War on religions or War on Oromos?
By Aisha Ali
Is this the Ethiopian government’s best response to an age old problem, or is it the ultimate formula needed by Diaspora Oromo communities to create a new political playing field?
Disturbing bureaucratic violence seems to be the inaugural hallmark depicted by the new Ethiopian government. This week, harrowing pictures of peaceful protesters, broken by what appears to be relentless torture, were released online to dismayed bloggers and frightened Ethiopian citizens. These unofficial pictures served a chilling warning from the government to the people: We will beat you before you (even think to) beat us.
Propelled by Zenawi’s legacy of silencing the Oromo population majority, makes you question whether this is truly a war on religions or a war on Oromos? The regime has continued clamping down dissidents in ways similar to the late Zenawi’s attacks. The first official arrests occurred on April 6th 2012 post a protest against the Ethiopian government’s implementation of its own transformed religion of Islam. This protest occurred in Western Arsi, Gadab Asaasa district, Oromia. As a result of the citizens’ ‘freedom of speech,’ 224 innocent people were arrested and 4 people were killed.
At first glance, the problem appears to be around religion. Apparently, indeed, it seems the Ethiopian government wants to instruct the religious choice of nearly half of the country’s population. Ironically, this very population also happens to be predominantly Oromo, the ethnic majority the Ethiopian government has tried and failed to systematically wipe out for more than one hundred years.
Using the sneaky, underhanded guise of fighting ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ on the world platform, religion appears to be the government’s new political game to divide, conquer and silence the Oromo people.
Recently, on September 30th 2012, the Oromo Thanksgiving day was celebrated in Oromia, 52 innocent people, some of whom followers of the Waaqeffannaa indigenous Oromo religion, were arrested by armed Ethiopian officials. The reasons as to why they were arrested is not unfamiliar with the Oromo ethnic group, nonsense reasons, such as wearing incorrect colours patterning red-green-red to symbolize the Oromo resistance movement, have been the motivation of the arrests. On the 21st of October 2012, similar protests occurred in the city of Garba, Wallo, Oromia. Again, unsurprisingly, the Ethiopian government opened fire and killed two protesters. However, these attacks question the legitimacy of the new leadership and diminish the hope to the citizens of having a genuinely democratic government.
While the physical beatings seem to do little for the government, except to increase protestors’ conviction and generate global outrage, the government’s beatings also bear little on the conviction of Oromo’s living in Diaspora.
Unlike those ruled by the Ethiopian government, the Oromo people in diaspora have the right to voice their opinions and concerns, and the ability to consistently lobby our respective governments and our public in everyday life. Communities, such as the Australian Oromo Community Association in Victoria (AOCAV), are actively busy and vocally rallying for freedom of speech and human rights on behalf of Oromia.
It is easy to violently beat up people on an uneven playing field. But, as Oromos living in diaspora, we have a voice which can be heard – a voice which will not be silenced – a voice which is frequently being heard – a voice that can mobilize global traction. We are the voice for the voiceless Oromo people.
Aisha Ali is president of Australian Oromo Community