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Assessment for Oromo in Ethiopia

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Oromo in Ethiopia, 31 December 2003, available at: [accessed 17 October 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Ethiopia Facts
Area:    1,251,282 sq. km.
Capital:    Addis Ababa
Total Population:    55,000,000 (source: Ethiopian Embassy, Washington, D.C., 1994, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

Until a truly open political system is allowed in Ethiopia, the future condition of the Oromo remains questionable. With the continued insurgency in the south, even Oromo unaffiliated with militant and violent organizations are still targeted and subject to governmental abuse and detention. Further complicating a viable projection of Oromo participation in Ethiopian politics are the disparate claims that various Oromian groups hold, ranging from full political independence to greater regional autonomy to greater participation at the central state level. When and if rebellious activities conclude will likely indicate whether the Oromo can carve out a political niche adequate to their many distinct members. The fact that the Ethiopian regime has completed preparations to annul the official use of Oromo language in over 375 cities and towns of Oromia is one of the many indicators of the level of repression the Oromo people face.

Analytic Summary

The Oromo, the largest single ethnic group in Ethiopia consisting of about one third of the country's total population, are found mainly in southern Ethiopia. The OLF, a major political force which was founded in 1973, fought against Mengistu in an attempt to build an independent "Oromia" (integration of various Oromo regional and religious groups into one Oromo nation). Although the OLF had been at odds with other Oromo groups such as the Islamic Front for the Liberation of the Oromo (IFLO) and the Oromo People's Liberation Front (OPLF), they began coordinating their action after Mengistu's fall. The political slogan for Oromia facilitated a union between the OLF and other Oromo organizations. Historically, they had never formed one Oromo state, but were organized into smaller units of clans or villages. Although the Oromo remain a plurality of the Ethiopian population, they have historically been marginalized politically in Ethiopia (POLDIS00-03 = 1), whether it be under the emperorship of Selassie, the Marxist-Leninist regime of Mengistu, or the Tigrean-dominated EPRDF government of Meles Zenawi. As mainly Sunni Muslim (Oromo Christians live in north and west Ethiopia/Oromo Muslims in the south and east—GROUPCON = 2), most Oromo are religiously distinct from the dominant Christian Tigray (BELIEF = 2). While smaller Oromo tribes speak Oromifa, the majority of its group members speak Ethiopia's official language of Amharic (LANG = 1). However, because of their relative dispersal throughout the country and varying beliefs, the Oromo have generally been less united both religiously and socially than the Tigreans or Amhara.

This diffusion of Oromo throughout Ethiopia, coupled with their sheer numbers, has led to a complex formation of numerous conventional and militant Oromo groups that have at times both cooperated and rebelled against the dominant EPRDF. The Oromo Liberation Front in 1991 revived a small-scale guerilla war in southern Ethiopia that continues to date, and seeks separation from the central government and other southern ethnicities (REB00-03 = 4). Other Oromo organizations include the militant Islamic Front for the Liberation of the Oromo (IFLO) and the Oromo Peoples Liberation Front (OPLF) and the more conventional Oromo People's Democracy Organization (OPDO), created by the EPRDF as its own Oromo affiliate. This division has at times resulted in intragroup factional violence, most notably between the OLF and IFLO, although a peace agreement was signed between the two factions in July 2000 (INTRACON00-01 = 0)

Oromo civilians have also taken to the streets frequently in small-scale protests (PROT99 and PROT00 = 3 with PROT01-03 = 2) to argue for greater political rights and proportionate representation in Ethiopian universities. By virtue of being the largest ethnopolitical group in Ethiopia, the Oromo are perceived as a threat to Tigrean EPRDF power and this has resulted in government repression against the group including the arrest of many group members (REP0103 = 1), the use of torture (REP0500 = 3), a saturation police presence in certain Oromian areas of the country (REP1700 = 3), as well as forced resettlement (REP1203 = 1) and confiscation of property (REP1003 = 1).


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