February 10, 2016

ODF Letter to US Secretary of State John F. Kerry

US Secretary of State John F. Kerry
Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington DC 20520
December 16, 2015

Dear Mr. Secretary,
We, members of the Oromo Democratic Front, are writing to you to bring to your attention the violent suppression of the Oromo people’s ongoing peaceful protests by the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) regime in Ethiopia. We are concerned that the regime’s act of violently suppressing the peaceful expression of grievances by the Oromos could have far-reaching implications for the stability of Ethiopia and the beleaguered Horn of Africa region at large.

The Oromos are Ethiopia’s single largest national community inhabiting large swathe of Ethiopia bordering the settlements of the majority of the country’s nationalities. The Oromo Democratic Front (ODF) was established abroad in late March 2013 with the intention of returning home to peacefully and legally contribute its share in refining the current federal system in Ethiopia.

Unfortunately, the ODF’S intention of returning home, despite several communications and contacts with the leaders of the regime, has not been realized due to the other party’s lack of political will to facilitate our peaceful participation in the country’s affairs. Literally, we are not allowed to return to our home country.

Mr. Secretary,
For the second time in as many years, peaceful protests by the Oromo people are sweeping the Oromia Regional State – the Oromo settled Region of the Ethiopian Federation – as we write. Protesters are, once again, peacefully demanding that the ruling party uphold and implement articles of the Federal Constitution concerning relations between Addis Ababa, the dual seat of the Oromia state and the Federal government, and the adjacent districts and towns located in the Oromia Regional State. Instead of passing the law stipulated in the Constitution with this respect, the regime announced policies inferring the subordination of the administration of these towns and districts to that of Addis Ababa.

The policy announcement was made without any consultation with the concerned Oromo public thereby fuelling especially peasants’ fear of eviction from their ancestral farmland without sufficient compensation or alternative means of livelihood. This fear of eviction stems from past and ongoing practices of expanding urban areas without any regard to the interests and survival of the affected subsistence farmers.

The ongoing Oromo protests are highly ironic for at least three reasons. First, the ruling EPRDF won every seat both at the Regional State and Federal levels in the general election held barely a half year ago. Hence, the protests cast a shadow over the ruling party’s popularity supposedly reflected by its sweeping electoral victory.

Second, protesters are simply demanding the implementation of the relevant articles of the Constitution – a constitution strictly tailored to reflect the interests and dominance of the EPRDF. Nothing more evidences the ruling party’s unwillingness to uphold the rule of law than its refusal to respect even a constitution framed and ratified in order to reflect and legalize its particular interests and views.

Third, the ruling EPRDF takes great pride in being the sole party in Ethiopia championing the cause of the poor, particularly the rural poor peasantry. And it has won international acclaim for its efforts to alleviate poverty by prioritizing economic development over issues of democracy and human rights. However, the supposed beneficiaries of this claim and acclaim, the rural peasantry, are at the forefront of the ongoing protests in Oromia thereby belying the official rhetoric.

Mr. Secretary,
Mass peaceful protests in urban and rural parts of the Oromia Regional State have being going on for the last four continuous weeks, an unprecedented occurrence in the history of contemporary Ethiopia. The ruling EPRDF has responded not by heeding the grievances of protestors but by unleashing its security forces that have killed dozens and rounded up hundreds who are once again destined to end up in its notorious gulags.

We are aware that the US Government and its international allies consider the Ethiopian regime as the anchor of regional stability in the Horn of Africa. Sadly, this focus on the role of Ethiopia as the pillar of regional stability has evidently diverted the need to evaluate the basis of stability in Ethiopia itself. That this stability rests on naked coercion instead of democratic legitimacy is clearly evident from the ongoing mass uprising in Oromia and the government’s crackdown.

Consequently, the mass protests in Oromia should be seen as the writing on the wall demanding attention and action with immediacy. Although grievances have erupted into open protests to date in Oromia alone, discontent with maladministration is gathering steam in all other Regional States. And all of this is sadly unfolding at a time when over 15 million Ethiopians are facing the threat of famine requiring prioritizing saving lives instead of squandering energy and resources on violently suppressing peaceful demands that the Constitution be upheld and implemented.
Mr. Secretary, the time to act to save Ethiopia from the fate of Somalia and Syria is now. Accordingly, we humbly ask you to publicly advise the Ethiopian regime to immediately take the following actions:

1. Cease and desist from continuing to murder, maim and imprison peaceful Oromo protesters and to implement the constitutional provisions being demanded by the protesters;

2. Release all those detained during this and previous protests in Oromia as well as all other political prisoners and prisoners of conscience;

3. Revoke all laws passed during the last decade contrary to the spirit and letter of the Constitution;

4. Join us in forming an inclusive mechanism for hammering out a country-wide common understanding on peaceful coexistence by all cultural and religious communities;

5. Allow all those who want to operate peacefully and legally to return to the country in order to partake in these deliberations.

