Draconian : Marginalization of the Amharic speaking majority in cities across the Oromia region, Ethiopia

by Mikael Arage

Nazreth (Adama )

Alemu’s grandfather was born in Nazreth. Alemu’s close friend—Tenkir—and over 60% of the natives, and current residents of the city of Nazreth aren’t ethnic Oromo, according to Census 2007 by the Central Statistical Agency of Ethiopia (CSA). Ever since the government of the Oromia regional state passed a draconian law in 1991, Oromiffa has been subjected as the only official language of the administration of the city of Nazreth where Amharic is spoken as a first language by 59.25%, 26.25% speak Oromiffa and 6.28% speak Guragiegna; the remaining 8.22% speak all other primary languages reported, according to Census 2007. Furthermore, the majority of the inhabitants said they practiced Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity, with 63.62% of the population reporting they observed this belief, while 24.7% of the population were Muslim, and 10.57% were Protestant , according to Census 2007. Following the introduction of the draconian law in 1991, most public sector workers who demographically co-relataed with the normal population of the city were removed from their job immediately. The entire public services of Nazreth — health, education, judiciary and etc — was enforced to be in Oromiffa while the sweeping majority —over 90% of the population— had Amharic as the most common means of communication.

Figure 1. Languages of Nazreth(Adama), according to census 2007


“It’s very cruel and unfair that Amharic was written off from being an official and working language in Nazreth when it’s reported as the most spoken— and written — language by far at 59.25%, twice more than Oromiffa which is at 26.25%, ” said Ahmed, a Gurage business man in the city of Nazreth.

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“My sons and daughters can’t work in the city administration. Nor can run for the city council. We are considered inexistent. Our basic human rights in the city we built was stripped overnight since 1991. The name of our city —Nazreth—was changed in to Adama without our majority consent,” continued Ahmed.

Kiros, a business owner who was born in the city of Nazreth says: “The rights of the non-Oromo ethnicity is suppressed by the Oromo who constitute only 26.25% of the languages spoken — and who have a statically insignificant language representation as compared to the Amharic speaking, which is 59,25%.

“Having taken the city council draconically, the Oromo regional government has prevented more Churches from being built while a number of Mosques were erected in the last two decades,” continued Kiros

According to subsequent censuses carried out befor 2007, the percentage of residents in Nazareth speaking Amharic as their first language was even more higher. As a result, systematic displacement tactics and autocratic laws implemented by the Oromo regional government (OPDO), is to blame for the slight decrement since 1991.

Kidest , a young engineer who doesn’t know any other world than Nazreth, said : “we are still the majority despite living through a draconian enforcement of laws aimed at chasing us away. And, the Federal government must look in to the case of Nazareth where the majority is suffering from a crazy suppression of linguistic rights”

Amhara and Debub actvists accuse Oromia broadcasting Network(OBN) of being reticent about the demands of protestors— Linguistic rights of the non-Oromo majorities —in the restive cities across the Oromia regional state of Ethiopia.

Ayenachew , a resident in the town of Nazreth, said : “OPDO isn’t counting us at all. It is masking our issues by hyping irrelevant issues that are of a subject of interest and right only to the residents of the chartered city of Addis.”

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According to the constitution of Ethiopia, regional states are only legally administrative frameworks, and that the entire country of Ethiopia belongs to Ethiopians equally regardless of race, religion, language, sex, disability and etc.

One of the reason as to why relentless protests engulfed cities across the Oromia regional states, according to the majority of protestors who are non-oromos as far as demographics is concerend, is : “Severe violation of rights of administering our city ”

The same story of severe human rights violations are pertinent in different cities across the Oromia regional states where the Amharic speaking people and non-Oromos are predominant.


Debreziet ( Bishoftu) Demographics


Amharic is spoken as a first language by 71.95%, and 20.12% spoke Oromiffa; the remaining 7.93% spoke all other primary languages reported. Concerning religious beliefs, 87.87% of the population said they practiced Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity, 6.93% were Protestants, and 4.02% observed Roman Catholicism, according to census 1994. The name of the city — “Debreziet”— was changed to “Bishoftu” without a full consent of the residents of the city.

