A Sincere Call for Attention to Serious Issues in Ethiopian | by Lencho Leta

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Dear Ethiopians,

A Sincere Call for Attention to Serious Issues in Ethiopian:

Speech Made at the Ethiopian National Movement (ENM) Meeting held in

Oslo, Norway on June 17, 2017

By Lencho Leta

In the name of the leadership of the Ethiopian National Movement (ENM) and also in my own name I would like to thank you all for accepting the organizers’ call and attending this meeting. Let me begin my speech by asking worrisome questions:- What can possibly happen next in Ethiopia? Does that worry you?

I am very worried about what could happen next in Ethiopia because of one reason: conditions have gone from bad to worse after every regime change in that country.

I started thinking about politics during the era of Emperor Haile Selassie. Many members of my generation hated the Emperor’s regime. We were convinced that a worse regime is inconceivable. But history proved us wrong for the Dergue became more oppressive and murderous.

Then we started thinking that anything would be better than the Dergue. We were proven wrong once again because the TPLF/EPRDF proved more oppressive and murderous. The Dergue committed its crimes openly and righteously. Under the TPLF/EPRDF, however, crimes are committed in secrecy. So figuring out the number of people killed or tortured is impossible. But we can state one fact with confidence. More people have been imprisoned for political reasons under the TPLF/EPRDF than before. Similarly, the number of people summarily executed may also exceed that of the Dergue era.

So once again we are tempted to think that a regime worse than the present one is inconceivable. We should be careful lest we repeat our previous mistakes for there is one condition that would be worse than TPLF/EPRDF dictatorship. And that is the breakdown of order. A breakdown of order could be what would happen next in Ethiopia. And this is what worries me most.

Some of us have witnessed first-hand the descent of countries into disorder in the Horn of Africa one after the other. And we have come to identify one important factor leading to the breakdown of order. When political contestants agree only on opposing the incumbent and nothing else, then a breakdown of order becomes inevitable.

This is what we witnessed in Somali’s descent into the chaos from which they are yet to emerge. Somalia’s very powerful national consensus was based on opposing Ethiopia. They were united in hating and working to defeat Ethiopia.

I walked through the Issa settlement to Djibouti in 1978 right after the end of the Ethio- Somali war. And all the Issa Somalis we met expressed deep-seated hatred of what they called the “Habash.” Even illiterate nomadic old women raved and ranted against the “Habash”.

This outward directed hatred of the “other” started turning inward after the coup attempt of 1978. Thereafter, Somali national consensus started unravelling at fast rate. Ultimately, numerous clan-based opposition forces started working to defeat the Siad Bare dictatorship. Once again they all agreed on unseating Siad Bare and nothing else. When Siad was driven out of power in 1991, these

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groups turned on each other for they had nothing in common other than hating and desiring the unseat the Siad dictatorship.

South Sudan became the second country to descend into chaos in the Horn of Africa. Here again agreeing on whom to hate and oppose was the only factor uniting South Sudanese during their struggle against Northern domination. South Sudanese communities were always severely divided but were united in hating Northern domination. Once that common sentiment disappeared after independence nothing remained to hold them together.

There are certain things that we have learned from the cases of state collapse in our immediate neighbourhood. First, there is an intimate relationship between dictatorship and state collapse. One is the precondition of the other. Second, it is hard to identify the point of no return in the progression to state collapse. Third, it is easy to find oneself in the situation of state collapse and monumentally difficult to emerge from it.

Hence, there is no point in wailing and complaining after experiencing state collapse. Instead all stakeholders should pool their energies, voices and influences in order to avoid it. One way to do so is to agree on the political values that bind together all stakeholders. The birth of ENM is a good starting point for such a project but much more needs to be done.

As all are aware the issues of consensus underpinning the ENM are quite limited. In fact, member organisation disagree on more issues than they hold in common. We have to accept this fact and jointly work to build ever increasing areas of consensus. And in order to do this we have to conduct open, civil and responsible debate.

One obvious area of difference concerns the so-called “ethnic politics”. Positions for or against this issue are rock solid. Defenders of “Ethiopian unity” identify “ethnic politics” as the greatest danger to the country. And we nationalists fear the rhetoric of “Ethiopian unity” as a pretext to revive the kind of political order that we spent the best part of our life fighting against. And neither side bothers to define what it means by “Ethiopian unity”.

