Ethiopia’s Oromo rebel group in surprise drop of secession demand

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Members of the Oromo community living in the UK protest at a past G20 summit in 2009 against the Ethiopian government's perceived persecution of the ethnic group. The Oromo Liberation Front has surprisingly dropped its decades-old secession agenda. PHOTO | BBC |

Ethiopia’s oldest armed rebel group, the Oromo Liberation Front(OLF) has reportedly announced that it is abandoning its long held secession agenda and says it will now fight for unity and freedom.

Political commentators analysing what would be a remarkable and significant move in Ethiopian politics say it could potentially add weight the opposition to Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s government.

The rebel group was established in the late 1960s and was recently together with Al-Shabaab and Al-Qaeda designated as a terrorist organisation by the Ethiopian government.

“The new OLF political programme will accept the new Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia that will work for the betterment (sic) of all of its citizens, neighbouring countries and international communities,” a statement released by the OLF National Council partly read.

“The OLF National Council also focused on the timely demand of working with other democratic forces in forming the new Ethiopia that will guarantee and protect the fundamental rights of all peoples in Ethiopia,” it added.

The former rebel group expressed
its readiness to work closely with other political organisations to topple Mr Meles. It was not immediately clear if the new position enjoys wide endorsement among Oromo factions.

During its extraordinary conference held on Monday in Minnesota in the US, which is the home of thousands of ethnic Oromo, the group launched its revised political position which envisages unity.

Change core ideology

OLF leader General Kemal Gelchu said through an online video message that OLF has decided to change its core ideology and would instead fight for justice and democracy in Ethiopia.

“We [have] decided to fight against the dictators along with other Ethiopians and political groups,” said Gen Gelchu, who is a former Ethiopian army general who defected five years ago and is based in Eritrea together with a small number of defected soldiers.

According to the political commentators, the new OLF position if confirmed to have widespread support boosts the legitimacy of the rebel group among the more than 35 million (40 per cent) Ethiopians who belong to the Oromo ethnic group.

Mr Kassahun Addis, a US-based Ethiopian political commentator, told Africa Review that the new position comes as response to the long simmering ideological and leadership crisis within the OLF.

OLF knows that the secessionist agenda that has for long been the defining mark of OLF has marginalised the majority of non-Oromos and also a significant number of Oromos, he said.

“They have concluded that the Oromo problem cannot
be solved separately from the much bigger question of democracy and freedom in the country,” he added.

Dominated

The Ethiopian government under Mr Meles is dominated by his native Tigray ethnic group which represents only 4 per cent of the 82 million-strong population. It has been criticised for its massive crackdowns and isolation tactics against the Oromo people.

OLF once partnered with the Meles Zenawi-led Ethiopian People Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) party to overthrow the military regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991.

The OLF boycotted the resulting Ethiopian transitional government in 1993 and launched an armed fight against the Meles government after hostility and mistrust erupted between the two groups.

Subsequently, the OLF’s military wing has been defeated on various fronts after the government waged massive military offensives against the rebels.

In 2007 Ethiopia and Kenya signed a cross border security deal which helped the Ethiopian government to crush the OLF rebels’ base in the border area.

Addis Ababa had accused the OLF of bombing and carrying out attacks against civilians in Ethiopia.

According to New York-based Human Rights Watch, more than 300 ethnic Oromo individuals and home-based political party members have bee jailed over alleged terrorist activities.

According to a recent Ethiopian anti-terrorism law, media organisations based in Ethiopia are not allowed to report about the rebel group. (source: Africa Review)

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