• Wed. Nov 29th, 2023

Regarding the Report of the EIP titled “The Potential for Peace in Western Oromia” OLF-OLA High Command January 17, 2023

Jan 18, 2023

*The following reflections, fact-checks, and clarifications are made on the version of the report dated October 2022.
The various limitations that are highlighted in this presser notwithstanding, the efforts made by the European Institute of Peace (EIP) to shed light on the hidden war on Oromia to the international audience are praiseworthy. The OLA encourages other international institutions of repute in the peace and security realm to follow suit.
Having gone through the text of the current report, we are however distraught by the palpable insensitivity, lack of depth, and absence of thorough research to back many of the recommendations put forth therein. We expect impartial, informative, and data-driven reporting from international institutions of EIP stature. Critical comments are made to aid the report to meet those expectations. Our reflections are presented as follows. In the first part, we make general comments on what we argue are serious limitations of the report followed by more specific details corroborated by quotes taken from the text of the report.

  1. General comments
    As indicated elsewhere by some Oromo civil society organizations, we also find the report to be demonstrably impartial against the Oromo national cause in general and the OLA in particular, employ inadequate/inappropriate methodology, and, consequently, made many erroneous recommendations.
    Partiality and Misrepresentation
    The report misrepresents the facts by making the suffering of our people the OLA’s own doing. It insinuates that our people do not support the Oromo cause and OLA operations.

Conversely, it shows a misguided loyalty to the Ethiopian government’s ability and willingness to investigate atrocities and deliver justice. To the extent that the report itself makes occasional accusations against the Ethiopian government forces, it also lacks consistency when it puts the same government officials that order government security forces in a position to investigate atrocities and deliver justice for the victims. This implicit faith in the good nature of the Ethiopian state is not limited to state institutions that are supposedly apolitical and independent, at least on paper, such as the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) but also extends to the Ethiopian parliament which is currently singlehandedly controlled by the ruling party. We are also dismayed to find that the report occasionally twists the OLA’s publicly stated positions and creates false equivalences. We’ll demonstrate each of these claims by taking quotes from the report in part 2.
Methodological issues
The research that backs the report generally lacks sound methodology. There is no discernable systemic sampling of informants to get a representative picture. What constitutes enough informants has not been defined, and by any reasonable definition, there are no enough informants used as primary sources. It relies on only a handful of witnesses. It’s also not clear how these few informants are chosen, and which criteria are employed. There is no mechanism to gauge the weight of the views of these few informants for the conclusions derived from them.
Sometimes, non-existent informants—at least not in the ways the informants were described in the study—are used. For example, the study refers to an OLA informant from Addis Ababa. The OLA has no formal/informal representative or informant in Addis Ababa. In addition, many arguments in the report are made in the absence of a logical leap and are based on mere conjectures and personal opinions which are presented as facts. We’ll demonstrate these claims by taking quotes from the report in part 2.
Having been constructed on a clear partisanship, simplistic and erroneous framing of complex socio-political issues in Oromia, through little to no data gathering, and illogical leaps to conclusions, most of the recommendations the report makes inevitably come across as unhelpful, at best. Some suggestions like the one that proposes that OLA give up on the Oromo cause are not just unhelpful but also insensitive and condescending to the Oromo public. The recommendation that localizes a conflict of not only national concern but also one deserving of the attention of the international community is beyond unhelpful. It’s dangerous.

  1. On Some Specifics in the report

“…the dire effect of the OLA insurgency on the local population”
There is no denying that our people have needlessly suffered as a result of the war on Oromia.
It stands to reason that much suffering could have been avoided. However, the statement “the dire effect of the OLA insurgency on the local population” makes this suffering OLA’s own doing. It denies the fact that the OLF has tried its level best to resolve all political disputes through dialogue, including agreeing to lay down arms in 2018. The Ethiopian government not only mistreated some of the fighters who were initially demobilized but also poisoned many of them in an encampment.
This war is imposed on the OLA and on the Oromo people after the Ethiopian authorities closed all avenues of civilized discourse. Claiming that our people suffered due to OLA insurgency would imply that this war is OLA’s own doing. It clearly is not.

“study examines first, the social discontent in Oromia as the OLA returned there”
This would also imply that our people are discontent that OLA operates in the area. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The OLA is able to not only exist but also thrive chiefly because the people wanted it to exist. Without the population’s continued support, a selfreliant political organization such as the OLF-OLA could not exist. PM Abiy’s parliamentary address last year is a testament to the OLA’s strong public support in all of the areas it operates. Insofar as social discontents exist, they exist because of the actions of the OLAcounterfeits that the government has organized to create a chasm between the OLA and our people. Otherwise, such views could only make it to the text of the report due to faulty methodological design: lack of systemic and representative sampling.