With the expression of my highest regards, I remain

Yours Sincerely,

Leenco Lata, President
Oromo Democratic Front (ODF)

ODF Letter to US Secretary John Kerry

Ethiopia: Amnesty warns against ‘brutal crackdown’ on protesters

Anti-terror rhetoric by Ethiopia’s government could escalate into a brutal crackdown on protesters, human rights group Amnesty International has warned.

A plan to expand the capital’s administrative control into the Oromia region has sparked deadly protests.
The government has accused Oromo protestors of links with terrorist groups and trying to topple the state. Read more here.

ODF Statment on the Killing of Oromo Students & Civilians

In the last four weeks furious clashes have occurred between peaceful Oromo protesters and Ethiopian security forces. Protests erupted in opposition to the government’s Addis Ababa Master Plan, which protesters fear would expand the capital into the towns and rural areas situated in the outlying zone of Oromia.

Students, urban dwellers, and peasants across Oromia are peacefully demonstrating rejecting the violent imposition of the so called Master Plan, which, if implemented, will lead to the mass eviction of poor Oromo farmers from their ancestral land to make way for the capital’s expansion. Moreover, the protests highlight the thorny and complex relationship, both historical and contemporary, between the Ethiopian state and the Oromo society. It reveals the deep-rooted struggle over identity, resources, and rights.

We are extremely saddened and disturbed by the heavy-handed response by the security forces. Thus far dozens of Oromo students and other civilians have been killed and hundreds have been detained. We strongly condemn this savage act unleashed against our compatriots trying to peacefully exercise rights supposedly guaranteed by the country’s constitution.

The Oromo Democratic Front (ODF) opposes the implementation of the so-called “Addis Ababa and Surrounding Oromia Zone Special Zone Integrated Master Plan” because of the following reasons:

First, Ethiopia’s capital has to date failed to reflect the transformation of the country into a multinational federation by still continuing to project the image of a single nation. This has to be corrected by affording all nationalities to put on display their voice and existence by various means such as: having cultural centers, naming streets buildings, squares and other facilities after them, erecting statues honoring their heroes, histories and cultures. These measures and other creative policies should be implemented in order to demonstrate the diversity entailed in the current multinational federal system. So long as the capital continues to exhibit the dominant characteristics of a mono-culture, mono-language, a single identity and the socio-economic interests of particular urban elite, it is no wonder that the Oromo are rallying in opposition to the capital’s expansion. In fact, it is in the interest of all supporters of the multinational federation to reject the implementation of the so-called Master Plan.

Second, the so-called Master Plan is ill-advised seen from the Oromo perspective because any plan concerning the capital must be preceded by passing a law protecting the “Oromia’s special interests” as stipulated in Article 49 (5) of the constitution. The Master Plan violates the basic spirit of the constitution by evading the special interest of Oromia and imposes the interest of the city on the surrounding zones of Oromia on the contrary.

Third, viewed from a historical context, the Plan fails to address and redress the previous wounds that were inflicted upon the Oromo people when the capital and other towns were created as the camps of the conquering armies. History attests that the Ethiopian capital and other cities in Oromia had been built by forcefully dislocating and evicting the Oromo people from their ancestral lands. It is also wise to remember that the imposition of politico-military garrisons on the Oromo people during the occupation had bought dramatic demographic changes, whose effects reverberate and resonate with the Oromo. The Master Plan further institutionalizes the injustice committed against the Oromo people in the last century.

Fourth, the process of imposing the Master Plan from the above without consulting the concerned population is incompatible with the principle of democratic governance. It violates the federal principle by ignoring and overstepping pleas even by the regional government not to rush towards implementing the plan.

Finally, one of Ethiopia’s major ills has been the concentration of employment creating opportunities in the capital. Urbanization and the promotion of industrial development should be spread out to afford everyone equitable opportunity.

Cognizant of the gravity of the situation, the ODF calls on the Federal Government to desist from further security measures and instead take the following steps:

1. Publicly and unambiguously annul the controversial Master plan, which has triggered and is fueling the ever-widening civil unrest.

2. Set up an independent commission of inquiry that investigates and reports the finding on the death of Oromo protesters and bring the perpetrators to justice.