The same thing applies to Ethiopian national identity or Ethiopiawinnet. We can only get out of this apparent impasse by agreeing on a couple of premises. First, there should be nothing unconditional in our political discourse. For me, I am not unconditionally opposed to Ethiopia remaining a united country and I do not accept unconditional unity.

I take this stand because Ethiopian unity to date is based only on force, on coercion. I will resist unity based on coercion to the end of my life. Instead I welcome unity drawing on solidarity. And this trend has encouragingly started to emerge back home. This is exemplified by the solidarity between Oromos and the Amharas of the north during the last popular uprising in the homelands of both communities. We need to recognize and build on and deepen this promising trend.

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I have clear reasons why I oppose the revival of Ethiopian unity as promoted by previous regimes. It was premised on fanning the disunity of some communities and not others. Unity demanding the disunity of some and not others is not only unfair but also futile. For example, this type of Ethiopian unity was predicated on the disunity of Oromos, Afars, Sidamas and many others. Unity drawing on the disunity of some hinders the expression of solidarity among those experiencing disunity while encouraging and celebrating the solidarity of those whose unity is unaffected. And this is clearly unfair.

A more fair and robust Ethiopian unity is one based on solidarity within and among Ethiopia’s diverse communities. The building blocks of this type of Ethiopian unity are communities united in the shared opposition to domination of any kind.

There is a version of Ethiopian identity (Ethiopiawinnet) that goes along with this type of Ethiopian unity. The Ethiopiawinnet of the past was envisaged to be founded and blossom on the graves of Oromonnet, Sidamannet, Afarinnet, and the identities of other communities. I totally reject this type of Ethiopiawinnet. On the other hand, I work for a kind of Ethiopiawinnet that embraces and reflects Oromonnet, Afarinnet, Sidamannet and the identities of all communities. This is a more colourful Ethiopiawinnet that does not negatively impact the self-respect and dignity of anyone.

There are, of course, those who are not in the position to identify themselves as Oromos, Amharas, Gurages, etc. We should not impose on these types of individuals some other identity than calling themselves Ethiopian. They should not also demand those of us who prefer to identify ourselves as Oromos and Ethiopians to drop our Oromonness.

The version of Ethiopiawinnet that I am talking about is different from the one promoted by previous regimes. The previous version of Ethiopiawinnet did not include all sectors of the population. So some could recognize themselves in it while others could not. The excluded ones ultimately tabled demands for self-determination. The only way to reconcile this demand with the continuation of Ethiopia as a united country would be by rearticulating Ethiopiawinnet as a composite of the identities of all its communities.

I believe simultaneously being an Oromo and an Ethiopian is possible and does not hurt anybody. Making this simultaneous invocation of both identities impossible would force some of us to make a choice between the two. Many nationalist would very likely drop the Ethiopian identity and stick to their national identity. And this does not augur well for Ethiopia remaining a united country.

The other controversial issue concerns the use of languages in administration, justice and primary education. And this is a fundamental question of democracy. One prominent feature of a democratic order is the accessibility of institutions and administrators to all citizens. Which means communication between state officials and service seekers should be direct and unhindered. Introducing a translator between them would undermine this direct communication.

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There was a time in Ethiopia when communication between state officials and service seekers had to be through a translator. It is called “simaa balaw”. In my childhood I attended a court case being translated into Amharic by somebody whose command of afaan Oromo was either limited or he was deliberately distorting what he was supposed to translate. It was a travesty that I could not forget to this day.

Who gets hurt if Oromos get administrative, judicial and educational service in their mother tongue? Did anybody benefit from Oromos going through the “simaa balaw” process in the past? The only limiting factor in exercising any right should be whether it negatively affects the rights of others or not.

There are many problems that the present rulers of Ethiopia inherited and exacerbated instead of resolving. There are others that they deliberately introduced in order to stay in power. But there is one over which they have very limited influence. And that is the galloping population growth rate.

When the present rulers came to power over a quarter of a century ago, Ethiopia’s population was a little over 50 million. Today it is close to a hundred million. This poses a tremendous burden on the country’s carrying capacity. And it is a problem that whoever comes to power next would inevitably inherit.

