OPride’s Oromo Person of The Year 2016: The Qubee Generation
by Mohammed A
(OPride) — For inspiring and moving the world with their disciplined courage and bravery in the face of relentless state brutality, for bringing the dream of freedom ever closer to being realized, for their bold commitment to a cause greater than self, for finally forcing the world to pay attention to the plight of Oromo people and for rejuvenating and energizing the Oromo movement and bringing it to the cusp of victory, the Qubee Generation is OPride’s Oromo Person (s) of the year 2016.
For over a year, Ethiopia teetered and tottered to contain protests roiling the Oromia state, home to the Oromo people, the country’s largest ethnic group. The grim year not only tested the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, EPRDF’s, quarter-century stranglehold over the country but also the limits of human perseverance against determined state action.
Although similar demonstrations have taken place in the Amhara state, Oromia remained the epicenter of the widespread and sustained anti-government protests throughout 2016. Few, if any, of Oromia’s 560 towns and 180 districts, escaped the growing anger and revolt of ordinary citizens against the central state.
From Ginchi to Ajje, Guliso to Nekemte, Awaday to Dallo Mana, and anywhere in between, students, parents and teachers as townsfolk and farmers fought side by side to challenge the social, economic and political marginalization of the Oromo people in Ethiopia. The Oromo constitute nearly half of Ethiopia’s 100 million people, but they remain marginalized.
For the first 10 months of 2016, millions across Oromia took to the streets, demanding an end to forceful dispossession of their ancestral land, the land grab, the release of political prisoners, and the rule of law as opposed to the rule by the gun and prison. Ethiopian security forces responded to peaceful protesters as they always do: Using an excessive and disproportionate force, including live bullets as a standard crowd-control tool. But the state’s extraordinary measures only engendered more anger and inspired more street protests.
In fact, both the protests and the official brutality were unprecedented, even by EPRDF’s checkered history of violence. Security forces killed more than 1,000 people in Oromia alone in 2016. Hundreds were wounded. And the besieged state saw record levels of arrests with legions disappearing in the maze of military training facilities acting as a concentration-like prisoner holding camps. Tens of thousands, including nearly all top leaders of the only “legal” Oromo opposition party, the Oromo Federalist Congress, remain incarcerated on dubious terrorism charges.
The protests began in November 2015, initially over opposition to an urban master plan that sought to expand the boundaries of the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, gobbling up Oromo towns, farmlands, and villages.
The year’s biggest tragedy took place on the sacred grounds of Hora Arsadi, in Bishoftu, about 25 miles southeast of Addis Ababa. On Sunday, October 2, an estimated 2 million people made the annual pilgrimage to Bishoftu’s ancient crater lake to observe Irreechaa, a premier Oromo thanksgiving holiday that has become the symbol and celebration of Oromummaa (the Oromo identity) itself.
On the millennia-old Irreecha celebration, the Oromo give thanks to their creator (Waaqa) for the bountiful harvests of Birra (spring) and to renew their hopes and aspirations for future after a dark, rainy winter season.
But 2016 was not an ordinary year for the Oromo. The mood ahead of this year’s Irreechaa was predictably tense. Staying true to tradition, the youth arrived in Bishoftu from across Oromia fervently singing resistance songs and chanting anti-government slogans. The protesters’ impatience was palpable even the night before Irreechaa. While there were no major incidents for much of the morning, it was clear that the sea of youth came to Arsadi to make a stand — a statement. Early in the afternoon, as the chorus of protests grew louder, a standoff ensued near the main stage where officials give speeches and traditional leaders offer blessings.
What happened next was tragic beyond words: sheer horror ensued as security forces fired tear gas and live bullets into millions gathered in a confined space. The crowd was surrounded by heavily armed security forces, a lake, deep gorges and ditches. As shots began to ring out from above the crater, festival goers ran for their lives. But they had no way out, encircled as they were by gun-toting officers from the left and shrub-covered ditches on the right side, and a deep lake from below.
At least 678 people died in the ensuing stampede, according to OFC officials and hospital sources. It’s the darkest hour in contemporary Oromo history. Innocent lives were lost on a day they came to celebrate their culture and heritage. The day will forever be remembered as the “Irreechaa massacre,” an extraordinarily savage and horrific tragedy in which the Ethiopian security forces caused the death of hundreds of Oromos.
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