The Rev. Martin Luther king once said “The arc of moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”. This quote that keep reinventing itself from an abolitionist Theodore Parker to MLK and then to Barack Obama, reassures with constant push, inevitable sacrifices and long bitter struggle, once stand for moral and righteous struggle will bring justice no matter how long the struggle takes. As wishful as it sounds, the quote always prevails whether it was an abolitionist movement, the struggle for civil rights or to overthrow apartheid.
I am also reminded of the quote this week reading and watching news coverage about #oromoprotest in Ethiopia. The Oromo student protest which is now spreading to civil employees in some areas started to stop the Illegal Addis Ababa Master plan that was planned to illegally take Oromo farmers land and reward it to investors and government cronies by annexing the neighboring Oromiyya cities without the vote or the consent of the locals. The action of the government was met with a huge resistance by the people of Oromiyaa especially by the college and University students. In May 2014, the same day they hosted the Secretary of State John Kerry in the capitol Addis Ababa 100 KM away, the government Agazi brigade, opened fire on a peaceful protest of students of Ambo University and killed more that 47 students. The world watch in horror and some of us thought and wished the US government will oppose the Ethiopian governments action, only to be shocked when President Obama praised them by and calling them “democratic”. The Ethiopian government put aside the Master plan for a while and went back to implement it again after a year. But this time, the protest spread throughout oromiyaa so too the crackdown by government forces. The social media of oromo opposition leaders is filled with gruesome images of killed and injured students, riot gear wearing federal polices terrorizing students in campus grounds and Ethiopian government officials justifying their cruel and illegal action on open social media accounts like Facebook and Twitter.
According to USAID, “Over the last decade, Ethiopia has made tremendous development gains in education, health and food security. In 2014, GDP growth was 10.3 percent (IMF). The addition of 38,000 health extension workers has helped reduce the under five child mortality rate by more than six percent a year since 2000.
Ethiopia still remains one of the ten poorest countries in the world, with an estimated annual per capita income of $470 in 2013 (World Bank). Roughly 30 percent of Ethiopians live below the poverty line of $1.25 a day and are vulnerable to food insecurity, and about 75 percent depend on subsistence agriculture (IFPRI). From a humanitarian perspective, approximately 2.9 million people are in need of emergency food assistance in 2015, in addition to 7.9 million chronically food insecure beneficiaries who are supported through the Productive Safety Net Program. Its fast-growing population, now estimated at more than 94 million, puts tremendous pressure on the land and natural resources that are the cornerstones for the country’s growth.” The above estimate of 2.9 million people tripled to be 10 million plus people that need food help due to el Nino related drought. At the beginning, Ethiopian government denied the numbers and bragged about the agricultural production the country successfully produced. Little that the world know, the large scale producers like Saudi Star, produced grain in Ethiopian for foreign markets while Ethiopians starve. Today, after wasting ample time to help its people by denying the drought, the government agrees there are millions that need food help as soon as possible.
Some of us do not trust the government to solve the drought problem because we believe the government do not put the drought on the front burner and change the way it conducts itself. For example, the same week the government accepted the situation of drought and the need of hundreds of millions from foreign aid to help the drought affected areas, they announced they are completing a secluded complex of villas for retiring government officials to keep it as a gift. The price tag 1.7 million each (six officials get the first villas totaling 10 million). The villas come with there own road and utility services and situated under the foot of a mountain for privacy reason. I wonder how many children and mothers the villas money can feed and how many lives it will save. To make things worse, they announced this is just the beginning of the gifts, I wonder how many they planned and where the money come from.
Ethiopian government is also a recipient of US foreign aid to the amount of half a billion dollar a year. some of the aid goes to help health, education other important causes but also some is directed towards military aid only to embolden the government to crack down on dissent, imprison journalists and to be one of the most human right violators in the world. Yet, the government seems to find the goose that laid the golden eggs because of its cooperation to fight against terrorist groups like Al Shabab most of it sins will be forgiven by US administration.
How is it we justify the killing of innocent college students just because they use their God given right to disagree and question their government? How is it we keep quite while we see poor farmers being thrown out of their ancestral land to make way to Chinese companies and government cronies in the name of progress? How is it we call ourselves Ethiopians when we look the other way when our Oromo, Anuak, Amhara brothers and sisters being killed and abused in front of us? Does it make a difference if a mother that bury her baby is from oromo or Tigrai? What makes one more or less painful or important? Why are we only incensed when we feel pain close to us and why are we totally deaf to the weeping of children from far? This is not a struggle between ethnic groups, this is a struggle against a system that tries to pin us against one another. We all need to have a moral compass to stand in front of our kids and condemn injustice.
So far, seventy six plus people are killed in Oromiyya and the government is pointing its finger on the protesters for not understanding the Master plan. How about the accountability of the government to control the urge to not shoot? We are experts of pain and misery, thanks to our reckless governments in the past and present, we are tortured, killed, pillaged, expelled and imprisoned by our brothers and sisters. Who are the land owners in the time of the king that was telling us to eat cake while many dying of starvations? our brothers and sisters. Who are the cadre’s that used to shoot kids in a day light at the time of “red Terror”? Our brothers and sisters. Who are the Federal police officers that are killing our Oromo brothers and sisters today? our brothers and sisters. Who are the land grabbers, the bribers, the so called investors that loot the countries wealth and farmers land? our brothers and sisters. Look no far, we are the Judge, the Jury and executor of our own people. Open your eyes people, the way of righteousness is crowded and blocked by temporary wealth and opportunities, but if you can see further you are losing your place in the future of your ancestral land.
I heard the government is looking for the leader of the protest. I will tell them who lead this. The Oromo protest is led by the inner Gadda, the ancestral principle that despise hate and injustice, If you are looking for the leaders to indict, indict the entire Oromo culture that preaches righteousness and standing against injustice no matter what the cost is. Leave the land alone and walk away from this one.
Remember the famous qoute by Pastor Martin Niemöller
” First they came for the Anuak, and I did not speak out—Because I was not an Anuak.
Then they came for the Muslims, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Muslim.
Then they came for the Oromos, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not an Oromo.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Yes the arc of moral universe is long, but i am worried it will be too late for Ethiopia, by the time it bends towards justice. The time to speak against injustice is now or forever hold your tongue.