The Unheard voice from the Ethiopian State
The Case of the Oromo
Reflection shared by Good Shepherd’s pastoral intern Wasihun Gutema
The modern Ethiopian Sate was an inception in the late 19th C and built as a modern State through the conquest of Emperor Menlik (1889-1913) who brought the Southern nation and nationalities of Ethiopia in to a centralized country. A complete modern state of Ethiopia was formed with the incorporation of Jimma Abba Jifar, an Oromo province, in 1932 under the newly crowned Emperor Hailie Silassie of Ethiopia culminating the further expansion of the Ethiopian Empire. Following this, the Ethiopian state consolidated its power and became important in the horn of Africa. The country is a country of diverse nations with diverse languages and cultures. The Oromo are one among the many nations and nationalities of Ethiopia.
The Oromo nation predominately inhabits Ethiopia, North Kenya and Somalia which makes the Oromo the single largest group in the entire Horn of Africa. Historical accounts differ over the population census but current Ethiopian Sate Demographic profile puts at 35 million. The people speak Afaan Oromo, a language which is the 4th most widely spoken language in Africa following Hausa, Swahili and Arabic.
The Oromo Nation was entirely incorporated into the modern Ethiopian State in the late 19th C and pre-history of the Oromo states that the Oromo had a democratic egalitarian system called the Gadaa through which power was transferred every 8 year.
The Oromo were neither Islam nor Christian prior to the 16th century. They were followers of traditional religion. Today, the Oromo practice Christianity, Islam and traditional religion.
Following the incorporation into the Ethiopian Empire State, the Oromo were totally marginalized and forced to be in serfdom. Having been serfs for years, the Oromo fall into the lowest social class during the Menlik era and his successors. Yet, the voice of the people was unheard.
Despite taking the bulk of the population demographic of the country, the Oromo nation did not get the chance to have their language the language of the government or literature in Ethiopia. Successive regimes have repressed the Oromo language and the Oromo people. With the end of the Menlik era and the takeover of Hailesillasie, the Oromo people continued to be repressed politically and economically.
Politically, the Oromo did not get any representation in the Ethiopian political leadership. The population was totally alienated and discriminated on the basis of language and ethnic identity. Economically, the Oromo nation feeds the bulk of the Ethiopian population and the largest of the country’s GDP is from the Oromo land but the Economy has always been and is controlled by those on power. Economic repression in the Ethiopian State over the Oromo nation is unprecedented.
A great below to the Oromo as a nation began when the current government took over the state power in 1991. Since 1991 thousands of Oromo were killed, detained indefinitely, or tortured. A former senior Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) military commander, Siye Abraha, expressed his view of the Ethiopian prison and said the “prison speaks Afaan Oromo.” According to recent comment by Bekele Nega who is under house arrest in Ethiopia, 85% of prisoners in Ethiopia are Oromo. Amnesty International and HRW have repeatedly reported and the 2014 Amnesty International report entailed “Because I am Oromo…” could have been an eye opening to the International community of what is going on in Ethiopia.
The current government kidnaps, detains and kills Oromo from all over Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa including Kenya, the Sudan, the Southern Sudan but no one is interested in deeply investigating and reporting the mass killings and detentions of the Oromo people over the years. Even the churches in Ethiopia with all the knowledge they have with regard to the Oromo mass arrest, killings and dentations have taken a silent status for fear of their safety. The church is called to be a prophetic to the voiceless community. The church is called to proclaim freedom to the oppressed. The church is called to be the mouth piece of the neglected, boldly speak against injustices and discriminations of any kind.
The church in Ethiopia has so far taken a fine line with the church leaders taking a place of complete silence other than sacrificing themselves for the call entrusted to them. Had there been a Bonheoffer, Rev. Gudina Tumsa (Ethiopia) and Oscar Romero of Latin America, the political trajectory, systemic cultural and language repression and economic empire built benefiting certain groups of the population would have been dismantled. So are we coming to the point of losing hope? By no means for even if God also seems silent has acted in the pains and suffering of his people. God was at work in the pain and suffering of Christ and through the sufferings of the Oromo people of Ethiopia and despite the voice is unheard and the world is silent there will come justice for the Oromo people and the suffering nations of Ethiopia.
Yet, even in the absence of the voice of the church from Ethiopia, churches abroad can make pressure on the violence perpetrated by the Ethiopian regime against its own citizens, for all churches despite geography and doctrinal bacground are one body in Christ and the pain of the one is the pain of all of us. It is a call to every church in the world to side with the Ethiopian people in general and the Oromo in particular regardless of where we are and to what doctrinal background we belong.