This is a full transcript of Oromia Chief Administrator Lemma Megersa’s response to lawmakers at the regional parliament on February 26, 2019 where he discusses a range of administrative challenges, from compensation demands slowing road projects to attempts at destabilizing the region’s borders.
Also annexed are Lemma’s comments about the resettlement of displaced Oromo to Addis Ababa and surrounding areas that were made in a meeting with elders on December 15, 2018.Thank you, honorable speaker, and also honorable members of the Chaffee.
Many issues were raised by members of the Council, and instead of responding to every issue just as you mentioned, we agree with what you, members of the Council, said. We also think that we should give due consideration to these issues and take them as inputs into work that is coming up.
We think that all sectors have given you tangible reports on issues concerning public services and issues that were considered as having great meaning and importance; and, after that, the standing committees of our Council have seen what has happened on the ground and presented it to you. I want to use this opportunity and say that we accept issues that the standing committee of our Council have pointed out as shortcomings.
After saying this, I want to present some points on issues that are worth noting, and that you might need to be informed about.
The first one is about locals demanding for universities to be opened, and these demands were seen in Guji and Woliso. As I have told you, these issues have to be decided by the Federal Government, and I want to state that the government will be working for this agenda to be solved by the Federal Government.
The other thing is about the restructuring of government institutions. Though the detailed explanation was given by Dr Bikila, there are complaints among some employees and we believe that there has to be clarity on this issue. The restructuring of the government institutions is not related to the salaries of employees at all. The reason for the restructuring of the government institutions is primarily to minimize unneeded expenses that the government was exposed to through various ways.
The second reason is to make services accessible to the public. We expect that making services that were at the woreda level accessible at the kebele level will be one of the changes this restructuring will bring. But the main thing is bringing together work that was scattered. It should be done in one place and by one group, but was not being done accordingly. In relation to this, the restructuring was not done to increase salaries of employees; instead it was done to increase the efficiency of employees.
The reason why we were forced to reconsider the government structure is because there were complaints about government activities and there were big issues concerning good governance. Though solving the good governance issue is related to correcting attitudes, it is also important to consider the issues related to government structures. Therefore, government employees have to understand this. The waste that occurs because of this is very big and knowing the costs related to these issues is important. If the government structures cannot be evaluated from time to time, the problem it brings would be big.
For example, the support the Federal Government gives for regions is 70:30. 70 percent is from the government’s various revenue sources. When 70 percent is left at the federal level, 30 percent is distributed among regions, according to the standard. And when we come to a region—the revenue the regional government gets—when 70 percent goes to woreda, only 30 percent is left at the region. It is big deal that 70 percent goes to woredas. For a region of such a poor country, sending 70 percent to the woreda is a big deal. And when 70 percent goes to the woreda, there are many things that are questionable when we ask about how it gets to people, how much of it reaches people. From the total budget, 70 percent goes to woredas and woredas uses 80 percent of their budget for administrative matters., which may be salary or per diem and such and such. So there is no way that it reaches people. The question which we have to see is, what will we do for people if we use up 80 percent of the budget for ourselves, and how should we serve people? So, using these limited resources and increasing our efficiency, it is important to ensure people benefit. Since if this issue is ignored here it would be ignored everywhere, it has to be dealt with here.
The other thing our employees have to understand is that it was not only seeing difference between sectors, and not only delivering services that are at woreda level to kebele level, but also there were only a few occasions when employees fit their positions. The way it should be is that an employee should be evaluated based on the contract he has signed and tested whether he is competent or not. And this is the method the world is using nowadays. And for an employee to fit for that place and position, he has to be examined and evaluated and pass.
Our people were affected by the lack of good governance
Efficiency cannot come easily. Every employee, starting from a guard standing on the gate to a head of a sector, including janitors, have their share. Good governance issues cannot be solved because we talked for years. We cannot take a single step forward from talking about it for years. Following this restructuring, from now on it is important to give competency exam for any Oromia government employees for positions they are assigned to, and that will be effective in the future.
