Sunday, December 22, 2013

Letter of Appeal to President Obama from NA Chapter of the OLF

December 22, 2013

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,
I am writing to you on behalf of myself, Oromo-American and permanent resident members and supporters of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF)[1] in the USA Who are happy to call this great nation their home and enjoy the democracy, justice and human rights it has to offer.  Our members and supporters, the vast majority of whom are voting United States citizens, are proud contributors to this nation’s economic and social life.

Mr. President,
As we mourn the passing away of, and celebrate the life and accomplishments of, former president Nelson Mandela of South Africa - "The last great liberator of the 20th century” – we cannot help but remember one of our own – General Tadesse Biru. Gen. Tadesse was another fighter for liberation of his people, the Oromo people, who was assassinated by the Ethiopian regime in 1975. He was, also, the man in charge of training Mr. Mandela when the latter came to our land for military training in 1962.  
In your eulogy speech at Nelson Mandela's memorial on Tuesday, December 10, 2013, you said “Around the world today, men and women are still imprisoned for their political beliefs; and …” which struck a chord with us because we are members of one such persecuted people – the Oromo people – in our land of origin Oromia.
The Oromo are the single largest group in Ethiopia comprising over 40% of the Ethiopian population but economically dispossessed and politically disenfranchised by successive Ethiopian regimes. Having been forcefully incorporated in to the Ethiopian empire around the end of the 19th century, the Oromo have since been struggling for their right to self-determination. In an effort to kill this political belief in the Oromo people and to perpetuate their dispossession, successive Ethiopian regimes have inflicted untold misery on the Oromo people in the form of selling off their land to the highest bidder, extrajudicial killings, torture, mass arrests, and disappearances. Such repressions, dispossessions and human rights violations by the current Ethiopian government against the Oromo people are escalating on a daily basis.

Today, thousands of Oromos from all walks of life suffer in Ethiopian prisons for no other reason than being born Oromos and/or for their political beliefs in the Oromo deserving freedom, justice and the right to determine their fate. In Ethiopia, “Torture and other ill-treatment of prisoners [are] widespread, particularly during interrogation in pre-trial police detention.”[2] Many Oromo political prisoners have died in Ethiopian prisons while we watch idly from the “sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.”[3]
Mr. President,
The list of Oromos murdered or imprisoned for their political beliefs would be too long to provide in this letter but the cases of Tesfahun Chemeda, Bekele Gerba and Olbala Lellisa should suffice to illustrate our points.
Tesfahun Chemeda Gurmessa, an Engineer by profession and a UNHCR recognized Oromo refugee in Kenya, arrested and handed over to his persecutors in Ethiopia in April 2007, charged under the deeply flawed Ethiopian anti-terrorism law, sentenced to life imprisonment, held in solitary confinement for over two years with no access to medical treatment which resulted in his death on 24 August 2013 is an example how Oromo political prisoners are treated in Ethiopia.
Bekele Gerba, deputy Chairman of the opposition Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM) and Olbana Lelisa of the Oromo People’s Congress party (OPC) were both arrested on 27 August 2011 after meeting with Amnesty International (AI) deligation.[4] The AI delegation in Ethiopia was expelled soon after, leaving AI without presence in that country to monitor and report on constant harassment by the government against Oromos in general and opposition politicians in particular.
Bekele and Olbana were charged, again, under the deeply flawed Ethiopian anti-terrorism law and convicted to long years of imprisonment.  "In my life time, I have opposed injustice, discrimination, ethnic favoritism, and oppression," Bekele told the court at his sentencing hearing. He went on to say “I am honored to learn that my non-violent struggles and humble sacrifices for the democratic and human rights of the Oromo people, to whom I was born without a wish on my part but due to the will of the Almighty, have been considered a crime and to be unjustly convicted." Bekele’s speech to his persecutors parallels and should remind us of Nelson Mandela’s “I am Prepared to Die” speech at his Rivonia trial in 1964.
It was a fight against such injustices perpetrated against his people that brought Nelson Mandela for military training, albeit a short one, to the land of the people to whom Bekele Gerba was born, the Oromo people. Gen. Tadesse Biru, Tesfahun Chemeda Hunde and many others were cut down by successive Ethiopian governments while carrying Mandela’s torch against injustice. Bekele Gerba, Olbana Lelisa and thousands of others are languishing in Ethiopia’s prisons and detention camps for raising Mandela’s torch for equality and due process.
Mr. President,
On behalf of myself and members and supports of the OLF in the USA, I call upon your administration to:
1.      Ensure the United States government’s security ties with the Ethiopian regime will not trump human and civil rights consideration for the peoples of the Ethiopian empire and does not lead your administration to overlook abuses in that country;
2.      “Act on behalf of justice”[5] and put the necessary pressure on the Ethiopian government to release all political prisoners of which the overwhelming majority are the Oromo;
3.      Utilize its influences with the Ethiopian government to rescind its deeply flawed anti-terrorism law which it has been using to sentence actual and perceived political opponents to long years of imprisonment and to stifle “freedom of expression, severely restricting the activities of the independent media.”[6]
4.      Put the necessary safeguards in place to ensure that United States financial, material and other aids paid for by United States tax payers are not used by the Ethiopian government for repressing Oromo and other peoples in the empire.
Abraahim Abbayyee
Abrahim Abbayyee
Chairman, North American Branch of the OLF

[1] The Oromo Liberation Front (Oromo: Adda Bilisummaa Oromoo or ABO), or OLF, is an organization established in 1973 by Oromo nationalists to promote self-determination for the Oromo people against "Abyssinian [Ethiopian] colonial rule".
[2] Annual Report: Ethiopia 2013, Amnesty International
[3] Taken from President Obama’s speech at Nelson Mandela's memorial on Tuesday, December 10, 2013
[4] See Amnesy International “Urgent Action”  UA: 263/11 Index: AFR 25/007/2011 Ethiopia
[5] Taken from President Obama’s speech at Nelson Mandela's memorial on Tuesday, December 10, 2013
[6] Annual Report: Ethiopia 2013, Amnesty International

Source: OLF web site.