Figure 2. Languages of Debreziet, according to census 2007


Jimma Demographics


Figure 3. Languages of Jima, according to census 2007


Amharic is spoken as a first language by 41.58% and 39.96% speak Afan Oromo; the remaining 18.46% speak all other primary languages reported. The majority of the inhabitants said they practiced Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity, with 46.84% of the population reporting they observed this belief, while 39.03% of the population were Muslim, and 13.06% were Protestant, according to  Census 2007

Legal synthesis :

Linguistic rights are the human and civil rights concerning the individual and collective right to choose the language or languages for communication in a private or public atmosphere. Other parameters for analyzing linguistic rights include the degree of territoriality, amount of positivity, orientation in terms of assimilation or maintenance, and overtness, according to wikipedia 2017.

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The majority of the residents in cities across the Oromia regional states —who are non- ethnic Oromo and have Amharic as their first , or the most convenient language, are deprived of their linguistic rights which includes, among others, the right to one’s own language in legal, administrative , judicial acts, language education, and media in a language understood and freely chosen by those concerned.

Linguistic rights in international law are usually dealt in the broader framework of cultural and educational rights.

Important documents for linguistic rights include the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights(1996), the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (1992), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) and the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities(1988), as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966).

UN, EU, US and ICC don’t need to send investigators to check if there’s any sever violation of human rights— ‘Linguistic rights’ —in the Oromia regional state of Ethiopia as they have enough data which can serve as an evidence to prosecute or sanction the government.

One thing is clear that the current leadership of the Oromia regional state —OPDO— has failed in its ongoing period of prohibition. Despite branding itself as ‘quite independent and pro-democratic’ , OPDO failed to deliver not only on issues that matter most to the majority of the residents/protestors in Debereziet, Nazreth, Jimma and etc , but also proved that it can systematically suppress , abstract, divert and use the voices of the majority who are relentlessly demonstrating in cities where ‘ reclamation of Linguistic rights’ are being echoed discriminately.


By አዎ ድል አለ በስሜ (Mikael Arage Yimer)

16/02/2018 3:35:09 AM  EET


    • I am sure, “Sema Bellew” services are still available free of charge: it has always been free, thanks to the government.

  1. The answer is simple
    it doesn’t matter if Amhara people leave in Nazareth or other towns the land belongs the Oromos
    for the past 100 years Amhara people invaded all around Ethiopia claimed and argued as theirs

  2. This is the old TPLF propaganda, to saw division between Amhara and Oromo people. Enough, Woyane! Long live Qerroo. By the way, Amharic speaking people in Nazreth and Debrezeit have learned how to speak Oromo language over the past 25 years. So, please stop the nonsense.

  3. This article does not just make sense. One language is as good as another. Anybody can be taught any language. I have talked to Wara Chiros I have known for a while whose ‘mother’ tongue is not Amharic. They were born and raised either along the old railway lines or in the Chercher Mountains. They all responded in almost unanimous fashion exclaiming ‘bring it on’. Oromifaa is as a beautiful language as Amharic, Tigre, Somal, Afar, English, French or any other language. If you don’t speak it already, just like my friends, make an effort to learn it. If you make a mess of it, don’t you worry. It is normal. Just like dancing. It may not be a pretty sight at first but you will get the hang of it soon. I speak Amharic making a mess of it to the agony of my friends but so what. That is not the point. When I can speak the English language from thousands of miles away and make a successful career with it, it would be a low down dirty shame on me for not at least trying to learn speak the language of my neighbors and dear friends. In this case what may find the regional government at fault is if it does not provide support for those Oromifaa challenged citizens and make free language classes available to them. This complaint is something that can be addressed easily and amicably. Those who are parents try to teach them as many languages from the old country as you possibly can. A Language was never at fault but it was those who speak(use) it.

