By: Milkissa Ch.
After the military government of Mengistu Hailemariam was removed in 1991, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) actively participated in establishing the Transitional government of Ethiopia (TGE). Ethiopian Peoples’ Democratic Organization (EPRDF) was the dominant group within the TGE and the OLF was the second largest group in the TGE until June 1992. EPRDF, OLF and other ethnic based poiltical organizations adopted the national charter in July 1991 by the democratic and peaceful transitional conference held in Addis Abeba/Finfinnee that set forth the interim government arrangements until a new constitution was adopted and national elections were held.
However, OLF could not continue in TGE more than eight months. In June 1992, OLF declared its withdrawal from the Transitional Government (TGE).This decision was a bad news for the millions of Oromos who see OLF as their only genuine political organization that represents the interest of the Oromos in the Ethiopian politics.
In 1992, OLF left TGE because EPRDF along with Eriterean Peoples’ Liberation Front (EPLF) did all they could to make OLF pull out of the TGE. The EPRDF leaders were not prepared to work with genuine Oromo organization that is capable of challenging them. Instead, they created a pseudo Oromo organization, the Oromo Peoples Democratic Organization (OPDO); to counteract the pressure coming from the OLF. The EPRDF led by Meles Zenawi, rejected OLF’s programs and directions, but demanded the OLF to completely submit to them which OLF found very insulting. This showed the EPRDF’s interest to destroy the largest and genuine Oromo front at the time.
The EPRDF leaders knew that the OLF leaders were competent enough to play their own roles in Ethiopian political affairs. The strength of OLF coupled with millions of the Oromos who rallied behind it, was a threat to EPRDF’s desire to control the political power for their own will in Ethiopia. As a result, the EPRDF leaders worked vigorously to destroy the OLF position in Oromiya. The EPRDF leaders and supporters were aware of the fact that the Oromo people have accepted OLF as their leader against any form of aggression and oppression.
The OLF fought for about 30 years for the cause of the Oromo and Oromiya. OLF made a significant contribution along with EPRDF and EPLF in throwing the government of Mengistu Hailemariam. OLF was active in east Oromiyaa around Hararge area, and in the west, in Wollega area. Most of the areas in west Wollega were liberated by OLF and that is why it is still highly supported by the Oromos in these areas.
The Oromo Liberation Front participated in the Transitional government for two reasons. First, OLF wanted to work with other competing forces to create new democratic Ethiopia in the future, which ensures freedom and equality to all nations and nationalities. They were very enthusiastic to see a democratic Ethiopia where every nations and nationalities could play their own part in building the new Ethiopia on equal terms. Second, if other forces failed to accept this direction but wanted to keep the tyranny and oppression, which the Oromos had experienced for years, OLF would opt to establish independent Oromiyaa by referendum. The EPRDF leaders accepted neither the first nor the second option, instead they continued on working how to maintain all the power for themselves. They wanted to own the whole country for themselves, chiefly Oromiyaa, the richest region in resources, without which they could not survive. In order for their dream come true, in every possible ways, they had to attack and offend OLF to leave the country.
The OLF leaders believed that TGE’S proposed electoral transition to a new, ethnically based federalism (the proposed ethnic federalism) would merely co-opt the OLF into yet another northern dominated system, and that Oromos would thereby forfeit an historic opportunity to achieve true sovereign independence for Oromiyaa. From late 1991 until shortly before the June elections, discussions between EPRDF and the OLF to defuse the armed conflict dominated political life in Ethiopia. Eventually, by early May 1992, EPRDF and OLF agreed to encamp their fighters before the regional and local elections. .
The dominant force in EPRDF, TPLF, was first established by university students who fled from univiersities (mainly from addis Abeba University) to Dedebit desert to begin armed struggle against Mengistu, the tyrant ruler of Ethiopia who came to power after the 1974 revolution that led to the end of Haile Silassie’s 50 years rule. At the beginning the main agenda of TPLF leaders’ intention was to liberate Tigray, and its people from the Ethiopian empire. The Tigreans students who joined TPLF were proponents of the Marxist-Leninist ideologies and they wanted nothing but to apply this communist ideology in their future country, Great Tigray. For about 17 years, they fought the Derg and successfully liberated most of Tigray’s land.
In 1984, the people of Tigray experienced a worse famine and drought that resulted in the death of hundred thousands of people. By the way, the then TPLF leaders were blamed for using the aid money (raised by artists all over the world organized by Sir Bob Geldof) to buy armaments causing the death of thousands of people in Tigray though TPLF leaders denied the blame. This famine created a situation where many young Tigreans joined TPLF to escape the starvation. This boosted TPLF’s morale and made them victorious over Derg in many places.
Late 1980s, supported by the Western countries (mainly the USA) they enjoyed victories over the strong Derg military forces. These victories showed the TPLF leaders that they could defeat the Derg forces in areas outside Tigray, and control the whole country. As a result TPLF dropped its agenda of separation and changed its agenda to liberating the Ethiopian nationalities and nations.
