New Jawar interview threatens ethnic-federalism in Ethiopia(Teshome M Borago)

Jawar interview
Graphics credit : Social media

Teshome M. Borago
January 1, 2019

In the latest interview by Oromo politician Jawar Mohammed, critics say his comments are threatening the Ethiopian ethnic-federalism system. Jawar’s Q&A with Addis Standard website occurred days after he announced his membership into the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) party led by Chairman Dr Merera Gudina.

The controversial activist said “OFC is a national party, it’s not a regional party. It has members in Gambella, in Benishangul, in Harari, in Somali, in Amhara regions and so on.” 

However, OFC was in fact operated as a regional party for years, despite uniting with other parties outside Oromia to create an Ethiopian coalition. Analysts believe Jawar’s latest comments are not only inaccurate but also deadly as Oromo claims on territories outside Oromia will trigger more counterclaims by other ethnic groups into territories inside Oromia. Such dangerous ideology was shared by the Amhara State security head Asaminew Tsege and his supporters who allegedly wanted not only to eliminate the autonomy of Qimant and Wollo-Oromo zones inside Amhara region; but they also laid claims on Metekel and Welkait as well as Shewan Oromia territories around Adama and Dera zones. 

Such irredentism problems remain an existential threat on the current system of ethnic-federalism/multinational federalism.

Similar claims by Oromo activists led to a months long standoff with the self-ruling Harari state in 2018 and 2019, while Oromo vigilante mobs massacred dozens of urban Ethiopians in September of last year, in anger with the status of Addis Ababa metropolis, another self-administering entity. Years before, Oromo against Somali territorial disputes led to hundreds of deaths and tens of thousands displaced on both sides.

Attempts by Oromo elites to interfere outside Oromia, in states like Gambella and Benishangul, have also led to reprisals, causing the suffering and displacement of tens of thousands of Oromo civilians living in these states. 


Analysts believe Oromo elites express such expansionist ideologies for the consumption of their supporters to distract people from lack of internal unity.

While displaying irredentist ambitions outside Oromia, Jawar and other Oromo elites have virtually operated in a pre-1991-type de facto provincial framework that led to erratic conflict between Oromos throughout 2018 and 2019.  Most notably, the OLF-Wollega rebellion made Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed publicly admit his persona non grata status in the zone. At one point, military leaders of Wollega fighters told media their intentions to create a separate state of Wollega. 

Meanwhile, it required the formation of a new emergency forum, the Oromo Leadership Council (OLC), to mediate between other Oromia provinces. Also Dr. Merera’s party, the OFC, mostly depends on a regional Shewan Oromo base. 

Such present regional divisions are not new as they are consistent with the past two decades of Oromo Diaspora disputes that splintered OLF into pieces. As the result, the OLF, as an organization, was one of the weakest and ineffective guerrilla movements in the Horn of Africa, until Prime Minister Abiy invited its fractured leadership to participate in domestic politics in 2018.

Similar to this dilemma facing Oromo nationalists, Amhara Nationalists are also dependent on external land claims, i.e. Welkait, to mobilize their support base for. Before this, many residents opposed the concept of an Amhara state, an entity that did not exist in history. If conflicting ethnic nationalists continue to campaign for territories outside their current jurisdiction, it is unknown if Prime Minister Abiy can keep the peace in Ethiopia under the current federal system. 

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