    • I read most of your previous comments and thought you were a reasonable person. As you said, it is OK to learn the Oromo language as long as one is living in that area. However, people also should not be expected to lose their identities. Gurages, Amharas, Tigres etc living there should be allowed to maintain their identity and the local government should facilitate for kids to learn in their mother tongue language at lease during elementary education. Otherwise, it will be a double standard. These-denial of identities- were the complaints of the Oromos for a long time.
      As long as we are living in one country, you cannot say that land belongs to the local people and non-locals MUST speak the local language in order to leave there or leave. Remember that during the Somali invasion of Harrar and Bale, Ethiopians from different ethnic groups died for that land and therefore the land belongs to us all.

      I want to also remind you that currently non-Oromos are not taking part in the political process of the region: they cannot be elected and hold office because they are not Oromos and also do not elect because they may not have parties of their choice. This is not fare and should be rectified if we should move forward.

      I smell some kind of replacing Tigre dominancy by Oromo dominancy. Again, it will not take us anywhere.

  4. I have not read or heard about Amara invasion of Oromo land. In fact, history tells us the oppositie. Since the 16th century to the present, Oromo invasion has not stopped. Compared to early Oromo invasion, what happened in the last twenty five years is worse. Amara were forced to leave their villages on which they had lived for generation and those who stayed were told they are settlers who are not welcome. As guests in Oromia, their children should learn Oromifa and convvert to the new euphoria by supporting OPDO.

    Soon with OPDO at the helm and its Greater Oromia agenda, Oromos will face a nightmare which Amaras and Tigres faced not long ago. It is always the same thing. One ethnic group emerges then it can only perpetuate its rule by empowering what it calls its own and suppressing others. Without such practice, government based on ethnic rule cannot survive. Oromos rulers cannot be different from others. Despite much talk about gada system and all that, time will show that Oromo rule will show that business as usual.

    Here is how the Amara and others will confront Oromo rule. Once in power, OPDO will do everything to incorporate Addis Abeba, Harar, Dire Dawa and Moyale toOromia. It will also agitate Oromifa to be the second working language to fill the bureaucracy with Oromos.

    As Amaras and Tigres did, Oromos will move to the new pasture in mass. Then new conflict begins. Wait and see!

  5. You see , you problem is that you can’t argue with Mikael. He’s too smart for you. SO, the only option for you is to keep on changing the topic. Mikael has raised real issue with facts and figures. I’ve really seen any Ethiopian intellectual producing intelligent political analysis. I’ve read lots of bla v bla blas. Nobody is coming out to challenge him. If you look at this mentality and construction of argument, He is very European.

    Dear Mikael. thanks for what you are doing. I’ve read your articles. I liked them all.

    Even those who say, “I’m Amhara activist “ and “ we are Amhara journalists” haven’t written one of the articles that Mikael wrote


  6. Stone age thinkers always fan the flame of hatred along ethnic, language and religion lines. Being an Oromo or Tigrean or whomever you maybe does not mean a thing without respecting each other as equal. And in reality, you are not what you think you are. Ethiopians are mixed people.
    The marginalization of the Amhara people and the Amharic language started by EPLF and TPLF way before they formed their narrow nationalistic views. They taught their people and fighters one thing: The Amharas are the enemies and their language is the language of the enemy. Never use it where ever you maybe. For that reason, people across the globe will exchange insults instead of greetings when one of them use the Amharic language to say hello to these twisted minded souls.
    Here we are now, EPLF is in Asmara as despotic government and their once comrade in arms the TPLF is killing and fleecing the Ethiopian people unabated. Here is what Getachew Reda said about Amhara and Oromos coming together to fend of TPLF atrocities. “If Amharas and Oromos are united, that means we have not done our homework”. This simply means we (TPLF) have slowed down to stir and sow hate, division and pour fuel on the fire as we continue to kill each other on trivial things TPLF is enjoying life with its cronies. Such is the mind set of the so called Ethiopian government, the TPLF.
    If anyone believes there is no marginalization of the Amhara people and their language the individual must be blind and deaf. How did 2 Million Amharas vanished from the country? Why is it TPLF is expanding its territories and evicting Amharic speaking people form their land? Never in the history of Ethiopia, was a government equaling TPLF’s sadistic practices. The politics of “Kilil” is copied from South African apartheid system. It is meant to serve one purpose. That is division and hatred among the citizens.

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