Questioning the Motives of the Atlanta Leadership Convention

“A snake that peels off its skin is still a snake”

We live in a country where individuals or groups of individuals can freely express their ideas. Oromo diaspora have been using this freedom to organize rallies, meetings, and conferences. A group claiming to represent Oromo interests has recently announced its plan to hold an “Oromo Leadership Convention” in Atlanta, GA this coming weekend, November 11-13, 2016 to be exact, and they have every right to do so. As Oromo, we also have equal right to express our opinions regarding the planned convention. We would like to make it crystal clear from the get go that we are not attempting to dictate what our Oromo brothers and sisters can or cannot do.

We also hope that our readers will not misinterpret our intentions and see this as a negative attack on the organizers. Given the precarious existence that our people had for over 120 years, we have every right to defend our peoples’ struggle for just cause however we see it fit. The call for the Atlanta Leadership Convention was brought to our attention by an obscure group of individuals with no stated affiliations to any Oromo civic or political organizations. While an Oromo group with no affiliation to Oromo organizations has the right to call for a convention, the Oromo people also have the right to scrutinize their motives. We have the right to ask who these groups are, what they stand for, what they have done in the past for or against Oromo interests, what they are trying to achieve now, why did they decide to convene in Atlanta, and why they decided to act now? In this brief write up, we will try to touch upon some of these fundamental questions.

Forced by the obscurity of the group that made the call for the convention and lack of clarity on what they are trying to achieve, we took upon ourselves and did some investigation. In the process, we learned a few facts that we perceived are pertinent to the future of Oromo struggle, including the path they have travelled and programs they have devised before settling on the Atlanta convention. In the process we have also learned a great deal about the individuals that are serving as the backbone of the planned convention.

Based on our findings, we would like to bring to the attention of the Oromo people, both in the diaspora and the homeland, the following:

  • To justify that this is a timely call, the group declared that the Oromo struggle that is taking place in Oromia has no centralized leadership and this convention will discuss the on resolving this problem. Contrary to their claim, however, the revolution that is going on in Oromia is well coordinated and well planned. If it was an emotional outburst as they claim, it would have ended a year ago, given the brutality with which the TPLF mafia group responded. True the struggle for freedom of our people has not progressed in a pace that we all wanted but to use that as an excuse to discredit those who sacrificed everything they have or could have had for the cause is not only immoral but despicable. When too many Oromo nationalists gave up and jumped off the wagon to join other groups, including the enemy camp, these leaders stood firm on their beliefs that the children of Oromia will one day rise in unison and defeat the enemy and worked hard towards that goal. Not too long ago, individuals in the same group that is organizing the Atlanta convention and others running around to create a coalition with non-Oromo groups were saturating social media with claims that whoever is organizing the student protests in Oromia is doing a disservice to the Oromo cause. They were stating openly that freedom cannot be achieved by mobilizing students from afar and sending them to their certain death. Once they realized that the Oromo protest is here to stay, however, they started showing their deceptive faces and expressing support. Given this background, we strongly believe that this convention is designed to hijack the struggle and put themselves front and center so that they can change the course. We ask every Oromo to read between the lines of the documents that some members of this group produce to understand where they stand on the fundamental Oromo question of selfdetermination.
  • The other stated objective of the convention is creation of an Oromo freedom charter. This charter is supposedly a document that clearly state what the Oromo people want. The irony, however, is that the charter is drafted by a few members of this same group with zero input from the Oromo people in general and Oromo organizations in particular. The top-down and I-know-it-all-for-you approach has not worked for the Oromo people in the past and it will not work in the future. If they had a good intention, they should have consulted all of the stakeholders and asked for an input to the document than rushing into a convention to discuss a document that was prepared by an individual or a couple of individuals.
  • We learned that the first call for Grand Oromo convention came about mid-September 2016 and it was planned to be held in Minneapolis. The original plan rested on using OSA as a facilitator or a major organizer to make it appear that it is either planned and\or supported by Oromo intellectuals. A number of OSA members detested the plan because they were able to see what is behind the nicely worded cover letter. The organizers then came up with a Plan B, which is now described as The Atlanta Leadership Convention. The documents prepared in both cases, which we can present if needed, are very identical and it made us believe that the Atlanta Convention document is either plagiarized or a work of the same group of people who were behind the idea that got a lot of push back from Oromo intellectuals. The question one should ask is, why do they go the extra length to legitimize something that smells illegitimate and discredited by qualified academics in OSA?
  • We also learned that prior to the suggestion of an idea for the convention in Minneapolis itself, there were other groups who were working on organizing a truly Pan Oromo conference aimed at looking into ways to further strengthen the current movement in Oromia. Sources tell us that the individuals who drafted the call for Minneapolis convention were working with the group who were thinking of calling a truly impartial pan Oromo convention. However, as soon as they saw the light the convention could potentially entitle them to be owners or leaders of the current movement, they decided to make the call for the Minneapolis convention, and hence run away from the group. This leads us to conclude that the Atlanta leadership convention, a change in the venue and the name, is the result of the pushback from Oromo intellectuals against holding the convention in Minneapolis.
  • The Atlanta Convention did not get a support from the Mecha and Tulama Association, Oromo Communities’ Association of North America (OCA-NA) for the same reason that the Oromo intellectuals rejected it.
  • Scrutinizing the background of known members of the group that is spearheading the Atlanta convention, we have learned that they either were former members of OPDO or had strong connections and access to members of the EPRDF including Seyoum Mesfin and Junedin Sado. Unconfirmed reports have also shown pictures of some of this group’sleaders dinning and winning with members of the ruling junta in Ethiopia. It is also rumored that some have travelled to Ethiopia and attended OPDO conferences in Adama while attending a college in the US.

Based on these facts, it is our strong belief that beyond creating further confusion among the Oromo people, the Atlanta convention will do little to help address the problem facing Oromia and millions of the Oromo people. A novel and timely effort would have been to work on mobilizing resources in support of our people who are doing the real fighting on the ground. With or without convention, there is no doubt that the gallant Oromo people will defeat the ruthless enemy and free themselves from a century old yoke of subjugation and exploitation.

One needs to remember, however, that history will never forget and forgive. It is not too late for all of us to do the right thing and rewrite our personal history.

Concerned Oromo group.

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