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‘Freedom!’: the mysterious movement that brought Ethiopia to a standstill.- The Guardian March 13, 2018

Posted by OromianEconomist in Oromo Protests, Uncategorized.
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Qeerroo – young Oromo activists – drove the mass strike that helped topple the prime minister of one of Africa’s most autocratic governments

Supporters of Bekele Gerba, secretary general of the Oromo Federalist Congress, celebrate his release from prison, in Adama, Ethiopia on 14 February 2018.
 Supporters of Bekele Gerba, secretary general of the Oromo Federalist Congress, celebrate his release from prison, in Adama, February 2018. Photograph: Tiksa Negeri/Reuters


Today, Desalegn is a banker. But once he was a Qeerroo: a young, energetic and unmarried man from Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, the Oromo, bound by what he calls a “responsibility to defend the people”.

Twelve years ago he helped organise mass protests against an election result he and many others believed the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) had rigged. This landed him in prison, along with thousands of others, on terrorism charges.

Since then he has married and, like many of his generation in Ethiopia, mostly avoided politics. That was until 12 February, when he joined almost everyone in the town of Adama, and in many others cities across the region of Oromia, in a strike calling for the release of opposition leaders and an end to authoritarianism.

The boycott, which lasted three days and brought much of central Ethiopia to a standstill, culminated on 13 February with the release of Bekele Gerba, a prominent Oromo politician who lives in Adama, and, within 48 hours, the sudden resignation of Ethiopia’s beleaguered prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn. The shaken federal government then declared a nationwide state-of-emergency on 15 February, the second in as many years.

“It was a total shutdown,” says Desalegn, of the strike in Adama. “Almost everybody took part – including government offices. You wouldn’t have even been able to find a shoeshine boy here.”

For him and many other residents of Adama, about 90km south-east of the capital, Addis Ababa, there is only one explanation for how a normally quiescent town finally joined the uprising that has billowed across much of Oromia and other parts of Ethiopia since late 2014: the Qeerroo.

Police fire tear gas to disperse protesters during the Oromo festival of Irreecha, in Bishoftu, Ethiopia, in October, 2016
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 Police fire teargas to disperse protesters during the Oromo festival of Irreecha, in Bishoftu, October 2016. Photograph: Tiksa Negeri/Reuters

Who the Qeerroo are, and how they have helped bring one of Africa’s strongest and most autocratic governments to its knees, is only dimly understood.

In traditional Oromo culture the term denotes a young bachelor. But today it has broader connotations, symbolising both the Oromo movement – a struggle for more political freedom and for greater ethnic representation in federal structures – and an entire generation of newly assertive Ethiopian youth.

“They are the voice of the people,” explains Debela, a 32-year-old taxi driver in Adama who says he is too old to be one but that he supports their cause. “They are the vanguard of the Oromo revolution.”

The term’s resurgence also reflects the nature of Oromo identity today, which has grown much stronger since Ethiopia’s distinct model of ethnically based federalism was established by the EPRDF in 1994.

“In the past even to be seen as Oromo was a crime,” says Desalegn, of the ethnic assimilation policies pursued by the two preceding Ethiopian regimes, imperial and communist. “But now people are proud to be Oromo … So the Qeerroos are emboldened.”

As the Oromo movement has grown in confidence in recent years, so the role of the Qeerroo in orchestrating unrest has increasingly drawn the attention of officials.

At the start of the year police announced plans to investigate and crack down on the Qeerroo, arguing that it was a clandestine group bent on destabilising the country and seizing control of local government offices. Party sympathisers accused members of being terrorists.

Bekele Gerba waves to his supporters after his release from prison in Adama, Ethiopia on 13 February 2018.
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 Bekele Gerba waves to his supporters after his release from prison in Adama, on 13 February. Photograph: Tiksa Negeri/Reuters

Though many dispute this characterisation, few doubt the underground strength of the Qeerroo today.

Since the previous state of emergency was lifted last August, Qeerroo networks have been behind multiple strikes and protests in different parts of Oromia, despite obstacles like the total shutdown of mobile internet in all areas beyond the capital since the end of last year.

Bekele Gerba, the opposition leader, credits the Qeerroo with securing his release from prison, and for sending hundreds of well-wishers to his home in Adama in the aftermath. But like many older activists, he confesses to limited knowledge of how they organise themselves.

“I only became aware of them relatively recently,” he says. “We don’t know who the leadership is and we don’t know if they have a central command.”

But in a recent interview with the Guardian, two local leaders in Adama, Haile and Abiy (not their real names), shed light on their methods.

According to the two men, who are both in their late 20s, each district of the city has one Qeerroo leader, with at least 20 subordinates, all of whom are responsible for disseminating messages and information about upcoming strikes.

They say their networks have become better organised in recent months, explaining that there is now a hierarchical command chain and even a single leader for the whole of Oromia. “This gives us discipline and allows us to speak with one voice,” says Abiy.

Their job has become more difficult in the absence of the internet.

“With social media you can disseminate the message in seconds,” says Abiy. “Now it can take two weeks, going from door to door.” Instead of using WhatsApp and Facebook, they now distribute paper flyers, especially on university campuses.

The role of Oromo activists among the diaspora, especially those in the US, also remains crucial, despite the shutdown.

Zecharias Zelalem, an Ethiopian journalist based in Canada, argues that it is thanks to prominent social media activists that the Qeerroo have acquired the political heft that youth movements in other parts of the country still lack. He highlights in particular the work of Jawar Mohammed, the controversial founder of the Minnesota-based Oromia Media Network (which is banned in Ethiopia), in amplifying the voice of the Qeerroo even when internet is down.

“[Jawar] gives us political analyses and advice,” Haile explains. “He can get access to information even from inside the government, which he shares with the Qeerroos. We evaluate it and then decide whether to act on it.”

He and Abiy both dismiss the assumption, widespread in Ethiopia, that Jawar remote-controls the protests. “The Qeerroos are like a football team,” counters Haile. “Jawar may be the goalkeeper – helping and advising – but we are the strikers.”

Supporters of Bekele Gerba, secretary general of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), chant slogans to celebrate Gerba’s release from prison
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 Supporters of Bekele Gerba chant slogans to celebrate Gerba’s release from prison. Photograph: Tiksa Negeri/Reuters

The reimposition of the state-of-emergency has angered many Qeerroos in Adama and elsewhere in Oromia, where the move was widely seen as heavy-handed bid to reverse the protesters’ momentum.

Some analysts fear further repression will push members of a still mostly peaceful political movement towards violence and extremism.

Many in the government, as well as in other parts of the country, worry about a rise in ethnically motivated attacks, on people and property, and especially on ethnic Tigrayans, who make up about 6% of the population but are generally considered to dominate politics and business.

Late last year federal troops were dispatched to university campuses, in large part due to escalating ethnic violence, which included several deaths. There were reports of similar incidents during protests throughout the past month.

Jibril Ummar, a local businessman and activist, says that he and others tried to ensure the protests in Adama were peaceful, calming down overexcited young men who wanted to damage property and attack non-Oromos.

“It worries me,” he admits. “There’s a lack of maturity. When you are emotional you put the struggle in jeopardy.”

Gerba says he worries about violence, too, including of the ethnic kind. “We know for sure that Tigrayans are targeted most, across the country. This concerns me very much and it is something that has to be worked on.”

In the coming days the EPRDF will decide on a new prime minister, and many hope it will be someone from the Oromo People’s Democratic Organisation (OPDO), the Oromo wing of the ruling coalition.

This might placate some of the Qeerroo, at least in the short term. But it is unlikely to be enough on its own to dampen the anger.

“When we are married we will retire from the Qeerroo,” says Haile. “But we will never do that until we get our freedom.”

 

 

 

 

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Freedom of the Net 2016: Ethiopia country profile: Social Media/ICT Apps Blocked: Press Freedom Status: Not Free January 14, 2017

Posted by OromianEconomist in Internet Freedom.
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JUNE 2015–MAY 2016

  • Internet and mobile phone networks were repeatedly disrupted around the country, particularly in the Oromia region during antigovernment protests that began in November 2015 (see Restrictions on Connectivity).
  • Social media and communications platforms were temporarily blocked several times to restrict information about antigovernment protests and police brutality (see Blocking and Filtering).
  • News websites were newly blocked for reporting on the Oromo protests and a severe drought, adding to a growing blacklist (see Blocking and Filtering).
  • In May 2016, blogger Zelalem Workagenehu was sentenced to over five years in prison for leading a digital security course (see Prosecutions and Arrests for Online Activities).
  • Prosecutors challenged the release of members of the Zone 9 blogging collective, after they were acquitted of terrorism charges in 2015 (see Prosecutions and Arrests for Online Activities).
Introduction:

Internet freedom declined in the past year as the government cracked down on antigovernment protests and the digital tools citizens used to organize them.

Starting in the Oromo region in November 2015 as a protest against the authoritarian government’s plan to infringe on land belonging to the marginalized Oromia people, the movement spread across the country in the subsequent months, turning into unprecedented demonstrations seeking regime change and democratic reform.

In a heavy-handed response, the authorities frequently shutdown local and national internet and mobile phone networks to prevent citizens from communicating about the protests. Social media platforms and communications apps such as Facebook, Twitter, Skype, and IMO were also temporarily blocked at different times. In October 2016, the government imposed a six-month state of emergency on October 17, resulting in another internet shutdown lasting several days. Under the state of emergency, accessing or posting content related to the protests on social media and efforts to communicate with “outside forces” are criminal offenses.

News websites and blogs reporting on the protests were permanently blocked in 2015 and 2016. Separately, critical news about the current drought—the worst the country has experienced in 50 years—was systematically censored. Meanwhile, the authorities arrested and prosecuted several bloggers, sentencing blogger Zelalem Workagenehu to five years in prison in May 2016. He was convicted of conspiring to overthrow the government for facilitating a course on digital security. The government’s persecution of the Zone 9 bloggers continued. Though four of the bloggers were acquitted in October 2015, the prosecutor appealed their release to the Supreme Court, and they were repeatedly summoned throughout the year.

The legal environment for internet freedom became more restrictive under the Computer Crime Proclamation enacted in June 2016, which criminalizes defamation and incitement. The proclamation also strengthens the government’s surveillance capabilities by enabling real-time monitoring or interception of communications.

Internet and mobile phone networks were deliberately disrupted in many parts of the country throughout the year, particularly in the Oromia region during largescale antigovernment protests that erupted in November 2015. Meanwhile, poor infrastructure, obstructionist telecom policies, and a government monopoly on the ICT sector make ICT services prohibitively expensive for the majority of the population.

Availability and Ease of Access

Ethiopia is one of the least connected countries in the world with an internet penetration rate of only 12 percent, according to 2015 data from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).1 Mobile phone penetration is also poor at 43 percent, up from just 32 percent in 2014.2 Low penetration rates stem from underdeveloped telecommunications infrastructure, which is almost entirely absent from rural areas, where about 85 percent of the population resides. A handful of signal stations service the entire country, resulting in network congestion and frequent disconnection.3 In a typical small town, individuals often hike to the top of the nearest hill to find a mobile phone signal.

