates
human rights with impunity. Helpless and defenseless people wonder who would come to their rescue when their government manipulates the laws and kills them, evicts them from their lands, and displaces them routinely.

The outrage of the people has been simmering for years and their patience has reached its limits. This volatile situation can get out of control at any moment. Unfortunately, if this happens, many more lives could be lost; property could be destroyed, the Horn of Africa region could face an imaginable displacements and mass migrations. In short, the consequences could be catastrophic not only for the Oromo and the peoples of Ethiopia, but also for the northeast African region and the global community.

Grieving of the losses we have suffered so far, due to the brutal acts of TPLF/EPRDF regime, and fearful of the looming human sufferings, we strongly appeal to the international community and organizations to act fast and save innocent lives, prevent violence and displacements. We particularly appeal to:

1. The United Nations, the African Union, the Arab League, and the European Union to stop the Ethiopian government from continuing very dangerous political path;

2. The United Nations Security Council to authorize the investigation of the violations of human rights and international human rights treaty obligations, the crimes committed by the Ethiopian regime;

3. The United Nations Human Rights Commission to investigate previous the human rights violations and other committed crimes under current state of emergency law in Ethiopia;

4. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) not to provide financial assistance to Ethiopia, except for humanitarian reasons, to force the government end its repressive behavior;

5. The governments of the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Egypt, Germany, Italy, Norway, Sweden, South Africa and other nations to put all necessary diplomatic pressure, and financial and trade restrictions to end the state of emergence, respect the rights of citizens and open the political space for democracy and freedom;

6. All peace-loving global communities to put necessary pressure on their respective governments to end assistance to the Ethiopian government and support the Oromo and other peoples in Ethiopia at this critical moment.

Ultimately, the TPLF/EPRDF leaders and their partners will be fully, legally and historically, accountable for the criminal acts they are committing under the cover of the state of emergency.
Last but not least, if our urgent warnings are ignored and the ominous tragedies we fear take place, history will harshly judge the inaction of the international community, appropriately.

Oromo Civic and Professional Organizations

• Global Gumii Oromia (GGO)
• Oromo Communities Association of North America (OCA-NA)
• Macha-Tulama Association (MTA)
• Oromo Studies Association (OSA)
• Oromia Support Group (OSG)
• International Oromo Lawyers Association (IOLA)
• International Oromo Women’s Organization (IOWO)
• International Qeerroo Support Group (IQSG)
• Human Rights League for the Horn Of Africa (HRLHA)
Organizations: UN, AU, EU, AL, WB, IMF
Governments: US, UK, Canada, Australia, China, Egypt, Germany, Norway, Italy, Russia, Sweden, South Africa, [Others]

Appeal letter to UN et al

October 15, 2020

Human Rights Organizations and Civic Institute
Contact email:

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Palais Wilson – 52, rue des Pâquis
CH-1201 Geneva, Switzerland

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
31 Bijilo Annex Layout, Kombo North District
Western Region P.O. Box 673 Banjul, The Gambia
E-mail: ,

European Commission
Rue de la Loi / Wetstraat 170
B-1049 Bruxelles/Brussel

International Committee of the Red Cross
19 Avenue de la paix
1202 Geneva, Switzerland

Committee to Protect Journalists
P.O. Box 2675
New York, NY 10108

Amnesty International, East Africa
Riverside Studios, PO Box 1527, 00606 Sarit
Centre, Nairobi, Kenya

Human Rights Watch
350 Fifth Avenue, 34th floor
New York, NY 10118-3299 USA

The Genocide Watch
S-CAR, George Mason University. 3351
North Fairfax Drive, MS4D3
Arlington, VA 22201

We, the undersigned Human Rights Organizations and civic institutes, write this letter to you out of grave concern with the current political and constitutional crises in Ethiopia and the foreseen human catastrophe. International human rights organizations like Amnesty International and various National and International media outlets have reported that the Ethiopian government has continuously engaged in massive human rights violations*.

some of which may, in fact, amount to genocide. The rule of law has never shone in Ethiopia both in its literary meaning as well as the politico-legal context. Arbitrarily arresting citizens and dictatorial rule have remained the hallmarks of the Ethiopian rulers for more than one hundred and fifty years. The people of Ethiopia, particularly the Oromo people and people of the Southern Nations and Nationalities, however, continue to yearn for democratic governance.

The fall of the barbaric feudal system in 1974 that was in place since the 1940s gave way to the military junta that ruled Ethiopia with a brute force for 17 long years. The death of the military regime in 1991 paved a chance for a multi-ethnic coalition transitional government and a new federal structure meant to ease a century-long conflict and hegemony of a single ethnic culture. However, the bright light quickly dimmed when the TPLF acted to purge the OLF (a major Political Organization representing the Oromo people) out of the transitional government, paving a way for a protracted war and continued marginalization of the Oromo people. The resistance waged by the OLF against the TPLF via armed struggle, clandestine resistance, and mass uprising eventually forced the EPRDF to kneel down, ending the hegemony of the TPLF in 2018. It also gave a golden opportunity for the emergence of individuals like the current Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, to usurp the movement from within under the guise of reform.

