By Qawdhan shuuriye
The savagely indiscriminate killing of innocent Ethiopian Somali civilians, many of whom were from families which lived among the Oromos for more than five generations, who married from them and who by the way hardly speak Somali and know nowhere else to go has been a grim turning point in the border conflict between the Ethiopian Somalis and Oromos recently. This was also a challenge to Ethiopian diversity, defying the traditional accommodation among Ethiopian ethnic groups even in times of conflict, and a wakeup call for the collective survival of our nation as a whole. Most importantly, it was a brutal slap on our conscience as human beings, leaving unanswered questions in our intellect and reasoning.
Conventionally, casualties resulting from communal violence between these neighbours have mainly affected combatants fighting each other in the battlefield and sometimes communities in the immediate vicinities of areas under conflict. This time however the killings in Awaday and other towns inside Oromo Region were different in a number of respects. First, the towns were not located in borderline areas and were far from the conflict zone, having nothing to do with actual fighting between the two sides. Secondly, the victims were completely unarmed both physically and psychologically; making the disaster that befell on them uncalled for. Thirdly, the victims have long and profoundly intermingled with the Oromo communities through marital, cultural and economic relations for many generations and considered themselves as close relatives. Through the behavior of the Oromo perpetrators in these incidents, we can peek into the real spirit of the current political elite of the Oromia and learn big lessons regarding what to expect under their leadership of this nation if it ever comes in the future.
We all Ethiopians have seen enough killings and bloodshed in our lifetimes through the civil wars we had in our past but two things are new for most of us: a politically driven ethnic conflict of this scale and ferocity and the way the killings have been carried by the Oromos not just in Awaday but also everywhere else they have wreaked havoc. Decapitating children and pregnant women who could not escape the violence and who knew nothing about even why they have been killed in the first place, burning people alive using gasoline as a facilitator, mutilating dead bodies, the disfigurement of their faces, removal of eye-balls and ears while victims are still alive and chanting oromo songs about heroism and bravery at the moment of cutting the breasts of teenage girls are new at least in the Somali sense if not the Ethiopian sense as well. To me, these are extremely horrendous acts by anyone’s standard and by which nobility and bravery never rest with perpetrators of such inhumane and merciless violence. This generated shock waves more than the massacre itself in the Somali Region of Ethiopia and beyond, a profoundly horrific, and deeply upsetting methods of killing innocent human beings. Personally, the only experience I have about this draconian murder style comes to me through Hollywood movies simulating imaginary vampire scenes and drug wars in Latin America.
There is nothing heroic about this mafia style behavior but to many Oromos this is what they often do and have always killed non-Oromos for many generations. Even if ones has to kill a real enemy, which the Ethiopian Somalis are not anyway, one has to do that in a dignified manner on grounds of humanity but not in the torturous way with manjo (a farm hand tool for cutting the stalk and straw of crops) which bellies in the Oromo tradition. One may wonder whether this is inherited from the OLF but I don’t think so given the experience of my family. Oromos have killed my paternal uncle seven decades ago and they reportedly desecrated him with manjo while on the way to Harar for the purpose of selling some of his animals to buy food for his family. In those seven decades, the world around us has changed so much with the birth of the Internet age, globalizing human culture and advancing universal norms like human rights, and so were the practices of humanity at large. However, the behavior of most Oromos did, if at all, little to move away from its uncivilized ways of treating others not only in times of war but also peace. As we tearfully listened to the stories of survivors of the recent bloodshed in Awaday about what happened to their not so fortunate victim relatives left behind, I was reminded of what the Belgium security agencies have done to Patrick Lumumba, the first prime minister of Congo.
In the Somali tradition groups like women, children and the elderly are called biri–magaydo which roughly translates as the untouchables in a context of war or fighting. From the Awaday incident, it seems that the Oromos have no such laws and limits that could provide protection to vulnerable groups. After all, the fact at hand is that the Oromos have carried out a massacre of unarmed civilian communities that traditionally lived in Oromo Region for business related motives for many decades. By the way, the number of people killed in the Awaday incident is more than what has been reported. There are over 300 others that are still missing and there is no reason to think they are alive since every effort to establish contact with them by relatives has met a dead end.
Imagine what the Ethiopian Somalis have done in response to such killings: local authorities and the elders decided to teach the Oromos a different lesson – not to touch any Oromo civilian and safely repatriate them into their Region. This is what demonstration of leadership and real courage means practically and it is about doing the difficult and the unthinkable when easier and more palatable choices are available. Ironically, the Oromo regional government and its elite are complaining this while the only alternative to this was to carry out widespread revenge killings that the Somali people painstakingly refused to opt for. The Oromo leadership had a choice to prevent bloodshed but they instead used that to terminally wipe out the biri-magaydo living in their territories whereas the Somali people used the same choice available to them to protect the Oromos. The current leadership of the Oromo both at party and government levels are surely behind this on the grounds that most of the killings were carried out by the Oromo local police and there is no way this could have happened if they were not taking orders from the top.
Further on the Somali tradition of handling civilians at high risk in a conflict situation, there is another protection layer that comes through marital relations. In this case, one of the things you can’t do in the Somali society is to harm any close relative like the husband of your daughter, sister and Aunt and his children and close relatives. The same level of protection is also given to female relatives and their children that join the Somali family circle through marriage. One of the fundamental reasons, however, as to why the impact of the Awaday massacre was so nerve wracking was that a similar tradition of this nature does not exist with the Oromos as proven by recent events. Now, imagine throwing some of the kids of your own sister and her husband off the cliff of a three-storey buildings and strangulating others to death in front of the very Oromo mother that has given birth to them in Awaday town. We are not just considering about isolated cases, as the Oromo leadership would like to put it. This has rather surfaced as a common practice and it does not matter whether we are talking about Awaday town, Hirna or Negele Borana as this was uniformly witnessed across such areas. This is what Lemma Magarsa, the president of Oromo Region, and his media trolls are trying to hide by portraying these horrific killings as isolated incidents that, according to them, happened outside their watch, something that can’t be the case and can’t make sense at all. These killings have taken place in the heart of Oromo Region and were spearheaded by the Oromo police from whom the victims have run to for protection.
Today, many Oromos, including my friend’s brother in-law, who have Somali relatives, are still in some parts of the Region under the protection of their marriage line relatives but the national media does not report this – I guess they missed the point and that is not an accident but rather international. In my conclusion, intolerance, cannibalism and lack of accommodation for others is the inherently real nature bred in the bones and in the blood of the current Oromo leadership and facts have already proven themselves through the recent developments in this conflict drama that has unfolded in so many unexpected ways over the past two years. So anyone who doubts this conclusion has to study them with objectivity and sincerity.
A British researcher who assessed the socio-political situation of Ethiopia and Somalia in the early 1970s came up with a more revealing conclusion of the political behavior of the Oromo ethnic group in Ethiopia. The researcher stated in his findings that there were repressive military governments in the Horn of Africa, meaning Somalia and Ethiopia, but there is also, under them, law and order which provide a solid foundation and a basis of potential to achieve political and economic success through existing systems. Most importantly, the researcher concluded that such law and order in both countries will be nailed in its coffins when the gun goes into the hands of the Hawiye clan of Somalia and the Oromo ethnic group of Ethiopia, both of which he said they were politically in state of hypnosis at that time. Bearing this in mind, we have already proven the calamity that befell on Somalia for the past 25 years following the proliferation of guns into the hands of the Hawiye clan and it seems that the Oromo case will not be different given emerging signs now: an Oromo political behavior driven by Lemma Magarsaa and his team which uses the weight of population and guns and not logic and reasoning to deal with others and which is increasingly turning predatory to other ethnic groups in our nation.
Based on its actions and hardening ideology, this is an OPDO team that wants to divide Ethiopia into us and them, which is Oromos and the rest, with differential rights, like that of South African apartheid. They view forgiveness, accommodation and compromise not as strength but a weakness. Under a federal system that was proven to be the most blessed chapter in the history of all Ethiopians from a perspective of equality, shared prosperity and protection of rights collectively and individually, their mindset is deeply entrenched into an unthinkable state of grievances where Oromos are always portrayed as the victims and others as the oppressors. Therefore, it is no wonder that they are apparently pursuing now any path, including violence, to render revenge over what they collectively labeled as non-Oromos. So put all this together and the most important thing inferable from it is, In my opinion, one thing: the new OPDO elite under the leadership of Mr. Magarsaa can never peacefully and more productively lead this nation even if they are given the chance to.
Certainly there are many great Ethiopians of Oromo ethnicity, who can successfully lead the country into peace and prosperity but unfortunately they are now nowhere near the steering wheel of the OPDO or the regional government both of which has been effectively stormed by a team consisting of narrow-minded populists led by President Magarsaa. Therefore, to me, the moment that the elements from the new face of the OPDO under Magarsaa rise to the political helm of Ethiopia, if it becomes a reality, what we should expect is literally nothing short of the Rwandan genocide repeated in Ethiopia; GOD may forbid such day to come to our peaceful and blessed Ethiopia.
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