OPDO should walk away from signing any surrender agreement on Addis Ababa short of full Ownership Rights of the Oromo people on that city!
By Birhanemeskel Abebe Segni*
- What is the current status of Addis Ababa?
For an outsider, Addis Ababa is the seat of the Ethiopian federal government. It is also the host city of the headquarters of the African Union (AU), formerly the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and other international organizations; and diplomatic missions numbering over one hundred twenty embassies and consulates making it the diplomatic capital of Africa with the potential to become one of the leading world metropolises.
However, this very rosy picture becomes more murky and troublesome when one looks into the domestic sides of Addis Ababa. The domestic picture of Addis Ababa is in stark contrast to what it claims to portray itself nationally and globally. It is one of the most segregationist and discriminatory cities in the world. It is built on evicting and dispossessing the Oromo people of their ancestral land through the war of conquest, and a predatory land grab policy that evicted and dispossessed the land belonging to the Oromo people.
In 1843 Major William C. Harris, the Head of United Kingdom’s Delegation which visited Ethiopia during that time and stayed with Amhara warlords of the day, vividly recorded in his book “The Highlands of Aethiopia (1844, Vols. I-III)” his eyewitness description of the carnage, the savagery, and the barbarity of those warlords on Oromo residents of Finfinne. Major Harris’ Vol. II book (p. 185-198) accounts on how tens of thousands of Oromo peaceful and unarmed residents of Finfinne were massacred and destroyed by European-armed savages and warlords through wars of looting expeditions. In 1887 Addis Ababa was built on the graves of those brave Oromo heroes and heroines.
This agony of Oromo forebears, on whose graves Addis Ababa was built, is the everyday agony and brutalizing memory every Oromo youth carries in its heart and lives with every single day. It is the cause for which every single Oromo will fight for and die for until the ownership rights of the Oromo people on Addis Ababa is fully and completely restored and respected.
Fast forward, over the last 25 years alone, Addis Ababa evicted close to one million Oromo residents from Oromo districts surrounding Addis Ababa silently and incrementally through systematic and consistent military-style operations. In his book “The Meles Legacy: Addis Ababa, the Ownerless city,” Erimias Legesse, the former State Minister for Ethiopian Government’s Spokesperson Office, accounted over 10 years he was in the Addis Ababa City Council alone, close to 150,000 Oromo families were evicted from their land, and their whereabouts are unknown.
When the recent French-supported Addis Ababa Master Plan, which was slated to evict twelve million Oromos in ten years’ time from 36 cities and seventeen woredas in central Oromia zones, was announced, it triggered the memories of 1840-1887 all over again. The Oromo people protested and drew the battle lines not to be played again.
- How is the EPRDF handling the question of the Oromo people over Addis Ababa?
In spite of the war of conquest partly mentioned above, no other Ethiopian regime formally questioned the ownership rights of the Oromo people on Addis Ababa, since its creation in 1887, except the current EPRDF government of Ethiopia.
Let’s recap this. Under all previous Ethiopian regimes, including that of Emperor Menelik II, Lij Iyasu, Queen Zewiditu, Emperor Haile-Selassie, and the military regimes of General Teferi Bantii & Colonel Mengistu Haile-Mariam, the status of Addis Ababa as the seat of the central government and its status as the capital city of the Shewa Province had never been disputed or questioned, or even debated!
Administratively, the Municipality of Addis Ababa used to report to Menagesha Awraja, an area that covered pretty much the current Special Oromia Zone surrounding Addis Ababa. Menagesha Awraja in turn reported to the Shewa Province – which in turn reported to the Ethiopian central government. At no time in its history was Addis Ababa separated from the Shewa Province and placed under the political control of the Ethiopian central government – let alone become a separate region – except in the last 25 years.
The project of separating Addis Ababa from the Oromia State and that of the Oromo people started rolling as soon as the current government took the state power from the Derg Regime in 1991. As soon as it assumed the state power, the government of the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi established Addis Ababa as a separate region, calling it Region 14, by proclamation No.7/1992 in 1992.
To avoid immediate backlash from the Oromo people, the newly crowned rebels recognized “the political rights and special interests of the Oromo people and Region 4 over Addis Ababa” under Article 65 of Proclamation No.7/1992. The political rights and special interests of the Oromo people enshrined under this proclamation have never been legal elaborated or even get discussed. In short, Proclamation 7/1992 denied the Oromo population of the former Shewa Province their city in the name of self-administration, and the entire Oromo people the right to administer one of their cities, and the heartland of Oromia and its capital city was lost with stroke of a pen. Article 49 sub-article 5 of the current federal Constitution simply adopted the watered-down version of this proclamation.
