Oromo Studies Association
P.O. Box 5152
Salisbury, MD 21802
March 1, 2020
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
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
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
1 Racism is an ideology of domination where one claims biological and cultural superiority over the others.
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
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.
Seventh, the situation in Western and Southern Oromia and the hunt for OLA is tragic. In
the name of denying the OLA hiding places in the Western and Southern Oromia, the Ethiopian
army has been burning corn farms, grain storages, coffee plantations, and even homes. It seems that
they are following a scorched-earth policy, and as a result, famine is looming.
2 Dressing 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.
Eight, regrettably, you joined the Ethiopian People Liberation Front (EPRDF) army when
you were just fifteen years old and forced to fight OLA in Western Oromia. Luckily you have
overcome some of the odds that child soldiers face and acquired a Ph.D. degree and reached the
highest political office. However, it is absurd that as Prime Minister you advance theological
education rather than the sciences and critical thinking. For example, in one of your talks with
troubled youth in Hawassa, you said, “this year scientists have predicted that El Nino will cause
drought in Ethiopia. The divine power has the control, and we have no drought”. It is proven that
anything that is written in the mind of the young stays a lifetime. It appears instead of inspiring the
youth to study sciences, shape their lives and mend the shortfalls of sciences, why are you
encouraging them to fully rely on theology.
Ninth, the longstanding Ethiopian government policy toward the Oromo people is to
subjugate, assimilate, and deny them leadership. In several cases, the Ethiopian political and religious
figureheads have unequivocally betrayed the Oromo leaders. Because we expected you to lead the
Ethiopian political transition to democracy and the rule of law, we anticipated that you think and act,
having in mind human rights principles. However, when you recently arrested the OLF leadership,
you further proved that the same old Ethiopian policy is guiding you. For that, the OLF members
are accusing you of deceiving their leaders, and their supports are charging you of denying them
leadership. Denial of leadership is a form of collective violence. Violence is contagious, like
infectious diseases. Deception and political intrigue further widens the longstanding rifts between
the Ethiopian state and Oromo people and creates a toxic political atmosphere and lead to violence.
Tenth, the struggles of the Oromo people have brought you to the position you now hold.
But you did not offer any answers to most of the demands of Oromo people. They are still denied
services in their language, in their capital, and job opportunities because they did not master the
Amharic language. You allowed Amharic speakers to use their language to maintain their privileges
and dominance. There is a direct relationship between language and ancestry or ethnic origin. When
you allow maintaining discriminatory language policy, you are legitimizing preferential treatment, you
are creating unequal society, which is a form of denial of inherited dignity. The undeclared curfew
in Western and Southern Oromia, disconnecting telephone, cellphone, internet, and the closure of
universities, expelling students from their studies, are contrary to what they have been demanding.
Dear Prime Minister:
I see that political transformation is a process, not an event. One of the critical stages of a
transformation is establishing the trust of the people. Skipping the stapes and failing to establish
trust do not lead to success. I also see that human history is the struggle of people for human rights,
and no military can stop this universal human aspiration. The contradictions I mentioned above
show that your policies and practices are not framed in human rights principles. The contradictions
between your words and your deeds left our people with a bitter pill to swallow.
I am deeply disturbed by the news of killings, rapes, and widespread imprisonments in Oromia.
As was the case in the 1990s, I am worried that the presence of the military in the remote areas
aggravate HIV/AIDS. As I write this letter, the global world is rushing to inform their citizens
about the emerging public health problem – the coronavirus (COVID-19). Sadly, at this critical
moment, you deny the Oromo people access to information. Doing politics in the old way won’t
open new doors.
Evidence shows in a multi ethnic/national country, if there is no regard for collective rights, the
country will disintegrate. The only tool that keeps unity is respect for diversity. Unity does not begin
where diversity ends. Unity starts and ends when and where diversity starts and ends. Because unity
and diversity begin and end at the same place and time, your policies should be framed in human
rights principles. Indeed, an indigenous scholar and activist who have had studied the impacts of
intergenerational discriminatory colonial policies and practices said, “It could be said that at heart of all
the violations of our human rights has been the failure to respect our integrity, and the insistence in speaking for us,
defining our needs and controlling our lives. Self-determination is the river in which all other rights
swim,” Craig Scott.
I use this opportunity to ask you to go back to the basics of human rights and the spirit in which
you immerged to power:
1. Lift the illegal command posts from all parts of Oromia and peacefully settle the political
differences between your government and OLA.
2. Immediately release all political prisoners.
3. Reinstate all means of communications including the internet services to all regions.
4. Open all universities that are closed and reinstate students expelled from their studies.
5. Reevaluate all your policies in the framework of human rights and correct accordingly to
guarantee that your policies are consistent with human rights principles.
Begna Dugassa, Ph.D