Acquitted at Long Last, but at What Cost?

December 11, 2007

The Ethiopian Reporter recently informed its readers about the release of the leaders of Matcha and Tulama self-help association and the re-instatement of the association, adding that they have been fully acquitted from the allegations brought against them. The leaders have been imprisoned and the organization banned following its opposition against the decision by the Ethiopian government to relocate Oromia’s capital from Finfinne (Addis Ababa) to Adama in late 2003.

The decision was against Article 49 (5) of Ethiopia’s constitution of December 8, 1994. The article states “The special interest of the state of Oromia in Addis Ababa, regarding the provision of social services or the utilization of natural resources and other similar matters, as well as joint administrative matter arising from the location of Addis Ababa within the state of Oromia, shall be respected.”

The opposition against the Ethiopian government’s decision to relocate Oromia’s capital cut across partly lines among Oromo political and nonpolitical organizations. In its January 10, 2004, issue, the Indian Ocean Newsletter wrote: “On December 27 [2003], Merera Gudina's Oromo National Congress (ONC, opposition) organized a meeting against the decision, the most important independent Oromo initiative since the meetings held by the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) in 1991 and 1992. The principal speakers at the meeting were Bulcha Demeksa from Awash Bank, Dereje Bekele, the independent MP from the Illubabor constituency, and Merera Gudina. The participants included elders from various Oromos associations, academics, students, and ordinary citizens. The former Ethiopian president Negasso Gidada, who is Oromo, was also present, as well as the leaders of other opposition organizations and civic associations invited to mark their solidarity with the ONC.”

In a document reportedly submitted to the United Nations, the Oromo Studies Association (OSA) on behalf of Oromo communities in North America and Europe wrote the following: “We members of the Oromo community organizations in North America and Europe are appealing to you to use your good offices with the government of Ethiopia to abandon its decision to evict Oromia Region’s government offices and Oromo institutions from Finfinne/Addis Ababa to Adama.”

On June 10, 2005, the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO), which is part of the ruling Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), announced its plans to move Oromia’s capital back to Finfinne. That was after nearly two years since the decision in 2003 to move it from Finfinne to Adama. Well over two years after this official announcement in 2005, the leaders of Matcha and Tulama who were put in prison because of the issues associated with the ill-advised decision, are fully acquitted, according to The Reporter.

While lessons must be learned from such callous actions of the government, and the political episode that followed it, the question of who should be responsible for the price paid by this organization, its leaders, and all the other parties involved in the opposition to the government’s ill-advised action remains unanswered.

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