Access to ICT services remains prohibitively expensive for most Ethiopians, largely due to the government’s monopoly over the telecom sector, which provides consumers with few options. Prices are set by state-controlled EthioTelecom and kept artificially high.4 Price cuts announced in February 2016 mitigated some of the financial strain,5 bringing mobile internet prices to ETB 5 (US$ 0.25) per day for 25 MB of data or ETB 3,000 (US$ 140) per month for 30 GB. Nonetheless, the lower cost 25 MB package is extremely limited considering a standard Google search uses up to 79 KB alone. Regularly loading websites containing 1 GB of multimedia content could cost US$ 9 a day. William Davison, Bloomberg’s Ethiopia correspondent, described the issue on Facebook in March 2016: “It cost me 44 birr ($2.05) to watch Al Jazeera’s latest 3-minute dispatch on Oromo protests using 4G network on my phone, which is not that much less than the average daily wage of a daily laborer in Ethiopia.”6 Ethiopians can spend an average of US$85 per month for limited mobile or fixed wireless internet access. Better quality services in neighboring Kenya and Uganda cost less than US$30 a month.

Telecommunication devices, connection fees and other related costs are also beyond the means of many Ethiopians. As a result, Ethiopia has among the lowest smartphone ownership rates in the world at only 4 percent according to a recent Pew survey.7 In April 2016, EthioTelecom proposed a new pricing scheme to charge more for the use of popular Voice-over-IP (VoIP) platforms such as Viber and Facebook Messenger on mobile devices.8 This would make smartphone usage even more expensive.

Consequently, the majority of internet users still rely on cybercafés for internet access. A typical internet user in Addis Ababa pays between ETB 5 and 7 (US$ 0.25 to 0.35) for an hour of access. Because of the scarcity of internet cafes outside urban areas, however, rates in rural cybercafés are higher. In addition, digital literacy rates are generally low.

For the few Ethiopians who can access the internet, connection speeds have been painstakingly slow for years, despite the rapid technological advances improving service quality in other countries. In a test conducted in the capital Addis Ababa,9 the average connection speed during one week in March 2016 was 1.2 Mbps—five times slower than the average 5.5 Mbps connection speed in Kenya. According to Akamai, the average connection speed in Ethiopia was 3 Mbps in the first quarter of 2016, significantly lower than the global average of 6.3 Mbps (Kenya’s average speed was documented at 7.3 Mbps in the same period).10

In practice, such speeds result in extremely sluggish download times, even of simple images. Logging into an email account and opening a single message can take as long as five minutes at a standard cybercafé with broadband in the capital city, while attaching documents or images to an email can take eight minutes or more.11 On mobile connections, Akamai found Ethiopia had the world’s slowest average load time, at 8.5 seconds.12

Compounding Ethiopia’s onerous access issues, severe drought in 2015 and 2016 has had a negative impact on the country’s hydroelectric electricity production,13 resulting in frequent and extended power outages that limit users’ ability to access the internet even further.14

Restrictions on Connectivity

The Ethiopian government’s monopolistic control over the country’s telecommunications infrastructure via EthioTelecom enables it to restrict information flows and access to internet and mobile phone services. In 2015–16, the flow of online traffic into, within, and out of Ethiopia registered a significant decline, likely as a result of network throttling, repeated internet shutdowns, and increased blocking.

As a landlocked country, Ethiopia has no direct access to submarine cable landing stations; thus, it connects to the international internet via satellite, a fiber-optic cable that passes through Sudan and connects to its international gateway, and the SEACOM cable that connects through Djibouti to an international undersea cable. All connections to the international internet are completely centralized via EthioTelecom, enabling the government to cut off the internet at will.

Internet and mobile phone networks were disrupted in many parts of the country throughout the year. Oromia, the largest of the federal republic’s nine regional states, has experienced frequent telecom network since November 2015 saw the start of largescale demonstrations against the government’s plan to appropriate Oromia territory.15 The protest movement escalated and remained ongoing in late 2016, leading the government to declare a six-month state of emergency and shut down mobile internet services nationwide for several days in October.16

In an incident unrelated to the protests, internet services on computers and mobile devices were shut down for 24 hours in July 2016, ostensibly to prevent students from cheating during national university exams.17

The ICT shutdowns have been costly. Network disruptions between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016 cost Ethiopia’s economy over US$ 8.5 million, according to the Brookings Institution.18

ICT Market

The space for independent initiatives in the ICT sector, entrepreneurial or otherwise, is extremely limited,19 with state-owned EthioTelecom holding a firm monopoly over internet and mobile phone services as the country’s sole telecommunications service provider. Despite repeated international pressure to liberalize telecommunications in Ethiopia, the government refuses to ease its grip on the sector.20

China is a key investor in Ethiopia’s telecommunications industry,21 with Zhongxing Telecommunication Corporation (ZTE) and Huawei currently serving as contractors to upgrade broadband networks to 4G in Addis Ababa and expand 3G networks elsewhere.22 The partnership has enabled Ethiopia’s authoritarian leaders to maintain their hold over the telecom sector,23though the networks built by the Chinese firms have been criticized for their high cost and poor service.24 Furthermore, the contracts have led to increasing fears that the Chinese may also be assisting the authorities in developing more robust ICT censorship and surveillance capacities (see Surveillance, Privacy, and Anonymity).25 In December 2014, the Swedish telecom group Ericsson also partnered with the government to improve and repair the mobile network infrastructure,26 though ZTE remains the sector’s largest investor.

Onerous government regulations also stymie other aspects of the Ethiopian ICT market. For one, imported ICT items are tariffed at the same high rate as luxury items, unlike other imported goods such as construction materials and heavy duty machinery, which are given duty-free import privileges to encourage investments in infrastructure.27 Ethiopians are required register their laptops and tablets at the airport with the Ethiopian customs authority before they travel out of the country, ostensibly to prevent individuals from illegally importing electronic devices, though observers believe the requirement enables officials to monitor citizens’ ICT activities by accessing the devices without consent.28

Local software companies also suffer from heavy-handed government regulations, which do not have fair, open, or transparent ways of evaluating and awarding bids for new software projects.29 Government companies are given priority for every kind of project, while smaller entrepreneurial software companies are completely overlooked, leaving few opportunities for local technology companies to thrive.

Cybercafés are subject to burdensome operating requirements under the 2002 Telecommunications (Amendment) Proclamation,30 which prohibit them from providing Voice-over-IP (VoIP) services, and mandate that owners obtain a license from EthioTelecom via an opaque process that can take months. In the past few years, EthioTelecom began enforcing its licensing requirements more strictly in response to the increasing spread of cybercafés, reportedly penalizing Muslim cafe owners more harshly. Violations of the requirements entail criminal liability, though no cases have been reported.31

Regulatory Bodies

Since the emergence of the internet in Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Telecommunications Agency (ETA) has been the primary regulatory body overseeing the telecommunications sector. In practice, government executives have complete control over ICT policy and sector regulation.32 The Information Network Security Agency (INSA), a government agency established in 2011 and controlled by individuals with strong ties to the ruling regime,33 also has significant power in regulating the internet under the mandate of protecting the communications infrastructure and preventing cybercrime.

News websites known for their reporting on the Oromo protests joined Ethiopia’s growing list of blocked content, while social media and communications platforms were blocked for periods of time throughout the coverage period for their role in disseminating information about the demonstrations and police brutality. The government manipulates online content, disseminating propaganda to convince Ethiopians that social media is a dangerous tool co-opted by opposition groups to spread hate and violence.

Blocking and Filtering

One of the first African countries to censor the internet,34 Ethiopia has a nationwide, politically motivated internet blocking and filtering regime that is reinforced during sensitive political events. More websites were newly blocked during the Oromia protests that began in November 2015. Targets included the websites of US-based diaspora satellite television stations such as Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT) and the Oromo Media Network (OMN), which provided wall-to-wall coverage of the antigovernment protests. Ayyantuu.net and Opride.com, prominent websites also known for their reporting on the protests, were also blocked.35

In an apparent attempt to restrict news about the protests from spreading, social media and file-sharing platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, and Dropbox were repeatedly blocked for periods of time throughout the protests.36 The blocks on social media first impacted networks in the Oromia region but later spread to other regions,37 and eventually manifested in a shutdown of entire internet and mobile networks for days a time (see Restrictions on Connectivity).

Unrelated to the protests, the authorities blocked access to social media and communications platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Viber, IMO, and Google+, to prevent cheating during university examinations on July 9 and 10, 2016.38 The blocks followed a 24-hour internet blackout for the same reason (see Restrictions on Connectivity). A government spokesperson stated that blocking social media during the exam would help students concentrate. However, some progovernment media organizations and commentators seemed to have exclusive access to social media during the block,39 which reinforced the belief that the government imposes restrictions on citizens while keeping the web open for its own advantage. Viber and IMO, two popular voice-over-IP applications, remained blocked until July 20, according to local sources.40

Separately, coverage of a severe drought—the worst the country has experienced in 50 years—was systematically censored in the past year, with news websites and blogs blocked for reporting on the impact of the disaster that strayed from the government’s official narrative.41

In total, over one hundred websites are inaccessible in Ethiopia.42 A manual test conducted on the ground in mid-2016 confirmed that a large number of the websites tested by Freedom House each year since 2012 remained blocked. Blocked sites include Ethiopian news websites, political party websites, and the websites of international digital rights organizations, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Tactical Technology Collective. Select tools such as text messaging apps and services on Google’s Android operating system on smartphones were also inaccessible, but at irregular intervals and for unclear reasons.43

Notably, several websites that hadn’t been updated for years and appeared abandoned became accessible again in 2016, likely because the authorities deemed them no longer threatening. The social media curation tool Storify—first blocked in July 201244—was also newly accessible during the coverage period,45 in addition to the URL shortening tool Bit.ly.46

To filter the internet, specific internet protocol (IP) addresses or domain names are generally blocked at the level of the EthioTelecom-controlled international gateway. Deep-packet inspection (DPI) is also employed, which blocks websites based on a keyword in the content of a website or communication (such as email).47

Digital security tools are also pervasively blocked in Ethiopia, including Tor, the circumvention tool that enables users to browse anonymously, which been blocked since May 2012.48 As social media platforms were blocked in the past year, diaspora-based activists publicized virtual private networks (VPNs) to circumvent the censorship, but certain VPNs were also subsequently blocked.49 Local sources suspected progovernment commenters were flagging the same tools to be blocked by the authorities. The Amharic translation of the Electronic Frontier Foundations’ “Surveillance Self-Defense” web guide was blocked two weeks after it was published in October 2015.50 One source reported that key terms such as “proxy” yield no search results on unencrypted search engines,51 reflecting the government’s efforts to limit users’ access to circumvention tools and strategies.

Some restrictions are also placed on content transmitted via mobile phones. Text messages to more than ten recipients require prior approval from EthioTelecom.52 A bulk text message sent without prior approval is automatically blocked, irrespective of the content.

There are no procedures for determining which websites are blocked or why, precluding any avenues for appeal. There are no published lists of blocked websites or publicly available criteria for how such decisions are made, and users are met with an error message when trying to access blocked content. The decision-making process does not appear to be controlled by a single entity, as various government bodies—including the Information Network Security Agency (INSA), EthioTelecom, and the ICT ministry—seem to be implementing their own lists, contributing to a phenomenon of inconsistent blocking. This lack of transparency is exacerbated by the government’s continued denial of its censorship efforts. Government officials flatly deny the blocking of websites or jamming of international satellite operations while also stating that the government has a legal and a moral responsibility to protect the Ethiopian public from extremist content.

