Bereket Gebru 03-20-17
After taking training in conflict management a few weeks back, I have still hangover on the idea that conflicts are inevitable. They are a product of opposing interests and irreconcilable differences. These natural phenomena can bring about an opportunity and they are not always negative in nature. Turning them into an opportunity, however, depends on how we handle them.
Having read the article by Ismail Mohammed Abdi entitled “shedding light on the recent violence in the border areas between Somali and Oromia regions of Ethiopia,” I have resorted to sharing my thoughts.
Considering the numerous traditional tales the writer used in his article, I feel like it would be appropriate to start mine by reciprocating the trend. A teacher brings a diamond into a class and asks his students what the color of the diamond is. One student says it is blue, the other claims it is pink and yet another says it is white. He then asks them to decide which one it is, starting a conflict between the three. The students bickered over the issues for a while in vain. So, the teacher changed the direction of the diamond to show the pink and white colors in it to the student who claimed it was blue. He then did the same with the other students and showed them the other two colors they could see from where they were seating. That finally brought a shared better understanding about the material among the students.
Similarly, Ismail’s article brought the pink to our blue. It is, after all, the spectrum of opinions about a single issue that give us a total picture of the subjective reality. Considering his ideas might be shared by a number of people, it might be inappropriate to flinch at the sight of something that is not in line with our thoughts. At least, we now know how Ismail feels about the border conflict in some parts of Oromia and Somali regions. The considerable difference in our understanding of the conflict should draw us to the round table instead of setting off an insulting contest.
In my opinion, Ismail is well entitled to his opinion and no comments should be offending enough to discourage engagement with each other on the issue at hand. We need to refrain from labeling people despite the fact that the writer has done so a number of times in his article. Now that we have seen his angle, we need to check it further and work together with him and others sharing his views to come up with a situation where all parties would work towards the resolution of the conflict.
The pragmatic perspective
The law, however, is not as tolerant as I am trying to be. Regardless of one’s prior knowledge about the decree and their intent, the law punishes those who transgress it. It just views all equally and treats them the same. Therefore, the ‘independent researcher’ banner used by the writer may not be of much help when it comes to the law.
Article 15 of the state of emergency proclamation prohibits committing any action that disrupts tolerance and unity. By depicting the Somali people as defenseless pastoralists that have been brutally killed and vandalized by armed militia and paramilitary police from Oromia, the writer is committing an act that disrupts tolerance and unity.
Instead of choosing to resolve the land-related problem peacefully with its neighbor, the Somali Region, as the case used to be in the past, all that the (Oromia) regional government, with the whole weight of its lawmakers and intellectuals, has done in the past seven or eight months was to send thousands of heavily armed militia and paramilitary police members to border areas to fight pastoralists in their villages of origin, leading to catastrophic casualties including unnecessary human deaths, displacement and devastation of local livelihoods mostly on the side of Somali regional state.
Any Ethiopian or Somali who reads the above paragraph and takes it as the truth would bear a negative feeling about the Oromia regional government and the federal government of Ethiopia as it has stood by when our Somali brothers were massacred by the militia from Oromia. It is this feeling that the false narration creates that incites hatred and violence in the future.
In addition to such depiction in numerous occasions, the article in general paints a grim picture on the unity between Somalis and Oromos. Although not backed by sound arguments, the article also intends to create at least a suspicious relationship between OPDO and the rest of EPRDF by insinuating that OPDO is working with illegal opposition abroad.
However, this last one brings the OPDO into new heights where senior members of the Oromia regional government, including the current president and regional lawmakers, clearly feed on opposition propaganda and are openly praised by the opposition press for complementing their agenda. It seems that there are clear complementarities in the roles for each party here: the OPDO domestically becomes the operational arm running the fighting machinery intended to destabilize Ethiopian Somali communities in border areas whereas opposition groups, including those banned by law, would run the media warfare needed to shape the opinion of domestic and international audiences and entities.
The writer also tried to create some sort of antagonism between the Oromo people and the Oromia regional government when it stated that ordinary Oromos are struggling to understand the real intentions of their political elite.
In general, the article harms tolerance and unity at various stages. Whether it is inciting one group to consider the other as the enemy and retaliate, or seeking to agitate a certain group to oppose its administrative apparatus, the article does it all. It also intends to create suspicion among the ruling coalition in the country. Could this mean that the writer has acted in breach of Article 15 of the state of emergency?
Well, if he did, Aigaforum and Tigray online have also helped his cause by disseminating the content. The two websites have for long entertained content that promotes tolerance and unity among Ethiopians. However, their leniency towards this piece seems to be out of place. At a time when the whole country is working towards sustaining the peace achieved after the fatal mayhem, it would be irresponsible to gamble with the achievements thus far.
On a personal note, I would go for a round table discussion with the writer but the part of me that keeps telling me that he might have incited people to develop a feeling of animosity amongst themselves tells me otherwise. That is not a dilemma though because the law would have none of the alibis we can come up with, if it can prove that an illegal act has been committed.