ethiopiantimes

July 30, 2013

Fiction and Facts on Oromos of Ethiopia

Filed under: Ethiopia — ethiopiantimes @ 8:30 am
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(ADAMA, Ethiopia) – Recently, the Qatar-based media al Jazeera has published several articles concerning the Oromo people of Ethiopia. It is the first international media outlet to extensively report on our people and it should be praised for bringing our cause to the world stage.

One of the benefits of this exposure is it forces Ethiopian authorities to address human rights abuses in the country and to let them know that the world is watching. Oromos and other Ethiopians have been struggling for equal rights and democracy for decades. While it is important to report about Oromo people’ background and historical perspectives, it is however vital that we report accurate information. Instead of benefiting us, reporting inaccurate or biased information can actually harm our struggle for democracy. Instead of creating national consensus and peace, it can instigate bitterness and anger.Ethiopia officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia

One of the reasons al Jazeera reported inaccurate information about Oromo history is because it depended on one-sided sources, especially from members or supporters of Oromo groups outside of Ethiopia (diaspora OLF, OFDM etc). But nobody can blame al Jazeera media because most people inside Ethiopia would be too scared to speak or contribute. The only option al Jazeera or any foreign media has is to use diaspora/refugee/external sources outside Ethiopia. This is a dilemma all foreign media outlets face while reporting about third-world countries like Ethiopia.

For educational purposes, some corrections are provided below to fix inaccuracies reported on al Jazeera media regarding Oromo history and our struggle for democracy. The corrections below are supported by non-political scholars, but they might be rejected by biased politicians (both from ruling party and from opposition party) for the obvious reasons. However, they are based on historical textbooks, European authors and scholarly accounts.

Fiction #1:

“Between 1868 and 1900, half of all Oromo were killed, around 5 million people”

Fact #1:

This is one of the most repeated inaccuracies, usually told by Secessionist Oromos, radical ethno-nationalist politicians outside the country or pro-OLF history revisionist websites like gadaa.com et al. However, the undisputed fact is that even the total Ethiopian population (the sum of dozens of ethnic groups) was much less than 5 million in the late 1800s, let alone one ethnic group being 10 million. So claiming that 5 million ethnic Oromos were killed by Emperor Menelik’s forces does not add up. The truth is several thousand Oromos were in fact killed during battles of that era. It was not a “genocide” as some politicians claim but it was a massacre of the ill equipped southern forces defeated by the Shewan military of Emperor Menelik which had more European weapons. Throughout those decades, the truth is more Oromos were killed by other Oromos than by non-Oromos because competing Oromo Clans often traded for weapons to have an upper hand against their local competitors, who were often their fellow Oromo and Sidama neighbors. And it was not the first lop sided victory of that era in Africa because various communities from all corners of Ethiopia had attacked one another during the “resource battles” and whichever group had more modern weapons had the upper hand. To summarize, Professor Mengistu Paulos of Jimma University said it best when describing right-wing Oromo liberation philosophy:

“Most fictional accounts of ‘Oromo history’ blindly accepted as facts by some misled people are manufactured by former politicians turned Pseudo-historians like OLF writer Asafa Jalata, who is renowned for abuse of paraphrasing, often with out-of-context citations. For example, while quoting the 19th century Russian Alexander Bulatovich (who provided an ‘educated guess’ of annihilation of almost half Ethiopian population by disease, famine and war, including internal conflict between Oromo clans and with Abyssinians), the OLF-writer Asafa Jalata infamously claimed half Oromo population was killed by ‘evil’ Amharas. This was purposely done by Mr. Jalata to create a foundation for ethnic hatred between Oromos and Amharas. Ironically, even Mr. Bulatovich himself never had the capacity nor the legitimacy to do a reliable census, as he spent just a couple of months walking around Oromia and hunting elephants in 1890s.”