“if the OLA would be serious on declaring ceasefire…”
The OLA has been consistent to a fault in expressing its willingness for a negotiated settlement of the conflict in Oromia. A quick skim through our pressers would have made the “if” part of this assertion unnecessary. Rather, it appears that the plan is to create the impression that the OLA is never ready for a ceasefire, against all evidence to the contrary.
It’s a misrepresentation of the OLA’s clear position held in public.

“the OLA renounce its objective…”3
The recommendation that the OLA abandon the Oromo national struggle—is simply a condescending, if not slightly bigoted, choice of a proposal made in the name of a European institute on behalf of the Oromo people and the Oromo struggle. Not only is this a gratuitous recommendation but also morally questionable. No independent institution would make such a recommendation.

“If there is a willingness on the part of the Ethiopian government to return to talks and consider pardoning OLA fighters…”

There are at least two problems here. First, it implies that the Ethiopian government is free to will (or otherwise) on resolving the suffering of our people through dialogue. We are saying

resolving political differences that caused the war on Oromia through dialogue is the only appropriate course of action that should not be left to the will of the Ethiopian government authorities. As a matter of principle, we do not leave this option to the Ethiopian authorities; neither should EIP.

Second, the sentence implies that all the OLA fighters could expect is to be “pardoned” as if fighting for one’s own basic rights and the rights of our people by sacrificing our life is a crime that begs for pardon. That assertion is again morally questionable.

“Beyond the political level, the Ethiopian National Dialogue Commission should provide a platform for the voices of Western Oromia to be heard. In first instance, this may not necessarily focus on the conflict parties, the participation of whom remains a highly
controversial issue…”

An independent research institute should not be in the business of replaying the status quo that has not worked back to its audience. The recommendation expected from an institute such as the EIP is to firmly underline that a national dialogue forum that does not include all stakeholders, including and especially the warring parties, cannot be expected to resolve the predicament the country faces.

“The international community should, if requested (as this remains an internal Ethiopian affair).

First, war crimes and crimes against humanity are committed in Oromia. These are international crimes of concern not only for locals but also for the international community. The intricate legal avenues of realizing it can be explored further. However, localizing a conflict with a marked presence of international crimes is conduct unbecoming of a panEuropean and international research institute.
Second, while the great majority of the Oromo people support the OLA, the remaining few individuals closely work with the regime in various capacities. In such a polarized political landscape, finding a neutral third person in the country is a far cry from a viable possibility. Meaningful mediation requires proper skills, logistics, and related facilities. Commanders and negotiators should be moved in and out of conflict zones. The necessary security guarantees and logistics can only be sourced internationally. To be effective the process of mediation should be formalized and observed by neutral third states. Anything less will be a repeat of the failed ‘Asmara Agreement’ between the OLF and the Abiy regime. Only international actors can be guarantors for the enforcement of mediation agreements. This is a singularly crucial piece of the puzzle. Even internationally, only a few actors can guarantee implementation. Localizing the war in Oromia as an internal Ethiopian issue is not in line with these necessary conditions.

“The OLA has carried out heinous massacres of civilians, like in Tole in June 2022, when hundreds of civilians were brutally killed.” Regarding the Tole Massacre:
A. Questions

  1. The report itself makes reference to counterfeit “OLA.” Has the research backing the report made an effort to differentiate the involvement of counterfeit-OLA from the claims that the OLA is involved? We do not see any evidence in the report indicating that such an effort has been made. Otherwise, unsubstantiated witness testimonies that wrongly identified the perpetrators as OLA fighters for merely having spoken Afaan
    Oromo, the language also spoken by the counterfeit OLA and many in the regime’s military, or simply because of their hairdo, a hairstyle perfected by the counterfeitOLA, is not evidence enough to support the conclusion regarding the horrible Tole Massacre.
  2. Government officials, a state minister in the Abiy government’s cabinet at the federal level, and an MP of the federal parliament have made claims that the regional government of Oromia runs a parallel OLA-counterfeit of its own. In addition, they have accused this group of several atrocities including the Tole Massacre. Has any effort been made by the researchers to investigate these matters? As far as we can see, there is not even a mention of this issue at all.
  3. The OLA has requested an independent investigation into all atrocities in Oromia including the Tole Massacre. The Ethiopian government denies not only independent investigations but also independent journalism in (western) Oromia. This otherwise relevant fact does not figure in the section of the report dealing with the Tole Massacre. Have the researchers even approached federal and regional government officials to explain why they deny journalism and independent investigations? These are mostly rhetorical questions. The text of the report already suggests that these questions have not been researched.