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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Effort to Unify QC-OLF and Shanee-OLF Dead, Say Insiders

By Gurraacho Silgaa

Since the OLF split into Transitional Authority (QC) and Shanee Gumii (SG) in 2001, the concept of reconciliation has emerged as a central theme of political discourse within the Oromo community in the diaspora. Reconciliation has been promoted as a way of re-directing Oromo resources and energy that is being wasted on in-fighting and toward challenging and eventually defeating Ethiopian colonialism.  The hope was, and remains to be, that the splintered organization – the OLF that is – will again become one, united in its purpose, in its structure, in its function and in its processes, made stronger and thereby play the midwifery role expected from it in the re-birth of an independent and democratic Oromo state.
An encouraging sign in that direction emerged last year after over a decade of demand by the wider Oromo populace, during which the OLF performed more self-replication and internal bickering than it did anything else. I am talking about a “Memorandum of Understanding and Agreements” between the OLF Transitional Authority (QC) and the OLF Shanee Gumii (SG) issued on November 20, 2012. At the time many commentators questioned whether that    “understanding” was destined to join on the Internet the various previous “understandings” reached among the different Oromo organizations but came to naught or it would be a “real deal” worth the limited accolade it received from the Oromo Diaspora.

I hoped, and prayed, that it would be the later for the sake of our people and for this much loved organization for which the Oromo people’s respect has been eroding for the last twenty years.

Months after a global tour by the two factions to introduce their agreement and garner public support for it, and despite the eagerness of the Oromo public to learn the fate of their agreement, no news or progress report has been forthcoming. Thirteen (13) months after the hastily put together and announced “memorandum of Understanding,” time has proved that this one is no different from the “memorandums of understandings” among Oromo political oganizations that preceded it. Just like many before it, the QC-Shanee “understanding” remained on the Internet without amounting to anything on the ground.

The lofty assertions and promises made in their “memorandum of understanding” such as “we have resolved our differences”, “we are determined to revitalize the national struggle for liberation”, and their “agreement” to reunite their forces and combine their resources remained just that: a series of lofty pronouncements devoid of any substance.

Reliable sources inform this writter that the QC-Shanee “memorandum of understanding” is now dead and buried over who should become the Chairman (Hayyuu Duree) of the newly merged OLF. The details are sketchy at this time but both sides claimed chairmanship of the organization and refused to compromise. They are currently engaged in recriminations blaming the other side of causing the unification effort to flounder and eventually fail.

Those close to the unification effort say they are not surprised at all by such turn of events. They say such an outcome was a foregone conclusion right from the very beginning for two reasons.

The first is the fact that both sides excluded their very members from discussions and decisions on such an important matter which had the potential of merging the long separated factions. All during the talks, members on both sides knew what was going on just as much as the general public - which is to say almost nothing. As a result, members had no opportunity to push their leaders to compromise when necessary or to help device new strategies to bring the talks to a successful conclusion or at least question their leaders’ decisions. As one member of the QC group put it in afaan Oromoo, the attitude of the leaders on both sides is “Kan wal lolus hooggana, kan araaramus hooggana, miseensi maal keessaa qabaa? Yoo loli jedhan loluu malee! Yoo dhiisi jedhan dhiisuu malee!”

The second reason, according to those on the inside, is the insatiable appetite by both sets of leaders for power and the want to hold on to power for as long as possible. Based on the constitution of the OLF, say those on the inside, both sets of leaders have over stayed their mandate by over five (5) years.  In an organization which takes democracy seriously, these leaders would be considered illegitimate leaders. The national congress of both factions, required by the constitution to be convened and elect new leaders every four years is overdue by five years. Some say it is no surprise that such leaders with no deeply held conviction and upholding of democracy (free, fair and periodic elections) and democratic norms resist giving up power for the higher good of the Oromo struggle thereby causing the unification effort to fail. These are the same leaders who despite remaining in power for many years failed to advance the struggle in the last two decades and noting more should be expected from them.

In the humble opinion of this writer, unification and strengthening of the OLF is of a paramount importance to the Oromo struggle for liberation. However, the unification of these factions would be meaningless unless the underlying purpose is the advancement of the Oromo struggle and achievement of the Oromo people’s aspiration. Having the survival and staying in power of the current leaders as the overriding primary point of negotiations will not serve the interest of the Oromo people nor of their struggle but the narrow interests of those leaders.

Under these leaders, the OLF has been jumping from crisis to crisis for the last two decades and nothing to show in the way of achievements. In fact, I would argue it went backward over the same time period. It is a miracle that it has survived this long with nothing more to show than its accomplishments from over twenty years ago. Today, it is not an exaggeration to say that the OLF is surviving only in name and in the hearts of the masses.

If the OLF is to survive and thrive, it needs to be a well-functioning organization - what it definitely is not at the present time. To become such an organization, it needs to look for dynamic leadership in the younger generation of Oromos not encumbered by any personal issues among the current leaders. Such new and younger leadership has a better chance of unifying the OLF factions, of re-making the organization and of building capabilities and processes consistent with the OLF mission: the advancement of the struggle and eventual achievement of Oromo people’s aspiration for an independent Oromia and a free Oromo people.

Oromia shall be free!

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