Fiction #2:

“…. largely Muslim Oromo people”

Fact #2:

This is a phrase seen in some media outlets but not most. Oromo people have never been a predominantly muslim people. In fact, both Christianity and Islam is not our ancestral religion because we have practiced an indigenous traditional religion for centuries before. Gradually, Islam and Christianity were both adopted (during Oromo migrations) by us and imposed (during conquest of our lands by Abyssinian/Christians & Somalis/Islam) on us thru out history. Even today, both the two major religions have equal representation among Oromos. The latest official 2007 census showed that around 48% of Oromos practice Christianity (Both Orthodox & Protestant) while around 47% of Oromos practice Islam. Yet, word on the ground is that the Islam population might soon surpass Christianity among Oromos in the future because Orthodox Christianity is decreasing inside Oromia.

Fiction #3

“Abyssinians labelled Oromos the derogatory word ‘Galla’”

Fact #3:

For many decades, this false statement has been used by Oromo separatists to create emotional resentment among Oromos against Semitic Abyssinians (Amharas, Tigrayans and Gurages). The fact is the derogatory word “Galla” was first used by Arab and muslim Somalis to describe Oromos as “gal” meaning “outsiders” and “Pagans.” Muslims used this label during Oromo migration because Oromo people had their own religion which the Muslims believed was paganism. Nonetheless, this derogatory word was gradually adopted and used by other Ethiopians.

Fiction #4:

“Oromos were colonized by Emperor Menelik”

Fact: #4

Another popular claim made by secessionist Oromo politicians (and usually repeated by foreign journalists) is the fiction that Oromo people (as a whole ethnic group) were colonized by another ethnic group. Usually, the slogan goes “Abyssinians colonized Oromos” etc. This claim is popular among the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) organization and consequently among some Diaspora Oromo nationalists living in America and Europe. While a different version or a re-arrangement of the wording might still be true…in general, the Oromo nation as a whole was never colonized by another Ethiopian ethnic group. To start with, even a united one Oromo nation did not exist at those times. All non-political historical textbooks show the existence of battles between multi-ethnic BUT monolingual communities for many centuries through out Ethiopia. Even in northern Ethiopia (traditional “Abyssinia”) Oromos have migrated and mixed so much with Tigrayans, Amharas, Afars etc for centuries that the “Abyssinia” state itself was never a one-ethnic state. In fact, even around the 1700s, Rayya Oromos and Yejju Wallo Oromos conquered and dominated a portion of Amharas and Tigrayans; and thus made Afan Oromo the official language of Abyssinia for that brief period. Meaning: clans and ethnic groups have mixed up in Ethiopia for over a millennium but the dominant ethnic group always imposed its language since it was convenient. This linguistic domination however was not always as exploitive and as vilified as it is today; because many of the ethnic groups living along trade centers and trade routes often spoke the languages of other ethnic groups already, because there was financial or commercial incentive to do so. This is the background of the region. Therefore, when it comes to the Emperor Menelik era, all historians have argued that it is more factual to say a predominantly Amharic language speaking community gradually conquered a predominantly Afan Oromo language speaking community in the 1800s. So this does not mean an Oromo ethnic group was conquered by an Amhara ethnic group. In fact, just like Amharas of the north were divided,Oromos were also divided and in conflict among themselves. The obvious evidence for this comes from the fact that the Amhara Emperor Menelik was imprisoned by other Amhara regional kings when he was younger. And when he was freed, Oromo clans were also in fierce battles amongst each other, so much so that the Tullama Oromo, Limmu and Macha Oromos created an alliance with the Shewan Amharas of Menelik, leading to the infamous battles of 1880s that led to this said alliance easily crushing the non-allied Oromos in various bloody wars. In short, Oromos as a one whole were never colonized by exclusively non-Oromos. In fact, the original founders of the OLF organization themselves never believed it so they did not emphasize the word “colonization” in the beginning. But in the mid-1970s, OLF leaders needed to mobilize Oromos against Emperor Haile Selassie (who was half Oromo himself) and to justify the call for “Oromia independence” from “colonial Ethiopia.” Therefore OLF had to create a bad cop-good cop scenario for their convenience and simplified history for their people to create national resentment. This helped OLF to portray Oromos as suddenly being colonized by this foreign ethnic group (Amhara) that we (Oromos) have never came in contact with before. This is common tactic used by national liberation movements around the world. The truth that most Ethiopians know is that Shewa based Oromos and Amharas (ethnically mixed Ethiopians) were the main creators of modern Ethiopia. In his book “Who are the Shoans,” the historian and anthropologist, Dr. Gerry Salole once summarized that: “In terms of descent, the group that became politically dominant in Shewa (and subsequently in Ethiopia) was a mixture of Amhara and Oromo.”

