6212 3rd St NW,
Washington, DC 20011
December 10, 2019
We, members of the Oromo Communities’ Association of North America (OCA-NA), an umbrella organization of Oromo communities in the United States, strongly condemn the provocative and divisive campaigns by the so-called Baladera (Balderas) group and its supporters against the Oromo Qeerroo (youth) and the Oromo people in general.
OCA-NA is a non-profit organization registered in the United States. It is established to support and promote the well-being of the Oromo in diaspora; and to mobilize resources and advocate for the rights of the Oromo people and its diaspora communities. OCA-NA is alarmed by the divisive activities of the Balderas group and some of its supporters among the Ethiopian diaspora.
As far as we know, the Balderas is unelected group of activists who fabricate stories and instigate ethnic violence in Ethiopia, and blame it on the Qeerroo. Without reliable evidence, they have blamed the violent incidents in Ethiopia from October 23 to 26, 2019, on Oromo youth (Qeerroo). But 50 out of 86 victims during the violence in October were Oromos. The victims were reportedly killed by vigilante youth coordinated by the Balderas group itself.
Taking anti-Oromo campaign to the Ethiopian diaspora, Balderas supporters have attempted to disrupt Oromo community events in Seattle, Colorado, San Diego, Washington, DC, and in Toronto, Canada. They have also unfairly targeted Mr. Jawar Mohamed, Director of the Oromia Media Network (OMN) and popular activist. In each case, the group attempted to intimidate Oromo community leaders and the businesses from whom the community rented meeting halls for Mr. Jawar Mohammed’s presentations.
Sadly, those who disrupted the peaceful Oromo community events included some Amhara elders and priests of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in diaspora. The actions of these participants are not only morally wrong, but socially divisive. Those involved in the intimidation campaign should be ashamed of their acts while the Ethiopian communities should be worried by the illegal actions of their memebers.
On the other hand, Oromo communities showed restraint when Mr. Eskinder Nega, the chairman of Baldreras Council, visited the United States to meet with his supporters. By allowing the Balderas meetings to take place without any incident, even in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, where large number of the Oromo diaspora reside, the community exhibited respect for the rule of law and commitment to their democratic gadaa traditions. OCA-NA is proud of these communities.
Meanwhile, Balderas leaders and supporters continue to spread vitriolic campaign of defamation of the Qeerroo and the Oromo people. Without any evidence, they accuse Qeerroo as a ‘terrorist’ group. Balderas leaders say they have decided to call Qeerro a ‘terrorist’ group because they wanted to deny them any financial assistance from outside supporters and to make Qeerroo unacceptable to foreign governments. For example, on November 11, 2019, Mr. Ermias Legesse, deputy chair of the Balderas Council, said “Labelling is very important in politics.” So, that is why they call Qeerroo a “terrorist” group.” Mr. Legesse made this comment on Ethio 360, a TV show on which he appears daily.
Using different media outlets and multiple public forums, Mr. Eskinder Nega also attacks the Qeerroo. Before his highly advertised visit to the United States in late November 2019, he wrote in his twitter account, “In Rwanda they call it INTERAHMEWE, In Ethiopia they are calling it QEERROO.” Obviously, this is not only unfair comparison but totally false and extremely dangerous allegation by a journalist who has huge social media followers worldwide.
Over the last two weeks, Eskinder Nega and Ermial Legesse organized public forums in several cities in the United Sates to condemn Qeerroo and pass a resolution to present to US government, Senators and Representatives; and to the United Nations Human Rights Commission labelling Qeerroo as terrorist group. The document was endorsed by their supporters, and it is now taken to the United Nations Human Rights Commission in New York, NY.
It is lamentable that a defamatory document of misinformation is submitted to an international organization which protects victims of human rights violations. It is also saddening to observe that such document based of false information is presented to the United Nations by a journalist, accompanied by an octogenarian professor, Dr. Getachew Haile, and some members of the Ethiopian diaspora community.
Who are the Qeerroo?
Qeerroo (youth) make up of about 60 percent of over 40 million Oromo people in Ethiopia. Historically, Qeerroo were an integral part of the Oromo gadaa system, a democratic socio-political organization that required all members of the society to carry out specific tasks during their lifetime. As the future leaders of the society, the youth (Qeerroo) were trained and prepared to assume various responsibilities, including defending and protecting the society. Although the gadaa system was under attack for many years, the Qeerroo emerged as one of the most disciplined and fearless youth group that came out to defend the Oromo society from the repressive Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) regime, dominated by the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), during the 2014-2018 protests.
