Ethiopia: The Oromo Liberation Front is not a terrorist organisation

By Soretti Kadir
Storyteller, poet, facilitator

Oromo Liberation Front
Oromia Special Force members wait to check attendees during Irreecha celebrations, the thanksgiving festival of the Oromo people, in Bishoftu town, Oromia region, Ethiopia, October 4, 2020. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

Source:  The Africa Report

Nagesso’s attempt to frame the Oromo Liberation Army as a terrorist organisation is full of disinformation, half truths, uninformed and deliberately confusing arguments.

This piece is a response to the article “Ethiopia: Victory for the Oromo will come from winning hearts and minds, not terrorising people” that was written by Nagesso Dube.

Nagesso – a staunch supporter of the current Ethiopian government – claims that the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA’s) operations are terrorising communities (which we will discuss in more detail later).

“I was one of the pioneers in introducing nonviolence to the Qeerroo movement and leading its successful nonviolence campaign that ousted the TPLF,” he says. Without suggesting it directly to support his attempts at providing an objective analysis, by positioning himself as an advocate of peace, and with his proximity to the government, Nagesso is effectively describing the methodology of the governing Prosperity Party (led PM Abiy Ahmed) as one focused on winning ‘minds and hearts’, not ‘terrorising people’.

But Nagesso supports a party that has incited and led campaigns of mass arrest, extrajudicial killings, political repression and genocidal rampages in many regions of Ethiopia. I am not sure how these tactics win hearts and minds; in fact, they sound a lot like the characteristics of terrorism.

The ranks of the OLA are not filling up today because of the TPLF, they are filling up because Oromia is a war zone under the administration of the Prosperity Party.

In the first paragraph of the articled that was published on 18 June, Negasso says: “The terrorism of the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) is not advancing Oromo interests. Nonviolence succeeds more often than violence in securing political power. Its adherents are sometimes killed and hurt. But the number of casualties is less than those in war, and the political gains from nonviolence tend to be more durable.”

Nagesso has unequivocally equated the operations of the OLA to terrorism. The definition of the word ‘terrorism’ is ‘the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.’

Armed struggle against a nation or state is not, by default, considered terrorism under international law, even if the given nation or state that the struggle is taken up against, labels the said armed operation as terrorist activity. So, the fact that the OLA engages in an armed struggle cannot, in and of itself, constitute them as a terrorist organisation.

And as Nagessa says, “Jaal Marroo denied committing atrocities against civilians in a 29 March 2021 interview titled ‘Is Ethiopia hurtling towards all-out ethnic conflict?’” What Negesso leaves out here is that in that interview, as well as a number of press statements, the OLA has made it clear that they are ready and willing to accept independent investigations into all the accusations made against the organisation.

If the OLA were indeed committing the war crimes that Nagesso and others claim that they are, why would they invite – on numerous occasions – fact-finding missions to affirm these allegations? It is also worth noting that the Ethiopian government has not demonstrated an interest in having independent investigations conducted in Oromia.

Rather than a focus on an independent investigation as the only way to corroborate or falsify both the OLA’s and GVT’s claims, Nagesso appointed himself the authority over objective truth and dissemination of correct information regarding the OLA’s operations, saying: “My aim is to expose unlawful killings of unarmed civilians who are not police, soldiers, or militia.”

Discrediting OLA’s operations

An independent investigation is also critical because the OLA has, on more than one occasion, accused the Ethiopian government of staging attacks on civilians, particularly against the minority Amhara group in Oromia, to discredit the OLA’s operations and delegitimize their cause in the eyes of the local and international community.

In the context of such serious accusations, Nagesso, especially considering his proximity to the government, cannot be considered a source of unbiased or credible information. Nagesso says “OLA does apparently target civilian government employees to instill fear in the public. Their intent is evidently to weaken the government by dismantling its structure.”

What Negasso does is point to the intrinsic values and codes of conduct of the people, as the cause of this infatuation with arms, rather than identify why armed resistances have permeated every chapter of Ethiopia’s existence.

The last sentence is spot on and a classical approach of any armed guerilla movement. However, Negesso’s analysis that the targeting of government employees is to “instill fear in the public” is not accurate. As a determining force in the political future of Oromia, it is important that the local and international community are not misled in their attempts to understand the mission, code of conduct and operations of the OLA.

Government employees at kebele levels have, now and in the past, been responsible for the torture, execution and arrest of Oromo people living in their region.

Nagesso claims that “Liban Halake, a kebele chairman from Borana zone Dhas woreda, Gorile kebele was assassinated by OLA” and that the “OLA killed Mr. Waaqgaarii Qajeelaa, the head of transportation for West Wollega zone, along with five other government officials.” The OLA have not officially claimed responsibility for these killings, but assuming that they have, what was the role of these individuals in the war that the OLA are fighting?

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