When we say the government, it is not only bureau head who is the member of the cabinet. When we say officials, a security guard who is at the gate and book-keepers also take their part. It is our people who were affected by the lack of good governance and it is us, starting from higher officials to security guards, who must work. Checking, solving, and putting it on the right path is important and that has to be enhanced and updated from time to time. Our bureaucracy has to be the bureaucracy that can deliver. So it is good to understand that it will be done in such a way in the future. According to the past trend, the past culture, when one sector is restructured, it had been related to salary. But this is not it. If a person assigned to a position delivers what is expected from him and gets salary increment, it will not be a problem because he has to get what he deserves. But it has to be understood as much as possible that salary increment should be based on efficiency.
In relation to this, from questions raised from Chaffe members, which is about reshuffling officials often and the turnover rate being high. It is true! Everyone of us sees it, understands it. Shuffling to right and left, up and down, was happening. Though it has reduced currently, in the past years it had been happening widely. It is not because there is a craving or an addiction to changing people, but it is good to see why this reshuffling is happening.
The first thing is that the people we serve have major complaints about the services we deliver. We are the ones who manage this work and each one of us, whether it is at the regional level, woreda level or kebele level, are sitting on chairs, and if we are on that chair and our output is not seen in that community, it had to be that there is a problem somewhere. Because our work is the work that was not settled and stored, and that cannot be easily identified, there were problems that were being seen. Secondly, it is true that when an individual is appointed to one position, there has to be some trial period until he familiarize with their work environment. This is understandable. However, when an official is appointed to one position, it is to bring change. Not for another purpose, it is for him to bring change. We have to ask ourselves saying “What change did I bring after I came to this position?” Being appointed should not be seen as if it is something that we get by nature or that we deserve and that we cannot be removed from that position. Therefore, if someone who can bring change stays in the position not only for two or three years but even for 20 years, it is a good thing, as long as he brings change. But if he is not bringing tangible change, keeping him will be problematic.
When an official is appointed, it is to bring change
About how long would be the trial period, that is also questionable. The situation determines the trial period. If the region is peaceful, one year of trial period may not be long, but in a region where there are problems, a month is a very long time. So, a person who is appointed to one position has to work day and night and familiarize themselves with the work environment and bring change within a short period of time. There are problems in this. There are those who were accustomed to past trends and were not able to get out of it. It is hard to wait for such people, because our situation will not allow us to wait for them. And the second is that there is a problem of legitimacy. Official means, ‘it is all about legitimacy’. Being an official means having acceptance, not being a boss and commanding always. A person who is not acceptable, who cannot be heard, cannot be an official, even if he is fat.
So, some people don’t have acceptance, and such people are a liability. So instead of struggling with them, finding them places where they could fit would be the solution. There are places where such things were seen. And in such places, it is important to make such kinds of correction. The reason is, when the vehicle is slow, it is OK to be slow, but when it is fast, you have to use the same speed, and if not, it will be a problem. In some instances, an official will be productive in one place and because of that there are situations in which he is promoted or changed to another position.
These are the reasons that resulted in occurrence of high turnover. It is because of our attempts to get out of accumulated problems and also the problem that the community is in. They cannot carry that problem while we are familiarizing the work. So the reshuffling was because of the sum of these issues and various other issues. And it is important that your excellencies understand that if it happened, it had its own reason. We will be very happy if someone who is productive and who brings change remains on his position. I want the Council to understand that we will work to reduce turnover and even ensure that those who come to the administrative positions should be evaluated in the future, and we also believe that all our people should know this.
Some development issues were also mentioned and for example many points about road development were raised. It is a good thing to see most of the questions that were asked about road development are regarding the asphalt road. It shows that we have partly satisfied the people whether it is rural road or high standard asphalt road. The big demand is for an asphalt road. But this doesn’t mean that all woredas have the full road access and have their own URAP (Universal Road Access Program). It doesn’t mean that all rural roads are covered with gravel. However, because there are variations in infrastructural development in various places in Oromia, some are demanding graveled roads and others are demanding asphalt road. And we take this as a change.
But, what we have to see is that our projects, whether it is asphalt project or rural road projects, even including URAP, have defects. There are projects being completed at a regional level by working day and night, and there are also many projects that were delayed. In our road authority, starting a new project is a big work, finishing the delayed work is a big work, managing completed roads ranging from low standard roads to asphalt roads is a big work. And if we see all these works independently, they all have complex works. And when it comes to asphalt road project, it is important to understand that the finance issue is a big issue.
