The Burayu national tragedy, the media and the Oromo oppositions reaction [Solomon Hailemariam]

The Burayu national tragedy, the media and the Oromo oppositions reaction

Solomon Hailemariam

In this short article, I would like to write about the Burayu incident which I want to label a “national tragedy” and discuss how the media could handle the occurrence and the joint communiqué issued by Oromo Opposition Parties.

Mass killings and atrocities did not end with the 1974 Ethiopian revolution, or in 1991 when the TPLF seize power, or in 2018 when Dr. Abiy Ahmed came to power in Ethiopia. Around the world there have been terrible events, as we all know, and no continent has been immune from large-scale killings in which great numbers of individuals have been targeted and killed because they happen to be a member of a particular group – racial, religious, ethnic, political and so on. Each situation is different, to be understood in its own context. 

As a media professional, I have been closely observing what is happening in Ethiopia. Like other Ethiopians, I am hoping and wishing that the new change will bring a lasting solution for age-old challenges: economic backwardness, lack of education, poverty, prejudice, disease and political instability.

What happened in Burayu has crushed my spirit. By any standard, it was unacceptable. People in Ethiopia have expressed their sadness, despair and sorrow in one way or the other. Now, we should take the opportunity to reject outright placing the blame on a particular family or ethnic group, and to unequivocally denounce the cruelty of the event.

This does not mean that we believe that people are blameless. We need to remember the Christian teaching of a woman who had been caught in adultery. When they kept on questioning Jesus, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” The world history in general and Ethiopian history in particular can teach us how human beings can be as barbaric as they were in Burayu. Make no mistake, I am not defending the perpetrators by any means, I am trying to condemn linking the atrocity to a particular group or ethnic origin.

Anyone who is not well educated, well nurtured, who barely survives, who is desperate, who has no work to do, who was brought up in a dysfunctional family may be manipulated easily and can cause trouble. The people who carried out the atrocity in Burayu may be labelled in any one of the categories. I do expect the full force of the law will be applied against the perpetrators. It is more than hope but an expectation that the perpetrators will be identified sooner or later and will be prosecuted.

Those of us who claim to be educated should reflect on an appropriate response instead of trying to distance ourselves from the act or make the knee-jerk reaction: “The crime committed was by x or y ethnic group, therefore they are barbaric”. It is a very hasty generalization and very dangerous. It is risky because it can trigger instant violence in the country. The minute group of perpetrators does not and cannot represent Kero (The Youth) or the Oromo people. In the same way, the Nazis did not represent the German people in general or Mussolini’s National Fascist Party the general Italian people.  The particular incidents in Burayu or Shshemene have nothing to do with the Oromo people in general or Kero (The Youth) in particular. The Oromo people are like any other peace-loving society in Ethiopia, as are the youth (Kero) in Oromia. Trying to create animosity between or among ethic people does not help anyone, rather it perpetuates our misery.

Kero is nothing but the youth in Oromia who have been brave enough to face state terrorism, who faced live ammunition with unarmed, who victoriously brought the wind of change to Ethiopia with their blood and sweat. No one can undermine the sacrifices made by Kero for the current political change. By the same token, no one can deny the long fight waged by journalists, civil society operatives, politicians, intellectuals, religious leaders and oppositions parties as well. Zerma and Fano cannot be forgotten at all. Giving unnecessary credit to one or the other is equally unhelpful.

There are many stakeholders for the current change. Trying to give the award to one particular group doesn’t make sense at all. How can we forget the youth who died during the red and white terrors? How can we forget the 1993 massacre of Addis Ababa University students who faced the TPLF led regime when UN Secretary General Boutros-Ghali came to Ethiopia? Since the 1974 Ethiopia revolution and before how many people have been killed, imprisoned, tortured and dismembered in Ethiopia to bring liberty and democracy to the country? Our history is full of hatred and animosity, our history is full of cynicism and disrespect. This must change and it is up to us, the elite, and every one who can bring change; we don’t need to wait in the expectation that someone will do it for us.

It is to close this sad chapter and write a new history that we welcome wholeheartedly the new Ethiopian Prime Minister, Dr. Abiy Ahmed not to return to the age-old hate and animosity. It is true, such a long-lasting political culture can’t evaporate over 6 month or even over two or three years for that matter. But, those of us who read and write, those of us who can influence many, those of us who have access to the media have a huge responsibility to work hard against returning back to old habits. In a way, we are conducting a unique and peaceful revolution spearheaded by the Abiy and team Lema, to bring respect and reconciliation to our society.

Many people considered OMN and ESAT independent media organizations but professionals have doubted this as their objectives have been dubious. Their sources of funding are not clear either. Whatever the situation, these two media organizations have played a vital role in bringing about the current change in Ethiopia; however, after the change, their role should be redefined and their source of funding should be transparent. If they would like to serve as a Public Service Broadcasting company, then they should strictly follow professional journalism modus operandi. Their editorial policy, source of funding and ethical guide lines should be made public. In a democratic society, the media cannot or should not be considered an enemy. If a journalist or a particular news item offended us, then we can use legal avenues rather than engaging in a smear or propaganda campaign and hate towards a particular media group.

OMN and ESAT governing boards, if they have one, should scrutinize the existing editorial policy and whether the journalists there are following the policy. Ethiopia needs more independent media and more professional journalism. We should not discourage the scant media organizations we have. We should identify bad journalism and distinguish it from media organizations.

The Oromo opposition parties’ statement with regard to the Burayo national tragedy was an over-reaction and some have called it “irresponsible”. Nobody wants to be associated with wrong doings. Some people would like to blame the Oromo in general instead of singling out the wrong doers and perpetrators. This is equally irresponsible. Those people who committed the atrocity could be from any ethnic groups. Blaming an entire people for the incident doesn’t make sense and it is not rational at all. However, irritated by such blame, creating another irritation doesn’t help either. The particular statement about Addis Ababa, and blaming ESAT was, in my opinion, wrong.

The land on which New York, Washington, Toronto and many other major cities in the North America are built originally belonged to the First Nations before the arrival of settlers but this doesn’t mean that the new settlers in New York or Toronto do not choose their own mayor or their own political representatives. I know many people may disagree with my analogy but I beg you to take it as an extreme example. Can we impose on the New Yorker or Torontonians that they should follow the indigenous culture? Can we force them to speak the indigenous language? Cities have their own spirit and culture. We need to think deeply and think to create harmony instead of tension.

I do understand the economic need of the Oromo people living around Addis Ababa City. One of the arguments is that garbage has been dumped in the surrounding Oromo satellite cities. Another issue voiced by Oromo elites has been the displacement of Oromo farmers from the surrounding cities. These and many other issues can be discussed and solved by matured politicians rather than creating unnecessary tension between people who have been living in Addis Ababa for over 120 years. The major reason why the Ethiopian people are yearning for democracy is to solve such huge, age-old problems in Addis Ababa peacefully and to address other political issues like the Raya and Wolkait problems. Democracy, I hope, will give us a chance to solve such problems to the relative satisfaction of all stake holders. Democracy will give a chance for everyone to have a say and to decide by vote. We don’t need to hate each other, attack each other, we don’t need to kill each other to bring peace, stability, and democracy in the country. We need to sit down, try to understand the other point of view and ready to negotiate and come to a reasonable solution. As Dr. Abiy once mentioned that we can all be winners. Why would we want one to be a loser and the other winner? Why? We can all win and live in harmony. Please let us use reason and logic not just our feelings. Solutions to issues settled in a democratic manner will be long-lasting, I presume.

The write can be reached: solgosole@gmail.com

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