OSA: Responding to False Accusations
January 12, 2020
Dear Mr. Secretary General,
I am writing this letter to you on behalf of the Oromo Studies Association (OSA) out of grave concern about the false accusations made against the Oromo youth – Qeeroo by Mr. Eskinder Negga and Professor Getachew Haile. OSA is an independent international scholarly organization established thirty-five years ago to advance knowledge about Oromo history, sociology, economy, politics, culture, and public health. The formation of OSA was necessary because, until the 1980s, the Oromo history was written by non-Oromos who had neither adequate knowledge about the Oromo people or respect for their culture and worldviews. OSA was organized to correct the wrong narratives crafted by those authors and foster knowledge that advances the collective and individual rights of the Oromo people. The Oromo Studies Association is alarmed to hear from the media that a group of Ethiopians led by Mr. Eskinder Negga and Professor Getachew Haile have approached the UN, accusing the Oromo youth known as Qeerroo of having committed or are intending to commit genocide on the Amhara, who live in Oromia region and its capital city Finfinnee/Addis Ababa (hereafter Finfinnee) which is also the seat of the Federal Government of the Republic of Ethiopia.
Dear Mr. Secretary General,
We are outraged to hear Professor Getachew saying to a journalist on various Amharic-speaking media outlets he and a group of Ethiopians led by Mr. Eskinder have been at the UN headquarters in New York and told its officials in charge of human rights to accuse the Oromo youth. Although Professor Getachew Haile is known for his irrational hatred for the Oromo people, language, and culture, Oromo scholars have so far ignored his grotesque distortion of Oromo image in his writings and talks to the media. However, since it is morally wrong to keep quiet while he and Mr. Negga are demonizing the Oromo youth as perpetrators of genocide on non-Oromos in Oromia before the august world organ, UN, and the officials of the US Department of State unabashedly, we are forced to write this letter. Besides, we have the obligation to inform you and the world community of our fear of a disastrous conflict, which is in the making in Oromia because of the ugly hate campaign being conducted by Mr. Negga and his associates against the Oromo youth.
Before proceeding to our comments on Mr. Negga’s and Professor Haile’s accusation of the Oromo youth, I would like to say a few words about the Qeerroo. The Oromo society is structured in age groups that are integral parts of a democratic socio-political system. All members of the society belong to age groups who carry out specific tasks at specific times during their lifetime. The Qeerroo is the youth group who undergo training in preparation to assume various responsibilities, including defending the Oromo society.
The contemporary Oromia-wide Qeerroo movement began in protest to the grabbing of Oromo land in the name of implementing the so-called Addis Ababa Master Plan (AAMP), which was to evict millions of Oromos from their land in districts adjacent to the capital city. It has been very active between 2014 and 2018 and has organized thousands of protest demonstrations in over 200 cities and towns across Oromia in which millions of Oromos had participated. The Qeerroo led movment for justice and equality is nonviolent social movment.To our knowledge, the discipline with which the demonstrations were conducted has no parallel in the history of a peaceful social movement. For example, on 6 August 2016, demonstrations were organized simultaneously in 230 Oromo cities and towns in which millions of men and women had participated without any harm to any human being or private property.
Although the Qeerroo protests against the AAMP were conducted peacefully, the Oromo youth met violence from two directions: the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF)-led regime met them with physical violence, and Amhara political activists, andogue intelectuals such as Professor Haile, used an extremely virulent verbal violence against them.
From the very beginning, the regime used physical atrocity to create a psychology of fear among the Oromo and to stop their opposition and force them ccept the AAMP. However, notwithstanding its unbridled use of force, the regime failed to keep away the Oromo protests from the streets in Oromia. After conducting four years of brutal crackdowns from 2014-2018, the astonishing peaceful Oromo youth resistance broke the willpower of the TPLF dominated regime. On 15 February 2018, Prime Minister Haile Mariam Desalegn was forced to resign from his post. The leaders of the TPLF left Finfinnee for Mekele, the capital city of Tigray. Dr. Abiy Ahmed became the Prime Minister of Ethiopia on April 2, 2018. This was the first peaceful transfer of power in Ethiopian history.
