Oromo protests: Dealing with the fear of “Oromia is kienga!” & Addis Abebans are foreigners”

25 Jan

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin – The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)
The other day, when I was reading Prof. Messay Kebede’s Unity Overrides Everything on the Zehabesha, I came across a comment by Ato Abegaz. He has two main concerns:

    (a) suspicion of Oromos that “shout Oromia is kiegna”; and

    (b) allegations against Dr. Tsegaye Ararssa, on whom he levels the accusation of authoring the claim “Addis Ababans are foreigners.”

In reading that, as an Ethiopian with some education and also firm roots in that country from mixed parentage that have day and night wore pride in their Ethiopian identity, I found it necessary to react to Ato Abegaz’s two points in a letter to Zehabesha, which has suspended it on its page “awaiting moderation:”

Because of importance of the issues raised in there and aware of their implications to the future of a united struggle for freedom and democracy against TPLF’s continuing repression, I decided to publish my comment in this blog, without changing an iota of its substance, to reach as wide readership as possible to generate conversations on the matter.

In part, Ato Abegaz’s comment reads:

    “Dr. Mesay

    Let me first say this. The farmers revolt against TPLF is right. The question is how do we address the the farmers question. There are a lot of people who shout Oromia is kiegna. There are people like Dr. Tsegaye Ararsa who say Addis Ababans are foreigners; they do not belong here. Addis Ababans must be nice to live in Addis Under Oromia rule since Addis Ababa belongs to Oromia. I am one who hate woyane to its bone. However I am not fool to that extent on the claim that Addis Ababa belongs to Oromia only and others are foreigners. My friend you know history more than me. The Jews claimed their ancestral land after 2000 years. Where were Oromos prior to the 16th century? Were Addis Ababa an occupied land by Oromo farmers when Tyitu first came? No Ethiopian population was so low that there was plenty of vacant space.

    Even during the Derg the land in the suburbs of Addis Ababa was largely vacant. You can check farmers taxation paper or look at a historical satellite imagery. Nobody displaced anybody to build Addis Ababa except the TPLF. Many oromos have a mind set that Oromia belongs to the oromos only. That is wrong. The issue of the rights of the Oromo farmers is just and should not to be addressed through Oromia to Oromos slogan. That kind of approach is aimed to exclude others. It can however be addressed through property rights. Period. This is a win win solution to the farmers to the central government as well. The city will grow without having to beg OPDO and violet people’s right. The issue of right violation is not limited to the oromo farmers. Plenty of people in the heart of Addis Ababa are being evicted from their ancestral land holdings only to give it to the rich…”


I reacted with the following words, in particular to the two issues in there. I do not know Dr. Tsegaye Ararssa, save his recent interviews that I have attentively listened and appreciated his dispassionate approach, firmly rooted in Ethiopia’s reality, in constitutional law and human rights law. I felt the need to dispel Abegaz’s concern, drawing upon the very information Dr. Tsegaye Ararssa has been disseminating from the onset of the Oromo protests!
Here we go then:

“My comment addresses itself to the concern in the January 20/2016 by Abegaz, which is directed against Oromos with slogan that “shout Oromia is kiegna.” Yes, I agree that there are bound to be some that may think like that in every kilil, as recent years have sadly shown us.

These are victims and their thinking a legacy of the outmoded feudal order in Ethiopia’s past; no doubt such thinking and actions have caused historical injuries to Oromos as well as many others in Ethiopia. The shocking irony is that the TPLF loves it; it has used it again and again to peddle hatred and division among Ethiopians, thereby aggravating the situation.

I hope Ato Abegaz would agree with me that the solution to this problem is to educate Ethiopians to fight that backward legacy and the TPLF at the same time, to ensure that future governance of Ethiopia and Ethiopians is built on principles and structures founded on peace, freedom and equality of citizens, which he also seems to aspire.

Let me now turn to Ato Abegaz’s other allegation, it being the primary prompt for this response.

His is a misplaced accusation against Dr. Tsegaye Ararssa, which alleges that he has said “Addis Ababans are foreigners”. I would firmly state here that, irrespective of how far and fast he walks heels over head towards such a goal – to start with I doubt he has such intentions nor a desire in a way Abegaz presents it – Dr. Tsegaye cannot attain that!

However, my understanding of the notion ‘foreigners’ originates from – if at all Dr. Tsegaye Ararssa has pronounced it as such in his latest interview(s) – the theory of federalism, constitutional law and human rights laws as applied to a country or countries such as Ethiopia with multiplicities of states and ethno-nationalities to address their problems of peace and good governance. It comes as part of an effort in the search for possible solutions and building of a workable system that accommodates the rights and needs of all citizens on a priority basis.

In Ethiopia, our national experience has shown us that those rights and freedoms have been mirage in the sky the TPLF’s national program being what it is, i.e., having miserably failed to deliver any of that beyond form. Therefore, it is possibly that, in the light of discussing federalism, Dr. Tsegaye could have used that term, which must have redound upon the spectrum of our national fears and experiences.