In the beginning, the PM presented himself as someone who has the will to chart a new path for the country. Internally, however, he was making pacts with those who adore old Ethiopia and vowing to restore the glory of the imperial system known for its racist and hegemonic strata – the single source of all evils stirring Ethiopia to this date. Given his public gesture and the desire of the mass in Ethiopia for change, many opposition political parties including the OLF consented to work with the regime on building a new path for the country and they showed their commitments by taking bold steps: declaring unilateral ceasefire, agreeing to demobilize their armed forces, and relocating their leadership from exile back to Ethiopia.

However, it did not take the Abiy government more than a few months to abrogate on these concessions and embark on the usual culture of intimidation of the leaders of the OLF, rounding up of their supporters, and subsequently, declaring a war of annihilation on the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) that were in the process of demobilizing. Ever since, the supporters of the OLF and the Oromo people have been living under a constant threat of military command, abductions from their homes and workplaces, and being hoarded into premises with little or no facilities to house human beings. Numerous representatives of the OLF, prominent elders, intellectuals, and entrepreneurs have, therefore, fallen prey to Abiy Ahmed’s police state inherited from his time working for the TPLF.

The official tenure of Abiy Ahmed’s regime has also ended on October 5, 2020. Given the precarious state of affairs facing the country, the OLF has called for the establishment of a transitional government in Oromia. And this OLF call has gained popular support from the Oromo people both within and outside of the country.

However, it appears that the call has served as a de facto reason for the ire of the Abiy Ahmed government to be directed against the OLF and the Oromo people. The October 12, 2020, blatant attack by the Armed forces dispatched with the direct order of Abiy Ahmed on the OLF chairman, Mr. Dawud Ibsa is one such example and an alarming recipe for disaster in the country. When Mr. Ibsa’s home was raided, renowned Oromo elders, political figures, and community leaders along with some non-government affiliated media Journalists were also rounded up by Ethiopia’s federal police and security personnel with no court order.

Besides interrupting Mr. Ibsa’s media briefing related to the current political and constitutional crises in the country, particularly in Oromia, the Federal Police has arrested several of the participants including the Oromo elders and journalists and more than dozens of the Audiences of the media briefing were ordered to remain in house arrest. The same day, the Federal Police have also rounded up a fundraising event organized by the Oromo Relief Association (ORA) for humanitarian aid in Sebeta, a city located on the South West of Finfinne. There too, the Federal Police has arrested serval people, including Mr. Dechasa Nuguse, chairman of the Association, Mrs. Yerosan Takele, and Mr. Jaleta Abdissa, who were facilitators of the event. Three Journalists who were reporting the event have also been arrested.

We feel that the October 12, 2020 incidence on a peaceful gathering of people at a private residence of a major leader of a political organization constitutes state terrorism and is the making of a fascist act targeted at the Oromo people. We note that the attack on Mr. Dawud Ibsaa, a symbol of the Oromo political capital and an icon of endurance, resilience, principle, and resistance, is the last bell to ring before the canon goes loose in the country. Putting the very fact that Ethiopia (a country of over 110 million out of which the Oromo alone roughly constitute 50 million) cannot afford armed civil strife, therefore, we call upon;

1) all peace-loving countries, representatives, and the international community to help avert the looming crisis in Ethiopia by intervening as outlined in OLF’s press statement of September 13, 2020, that called for international arbitration of Ethiopia’s complex constellation of conflicts;

2) the UN, AU, EU, and major donor governments to the regime in Ethiopia to exert maximum pressure as they have the leverage to stop Abiy Ahmed’ killing spree and a mass crackdown from going awry;

3) the International community that has the leverage to help the call for a peaceful transition to succeed by providing the necessary material, financial, diplomatic, and security assistance to the national stakeholders as needed;

4) the international community to understand that inaction to this call may lead to the repeat of the carnage in the Balkans and the tragedy in Rwanda that occurred during the first half of the 1990s in both instances.

5) the international Human Rights Organizations to diligently follow the situation in Ethiopia, particularly in Oromia, and expose the human rights violations perpetrated by the Abiy government’s military and security forces.


1. Advocacy for Oromia
2. Global Oromo Advocacy Group
3. Horn of Africa Genocide Watch
4. International Oromo Women’s Organization
5. International Qeerroo Support Group
6. Oromo Parliamentarians Council
7. Oromo Political Prisoners Association
8. Oromia Support Group – Australia
9. United Oromo Christian Church of Australia

Here is the PDF format of the Appeal Letter: Appeal letter_GOAG_2020_4_10-16-20

* Ethiopia: “Beyond law enforcement” human rights violations by Ethiopian security forces in Amhara and Oromia