It wasn’t possible to get sand in Oromia
However, what I want to explain to the council in relation to the delay is, for example, last year Oromia regional government has made a special decision and allocated 6.2 billion birr to create jobs for unemployed people from the budget initially allocated for road projects in the form of loan and deposited it to OCSA (Oromia Credit and Saving Association). This decision itself is one thing that affected the progress of road projects, though efficiency of the bureau and its defects and defects with contractors also have their part in the project delay.
A big obstacle to all infrastructure projects, which is not only road projects, but also water projects—which both regional and federal governments are constructing—are facing is the problem in Oromia. Not only security problems, but we also tried to take our share from the federal government from its road construction projects, just like we take our budget share, especially this year. The federal did not give us through allocation, but the region has identified the problem and managed. However, though this property is our property and serves our community, it was hard to work on the project. It wasn’t possible to get stones, it wasn’t possible to get sand in Oromia. It wasn’t possible to get soil with which roads, schools, and hospitals are built.
So it has become a big problem to use them. To solve this problem, because roads go through farmland, and residents’ houses, we had to pay compensations and even after the compensation is paid, because houses were not destroyed, many big projects have stopped not for one or two months, but for one to two years. Two years! Until contractors give up and leave, taking their machineries. This is after the compensation is paid.
Looking at this issue is very important. The road construction project from Yabello to Moyale was stopped for two years in Mega town, and it is because of one house not being destroyed. It was stopped because of one house until yesterday. The demand for a road in West Shoa, Ambo, people have asked for a road for many years. But after it was decided and compensation was paid, because those who took compensation were not cooperating, it has stopped for many years. Contractors have left the site taking their machinery. This is the problem we are facing. Demand for infrastructure will be raised but it cannot be built. If it is said that a university will be built tomorrow, on the site where it is planned to be built, 1,000 houses will be built within one night. If it is said that a road passes through this location, many houses will be built on that location. Jimma, for example, such kinds of things have happened and then compensation was asked for it. The university in West Hararge Zone, Chiro town, the cost of constructing the university and the amount of compensation paid for that site is not even close to one another, it is ‘horse and ground!’.
Anyways, from both left and right directions, we need infrastructural development, but it has become difficult to put it on the ground. Implementing it has become difficult: ‘its head and leg was mixed up!’ We need it here and we block it there. Because of this, infrastructural development has become difficult in Oromia. This respected Council has to know this. When we say sand and stone resources have to be for our youths, it doesn’t mean blocking and hindering projects. What we said was that it has to be taken from those selling sands and stones and given to youths, not authorizing them to stop building hospitals and schools if contractors don’t buy from them. This is not right. Whether it is the road, hospital, or school, if it is going to be built there, it is the property of Oromo people, and it is Oromo people who will get the service. And also stones that can be mined are the property of Oromo people. None can give and deny. This has to be known. On every projects, as Oromia, the problem we are facing and the reason why contractors are unwilling to work in Oromia is not only security situation, but because we have mixed up head with leg and couldn’t identify which one is which. So since this issue is not a simple issue, this issue should be noted.
In relation to this, Oromia regional government has corrected past errors and past wrongs concerning investments. We are also preparing laws to correct it for the future. But this doesn’t mean that all investments have a problem. If an investment has problem, it means that the government has a problem. It is government’s responsibility to update and amend the law so that the people benefit from it and the investor gets guarantees. But wanting to rob private property in the name of investment is not right because there are signs of it in various places. Look, over here, there is a need for an investment to come, and over here, there is a desire to rob, close, destroy private property. Except that we have to correct what we have to correct, in a way that it benefits our people; pushing away investment will not help us, will not develop us. And this has to be seen. It is not good for our name and development.
Not only that, whether it is government-held land, or whether it is a land transferred to investors, or whether there is a forest, there is a need for the land to be allocated to them. If we share forests, if we share government-held land, are we going to abandon the country, or what are we going to do. If we are going to live in it, we don’t have to divide it among ourselves; instead, we have to make it benefit us all by making use of it effectively. Change cannot come through dividing land among ourselves.
Dividing and taking forests will not let us survive
A question that is being asked in various places is has land been given for Oromia special seeds. If special seeds are being produced by the government, what would Oromo farmers use to farm tomorrow? Or, from where should we bring? Are we going to import it from abroad, being this poor country with no dollars. There is a broad question requesting for a special seed production site of Oromia. And such a question is not right and it has to be examined. Because this binds all Oromo farmers’ fate. It will not lead us to development. Dividing and taking forests will not let us survive because it destroys us.
