Year in Review: A Look Back at 2012
OLF program change: Much ado about nothing?
2012 opened with a sense of foreboding. On January 1, 2012, a faction of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) headed by Kamal Galchu, a former Ethiopian army general, announced amending the organization’s political program. It claimed OLF had, once and for all, dropped its demand for secession.
At the time, Jawar Mohammed called the announcement “much ado about nothing.” The announcement was not well received among other OLF factions and diaspora-based activists, either. OPride’s Buri Waddesso wrote:
Kamal Galchu & Co, after summarily dismissing the core of the jijjiirama leadership, thereby effectively forfeiting the support of the vast majority of its members and totally alienating itself from any credible Oromo political base, not only monumentally fumbled on the vision thing but also exposed a mountain of ignorance about the proud history of Oromo nationalism. The whole enterprise is not just a political miscalculation but also a comico-tragic drama. By so doing, the generals catapulted themselves from promising heroes to the nightmare of the Oromo struggle.
After landing a feature story in the Washington Post, occasional appearances at Ginbot7 events, scanty coverage on ESAT and Ethiopian Paltalk chat rooms, the group has gradually faded out of the limelight.
Ethio-Muslims: Lessons and Opportunities?
One of the many surprises of 2012 was the yearlong peaceful protest of Ethiopian Muslims. The protests began in January, after students at Awolia Institute walked out of classes opposing a proposed curriculum change and the removal of a handful of teachers, bringing to the fore the grievances of Ethiopian Muslims, who make up one-third or, according to the Permanent Mission of Ethiopia to the UN, 45-50 percent of the population. Protesters accuse Ethiopia’s government of religious meddling and imposing the teachings of Al-Ahbash, a Lebanese sect with Ethiopian roots.
During his final speech to parliament, the late Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi, denied allegations of state interference in religious affairs and blamed the protests on a few radical Salafists, accusing them of preaching intolerance. Zenawi had also announced that al Qaeda cells had been uncovered in Ethiopia’s Oromia region. Lo and behold, ten days later, OPride reported:
At least four people were killed and about eight others wounded after Ethiopian security forces fired shots at Muslim activists on Friday in the Asasa town of Oromia.
At least eight people have been killed in disputes with police since the protests began. The committee of seventeen, elected to mediate between protesters and the government, along with 12 others including Habiba Mohammed, the wife of Junedin Saddo, remain incarcerated.
After a sustained yearlong protest, the movement has now reached a point of no return even after its leaders were detained—likely facing long-term imprisonment. The regime’s strategy to undercut the protestor’s momentum through a combination of crackdowns and sabotages has thus far failed. But the big question now is: what will Ethio-Muslims do differently in 2013 to break the stalemate, and what are the next logical steps?
Oromo Dialogue Forum (ODF): A breath of fresh air?
In April, triggered by an invite-only meeting that took place in Norway, the Oromo blogosphere was awash with rumors that Lencho Lata and Dima Nagawo, two of the most controversial and pioneering leaders of the Oromo movement, were forming a new organization to return to Ethiopia. This was followed by a slew of condemnations and opinion papers written by anonymous contributors.
After a second meeting in Saint Peter, Minnesota, the group called for rearticulating the goal and strategies of the Oromo movement arguing that this was necessary for the struggle to climb out of the current abyss — and affirm the Oromo people’s rightful place in Ethiopia. ODF has since held numerous meetings in the U.S. and around Europe, attracting wide participation.
Little is known about the group and the long-term impact of the move spearheaded by several former OLF heavy weights to save the Oromo struggle from itself is yet to be proven. Many questions remain: what actions will this particular group take to succeed that other OLF factions or Oromo groups have not tried heretofore? Subsequently, will their actions merely be another Diaspora affair or an actual movement rooted inside the country, and if so, how? Our partners over at Gadaa.com have a page dedicated to ODF: http://www.gadaa.com/WaltajjiiMariiOromoo2012.html
Oromo Soccer Tournament in Toronto
After years of failed bids, Toronto finally hosted the Annual North American Oromo Convention from June 30, 2012-July 7, 2012, bringing together Oromos from around the world for sport competitions, cultural events, religious, and political conventions. Among the most notable events during the 2012 Oromo Week was Afran Qallo’s Golden Jubilee.During the opening night, the Afran Qallo band marked its golden jubilee – the 50th year anniversary of the birth of a movement that produced such star talents as Dr. Ali Birra.
