April 11, 2013

Oromo: WikiLeaks Reveals Origins Of Struggle

Several new WikiLeaks publications allow for an interesting insight into the origins of the Oromo Liberation Front and the continued strife they endure in Ethiopia.

Below is an article published by O Pride:

The whistle blowing website WikiLeaks has just published 1,707,500 U.S. diplomatic and intelligence documents from 1973 to 1976. While most of the latest documents have already been declassified and were available through the National Archives, WikiLeaks has created a searchable online database for quick access. 

Several of the 1.7 million cables sent from U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia offer interesting insights into the gathering of rebellion against the Ethiopian rulers of the time, the Derg. The telegrams cover a wide range of topics including the formation of Oromo and Tigrean Liberation Fronts, and the execution of Tadesse Birru

We have identified a few that deal with Oromo insurgency and earlier clandestine efforts to organize the Oromo Liberation Front in the center of the country. More than the details contained in the cables though, aside from an intriguing fact that American diplomats were keenly aware of the buildup of the rebellion, the files reveal how little has changed in Ethiopia, especially for the Oromo.

For instance, the documents show that the only one-hour Afan Oromo radio broadcast in the country, starting then for the first time, was heavily censored and controlled. Amhara observers apparently told the Americans that the broadcast would increase Oromo self-awareness, tribal consciousness, as they called it, and ultimately “divide the country rather than to unite it.” While the coverage had expanded now, with a separate Oromia Radio and Television station, there is still no independent media in Afan Oromo. The Voice of America radio was beginning to feel the wrath of authorities began pulling its broadcasts and alternated for more of  “Ethiopia Tikdem” programs, the official philosophy of Ethiopian socialism.

What’s more, in mid-70s too, Oromo students actively protested against government repression and mobilized the Oromo peasantry during Zemecha — a national mass education campaign with a focus on establishing farmers unions.  While other ethnic groups were not immune then, according to these cables, many Oromo students were dismissed and imprisoned, a practice that has become all too familiar in the last two decades. Oromo leaders were arrested and executed under trumped up charges, another practice that continues to date (minus the executions). 

While there was a widespread and multi-ethnic resistance against the status quo, which was then mantained by ethnic Amharas, the Americans remarked, an outbreak of any serious Oromo rebellion had a destabilizing impact for whole of Ethiopia. In one cable from 1970, the embassy official noted, “Any effective coalition of traditionally disparate Oromo groups (estimated 40 percent of population) would have significant impact on stability and future directions country.”  The Oromo struggle, which was then only a clandestine effort to forge a unified and pan-Oromo resistance, has since achieved remarkable heights. Today there are a plethora of organizations, in and outside of the country, even if weak and divided, that are fighting for Oromo rights. But the Oromo remain largely marginalized with no real political power in Ethiopia.