Dear Diaspora

by Chaltu Siraj

Dear Diaspora,

Watching the bloodshed and genocide take place in your motherland an ocean away has taken a toll on you. As the government is rounding your people up and using their bodies for target practice, I know you cannot help but to think, “who is next?” You have read history and heard the stories as your manguddoo tell their truths, with their eyes full of tears, but nothing can compare to the pictures and videos that have surfaced snapchat-2689406031888312227during the #OromoProtests. From the Ambo Massacre in 2014 to the revolutionary wave of protests in November of 2015 to the most recent atrocity, on the 2nd of October, 2016 with the Bishoftu Massacre, it has all been televised. Every single waking moment of the day, you refresh your social media and see pictures of corpses and videos of fearless adolescents, elderly and children running the streets of Oromia chanting, “nuti abbaan biyya”, “we are the fathers of the land”. You heard the story of the mother who was forced to sit on the corpse of her child. You heard the story of the woman who was killed in cold blood, seven months pregnant. You watched the video of the elderly woman who took an oath that she would shield your brothers and sisters from live bullets if they were fired in their direction. With every picture, every video and every account we heard reported, a piece of you died.

Following the Bishoftu Massacre, the sense of urgency was at an all time high. You held emergency meetings, raised funds and were ready to do whatever it took to reclaim what was rightfully yours. As you are looking to your elders, community leaders and your elites to guide you in efforts to save the lives left and to work diligently to ensure that those lives lost are not in vain, you are finding yourselves at a loss. The government-declared State of Emergency in Ethiopia has hindered your accessibility to the documentation and photo and video evidence of the atrocities being committed against your brethren, with the lack of internet and network access. Just because your feeds have grown thin, have you forgotten that your motherland is crying and her children are dying? Have you forgotten that this ruthless government is on a mission to wipe out an entire population of your people? Have you forgotten those images and videos already?

In the light of recent controversies surfacing on social media, I was reminded of an excerpt from a play, The Taxi Project, written by Aaddee Martha Kuwee Kumsa in collaboration with three others. In the introduction to the scene, Seeyyee (Kumsa) speaks about her decade-long incarceration and her conscription to the military upon her release. She went on to describe that she declined conscription and decided to flee with her children, as the rebel forces were bringing down the government right in front of her eyes. As she fled, she feared being caught with her children and made the ultimate sacrifice as a mother, leaving her children behind with her younger brother. The scene, as played on stage, of the conversation between Seeyyee (Kumsa) and her younger brother is as follows:

SCENE 21: BABY BROTHER

Seeyyee: I had a speech prepared but …

I’d like to ask my baby brother to be with me here tonight.

(She lights a candle.)

Seeyyee: The last time I heard my brother’s voice, I was crying into the phone. I could see the turbulent billows of smoke rise over my homeland. I could see the fire spread and the flames dance all around him. Agitated tongues of flame lashed out to lick my brother. Yet, he stood there smiling, so sure of himself.

Baby Brother: Stay put my big sister, stay put. I’m home; you are the one in exile. Stay put till you come home to freedom.

Seeyyee: But, what is home and what is exile? Oh, I enjoy home in exile, when you are rendered homeless at home.

In my homeland, Baby Brother, in my homeland,

The grass shades me from the scorching sun;

but in exile, Baby Brother,

the sun burns me in the thickest shade of the biggest tree.

In my homeland, Baby Brother, in my homeland

The meat of a flea feeds a multitude;

but in exile, Baby Brother,

Two friends fight over the meat of an elephant.

Baby Brother: Home is freedom, my big sister, home is bilisummaa. Home is dignity. Home is justice. Exile is wherever home is not.

Seeyyee: Exile is wherever they plough the fields with guns and sow the seeds with blood. In an unjust world, home can only be in the struggle to restore freedom and justice.

Baby Brother: Yes, that’s why I took to the woods with the village youth.

Seeyyee: Our father took to the woods, and I am not coming home

Our father’s brother took to the woods, and I am not coming home

Our mother’s brother took to the woods, and I am not coming home

I saw the injustice

And my heart howls.

Oh my heart howls with rage.

Kumsa’s word choice and imagery in this piece is a reminder to you, first and foremost. You fled for a reason. For those same reasons, decades later, your people are still running. This should always be the mindset that you live with. You should be yearning for the day when your nation can stand in Finfinnee and raise the resistance flag and hold your heads high, tasting sweet victory. You should be yearning for the day when you are reunited with your loved ones, no longer fearing for their lack of security. You should be working with one another, alongside one another, in a race to attain bilisummaa from every front. You cannot forget that as fish outside of the water, every victory achieved can only be attributed to those fearless souls, who dodged bullets and slept with one eye open and to those who sacrificed themselves in the name of a free Oromia. Do not forget you are merely an advocate, an amplification of the voice of your people and their plight.

As you are fighting over the meat of an elephant, Oromia is still bleeding; she is crying and awaiting your return to join your brethren under the Odaa tree. Dammakkii! Si waamtii Harmeen.

