Too Little, Too Late, But a Worthwhile Lesson
On June 10, most Oromos and other people’s in Ethiopia woke up to headline news titled Executive Committee of OPDO Moves Capital City to Finfinne. The news goes onto say that the decision was made “… in accordance with the interest of the vast majority of the Oromo people who wanted Finfinne to be the seat of the Oromia state.” The justification given was “… the Addis Ababa Administration and the Ministry of Federal Affairs have conducted joint study over the past two years to determine the special privileges and benefits of Oromia over Finfinne.”
Having read this, one can’t help going back to Article 49 (5) of Ethiopia’s constitution of December 8, 1994, which states “The special interest of the state of Oromia in Addis Ababa, regarding the provision of social services or the utilization of natural resources and other similar matters, as well as joint administrative matters arising from the location of Addis Ababa within the State of Oromia, shall be respected.”
Whether this federal constitutional article written in 1994, presumably with the understanding of the interest of the state of Oromia in Finfinne, supersedes “… the Addis Ababa [Finfinne] Administration and the Ministry of Federal Affairs …” study of the past two years can be left to the judgment of the readers.
What would be of more interest is the decision in late 2003 by the same government to move Oromia’s capital from Finfinne to Adama without a call from any party and how the subsequent opposition by the Oromo people in Oromia and around the world was handled by the Ethiopian government. It was that decision that gave birth to Voice Finfinne. In its first Column in January 2004, Voice Finfinne wrote “[Meles] is forcing Oromo institutions, through its surrogate organization, the Oromo People's Democratic Organization, against the will of the Oromo people to be evicted from Finfinne, their ancestral land that was renamed Addis Ababa over a hundred years ago. This has caused uproar from every corner of the Oromo people. The Oromo people have been subjected to various atrocities under successive Ethiopian regimes in the past. All of them have killed and imprisoned Oromos in their own land. However, none has evicted them from their land and Meles has gone too far and will be remembered for this in Oromo history…”
Various Oromo political organizations, Oromo communities around the world, Oromo civic associations, university students and the Oromo people at large protested in the strongest terms the decision of moving Oromia’s capital from Finfinne to Adama. Below are samples statements from press releases from various parties.
Immediately after the decision, the Matcha and Tulama Self-Help Association (MTSHA) wrote in a protest letter: “We consider the move [of Oromia’s capital from Finfinne to Adama] as an evil design being carried out by the enemies of Oromo people to uproot us from our homeland. How much it may [be] disguised, whatever the pretext may be, the decision to forcibly remove Oromo Institutions and Offices from Finfinne is a move that brings under direct attack the very existence of Oromo people, with our distinctive cultural and linguistic characteristics. The removal under the disguised name of transfer of Capital is being done under duress since it [is] being carried out against the manifested protest of those who work in the several offices of Oromia Government. It is a violence aimed at the continued existence of Oromo identity. In short, it is intended to destroy our separate identity in Finfinne.” The MTSHA protest letter concluded that “The Government of Oromia has betrayed the entire Oromo people in general and the significant number of Oromo people living in Finfinne by relinquishing the right of Oromo people to their homeland. The Government of Oromia does not have the mandate to give up Oromo people and Oromo homeland in such a dubious way.”
In a November 22, 2003, press release, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) wrote, that the “TPLF authority should be told that its anti-Oromo programs and this particular unfair act will only add to the already delicate political tension in Ethiopia, exacerbate the already existing political crisis, bring more bloodshed and unwanted destruction of properties and life.”
On December 8, 2003, the Union of Oromo Students in Europe wrote: “The denial of the right of the Oromo to use Finfinnee let alone as the capital city of Oromia but as Federal Head Quarter, even under the status quo, cannot be comprehended other than denying us our very legitmate [sic] right to Oromia as parts make the whole.”
On December 10, 2003, the United Liberation Forces of Oromia wrote: “Finfinnee is an international centre with modern infrastructure and a window to the rest of the world. It is a principal economic and business metropolis built by the sweat and resources of generations of Oromos. Denying us this lifeline and international platform is a well-calculated move to marginalize and isolate the Oromo. This is brutally amputating Oromiyaa.”
In a December 30, 2003, press release, the Oromiyaa Liberation Council wrote: “The TPLF dictatorial regime has made yet another self-serving political move to curve out Finfinne (Addis Ababa), the capital city, from Oromiyaa. Based on its usual rule of the jungle, the TPLF has given an ultimatum to the Oromo Peoples Democratic Organization (OPDO) to move out its office and all department offices of the Oromiyaa Regional State from the capital city to Adama Town. In essence, this eviction order is not so much directed to the OPDO as much as it is to the Oromo people. The order issued is meant to disown the Oromo people a city they call their capital, Finfinne, a hear[t]land of their country.” It went on to add “… considering the audacity of the TPLF to order them to pack and leave their own city and its down right contempt for them, the OPDO and its leadership must have vehemently rejected the eviction order. Its failure to fight at least for the right granted in Article 49 (5) of the constitution it upholds is tantamount to submission and servitude. Furthermore, it is yet again attesting to the Oromo people that OPDO is indeed a Trojan Horse of the TPLF rendering its service loyally in the TPLF project of arresting and/or dismantling the socio-economic matrix of Oromiyaa.”
