Oromia Global Forum’s Response to Barnabas Fund’s Article

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Dear Sir/Madam,

We would like to begin by expressing our appreciation and support for the ideals you stand for as indicated in the following statement “Barnabas stands alongside our Christian brothers and sisters where they suffer discrimination and persecution by providing aid through our partners on the ground encouraging prayer, telling their untold story and speaking out on their behalf.”

We, members of Oromia Global Forum – a global alliance of Oromo Civic, Professional, and Faith-Based Organizations and individual proponents of Human Rights, residing in North America, Europe, Australia, Asia and Africa – are writing you this letter to express our sadness and disappointment at seeing an article that is contrary to the teachings of Christianity and also your stated principles. Among the core principles of Christianity and all major religions are, honesty, integrity and the defence of truth.

The initial article dated August 28, 2020 was titled, “HUNDREDS KILLED IN ANTI-CHRISTIAN ATROCITIES IN ETHIOPIA – PLEASE HELP THE VICTIMSwas later updated to, “At least 500 Ethiopian Christians reported slaughtered in relentless door-to-door attacks since June” dated September 1, 2020. Though some of the contents have been updated, the message remains the same: ‘Oromo Qeerroos (Oromo youth) who are Muslims went door to door massacring hundreds of Christians.’ Before going into a few of the details, it suffices to say that some local contact is conning Barnabas Fund probably just for the sake of getting financial aid. We believe that it is important for Barnabas Fund to protect its credibility to keep doing what it is doing. Getting financial aid based on lies and deception is against the teachings of Christianity. This even gets worse when religion is politicized and people are trading with human lives. We believe that it is important to give you a brief background information about Ethiopian politics as it relates to the Oromo people. This will also help save Barnabas from being used as a political tool for injustice by con artists like those who wrote these articles. 

We believe that this article is politically motivated and not a call to help victims of religious persecutions. Its objective is to blackmail Qeerroo (Oromo youth) and the Oromo people, the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia with a population of about 50 million consisting of more than 40% of the country’s population.

First of all, Oromos are Christians, Muslims and Waqefataas (Waqefannaa, an Oromo traditional and ancient religion believing in the supreme, omnipotent and the creator of all beings). Oromo Christians follow multi denominations including the Orthodox, Catholic, Pentecostal, Lutheran, Methodist, Anglican and others. By the nature of their Gada (ancient democratic system), egalitarianism, tolerance and respect for diversity is ingrained in their culture. Oromos have deep respect let alone for humanity but for all nature as the creation of God. You can usually find in one family, members from all these different religions; Christianity, Islam and Waqefannaa. People from various ethnic groups and religions have lived together peacefully in Oromia. No one in Ethiopia can teach the Oromos about tolerance for diversity. 

The Oromos were free people until their conquest by Emperor Menelik 2nd in the 1880s. As a free nation, they practiced an indigenous ancient democratic system of governance called Gada, a socio-political and cultural system that is recognized and has been registered as an intangible human heritage by UNESCO. The imposition of imperial Abyssinia on the Oromo people meant suppression of the Oromo language, culture and identity with the objective of forming a unitary and assimilative system where Amharic language, culture and identity dominated. A system of monarchy that kept serfdom and treated Oromos as second class citizens ended in 1974 when the last emperor, Haile Selassie, was deposed and was replaced by a military junta. 

The military junta was deposed in 1991 and was replaced by Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) dominated Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) – a coalition of four different fronts – that committed atrocities against the Oromo people for 27 years until 2018. This was the time when the Oromo Qeerroo (youth) movement began. During the four years of intensive struggle, 2014 to 2018, Qeerroo showed the world that it pursued the most peaceful and nonviolent struggle for justice, equality and human rights, while at the same time ensuring that the safety and security of all people of different ethnic origins, churches and mosques were protected. Qeerroo did this despite being mauled by the regime in thousands. In fact, over 5000 Qeerroos were killed and tens of thousands were injured by the regime in this struggle.  Muslims stood on guard to protect churches and Christians stood on guard to protect mosques and prevented religious conflicts. The struggle of the Oromo people led by the Qeerroos resulted in the defeat of TPLF. 