Content Removal

Politically objectionable content is often targeted for removal, often by way of threats from security officials who personally seek out users and bloggers to instruct them to take down certain content, particularly critical content on Facebook. The growing practice suggests that at least some voices within Ethiopia’s small online community are being closely monitored. For instance, during the various legal proceedings involving the Zone 9 bloggers in 2015, friends and reporters who posted pictures and accounts of the trials on social media were briefly detained and asked to remove the posts.53 During protests in Oromia, activists who wrote messages of solidarity for the protestors on Facebook were also asked to delete their posts.54

Media, Diversity, and Content Manipulation

Lack of adequate funding is a significant challenge for independent online media in Ethiopia, as fear of government pressure dissuades local businesses from advertising with politically critical websites. A 2012 Advertising Proclamation also prohibits advertisements from firms “whose capital is shared by foreign nationals.”55 The process for launching a website on the local .et domain is expensive and demanding,56 requiring a business license from the Ministry of Trade and Industry and a permit from an authorized body.57 While the domestic Ethiopian blogosphere has been expanding, most blogs are hosted on international platforms or published by members of the diaspora community.

Despite Ethiopia’s extremely low levels of internet access, the government employs an army of trolls to distort Ethiopia’s online information landscape.58 Opposition groups, journalists, and dissidents use the contemptuous Amharic colloquial term, “Kokas,” to describe the progovernment commentators.59 Observers say the Kokas regularly discuss Ethiopia’s economic growth in favorable terms and post uncomplimentary comments about Ethiopian journalists and opposition groups on Facebook and Twitter. In return, they are known to receive benefits such as money, land, and employment promotions.

The government also manipulates online content through propaganda that aims to convince Ethiopians that social media is a dangerous tool co-opted by opposition groups to spread hate and violence.60 That characterization has been debunked by research. The University of Oxford and Addis Ababa University analyzed thousands of comments made by Ethiopians on Facebook during general election in 2015, finding that hate speech was a marginal proportion of the total comments assessed.61

Meanwhile, increasing repression against journalists and bloggers has had a major chilling effect on expression online, particularly in response to the spate of blogger arrests that have increased in the past few years (see Prosecutions and Detentions for Online Activities). Many bloggers publish anonymously to avoid reprisals.62 Fear of pervasive surveillance has also led to widespread self-censorship. Local newspapers and web outlets primarily publish reporting by regime critics and opposition organizations in the diaspora. Few independent local journalists will write for either domestic or overseas online outlets due to the threat of repercussions.

Digital Activism

Despite oppressive conditions caused by poor access and the hostile legal environment, online activism has gained considerable momentum and influence in the past year, particularly as traditional media coverage of current events has become increasingly narrow and dominated by pro-government voices. Notably, social media and communications platforms helped tech-savvy Ethiopians launch the widespread antigovernment protests in the Oromia region in November 2015. Online tools have been essential to the #OromoProtests movement, enabling activists to post information about the demonstrations and disseminate news about police brutality as the government cracked down on protesters.63 The use of such tools to fuel the protest movement led the government to block access to several platforms throughout the year, and shut down internet and mobile networks altogether (see Blocking and Filtering and Restrictions on Connectivity).

The new Computer Crime Proclamation enacted in June 2016 criminalizes defamation and incitement; observers say it could be invoked to suppress digital mobilization. The proclamation also strengthens the government’s surveillance capabilities by enabling real-time monitoring or interception of communications. Several bloggers were arrested and prosecuted, with one blogger sentenced to five years in prison, while prosecutors challenged the acquittal of the Zone 9 bloggers.

Legal Environment

Fundamental freedoms are guaranteed for Ethiopian internet users on paper, but the guarantees are routinely flouted in practice. The 1995 Ethiopian constitution provides for freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and access to information, while also prohibiting censorship.64 These constitutional guarantees are affirmed in the 2008 Mass Media and Freedom of Information Proclamation, known as the press law, which governs the print media.65 Nevertheless, the press law also includes problematic provisions that contradict constitutional protections and restrict free expression, such as complex registration processes for media outlets and high fines for defamation.66 The Criminal Code also penalizes defamation with a fine or up to one year in prison.67

Meanwhile, several laws are designed to restrict and penalize legitimate online activities and speech.

Most alarmingly, the 2012 Telecom Fraud Offences Law extends the violations and penalties defined in the 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation and criminal code to electronic communications, which explicitly include both mobile phone and internet services.68 The antiterrorism legislation prescribes prison sentences of up to 20 years for the publication of statements that can be understood as a direct or indirect encouragement of terrorism, which is vaguely defined.69 The law also bans Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services such as Skype70 and requires all individuals to register their telecommunications equipment—including smartphones—with the government, which security officials typically enforce at security checkpoints by confiscating ICT equipment if the owner cannot produce a registration permit, according to sources in the country.

In June 2016, the Ethiopian government passed a new Computer Crime Proclamation that criminalized an array of online activities.71 Civil society expressed concern that the law would be used to further crackdown on critical commentary, political opposition, and social unrest.72 For example, content that “incites fear, violence, chaos or conflict among people” can be punished with up to three years in prison, which could be abused to suppress digital campaigns.73 Other problematic provisions ban the dissemination of defamatory content, which can be penalized with up to 10 years in prison,74 and the distribution of unsolicited messages to multiple emails (spam), which carries up to five years in prison.75

To quell escalating antigovernment protests that began in the Oromia region in November 2015, the government imposed a six-month state of emergency on October 17, 2016 that included restrictions on certain online activities.76 In addition to shutting down the internet for several days, the authorities criminalized the access and posting of content related to the protests on social media, as well as efforts to communicate with “terrorist” groups, a category that includes exiled dissidents. Penalties for violating the state of emergency include prison terms of three to five years.77

Prosecutions and Detention for Online Activities

In the past few years, the authorities have intensified their crackdown against bloggers and online journalists, using harsh laws to arrest and prosecute individuals for their online activities and silence dissent. The most high-profile prosecutions were against six bloggers from the critical Zone 9 blogging collective, who were arrested in April 2014,78 and charged with terrorism under the harsh Anti-Terrorism Proclamation in July.79 The bloggers were accused of intent to overthrow the government, an offense under the criminal code, by encrypting their communications to disseminate seditious writings.80

Despite widespread international condemnation, the detainees were denied bail and brought to court dozens of times for over a year,81 until two of them were unexpectedly released without charge in early July 2015, immediately before U.S. President Obama visited Ethiopia. The four remaining Zone 9 bloggers were acquitted in October 2015,82 though they were barred from leaving the country.83 The prosecutor contested their acquittal and appealed to the Supreme Court, and the four were summoned in December 2015 and in October 2016.84 They were scheduled to return to court in November 2016.85

Several other bloggers were arrested and prosecuted in the past year, including Getachew Shiferaw, editor-in-chief of the online newspaper Negere Ethiopia, in December 2015.86 Negere Ethiopia is known for its affiliation with the opposition as well as its coverage of the Zone 9 trials. Shiferaw remained in pretrial detention in mid-2016.87

The prominent opposition member Yonatan Tesfaye was arrested in December 2015 and charged with terrorism based on Facebook posts that criticized the government’s handling of the Oromia protests.88 He remained in prison in mid-2016 and faces the death sentence if convicted.89 Tesfaye’s Twitter handle has been active during his detention, leading to suspicions that the officials have been using his account to bait potential dissidents.90

In April 2016, blogger Zelalem Workagenehu was found guilty of terrorism and sentenced to over five years in prison in May.91 He was first arrested in July 2014 on charges of conspiring to overthrow the government after he facilitated a course on digital security. In the same trial, bloggers Yonatan Wolde and Bahiru Degu were acquitted after spending nearly two years in detention on terrorism charges; they were also arrested in July 2014 for applying to participate in Workaegnehu’s digital security course.92 Workagenehu has appealed to the Supreme Court.93

The ongoing antigovernment protest movement has also led to numerous arrests, some for digital activities, including posting or “liking” social media content about the protests. In October 2016, police arrested Seyoum Teshome, a well-known academic and blogger for the Ethiothinktank.com website who had published an article about the Oromia protest movement inThe New York Times.94

Meanwhile, the well-known dissident journalist and blogger Eskinder Nega is serving an 18-year prison sentence handed down in July 2012 under the draconian anti-terrorism law for criticizing the law itself in an online article.95

Surveillance, Privacy, and Anonymity

Government surveillance of online and mobile phone communications is pervasive in Ethiopia and was strengthened under the new Computer Crime Proclamation enacted in June 2016, which enables real-time monitoring or interception of communications authorized by the Minister of Justice and obliges service providers to store records of all communications and metadata for at least a year.96

There are strong indications that the government has deployed a centralized monitoring system developed by the Chinese telecommunications firm ZTE to monitor mobile phone networks and the internet, according to a 2015 Human Rights Watch report.97 Known for its use by repressive regimes in Libya and Iran, the monitoring system enables deep packet inspection (DPI) of internet traffic across the EthioTelecom network and has the ability to intercept emails and web chats.

Another ZTE technology, known as ZSmart, is a customer management database installed at EthioTelecom that provides the government with full access to user information and the ability to intercept SMS text messages and record phone conversations.98 ZSmart also allows security officials to locate targeted individuals through real-time geolocation tracking of mobile phones.99 While the extent to which the government has made use of the full range of ZTE’s sophisticated surveillance systems is unclear, the authorities frequently present intercepted emails and phone calls as evidence during trials against journalists and bloggers or during interrogations as a scare tactic.100

Meanwhile, exiled dissidents have been targeted by surveillance malware. Citizen Lab research published in March 2015 said Remote Control System (RCS) spyware had been used against two employees of Ethiopian Satellite Television Service (ESAT) in November and December 2014. ESAT is a diaspora-run independent satellite television, radio, and online news media outlet, based in Alexandria, Virginia.101 Made by the Italian company Hacking Team, RCS spyware is advertised as “offensive technology” sold exclusively to law enforcement and intelligence agencies around the world, and has the ability to steal files and passwords and intercept Skype calls and chats. 102

While Hacking Team has said that the company does not deal with “repressive regimes,”103 the social engineering tactics used to bait the two ESAT employees made it clear that the attack was targeted. Moreover, analysis of the RCS attacks uncovered credible links to the Ethiopian government, with the spyware’s servers registered at an EthioTelecom address under the name “INSA-PC,” referring to the Information Network Security Agency (INSA), the body established in 2011 to preside over the security of the country’s critical communications infrastructure.104 INSA was already known to be using the commercial toolkit FinFisher to target dissidents and supposed national security threats. FinFisher can secretly monitor computers by turning on webcams, record everything a user types with a key logger, and intercept Skype calls.105

Given the high degree of online repression in Ethiopia, political commentators use proxy servers and anonymizing tools to hide their identities when publishing online and to circumvent filtering, though the tools are also subject to blocking (see Blocking and Filtering).

