By Teshome Borago
July 3, 2020
In Ethiopia today, the Prime Minister is Oromo; the Defense Minister is Oromo, the army chief is Oromo, and the main capital city’s leader is Oromo; but xenophobia and alternative realities continue to fuel a crisis that paints a false portrayal of Oromos as victims. Despite Oromos being just one of 80 minority tribes making up only 35% of Ethiopia, their overrepresentation in federal government has not calmed tensions back home and abroad. This has led to diaspora Oromos, (many in Minnesota) to finance and encourage some of the most brutal crimes back home in Oromia. Thanks to social media, some of these criminal activities were again captured live as they happen.
The popular Oromo musician Hacalu Hundesa is now believed to be murdered by an anti-government network that includes OLF-Shane, according to officials. During his last interview, Hacalu criticized OLF-Shane and Jawar’s OFC while defending Abiy’s Oromoness. But Hacalu also made xenophobic statements about non-Oromos in Addis Ababa. So many anti-Abiy Oromo nationalists used Hacalu’s death and funeral as an opportunity to score political points against the moderate Oromo Prime Minister Abiy. Many of those anti-Abiy Oromos funding the OLF-Shane militant operations inside Ethiopia live in Minnesota and diaspora; so their social media activity suddenly picked up at the end of June. They successfully organized protest rallies in Minneapolis and other western towns while posting disturbing nativist comments online promoting violence. Most Social media Oromo comments said “Time to remove settlers from Oromia,” “burn them out,” “free Oromia,” “Abiy is traitor,” “Abiy must go,” “Kill all neftegnas (non-Oromos) in Oromia!” Etc.
While these were nativist slogans typically used by diaspora Oromos (also replicated back home by fringe elements of Oromo nationalists) it is rare to capture these online activities when they directly correlate to criminal activities back home.
However in one of these cases, mass killings and property burnings in Dodola and Asasa towns of Oromia were traced back to social media comments before and after the events.
On June 29, an Oromo diaspora with twitter handle Safu@qxeen_fia wrote online “my mom just told me that in asasa they’ve started burning down neftenya owned businesses.” Then the person adds “I am here for it! Do it”
This person’s disturbing online post received supportive comments, over a 100 likes and many retweets right away; mostly from Oromo & Somali diaspora, and like-minded folks back home. Feeling brave onlineC the same person later posted more comments encouraging violence and adds in “Dodola…(and) every city is doing their part,” and posted a picture of Oromia streets with roadblocks often put by Oromo teenagers to stop the local police from intervening to save minorities from crimes committed by Oromo mobs.
What follows is a sad chain of events.
There were already many reports of killings and burnings in Oromia but these events became personalized with social media posts of victims. One post in Amharic was by Amman Chiksa, who said “several fathers of my friends just got killed,” in the same town of Asasa, Arsi. “They were murdered for no reason. They are elderly and all they do is go from home to church and back, everyday.” Then the grief-stricken person asks, “who would commit such savagery?,”…“why would anyone burn down a clinic?,” “why would anyone burn down houses where the elderly congregate?”
Ethiopians online posted condolences of support and felt sorrow for the senseless killings in Oromia region. The man then said, “my mother survived as she fled in hiding…may God help us,” and added “Asasa and other parts of Arsi currently look like Mogadishu.”
This heart-breaking story comes to a vicious full circle, as the Oromo diaspora who previously posted online comments (encouraging violence in Oromia and boasting with pride about how great his Oromo family/friends are doing by burning & killing) is now faced with the harsh consequences. “This morning, we find out the police in Ethiopia have gunned down 2 of my cousins in Dodola,” the Oromo diaspora individual cried in anger. The person said the victims were young boys.
This is how the endless cycle of violence are perpetuated in Ethiopia, while such Oromo diaspora are in the comfort of their homes in America, Europe etc.
Many Ethiopians online pointed out these sad sequence of events; and said those Oromos living Minnesota and diaspora should also be held responsible for these crimes. But facing accountability is unlikely, as most American government officials do not even know the complex issues in Ethiopia. In fact, several Minnesota politicians like Congresswoman IIhan Omar, St Paul Mayor Melvin Carter and others are often misinformed by the local Oromo nationalists; and they are not aware of the nativism violence in Ethiopia inspired and funded by their own constituents. Even worse, some misinformed Americans actually make false equivalency by believing that Oromo victims share the #BlackLivesMatter experience in Ethiopia; not knowing that Oromo nationalists are actually the ones initiating the crimes and ethnic cleansing back in Ethiopia.
As of Friday, It is unknown how many more innocent people are killed in Oromia by the nativist mob. Another Ethiopian on Wednesday wrote online in Amharic, crying, that both her mother and father just got murdered in the same place in Arsi. “I was counting the days before I see you, now you are all gone,” she mourned.