What is surprising is the fact that this matter hardly figures in the discourse of opposition groups. It is this silence on a very critical matter that worries me most as an indicator that Ethiopia is on the verge of state collapse. How can we be silent about a matter that is so glaringly threatening?

People who have been in the Ethiopian capital would tell you how noticeable population density has become. Just the street scenes testify to a fast rising congestion. But there is one factor that does not go with this image. Crime is very limited. Gangs do not exist to a noticeable extent.

How can abject poverty and congestion not lead to armed robbery and other sorts of violent crimes? The answer lies in the behaviour of the peoples. Ethiopian peoples are truly noble. They uphold the law by their very nature. They are also God-fearing. These are the factors that holding Ethiopia together much more than coercion by the state authorities.

But these noble values can be lost. And they are not likely to be retrieved once lost. Hence, it is incumbent on political leaders to do everything possible to avert such a scenario. We have much work to do. And let us get down to it under the directions laid down by the Ethiopian National Movement (ENM).

Last but not least, I would like to take this historical forum to request all Ethiopian organizations, groups and individuals to put aside their minor differences and join ENM in order to practically support the all-round efforts of the Movement through all possible ways.

Thank you.


  1. Excellent article by this elderly man! Unity nurtured by and built/sustained on equality would by the formula wherein every one is a winner. But for every one of us who is concerned about the future and well-being of the people who produced us all, there is a huge task cut out for all of us. First, hostility and rampant suspicion toward one another should be thrown out of our way. I am going to liberate this or I am going to defend that would not further the accord but it will rather work in the hands of those hell bent for the status quo and those who have been salivating for a situation where they can go in and carve out a territory to call it their own fiefdom. The first one has already in place but the 2nd wish has always been just as such, just a wish, a fantasy being day dreamed by those who have been lost wandering in circles in the forsaken deserts of Al-Toweel Isaias fiefdom.

    By the way, the author has inserted a phrase in his article. I wished he had translated that into English. What does he mean by ‘the “simaa balaw”? That would be greatly appreciated.

  2. “simaa balaw” simaa = listen, balaw or belew = tell him/her, basically (tell him to listen) or (tell him to pay attention), it could be the judge or someone on the other side telling the middle man or the interpreter simaa belew to the other language speaker, it is just nick name given to the process of interpreting from/to Amharic. I am not sure if I got it right, I hope it helps.

    • Obbo Ejigu:

      I thank you from the bottom of my heart for shedding a teaching light on the phrase Obbo Lencho used in his article. You got me working immediately after reading your kind explanation. I started doing my research to find out if there are other similar calls to the public used in other systems. There are similar call outs in the Middle East and there is also another one striking similar phrase used in addressing the public/crowd in Europe during the middle ages and renaissance. I hope I am not wrong but I found the phrase ‘hear ye, hear ye’ very much similar. It shows that there had been cultural exchanges between our society and what was in Europe. It was later used frequently by party propagandists at The Speaker Corner in London and trade union organizers here in the USA during the 1920’s and 30’s using soap boxes as podiums. You know what? As a staunch Afro/Ethio-centric I want to strongly believe they borrowed that from us. And there is nothing that can be done about my conviction. Case closed!!!

      Thank you again for breaking it down for me so kindly. It shows the usually cultured value of ours you were raised with. But many times I get abused and utterly insulted by other eyal-al-souqs {miscreants/truants) among us whenever I asked for simple explanation of phrases I am not sure about. May The Almighty Our Creator Bless You and Your Family!!!

  3. Who said Amhara is low IQ ?
    Lencho the Slaughter you are a criminal
    you have to be held account for the mascaraed
    Amaras in Bedeno , Arbagugu etc.
    Fool me once shame on you
    Fool me twice shame on me.
    Now Berhanu is following your footstep
    and he is trying his best the Amharas to
    to be targeted already so many young Amharas
    are being killed on his watch in the name of
    We know you guys are making money at the expense
    of the poor Amharas youth.

  4. Mr Lencho Leta, you with your organization drafted and implemented this ethnic federalism for your greedy political power ambitions. It is very funny, indeed, when you say “A Sincere Call for Attention to Serious Issues in Ethiopian”.