In a further strategy to weaken the Oromo people’s ownership rights on Addis Ababa and empower Addis Ababa as a colonial enclave, the EPRDF government divided and disenfranchised the Shewa Oromo population in the former Shewa Province into five zones – which now include West Shewa, North Shewa, South West Shewa, East Shewa, and the Special Oromia Zone surrounding Addis Ababa. A small part of the old Shewa province is also redistricted under the Amhara National Regional State with Debre Berhan as its zonal capital.
This strategy, which seems to have worked well until the #OromoProtests, was to divide and give the OPDO boys small balls for each one of them in their respective zones so that they will take off their eyes from the bigger ball while the big guys will play the national political and economic tournament with perfection with the bigger ball in Addis Ababa. The EPRDF sold this poly of creating six zones out of the previously one and very strong Shewa province as an administrative convenience for these newly created zones. In reality, none of the newly created zones gained any politically and economic advantage in the last 25 years – except being weakened, impoverished, disenfranchised and gerrymandered to benefit the predatory beasts in Addis Ababa.
The current so called “talks” on Article 49 sub-article 5 of the Federal Constitution’s “special interests clause of Oromia in Addis Ababa” is sequel two of the poly of the EPRDF to finish and perfect what the 19th Century war of conquest failed to do by completely separating Addis Ababa from Oromia and the Oromo people.
- How is Addis Ababa treating the Oromo people now?
The policies of Addis Ababa toward the Oromo people have always been predatory. Its policies are premised on evicting, dispossessing, displacing and exploiting the Oromo to benefit, make room and place for non-Oromo settlers. Over the last twenty-five years, Addis Ababa is not only displacing and evicting the Oromo people, it is also the prison and torture capital – where all major torture centers and hidden prisons including Ma’ikalawi are located. Some call Addis Ababa the Gitmo for the Oromo people – where tens of thousands of Oromos are tortured, killed and detained.
Politically, economically and socially-speaking, except for the nominal claim that Addis Ababa is the capital city of Oromia, Addis Ababa is the antithesis of everything Oromo. There is virtually no Oromo political, economic and cultural presence in Addis Ababa. All political, economic and cultural powers are fully in the hand of the settlers. Despised, marginalized and excluded in their own land, the Oromo people are considered as undesirables and strangers not welcomed in Addis Ababa, and are openly discriminated against.
According to the Addis Ababa City Charter, Amharic is the only official working language of the city. This means Afan Oromo is legally and factually banned in Addis Ababa. Afan Oromo speakers neither get employment nor public services this city provides through its public institutions. Afan Oromo speakers’ political participation in Addis Ababa is unthinkable. Instead, the EPRDF government appoints Amharic-speaking Oromo with no political constituency in the city as the Mayor of Addis Ababa to serve as a rubber-stamp for the wish and whim of the deep state, and cow the Oromo people through well-perfected political fraud.
There is no single Afan Oromo public school or college in Addis Ababa. There is no single Afan Oromo print or broadcast media for Afan Oromo speakers in Addis Ababa. All Addis Ababa-based print and broadcast media outlets, theaters, cinema centers, youth centers, museums, and city-operated social institutions are legally banned from using Afan Oromo. With the exception occasional translation services in court hearings, there is no single entity that provides even translation or interpretation services for Afan Oromo speakers. All legal documents and court decisions are issued only in Amharic.
In fact, since the environment of discrimination is so pervasive and heavy, almost all private businesses and social institutions, including churches, banks, hospitals, clinics, hotels, cafés, and retail and wholesale shops, conduct all their businesses only Amharic. One hardly finds an Afan Oromo-speaking business or church in Addis Ababa.
For Afan Oromo-speaking citizens of Addis Ababa, Oromo refugees in New York or Washington DC or Minneapolis have more self-worth and rights than Afan Oromo speakers in Addis Ababa. Oromo speaker in Washington DC, New York or Minneapolis can get interpretation services in hospitals and other public institutions, a right an Oromo in Addis Ababa could not even contemplate.
Although it might be unfair to blame Addis Ababa for all the misery and ills of the Oromo people, it is fair to say that all the racist and discriminatory policies and laws against the Oromo people by the Ethiopian regimes continue to be hatched and nurtured in Addis Ababa. The Ethiopian government’s monolingual language policy, and systemic policies of exclusion and marginalization of the Oromo people from Ethiopia’s economic, political and social systems are developed and executed with near perfection and exported to the rest of the country from here.