The current PM, Abiy Ahmed, and his team who promised to be reformists were part of the same EPRDF government that committed atrocities for the previous 27 years. PM Abiy apologized for the injustices committed by his previous government at the beginning and promised transition towards a functional democracy, free and fair elections. However, this euphoria did not last long and Abiy began to implement his intention to resuscitate the past imperial rule that ended in 1974. In fact, he told the story about his mom’s dream of him being the 7th king of Ethiopia. He began with praising all the past emperors and despots and installed statues after statues of these despised emperors known for the genocide they committed and for their brutality. Abiy preached the establishment of unitary and assimilative Ethiopia where Amharic language, culture and identity dominate. This position is against what the Oromos and over 80 nations and nationalities of the country stand for. It is also against the current constitution of the country that at least, on paper, recognizes the right of self-determination of nations and nationalities. 

PM Abiy canceled the May 2020 national election using Covid-19 pandemic as a cover up and sought to create other crises in the country. It is in this context that a renowned singer, song writer, a musical genius and a revolutionary Oromo artist Hacaalu Hundessa was assassinated on June 29, 2020. All circumstances indicate that the singer was assassinated by the government and its allies. He was assassinated after he condemned the atrocities committed by Emperor Menelik 2nd, the naftanyas (colonial settlers) and criticized PM Abiy in an interview he gave 6 days earlier on an Oromo national TV station, OMN.

Hacaalu’s assassination was part of PM Abiy’s grand scheme to use it as a prelude to imprison prominent opposition figures and other Oromo nationalists ensuring only his team and his party members will be available candidates for election whenever he chooses to allow that. As a result, thousands have been imprisoned, independent Oromo media, OMN and ONN were closed, their journalists imprisoned and OMN’s office ransacked. Premeditated attacks were conducted by government operatives to incite religious and ethnic conflicts in some of the cities. So far, close to 1000 Oromos have been killed and thousands injured. The total number of Oromo political prisoners currently languishing in jails exceeds 100,000. Since all prisons have been filled by Oromo prisoners of conscience, schools and community halls have been converted to makeshift detention centers.

PM Abiy is determined to keep his power reneging on his transitional duty that the Oromo people and other peoples of the country entrusted him with. He has instructed his operatives and supporters at home and abroad to go after the Qeerroo movement, Oromo intellectuals, and Oromo business people and anything Oromo. It is in this context that the article posted on your web site should be seen.

Conflicting and contradictory pointers that indicate that these articles are malicious and deceptive

The topic was updated to “At least 500 Ethiopian Christians reported slaughtered in relentless door-to-door attacks since June” from “HUNDREDS KILLED IN ANTI-CHRISTIAN ATROCITIES IN ETHIOPIA – PLEASE HELP THE VICTIMS” in just 3 days. This change indicates that the number 500 was thrown out to bolster the lie. The ‘door-to door’ exaggeration was added to spice up the deception and lies.

It states, “Police stood by and watched as Christians were carefully selected and murdered, Christian homes and Christian businesses destroyed.” The above statement in the article in part attests to the fact that the attacks are premeditated and executed by government operatives. It must be known that let alone watching Qeerroo committing attacks and destroying properties, the security forces are instructed to follow government directives of shoot-to-kill Qeerroos even during peaceful non-violent protests concerning which the United Nations Human Rights office is on record urging the government to “refrain from using unnecessary or disproportionate force.”[1].

The article mentions that Hacaallu was assassinated at 9pm and the attacks began at midnight. This was a time of shock and disbelief to the Oromo people and to those who adored the singer. The news took time to sink in for the Oromo people let alone organize such premeditated attacks against fellow citizens in these few hours.