    If you were really concerned about Ethiopian, you could abandon your ethnic ideology and come clean as an Ethiopia instead of coating and bringing your old OLF with new ODF.

    Mr Lencho Leta, you have zero credibility in the hearts of most Ethiopians.

  5. I think Lencho Yohannes Leta is under pressure from Oromo nationalist groups to clarify his position on recent popularity of Lencho Bati speech at the meeting in Seattle. There is a big suspicion and distrustful among opposition groups. The biggest problem is the FEAR of the future some of which based on the reality on the ground and the fear deliberately spread by the regime in power, the other fear is within individuals or organizations such as ODF. Let me say this, ODF led by Lencho Leta has made tremendous progress toward consensus upgraded itself reflecting the new reality on the ground and reflecting the new generations in a advanced era of information whereby we can not hide the truth anymore information circulate within minutes, in other words – the people of Ethiopia/Oromos are more informed.

    On the other hand, the fear is baseless propaganda spread by woyane to extend their life in power telling Amharas that Oromos are “Tebaboch” seeking secession will deport you, etc. telling Oromos that Amharas will take you back to feudalism one language domination, etc. I can assure you none of the above will happen, even Amhara people have moved on. There are minority hardliners most of whom from big empire cities like Addis, beneficiaries of the past regimes(not necessarily all of them are Amharas) still can not get their heads around Amharannet, Oromonnet, Kambatannet, etc equal to Ethiopiawinet!!.
    The other fear is created by Shabia, recently its agent Tesfaye Gebre’ab has visited Oromo opposition groups perhaps promising financial support because in the interest of Eritrea to keep Ethiopia divided and the Oromos are strategically too important for Eritrea and Egypt, Shabia does not want the independent of Oromia nor strong Ethiopia, Shabia wants uncertainty weak Ethiopia.

    Lencho Leta has made comparison Ethiopians with Somalia and South Sudan situation, we are totally different people from Somalians and south Sudanese, when the Derg regime collapsed there was vacuum, it took woyane two good years to control the entire country, as Lecho said we are God fearing people, with all our poverty and failure but we have some conscience which I am proud of. I mean, when Derg collapsed Derg army scattered, the former soldiers with guns could had been gangs or criminals, but instead they were begging for food to eat holding their guns, tell me which country does that? Somalis??.
    During Ethio/Somalia war in the Awraja I was born the Somali militias targeted christians specially priests and Amarka(Amharas), in those days all Christians were considered as Amharas in that region, even the local muslim Oromos who used to wrap Jalaba Shirrit thought that some of those government employees such as teachers who came from middle Ethiopia wearing bantolola trousers with mix names like Abebe Dechasa etc were considered as Amharas. Although everybody spoke afan Oromo in the markets everywhere except Amharic was school language and in high government offices. Somali militias forced christains either to convert to Islam or executed, some Muslim Oromos hid the christains in their houses, the point is we are different from south Sudan or Somalia.

    There are things I agree with Lencho Leta, as a young child during Ethio/Somalia war I recognized that I am Amhara ever since, although my grand parents were also born in different Awrajas within the region, some have Shewa ancestral background, we were as poor as local people, the rich were shop owners business people or few large land owners some of whom were well known Haji sheiks with dozens of wives everywhere. My point is, I didn’t understand what Ethiopiawinet meant until I moved to big city in middle Ethiopia, I found it hard to understand those extreme hardliners of Ethiopiawinet, they don’t seem to understand that there are people in other part of the country who grew up without hearing the word Ethiopiawinet, what does Ethiopiawinet means for Mursi nomads? we all need Ethiopiawinet but let it flourish from bottom up, I accepted my Amharannet since Ethio-Somalia war, Amharannet is not recent phenomenon as prof Mesfin and the likes are telling us, in fact existed during Italian invasion, these Akrariwoch sit in the empire capital in Addis preach to other people about Ethiopiawinet, we all have mix heritage background one way or the other, the queen of England has black blood in her somewhere down the line according to DNA test, but she is white aristocrat, we all have layers of identities, even within Addis people say ye-Arada Lidjoch, ye-cherkos, etc. they are happy to call themselves ethio-Americans but they deny the existence of Amharannet.

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