Sincerely,

Caaltuu Siraaj


Chaltu Siraj is a fourth year Criminal Justice major residing in Atlanta, Georgia. She hopes to use her education and skills to continue advocating for the Oromo people.

Food for thought, from an Oromo woman

by Elella Daba

I have been examining the role women have had in our community for a long time, especially when it comes to the ongoing struggle for self-determination. For many years, I have wondered how Oromo women, both at home and abroad, have contributed to the struggle. I have wondered about who these women are, what their contributions were, and what their thoughts, visions and values are. Quite often, there seemed to be no lack of names to drop when it came to mentioning the heroes of the Oromo, but the heroines are almost never talked about. At times, it seemed that people even struggled to remember their names, let alone their contributions. As if the community is made up of only men, half of the population is forgotten, unless we are trying to score political points based on their plight.

What led me to writing this commentary was actually an interview I watched a couple of days ago, where a well-known person, who has played a crucial part in the struggle, was asked if he had any children. Afterwards, the journalist moved on to asking other questions. Now maybe only a few noticed that, but I bet every woman who watched that interview was a bit offended. To the defense of the interviewee, he mentioned his wife and even called her his unwavering partner in the struggle without being asked. But this isn’t the first and only time such things have happened, and not every man has cared to correct such errors. There seems to be a somewhat collective notion that the men in our community go through all of this alone, but most of us know that this is not the case.

 

nuria

The women in our community have been the rock of the struggle. They, too, have been arbitrarily arrested, tortured and murdered for taking a prominent part in it. Those who escaped such fate have braved being single mothers when their better half was imprisoned, forced to be a refugee, and in worse cases, when he was murdered. They have willingly sacrificed the home and family they wanted to build for the sake of the struggle that they too believed in, fully understanding that their children could grow up without a father and that they could also grow old without their partner. If that is not sheer determination that needs to be recognized and celebrated, I don’t know what is. Still, no matter the role that women in our communities are playing, credit is usually given elsewhere or used as a backdrop to tell other stories. I believe that the time has come for our community to have an open and honest conversation about how we can change this pattern.

I want to encourage each and every man and woman in our community, including myself, to look around us. We need to purposefully and consciously ask and learn about the story of every heroine of our people. We need to learn about what this struggle means to them and what can be done from now on to fully integrate their vision and opinion into the cause. We have to be vigilant in making room for our women so that their voices are fully heard. Such actions should not be for show, but in order to build a strong sense of community from within.

Finally, to the Oromo women who have contributed to this struggle and are still doing so in any shape or form, I want to encourage you to come out and tell your stories, for it is only then that your sisters and daughters can truly inherit your courage and determination. To all my known and unknown heroines: baga dhalattan, baga keenya taatan, baga ilmaan Oromoo deessanii guddiftan, baga qabsoo keenya keessatti hirmaattan. Galanni keessan ammayyuu bilisummaa haa ta’u.


Elella Daba is a university student living in Norway. Her hope is to see the day where Oromos will be able to determine the future of Oromia without any preconditions imposed by outsiders. As the saying goes in Afaan Oromo,  “alagaan alaguma, Oromo dammaqi”.

A Letter to Qeerroo

by Elella Daba

As the sound of the call for freedom rings louder, I thought it was about time that I reached out to you. There is no question that the past four months have been demanding and trying. The sacrifice that you are paying on behalf of our people and country has not gone unnoticed. The determination that you have to stand in front of bullets with nothing but your bare hands and the courage that you have to fight for our people at any cost makes the likes of you a hero. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration if I said that you are redefining the meaning of determination, courage and hope.

The enemy really believed that the will and the spirit of the people had been broken; that the fire burning bright had been put out. But you are living proof that this is not the case. You keep proving them wrong time and again. No matter how many times the enemy barks of planning and taking merciless action, you refuse to back down and sell off your land. The message you are sending is clear: Oromia is not for sale, never has been, and never will be.

I want to tell you how much we appreciate you, Qeerroo. I want you to know every Oromo heart beats true for you, prays for you, thinks day and night only of you and the struggle of the people that you are leading. No other nation can ever claim to be this lucky, lucky to have a generation that has not forgotten its history, nor has become a sellout. The struggle of our people has not become foreign to you. The heroes of yesterday that sacrificed their lives are living and breathing through you. Their struggle has not been for naught. You have taken the torch and you have run faster towards freedom than anytime before.

From every corner in Oromia you have organized and come out in droves, marching and singing the songs that I heard when I was a little girl, “siifan lola Oromo narra hin gortuu” bringing back so many memories of the struggle and the price paid by so many Oromos. The sheer determination I see in you tells me that fear has left Oromia. The naysayers can say whatever they want, but the time is not for the faint-hearted. No longer can they tell you that you are not well organized or that the enemy is more prepared than you. Despite the immeasurable obstacles you are facing everyday, you keep pushing back, harder and stronger. I have no doubt that many wish you were theirs, that they could call you their own, claim you as their brothers and sisters, and heroes of their people. But you belong right where you are, and it is with the Oromo people. You are writing history with your blood and the price you paid for our people will never be forgotten.