Amhara political activists and scholars who were opposing both the TPLF-led regime and the Qeerroo, did not stop their hate propaganda against the latter after the demise of the former in 2018. Their strong desire to keep the Oromo language and culture out of Finfinnee was not fulfilled, as the first elementary school to use the Oromo language as a medium of instruction was opened they have intensified their false accusations. The Oromos constitute the single largest national group in Ethiopia, and Finfinne is located in the center of Oromia. Oromo language is spoken by over forty percent of the Ethiopian population, and the Amhara political elites wanted to prevent the Oromo language from being used as a medium of instruction in the Oromia and Ethiopian capital.
For your information, it was King Menelik who conquered the Oromo sacred place and district of Finfinnee in the early 1880s and imposed a ban on the Hora Finfinnee Irreecha Festival (annual Oromo Thanksgiving Day). After about 140 years, it was in October 2019 that the Hora Finfinnee festival was celebrated in the center of the Ethiopian capital by over ten million celebrants who gathered from every corner of Oromia and around the world. The inexplicable irony is that it was in tandem with the steps which were taken to restore Oromo rights in Finfinnee that the media attack on Oromo politicians, political activists, and the Qeerroo is stepped up. It was done with impunity by media outlets such as ESAT and Ethio-360. They have continued to spread fake news, freely aired hate speech, romanticized brutal emperors responsible for collective violence, the slave trade, and disparage the Oromo people in a manner that provokes conflict. They are becoming a source of danger to all peace-loving Oromo and non-Oromo inhabitants of Ethiopia in general and those in the Ethiopian capital.
During their peaceful protest from 2014 to 2018 against the TPLF-led regime, between 5,000 and 6,000 Oromo youth were killed, tens of thousands of them were injured, many of them for life. Between sixty and seventy thousand Oromos were imprisoned. I would like to point out here that, while thousands of their compatriots were succumbing to police batons and bullets and losing their life, the Oromo youth (Qeerroo) were protecting the life and properties of non-Oromos everywhere in Oromia against harm coming from any direction including from the TPLF regime. What is also widely acknowledged is that it was the heroic acts of the Qeerroo, which removed the repressive Tigrayan leaders from power in Finfinnee that led to the release of thousands of political prisoners, including Mr. Eskinder Negga himself.
Sadly, Mr. Negga and his so-called Balderas (custodian) group are accusing without evidence the Oromo youth as terrorists. I firmly believe that the conduct of the Qeerroo deserves the admiration of freedom and peace-loving peoples of the world and should not be stained by the sinister stories concocted by hatemongers and vigilantes. We see the accusations as no more than asking the UN to abandon its core objectives of promoting human rights and advancing peace, to legitimizing and widening the socio-economic-political-cultural domination of Amhara elites over the Oromo people and others.
What makes Mr. Negga’s vigilantism absurd, among others, is his self-appointed role of ‘guardianship’ over Finfinnee/Addis Ababa against what they call “Qeerroo terrorism.” He ignores the fact that Finfinnee is not the only seat of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, but also the capital city of Oromia. However, fortified with a conquerors’ mindset of deciding over a territory and self-ascribed ownership of its resources, Mr. Negga is trying unabashedly keep the Oromo language and culture out of Finfinnee. Unfortunatelly his logic is derived from the old colonial outlook and the mindset of his forefathers who conquered Finfinnee in the early 1880s, displaced the indigenous Oromo, and built Addis Ababa in 1887 on the site. He sees the Oromo as the rightless gabbars (serfs) of his forefathers. Consequently, Mr. Negga seems reluctant to recognize the federal constitution, which grants the Oromo people the right to use their land, develop their culture and use their language, and the right to decide on their social, economic, political and cultural affairs in their homeland Oromia and its capital city, Finfinnee.
What I would like to emphatically inform the UN, and the international community is that Mr. Negga and his ”custodian group” are striving to deny the right of Oromo people, which constitutes more than 50 million and violate the Ethiopian constitutional rights. All the nine regional states of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia have their capital cities recognized by the constitution. For example, Bahir Dar is the Amhara Regional State capital, and Mekele is for the Tigray. Located right in the center of their homeland, the Oromo have Finfinnee as their capital. Indeed, for the Oromo people, Finfinne is not only their capital; it is also a sacred cultural site, the center for the development of their culture, language, and arts.