The EPRDF leaders had developed a desire to maintain Ethiopia for their benefits by replacing Mengistu Hailemariam, a tyrant and dictatorial communist leader who ruled Ethiopia for 17. In order to look different from the former Habasha leaders, they came with the agenda of freeing the Ethiopian nations and nationalities from tyrant leaders. This was designed to appeal to the Ethiopian people, and gain support in the troubled country and make the nations and nationalities rally around them.
The TPLF leaders felt that if they advanced to Addis Abeba/Finfinnee without changing their front’s name to Ethiopian front they would not be accepted by the Ethiopian people. It would be wrong to think that a front that had been fighting for the liberation of the Tigreans would be entertained by other Ethiopians. Thus, the wise TPLF leaders carefully engineered a front that would represent all Ethiopians so that they could easily win people’s heart when they reach Finfinnee. In this regard, in 1989 TPLF leaders met with Ethiopian Peoples Democratic Movement (EPDM) (now it is known as the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM)) and formed EPRDF. However, the formation of EPRDF by these two fronts had not been enough.
In EPRDF, there were fronts representing the Tigreans and the Amharas, but the Oromos, the largest population in Ethiopia had not been represented in EPRDF at that time. Before they controlled the country, the EPRDF leaders formed a pseudo Oromo political front , OPDO, to counter the genuine Oromo front i.e. OLF, an organization that fought for the cause of the Oromo and Oromiya.
The founders of EPRDF purposely ignored OLF because they were not ready to share power with a front fighting for the Oromo. To counter attack the position of OLF in Oromiya, EPRDF leaders kept on supporting the Oromo Peoples Democratic Organization (OPDO) whose founders were captured Derg fighters. The OPDO had no acceptance among the Oromos because OPDO was created by Oromo speaking habashas who never wanted to see liberated Oromiyaa. The members of OPDO were not Oromos as the name of their organization appears to indicate. Many of its members were Afaan Oromo speaking Tigreans and Amharas who whole heartedly supported the Tigreans liberation front. OPDO was established with the aim of countering OLF claim to represent the Oromo. The OPDO had no ideas, directions and programs for the Oromos as an independent organization. They were dependent on TPLF that took the initiative to form them.
The Oromo Peoples Democratic Organization (OPDO) was founded in 1990 at Dara District, Harbu Meskele, North Shewa in Oromiyaa by EPRDF in order to counter OLF though we lately heard OPDO claiming that its birthplace was Adet a place in Tigray. The TPLF led EPRDF knew that OLF leaders have a desire to liberate Oromiyaa from hundred years of colonial rule by the habashas. They were very well aware of the fact that if OLF was accepted by the Oromos then the liberation of Oromiyaa would be a reality. In the late 1980’s, as they realized that they were close to victory over Mengistu they thought how to keep Ethiopia and its resources for themselves.
At the beginning, when TGE was established, the EPRDF leaders looked so friendly, and started working with OLF towards making the realization of democratic Ethiopia feasible. The truth was that they invited OLF to work with them because they wanted to lure OLF to leave its question of liberating Oromiya, the agenda that OLF fought for more than thirty years. However, OLF, always doubted the reliability of EPRDF.
The election period showed the real personality of the EPRDF leaders. They placed obstacles to OLF campaign for the election, by killing the OLF cadres and supporters. In any way, the EPRDF leaders did not want to lose oromiyaa to OLF by election, as OLF had strong hold and many millions of supporters in Oromiya. The victory of OLF in oromiyaa would mean independent oromiyaa. This would without doubt prove the session of Oromiya from Ethiopia, and the end of the Ethiopian Empire that was created by the Abyssinian leaders who conquered independent southern states by force. The crimes that EPRDF committed against the OLF and the Oromos reached its height in 1992 regional and local election campaign
With this regard, they decided to stand on OLF’s way and make OLF leaders boycott the election. The EPRDF leaders had no desire to make the election to be free, fair and democratic because free election would help OLF win in Oromiyaa. They were so frightened by the acceptance of OLF by the Oromo people, the largest nation (the Oromo constitutes 35 percent of Ethiopian population) in Ethiopia. During the election period, OLF had mobilized the Oromos to stand up together for their freedom and right. The Oromos who had been waiting for hundred years for such occasion to come rallied behind OLF. This was bad news for the EPRDF and its affiliate organizations. So as to stop this situation, they had to work hard to win over the Oromos by blaming OLF for killing innocent people including the Oromos. This was purposely engineered to blacken the image of the OLF among the Oromos and the international community. However, the reality was that they were the ones who killed thousands of Oromos who supported OLF.
The crimes that EPRDF committed against the OLF and its supporters reached its height in in June 1992 as OLF was making regional and local election campaign in Oromiya. When things got worse, OLF decided to withdraw from the Transitional Government (two weeks remaining to the regional election) and engage in military action against EPRDF.