The Houston Statement of the Third Oromo Leadership Convention
on the Crises in Ethiopia
The Third Oromo Leadership Convention was held in the City of Houston, Texas December 1-3, 2017. The delegates participated in extensive discussions concerning the situation in Ethiopia based on analyses presented by several scholars. The delegates established that the Oromo Protest that started in 2014 has opened new possibilities for transformative change in Ethiopia. They also recognized that, because of the protests, the historic Oromo struggle has advanced from resistance against oppression to reconstruction in preparation for the imminent political transition in Ethiopia.
The country is in throes of deepening multidimensional crises. This is the conclusion of an assessment jointly prepared by Ethiopian intelligence and defence officials otherwise known as the National Security Council. There is a historic opportunity for transition to a genuinely participatory democracy that emerges from below. There is also the danger that the opportunity could be squandered. To protect the gains made and to soldier on towards ultimate victory, we urge all Oromo nationalists to do their part to deny the forces of reaction the chance to launch a counterrevolutionary offensive against the Oromo struggle.
We issue this statement as the consensus of the delegates to the Third Oromo Leadership Convention calling on all those who support the longstanding goals of the Oromo national movement to facilitate a peaceful transition to a new political dispensation of a participatory democracy.
Immediate steps need to be taken to reverse the deepening crisis by asserting the legitimacy of any existing constitutional body. A peaceful and democratic transition addresses the current crisis of legitimacy and sets the stage for the restoration of democratic-constitutional state. The following can be taken as steps for action.
- Reasserting authority. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the core of the governing party, now admits that it is responsible for the deepening political and economic crises in Ethiopia. Because of its culpability in precipitating the crisis, the TPLF incapable of addressing the profound problem of lacking of a visible, authoritative, and widely acceptable leadership that has paralyzed the country for some time must be addressed. The federal legislature is the only body where the voices of all constituencies are said to be represented on a proportional basis. It must reassert its authority to prevent harmful laws from passing. This would constitute a major step towards a smooth transition to a genuine participatory democracy.
- Transparent Debate: Responding to demands of the people should be the focus of the elected representatives of the people. Parliament should debate the ongoing crisis and take steps to restore order based on the wishes of all constituencies. The parliamentary deliberations should be done publicly in order to win the support to all constituencies.
- Critical First Steps: The federal parliament can institute the following confidence-building measures to give chance to an orderly transition.
a. Repeal unconstitutional laws: The Anti-Terrorist Law, the Press Law and the Civil Society and Charities Law are designed expressly to prevent citizens from exercising the human rights enshrined in the constitution. They are unconstitutional and should be repealed. The law for registration of political parties, the electoral law and the various regulations and directives issued under it, and the law on public political meeting and peaceful demonstration must be revisited with a view to allowing the people maximum freedom to associate, organize, assemble, demonstrate, and express their political views, interests, and petition for their rights within the ambit of their constitutional human rights.
b. Release all political prisoners: Opposition leaders who now languish in prison are victims of these unconstitutional laws. With the repeal of these laws, it then follows that they should be released unconditionally.
c. Reform the System: The instruments of “dominant-party rule” are: a justice system that is subservient to the will of the ruling party; a security system that operates to eliminate opposition and resistance; and a national election commission whose reason for existence is to declare the ruling party’s election victories without counting the votes. Parliament must engage in a genuine and sustained justice sector reforms, security sector reforms, electoral system reform, reform of all democratic institutions of representation (House People’s Representatives), inclusion (House of Federation), human rights (Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and the Institute of the Ombudsman), and accountability (Auditor general and Anti-corruption Commission).
- Outlawing Illegitimate Authority: There is widespread perception that there is a private source of power behind the public institutions. Decisions are first hammered out in private and then forwarded to the public legislature for enactment. Rendering the parliament functional can obviate the dangers that the private centres of power are likely to pose to protect their ill-gained power and privilege.
There is only one way out of the present crises: the legislature should act as the true and supreme source of power [as per art 50(3) cum 54(4) of the Constitution] and stop waiting for somebody to give it direction. The incumbent executive entity has no credibility or legitimacy. Parliament must institute a governing structure that observes the rule of law.