B. Context
The Tole Massacre was perpetrated in the immediate aftermath of military and political measures that put the prosperity government on the defensive. It occurred, in particular, directly after the OLA conducted a multi-pronged special operation in western Oromia that included the cities of Gambella, Gimbi and Dambidollo. The government had numerous reasons to stage such an atrocity at the time:

  1. After the joint operations of the OLA and Gambelia Liberation Front (GLF) in Gambella had been completed in mid-June of 2022, the regime had begun a killing spree targeting Oromo civilians across the city of Gambella in a retaliatory attack. Gambella Special Forces, Federal Police, and associated régime security forces hunted down Oromo civilians and extra-judicially executed them in broad daylight. Social
    and conventional media was flooded with evidence of the execution of Oromo civilians in Gambella that undeniably implicate the regime. The killings of civilians in Gimbi and many localities of central Oromia were also coming out. The regime engineered the massacre in Tole to cover the headlines regarding the Oromo massacres in Gambella, western and central Oromia.
  2. A horrific video in which members of the regime’s army and associated Fanno militia group massacre civilians in Wollo during the so-called “Menelik Campaign” —very likely in late December 202—has also circulated on social media since 17th of June 2022. The crime was perpetrated by both the regular Ethiopian security forces and the Fanno militia—at the time of the crime under the regime’s army command. The Abiy government has to engineer the Tole massacre to change the headlines from the Wollo Oromo Massacre.
  3. There was international pressure on the regime to organize an inclusive peace process to resolve the Ethiopian civil war. The regime was attempting to denigrate the OLA to deny the Oromo Cause spearheaded by OLA any voice on the international stage, and any seat on the possible peaceful resolution of the Ethiopian civil war.
  4. The Oromo tradition is one that sanctions the killing of animals and the unjustified axing of trees. Human lives obviously occupy a sacrosanct space. Such a cycle of civilian tragedy is simply unheard of in our history. The Amhara community in Oromia lives with their ethnic Oromo neighbors in peace. There are also past and current members of the OLA that come from the Amhara community of Oromia— including those that have risen through the ranks to commanding positions of the OLA. There are Amhara and other minorities in many places in Oromia outside of
    Wollega. There is a considerable number of ethnic Amharas in the West, North, and East Shewa zones where members of OLA conduct multiple operations. The same is true in Southern and parts of Eastern Oromia. Why are atrocities coming only from Wollega? Couldn’t OLA attack them in other places if it wanted to? Similar questions are helpful in putting civilian massacres in western Oromia in their proper political context.

“…from the area, however, told us that the GSF were behind the attack in a reprisal for the Tole attack. The veracity of this account remains difficult to verify, but with Parliament having established a committee to investigate the incidents, the truth will likely come out.”
The Ethiopian gov’t stands accused of genocide. It has repeatedly been proven by independent international bodies to have committed crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing. It has also refused to allow the UN committee of human rights experts and other independent bodies to investigate atrocities. However, the author of this report seems to

have an uninhibited trust in the willingness, and ability of the Ethiopian governmentcontrolled parliament to unearth the truth. This not only fails to be grounded in reality but is also a clear sign of bias.

“OLA demand independent investigations with regards to civilian killings, gross human rights violations; humanitarian interventions for conflict affected people. It is unclear if the OLA would accept the results of investigations as it has challenged EHRC reports.”

Once more, the authors of the report seem to exhibit a trust, unprecedented for an international body such as the EIP, in the impartiality of the Ethiopian government-controlled Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC). EHRC is a state-funded camouflage that masquerades as an independent human rights body. The institution and its commissioners are especially biased against Oromia, the Oromo people, and the OLA. Few cases in point:
a) When a video showing the massacre of Wollo Oromos in December of 2021 surfaced on 17 June 2022, the EHRC vowed to make a deeper investigation into the matter without naming perpetrators right away even though there was red-handed video evidence. Conversely, when Tole Massacre in Gimbi was reported later in June 2022, it blamed the OLA on the very day of the reporting without any investigations.

b) Following the reporting of the massacre in Hawa Gelan district of Kellem Wollega in June 2022, the EHRC again squarely put the blame on the OLA on the day of the reporting without any investigation. It also advised the deployment of government security forces to the area—impliedly exonerating the regime from any responsibility.
The Introduction section of report is an incomplete depiction of the order of events.
After the initial liberalization of the political space, there were serious issues of illiberal backsliding measures taken by the Ethiopian government that led to popular discontent which the OLA and other political organizations only acknowledged as legitimate.
Also, the OLA did not “use the political transition initiated by Abiy as a conducive environment to engage with the people in Western Oromia” as claimed by the last sentence on page 8. The OLA approached the transition in which it had played a big role itself with great enthusiasm hoping that Ethiopia has finally become a post-conflict state. The reorganization of the OLA, hence, comes after the backsliding of the Abiy regime on the initial reform agenda.