3. Release all detained students and civilians and free all political prisoners and journalists.

4. Take practical steps to allow Ethiopia’s diverse nations and peoples composing the country’s population to display their identity in the capital by naming streets, buildings, and squares to freely celebrate their particularities in the capital.

5. Pass a law protecting Oromia’s “special interest” clause of the constitution.

6. Scrap laws and measures instituted during the last decades to stifle dissent.

7. Muster the political will necessary to open a level playing field for the domestic opposition and allow groups operating outside the country to freely and legally participate in shaping the country’s future.

8. Initiate an all-inclusive dialogue with all stakeholders to move the country forward.

Freedom & Justice for All!!
Oromo Democratic Front

Here is the link for the PDF copy.
ODF Statment on the Killing of Oromo Students & Civilians

OMN Interviews Ob. Leenco Lata, ODF President

Listen to OMN’s latest interview with ODF President Ob. Leenco Lata here.

Individual and group rights: a dichotomy or a duality?

Whether the relationship prevailing between individual and group rights is a dichotomy or a duality centrally figures in the ongoing pre-election inter-party debates in Ethiopia.

Leenco LataThis would strike other democracies as rather strange because the settlement of this issue is normally part of the constitutional process that necessarily precedes scheduling and conducting periodic elections.

The fact that such a basic principle is the subject of debate clearly demonstrates that the incumbent and some of the opposition parties hold differing opinions about the present Ethiopian constitution. Hence, those critical of the present constitution aim not only to unseat the incumbent party if they win the upcoming elections but to restructure the country once again to fit their imagination about Ethiopia. This in turn drives the incumbent to equate its remaining in power with the preservation of the current political order. It is a quintessential zero-sum game. Read More

Bobbaa gara Finfinnee Irratti Ibsa Adda Demokraatawaa Oromoo (ADO)

Bitootessa 22, 2015
ODF StatementAddi Demokraatawaa Oromoo (ADO) dhaloota isaa irraa aansee mirga ummata Oromoo deebisuu fi ummatoota Itoophiyaa maraaf birmaddummaa fi demokraasii iggiteessuuf karaa nagayaa fi qabsoo siyaasaa filate. Kanaafis, deebisee biyya isaa irrattii fi ummata isaa keessatti of hundeessuu dursa laate; ammas itti jira; borus itti fufa. Akeeka eebbifamaa kana dhugoomsuufis, humnoota polotikaa Itoophiyaa mara, keessattuu paartii mootummaa fi mootummichallee, dubbisaa ar’a gaye. Haa ta’u malee, tattaaffiin keenya kan mootumicha wajjiin haasa’uun dhibdee nu gidduu jiran furuu fi biyyatti deebi’iinsa dhaaba keenna aanjessuu akka hawwametti jalqabamuu hin dandeenne.

Ijibbaata waggaa lama guutuu alarraa gochaa turameen booda, nagayaaf jecha tarkaanfii gama tokkoo fudhachuun jilli hooggana ADO ol’aanaan tokko kan Prezdaantii dhaabichaa, Jaal Leencoo Lataan durfame, haasa’a harkifate jalqabuuf gara Finfinnee bobba’e. Jilli kuni Bitootessa 19, 2015 Finfinnee ga’uun haasa’aaf baallama argachuuf aanga’oota mootummaa adda addaa kallattiin qunnamuutti seene. Hatta’uu malee amaan kanatti moottumman nu haasofsiisuuf qophii waan hinta’iniif jilli keenya Bitootessa 22, 2015 gara Awrooppatti deebi’uuf dirqamee jira.

Kan hundaaf mirkaneessuu barbaadnu kuni kan agarsiisu dhuma karaa kanaa miti; jalqaba malee. Carraaqqiin dhaaba keenya ummata isaa keessatti hundeessuu dachaa dachaan itti fufa.. Daandii nagayaa dheeraa, daddabaa fi xaxaa kan gufuun lakkaa’amee hin dhumne irratti nama mudatu akka ta’e sirritti hubanna. Kanaaf humnoota polotikaa biyya keenyaa cufa wajjiin haasa’uun sirna dhugaan demokraatawaa fi misooma itti-fufa qabuu fi qooda haqaa qabu kan hunda ruruma hiyyummaa keessaa baasu argamsiisuuf carraaqqii gochaa baanee fi jirru haga fullaanii argamutti obsaan, malaa fi murannoon itti fuulleffanna.