Qeerroo, the hope and the future of Oromia, I want to tell you I believe in you, that I believe in your potential to build a brighter future for Oromia. You are what we have been waiting for. You and only you will be determining your future, and the future of the generation coming after you. The next generation will never have to wonder what qabsoo looks like; they have you as a prime example. Our ancestors began this struggle and famously promised “gabrummaa hiddaan buqqifna, dadhabnu ilmaan itti guddifna”. They started “fincila diddaa gabrummaa” and now you are rewriting history with “fincila xumura gabrummaa”. Your children will never know the taste of injustice. I have no doubt they will eternally be grateful for the price you paid and for the responsibility you took upon yourself to put an end to injustice.

Your sister,
Elella Daba


Elella Daba is a university student living in Norway. Her hope is to see the day where Oromos will be able to determine the future of Oromia without any preconditions imposed by outsiders. As the saying goes in Afaan Oromo,  “alagaan alaguma, Oromo dammaqi”.

Six Foot Deep

by Soretti Saleh

Momma, I thought you knew
I was six-foot deep
Six foot deep before I knew

Change it up

Six mans* deep
Hands held behind my back
Wearing rubber shoes
I’m running in any direction
I see the steel bit aimed for my head
Running away before it passes through
A baby on my back,
Now regretting I had you
Your family has gone too
Nairobi or Mogadishu
A celebration as it looks south
Oppressors celebrating the death of
Our people; so let us know with the sense of fume
That our bodies burn with the
Remembrance of all of you
That light gives us motivation
At least to a couple or a few
So be the lamb that roars

Ask our government, was he but a mere peasant?
Peasant was king, in the eye of one,
Whom to a cockroach had been lessened,
Crushed could he be, momentarily.
Momentarily were we human beings

Dark, blood, and bodies.
We see because it’s the destruction they’ve conceived.
Hope, light, and prosperity.
We can’t have if we can’t show our identity.
Advocates, activists,
Guns that face me.
Words,
The bullets to address we.

Warriors.
“Peace” is an annoying interruption of war
For a warrior can swiftly swing a sword
And my pen, can write your horrors
A symphony of cries and screams,
My diaspora
Try to recover

*”6 mans” is Toronto slang, meaning “6 men”.


Soretti Saleh is an almost high school graduate in Toronto and is destined to pursue law at Harvard in order to help the diaspora and our people back home. As a young girl, she would listen to both her parents come up with poetic songs and so she made poetry her own and used it as a tool to spread awareness about the Oromo diaspora.

Spoken Word by Soreti B. Kadir

 

A very moving piece by Soreti B. Kadir inspired by Hawwii Tazarraa’s protest song “Ka’i Qeerroo”. In her words: “News of Hawwii’s arrest by Ethiopian security forces (third time in 3 months) surfaced less than 24 hours ago. Her beautiful song is my heart’s anthem right now. My tiny tribute to her and all who have sacrificed similarly to bring the #OromoProtests movement to where it stands today.”

We loved Soreti’s lyrical prowess and powerful delivery. For more of her work, buy her book of poetry, entitled Siyaanne, at the following link: http://soretibkadir.strikingly.com/

Preserving Afaan Oromo

“If God has protected a language for 100 years, isn’t it our duty to look after it as well? Our forefathers, our grandfathers; what I asked for was $50,000 from people, it’s a small price to pay. When so many Oromo people who are not in this room today, they paid the heaviest price for us to sit here, they paid with their lives. They paid with their own blood, they paid with their own relatives, they paid with themselves to make sure that they stand up for something they believed in. So we have a duty.”

ToltuTufaAfaanPublications2013

– Toltu Tufa on fundraising for her Afaan Publications campaign

Siiqqee as a Form of Resistance

“The irony is that when Oromo men trample on the rights of Oromo women, it is not considered a betrayal of the national cause. Thus Oromo women are told to “bear it” or “swallow it” and put off the struggle against sexism until after national liberation. Despite their denigration, however, Oromo women in Oromia and in the Oromo diaspora are stepping up their struggle against sexism. Some women in Oromia have formed an organization under the name of siiqqee which underlines the fight against gender oppression. Women like Likkee Waldee and Maymune Sherif have continued their revolutionary activism even in exile; they cry out for the necessity of multifarious Oromo women’s organizations and a wider scale of consciousness-raising education. Obviously gender and national consciousness assists Oromo women to correct the distorted images and prepares them for the struggle of true liberation.”

– Aaddee Kuwee Kumsa, “Oromo Women and the Oromo National Movement: Dilemmas, Problems and Prospects for True Liberation” from the text “Oromo Nationalism and the Ethiopian Discourse: The Search for Freedom and Democracy”