The statement that states “The Oromo are an ethnic group who have traditionally been Muslim.” cannot be any further from the truth. As mentioned earlier, Oromos are followers of Christianity, Islam and Waqefannaa. In fact, it is Oromo Christians who have been persecuted by the Amhara neo-naftanyas to which perhaps the author of this article might belong. To justify this, we will cite few examples;

Onesimos Nesib (1885 to 1931) was an Oromo theological scholar who was initially sold as a slave and was later freed, getting a chance to go to Sweden and get theological education. In 1882, he attempted to return to his birthplace in Western Oromia to spread the teachings of Christianity. But he was not successful because of the travel restrictions that emperor Menelik imposed on foreigners at the time.  He completed the translation of the Holy Bible to the Oromo language for the first time. He went back home in 1904 but faced resistance from the Ethiopian Orthodox church priests who were basically Amharas. Onesimos later succeeded to live among his people preaching the Bible to his fellow Oromos until he died in 1931.

It was a modus operandi of the imperial system to prohibit the use of the Oromo language in public places including churches. Even after the last monarchy was deposed in 1974, subsequent governments gave lip service and discouraged the use of the Oromo language in churches. Recently, the few Oromo clergy men that worked for the Ethiopian Orthodox, wanted to establish Oromia Orthodox Church in order to be able to preach the Bible and give services in Oromo language. It was as if hell broke out, and the Amharas elites and neo-naftanyas all were up in arms to stop this process. They claimed that preaching and teaching the bible should only be conducted in Amharic as if God does not listen to prayers in other languages. This was contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ. The Amharas elites in the Amhara region had the audacity to demonstrate against the move to establish Oromia’s Orthodox Church. This religious persecution still continues unabated.

As mentioned previously, Oromos are followers of the two world major religions, Christianity and Islam as well as indigenous religion called Waqeffannaa. The list of member organizations as given at the end of this letter attests to this fact. Oromia Global Forum is the best example of Oromo’s unity in religious diversity.

A blunt political aspect is shown in the latest updated article. It said, “High-profile Oromo media mogul, Jawar Mohammed, provoked unrest in Ethiopia in October 2019 when he criticised the government in tweets to his supporters. Violent protests ensued leading to 67 deaths.” Jawar Mohammad, for one, is a prominent peaceful human rights activist, a brilliant political analyst and an Ivy League graduate that left the comfort of his life in the USA to help his people in Oromia. It has been the tradition of Imperial Ethiopian unitarists to blackmail and eliminate Oromo political figures and change makers. Accusation of Jawar is unfounded, bogus and an execution of Abiy’s plan to eliminate competitors in the upcoming election. Currently, Jawar is languishing in prison for more than 2 months without any due process because he is an Oromo and spoke against injustice. The author of this article is one of those people who do not want to see Jawar freed to change the country for the better. 

Human rights abuse and atrocities against the Oromo people continue unabated 

The response to the peaceful demands of the Oromo people from PM Abiy and his regime has been ‘shoot to kill’. Oromo mothers, girls, young boys and men are extrajudicially killed every day and thrown to fields to be devoured by wild carnivores. Many news outlets have reported this.

Ribka Ayana published an article in TIME on July 24, 2020 titled How the Murder of an Ethiopian Singer Triggered an Uprising Against a Disintegrating Democracy mentioning, “The June 29 murder of Haacaaluu Hundeessaa, singer and activist, has triggered a popular uprising in Ethiopia.” TIME columnist Ian Bremmer described the protests in a recent piece. Since he wrote it, the death toll has risen to at least 289, with over 7,000 detained. Internet services were shut down within hours of the assassination, and were only restored after four weeks.” So far more than 600 Oromos have been brutally murdered by the security forces, thousands injured and maimed, over 20,000 have been imprisoned.