Itoophiyaan ammallee akka deeboo isii qaxxaamura seenaa irra geettee jirti. Of-booddee shirgigaachuu hanqisuu fi biyyattii karaa nagayaa, dimokraasii fi misooma waaraa irratti fuuldura tarkaanfachiisuun gootummaa murtii siyaasaa hadhaawaa fudhachuu gaafata, keessattuu paartii biyya bulchaa jiru irraa. Kanaaf, kutannoo jijjiirraakaraa nagayaa fi demokraasiin argamsiisuuf qabnu irra deebinee mirkaneessaa, humnoota hundaaf, keessattuu paartii biyya bulchuu, akkasumas hawaasa addunyaa keessaa kanneen isa waahelfatan carraaqii keenya kan nagayaa kanaaf deebii eehumsaa akka kennanii fi gaaffii ummatoota keenyaa kan bilisummaa fi ulfinaan biyya isaanii irra jiraachuu akka deeggaran waamicha goona.

Birmadummaa fi haqni hundaaf!

Koree Huji Raawwachiiftuu
Adda Demokraatumaa Oromoo
Bitootessa 22, 2015

PDF Version
ODF statment on Finfinne_Afaan Oromo 3-22-15

ODF Statement on the Recent Visit of its delegation to Addis Ababa

March 22, 2015

Official ODF Logo

A senior delegation of the Oromo Democratic Front (ODF) was dispatched to Finefinne (Addis Ababa) on March 18, 20015 to kick-start stalled peace talks with the Ethiopian government. Regrettably, despite verbal overtures, no face-to-face talks could be held. Hence, our delegates had to return prematurely to Europe on the 22nd of March 2015. After two years of relentless efforts to engage the Ethiopian government from outside, the ODF took the unilateral action of sending a high-level delegation led by its President, Mr. Leenco Lata. The delegation arrived in Addis on 19 March 2015.

The Oromo Democratic Front (ODF) decided from its inception to pursue the path of peaceful political struggle to defend the rights of the Oromo people and secure freedom, democracy, and prosperity for all peoples in Ethiopia. Accordingly, basing itself in the country and establishing itself among its constituents at home, and registering and legalizing it as a political party able to play its part in the country’s democratization has been and continues to be ODF’s highest priority. To this principled end, we have been trying to engage all political actors in Ethiopia including the ruling party and the government. But, despite out best efforts, negotiations with the government to resolve outstanding issues and facilitate our re-entry into the political process could not commence in earnest.

This incident does not mark the end of the road but rather only the start of our efforts to ground our organization among our people in our country. Acutely realizing that the road of peace is long, treacherous, and complicated and paved with innumerable obstacles, we are determined more than ever before to stay the course. Accordingly, we would relentlessly continue with our efforts to engage all political actors in our country, in order to establish a just and genuinely democratic order and a sustainable and equitable development in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is once again at a crossroads. Preventing a relapse and moving the country along the road of peace, democracy, and sustainable development requires political will, especially on the part of the ruling party. Reaffirming our unwavering commitment for peaceful and democratic transformation, we therefore call upon all actors, the ruling party in particular, and its supporters in the international community to respond to our efforts positively and support the just demands of our peoples to live in freedom and dignity in their country.

Freedom and Justice for All!

The Executive Committee
Oromo Democratic Front (ODF)
March 22, 2015

Here is a PDF version…

Statement of ODF on Finfinne (Addis Ababa)

The origin of ethnic politics in Ethiopia (by Leenco Lata)

The Reporter – March 21.2015Leenco Lata

Controversy has been dogging the policy of structuring Ethiopia as a multinational federation ever since it was publicly aired almost twenty- five years ago.

There are those who vociferously and persistently condemn the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) leaders for introducing the politicization of ethnicity by embracing this policy.

On the other hand, there are those who like wise consistently commend EPRDF leaders for the same reason. However, putting the adoption of this policy in an historical perspective would prove that both stands are wrong. Read More

OLF Founder Leenco Lata Returns to Ethiopia

March 20, 2015
by William Davison

(Bloomberg) A founder of a banned self-determination movement for Ethiopia’s most populous ethnic group, the Oromo, returned to the Horn of Africa nation to try and re-enter democratic politics, a spokesman for his splinter group said.

Landing

Oromo Democratic Front President Leenco Lata arrived in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on Thursday, Lencho Bati, a spokesman for the group, said in an e-mailed response to questions. The group held inconclusive talks with Ethiopian officials over the past two years, Beyan Asoba, the head of the U.S.-based ODF’s foreign relations department, said in a separate e-mailed statement. Leenco began the Oromo Liberation Front in 1973 before leaving to join the ODF in 2013. Read More

Electoral absolutism in Ethiopia (By Leenco Lata)

Electoral absolutism in Ethiopia
By Leenco Lata

Passions are understandably rising as election time, once again, draws nearer and nearer in Ethiopia.