On January 4, 2004, the Oromo Community in Seattle in an appeal letter to President George W. Bush wrote “We Oromos of the greater Seattle metropolitan area oppose these brutal actions taken by the Meles regime against the Oromo people without reservation, and completely oppose the moving of the capital of Oromia State from Finfinne/Addis Ababa.”
In an undated protest letter, the ‘Oromian National Academy’ wrote: “Finfinne is the only city in Ethiopia that is well networked in all aspects to administer Oromia Region. It does not make any economic or administrative sense to move Oromia's capital city to Adama. There is no direct transportation or communication link between Adama and most of the areas in Oromia Region.”
In a January 4, 2004, press release, the Oromo Liberation Front reported in regard to the protest of the MTSHA that was blocked by the TPLF/EPRDF government the following: “Full filling [sic] all legal requirements in the book, The Mecha and Tulama Self Help Association (MTSHA) staged a peace full [sic] demonstration on January 4, 2004, against the unconstitutional move aimed at confining Oromo to rural areas in Oromia and reserving all the urban centers for direct TPLF administration.” The press release went on to report the following: “Armed police and Special Forces beat and forcefully dispersed the demonstrators who had made it to the Masqel Square. Many of the demonstrators were severely beaten up and sustained serious injuries. Several vehicles were also smashed and put out of use. Many demonstrators were arrested and taken to unknown places. According to early reports, leaders of MTSHA including Mr. Derribe Demissie (the chairman), Bekele Gurmu, Kebede Firrisa, Mengistu Jalata, Kumsa Egere, Legesse De’etti (all members of the board) and Bekele Jiraataa, were physically assaulted and sustained injuries.”
On January 5, 2004, 25 Oromo communities around the world wrote an appeal letter to different diplomatic missions and international organizations to pressure the Ethiopian government to reverse the decision to evict Oromo institutions from Finfinne. The letter was sent to the United Nations Secretary General, European Union Delegation in Finfinne, African Union, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), United States Senate and House Committees on Foreign Relations, and many diplomatic missions based in Finfinne. In that letter, the communities wrote: “The Oromo people did not have a say in this grave decision that is bound to negatively affect its political, economic, social and cultural life for years to come. Furthermore, the decision goes against the manifested protest of Oromos who work in the various offices of the Oromia Regional Government and Oromo residents of the capital and surrounding villages who are violently prevented from staging a peaceful demonstration to air their grievances. This has caused great outrage and sorrow to the Oromo people in Oromia and Oromo communities around the world. We regard this decision to be illegal and totally unacceptable.”
On January 13, 2004, Oromos residing in North America demonstrated against the decision of the TPLF/EPRDF government in front of the UN office in New York. In a letter submitted to the UN, the Oromo Studies Association (OSA) on behalf of Oromo Communities in North America and Europe wrote “We members of the Oromo community organizations in North America and Europe are appealing to you to use your good offices with the government of Ethiopia to abandon its decision to evict Oromia Region’s Government offices and Oromo institutions from Finfinne/Addis Ababa to Adama. The Oromo constitute between 40 and 50 per cent of the Ethiopian population and inhabit mainly the Oromia Region. Finfinne is located in the centre of Oromia and has been its capital as well as Ethiopia’s.”
In its No. 1071 issue, the Indian Ocean Newsletter observed that "It has been 10 years since the Oromo community in Addis Ababa [Finfinne] has been as riled" as it was in a protest organized by the Oromo National Congress (ONC) against the decision. That was the time when the ONC's determination to stand up to the decision attracted the widest attention in its history up to that time from the Oromo people.
Alarmed by the uproar the decision caused among the Oromo people, the Addis Tribune that was mute on the decision that broke Ethiopia’s own constitution finally wrote in its March 26, 2004, editorial: “there was no earthly need … why the capital of Oromia should have been moved from Finfinne to Adama.” It ended its editorial praying “God may save the nation often wronged by its foolish leaders?”
The the protests by the Oromo people were countered by the government’s brutal force. Hundreds of university students were dismissed from various higher learning institutions in Ethiopia. Many people landed in EPRDF’s prison. Lives were lost at the hands of the government forces. The Matcha and Tulama Self-Help Association was banned. The Oromo religion was also the victim.
About a year later, the Executive Committee of the OPDO decided to move Oromia’s capital back to Finfinne. The government never even bothered to apologize for its acts, and used its “study over the past two years” as the reason. That was too little to say the least. Of course, the government’s decision to reverse the decision should be good news to the Oromo people. It is a small payback of the people’s struggle. It is a payback with some lessons to all the parties involved.
The Oromo people should take the government’s intention with caution. It may have been designed to counter a new political force that overtook the administration of the city. If Oromia’s capital was not moved to Adama, the EPRDF might have won a few seats with the assistance of the OPDO or with the vote of those Oromos who work in Oromia’s different bureaus. Now it is too late.
The reversal should not stop with the statement of the decision of the Executive Committee of OPDO. It should reverse its decisions to ban the Matcha and Tulama Self-Help Association. It should release all Oromos who were put in prison in connection with the government’s uncalled for decision. It should allow other Oromo institutions to function under its law the way they have been before they were banned. It should immediately re-instate the hundreds of students to their higher learning institutions and also compensate for their lost time.
On this occasion, we salute those who gave up their lives and livelihoods in protest of the unjust decision of the OPDO in 2003.