Oct 21, 2020

Oromo: OLF Emphasizes its Firm Commitment to Democracy and Nonviolence

In an interview with The Ethiopian Herald, Deputy Chairperson of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), Ararso Bikila, has reaffirmed the OLF's absolute commitment to nonviolence and the democratic process in Ethiopia.

Mr. Bikila highlighted that the arrests of OLF political leadership were based on the mistaken assumption -- seemingly recognized by the government now since the release of OLF leaders -- of ties between the OLF and former members who left the OLF because of its commitment to nonviolence. He encouraged the government to hold these violent actors accountable for their actions. And he reaffirmed the OLF's firm and absolute commitment to democratic political dialogue in Ethiopia.

The UNPO has been calling on the Ethiopian government to ensure that its criminal justice efforts are properly targeted at all actors, governmental or otherwise, responsible for the violence perpetuted by the assassination of Oromo singer Haacaaluu Hundeessaa, and to seek international support in this regard. The UNPO has also been calling on all political leaders of all parties, irrespective of their community, to be publically and clearly united in their condemnation of violent groups in Ethiopia.

We ask for the entire political community in Ethiopia to follow Mr. Bikila and the OLF's brave lead in this regard. Mr. Bikila's interview serves as an important example of much needed political leadership in Ethiopia.

The transcript of Mr. Bika's interview with the Ethiopian Herald is provided below:

What has happened recently in OLF? What is happening right now?

Previously, OLF used to make a long-lasting armed struggle with the government of Ethiopia. However, the Front has started a peaceful political struggle since its returning to Ethiopia in 2018. The Front now is undertaking a peaceful political struggle. In the midst of our peaceful struggle, something new had happened recently.

What is the new thing happened?

Following the death of Artist Hachalu Hundessa, the situation in Oromia has changed. Some of our members were jailed. The chairperson of the party was told to stay at home for the sake of his safety.

An instant meeting was held to discuss the situation in the country. The meeting was led by the deputy chairperson of the Front due to the absence of the chairperson. Thus, I was leading the meeting.

On the session, we decided to clarify the fact that our struggle is peaceful and democratic and ask the government to let us open our closed offices and release the jailed members.

How did the government respond to your questions? And were you satisfied?

The government began to suspect the Front because of some of our members went back to join armed struggle. However, OLF has outlawed those members. We clarified that the Front has no intention of armed struggle. The Front favors incontrovertible stand regarding democratic political participation. It strongly believes that political authority emanates from the people. The supreme political power resides in the hands of the people.

The party wants to engage in a free, fair and democratic election. Violent and oppression can never be a means of staying in power.

Why did the government claim your members are still struggling armed?

 Armed struggle could be the belief of some individuals. Such individuals may choose to engage in armed struggle. However, the government needs to follow up and make the responsible group accountable. This is the government’s duty to control such activities and get them to the right track. However, OLF has rejected armed struggle and decided to solve all political problems through dialogue and round table discussion. We came back to Ethiopia with the intention to engage in a peaceful and democratic political struggle. And the instant meeting was made to clarify this stance of our party.

Following the session there has been a rumor going on, was this the solely agendum of the meeting?

There had been a rumor going about the relationship between OLF and TPLF. It is narrated that TPLF is influencing OLF. Thus, the Front has the intention to clarify its stance regarding the rumor. It was meant to respond to the rumor. This was the primary purpose of the meeting.

How did you conduct the meeting? Or did you inform the chairperson, Dawd Ebsa, about the meeting?

Yes, he was informed about the meeting. I went to his home in person and informed him about the meeting. About seven members of the council have written letters requesting instant meeting. And I handed a copy of the letters over to the chairperson. “It is okay, keep conducting the meeting,” the chairperson responded.

This was how the meeting has earned permission from the chairperson. I traveled to his home to get permission. However, he, later on, announced that the meeting was illegal and was conducted without his knowledge and awareness.

What happened next, then?

He informed the security to disallow us from entering the office. Then, we explained the situation to the police of Addis Ababa about it. With the intervention of the police force, we conducted the meeting. And we gave a press release after the meeting.

What was the content of the press release?

The press release was about our party’s stance on our future political participation. We clarified the fact that OLF has to practice politics in a democratic and peaceful way. The party also verified its standpoint regarding working with other political parties including TPLF.

The press release disclosed the fact that there had not been any bond between OLF and TPLF after OLF was restricted from participating in the Ethiopian politics in 1992. The party possesses the right to establish relationship with all political parties. However, the party does not have any covert tie with any party.