The second is that the government has bought almost all farmlands from the federal government. But when we buy it from the federal government and return it to Oromia regional government, it is not to share it for people. It is to organize the surrounding youth on it by managing and administering the land. So that the youths benefit from it, and at the same time upgrade our farms. Not to divide it! Since such kinds of questions are being raised in various places, noting this issue is very important. Especially since it is expected from his excellency a member of the council, we will support each other show our people its problem and explain to our people, who lack understanding of it. This issue has to be considered.
There are many problems that were raised by the Council about water, but completed works were many. Many water projects that were postponed are completed. But as Oromia regional government, the big problems we have in relation to projects are related to water projects. Big problems our people are facing, especially in east Oromia, Hararghe and around deserts occupied by pastoralists, is also related to water. Our projects are not going as expected. And this is, for example, you have mentioned about Arsi Negele water project. Arsi Negele water project is a very big project by Oromia regional government. It can serve millions of people. But this project did not delay because of the government. There is no budget shortage, no shortage of experts, but it is because farmers said that they use it for irrigation and they not willing to release it. That is why Arsi Negele water project was delayed, not for other reasons. There is no problem of expert, no problem of design, no problem of contractor. Not only Arsi Negele, but there are similar problems in other places. Contractors have their own problem.
However, the problem concerning water is that the capacity of the bureau and the project it manages are not proportional. A person with a weight of below 50 kilogram struggles with a quintal. Firstly, water bureau doesn’t even have enough experts to manage all these projects. Water bureau manages over 19,000 projects. It is very hard to manage nine projects, let alone 19,000 projects. It needs expertise. And since the big problem is around there, to solve this problem, restructuring water bureau through research made by experts on how it manages, how it administers projects, and how it can be capable, instead of needing support from other place. So I see that it is good if it is seen in such a way.
It is very hard to manage nine projects, let alone 19,000
Bako water project, which an honorable member of the Council has mentioned, was a big project that was taken as a model project, and it has stopped for various reasons, but now it has started after it was decided that it should start and not be stopped like before. So, I want her excellency, the member of the Council, to understand it in this way.
In relation to water, the Moyale, Borena and various surroundings were mentioned. A major work is needed around Borena area to solve pastoralists problem is water. Borena water project doesn’t have both experts and budget problems. Over there, a shortage of electricity transformers has hindered it because that water had to be transported through gravitational system and there has to be a power and it is costly to use fuel. From the side of Oromia regional government, there is no problem. The budget needed for this was allocated. Experts and machineries needed for this are ready. And if the transformer is planted by Electric Power, Borena water network will be completed.
Anyway, if it takes two or three years for the transformer to be planted, because we don’t have to wait for it by ignoring Borena problem, we have decided and started working to dig for shallow wells at woreda level in Borena. Moyale drinking water project was built not because they didn’t have drinking water but it was taken as special case because their drinking water pipe was cut off. So, I think it will be good if this issue is understood in such a way, not as a newly researched project.
In relation to unemployment, budget provision is not enough as mentioned by the council. This year, we, as Oromia regional government, didn’t work as last year to solve the issue of unemployment. Last year, we did great things by working very hard, and everyone campaigned on it. If we had worked this year as last year, the problem should have been reduced. Security issues that we faced in Oromia has affected this work. The second thing on finance is that giving money only cannot solve problems of unemployed. Even though all 6.2 billion birr that was decided to be given to for unemployed was not given to unemployed people, still now about two billion birr was not returned. But this money had to be revolved. It should have been given through loan and then when returned it should be given to others. If it doesn’t circulate, it is not possible. Loan of about two billion is not returned. Some of them took the loan and disappeared. Some of those causing security problems are those who took the loan and run away. When we give loan, if we don’t follow up that it would be returned, it’s a big issue. And this is one of the problems.
It is not right to distribute the money just because we have it. Making sure that the system works for both loaning and returning money is very important. However, following agricultural work, our main and primary focus should be working to create jobs for unemployed people. If there is a system which is capable to make sure loans will be returned, our finance bureau does not have a problem to give loan. And I want to explain to this Council that we are learning from experience and currently there is some research being done so that from now on we will be working to create jobs far more than last year in the second half of this year and next year.