- Reformed Executive: Parliament must do everything to resuscitate the civilian governing bodies and end rule by the security organs of the state. To do this, Parliament must form a new, more inclusive, more credible, more functional, and more representative government in such a way that expresses the wishes of the people as manifested in the protests.
- Marshall Support: Following the adoption of this process of peaceful and systematic transition, the legislatures of the regional states should pass resolutions in support of the reform agenda. And the residents of these administrations should be mobilized to support the actions of their legislatures.
- Re-establish Security: There is increasing reliance on coercive means and institutions, which is eroding the effectiveness and legitimacy of civilian institutions. We believe the Ethiopian Defence Force (EDF) is responsible for the deteriorating security situation characterized by a “breakdown of the rule law,” “apparent lawlessness” and “episodic conflicts” and it at least complicit in the death and mayhem that is still creating havoc throughout Oromia. The legislature must assert civilian control over the EDF and arrest the deepening political and economic crises.
- Internally Displaced Persons: We condemn the massive displacement of Oromo from the Somali regional state. The deliberate act of organizing the eviction of a group of people because of their identity is crime that must be investigated and the perpetrators of the crime brought to justice. The president of the Somali regional state, Abid Mohammed Omer aka Abdi Illey, should be brought to justice for the crime against humanity his forces committed against innocent Oromos. Parliament must immediately conduct inquiry into the source of funding and the legal basis for its operation. Parliament should also work towards disarming and disbanding this unruly paramilitary forces such as the Liyu Police that the regional president uses to advance his egregious agenda of ethnic cleansing and replace it with a properly recruited and trained State Police.
- Reassuring stakeholders: Interested foreign powers need to be reassured that their interests would not be negatively affected. In particular, legitimate foreign investors should be reassured that their outlay is safe. It should be made abundantly clear to these parties that a sort of internal stability drawing on democratic legitimacy would render it a better guarantor of regional stability than an order that is internally challenged. This should in fact make the donor countries evaluate their uncritical support for the regime and push for a transition to a democratic order.
OROMO POLITICAL COMMUNITY
We affirm our ultimate national objective is belief stated in the OLC Charter, An Oromo Covenant, that the Oromo people shall always draw inspiration from their gadaa democratic heritage and shall remain a self-governing, participatory democracy founded on respect for fundamental human rights.
In this Convention, we concluded that a true democratic transition in Ethiopia can only be viable if it addresses the long standing demands of the Oromo national movement as expressed in our time by the Oromo protests. While they are expressed in multiple ways, the Oromo demands are captured in the all-encompassing expression, abbaa biyyummaa, which is the demand for sovereignty over the governance, the resources and the ownership of our homesteads, land and country.
As we anticipate ushering in this new political dispensation, we urge all Oromo political parties to deliberate on the current situation carefully and systematically and offer a clear roadmap for what will be implemented in the wake of the inevitable collapse of the regime in power.
CIVIL SOCIETY FORCES
The revival of the Abba Gadaa institutions is evidence of Oromo cultural renaissance and revitalization of Oromo indigenous political heritage. The Abba Gadaa councils are a genuine Oromo institution that must be strengthened. In this respect, we support the councils’ work and express our wishes for the following.
- The Union of the Oromo Gadaa Council is urged to call the Oromia gadaa assembly to consider national issues once a year.
- The different regional gadaa councils established at the many former gadaa assemblies should begin to legislate rules that will strengthen the functions of the gadaa institutions.
- The regional gadaa councils should take measures to create institutions that take account of their adaptability to the present generation’s needs and demands.
- The councils must continue to build civil society institutions, particularly the inclusion of women into gadaa structures.
- Oromo communities and other peoples find the indigenous institutions of conflict resolution more expeditious and judicious than the lengthy litigation handled by formal institutions. We urge the regional gadaa councils to begin to take measures to relaunch alternative dispute resolution processes and institutions to complement the functions of formal institutions.
DONE IN HOUSTON, TEXAS, ON THIS 3rd DAY DECEMBER 2017.