On 24th May, 2023 Oromia regional government created its 21st Zone. The new Zone is called the East Borana zone. The Borana community worldwide celebrated the decision of the regional government and commended it as a right decision. On the other hand, the Guji Oromos condemned the decision as wrong and saw it as a betrayal. What followed was protests, propaganda, lobbying, destruction of property, road closure, human rights violation and political mistrust between Borana and Guji communities.
In the year 2003 the Oromia regional government split Borana zone into two: Guji zone, Borana zone. The Borana zone headquarter moved from Nagele Borana to Yabelo while Guji zone headquarter remained at Nagele Borana.
What were Borana’s contentious issues under East Guji Zone for the past 21 years.
The Borana community of Liban have complained on several occasions losing their pastoralist land to Somali clans of Degoodi and merahan. The Borana land mass which border with the Somali region was reduced to 50 km from approximately 180km.
- Bad leadership
Under the leadership of East Guji, the Borana community felt marginalized. The community alleged that previous administrators denied them development activities which include: roads, schools, access to medicine, and job opportunities and other social economic development.
- Human rights violation
According to locals, Borana youths were targeted by administrators. Arbitrary detention, torture, extra-judicial killings of Borana youths in East Guji was rampant. Most Borana youths were accused of being a member of Oromo Liberation Army and easily targeted.
Borana youths were sidelined in employment opportunities in all sectors, denied business licenses and lands. Due to such level of discrimination most Borana university graduates moved to the Borana zone as an alternative for livelihoods.
What remedies were Sought?
Borana leadership of Liban presented complains before zone administrators on many occasions. According to community leadership the zone administrators refused to pay attention to their demands for long. In the year 2018 a delegation of Borana University graduates presented a petition before Mr. Lemma Mergasa then a President of the Oromia region in Adama.
A 24-page document seen by the author contains mainly the names of community members who lost their lives defending community lands, the land lost to mostly Somali clans and why the community want a new administration to defend their position. Community elders also made the same appeal before Mr. Shemilis Abdisa when he visited Yabelo in the year 2021 for cultural event. In the event aired live on Oromia Broadcasting Network a Borana elder by the name Qaphare Godana made an emotional appeal to Mr. Abdisa, “give me a new zone to protect my land or take me to” Dirre” where my other clans reside” The president’s response was then “I will not create a new zone for the sake of pleasing employees.” I have an issue with the community.
Announcement of East Borana Zone
The announcement of the new Zone brought excitement to the Borana community worldwide. “Our lost land is back; our lost town is back”. Celebration over social media was on another level. The Borana community felt their longtime questions had been answered finally. They felt the new zone will bring development, peace, tranquility to the community just as the government put it.
What followed the announcement?
What followed the announcement was both excitement and sadness. As stated above the Borana community worldwide celebrated the decision while the majority of the Guji Oromo community felt saddened by the decision. The Guji community took the decision as a coup d’état.Protests broke out in most of Guji districts. The police responded to protesters with brutality of the highest order. Three people were killed in Bore town by security officers while hundreds were illegally detained in various police stations across two Guji zones.
Why Guji Oromos felt betrayed?
Immediately after the announcement of the new zone, the Guji protest kicked off. The Guji activists both in Ethiopia and in diaspora termed the new zone as an illegal entity and must be divorced by their people. The burning issues advanced by activists are: Public participation and political betrayal by the ruling party.
- No Public Participation: The Guji activists alleged that the community were not consulted prior to the decision at the grassroot levels. The East Guji zone headquarter was transferred illegally from Nagele Borana to Adola Wayu. Their leaders were forced to accept the decision without merit.
- Political Betrayal: Lower house decision is also termed illegal by Guji activists on the question of power and jurisdiction. The community support the ruling party of Abiy Ahmed hundred percent hence the decision come to them as a shock. They felt transferring the East Guji headquarter from Nagele Borana to Adola Wayu and establishing a new Zone in place for Borana has downgraded their political superiority over the Borana. The community Political space and leadership has been recalled to the local village level.
How Guji Responded
- Establishing a new livestock market : The Guji Oromo activists both in diaspore and in Ethiopia advocated for establishment of a parallel livestock market to counter Government decision. The advocacy led to establishment of Goro nagesso livestock market. This decision led to arbitrary detention of local youths and Goro Dola districts administrators.
- Peaceful protest: Community activists and high school students in various districts of Guji zone held several protests condemning the government decision of creating a new zone. New Slogan“Shemilis is an enemy of Guji, the Guji Zone headquarter must be moved back to Nagele, Guji have questions”.
- Closure of roads: Activists advocated for road closure as a means of countering government decision. This decision led to closure of Hawassa- Nagele Borana road at haraqallo, and Wadera town. Public transport was paralyzed.
- Destruction of Property: Public and private properties specifically vehicles operating between Hawassa town and Nagele Borana were looted, burnt down and destroyed on several occasion by violent youths.
- Appeal to regional and federal authorities to revise the decision: Guji leaders and activists have made several visits to high level offices in Addis Ababa to lobby the government to reconsider its decision while at the same time organizing ground protests in Haraqallo, Wadera, Shakiso and other centers.
- Media narrative: Guji Oromos have perfected media narrative especially from diaspora to organize protests, panel decisions exposing human rights violation, passing sensitive information to communities to mobilize and defend their position.
Borana Counter Response
- Media narrative: Borana activists and community leaders have also turned to social media to counter Guji Oromo allegation on the Nagele Borana history, bad governance allegation, human rights violation under the previous East Guji zone leadership.
- Lobbying at regional and federal levels to maintain the status quo: Borana leaders have also appealed to regional and federal authorities to maintain the status quo and thanked them for answering community long standing questions.
- Mobilizing diaspora Borana professionals worldwide for financial, moral and advocacy support to alleviate the economic activities within the zone.
What are the Suggested Solutions?
- Grassroot consultation with affected communities’ members: The disagreement between Borana and Guji should be discussed at grassroot levels. Community meeting involving youths, women, and elders should be organized between Borana and Guji at village, location and division and district levels to create understanding and cohesion.
- Involve political elites in mediation and traditional conflict resolution: Both Borana and Guji political elite should be involved to calming down the current political temperature. The political engagement should be both locally and internationally.
- Release all political prisoners: Human rights violation is rampant both in Guji and Borana. Currently hundreds of people are in detention centers across the zones. Releasing all the political prisoners irrespective of their political trajectory will bring political harmony.
- Involve youths in political process: Young people are very active politically both in Borana and Guji zones. Social media disinformation and hatred is coming up at alarming rate. Cyber bulling, abusive language among Borana and Guji youths are becoming orders of the day. Young people should be involved in political making process and thought or awaken on social responsibility.
- Holding accountable those responsible for violating human rights: In recent months many political protestors have been killed, injured and their properties destroyed in the process. Those responsible for these heinous crimes should be held accountable as one way of bringing peace, justice and accountability within the area.
- Pay compensation to those whose rights were violated: The government should pay compensation to those whose rights are violated and those whose properties were destroyed by criminals and bring those criminals to book through justice system.
- Government local administrators must stop dividing the community and solve their political problem with Oromo Liberation Army amicably: Punishing the families of those young people who joined the Oromo Liberation Army must be stopped with immediate effect. How can a mother or a father of someone who willfully joined the OLA punished through imprisonment, torture, beating and justice be achieved? Most young people who joined OLA never sought permission from their parents neither relatives. Punishing their family members for the crime of someone who they have no control over them is so wrong.
Borana and Guji are more than neighbors, they belong to one blood, one history and one big family. May Peace be Upon them forever. Amen.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect BGM’s editorial stance.