Another agenda that was raised is about the issue of displaced people. For the question about what is being done to solve their problem and to resettle them and what is planned for the future, if we look back into the past two years and this year, Oromia is primarily working on the displacement issue. The number of people who are displaced is so many. For a person who sits and looks, it may look small because it is presented in a number. But for someone who is working on the issue it is very difficult and very challenging. It is not that the issue can be solved by money only. Returning them to their former place is very difficult and resettling them to another place is very difficult. Supporting them on a daily basis is also difficult. Because these displaced people were exposed to various problems, we have been working to resettle those who were displaced from Somali to wherever possible in Oromia towns, including Finfinne. And even now, some are left in Hararghe and the work has to be continued. And to do so, it needs finance. Even those who were resettled in towns surrounding Finfinnee, including Finfinnee, resisted to be settled in condominium and we are building houses on the ground. Even giving condominium for them is difficult, since they don’t know this kinds of culture. They have many social problems. We were not able to get out of this problem, because it is very difficult crisis and very challenging crisis for the Oromia regional government, and this crisis is something that would be very difficult for our country.
Not only those displaced from Somali, from where were they not displaced? The burden of Gedeo people who were displaced from Guji has fallen on Oromia government. The burden did not fall on the SNNP regional government, but on Oromia. Feeding them and resettling them fell on Oromia. We did not ignore it by saying it is another region’s problem and it is not our business. When that many people were displaced we did not ignore them. It is Oromia regional government who did almost all the work starting from comiling and providing food, compiling and providing medicines for their health, and even resettling them. However, we did not get out of the problem still today. Not only that, it is Oromia regional government’s program to work on resettlement. We have it in our plan.
For example, in West Hararghe, no matter how much we terrace the land, no matter whatever we do, unless that land is left to recover for some years, these people cannot get out of receiving wheat aid, even if they work day and night for 24 hours. Instead of troubling them by saying dig terrace, we decided that they should be resettled. So, the research was made about sites they could be resettled. And for this, we are working to make them resettle phase by phase, especially around western Oromia zones. And in the meantime, it is a problem if they move and settle by themselves. There are those who go to Guji, Jimma, Illubabor and Wollega. Up until yesterday, people from around Hararghe moved and settled around Guji and there is a problem. We can consider almost all of them as displaced people.
The returning of these people should be quicker
The government cannot abandon them saying it is your fault, but help them as much as it can. It has to get them back on track. And this is also considered as displacement. We are still working on it. While we were on this, too many people were displaced and were exposed to various problems around western Oromia because of a conflict with Benishangul-Gumuz. In general, when we see what we have been doing as Oromia regional government, we can say that we have been dealing with displacement, a difficult, challenging, and huge work. Oromia regional government has been dealing with this situation, with great compassion. It is not possible to provide everything those people need, but we were working to save their lives with our full capacity, and furthermore, working that they should get back to their homes.
And on this one, when we take those who were displaced from Somali, we tried resettling them, though their social problem still exists. Though there are issues, we have managed to return them to their homes. Though displaced people were exposed to big problem, we are also solving the issues around western Oromia by discussing with the other side and by bringing to justice criminals from that side. There are many people who are getting back to their homes. Though they are getting back slowly, those who got back are many. We are working so the returning of these people should be quicker. But there is another challenge that is waiting for us. There are many people whose houses were burned, there are those whose properties were robbed and whose crops were destroyed on their farmland. All these things need government’s work.
So, the issue that the government was dealing with is a big issue. For some individuals, by only seeing what is happening in his neighborhood, it looks a simple thing. But in reality, it is huge, challenging, difficult task. It is not a task that you will be praised for after completing. Even, those who you support complain and insult you back because they are having problems. Therefore, the Oromia regional government will again work on this issue and if possible make sure that no-one should be displaced and if not possible, the government should support them and also our people should also support them and be with the government to help them if it is possible for them to return to their homes, or if they have to be resettled. And I want this respected Council to see that supporting each other and working on the issue is important.
Borders and instability
It is being said that issues with Somali region are not being solved and border issue is not solved and it is true. In some places, there are places where border issues are not solved. But what should be considered is that it is not border issue which is exposing us to this problem. The issue around Somali and Hararghe which was talked about as a border is not a border issue. It is political issue, not border or land issue. There are places where there are land issues. Chinagsan is not about border issue. It is tribal issue. Babile issue is not border issue, but tribal issue. There are places where there are border issues. In Bordodde there are places in which solving border issues are not fully solved, and it has to be solved.