 We had a serious political controversy with TPLF which is unsolved yet. Thus, it is impossible to deal with the party with this existing political problem. Our members have been jailed, some were tortured, some were also killed and others were forcefully exiled from the country. Thus, such historical incidents do not allow the party to work with TPLF.

The press release explicitly put on the relationship with other political parties. This also shows the respect we have for our people. We need to have a strong stand about our relationship with other political parties. It disclosed that OLF had no any secret other than practicing peaceful and democratic politics.

What was the stand of the Chairperson regarding peaceful struggle after returing to Ethiopia?

 After entering Ethiopia, we all discussed and promised to pursue peaceful political participation. Involving in violent and armed struggle is not the intention of the Front. Following the discussion with the government regarding disarmament, some members have refused to stop armed struggle.

This particular incident created a suspect between our Front and the government. We disagreed with the chairperson on this and related issues.

On the question of disarming the military, the chairperson replied, “who disarms who?” What does that mean?

This speech of the chairperson created questions in the mind of the elites and Oromo people. The purpose of the Front was to completely disarm and submit to the government. However, due to the disagreement some controversies have risen over hitting the target.

What causes the purpose not to hit its intended target?

Some of the soldiers complained about the situation after coming to Ethiopia. They were not satisfied with the situation they were in. The Abbaa Gadaas strived to create a favorable platform that could help solve the problem. However, these comrades decided to elect their own chairperson and decided to pursue armed struggle. Thus, we also decided to pursue peaceful struggle. And now, we have no attachment with those members.

What happened next?

We decided to provide explanation on our stand regarding our political ideology. We have decided to undergo a democratic political participation.

Is there any legal document that shows the chairperson was notified of the instant meeting?

There is no legal document. We had no trend of doing this previously. We always communicate orally. I went to his home along with some comrades and told the chairperson about the meeting. He also allowed us to continue meeting.

However, he disseminated another message via social media about our meeting. He said that he had no information about the meeting. And this created ambiguity among us.

The returning of OLF military force through Tigray also created a suspect that there would be communication between TPLF and OLF. What do you say about that?

The returning of our soldiers through Tigray was arranged by the government and not us. Thus, it is not an intentional. As a result, our coming through Tigray should not have any other meaning. We were under the government’s supervision at that moment.

There is a rumor about your participation on a meeting organized by TPLF in Mekele? What is your say on this?

No. OLF did not take part in the meeting. No one was sent by our Front to participate in the meeting.

Some of the internal activities of the Front have been conducted in a traditional way. This has to stop. The organization needs to follow a democratic trend. Besides, we need to work on some internal problems that could affect the Front.

How long has the chairperson to stay in power according to your party’s code of conduct?

We are working to democratize the Front. We held a meeting and informed everyone to not engage in armed struggle. Limiting the chairperson’s time in power is one of the agenda we are working on. The party should not disintegrate because of one person’s political interest since its purpose is serving the people it represents and not the people in power.

Thus, reforming the party’s trend and solving the internal problems would be significant. However, splitting the party is impossible. The Oromo people and the elites should be aware of this fact.

Is there anyone in support of Dawd Ibsa’s stand?

No one supports his argument. All five members of the council are not in support of the chairperson. And Jal Dawd is at his home now.

Is there the ruling party’s intervention in the internal affairs of your party?

The government has legal duty with the political parties. The relation with us is also legal and constitutional.

Our party also has its own internal rules and code of conduct. It responds to the government’s call as per the code of conduct. It has been licensed by the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia as a peaceful political party.

Our party is independent and free. The propaganda of putting our party to the government under the government’s intervention is illogical and falsehood fabrication. The party continued being independent as it has been so far.

The congress of the Front always decides what has to happen to the party. And no other external force could disintegrate it. It is the right and duty of the congress to decide on the internal affairs of the party.

What message do you want to convey to the people of Oromo regarding the current situation of OLF?

Dawd Ibsa, the former chairperson of OLF, will no longer be the chairperson of the Front. The council is going to elect another chairperson during the next council’s meeting which is to be held soon.

The Front is planning to work with the government keeping its cod of conduct and constitutional steps. It works to peacefully solve the problems occur between regional and federal governments. No need to create violence while dealing with the problems. We engage in dialogue with the government to get problems the sources of problems dried.

The party has been practicing a democratic political participation since its coming back to the country. It wants to be a part of the solution to the political, economic, and social problems of Ethiopia. This could be realized only by practicing peaceful and democratic political trend. It must be clear that OLF is a democratic political party working to enhance democracy and good governance throughout Ethiopia.