OPride asked convention goers to Tweet, Instagram, Tout, and Facebook events they attended. Here’s a collection of that week’s events: http://opride.com/osfna2012
On the heels of the celebration of Afran Qallo, a plan is underway to commomerate in summer of 2013 another pioneering Oromo movement, the Bale uprising. Who would take the lead to lionize the mother of all Oromo revival movements, the Macca and Tulama Association?
#WhereIsMeles: Abebe Gellaw sets the rumor mill on ESAT
ESAT had been reporting about Zenawi’s illness since 2009. But when Abebe Gellaw uncovered a photo of the late Prime Minister from the G20 Summit in Mexico, claiming that the premier “ looked gravely ill and [like] a ghost out of Michael Jackson’s Thriller video” — all hell broke loose. Ethiopian activists turned to social media to speculate big. On July 16, OPride reported, citing credible sources within Saint-Luc University Hospital in Belgium, that Zenawi was indeed receiving treatment there. The source told OPride Zenawi was in critical condition and not expected to recover.
On July 31, an impatient Abebe Gellaw, citing sources within the International Crisis Group, pronounced Meles dead, breathing a much-needed boost into the rumor mill. Then, on August 20, Ethiopian Television’s announcement of Zenawi’s death was followed by a highly orchestrated weeklong mourning period.
OPDO: the biggest loser in TPLF’s metakekat?
Observers have speculated that OPDO’s profile would rise with Zenawi’s demise. However, OPDO was totally shut out. TPLF seems to have lost the soul of OPDO while still controlling its body. The development dispelled two misconceptions. One, it stood on its head the belief that TPLF is lifeless without Zenawi. Two, it confirmed the myth that the TPLF rule can survive even without OPDO and ANDM support, thanks to its strong military and efficient security services. However, 2012 also proved the limitations of OPDO; it can dodge and dance but it cannot shoot and score.
OPDO’s hold on Oromia itself is more symbolic than substantial. A powerful Tigrean deputy reportedly administers Oromia, while the figurative chairman, Alemayehu Atomsa, battles a chronic illness. Perhaps the biggest loser of 2012 was not the OPDO, but Junedi Saddo, the former Civil Service Minister. Police initially arrested his wife under bogus charges of terrorism. Then he was thrown out of the party for publicly crying foul, and later unceremoniously booted out of the cabinet.
OLF merger: genuine unity or another false hope?
On November 20, after a decade of failed talks, OLF’s two other factions, ShG and QC, issued a memorandum of understanding and “reaffirming the ideals of the OLF and the objective of Oromo national struggle.” The memo added, “the objective of our struggle is the achievement of Oromo national self-determination and the establishment of an Independent Democratic Republic of Oromia.”
Since the two are ideologically far apart, observers saw the “understanding” as a reaction to the “growing influence” of the ODF. Whatever the motivation, reconciliation in the Oromo camp is a step in the right direction. The most pressing question is: will the two factions carry the understanding through or will it remain as merely another OLF declaration? The other question is: after weakening each other for nearly 11 years, will they be able to earn the trust and backing of the Oromo Diaspora?
2012 saw the biggest proliferation of online Oromo radio and TV programs. This is welcome news, considering the Oromo lack a viable source of information, at home and abroad. However, the mushrooming of online radios came with one downside: the independence, quality, and impartiality of some of these outlets leave much to be desired.
Oromo Political Prisoners
At home, the plight of Oromo keeps going from bad to worse. Suspected of links to an already dysfunctional OLF, Oromo activists and leaders continue to be rounded up and indefinitely held. After this past election, vocal oppositions leaders have been excluded from the rubber stamp parliament. The recent verdict against Bekele Gerba and nine other Oromo activists is but only a few of those that were brought to court. Gerba’s defiant speech before the kangaroo court — one of the best indictments against the Ethiopian judicial system — has invigorated the spirit of Oromo activists.
What would 2013 bring for Oromo?
Despite many shortcoming witnessed in 2012, there seems to be a new awakening in the Oromo camp. The year 2012 begun with a foreboding and is concluding on a positive note. Increasingly, people are showing more and more interest in Oromo affairs than any other time since the decline of early 2000s. Right or wrong, individuals and groups are taking initiatives. The Oromo is still in dire need of a strong national advocate. Its voices are still scattered and its power dispersed. Internal consolidation and building organizational capability are still the highest priorities. Will 2013 offer one, be that in a united and stronger OLF or a successful launching of a new movement by ODF?