October 6, 2006

Oromo: Elite Force Scandal at the Annual Thanks-Giving Festival

At the entrances of the town hosting the thanks-giving festival called ‘Irreechaa' Special government elite forces stopped and searched Oromo People .

October 5, 2006 — On the first week of October every year, there is an Oromo thanks-giving festival called ‘Irreechaa’. Hundreds of thousands of Oromos and friends of Oromo come together from all over Oromia for this festival. On the morning of October 1, 2006 people started arriving at the site of the celebration in Bishoftu, a small town about 44 kms away from the capital city, Finfinnee (Addis Ababa).

But something shocking and scandalous was awaiting all passengers at all the entrances of the town. Special government elite forces stopped and searched the passengers by ordering them to come off the buses, lorries and taxies.

You may think they were doing it for the safety of the festival passengers, but that is a complete no. When it was my turn and I got off the bus to be searched on the ground I could not believe what I was seeing. I was seeing security forces pointing guns into the faces of festival passengers intimidating them to take off the Oromo Cultural outfits.

Those who were intimidated to take off their cultural outfits and who did were made to kneel down on roadsides and the forces were beating them by gun batts and batons. Police was continually scoffing and mocking at them. But those who refused were ordered and coerced to climb a military convoy waiting to take them to unknown detention centres. Who knows what happened to them afterwards? This happened in all the corners to hundreds of people wearing Oromo cultural outfits that day. All that I could think of, then, was the Abu Ghraib torture and prison abuse in Iraq at the beginning of 2003.

Those festival passengers did nothing except putting on Oromo cultural outfits to celebrate the big national event. Imagine how much it would be painful to coerce adult men and woman who were heading to celebrate a thanksgiving day of their God to strip off their clothes. There were couples coerced to do that. Many were crying when this unethical crime was being committed against them. Taking the pictures of those who were forced to strip off as well as those who were being thrown on security convoys were unthinkable. If one attempts to take pictures in that tense confrontation live ammunitions are only a trigger pull away.

Of course for Oromo this kinds of scandals have been going on in a hidden manner. The government elite forces have a track record of scandalous, inhuman and savage violations of human rights including raping children, killings, and detentions.

But this one has occurred in open air sending away the message that the government is daily gaining momentum in perpetrating acts of cultural and human genocide against the Oromo people without being held accountable.

The army and police work completely differently in Ethiopia than in the west. In the west the police and the army work to protect public interest and to defend national interests. Here the army and the police are unbridled weapons of mass control in favour of the government. Most elite forces can hardly read and write, and they are ready to shoot if instructed without asking themselves why they have to against the very people they come from. As long as the elite forces are loyal to government, they go away with these kinds of scandals very easily. They are even praised as heroes by their commanders.

The festival day was just full of havocs and scandals of those types. Lastly, I want to leave a message to the international community and media to follow up and expose these types of unethical and scandalous activities of EPRDF/TPLF soldiers who engage in degrading human dignity; like international community had resolutely worked to expose the Abu Ghraib tortures and prison abuses. These abuses are common in Ethiopian prisons as no one could take pictures at all.