Addis Ababa is a city that aspires to become a global city before it becomes a city to its own people on whose land it is founded. Owing to this discriminatory and segregationist policies, the Oromo people’s relationship with this city is that of love and hate. They love it because they believe it is their city. They hate it because they are being segregated, discriminated and unwelcomed in it.
- What is the demand of the Oromo people on Addis Ababa?
The demand of the Oromo people on Addis Ababa is simple and straight forward. It is the demand to right the wrongs listed above! It is the demand of ownership right of the Oromo people on their land and their city. It is the demand of the Oromo people to politically administer their city and have a part in its development. It is the demand for the Oromia national regional government to have a taxing power (the power to impose and collect taxes) and police power (the power to issue laws and policies and enforce them) on Addis Ababa and to administer it.
Rejection of the Ethiopian government’s aggression and denial of self-governance rights of the Oromo people of themselves and their capital city, Addis Ababa, is at the heart of the #Oromoprotests that is going on for the last two years.
This demand of the Oromo people over Addis Ababa is best encapsulated in the single rallying cry of the #OromoProtests. It says “Finfinneen Handhura Oromiya ti!” in Oromo language. Loosely translated, it means “Addis Ababa is the heart, the umbilical cord & the center of Oromia!” It simply means Addis Ababa is the heartland of Oromia and Oromia’s capital city. The two are inseparable; one and the same! Oromia will not exist without Addis Ababa; and Addis Ababa will not exist without Oromia!
The slogan “Finfinneen Handhura Oromiya ti!” shows the undisputed ownership, full political and economic rights, including the police and taxing powers of the Oromia State over Addis Ababa. The slogan shows Addis Ababa is inextricably connected with the dignity and the honor of the Oromo people.
The Oromo people have never ever lost, relinquished, nor abandoned their ownership rights on Addis Ababa, and never will! Not now! The future belongs to the Oromo people to right the wrongs and injustices perpetrated on the Oromo people in Addis Ababa and its surroundings.
- Why has OPDO no legitimacy to sign the surrender agreement with EPRDF and Addis Ababa Municipality?
OPDO cannot spend the political capital it never had – both within the Oromo people and within the organization of the EPRDF. Had the OPDO have any respect from EPRDF and other member parties, it wouldn’t have remained homeless and without a legally-recognized capital city for the last 27 years of its existence when it is nominally the governing party representing almost half of the Ethiopian population.
Most people don’t know this very important fact. OPDO’s boutique offices in Addis Ababa have no legal basis to exist there. Neither the federal government’s Constitution nor the Charter of Addis Ababa city administration nor the Constitution of Oromia recognize Addis Ababa as the capital city of Oromia. Not even the internal party rules of EPRDF recognizes Addis Ababa as the political capital of OPDO, nominally the ruling party in Oromia.
The EPRDF, mainly the TPLF, decides where the OPDO should be in a given year depending on the political tempo of the Oromo people. Initially, in 1991, OPDO was kept in Addis Ababa because of the pressure from the OLF. Then, after the OLF got weakened, OPDO was sent to Adama. When the pressure mounted on EPRDF/TPLF from Macha Tulama Self-Help Association, Oromo students and OFC, OPDO was returned from Adama to Addis Ababa – where it still exists.
Now, the EPRDF and Addis Ababa city powerholders are talking to the OPDO on the “special interests of the Oromo people over Addis Ababa” because of the #OromoProtests while those Oromo leaders who voiced their concerns with the Oromo people – such as Dr. Merera Gudina, Bekele Gerba and tens of thousands other brave Oromo leaders are languishing in prison.
For the EPRDF, OPDO, in spite of the good intentions and brave efforts of some OPDO leaders, is just a front to pursue their selfish economic, political and security interests in Oromia, and use it as a tool to appease the Oromo people when the going gets tough. All well-meaning and enlightened OPDO leaders from top to bottom know this political reality and fact. And the Oromo people know it very well.
Therefore, the OPDO has no political, legal or historical mandate from the Oromo people to sign any form of surrender agreement that undermines, diminishes, compromises or further complicates the fully political, economic and social rights of the Oromo people on Addis Ababa. Not now. Not ever!
If the EPRDF leadership and the powerholders in Addis Ababa want a legitimate and final solution on the question of Addis Ababa and other Oromo issues, they must release Oromo leaders from prison and negotiate with them and other rightfully designated Oromo people’s leaders.
It is important for the EPRDF leadership and the deep state in Addis Ababa to know that their political fraud of separating Addis Ababa from Oromia is dead on arrival. The Oromo people will never ever accept, negotiate or compromise on any gamesmanship and deception short of complete and clearly defined full political, economic, cultural and administrative rights of the Oromo people and Oromia National Regional State over Addis Ababa.