In Conclusion, the above are 4 of the main issues that create confusion for foreign journalists who report on Oromo people and Oromo politics in Ethiopia. While it is vital that al Jazeera and other media outlets cover the current suffering of Oromos and other Ethiopians, it is necessary to report responsibly. Otherwise, creating confusion and resentment between the younger Ethiopian population causes more problems than solutions. In reality, not just Oromos, but all Ethiopians have suffered under several governments and the only way they can achieve freedom and lasting democracy is when united, not when divided by tribes or not when being polarized by historical lies presented as truth. It is important that foreign media outlets make corrections or report accurate information to avoid inflammatory statements that are destructive and counter productive against Oromos and all Ethiopian people’ ongoing struggle for democracy, development and justice.

Feqadu Lamessa is a former Adama University professor and writer

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July 20, 2013

Egypt ‘deeply worried’ by Nile water row with Ethiopia

Filed under: Nile — ethiopiantimes @ 4:42 pm
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Egypt said on Saturday it was highly concerned that Ethiopia had not responded to an invitation to discuss a dispute over a giant dam that Ethiopia plans to build on the river Nile.

Egypt is deeply worried that Ethiopia has not yet reacted to the invitation Egypt’s minister of water and irrigation made to conduct a meeting in Cairo on the consequences of the dam,” a statement issued by the foreign ministry said.

Egypt fears the dam will reduce water flows vital for its 84 million people.

Recently ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi said last month that “all options” were open in dealing with the issue, prompting Ethiopia to say it was ready to defend its $4.7 billion dam, set to be built near its border with Sudan.

The foreign ministry statement, issued just days after an interim cabinet was sworn into office in Cairo, shows the dam issue is a major priority for the new government.

Ethiopia summoned the Egyptian ambassador last month after politicians in Cairo were shown on television suggesting military action or supporting Ethiopian rebels.

Egypt also last month hosted an experts’ meeting to study the impact of the dam on Egypt and Sudan, the two downstream Nile states. The foreign ministry said Cairo’s proposed meeting was going to discuss that study, but gave no further details.

Egypt, whose population of 84 million uses almost all of the Nile water available to it, cites a 1929 pact which entitled Cairo to 55.5 billion cubic meters a year of the Nile’s flow of around 84 billion cubic meters.

Ethiopia and five other upstream Nile states, such as Kenya and Uganda, say Egypt’s claims are outdated and have signed a deal effectively stripping Cairo of its veto based on colonial-era treaties over dam projects on the river.

(Reporting by Ayman Samir, Writing by Yasmine Saleh; editing by Crispian Balmer)

July 17, 2013

European Human Rights Committee Denied Access to Ethiopian Prison

Filed under: Uncategorized — ethiopiantimes @ 9:49 pm
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Chair of the European Parliament Subcommittee for Human Rights, Barbara Lochbihler, talks to the media, February 2010.

Chair of the European Parliament Subcommittee for Human Rights, Barbara Lochbihler, talks to the media, February 2010.

ADDIS ABABA — Members of a European Parliament human rights delegation have been blocked from visiting an Ethiopian prison, and are concerned about the human rights situation in that nation.

On Wednesday, the European Parliament Subcommittee for Human Rights wrapped up a visit to Ethiopia to assess the country’s human rights situation. The delegation had a trip scheduled to the infamous Kality prison just outside the capital, Addis Ababa. The facility is known for housing political prisoners in harsh living conditions.

In spite of previous assurances from Ethiopia’s government, however, the group was denied access to the prison Wednesday morning, according to delegation member Jacek Protasiewicz.

“We were more than disappointed. Personally I cannot understand the reasons behind it,” said Protasiewicz. “Because if you don’t want to show the parliamentarians how people are detained and the conditions in the prisons, it is clearly that something is to be hidden.”