Anonymity is further compromised by strict SIM card registration requirements. Upon purchase of a SIM card through EthioTelecom or an authorized reseller, individuals must provide their full name, address, government-issued identification number, and a passport-sized photograph. EthioTelecom’s database of SIM registrants enables the government to terminate individuals’ SIM cads and restrict them from registering for new ones. Internet subscribers are also required to register their personal details, including their home address, with the government. During the antigovernment protests in 2016, state-owned ICT provider EthioTelecom announced plans to require mobile phones to be purchased from Ethiopian companies and to create a tracking system for all mobile devices in Ethiopia. Observers believe the plan aims to allow the government to track and identify all communications from subscribers on its network.106

While the government’s stronghold over the Ethiopian ICT sector enables it to proactively monitor users, its access is less direct at cybercafés. For a period following the 2005 elections, cybercafé owners were required to keep a register of their clients, but the requirement has not been enforced since mid-2010.107 Nevertheless, some cybercafé operators have reported that they are required to report “unusual behavior” to security officials, who also visit cybercafés (sometimes in plainclothes) to ask questions about individuals or monitor activity themselves.108

Intimidation and Violence

Government security agents frequently harass and intimidate bloggers, online journalists, and ordinary users for their online activities. Independent bloggers are often summoned by the authorities to be warned against discussing certain topics online, while activists report that they are regularly threatened by state security agents.109 Ethiopian journalists in the diaspora have also been targeted for harassment.110

Amidst escalating antigovernment protests in 2015 and 2016, the authorities reportedly harassed, detained, and abused several people who used their mobile phones to record footage of demonstrations.

Meanwhile, imprisoned bloggers reported being held in degrading conditions and tortured by prison guards seeking to extract false confessions.111 Yonatan Wolde and Bahiru Degu were re-arrested shortly after their acquittal in April 2016 and released the next day, reporting that officials had threatened their lives.112

Technical Attacks

Opposition critics and independent voices face frequent technical attacks, even when based abroad. Independent research has found that Ethiopian authorities have used sophisticated surveillance malware and spyware, such as FinFisher’s FinSpy and Hacking Team’s Remote Control Servers (RCS), to target exiled dissidents.113

There were no reports of technical attacks against human rights defenders or dissidents during the coverage period, though hacktivists launched attacks on government websites, including the Ministry of Defense, as a form of digital protest alongside the largescale Oromo demonstrations.114 Meanwhile, the Information Network Security Agency (INSA) reported that they had foiled at least 155 cyberattacks in 2015. Critics said they used the data to justify cracking down on the internet.115

Notes:

1 International Telecommunication Union, “Percentage of Individuals Using the Internet, 2000-2015,” http://bit.ly/1cblxxY

2 International Telecommunication Union, “Mobile-Cellular Telephone Subscriptions, 2000-2015,” http://bit.ly/1cblxxY

3 Endalk Chala, “When blogging is held hostage of Ethiopia’s telecom policy,” in “GV Advocacy Awards Essays on Internet Censorship from Iran, Venezuela, Ethiopia,” Global Voices (blog), February 3, 2015, http://bit.ly/1OpDvzz

4 Ethiopia – Telecoms, Mobile, Broadband and Forecasts, Paul Budde Communication Pty Ltd.: June 2014, http://bit.ly/1ji15Rn

5 Misak Workneh, “Ethio Telecom announces new mobile internet packages, tariff revisions,” Addis Fortune, February 23, 2016, http://addisfortune.net/articles/ethio-telecom-announces-new-mobile-internet-packages-tariff-revisions/

6 William Davison’s Facebook post, March 26, 2016, https://www.facebook.com/william.davison.33/posts/10153956834545792?pnref=story

7 Jacob Poushter, “Smartphone Ownership and Internet Usage Continues to Climb in Emerging Economies,” Pew Research Center, February 22, 2016, http://www.pewglobal.org/2016/02/22/smartphone-ownership-and-internet-usage-continues-to-climb-in-emerging-economies/

8 Eskedar Kifle, “Ethio telecom may charge for VoIP apps,” Capital Ethiopia, April 6, 2016, http://mereja.com/news/1149276.

9 Test conducted by Freedom House researcher in March 2016. While the speed test should not be interpreted as a standard speed for the entire EthioTelecom network speeds, the data we gathered from a repeated speed tests over a span of a week from March 16 to March 21, 2016 suggest that Ethiopia’s average speed lags behind the average speed of the region. Nearly same figures were reported by speed-test services such as http://testmy.net and http://www.dospeedtest.com.

10 Akamai, “Average Connection Speed,” map visualization, The State of the Internet, Q1 2016, accessed August 1, 2016, http://akamai.me/1LiS6KD

11 According to tests by Freedom House consultant in 2016.

12 Akamai, “State of the Internet, Q1 2016 Report,” https://goo.gl/TQH7L7.

13 William Davison, “Ethiopia Sees Nationwide Power Cuts While Drought Dries Dams,” Bloomberg, December 1, 2015, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-12-01/ethiopia-sees-nationwide-power-cuts-while-drought-dries-dams

14 Mengisteab Teshome, “Ethiopia: Power Outage Taken as ‘Business As Usual’ – Residents,” The Ethiopian Herald, September 4, 2015, http://allafrica.com/stories/201509040955.html

15 Endalk Chala, “Ethiopia Locks Down Digital Communications in Wake of #OromoProtests,” Global Voices (blog), July 14, 2016, https://globalvoices.org/2016/07/14/ethiopia-locks-down-digital-communications-in-wake-of-oromoprotests; Moses Karanja et al., “Ethiopia: Internet Shutdown Amidst Recent Protests?” OONI, August 10, 2016, https://ooni.torproject.org/post/ethiopia-internet-shutdown-amidst-recent-protests/

16 Stephanie Busari, “Ethiopia declares state of emergency after months of protests,” CNN, October 11, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/10/09/africa/ethiopia-oromo-state-emergency/; Endalk Chala, “Ethiopian authorities shut down mobile internet and major social media sites,” Global Voices (blog), October 11, 2016, https://globalvoices.org/2016/10/11/ethiopian-authorities-shut-down-mobile-internet-and-major-social-media-sites/

17 Paul Schemm, “Ethiopia shuts down social media to keep from ‘distracting’ students,” Washington Post, July 13, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/07/13/ethiopia-shuts-down-social-media-to-keep-from-distracting-students/

18 Darrell M. West, “Internet shutdowns cost countries $2.4 billion last year,” Brookings Institute, Center for Technology Innovation, October 2016, https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/intenet-shutdowns-v-3.pdf

19 Al Shiferaw, “Connecting Telecentres: An Ethiopian Perspective,” Telecentre Magazine, September 2008, http://bit.ly/1ji348h.

20 “Ethio Telecom to remain monopoly for now,” TeleGeography, June 28, 2013, http://bit.ly/1huyjf7

21 Paul Chapman, “New report explores the Ethiopian – telecoms, mobile and broadband – market insights, statistics and forecasts,” WhatTech, May 1, 2015, http://bit.ly/1L46Awu.

22 “Out of reach,” The Economist, August 24, 2013, http://econ.st/1l1UvJO.

23 “Out of reach,” The Economist.

24 Matthew Dalton, “Telecom Deal by China’s ZTE, Huawei in Ethiopia Faces Criticism,” The Wall Street Journal, January 6, 2014, http://on.wsj.com/1LtSCkD.

25 Based on allegations that the Chinese authorities have provided the Ethiopian government with technology that can be used for political repression—such as surveillance cameras and satellite jamming equipment—in the past. See: Addis Neger, “Ethiopia: China Involved in ESAT Jamming,” ECADAF Ethiopian news & Opinion, June 23, 2010, http://bit.ly/1LtSYI9; Gary Sands, “Ethiopia’s Broadband Network – A Chinese Trojan Horse?” Foreign Policy Blogs, Foreign Policy Association, September 6, 2013, http://bit.ly/1FWG8X1.

26 ENA, “Ericsson to take part in telecom expansion in Ethiopia,” Dire Tube, December 18, 2014, http://bit.ly/1PkZfvA.

27 The Embassy of the United Stated, “Doing Business in Ethiopia,” http://1.usa.gov/1LtTExh.

28 World Intellectual Property Organization, “Ethiopia Custom Regulation: No 622/2009,” http://bit.ly/1NveoeB.

29 Mignote Kassa, “Why Ethiopia’s Software Industry Falters,” Addis Fortune 14, no. 700 (September 29, 2013), http://bit.ly/1VJiIWC.

30 “Proclamation No. 281/2002, Telecommunications (Amendment Proclamation,” Federal Negarit Gazeta No. 28, July 2, 2002, http://bit.ly/1snLgsc.

31 Ethiopian Telecommunication Agency, “License Directive for Resale and Telecenter in Telecommunication Services No. 1/2002,” November 8, 2002, accessed October 20, 2014, http://bit.ly/1pUtpWh.

32 Dr. Lishan Adam, “Understanding what is happening in ICT in Ethiopia,” (policy paper, Research ICT Africa, 2012) http://bit.ly/1LDPyJ5.

33 Halefom Abraha, “THE STATE OF CYBERCRIME GOVERNANCE IN ETHIOPIA,” (paper) http://bit.ly/1huzP0S.

34 Rebecca Wanjiku, “Study: Ethiopia only sub-Saharan Africa nation to filter net,” IDG News Service, October 8, 2009, http://bit.ly/1Lbi3s9.

35 “Ayyaantuu website blocked in Ethiopia,” Ayyaantuu News, March 3, 2016, http://www.ayyaantuu.net/ayyaantuu-website-blocked-in-ethiopia/

36 Felix Horne, “Deafening silence from Ethiopia,” Foreign Policy in Focus, April 12, 2016, http://fpif.org/deafening-silence-ethiopia/; Endalk Chala, “Ethiopia locks down digital communications in wake of #OromoProtests,” Global Voices (blog), July 14, 2016, https://advox.globalvoices.org/2016/07/14/ethiopia-locks-down-digital-communications-in-wake-of-oromoprotests/

37 William Davison, “Twitter, WhatsApp Down in Ethiopia Oromia Area After Unrest,” Bloomberg, April 12, 2016, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-04-12/twitter-whatsapp-offline-in-ethiopia-s-oromia-area-after-unrest

38 Nicole Orttung, “Why did Ethiopia block social media,” Christian Science Monitor, July 12, 2016, http://www.csmonitor.com/World/2016/0712/Why-did-Ethiopia-block-social-media?cmpid=gigya-tw

39 According to activists who were able to circumvent the blocks and observe the social media activities of progoverment users.

40 @befeqadu Twitter post, July 17, 2016, https://twitter.com/befeqadu/status/754725025610104833

41 Christabel Ligami, “Defying censorship, hunger stories emerge from Ethiopia,” Equal Times, April 29, 2016, http://www.equaltimes.org/defying-censorship-hunger-stories?lang=en#.WBJZxMmFs6E; “Ethiopian police detain journalists reporting on drought, escort them back to capital,” Committee to Protect Journalists, August 17, 2016, https://cpj.org/2016/08/ethiopian-police-detain-journalists-reporting-on-d.php

42 Test conducted by an anonymous researcher contracted by Freedom House, March 2015. During the test, some websites opened at the first attempt but were inaccessible when refreshed.