Despite the brutality of the EPRDF regime, the youth group showed patience and remarkable restraint when attacked by armed government security and police forces. Thousands of them were killed, wounded and detained while protesting peacefully. Their self-discipline is widely documented by various credible journalists. Qeerroo’s sacrifices and heroic acts ultimately removed the repressive leaders from power and led to the release of thousands of political prisoners. For this reason, Dr. Abiy Ahmed, Prime Minister, and Mr. Demeke Mekonnen, Deputy Prime Minster, praised the Qeerro group on various occasions. Many political prisoners under the EPRDF regime acknowledged the role of the Qeerroo movement for their release. Bekele Gerba, a prominent opposition party leader (OFCO), who was detained by the EPRDF, for example, credited Qeerroo for his release from prison. Even Eskinder Nega who was sentenced to long prison term was released partly by the sacrifices of Qeerroo. When he came out of prison, he also praised them as heroes. But now he maligns them as terrorists.
All the testimonies indicate that the Qeerroo group is indeed a legitimate and peaceful youth organization that cannot be accused of terrorism.
But, why is the Balderas Council bent on defaming the Qeerroo?
The Balderas Council vilifies Qeerroo, not because they are terrorists but apparently it is afraid of Qeerroo’s formidable influence and effectiveness of their tactics. The social media comments of the leaders of the Balderas Council and their followers also suggest their hatred for the Oromo people in general. They spread misinformation and false narratives about the Oromo and the role of its youth. Their false accusations are therefore aimed at weakening the Oromo people and making them defenseless by attacking Qeerroo and their young leaders.
The misguided campaign of the Balderas Council against Qeerroo is driven by emotions, hatred and political ambitions. But it has far reaching consequences on the people and society in Ethiopia.
Calling Qeerroo a ‘terrorist’ group is:
- defamation and illegal;
- intended to intimidate, divide and weaken the Oromo youth;
- an attack on Oromo culture, history and values;
- an attack on Oromo leaders and intended to make the people leaderless, easy to dominate and rule;
- dividing Ethiopian society and inciting conflicts that may engulf the society and lead to the disintegration of the country.
We fear that false allegations against Qeerroo and Eskinder Nega’s international drama orchestrated over the last two weeks, along with highly visible individuals among the Ethiopian community in diaspora, have huge potential for inciting violence between the two largest ethnic groups (the Oromo and the Amhara) in Ethiopia. A conflict between these largest communities may have catastrophic consequences for Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa.
To avert such a tragedy from taking place, we are duty bound to warn the international community to take this issue seriously and squash the misinformation campaign perpetrated by the Balderas Council.
In the meantime, we urge Qeerroo to continue their disciplined and peaceful struggle with confidence and courage as they did in the past. We also encourage Oromo communities in diaspora to strengthen their unity, mobilize their resources and take legal action against the leaders of the Balderas Council for disrupting legitimate social events, defamation of Qeerroo and denigration of Oromo culture and values.
The Oromo Communities’ Association of North America (OCA-NA) also calls upon Oromos to remain united and peacefully defend themselves from the divisive campaigns of the Baldera Council. We urge our people to mobilize resources and take appropriate legal action to stop the group from inciting violence.
Further, the Oromo Communities’ Association of North America requests:
A. The Regional State of Oromia and the Federal Government of Ethiopia:
- to investigate and officially announce the results of the recent violence that claimed the lives of 86 innocent people, including 50 Oromos.
- to investigate the role of the Balderas Council and the vigilante group associate with it in the recent violence in Oromia.
- to take appropriate legal actions on the leadership of the Balderas Council for their false allegations and their attempts to intimidate the Oromo youth, people and Oromo Diaspora communities.
B. The United Nations Human Rights Commission, US Senators and Representatives:
- to reject the unfounded appeal of the Balderas Council regarding Qeerroo.
- to carefully examine the misinformation campaign about Qeerroo.
C. Leaders of the Balderas Council and its supporters:
- to stop disseminating false propaganda and defaming Qeerroo which is a legitimate youth organization grounded in Oromo history and culture.
- to stop divisive campaigns that instigates violence between communities and endanger the peace and stability of Oromia, Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa.
Oromo Communities’ Association of North America (OCA-NA)