The members of the committee called upon the Ethiopian government to release journalists and opposition members, jailed under Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism proclamation.

The European Union (EU) delegation said it believes the proclamation is used arbitrarily. The proclamation has also been criticized by organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

A framework for non-governmental organizations (NGOs), implemented by the Ethiopian government, also is a point of concern for the EU subcommittee. The framework includes rules that say no more than 10 percent of an NGO’s funding can come from foreign partners when the organization works in the field of human rights.

The chair of the EU delegation, Barbara Lochbihler, believes the framework makes it difficult for NGOs to work independently.

“We strongly encourage the government to give more space on the domestic levels for civil society organizations to operate independently and in a meaningful way. We think the restrictive NGO framework should be urgently revised,” said Lochbihler.

The conclusions of the visit will be presented to the European Parliament. If Ethiopia does not improve its human rights record, it might be complicate the country’s trade with the European Union. The EU is considering linking trade policy agreements to other factors, such as human rights.

July 16, 2013

World Bank Board approves investigation into allegations of bankrolling human rights abuses in Ethiopia

(July 16, 2013) The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors has approved a full investigation into whether the Bank has breached its policies in Ethiopia and contributed to a government program of forced population transfers known as ‘villagization.’  The Bank’s move follows the resolution of a five-month standoff with the Ethiopian government, which had publicly threatened in May not to cooperate with the investigation.    A preliminary report issued by the Bank’s internal watchdog, the Inspection Panel, recommended the investigation in February after receiving a complaint submitted by indigenous people from Ethiopia’s Gambella region.

The complaint alleges that the Anuak people have suffered grave harm as a result of the World Bank-financed Promoting Basic Services Project (PBS), which has provided 1.4 billion USD in budget support for the provision of basic services to the Ethiopian Government since 2006. The Bank approved an additional $600 million for the next phase of the project on September 25th – one day after the complaint was filed. A legal submission accompanying the complaint, prepared by Inclusive Development International ( Gambella), presents evidence that the PBS project is directly and substantially contributing to the Ethiopian Government’s Villagization Program, which has been taking place in Gambella and other regions of Ethiopia since 2010 and involves the relocation of approximately 1.5 million people.

According to the Villagization Action Plan of the Gambella regional government, villagization is a voluntary process, which aims to increase access to basic services, improve food security, and “bring socioeconomic and cultural transformation of the people.”   The services and facilities supported through PBS are precisely the services and facilities that are supposed to be provided at new settlement sites under the Villagization Program.

The complainants, on the other hand, describe a process of intimidation, beatings, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture in military custody, rape and killing.  Dispossessed of their fertile, ancestral lands and displaced from their livelihoods, Gambellans have been forced into new villages with few of the promised basic services and little access to food or land suitable for farming, which has in some cases led to starvation.  They believe that many of the areas where people have been forcibly removed have been awarded to domestic and foreign investors.

In its official response to the complaint, the Bank’s management denies any connection between PBS and villagization.  The Inspection Panel, however, found that this not a “tenable position.”  The Panel notes that, “the two programs depend on each other, and may mutually influence the results of the other.”  It found that there is a “plausible link” between the two programs but needs to engage in further fact-finding to make definitive findings.

The report also noted that the Bank is required under its policies to ensure that the proceeds of any loan are used for the purposes for which the loan was granted, and that it must assess project risks and report to the Board on actions taken to address those risks.  The Panel reports that the case “raises issues of potential serious non-compliance with Bank policy.” It recommends a full investigation in order to determine conclusively whether or not the Bank complied with its policies and procedures, including those intended to protect the rights of indigenous peoples and those subjected to involuntary resettlement.

David Pred, IDI Managing Associate, welcomed the decision of the World Bank Board of Directors. “The next step is to ensure that the Inspection Panel has free and unfettered access to Gambella, without putting local people at risk of reprisals,” he stated.  “I’m not sure if that is possible given the level of repression that exists today in Ethiopia, but I am sure the Panel will do its best under the circumstances to confirm the facts and keep people safe.”

The complaint, the Bank’s response and the Inspection Panel’s Eligibility Report are available here.

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