Constitutional lawyers anticipate that genuine federalism can create conditions that help prevent: (a) conflicts (b) irrespective of wherever citizens are domiciled, and (c) political castration of national institutions and governmental structures through political subversion of those that are originally designed to create conditions for the Ethiopian people to promote “social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.”

Readers will notice above I am avoiding the ”s” at the end of the ‘Ethiopian people’ – as I have always done in my writings. It is my attempt to underline our unity as Ethiopians under the right kind of federalism within defined territories, areas and under their respective governments. We know that it has not worked for Ethiopia thus far. Where it works or were it to work in our country, it would not have allowed the TPLF’s denial of our rights as Oromos, Amharas, Tigrayans, a non-Oromo living in Oromia, or non-Amharas living in Amhara, non-Tigrayans living in Tigray, etc.

Note that on the question of nomenclature – looking from the example of others – despite the United States having 50 states and state governments, it refers itself as the people of the United States – not the “peoples” of the United States. This also goes for Canada, Switzerland’s governance under independent cantonal administrations, etc. It is only TPLF’s nincompoops that are in love with divisiveness, constantly addressing Ethiopians as the “peoples of Ethiopia”! We know the reason for that – shame on a group that still masquerades as ‘liberator’ while peddling discrimination and separateness even bearing the name the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF)!

Think of it, what more could be more revealing in TPLF’s mean and nasty political goals for Ethiopia than the bloody conflict that claimed lives in Gondar between Amharas and Qimants because of the Front’s insinuation, carried out simultaneously during its massacres in Oromia?

Ethiopian mothers crying out their hearts for their children massacred by the TPLF army, when the students protested land grab by TPLF members. News arriving from less than 24 hrs ago indicate that‪#‎OromoProtests‬ 36 people who were arrested in Waddessa tortured at kebele 06 police station in Ambo

Ethiopian mothers crying out their hearts for their children massacred by the TPLF army, when the students protested land grab by TPLF members. News arriving from a few hours ago indicate that in East Walaga, Digga district, Arjo Gudetu village, Agazi soldiers have fired on protesters see https://t.co/YlKlHwes7o

Therefore, let us not miss the point that, in his attempt to put in context the essence/objective of the Addis Abeba Master Plan and the so-called ‘special interests’ between Addis Abeba and Oromia region, Dr. Tsegaye Regassa also as much has amplified the rights of non-Oromos as Ethiopians residing in the region. This he did so within the framework of the inalienable rights of peoples in general, although the discussion in this case pertains to the Oromos.

I have accepted with total conviction his informed explanation, logic in law and earnestness, when he suggested that the rights of non-Oromos needed to be promptly defined by law, accordingly recognized and respected by the government of Oromia and the federal government simultaneously, if I have understood him right. While federalism is not a silver bullet, he has also explained that the federal government must and can ensure that this happens under the compact with the regions and also undertaken by and within each region. The ultimate goal of this is recognition of the rights and freedoms of citizens to live in peace and dignity in the places of their choosing, as citizens of federal Ethiopia.

Dr. Tsegaye Ararssa – a sedate reader of Ethiopian reality and interpreter of constitutional law – explained the essence and meaning of a true federal arrangement. For the Oromos and many non-Oromo students of constitutional law, the present TPLF dispensation, aka, Ethiopia’s federal system of 1994, has only made – as Tsegaye put it in an interview on ESAT (Jan 17/2016) – the federal government as an entity without territory that looks for home for the capital city (Addis Abeba) ended up being the host in Oromia, while granting guest status to Oromia and its people in their own home.

This has put the TPLF on collision course with Ethiopians, due to its bungling of what ought to be its priority as the power behind the ‘federal ‘government’. In other words, it should have been its duty first and foremost to ensure in consultation with the regions the realization of the full human rights and freedoms of the people. The front has instead used its role to supplant its own interests of consolidating power toward its selfish end of becoming the dominant ethnic group within the Ethiopian state.

We all are aware, and also I gather from the different pronouncements and writings of Dr. Tsegaye Ararssa, the aspirations of the Ethiopian people for respect of their rights, freedoms have not been realized in the 20 years Ethiopia has been under the federal arrangement. Nor have the nation’s institutions established to fulfill this as guarantors for realization of the goals and objectives of the constitution due to TPLF’s political shenanigans and its reliance on state’s capacity to unleash violence becoming the obstacles.

Let me reiterate here that in the case of Oromia, as far as I am concerned, Tsegaye is one of the few constitutional lawyers to be upfront in elucidating the things that have gone wrong in the special relationship between Addis Abeba and Oromia on one hand and the constitution (and anything subsequent by way of regulations, if any) on the other. He has shown how it has fallen short in addressing the needs of Ethiopian Oromos, as we saw in the controversies surrounding the so-called Addis Abeba Master Plan.

Most importantly, he observes, this failure has also denied other Ethiopians of their rights as individuals that live in Oromia, who otherwise ought to have special laws recognizing their rights as Ethiopians living in this part of the constituent state and within the federal arrangement and its territory.”

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