43 @AtnafB Twitter post, July 17, 2016, https://twitter.com/AtnafB/status/754711725967024131

44 Mohammed Ademo, Twitter post, July 25, 2012, 1:08 p.m., https://twitter.com/OPride/status/228159700489879552.

46 Ory Okolloh Mwangi, Twitter post, November 6, 2013, 9:20 a.m., https://twitter.com/kenyanpundit/status/398077421926514688.

47 Daniel Berhane, “Ethiopia’s web filtering: advanced technology, hypocritical criticisms, bleeding constitution,” Horns Affairs, January 16, 2011, http://bit.ly/1jTyrH1

48 “Tor and Orbot not working in Ethiopia,” Tor Stack Exchange, message board, April 12, 2016,

http://tor.stackexchange.com/questions/10148/tor-and-orbot-not-working-in-ethiopia; “Ethiopia Introduces Deep Packet Inspection,” Tor (blog), May 31, 2012, http://bit.ly/1A0YRdc; Warwick Ashford, “Ethiopian government blocks Tor network online anonymity,” Computer Weekly, June 28, 2012, http://bit.ly/1LDQ5L2.

49 Ismail Akwei, “Ethiopia blocks social media to prevent university exam leakage,” Africa News, July 10, 2016, http://www.africanews.com/2016/07/10/ethiopia-blocks-social-media-to-prevent-university-exam-leakage/

50 Endalk Chala, “Defending against overreaching surveillance in Ethiopia: Surveillance Self-Defense now availabile in Amharic,” Electronic Frontier Foundation, October 1, 2015, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2015/09/defending-against-overreaching-surveillance-ethiopia-surveillance-self-defense-n-0

51 A 2014 report from Human Rights Watch also noted that the term “aljazeera” was unsearchable on Google while the news site was blocked from August 2012 to mid-March 2013. According to HRW research, the keywords “OLF” and “ONLF” (acronyms of Ethiopian opposition groups) are not searchable on the unencrypted version of Google (http://) and other popular search engines. Human Rights Watch, “They Know Everything We Do,” March 25, 2014, 56, 58,http://bit.ly/1Nviu6r.

52 Interview with individuals working in the telecom sector, as well as a test conducted by a Freedom House consultant who found it was not possible for an ordinary user to send out a bulk text message.

53 Reporters prevented from reporting on the trial of Zone9 Bloggers. See, Trial Tracker Blog, http://trialtrackerblog.org/home/ .

54 Kevin Mwanza, “Is Ethiopia restricting access to social media in Oromia region?” Afk Insider, April 13, 2016, http://afkinsider.com/123180/ethiopia-restricting-access-social-media-oromia-region/

55 Exemptions are made for foreign nationals of Ethiopian origin. See, Abrham Yohannes, “Advertisement Proclamation No. 759/2012,” Ethiopian Legal Brief (blog), September 27, 2012, http://bit.ly/1LDQf5c.

56 “Proclamation No. 686/2010 Commercial Registration and Business Licensing,” Federal Negarit Gazeta, July 24, 2010, http://bit.ly/1P3PoLy; World Bank Group, Doing Business 2015: Going Beyond Efficiency, Economy Profile 2015, Ethiopia, 2014, http://bit.ly/1L49tO6.

57 Chala, “When blogging is held hostage of Ethiopia’s telecom policy.”

58 “Ethiopia Trains Bloggers to attack its opposition,” ECADF Ethiopian News & Opinions, June 7, 2014, http://bit.ly/1QemZjl.

59 The term “Koka” is a blend of two words: Kotatam and cadre. Kotatam is a contemptuous Amharic word used to imply that someone is a sellout who does not have a respect for himself or herself.

60 Endalk Chala, “Ethiopia protest videos show state brutality, despite tech barriers,” Global Voices (blog), January 6, 2016, https://advox.globalvoices.org/2016/01/06/ethiopia-protest-videos-show-state-brutality-despite-tech-barriers/

61 Iginio Gagliardone et al., “Mechachal: Online debates and elections in Ethiopia. Report One: A preliminary assessment of online debates in Ethiopia,” working paper, October 2, 2015, http://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2016-06-23-mapping-online-hate-speech

62 Markos Lemma, “Disconnected Ethiopian Netizens,” Digital Development Debates (blog),November 2012,  http://bit.ly/1Ml9Nu3.

63 Jacey Fortin, “The ugly side of Ethiopia’s economic boom,” Foreign Policy, March 23, 2016, http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/03/23/no-one-feels-like-they-have-any-right-to-speak-at-all-ethiopia-oromo-protests/

64 Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (1995), art. 26 and 29, accessed, August 24, 2010, http://www.ethiopar.net/constitution.

65 Freedom of the Mass Media and Access to Information Proclamation No. 590/2008, Federal Negarit Gazeta No. 64, December 4, 2008.

66 Article 19, The Legal Framework for Freedom of Expression in Ethiopia, accessed September 10, 2014, http://bit.ly/1Pl0f33.

67 Criminal Code, art. 613, http://bit.ly/1OpHE6F.

68 Article 19, “Ethiopia: Proclamation on Telecom Fraud Offences,”legal analysis, August 6, 2012, http://bit.ly/1Lbonjm.

69 “Anti-Terrorism Proclamation No. 652/2009,” Federal Negarit Gazeta No. 57, August 28, 2009.

70 The government first instituted the ban on VoIP in 2002 after it gained popularity as a less expensive means of communication and began draining revenue from the traditional telephone business belonging to the state-owned EthioTelecom. In response to widespread criticisms, the government claimed that VoIP applications such as Skype would not be considered under the new law, though the proclamation’s language still enables the authorities to interpret it broadly at whim.

71 “Ethiopia Computer Crime Proclamation Text Draft,” Addis Insight, May 9, 2016, http://www.addisinsight.com/2016/05/09/ethiopia-computer-crime-proclamation-text-draft/

72 Kimberly Carlson, “Ethiopia’s new Cybercrime Law allows for more efficient and systematic prosecution of online speech,” Electronic Frontier Foundation, June 9, 2016, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2016/06/ethiopias-new-cybercrime-law-allows-more-efficient-and-systematic-prosecution-online; Tinishu Soloman, “New Ethiopian law targets online crime,” The Africa Report, June 9, 2016, http://www.theafricareport.com/East-Horn-Africa/new-ethiopian-law-targets-online-crime.html

74 Article 13, “Crimes against Liberty and Reputation of Persons,” Computer Crime Proclamation.

75 Article 15, “Dissemination of Spam,” Computer Crime Proclamation,

76 “Seven things banned under Ethiopia’s state of emergency,” BBC News, October 17, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-37679165

77 “Social media blackout in Ethiopia,” Jacarandafm, October 17, 2016, https://www.jacarandafm.com/news-sport/news/social-media-blackout-in-ethiopia/

78 “Six members of Zone Nine, group of bloggers and activists are arrested,” [in Amharic] Zone9 (blog), April 25, 2014, http://bit.ly/1VJn6ow.

79“Federal High Court Lideta Criminal Bench court, Addis Ababa,” http://1drv.ms/1OqAjlC.

80 Endalk Chala, “What You Need to Know About Ethiopia v. Zone9 Bloggers: Verdict Expected July 20,” Global Voices (blog), July 17, 2015, http://bit.ly/1jTDO9b.

81 Ellery Roberts Biddle, Endalk Chala, Guardian Africa network, “One year on, jailed Ethiopian bloggers are still awaiting trial,” The Guardian, April 24, 2015, http://gu.com/p/47ktv/stw; “Nine Journalists and Bloggers Still Held Arbitrarily,” Reporters Without Borders, “Nine Journalists and Bloggers Still Held Arbitrarily,” August 21, 2014, http://bit.ly/1P3TW4I.

82 Committee to Protect Journalists, “In Ethiopia, Zone 9 bloggers acquitted of terrorism charges,” news statement, October 16, 2015, https://www.cpj.org/2015/10/in-ethiopia-zone-9-bloggers-acquitted-of-terrorism.php.

83 Gregory Warner, “Freed from prison, Ethiopian bloggers still can’t leave the country,” NPR, May 31, 2016, http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2016/05/31/480100349/freed-from-prison-ethiopian-bloggers-still-cant-leave-the-country

84 “Netizen Report: Ethiopia’s Zone9 Bloggers Go Back to Court,” Global Voices (blog), March 30, 2016, https://advox.globalvoices.org/2016/03/30/netizen-report-ethiopias-zone9-bloggers-go-back-to-court/

85 “Netizen Report: As Protests Rage in Ethiopia, Zone9 Bloggers Return to Court,” Global Voices (blog), October 21, 2016, https://globalvoices.org/2016/10/21/netizen-report-as-protests-rage-in-ethiopia-zone9-bloggers-return-to-court/

86 “Ethiopia arrests second journalist in a week, summons Zone9 bloggers,” Committee to Protect Journalists, press release, December 27, 2015, https://www.cpj.org/2015/12/ethiopia-arrests-second-journalist-in-a-week-summo.php

87 “Getachew Shiferaw – The Price of Freedom of Expression in Ethiopia,” Ethiopian Human Rights Project, May 3, 2016, http://ehrp.org/getachew-shiferaw-the-price-of-freedom-of-expression-in-ethiopia/

88 Salem Soloman, “Ethiopia’s Anti-terrorism Law: Security or Silencing Dissent?” VOA News, May 31, 2016, http://www.voanews.com/a/ethiopia-anti-terrorism-law-security-silencing-dissent/3356633.html

89 “Ethiopia: Release opposition politician held for Facebook posts,” Amnesty International, press release, May 6, 2016, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/05/ethiopia-release-opposition-politician-held-for-facebook-posts/; “Facebook post leads to serious charges for Ethiopian politician,” Enca, May 6, 2016, https://www.enca.com/africa/facebook-post-leads-to-serious-charges-for-ethiopian-politician

90 @befeqadu Twitter post, April 12, 2016, https://twitter.com/befeqadu/status/719963259911188480/photo/1

91 Tedla D. Tekle, “Ethiopian blogger and activist sentences to five years and four months,” Global Voices (blog), May 16, 2016, https://advox.globalvoices.org/2016/05/16/ethiopian-blogger-and-activist-sentenced-to-five-years-and-four-months/

92 Tedla D. Tekle, “’I was forced to drink my own urine,’: ‘Freedom’ for netizen after 647 days locked up, but not for all,” Global Voices (blog), May 2, 2016, https://globalvoices.org/2016/05/02/i-was-forced-to-drink-my-own-urine-freedom-after-647-days-locked-up-but-not-for-all/

93 “Co-blogger Zelalem Workagegnehu’s appeal heard, appointed to tomorrow,” De Birhan (blog), July 20, 2016, http://debirhan.com/?p=10035

94 “Oromo protests: Ethiopia arrests blogger Seyoum Teshome,” Al Jazeera, October 5, 2016,

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/10/oromo-protests-ethiopia-arrests-blogger-seyoum-teshome-161005071925586.html

95 Such trumped-up charges were based on an online column Nega had published criticizing the government’s use of the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation to silence political dissent and calling for greater political freedom in Ethiopia. Nega is also the 2011 recipient of the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award.“That Bravest and Most Admirable of Writers: PEN Salutes Eskinder Nega,” PEN American Center (blog), April 13, 2012, http://bit.ly/1Lm89Y7; See also, Markos Lemma, “Ethiopia: Online Reactions to Prison Sentence for Dissident Blogger,” Global Voices, July 15, 2012, http://bit.ly/1OpKaKf; Endalk Chala, “Ethiopia: Freedom of Expression in Jeopardy,” Global Voices Advocacy, February 3, 2012, http://bit.ly/1jfIEO3.

