Oromos in urban centres: from marginalization to blockage

By Tullu Liban

Needless to say, Meles Zenawi, the late Prime Minister of Ethiopia was the architect of the current TPLF led order in the country. Presumably, Meles was aware that his health condition was deteriorating (many believe he was suffering from chronic intestinal cancer for several years). He didn’t want to leave the inane comrades in a cluttered situation after his expiration. He had to plan ahead for them how to sustain his legacy. Thus, in the periods of his 3rd and last tenure, he came up with four draconian decrees and made his rubberstamp parliament to enact them.

These are:
A Proclamation to Provide for Freedom of the Mass Media and Access to Information (Pro.#590/2008)
A Charities and Societies Proclamation (Proc. #621/2009)
A Proclamation on Anti-Terrorism (Pro. #652/2009)
And a Proclamation of Urban Lands Lease Holding (Pro. #721/2011).

These laws not only fundamentally eroded the regime’s overhyped constitution but also legalized the crackdowns it inflicts on dissent moves ever since.
I will not discuss the rest of the proclamations. However, I will focus on the urban lands lease holding proclamation, which tremendously banned the Oromo people not to enter the urban centers. It also disrupted the demographic proportion of the Oromo people in the towns.

As the facts speak for themselves, foundation of towns in Oromia and in the southern parts of Ethiopia begins with the occupation of the Amhara worries. Towns in Oromia and the rest of the south were created as quarters of the invaders. They were settlement villages of the warlords who occupied the land of those who were conquered. Therefore, they were not open organic townships to accommodate local natives. These towns were exclusionist, segregationist and abusive to the local southern natives. The status quo was unchanged over a century plus years.

In the town where I grew up Oromos who had private houses were quite few, probably, not more than 30 in a population of the then 20, 000, (until 1986, when I left the town). The rest of Oromo dwellers lived in Kebele and rented houses. As far us business is concerned there were 4 modest Oromo owned hotels and 1 edible oil mill. There were no Oromo café owners, butchers, shopkeepers, retailers, wholesalers or dealers. Even those who were of Oromo blood were not proud of their identity because of the very discouraging and humiliating prejudices that Oromos experienced over years.

That position of the Oromo people was not changed in the Ethiopian towns until the demise of the Derg regime.

Despite the nonstop turbulences in Oromia throughout the TPLF rule, there happened a lose time when Oromos started settling in urban centers of Oromia. From the early 2000s up to the time of the proclamation of the Urban Lands Lease Holding, urban land in Oromia was administered by the “regional government”. Notwithstanding the mismanagement and mishandling of the OPDO “government” (delegates of TPLF), there came a little chance for Oromo nationals to obtain urban land plots free of charge or with reasonable cost. No matter how the OPDO cadres abused the land distribution procedures, land possession was not an impossible luck to Oromos. No doubt, most of the land plots in Oromia were amassed by cadres and relatives of OPDO officials. And yet, urban land possession was not completely closed to the Oromo people.

However, it has now become totally impossible for the Oromo natives to establish life in the towns of Oromia. The land lease proclamation is a malicious instrument devised to keep the Oromo away from urban centers. Upsurge of Oromo population in urban centers means a fundamental shift not only in terms of demographic pattern of the Abyssinian dominated urban life but also a positive determinant to Oromo self-awareness, life style, transformation and cultural exposition in urban centers.

Such impulses are not likable by the Abyssinian opponents both present and past. That is why Meles Zenawi made available for his Tigrean successors a spell weapon before his expiration. That weapon helped contain the Oromo people in traditional rural place-the urban land holding proclamation. Since the introduction of this ill intended tool as an official decree in 2011, access to urban land has remained unattainable dream for the Oromo natives, throughout Oromia, even in small rural towns.

One instance is worth mentioning to demonstrate how access to urban land plot is an impossibility for Oromo natives. In 2015, Sebeta town municipality announced a land plot bid for the first time since the coming to force of the lease proclamation. The plots of land announced for lease tender were not plentiful. The size of the plots was also entirely uniform-105m2. The base price per m2 was 250 birr. However, the price offered by bidders for an m2 was 16,500 birr. When this is multiplied by 105, (the total price for the 105m2 plot of land becomes 1, 732,500 birr). As a rule the price setter is the one who offers the highest price. Therefore, once the highest is identified as 16,500 birr all who are interested to buy the land plot would be expected to pay the highest set price for 105m2.

As a matter of fact, all the bidders were Selte brokers. There was no a single Oromo in the list.

This is a reality in Oromia. As such no Oromo farmer who is interested to build a house in urban centers of Oromia has got the chance after the urban lands lease proclamation of 2011. It is a total barring, not marginalization.

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