By Teshome M. Borago
On Sunday, February 14, Girma Moges, a Bishoftu-based director of the largest opposition party in Ethiopia was assassinated. Girma was gunned down while dedicating his life for democracy. Another young family is now left fatherless in Oromia, the center of Ethiopia’s ongoing project to implement the infamous ethnic-federalism.
So who killed Girma?
Ethiopian Opposition supporters worldwide are angered with his murder but Girma’s party, the Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice (EZeMa), has tried to lower the temperature, advocated for calm and simply asked for “investigation.” One reason why Ezema party often portrays calm and behaves responsibly is because they don’t want to discourage Ethiopians from participating in the electoral process by fearing for their safety. Another main reason is to avoid the legal entanglement that often arises from the public’s anger escalating and the ensuing potential disorder, if Ezema prematurely blames suspected groups for the murder. One classic example of such violent disorder is the chaos that unfolded after Jawar Mohammed and his media colleagues prematurely (falsely and indiscriminately) blamed all “Neftenyas” for the murder of Hachalu Hundessa in June 2020. The following days, Jawar’s supporters went on a violent rampage killing hundreds of “Neftenyas,” who are basically ethnic minorities like Amharas, Gurages and religious minorities like Orthodox-Oromos living through out Oromia.
While people should appreciate the responsible political culture of Ezema party, ignoring the systemic problem altogether will not stop the senseless killings either. We must confront the reality.
Girma’s murder epitomizes the challenges opposition parties face from both the ruling party and from fringe extremist elements that Jawar has brought into mainstream politics. So we face danger, not only from the ruling party cadres in Oromia, but also from radical nativists who drag the ruling party more to the extreme.
Girma was non-violent and harmless. His children and family did not deserve this. Unlike OFC’s Bekele Gerba, Ezema’s Girma did not encourage xenophobia against minorities. Unlike the TPLF junta, Girma did not wage war and attack the federal government. Unlike Jawar Mohammed, Girma did not promote nativism and incite hate against minorities.
Girma was simply campaigning for an election peacefully in Bishoftu town. He was known as a selfless man of character dedicated to the democratization of Ethiopia. In a Facebook post claimed to be his, Girma once said that he has been receiving threatening messages personally and to his family. “If you don’t want danger, stop your activism and just raise your kids,” was one of the threatening messages he received. But Girma persisted and sacrificed his life for democracy. After-all, what good is “raising your kids” in a country where they will never be treated as human beings? What good is “raising your kids” in a country where your kids will have, at best, quasi-citizen status under this backward system of ethnic-federalism? Even Chinese investors in Ethiopia have more rights & protection than the “Neftenyas,” around 5 million Amharas, southerners, mixed and non-Oromo “others” living inside Oromia. What good is “raising your kids” if your kids will likely die young anyway, during the next cycle of Jawar-inspired nativist ethnic mob violence in Oromia?
Accordingly, Girma sacrificed his life this Sunday so that his kids might grow up to have the basic right to life in Oromia and be treated equally in Ethiopia. No other country, even in Africa, has made ethnocentric xenophobia and discrimination a constitutionally protected act. Girma died so that his children will one day live in a country where they will not be judged by their perceived ethnic identity but by their character & hard-work.
Therefore, to find out who killed Girma, we have to analyze who stands to loose the most from the collapse of this unjust and inhumane system of nativism and ethnic apartheid in Ethiopia. Who feels threatened by the minorities amongst them? In his Facebook post, Girma was warned that there is a big difference between Abiy (leaders) and the rest of the Prosperity Party. Essentially, Girma was being warned that, no matter how many times Abiy talks about inclusiveness & tolerance, Abiy’s own party at the mid & lower level in Oromia towns do not really share Abiy’s values.
For those of us who understand the intricate politics of endless warring factions and disparities inside Oromo politics, this is nothing new. Abiy’s party may pretend to be united and tolerant but the evidence shows otherwise. This is why pro-democracy forces and Ethiopian nationalists should oppose Abiy’s party in this election. Abiy is literally asking us to simply trust his word while his perceived followers are killing us. Abiy might have ideologically influenced those in his inner circle and a small portion of the Oromo public, but many (even inside his own party) have dual allegiances that he can not control. Such dynamic is expected, because nativism, hate and ethnocentrism can never be reformed merely by the good-will of one man at the top. They must be systematically reformed constitutionally and administratively.
