Subject: Concern about the killings, imprisonments, expulsion of Oromo students, closure of universities, and the intermittent blockage of landline telephone, cellphone, and internet services
Dr. Abiy Ahmed, Prime Minister
Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia Office of the Prime Minster
P.O. Box 1031 Finfinnee, Ethiopia
Dear Mr. Prime Minister:
I am writing this letter on behalf of the Oromo Studies Association (OSA), out of grave concern about the widespread killings, the expulsion of Oromo students, the closure of universities, and the intermittent blockage of landline telephone, cellphone, and internet services to people in some parts of Oromia. In my first open letter, as I congratulated you on winning the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, I stated, “you now have the global and local support to transform Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa region and make democracy and regard for human rights the new norm.” Because I have studied the public health impacts of human rights violations and denial of leadership in Ethiopia, I am one of those who wish you success in transforming the Ethiopian and the Horn of African politics. OSA and the world community is expecting you to make human rights and equity a new high norm. But massively expelling Oromo students from their studies, arresting the OLF leadership, closing universities, and cutting communication services are indeed human rights violations. It is widely seen as the cover-ups for the killings, imprisonments of people, the burning of natural forests, and forceful displacement of people from their homes.
The traditional Ethiopian system of governance is not equitable, democratic, and transparent; it leaves little room for constructive criticism and learning. The fear of criticism and opposition leads to killings, imprisoning and cutting all communications. In today’s world, the internet is a critical learning means and can transform society. Using the internet, the causes of diseases and solutions can be searched, books and publications can be read, news can be followed, and parents can teach their children. Not recognizing the value of the telephone and the internet to society is one of the greatest weaknesses of your government.
Although Ethiopia is a multi-national/ethnic state, it is dominated by Abyssinians. In the Abyssinian culture, deceptive, and even misleading communications i.e., Gold and Wax (ሰምና ወርቅ), are considered an art and taught in schools. That is why Ethiopia is seen as the most
secretive state. Despite that you came to power by the Qeeroo movement, you are now conditioned or willfully endorsed to function in an Abyssinian system. Indeed, when your government decided to disconnect Western Oromia from the local and the global world, closing universities, and expelling students, we believe it is intended to hide the atrocities committed by the Ethiopian armed forces in the name of cleansing out the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) from the region. By doing that, you are trying to hide the crying mothers and fathers who lost their children and orphan who lost their parents.
In societies where political intrigue is the norm, contradictory policies are aggravating the magnitude of mistrust. Let me highlight some of your own contradictory policies. First, you officially advance federalism and, at the same time, you romanticize the emperors who have been slave traders, who committed ethnic cleansing and genocide. For example, you romanticize Menelik II, who owned the largest ever recorded number of slaves in Ethiopian history and even collected tax in the form of slaves, whom the people of the south abominate. By that, on the one hand, you made the state killings acceptable. On the other, you offered the Amhara ultranationalists theoretical reasons to claim a special status to maintain the domination, widen
their privileges, and to openly claim to be the “the custodians” of the capital city of Oromia, Finfinnee, while acting like vigilantes. From current events, it is not clear if Ethiopia is moving forwards to equity and diversity or going back to where the ethno/national hierarchy and racist1 ideology were the standard.
Second, your government closed the notorious Maikelawi prison but failed to bring the perpetrators of the crimes to justice. You condemned torture, yet your government continues torturing innocent people in the same style as before. You said, you would release all political prisoners, but more people are languishing in jails today. You plant trees in Finfinne, but your soldiers burn forests in Western Oromia. You seem to promote education, but more Oromo students have been expelled from Universities than ever before. In your words, you promote peace; however, your security forces are treating the Oromo people as if they are subhuman – in an undignified manner.
It is an open secret, Mr. Prime Minister, that you have surrounded yourself by radical Orthodox clergy as advisers, alienating the majority of Ethiopians. Violating the idea of separation of church and state, you have selected Orthodox church representatives as your close advisers. Your advisor, Deacon Daniel Kibret, publicly said that using the Oromo language in church services is a curse, and Islam is a threat to Ethiopia. Those types of speeches do not constitute free speech; they are racist and constitute hate speech. This makes us wander, can the Prime Minister’s Office promote diversity, equity, and unity while advancing classical chauvinist views that kept Ethiopia in the dark for more than a century?
Third, when you flew to Norway to receive the Nobel Prize award, you did it on a commercial flight; by that, you showed your commitment to fight corruption. However, soon after you formed a new political party known as the Ethiopian Prosperity Party (EPP), you allowed the Federal and Regional government employees to propagate the party political programs during their work hours, and people are conditioned to attend those meetings during their work hours. Many people are paid for facilitating workshops organized by EPP and others are paid for attending such seminars. Furthermore, many others are paid for organizing and participating in a rally supposedly in support of EPP, using public money. As it was in the past, under your leadership, the party and state governments are one and the same; as a result, corruption and perversion of justice have become rampant.
Fourth, you officially advance environmental sustainability, and on the media, we see you planting trees and even watering them. However, your army is burning natural forests and crops. In the drought-prone zones like Ethiopia and in the regions where lakes and rivers are drying, where the impacts of climate change are evident, burning the natural forests constitutes deliberately destroying the environment that sustains the people. Most Oromo and Ethiopian people are farmers, and they are fully dependent on their natural world. Burning the forest is not only violating the Oromo ethics, it is committing a horrendous crime.
Fifth, openly, you said, “people can freely express their views and oppose your policies.” But the case of Oromo students in Haroo-Ammaya University clearly shows your government is intolerant of a peaceful protest. The seventy students who were expelled from their studies resulted from their dressing in black2 clothes as a sign of mourning over the death of Oromo students in the Amhara region and protesting against the inaction of the regional and federal government.
Sixth, separation of church and state is one of the essential components of a democratic society. Separation of state and religion makes the state a public domain and religion a private matter. Under your leadership, church and state are getting intermingled more than any other time after the fall of Emperor Haile Selassie. The idea of separation of church and state has resulted from century-old social experimentation. When you make the state public, you guarantee everyone to participate equally; however, when you make religion a public3, you make the followers of different religions compete.
1Racism is an ideology of domination where one claims biological and cultural superiority over the others.
2Dressing black as a sign of morn for the dead is the culture imposed upon the Oromo people. In the Oromo perspective, black and blackness represent purity and holiness. Using this moment, let me bring an interesting fact. In 1840, a Catholic priest from Europe went to Guduru in Western Oromia and approached an older adult if he can teach his children. The Oromo man accepted the offer. The white missionary man asked the Oromo elder to call him as a father. The Oromo man said, “you are younger than my son, and I have no reason to call you a father.” The other day the priest presented that God is white. Oromo people refer to God as “guraacha garaa garbaa, leemoo garaa taliila” the almighty and forgiving Black Divine Power, for that he refused to accept the teaching. The last point of disagreement resulted when a close family member of the older adult died, and the priest advised him to wear black clothes. The Oromo man refused to dress black and told the priest that he is not the right teacher and ask him to leave.
3 In August 2019, I stayed in a small town in Western Oromia. Most of the residents of the town are predominantly associate with the Protestant church and Waqefanna. Although the followers of the Orthodox church are the minority, they use loudspeakers to conduct their prayer, starting from 5:00 AM. Such practices are driven to legitimize their worldview and brainwash, and they are a violation of the right to rest and leisure.