Oromo Conflict Analysis

This Article is written by Muhammad Ahmed Fareed, a student of International Relations at the National University of Modern Languages, Islamabad. He is interested in Foreign Affairs, global politics, International institutions, International law, and Diplomacy. 

The Oromo: 

The Oromo are an ethnic group that is found in the Oromo region of Ethiopia and Kenya. They speak their native Oromo language. They have a major contribution to the total population of Ethiopia. They are 34.5% of the total population of Ethiopia. They are basically an offshoot of the Afro-Asiatic language family.

Nature of Conflict:

The conflict in the Oromo region of Ethiopia is asymmetric in nature since it is a conflict between the state and a group of people called the Oromo Liberation Front(OLF). Since both the parties do not fall in the same category as defined, the conflict is called an asymmetric conflict. Secondly, the conflict falls under the category of armed conflict. Since the conflict if due to the difference between the ideologies so this is also an ideological conflict.

Historical background: 

The Oromo’s were earlier dominant in their region in Ethiopia. They had their own administration and government. But when Hsieaile Sales came into power he tried to oppress the Oromo people and was very successful in his ambition. Later on, the Derg government also did the same and kept the Oromo people deprived of their rights. The culture that was promoted at that time was the Amhara culture.

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All the government jobs regarding the administration, schools, courts, and churches were given to the Amhara people, and the Oromo were eliminated. All these situations led the Oromo people to form the Oromo Liberation Front(OLF) in 1973, which would fight for the rights of the Oromo people in Ethiopia. The Amhara became dominant in the politics of Ethiopia.

The tensions between the government of Ethiopia and OLF started to increase with time. The parties that were involved in the conflict included the Army of the Ethiopian Empire, Socialist Ethiopian Liberation Army, and Ethiopian National Defense Force on one side and the Oromo Liberation Army(OLA) on the other.

Conflict Timeline: 

The conflict intensified and escalated when the Derg government started to arrest and kill the Oromo leaders. One of the Oromo nationalist General Birru, who was kept in house arrest by the government under the Hsieaile Selas regime, escaped and joined the Oromo rebels led by Regassa (Shewa). In 1974, both of them were executed.

Later in 1976, the Oromo’s formed “total liberation of the Oromo nation from Ethiopian colonialism” after re-organizing in the Chercher mountains. Such kinds of confrontations between both groups took place in the 1970s.

Oromo Conflict

Later, the government started to kill the Oromo people by killing them and by burning complete villages for the purpose of eradicating the Oromo culture. The general secretary of OLF, Galassa Dilbo, was nearly killed in such an ambush in the 1980s. There was chaos in Ethiopia.

To solve the problem, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) was formed in 1990 that was to work with the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO) in a transitional government. But this coalition was not successful for a long period of time because the OPDO withdrew in 1992 from the government because according to them EPRDF was involved in “harassment and assassinations of its members”.

This transitional government could only work for a year. As a result of the breaking of government, the EPRDF and OLA became rivals. The conflict again went towards escalation.

Since both the parties were against each other so it was difficult for OLF to survive. So, it moved its leadership and office to Eritrea. They started to train people there. The government of Eritrea helped both in terms of training and providing military aid.

In 2006, for the purpose of regrouping the OLA retreated in Kenya. In the same year, Brigadier General Kemel Gelchu of the Ethiopian military took 100 of his soldiers and joined the OLF in Eritrea. The purpose was to stop OLF from its purpose of seceding Oromia and lay down its weapon.

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General took the matter into his hands in 2008 and announced that he was successful in his ambition but in fact, it was the wrong perception of General Kemel Gelchu. He also commanded the OLA, present in South Oromia, to lay down their weapons and surrender to the government.

But all the efforts of General went in vain in 2015, when OLF could not restrain itself from spreading violence. They attacked a federal police station on the Ethiopian side of Moyale town which resulted in the killing of 12 Ethiopian soldiers. This attack was the beginning of a new era of violence. Later they attacked the Moyale District hospital and killed the guard of the hospital.

On 2nd October 2016, during the Irreecha cultural thanksgiving festival, around 300 festival-goers were massacred. A layer of anger rose among the Oromo people since these were the darkest days for the Oromo people. The people started to protest against the government and the government responded violently in the form of firing bullets and tear gas on the protestors.

Later, dozens of people were killed from both sides. The protestors attacked the government buildings and private businesses.

Later on, the government imposed a state of emergency and detained nearly 21000 people till the state of emergency was lifted in 2017.

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Peace Agreement: 

In 2018, a peace agreement was signed between the Oromo Liberation Front and the Ethiopian government. According to the agreement, the OLF would disarm its soldiers within 15 days. But when OLF was in the process of disarming, a number of soldiers denied to disarm and another organization was formed by a former OLF leader, Kumsa Diriba, called OLF-Shene.

And the conflict is still unresolved. Around 8900 people have been killed during the Oromo conflict since 1973.

Position, Interest, and Needs: 

This conflict can be resolved on the basis of the Position, Interest, and values model. For the time both the parties stick to their positions, this conflict can never be resolved because it is difficult for parties to compromise on the basis of their positions. But if they try to come at the level of interest then this conflict can be resolved.

Because the interest of OLF is to provide security to the Oromo people. And if the Ethiopian government could provide the basic values and rights to the Oromo people then OLF would never need to choose the option of violence and this matter could be solved peacefully.

Conflict Transformation: 

Another process through which the asymmetric conflict can be resolved is the transformation of conflict. The first step is conscientization or education, which means to educate each other about the problem between them and articulate their grievances. The second step is confrontation, to come to terms in a more equal way, which leads to the third step of negotiation, and finally, that leads to the resolution of conflict.



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