These latest crimes are instigated by the killing of Oromo singer Hacalu Hundesa. The late Oromo musician is famous for infusing nativist politics into his lyrics. That is why several Oromo politicians, like Jawar Mohammed, who share his politics attempted to use his death & funeral as a weapon to mobilize Oromos and incite violence in areas surrounding Addis Ababa, as they did during the October 2019 massacres.
While the singer Hacalu is praised as a nationalist folk hero among some Oromos, equivalent to a popular white-nationalist in America; for the rest of Ethiopians his musical lyrics drive the ethnic-xenophobia and tribalism fueling ethnic cleansing in much of Oromia. In 2018, Even Oromo leaders like Lemma Megersa cringed when Hacalu performed on national tv as his nativist lyrics tend to alienate the national audience of 79 other ethnic groups in Ethiopia. In recent years, nativism crimes were so common that Oromos in Shashemene hanged a non-Oromo in a broad daylight Lynching.
ETHNIC-FEDERALISM CRISIS AND SOLUTIONS
Most of the crisis today is connected to the apartheid system called ethnic-federalism, also known as Zenawism, which tried to segregate Ethiopia by tribe since 1991. It was a faulty system designed to address past injustices ,but it is now believed to have caused the most civilian death, displacement and destruction in Ethiopian history in less than 30 years. Like southern confederate states defended racial segregation in America, many Oromo nationalists still defend ethnic-segregation.
The system mostly uses alternative history to legitimize segregation and nativism. In reality, while some Oromos in peripheral regions of the Ethiopian state did suffer from discrimination; like all other ethnic groups, central Oromia region of Shewa has actually been the most infrastructurally developed area in the entire country for a century. Many of Ethiopia’s largest cities are also located in central Oromia and were administrated predominantly by a Shewan Oromo and Amhara bureaucracy in the previous century. But these urban growth were driven, not only by Shewan Oromo and Amhara, but also by a hardworking working class made up of Gurage, Tigrayan and dozens of other ethnicities. So when the government suddenly changed in 1991 and imposed ethnic-federalism to allocate regions based on tribe; what now became known as “Oromia” was already made up of millions of non-Oromos. Therefore, the historical infrastructural advantages for Oromia came at huge cost; as it became the region where ethnic federalism simply does not work, because it’s cities are the most diverse. So the idea Oromia only for Oromos became a false hope that could not be achieved. The one size fits all system of “ethnic-federalism” is now collapsing as its central and main driver (aka the Oromos and Oromia), continue to became its Achilles heel.
Now Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is faced with a harsh reality. He knows ethnic federalism is collapsing in Oromia, but he can’t simply de-ethnicize, rename or re-draw regional boundaries since his Oromo base will abandon him more. Thus he has tried to work from the top-down but renaming his political party: from ODP to PP.
So far it is not working.
There are now two possible solutions but both will not be quick fixes. One solution is holding elections faster to let the multiethnic cities in Oromia (Addis Ababa, Adama etc) and nationwide self-rule; and gradually drive out the rural’s tribalism mentality thru urbanization and multiethnic economic development. Democratic opposition groups like Ezema provide hope for individual rights and peace in the Urban. But the rural will likely remain at the hands of tribal parties, even after an election. The second solution is the government engaging in a mass education campaign about past history and the future: to promote peace, co-existence and harmony.
One of the issues in Ethiopian society is that each group has its own version of history; so the government needs to develop a nationwide and common historical narrative that can bring people together. For example, Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) has its own alternative history where Oromos were victims and were never aggressors. In reality, all ethnic groups in Ethiopia had moved around and have been both victims and aggressors, over the last millennium. Ironically, let alone the Addis Ababa city that singer Hacalu said belongs to Oromos, even most of present day Oromia was annexed by Oromos during a gradual expansion from the 1600s and beyond. Many southern tribes and communities have became extinct due to centuries of Oromization. Even today, several southern tribes boxed into tiny zones used to live in the western and central Oromia territories that Oromos now call home. The southerners lived there for centuries before Oromo expansion. Morehouse College historian and Prof. Haile Larebo even suggests that millions of Oromo speaking people today speak the language but actually have ancestors from non-Oromo southern tribes.
Thus, the best medicine to cure nativism in Ethiopia might be educating the population until the majority learn that the ancestors of most Ethiopians have moved around over the centuries. Therefore, no ethnic group will have that entitlement of being “native” and calling others “foreign” or “settler.” To achieve this, not only should Ethiopia engage in a massive re-education campaign; but the country also needs “census reform” so that the population can be categorized using a holistic approach recognizing ancestral identity; instead of just a snapshot count of linguistic identity. The end goal should be to eradicate tribalism mindset and create some national consensus needed as a foundation to democracy. Ethiopia can foster a multilingual and multicultural peaceful society without continuing to fail in this unholy and deadly project of segregating people by tribe.
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