As many of us have said before, the lower ones go in the hierarchy of Oromia’s Prosperity Party, the closer they mirror Jawar’s nativist group. They are two sides of the same coin. The pattern of massacres in Oromia coordinated by low level PP officials, Shane/AT agents and Jawar’s activists has already proven this to be a fact.
To make matters worse, Bishoftu is one of the “battleground towns” where Oromo extremists seek to build their grip on power. This is so due to the diversity of this historic town that pseudo-nativists fear. Not only is Bishoftu ethnically diverse but even those who are registered to be of one or another ethnicity are themselves multiethnic in descent. The fact that most Ethiopians in Oromia towns (like Bishoftu) are mixed/multiethnic is not a surprise. Afterall, this is a strange country where half-Amhara activists like Jawar Mohammed lead the most violent and intolerant strain of Oromo nationalism.
While Bishoftu is ethnically diverse, it is religiously homogeneous as over 90% of the city are followers of Orthodox Christianity. But this reality has not helped Christians. What happened last year during Orthodox holidays exemplified the need for Bishoftu to become a self-administering charter city. Being the religious majority meant nothing for local residents since Oromo nationalist security officials refused to allow residents to publicly celebrate Meskel, Timket and other orthodox holidays in the traditional way that they have done for centuries.
We will likely never know who killed Girma and his family will never see justice. After the last major massacre, several PP mayors, police heads and other officials were fired as they actively or passively assisted the criminals. It is likely that similar shenanigans exist in Bishoftu. According to Ezema, Girma was facing extreme difficulties and bureaucratic hurdles just to do his day-to-day party activities in Bishoftu. So we can not expect PP officials to properly investigate the murder of Girma Moges. In fact, showing sympathy to opposition activists like Girma might lead to PP officials themselves getting assassinated by Shane/AT or Jawar’s supporters. The last few weeks, online chatter and incitement for violence in Oromia has exponentially grown on Facebook. Radical Oromo activists like Tsegaye Ararsa have been directly targeting Ezema, spreading hate against minorities and openly opposing “the idea of democracy” while advocating for insurrection. (Note: Mr Ararsa was a man promoted by Tsedale Lemma’s Addis-Standard website) After promoting TPLF’s unilateral election last year, Mr Ararsa and other extremists have gone 180-degree and they are opposing the upcoming election. After criticizing even Jawar for not openly supporting Shane rebels in Welega, now Mr Ararsa is pretending to support Jawar (because Jawar is in jail.)
So the pattern is clear: for extremists like Mr Ararsa, their only agenda is to sabotage Ethiopia’s democratization and profit out of chaos & civil war.
But the rest of us Ethiopians must stay firm and fight for democracy. One man, one vote! For the first time in our history, we are establishing nonpartisan and independent institutions at the federal level, including our reformed national election board and human rights commission. We must not squander such major progress and waste this opportunity. Ethiopia will face many more challenges. Even our Western allies, who previously wanted democracy in Ethiopia, have currently become a megaphone for insurrectionists in Tigray and anti-democracy nativists in Oromia. The Western human rights companies and media do not care about the thousands of minorities massacred nationwide in Ethiopia, but they worry about the treatment of those arrested for inspiring or causing those massacres. Some misinformed people care more about the health of Jawar Mohammed, who is intentionally injuring himself; while they ignore the death of Girma Moges and other pro-democracy activists killed by nativist mobs inspired by Jawar.
But what matters is what we – the people – do at home on the ground. We must not let the sacrifice of Girma, his family and other Ethiopian martyrs for democracy go to waste. As the Adwa anniversary approaches, no matter the challenges we face during this historic election season, all Ethiopians must honor the sacrifice of our past & present heroes by steadfastly fighting for systemic change and democratization of our nation.
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