This should not come as a surprise since the heating up of raw passions routinely accompanies elections elsewhere as well. What is distinctly Ethiopian is the fact that absolutist choices are inevitably pitted against each other during the upcoming elections, as has happened in previous ones.

In Ethiopian elections, it is not right or wrong policy proposals that confront each other but supposedly absolutely “virtuous” and absolutely “evil” ones. Perhaps the underlying cause of offering electoral choices in such a starkly polarizing manner is the mentality of the Ethiopian elite, shaped by a long history of living under a succession of absolutist regimes.

What is disheartening is the refusal of the surviving members of the generation entering its twilight years to draw an appropriate lesson from their own disastrous recent history. One recalls how at the end of the imperial era political choices confronting the country were posed in a similar stark manner with catastrophic consequences.

Rival leftist parties with ostensibly competing platforms, indistinguishable to outsiders, demonized each other, eventually culminating in each other’s physical liquidation. The military merely embraced this approach to settling political differences spearheaded by civilian leftist parties and brought it to conclusion by eliminating the rivals that pioneered it. The ultimate outcome of this tragic policy was the loss of tens of thousands of lives.

Are members of that generation intending to bequeath this disastrous approach to political competition to the upcoming generation? Their handling of electoral competition appears to attest to their determination to hand this disastrous “virtuous-versus-evil” approach to offering political choices to the new generation.

Electoral choices have been offered as being between defending the status quo or working to revive its antecedent in most previous and present round of general elections in Ethiopia. This confrontation between the political status quo and the status quo ante has many shortcomings including drowning out the voices of those aspiring to realize the next breakthrough in refining both democracy and federalism.

The deeper cause for the confrontation between defending the political status quo and aspiring to revive the status quo ante ultimately boils down to disagreements regarding Ethiopia’s nationhood. The defenders of the political status quo envision Ethiopia as a “Nation of nations” while those aspiring to revive something similar to the status quo ante are absolutely convinced that it is composed of a single Amharic-speaking nation.

This disagreement regarding Ethiopia’s nationhood in turn translates into absolutist stands regarding democracy. Democracy being the rule of the “people,” whoever appropriates the right to define the “people” category would definitely have the upper hand. And this divergent definitions of the “people” category comes to the fore at every general elections in Ethiopia in an absolutist manner.

Those who envision Ethiopia as a single Amharic-speaking nation are absolutely convinced that a single Ethiopian “people” should be allowed to exercise its popular sovereignty by going to the polls every five years. And those who conceptualize Ethiopia as a “Nation of nations,” on the other hand, are similarly absolutely convinced that the Ethiopian “People is composed of numerous peoples.” For the political operatives in this sector, the exercise of popular sovereignty at the centre is the aggregation of the sovereignties of the various peoples constituting the Ethiopian People.

Elections clearly are not the appropriate mechanism for resolving these fundamental disagreements regarding Ethiopia’s nationhood and peoplehood. Forging a political order having the confidence of a significant sector of society is similarly not achievable at the polls. Forging such a consensus necessarily precedes and paves the way for the commencement of periodic elections.

Forging a democratic political order would fail as long as absolutist positions continue to confront each other, for democracy results from an impasse among competing elements of society, which requires hammering out a compromise. When a political order results from such a compromise, all contestants would have to learn to uneasily live with it because it does not perfectly match any sector’s favourite alternative.

Seeking and arriving at such a compromise democratic political order is possible only by subscribing to a couple of basic propositions. First, those seeking to preserve the status quo need to recognize that accepting some changes could serve such a purpose because the only thing unchangeable in human history is the inevitability of change. And second, those seeking change should similarly realize that preserving constructive aspects of the status quo could ease the process of bringing about change.

Hammering out such a compromise underpinning a democratic political order could succeed only through conducting protracted dispassionate debates by all stakeholders without resorting to the emotive posing of political choices. Here is where the obsession of Ethiopia’s political class with posing political choices in absolutist terms needs to be revised. All concerned could perhaps draw a lesson from the protracted and open debate that accompanied structuring the US as a successful federation.

In the meantime, the heated debate pitting those whose stand is the absolute defence of the status quo and those whose absolute aspiration is the revival of something akin to the status quo ante would likely continue. This binary configuration of debate, however, should not continue to drown out the voices of those wishing to work for the next breakthrough in refining both democracy and multinational federation. This is why it is necessary for those subscribing to this more responsible reformist position to make sure that their voices are heard.

Ed.’s Note: Leenco Lata is a prominent Ethiopian politician and President of Oromo Democratic Front (ODF). The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. He can be reached at leenco.lata@yahoo.com.