Orchestrated by diaspora-based media outlets such as ESAT, the attempt to keep away Oromo political and cultural activities from Finfinnee by vigilantes clearly started against a rally organized to welcome the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), one of the political parties which had returned to Finfinnee in September 2018 accepting Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s peace call. According to police reports, dozens of Oromo youth were stoned or stabbed to death and many more wounded by organized vigilante groups in Finfinnee. Apparently, those vigilantes are members of the ”custodian group” led and funded by Mr. Negga and business associates.
Ironically, Mr. Negga has accused the Qeerroo and the director of Oromia Media Network (OMN), Mr. Jawar Mohammed, as culprits behind those crimes committed in September 2019. His ludicrous accusation of the OMN director did not stop with that. During his current tour in the US and Canada, Mr. Negga has been accusing the Qeerroo and Jawar, at every public meeting he addresses and to TV journalist he talks to, of having committed the crime of genocide on 86 persons from October 23 to 26, 2019. However, according to a press release made by the Ethiopian Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed, of the 86 persons who lost their lives in the incident mentioned by Mr. Negga, 50 were Oromos, 20 Amhara and the rest were from other ethnic groups in Ethiopia.
Social-scientific research confirms that genocide is a form of ‘one-sided mass killing’ in which a state or other authority intends to destroy a group. That is not what the press release made by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in November 2019 suggests: the ethnic identities of the victims do not indicate that a one-sided mass killing had occurred, or genocide was perpetrated on the Amhara by Oromo youth on the occasion. Mr. Negga does not have any evidence for his allegations. In fact, contradicting his story, social media sources suggest that members of his ”custodian group” vigilante group were culprits for the conflict and death of the 86 victims of the October 2019 incident.
There are concrete signs that members of the custodian networks such as Satenawu are at large and are smugling illegal weapons and trying to turn Finfinnee and other cities in Oromia such as Adama and Dire Dawa into centers of ethnic conflict. Mobilized by hate speech and fake news which is spread over an Amharic-speaking media outlet such as Ethio-360 –based in USA, and run by Ermias Legesse, “deputy chairman” of the so-called custodian Council, are instigating conflict between the Oromo and Amhara communities in many Oromo cities and on university campuses in the Amhara and Oromia regional states.
In the past, the Amahara ruling elite and clergy described the Oromo people as pagan hordes fit for conquest, massacre, or enslavement This was not just a matter of belief, but it was what had been practiced by the Amhara ruling elite. There is plenty of historical evidence that shows Menelik II, who created the Ethiopian empire at the end of the 19th century, had used genocidal killings to conquer and annex the Oromo territory between 1870 and 1900 and subordinate and enslave the Oromo people. According to two book-length eye-witness reports compiled during the conquest by a Russian military officer Lt. Alexander Bulatovich who served in Menelik’s army as an advisor during his conquest of the south and a French Catholic missionary Father Martial de Salviac who lived among the Oromo for decades, the Oromo reduced to half of its pre-conquest size.
The dehumanizing terms used by the Amhara elite to justify mass-massacre on and domination of the Oromo in the past are recycled today to humiliate and silence them. The disparaging words “pagan hordes” and “narrow nationalists” are replaced by “terrorists”, and “menga”, an Amharic word which means lawless mobs and extremists and widely used in reference to the Oromo in general. They label Oromos who fight for the justice and equal rights as racists and Nazis very dangerous concepts that they borrowed from Hitler’s Germany. It is used to humiliate them and silence their demands for justice. For example, Oromos, who celebrate their collective identity and openly use their language and culture, labeled as “extremists” or “racists.”
The Oromo claim of their right to their culture i.e. language is inverted and represented as Oromo “tribalism” and “racism.” For example, Professor Haile posits that the Oromo claim to exercise their right to language is a disguised attempt to impose the Oromo language on non-Oromos who live in Oromia. Although most of the descendants of the Amharic-speaking conquerors and settlers who were born and raised in Oromia did not show interest in learning the Oromo language during the last 130 years, the Oromo never attempted to force them to learn or speak. The truth is that Amharas living in Oromia are free to run schools for their children with Amharic as a medium of instruction.