96 Article 23, “Retention of Computer Data” and Article 24, “Real-time Collection of Computer Data,” http://hornaffairs.com/en/2016/05/09/ethiopia-computer-crime-proclamation/

97 Human Rights Watch, “They Know Everything We Do,” 62.

98 Human Rights Watch, “They Know Everything We Do,” 67.

99 Ibid, 52.

100 Committee to Protect Journalists, “Ethiopian Blogger, Journalists Convicted of Terrorism,” January 19, 2012, http://cpj.org/x/47b9.

101 Bill Marczak et al., Hacking Team Reloaded? US-Based Ethiopian Journalists Again Targeted with Spyware, Citizen Lab, March 9, 2015, http://bit.ly/1Ryogmr.

102 Hacking Team,“Customer Policy,” accessed February 13, 2014, http://hackingteam.it/index.php/customer-policy.

103  Declan McCullagh, “Meet the ‘Corporate Enemies of the Internet’ for 2013,” CNET, March 11, 2013, accessed February 13, 2014, http://cnet.co/1fo6jJZ.

104 Marczak et al., Hacking Team Reloaded? US-Based Ethiopian Journalists Again Targeted with Spyware.

105 Fahmida Y. Rashid, “FinFisher ‘Lawful Interception’ Spyware Found in Ten Countries, Including the U.S.,” Security Week, August 8, 2012, http://bit.ly/1WRPuap.

106 Endalk Chala, “Ethiopia Locks Down Digital Communications in Wake of #OromoProtests.”

107 Groum Abate, “Internet Cafes Start Registering Users,” The Capital republished Nazret (blog), December 27, 2006, http://bit.ly/1Lm98aX.

108 Human Rights Watch, “They Know Everything We Do,” 67.

109 SIMEGNISH (LILY) MENGESHA, “CRAWLING TO DEATH OF EXPRESSION – RESTRICTED ONLINE MEDIA IN ETHIOPIA,” Center for International Media Assistance (blog), April 8, 2015, http://bit.ly/1IbxFie.

110 “ክንፉ አሰፋ በስለላ ከሆላንድ የተባረረው የጋዜጠኛውን አንገት እቆርጣለሁ አለ,” ECADAF Ethiopian News & Opinion, April 12, 2015, http://ecadforum.com/Amharic/archives/14790/.

111 Tedla D. Tekle, “’I was forced to drink my own urine,’: ‘Freedom’ for netizen after 647 days locked up, but not for all.”

112 Tedla D. Tekle, “’I was forced to drink my own urine,’: ‘Freedom’ for netizen after 647 days locked up, but not for all.”

113 Marczak et al., Hacking Team Reloaded? US-Based Ethiopian Journalists Again Targeted with Spyware.

114 Kinfemicheal Yilma, “Hacktivism: A New Front of Dissent, Regulation,” Addis Fortune, February 14, 2016,

http://addisfortune.net/columns/hacktivism-a-new-front-of-dissent-regulation/

115 “Ethiopia: The cyber attack that probably never was,” Zehabesha, July 13, 2016,http://www.zehabesha.com/ethiopia-the-cyber-attack-that-probably-never-was/

Decolonizing Development:The Political and Cultural Locations of Nationalism and National Self-determination (The Case of Oromia) January 4, 2015

Posted by OromianEconomist in Africa, Colonizing Structure, Development, Dictatorship, Economics, Gadaa System, Humanity and Social Civilization, Ideas, Knowledge and the Colonizing Structure., Language and Development, Oromia, Oromia Quarterly, Oromo, Oromo Identity, Oromo Nation, Oromo Social System, Oromo the Largest Nation of Africa. Human Rights violations and Genocide against the Oromo people in Ethiopia, Self determination, Sirna Gadaa, The Oromo Democratic system, The Oromo Governance System, Theory of Development, Tyranny, Uncategorized, Wisdom.
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 Decolonising Development:The Political and Cultural Locations of   Nationalism and National Self-determination (the Case of Oromia)

Several scholars have argued that national self-determination is a claim for cultural independence and that nationalism in general is based on the right to cultural autonomy, right to a culture. In the Oromo context, national self-determination is about the representation of collective identity and dignity. It is the demand of the Oromo people to govern themselves. Practically, this can be interpreted as let us be governed by people who are like us, people of our nationality or people who accept and respect our value system. For the last hundred years and so, the Oromo nation has suffered from Abyssinian expansionism, social, ecological and economic destruction and continuous and intensive cultural and physical genocide. The Abyssinians and Oromians connections have been the coloniser (refers to the former) and the colonised (refers to the latter) relationships. Contrary to the Ethiopianist discourse, they have not developed a common unifying identity, social and political system. While the Abyssinians feel a sense of glory of their kings, warlords and dictators, the Oromians feel victimisation to these rulers, so they have not emerged a common ancestry, culture and collective memory, which can result in common ‘Ethiopian’ identity. From the perspective of Oromo social construction, the present Ethiopian domination over Oromia is a continuation of what pervious generations of Oromo nation had experienced. Thus, the Oromo people, sees the present political arrangement as illegitimate because it is a rule by the people who have engaged in destroying them. So, they claim not only cultural but also political independence. Oromo nationalism is also very democratic. It follows the UN principles of self-determination for the citizens of Oromia, claiming independence from the tyranny of Ethiopian Empire. The latter has been constructed based on Amhara-Tigre nationalism. The Oromo nationalism also offers democratic solutions to the ethnic minorities in the Ethiopian Empire. Scholars of Oromo studies claim that there is fundamental behavioural, linguistic, ethnic and cultural differences between the Abyssinians (northern) and their subjects (Southern). The Oromo, Sidama, Afar and the Ogaden (Ogaden Somalians) nations, beyond their common Cushitic progeny, they have common experiences of victimisation and illegitimately absorbed by Abyssinian southward expansion. Their collective memory of past experiences and present victimisation are making common identity. This identity is a key to understand politics there and to work together for self-determination, to recover their lost humanity.

For the early version of this article, see Temesgen M. Erena, The Political and Cultural Locations National Self – Determination,  Oromia Quarterly, Vol. II, No.2, March 1999; Temesgen, M. Erena, Oromia: The Nation and the Politics of National Self – Determination, Oromia Quarterly, Vol. I, No.2, December 1997, ISSN 1460-1346.

Man knows himself only insofar as he knows the world, and becomes aware of the world only in himself, and of himself only in it. Every new object, well observed, opens a new organ in ourselves.

-Goethe, Maximen und Reflexionen, VI Build therefore your own world. -Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature

Introduction

The passions of national freedom and national interest are probably the strongest in the whole political spectrum that characterises the present world. Kellas (1998) holds that it is stronger than the passions aroused by religion, class, individual or group interest. This passion is not all futile, either. In Gellener’s (1983) understanding, nationalism has been considered as essential to the establishment of a modern industrial society. According to Smith (1991), it is ‘the sole vision and rationale of political solidarity.’ For Kellas (1998), it provides legitimacy to the state, and inspires its citizens to feel an emotional attachment towards it. It can be a source of creativity in the arts, and enterprise in the economy. Its power to mobilise political engagement is unrivalled, particularly in the vital activity of nation building. It is intimately linked with the operation of popular democracy. Indeed, the global pattern is a mosaic of political drives, economic interests, linguistic pride, cultural imperatives, psychological needs and nations seeking identity. These factors are manifesting as a powerful staying power in a modern Africa, either. As European colonialism and socialism melted away, the perpetual existence of the backlash against ‘neo-colonial’ colony colonialism and the reviving of national selfdom become more and more significant in social and political dynamics of contemporary multi-ethno-nation African societies. The African experience is motivated by the same aspirations as that of elsewhere. At its root is a need for freedom, dignity, for the right of people of distinct social communities to function freely and independently. In this regard, Oromia represents the case of rejuvenating claim for national freedom and the struggle against more than a century old Abyssinian Empire colonialism in Africa. Oromia is a homeland for an Oromo nation, a group of people with a common culture and value system (seera fi aadaa), language ( Afaan Oromo), political institutions (Gadaa), and historical memories and experiences. Oromia is the single largest, homogeneous and endogenous nation in Africa with a population of 40 to 45 million. Both in terms of territorial and population size, more than two-third’s today’s sovereign states that are making members of UN (United Nations) are smaller than Oromia. The Cushite (see Demie, 1998) Oromo people have inhibited their homeland, Oromia, since pre-history and in antiquity were the agents of humanity’s documented Cushitic civilisation in terms of science, technology, art, political and moral philosophy. The links between the Oromo and the ancient civilisations of Babylon, Cush and Egypt has been discussed in Asfaw Beyene (1992) and John Sorenson (1998) scholarly works. Utilising prodigious evidence from history, philosophy, archaeology and linguistics, Diop (1974 and 1991) confirms that the Cushite Egyptian civilisation was emerged from the Cushite civilisations of North East Africa, particularly, the present day Western Sudan and upper Nile Oromia (also known as Cush or Punt). Indeed, except the name of places, saints and prophets, many of the Old Testament and the Holy Koran moral texts are copies of the Oromo moral codes. The formers are written documents while the latter are orally transmitted. Since the late 1880s the Oromo people have disowned their sovereignty. They disowned their autonomous institutions of governance, culture, education, creativity, business, commerce, etc. Thus, they have been claiming for national self-determination, national-self government and the right to their own state and resist the Abyssinian Empire saver (supremacist’s) nationalism. The Oromians are not only against the quality of Ethiopian Empire governance but also against the philosophy on which it is based: domination, dehumanisation, inequality, double standard, hypocrisy, deceit, exclusion, chauvinism, war institution, rent-seeking, extractive state, conservatism, feudalism, Aste fundamentalism (Aste Tewodros, Aste Yohannis, Aste Menelik, Aste Haile Sellasie), etc. The political goal of national self-determination (national self-government) is asserted in the outlook and attitudes of the Oromo political and social organisations. Of course, the Oromo nationalism, which supports the interests and identity of the Oromo people, is a more subtle, complex and widespread phenomenon than common understanding and observation. It is within this context that we are going to discuss the Oromos’ politics of national self-determination and the search for the national homeland, the demand for reinventing a state of their own in the following sections.

Defining Nation, Nationalism and Self- determination

To define nation and nationalism is as Benjamin Akzin (1964, pp. 7-10) discussed five decades ago, to enter into a terminological jungle in which one easily gets lost. Different scholarly disciplines have their own more or less established and more or less peculiar ways of dealing with nation and nationalism. Ideally, our definition of nation and nationalism should be induced of elements of nationalist ideology. Getting at such a definition has confirmed phenomenally strenuous. Hugh Seton-Watson, an authority in this domain, has deduced that ‘no scientific definition’ of a nation can be concocted. All that we can find to say is that a nation exists when significant number of people in a community consider themselves to form a nation, or behave as if they formed one (Seton-Watson, 1982, p.5).Van den Berghe (1981) defines a nation as a politically conscious ethnic group. Several attempts have been made at making a cardinalist definition of the term, pointing out one or more key cultural variables as defining variables. Among those tried are language, religion, common history/descent, ethnicity/race, statehood and common territory (homeland). For a group of people to be termed a nation, its members typically have to share several of these characteristics, although historically, one criterion may have been predominant (for example, language in Germany, or culture and history in France). In the case of Oromo, common language (Afaan Oromo), common territory (Biyya Oromo, dangaa Oromiyaa or Oromia), common historical experiences (victimisation to Ethiopian Empire rules or Abyssinocracy) are particularly very significant. Stalin made his undertaking in 1913. His definition includes four criteria: the members of a nation live under the same economic conditions, on the same territory, speak the same language, and have similar culture and national character (Seton-Watson, 1982, p.14). Neither Ernest Gellner nor Eric Hobsbawn, two influencials, gave definite definitions of the nation in their major achievements. Indeed, they are very hostile towards what they define as nationalism. ‘…For ever single nationalism which has so far raised its ugly head…’ (Gellner, 1983, p.45), this is a Gellner’s conception and sees the world as naturally divided into nations, each with its own individuality. This implies an acceptance of the nationalist self-perception. There are also other conceptualisations. A social anthropologist, Thomas Hylland Eriksen (1992, p. 220) says ‘a nation is an ethnic group whose leaders have either achieved, or aspire to achieve, a state where its cultural group is hegemonic’, Anthony H. Birch (1989, p.6) considers that a nation is best defined as ‘a society which either governs itself today, or has done so in the past, or has a credible claim to do so in the not-too- distant future. Kellas (1998) defines the nation as a group of people who feel themselves to be a community bound together by ties of history, culture and common ancestry. Nations have ‘objective’ characteristics, which may include a territory, a language, a religion, or common descent, and ‘subjective’ characteristics, essentially a people’s awareness of its nationality and affection for it. In the last resort it is ‘the supreme loyalty’ for people who are prepared to die for their nation. The definition of ‘nation’ which we will make use of in the following is one suggested by Anthony D. Smith (1983,pp. 27-109, 1991, p. 14; 1995); a definition mastering well the ‘sounding board’ dimension. Smith here defines a nation as ‘a named human population sharing a historic territory, common myths and historical memories, a mass, public culture, a common economy and common legal rights and duties for all members. A recent definition of Smith holds nationalism, one manifestation of national-self-determination, as ‘an ideological movement for attaining and maintaining autonomy, unity and identity on behalf of a population deemed by some of its members to constitute an actual or potential ‘nation’ (Smith, 1991, p. 73; 1995). For Smith nationalism has a deep ethnic roots and rejuvenates itself in response to global and domestic impulses. While the phenomenon of globalisation and technocratic culture are there, nationalism is an eternal nature and nourishes and propels itself on technocratic innovations. In this context, national self-determination may be defined as many part aspirations of a nation: To be free to freely determine one’s own national identity, culture, including language, education, religion, and form of government, to be free of rule by another ‘nation’, that is to overcome social and political systems of domination and exclusion in which nations other than one’s own wield predominant power. To be free to select its own form of government; and those governed within it have the right of unflagging consent.

Culture and the Politics of Self-determination

Nation, nationalism and national self-determination are commanding attentions. One of the perennial issues within nationalism is whether national self-determination can stand alone, or whether it requires a ‘qualifier’ from within cultural or political ideas or both to clarify its precise cultural and political location. Several scholars have argued that national self-determination is a claim for cultural independence and that nationalism in general is based on the right to cultural independence and that nationalism is based on the right to a culture. Nielson, for example, peers a nation as groups of people whom ‘perceive themselves as having a distinct culture and traditions’, and Tamir presents that a nation is a community in which individuals develop their culture, and they therefore regard their place within a nation as membership in a cultural group. Indeed, she argues that ‘the right to national-self determination stakes a cultural rather than a political claim, namely, it is the right to preserve the existence of a nation as a distinct cultural entity.’ Will the people who demand national self-determination be satisfied with such an arrangement? Tamir gives credence to that the idea of basing the right to self-determination on the right to a culture is the one that has best conformity with a liberal internationalist viewpoint. That is thinkable, but international liberalism is incompetent on this particular matter. A nationalism, which is based on culture and cultural distinctions, was not very long a go. It is a concept that characteristic the thesis of right wing, or romantic theorists such as Herder. Indeed, Herder’s nationalism was not political, and it distrusted a state as something external, mechanical, not emerging spontaneously from the life of the people. Nevertheless, in the Oromo context the claim for national self-determination is a political rather than a cultural one. If we look at the distinction between the two, it would seem that the claim for national self-determination involves more than a demand to be tolerated while the cultural question is. For example, the Catalan’s and Quebecois’ culture and identity have been tolerated and respected to some extent, and yet many of them thought that this did not reflect a situation of self-determination. Indeed, meeting their claim would involve legislation and redefinition of institutions within the state, and perhaps even a new state. In the Oromo case the demand is actually the claim to have control over their lives. This does not mean over every individual’s private life, but over the public aspect of one’s existence, i.e. the system of mutual relationships, which reflect and sustain one’s membership of a certain collective. Here the self is conceptualised within the context of community, but one that has to be real, actual, and functioning and performing. Otherwise these communal ties are too abstract, which makes it impossible for the self to be defined by them. The statement of Cohen has to be recalled: ‘A person does not only need to develop and enjoy his powers. He needs to know who he is, and how his identity connects him with particular others. He must… find something outside himself which he did not create… He must be able to identify himself with some part of objective social reality’ (Cohen, 1988). Moreover, self-realisation, however, cannot be merely a mental situation; thus this community cannot be only cultural. It must be a political situation at least so that, in order for the Oromo people to realise themselves, they must not be dependent on the goodwill of a second party. They then must be certain that their self-realisation in all spheres of life will not be prevented by the Abyssinian government, the TPLF, the Orthodox Church, and so forth. They should therefore be politically active and watch such institutions carefully. In addition, they must participate in politics in order to decide collectively upon public matters, which influence their self-realisation. So the Oromos claim for national-self determination is about the realisation of their potential status, ability and collective character, which may be achieved only through participation in autonomous political institutions. But for more than a century Oromos have been denied access to these institutions, either officially or in practice. In other words, if  Oromos as a nation achieve self-determination they will better able to participate, better represented, better able to deliberate, gain much more control over their life than formerly and more autonomous. The Oromos demand for national self-determination thus, aims at establishing those institutions, which are needed for the realisation of the self-determination. When an Oromo demands national self-determination, he/she is not asserting that he/she would like to control his/her private life, e.g. his/her job, his/her shopping activities, his/her love affairs. Many Oromos do not control these aspects of their lives and yet nevertheless demand national self-determination. But the same principle also applies to cultural life. The Oromos may be allowed more-or-less to use their language, have their own newspapers and theatre, and the freedom of worship, etc. which are making cultural freedom. Actually, these rights are hardly exist at present. But when they claim national self-determination they are not only referring to these aspects of life, as political community: they want to be able to form and choose among and vote for the Oromo political parties, to observe the Oromo constitutional laws, to pay taxes to an Oromo authority, and to have a history (and indeed, myth) of independent Oromo state, from which their identity and self-determination can derive. Thus, the Oromo’s Declaration for Independence will emphasise parliamentary participation and the need to form a constitution, rather than cultural activities. In general the Oromos demand for national self-determination entails that the individuals in this nation should be citizens, engaged in politics as members of a community committed to the realisation of certain (their own) common goods, rather than participating as individuals who seek their self-interests, as it is implied by the right- to- culture school of thought and Liberal Internationalists. Perhaps for this reason Margalit and Halbertal revise the right-to- culture argument, arguing that the right is to a certain culture rather than to culture. A certain culture, then, becomes a common good. And yet, this is not enough, because they still regard the common good in cultural rather than political terms: ‘shared values and symbols… are meant to serve as the focus for citizens’ identification with the state, as well as the sources of their willingness to defend it even at the risk of their lives (Margalit and Halbertal, 1994). Why, then, do theories adhere to the culture discourse? Of course, for most of the Western theorists, the term national self-determination is affiliated to the strive to become part of humanity, to regain the human condition of autonomy; it is adjoined to the struggle to be part of the free world, of the more progressive forces; it is seen as decolonisation, as civilisation, as an attempt made to become part of the world of liberty, rights, and justice. But, it is seen as part of centrifugal forces, from the centre to the global, universalism or what Lane (1974) calls as ‘total situation’ or citizenship based on individual freedom and social justice. These theorists, therefore, universalise the notion of national self-determination: they make it part of liberalism. The liberals’ universal approach tends to be uniformist. This makes a society rootless and a citizen far removed from those who control his/her destiny. On the other hand, the notion as it is put forward and used by the Oromos that the demand for national self-determination is also centripetal, from the global and the greater units to the smaller ones. These groups demand the disengagement from the ‘other’, the global, the colonist, even from other humanity, by asserting that ‘we are not merely the essential equal and part of humanity, but rather we are also different and distinct: we have our own political identity, which we want to preserve, sustain, and establish institutionally, like the Scottish vision in multi-nation state Europe. This is the language of liberation from colonisation. It is also the language of particularisation within the universal or the global, and it seems that the uniformist approach is not sensitive enough to the real Oromos problems. Thus, the Oromos quest for self-determination involves the ultimate goal of particularism (its own unique space), reinventing the Oromia State, owning the national homeland. Of course, in a heterogeneous society of the Ethiopian Empire, though uniformity may simplify system of control, social justice will not be attained in one vast monolithic block of oppressed by colonial legislation, bureaucrats and its armies. An important work of Professor Asafa Jalata, an authority in the study of Oromo nationalism kindly quoted as’ The Oromo question involves both colonialism and ethno nationalism. Ethiopian colonialism has been imposed by global capitalism on the Oromo nation. Ethiopians, both Amharas and Tigrayans, through establishing settler colonialism in Oromia, have systematically killed millions of Oromo and expropriated their lands and other resources from the last decades of the nineteenth century until today. Ethiopian colonialists already destroyed the people called Agaw by taking their lands, systematically killing them, and assimilating the survivors. They attempt to do the same thing to the Oromo by destroying the Oromo national movement, confiscating Oromo lands, and forcing the remaining Oromo into ‘settlement villages’ or (reservations). Many times, some Oromo organisations attempted to democratize Ethiopia so that the Oromo would achieve equal citizenship rights and maintain their ethno cultural identity. Determined to maintain their colonial domination and to destroy the Oromo cultural personality through ethnocide or assimilation, Ethiopian colonialists destroyed or suppressed those Oromo political forces that attempted to transform Ethiopia into a multinational democratic society. Therefore, most Oromos are convinced that their rights and freedom cannot be obtained and respected without creating their own state, or state that they can create as equal partners with other ethno national groups interested in forming a multinational democratic society to promote ethno cultural diversity and human freedom. Hence, Oromo nationalism is an ideology of the subjugated Oromo who seek human rights, freedom, justice, and democracy’ (Jalata, 1997). In fact social justice can be attained when and only when the oppressed majority able to rule its homeland. The Oromos work for national self-determination is the great humanist and historical task in terms of Freire (1993) argument ‘To liberate themselves and their oppressors as well. The oppressors, who oppress, exploit, and rape by virtue of their power, cannot find in this power the strength to liberate either the oppressed or themselves. Only power that springs from the weakness of the oppressed will be sufficiently strong to free both. Any ‘attempt to soften the power of the oppressor in difference to the weakness of the oppressed almost always manifest itself in the form of false generosity; indeed, the attempt never goes beyond this.’ In this context, for Oromos in order to have the continued opportunity to express their ‘generosity,’ the Habasha colonist must perpetuate injustice, too. Tyranny is the permanent fount of this ‘generosity,’ that sustains at the price of death, dehumanisation, despair and poverty. ‘True generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity.’ (Freire, 1993). For further discussions on Oromo nationalism, universalism, globalism, Ethiopianist discourses and Oromo Nationalism, see Sorenson (1998) and Sisai Ibssa (1998).

Concluding Thoughts

Man as a social animal always seeks his own territory and belongings to a social group in which his identity and sense of community is observed and respected. In the defence of the cause for social justice and social ecology, these are basic tenets to backlash against the danger of the rhetoric of universalism, polyarchy and false perspectives of social uniformity, which appear to appreciate the social problems from a single privileged point. Georg Hegel, The Phenomenology of Mind ( New York, 1967 edition), in his famous philosophical discussion of the relationship between ‘lordship and bondage’ maintained that a single consciousness could know itself only through another, even in a condition of totally unequal power relationship. According to this philosophical model, the lord (the oppressor) is lord only through the relationship with a bondservant (the oppressed, the one whose humanity is stolen). In the relationship, however, the other is annulled. The self of the mastery, the lord, derives from the conquest and negation of the servant, the bond. Only recognition of the selfhood of the other permits for its annulations. Thus, lordship covertly recognises the separate identity of the dominated. They are normally equal selves locked into unequal hierarchy. Metaphorically, Hegel’s dialectics of lordship and bondage is very important to understand the Ethiopian domination over Oromia. However, in the Ethiopianist discourse, the essential equality of the selves has been escaped totally. Rather, the persisting hierarchy has taken for granted. According to Sorenson (1998), Ethiopianist scholars like Clapham, Sven Rubenson and Levine because of their attachment to one version of the Ethiopian past and present make them either or unwilling to engage with the full complexity of the problem. From this point of view, to accept the unchanging polarity of Ethiopia and Oromia in the lordship-bondage relationship is to succumb to a structure of Ethiopian aggression and colonialism. The Oromians demand for national self-determination is, however, the civilised step out of the polarity upon which the coercive hierarchy relies, it is the collective political demand, as its main purpose is to achieve the good of the social whole, humanisation, the essential liberation of the Oromo national identity, dignity and the reinvention of Oromia as a sovereign state. The Abyssinian occupation of Oromia, the existence of the Abyssinian Rule, war-lordism and their armies in Oromia and the making of Finfinnee their garrison station, the centre of their crowds is not only an act of conquest, aggression and colonialism but also, from Oromo perspective, such elements are symbols of bondage and slavery that negate the Oromo selfhood as equal essential. For the last over hundred years, the Oromo nation has disowned selfhood, its own state or administration, and lived as a bondage of Abyssinia. The Abyssinian administration which has undermined the Oromo national traditions, exploited it economically, and maintained order through mechanical and repressive means- such a nation actually must seek national self-determination to foster within its politics, to bring dignity, justice, freedom and democracy and to survival as essential equal, as a nation and as part of humanity and its civilisation. It is necessary for Oromians to build the world of their own, a world which make them capable to sustain as a group of human people. They must able to liberate themselves and the violent, the oppressor too. In this context, the Oromo issue is a test case to the deceptive ‘democracy world-wide’ which is being advocated in the USA foreign policy and manipulated by the neo-nafxanyas (see Ibssa, 1998). It is a challenge to contemporary theories of democracy and polyarchy (Robinson, 1997) and actors of post cold war Ethiopian politics who simply take for granted that the boundaries and powers of political community in the ‘Horn’ have already been settled. Thanks to the dedicated works of human rights activists, particularly the OSG (the Oromia Support Group) and its UK based publication, Sagalee Haaraa, we have been well informed on plights of human population and their environment in the entire region. We are interested to recommend this publication to all actors of the region. In this context, we are confident to say that Ethiopian democracy rhetoric or federalism sham politics is nothing more than a fig leaf, covering up the continuation of an extraction of the ‘politics of the belly’, in terms of Bayart (1993) from ‘prudish eye of the West.’ Its democratic rhetoric is a new type of rent seeking (extracting economic rent). By making believe, it enables the collection of international aid that includes diplomatic, military and humanitarian. It enables the seizure of the resources of the modern economy for the benefit of the Tigrayan elites. The situation is not in democracy’s favour, rather it is a situation that the Tyranny is retaining control over the security forces, economic rents and the support of the West. Such manipulation is not new for Africa. Menilik, Haile sellassie, Mengistu, Mobutu, Biya, Senghor and Diouf did the same thing either in Ethiopia or elsewhere in the continent at one time or another. The Quote from Bayart’s (1993) African analyis comes to our mind ‘…The support of western powers and multilateral institutions of Bretton Woods and the Vatcan, who despite having waved the flag of democratic conditionality and respect for human rights, have not dared to pursue such sentiments to their logical conclusion and have continued to think in terms of ‘Mobutu or Chaos’ where Gorbachev given up saying ‘Ceaucescu or chaos’…’. Indeed, very recently, we have read the deceptive descriptions to neo-Mobutu, neo-Mengistu, etc.: democratic, new generation, confident and pragmatic, etc. Sadly, everything changes so that everything stays the same. Nevertheless, the oppressed Oromos are not passive objects, either. They have not allowed themselves to be ‘captured’, as in the past they have demonstrated their historical ability to resist dehumanisation, despair and poverty, and predictably will continue to resist until the justice will come to them. An everyday Oromo coins the following: ‘Victory to the Oromo people! Oromia shall be free!’ We feel moral and social responsibility to support the just cause of fellow humanity.

Listen to Oromo Voice Radio (OVR) Broadcast Afaan Oromo interviews with Dr. Almayayyoo Birru on topic of Self-determination:

http://ayyaantuu.com/horn-of-africa-news/oromia/oromo-freedom-from-what-and-for-what-part-1/

http://gadaa.com/oduu/4613/2010/06/27/on-the-question-of-nationalities-in-ethiopia/

 

‘External self-determination, in particular, seems to carry dual meaning. On the one hand it is taken to mean full independent statehood, while on the other hand it is taken to mean external recognition by other states within the
international community.’

http://bemis.org.uk/docs/redefining-self-determination.pdf

 

‘Every individual/group possesses a moral right to secede. The burden of proof rests with the opponents of secession.’ 

This article is mainly credited to Oromia Quarterly 1997 & 1999.

Copyright © Oromianeconomist 2015 and Oromia Quarterly 1997-2015. All rights reserved. Disclaimer.

Interview With Oromo Youth President, Iftu Kassim, Africa Media Australia September 7, 2013

Posted by OromianEconomist in Development, Gadaa System, Language and Development, Oromia, Oromo, Oromo Identity, Oromo Nation, The Oromo Governance System, Uncategorized.
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Melbourne Youth Oromo Association’s president Iftu Kassim speaks to AMA about her organisation and a recent event organised in Melbourne

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CONTOURS OF THE EMERGENT & ANCIENT OROMO NATION September 25, 2012

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This book is an important contribution to the study of identity politics, a subject hotly contested by many Africanists. Bulcha’s discussion the state-centered bias in the much of academic work on Ethiopia and its denial of the history and pre-colonial autonomy of indigenous non-Abyssinian peoples aught to lead to some serious debate. (Kajsa Ekholm Friedman, Professor Emeritus, Lund University, Sweden).

This work by Mekuria Bulcha is the most comprehensive and innovative work on the Oromo of Ethiopia ever to be written. Identity politics, he argues can be a positive challenge to the development of the state. As it has been the case of Southern Sudan states can also evolve, disappear and change. This work outlines the history, the traditions and politics of the Oromo people summarized and critically assessing all scholarly work done previously. It will remain a seminal work for scholars of Africa and the Oromo for many years to come. It is master peace and sets new challenge for all of us researching on the Oromo nation and people. (Mario I. Aguilar, Professor, Chair of Religion and Politics & Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Politics (CSRP), University of St. Andrew, Scotland, UK).

Based on empirical evidence and relevant theories of nationalism Bulcha convincingly argues that the pre-colonial Oromo were a pre-modern nation. He revisits the representation of the Oromo identity in Ethiopian history and proposes the innovative and stimulating thesis that the 16th century Oromo ‘invasion’ of the Ethiopian highlands was the result of a conscious effort to regain control of a territory that was lost and contended since the 14th century Abyssinian expansion into the region. Mekuria Bulcha’s presentation of new evidence of the Oromo resistance to the 19th century conquest, his description of the international appeals by the Oromo elite in the colonial phase, his analysis of the activities of the Oromo social movements for the cultural and linguistic rights in the 1960s, and his account of the history of rebellion and armed struggle from the 60s, up to the current ethnic federalism are likely to make this book a classic reference for the studies on ethno-nationalism. (Marco Bassi, Ph.D. Research Associate, African Centre, University of Oxford, UK).

In his important and interesting discussions on the Gadaa System Mekurian Bulcha argues that:
The Oromo People created Gadaa, and Gadaa created the Oromo nation (Legesse, 2000 as quoted in Bulcha 2012)

The Gadaa system is the matrix of the Oromo culture and society: in the past it stood for several related ideas and practices encompassing cultural, political, economic and religious elements. Many of the basic elements of traditional Oromo culture that are anchored in the Gadaa system have withstood the exigencies of time and still today influence the values, attitudes, and social practices of Oromo people irrespective of, region, religion and social class. Oromo worldview and way of life was shaped by Gadaa system (Bulcha,, 2012 & Legesse, 2006).

The unity of the Oromos that is crystallized in the Gadaa culture is not a nostalgic memory of a glorious past or illusory of vision of the future paradise. Gadaa is a reality embedded in the Oromo psyche that constitutes what is to be Oromo as an individual and as a nation. Gadaa underpins the cohesive or corporate Oromo history that scholars who have not studied the Oromo fail to recognize (Gebissa, 2008).

The most important organ of the Gadaa system is the federal assembly known as Gumii Gayoo in Borana and Caffee in other places. These assemblies were very large and attended by councillors called hayyuu, drawn from different sections of the society. These assemblies made laws which defined the essence of Oromo democracy. In short, the specificity and similarity of the myriads of norms, rituals and political practices around which it was organized throughout the Oromo country make Gadaa a unique pan- Oromo institution of great historical depth (Bulcha, 2012, Legesse, 2000).

http://www.casas.co.za/Publications.aspx?PID=316

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Freedom is not Negotiable June 11, 2011

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Freedom is not Negotiable.