“Shortly afterwards, in October 2018, OLF leader Dawud Ibsa said that no agreement with the government on disarmament was concluded”

This is taken out of context. The way the Ethiopian media presented the OLA’s (then with the OLF) homecoming was as a defeated organization that was forced to disarm. Mr. Dawud’s claim was against this assertion; that OLA did not lose battles or wars; it simply decided to change course; sign a peace treaty with the Ethiopian government and end decades-long hostilities. He disputed the assertion that OLA was defeated and then disarmed.

Page 13—very thin on why OLA eventually refused to give-up arms

Page 17- footnote 44—interview with OLA associate in Gimbi
Such associates simply do not exist in the OLA structure and anyone who claimed to be so, if any, cannot be associated with the OLA in any form.

“The existence of Abbaa Torbee points to an important aspect of the OLA insurgency: it is not one unified armed movement with strong top-down control, but rather consists of different wings, factions, and groups. According to a Wallaga University professor, there are in fact three kinds of OLA operating in Western Oromia: the “real” OLA, led by Jaal Marroo, and two other factions – one more rag-tag bandits, and one much more organized and militarized – that operate more opportunistically and engage in widespread criminal activities, such as intimidations, robbery, torture, and more. Some of these are loosely connected; others operate at cross-purposes or for their own gain, or may even in active opposition to other OLA factions. “to ordinary people these three different OLAs are one and the same”

  1. The bandits and robbers referred to in the report are not the OLA—they do not have the requisite political agenda, public backing, legitimacy and organizational capacity to be referred to as the OLA. There is simply no reason to refer to them as an Oromo
    Liberation Army when they don’t have support from the Oromo; no liberation agenda or any systematic operation that resembles an army.
  2. Abbaa Torbee was mainly the government’s urban killing squad that masqueraded as the OLA. However, even if one were to assume that this group was associated with the
    OLA for an argument’s sake, it is not clear how the existence of an urban squad leads to a conclusion that reads the OLA is ‘not being one unified army with strong topdown control.’ There is simply no logical connection between the two claims.

Pages 17-18 Fekede’s counterfeit OLA
This group was created as part and parcel of the government’s counter-insurgency strategy. This fact should have been investigated in detail by the authors of the report.

“The OLA benefitted, but with less government forces to target, its attacks became increasingly directed against Amhara populations.”11
This claim is simply false. If anything, atrocities follow the footsteps of Abiy’s troops, not the other way around. When the regime’s troops roamed areas of western Oromia, before the Tigray war began on the 4th of November 2020, there were reports of atrocities in western Oromia chiefly one committed in Gulliso in early November 2020 which the regime used as one of the preludes to start the Tigray War. During the height of the war in the north, there was virtually no regime army in Wollega, and neither were there any reports of atrocities. The OLA was recruiting and training in the thousands, as it did before, while also conducting operations against the limited number of regional security installations in the area.
Since the lull in the north from late December 2021, the number of government troops started to rise dramatically in Wollega, and so did the reports of atrocities. From the Gidami Massacre in January 2022, reports of atrocities began to surface with the rise of Abiy’s troops in Wollega. In May-June 2022, the regime deployed more than twenty-one ENDF divisions— nearly half of the Ethiopian Army—in mainly two small zones in West Oromia: Kellem and West Wollega. These include five commando divisions and two republican guard commandos. Most of these forces are not directly engaging with our forces. They were harassing, killing, and burning villages in their path.

“The uptick in violence led the Ethiopian House of People Representatives designated OLA, alongside TPLF, as a terrorist organization in May 2021.”12
Any mildly independent observer would testify to the fact that anti-terrorism laws in Ethiopia have never been about terrorism or violence. It’s always about silencing organized opposition and dissenting voices. It is a direct extension of the narrowing of the political space. It was not the result of an uptick in violence.

“In Western Oromia, civilian killings have become “business as usual.” Both the GSF and the OLA have committed massacres in the pursuit of their insurgency and
counterinsurgency goals”13
This statement creates false equivalence. The regime employs a policy of scorched earth. It targets all, armed or unarmed, in so far as they subscribe to a different political and economic

11 P 20 12 P 20 13 P 25
form of organization to one held by the prosperity party. That is why it labeled the OLA as a terrorist group in the absence of a semblance of religious/national extremism, or any form of extremism for that matter or methods/tactics of warfare often associated with terrorist groups.
An all-out war against all is a policy for the government. As far as the OLA goes, civilians are harmed only when they find themselves in the crossfire or rarely by some off-the-grid actors which OLA itself makes responsible through corrective internal procedures.

“Sources told us that in the first week of August 2022, strategic discussions and understandings took place between OLA and TPLF. During this meeting TPLF provided OLA a greenlight to launch a counter-offensive military attack against the
GSF and Amhara security forces.”
This is false. No such ‘strategic discussion’ took place and the OLA does not act after having received a green/ yellow or whatever light from anybody. This is simply meant to belittle the organization. Also, the OLA does not have an associate in Addis Ababa.

OLF-OLA High Command
January 17, 2023

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