On May 19, 2020, in an article titled, A hidden war threatens Ethiopia’s transition to democracy Abiy Ahmed’s crackdown in Oromia is bloody and lawless, The Economist writes, “In the corner of a restaurant in Nekemte, a town in western Ethiopia, Fisaha Aberra unfolds a piece of paper on which he has scrawled the names of 11 men he says were shot by soldiers last year. After this came mass arrests. Fisaha and two siblings fled their home in Guliso to Nekemte, leaving one brother behind who was arrested last month, for the second time in a year, and beaten so hard he cannot walk. Arrests and summary executions have become commonplace in the far-flung reaches of Oromia, Ethiopia’s largest region.”

Further accounts of atrocities and details on what is going on in Oromia, Ethiopia is also given in the following links for your reference:

Amnesty International Report on Human Rights violations in Ethiopia 

News from Amnesty International

Singer Hacaallu’s assassination and what ensued by Aljazeera        

Police shooting and killing at the mourning for the assassinated singer in his hometown of Ambo

The above details are given as evidence to prove to you that it is the Oromos irrespective of their religion that are victims of PM Abiy’s regime and his supporters and not the other way around as the writer of the article would like you to believe. Since PM Abiy and his government declared an all-out attack on anything Oromo including at home and in the diaspora, we have been seeing articles and messages such as these ones that defame and blackmail the Oromo Qeerroo and people. In some cases, people like the author of this article have the audacity to use the picture of Oromo victims to collect money on GoFundMe. 

Lies and deception do not lead to justice but confusion and conflict and are against the teachings of Christ. 

We would like to again reiterate that this article is not based on facts and is politically motivated and is a bogus and malicious attack against the peace loving Oromo people. We therefore, politely request that you rescind this article from your website. We look forward to your positive response to our request.  

“You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” John 8.32.

Thank you for your cooperation

OGF Signatories:

  1.     Advocacy4Oromia
  2.     Bilal Oromo Dawa Center
  3.     Canaan Oromo Evangelical Church
  4.     Charismatic International Fellowship Church
  5.     DMV Oromo Islamic Center
  6.     FOCAS
  7.     Gaadisa Sabboontottaa KP
  8.     Global Gumii Oromia
  9.     Global Oromo Advocacy Group
  10. Global Waaqeffannaa Council
  11. Horn of Africa Genocide Watch
  12. Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa
  13. International Oromo Lawyers Association
  14. International Oromo Women’s Organization
  15. International Qeerroo Support Group
  16. Network of Oromo Studies
  17. Mana Kiristaanaa Fayyisaa Addunyaa
  18. Oromo Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church
  19. Oromo Communities’ Association of North America
  20. Oromo Community of Bergen
  21. Oromo Community of Oslo
  22. Oromo Evangelical Lutheran Church of Los Angeles
  23. Oromo Evangelical Lutheran Church of Washington DC Metropolitan Area
  24. Oromo Evangelical Lutheran Mission Society
  25. Oromo Human Rights and Relief Organization
  26. Oromo Legacy, Leadership and Advocacy Association
  27. Oromo Lutheran Church of Baltimore
  28. Oromo Parliamentarians Council
  29. Oromo Political Prisoners Association
  30. Oromo Relief Organization, ORA in USA
  31. Oromo Resurrection Evangelical Church
  32. Oromo Scholars and Professionals
  33. Oromo Seniors Welfare & Benevolent Association In Victoria (OSWBAV) Inc
  34. Oromo Studies Association
  35. Oromia Support Group
  36. Our Redeemer Oromo Evangelical Church
  37. Tawfiq Islamic Center
  38. Tawhid Oromo Islamic Center in Minnesota
  39. Tumsa Sochii Haqa Oromoo
  40. Union of Oromo Communities in Canada
  41. United Oromo Chirstian Church in Australia
  42. United Oromo Evangelical Church
  43. Wabii Maccaa Association
  44. Washington DC Metropolitan Oromo SDA Church

[1] https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=26034&LangID=E


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