However, regrettably, the Oromo claim of their rights, including using their own language for education and administration instead of Amharic, is misconstrued as an expression of Oromo “racism” against other Ethiopians, is being spread by journalists on many Amharic-speaking media outlets. This is done particularly by Mr. Ermias Legesse on countless occasions. Mr. Legesse, who used to frequently contribute to Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT), was demonizing Oromo political activism as “racism” and “fascism” for many years. Today, as the owner of and commentator on Ethio-360, he is doing the same thing with greater vigor without any reservation.
We see the consequences of his anti-Oromo propaganda in what is happening to Oromos in cities like Dire Dawa and on university campuses, particularly in the Amhara regional state. Mr. Negga’s false allegations are being translated into physical violence by vigilantes, who caused the death of 7 Oromo students and serious injuries on many others in the Amhara regional state.
Dear Mr. Secretary General,
I want to bring to your attention that, the hate speech spread by Amharic-speaking media outlets such as ESAT and Ethio-360 and journalists such as Mr. Ermias Legesse in combination, with Eskinder Negga’s vigilante politics, will intensify conflict not only between the Oromo and Amhara, but also with other ethino-national groups in Ethiopia.
The Oromo are being attacked, insulted, and dehumanized by almost all Amharic-speaking media outlets round the clock. The Oromo image and humanity are being tarnished. This shows that the idea of equity, diversity, and unity is missing in the minds of Mr. Negga and his group, and the absence of human decency is killing the spirits of peaceful co-existence. They are collectively attacking the safety and security of Oromo people. No wonder that Oromos of all walks of life are angered and frustrated by what they are hearing and asking, “how can we continue to live with these extremist groups?” It is alarming to hear this from almost every Oromo who is concerned about the future of their people and others.
The Oromo people are very sadend to hear that the clergy of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is also accusing the Oromo as terrorists, killers of priests, and destroyers of Orthodox Churches. The Oromo worship in these same churches and they would not set fire to their own churches or mosques. More than 45 percent of the Oromo population are Christians. On December 21, 2019, four mosques were burned to the ground in the Amhara Regional State. We suspect that the violence against Muslim communities in the Amhara state is the result of the hate campaign against Jawar Mohammed by Mr. Negga and the Amharic-speaking media mentioned above. So far, 35 mosques were destroyed in Ethiopia, mostly in the Amhara and Oromia regional states. The Oromo cannot have peace while hatemongers are demonizing them and accusing them as perpetrators of genocide, murderers of priests and destroyers of churches, while the Oromo are the victims themselves.
False accusations against the Oromo people had served the Amhara rulers and Orthodox clergy in getting assistance from the Christian West in the past. We see the aim of the accusation orchestrated against the Qeerroo and Jawar Mohammed by Mr. Negga and his group in the same light. Because the Oromos practice Waaqeffanna, Christianity, and Islam, without exagguration in Oromia, religious pluralism is granteed.
To summarize we see that the accusation is no more than asking the UN abandoning its core objectives of promoting human rights and advancing peace, to legitimizing the Amhara eliteaintaining and widening their socio-economic-political-cultural domination over the Oromo people and others. We fear that the false allegations will incite violence between the Amhara and the Oromo, the two largest communities in Ethiopia, which must be avoided in the interest of peace and welfare of all the people of Ethiopia. Therefore, we request the United Nations Human Rights Commission to carefully examine the sinister campaign of Mr. Negga and his group against the Qeerroo and avert a tragedy from taking place in Ethiopia.
We also ask the leaders of the State of Oromia and Federal Government of Ethiopia to investigate the estructive and illegal activities of Mr. Negga’s vigilante group in the incidents from October 23 to 26, 2019 in Oromia, and to take appropriate legal actions against Mr. Negga and his group for their false allegations and defamation of the Oromo youth and people.
Begna Dugassa, Ph.D
This letter is copied to:
- US Department of State
2201 C St. NW
Washington, DC, 20520
- European Union
Rue de la Loi/Wetstraat 175
- African Union
P.O. Box 3243, Roosvelt Street, W21K1
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia