| “If I go back to Ethiopia, maybe they will kill me. If I am not killed, maybe they will put me in prison.” These words were not spoken by just anyone seeking asylum. They were spoken by 2016 Olympic silver medalist Feyisa Lilesa when he displayed the Oromo Revolution symbol of an X after running a 2:09:54 marathon in Brazil, in August 2016.
Feyisa, 27, fearing for his life, found refuge in Arizona, where he is training for the London Marathon. Feyisa received a green card and has been living in the United States since September. On Valentine’s Day of this year, his wife, daughter, and son, were reunited with him.
Feyisa highlights the real story.
The Oromo Revolution is a movement seeking societal change and equal rights in Ethiopia, a country of over 86 million. It developed in response to the government’s violent response to peaceful protests. Oromia is the largest of nine ethnically based regions in Ethiopia, and it is one of the most fertile lands in Ethiopia’s agrarian society. Protesters initially displayed opposition to the “Master Plan,” a government push to expand the capital, Addis Ababa, further into Oromia.
In response to the protesters, the Government of Ethiopia eventually decided to cancel the Master Plan, but damage was done as security forces killed hundreds, wounded thousands, and imprisoned tens of thousands.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have documented hundreds of cases of alleged human rights abuses by the government against the Oromos and Amhara populations, including the killing of peaceful protesters, the arrest and detention of students, journalists, and political leaders, and the stifling of political dissent under the guise of “counterterrorism.” Ethiopia is a strategic ally of the United States, assisting in counterterrorism efforts against al-Shabab, an Al-Qaeda aligned jihadi terrorist group based in Somalia.
In 1991, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) took power and has ruled for nearly two decades. The EPRDF is primarily comprised of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which is a minority group. In Ethiopia, the Oromos and Amharas constitute the two largest ethnic groups, combining for over 61% of the population. Yet, in 2015, the EPRDF won 100% of parliamentary seats, up from 99.6% in 2010. Despite an obvious lack of equality in representation, in 2015 President Obama referred to the Government of Ethiopia as “democratically elected”.
As a response to the Oromo Revolution, the Oromo Leadership Convention (OLC) is seeking to organize an overall consensus for the future of the Oromo. While several conferences have been conducted, there is another scheduled for March 2017, in Arlington, Virginia.
While the OLC continues to build consensus, the Government of Ethiopia continued to implement a state of emergency. Last week prosecutors also brought multiple criminal charges against key Oromo opposition leaders, which included charges of treason, that they attempted to “violently overthrow the constitutional order”. Charges were also brought against two foreign-based television stations, OMN and ESAT, which included allegations that they violated Ethiopia’s Anti-Terrorism laws.
Lima Charlie News, by J. David Thompson
Follow David on Twitter @JDThompsonLC
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