Moyale issue is border issue and it has to be solved, because there are many politics going on in there. There is a border issue around Liban and it has to be solved. Also around western Oromia, border issues are present in places which are not more than two or three. These are in places called Haroo Limmuu, Yaa’a Masaraa. Other places, there is no border issue. There is no border issue that can lead to war between Guji and Burji, between Guji and Amaro and between Guji and Gedeo. Such kinds of things are not new, but it was being solved from time to time through demarcating borders, and the problem is not a border issue.
Though the issue looks like border issue, the reason is to make Oromia unstable. It is to make Oromo unstable. We say that it is important to see it as political agenda. The issue around the border are to give assignment and homework for Oromia every time, not a border issue. A land might be an agenda anytime. It doesn’t mean that it will be solved for good because we demarcated it. Not on border, there is war in towns, in towns administered by Oromia. Even in the center of the country, we are not immune. However, what I understand is that these issues are not border issues, instead, it is political issue, it is political agenda, Therefore, I see that it will be good if this issue is understood well.
Moyale issue has to get special consideration
Anyway, whether it is political or other issue, for how long does it have to trouble us? We have had detailed discussion with Somali regional government and we also organized people-to-people conference and they discussed among themselves started solving their problems in Hararghe, and also in Moyale, by bringing together Borena and Garri. Discussion about solving these issues have never stopped. Not even for a single day. It has to be continued until it is solved. But seeing what is behind it is very important. The issue that has to get special consideration is Moyale issue. In Moyale, wide political activities are being undertaken. What is being done is not a simple conflict. And it has to be worked upon with maturity and strong plan. Borena Abbaa Gadaas know about the issue because we discussed with them. Moyale issue is not only Borena issue; It is Oromo issue. Oromia needs an international gate whether it is through west, east, north or south we need. Because if we have to focus on development from now on, it means trade. From the trade gates we have, we can do many things with the one in south. Borena livelihood is based on pastoralism, but they don’t have a market. Borena doesn’t have to face to the direction of Finfinne to sell its livestock. Mogadishu should be its market, Nairobi should be its market, Mombasa should be its market. Instead of going to Finfinnee, starting from Moyale up to Isolo to Marsabit are where Oromo people live, where they can freely work, so that gate is needed. Not for other things, but for trade, to change lives and livelihood of Borena people. So Moyale issue is not only agenda of Borena, but it also has to be the agenda of Oromia regional government and has to be worked upon with maturity. Since there are various issues on the ground, it is important to consider it in such a way.
The other thing is about Finfinne, on the question of what Oromia regional government says about Finfinne. Oromia regional government says what it said last year concerning Finfinne, there is no other thing it says. Oromia regional government cannot have another agenda than the agenda of the Oromo people. The rights Oromo people have on Finfinnee have to be respected by law. And for that, our respected Council knows and we also discussed about it and that our respected Council has given directions and Oromia regional government was working on it, more than anyone. Especially, the ‘special interest’ of Oromia on Finfinne, which was given to Oromia by the constitution of the country, we have done great works that it should be respected. But after we pushed it to the edge, it was suspended. But why was it suspended? The law that we made last year was not the law that can be made easily. As far as I know, it is a law that was maturely made by involving many historians, legal experts. It is a law that was made carefully. After it has passed challenging struggles, collecting peoples ideas had taken place, passing through many challenges, we made its doors open, so that what we make today could not stop us from what we might ask tomorrow; that it could not be a hindrance for future demands.
It reached the parliament after going through all these processes. But immediately at the time when it was taken to the parliament for ratification, market boycott strike happened. You remember what happened last year. There is nothing we didn’t do from our side. As much as possible, we involved known experts in the process of drafting it. It is not something that we did alone. It is a law that was drafted through transparent discussion. It was open for discussion to anyone who needed to give suggestions. I don’t have any doubt that it would have solved many issues if it had been approved. But at the end, a market boycott was declared on Oromia. So, since it was not right to approve it while there were protests, we decided to postpone it. We said “let this law wait”. We didn’t think that it will come this far for many reasons. That law also has made many things open. Because, as long as people exist, they might raise questions, if people’s questions are not closed. The law says in its closing section that anytime people demand something, their questions have to be answered. I believe that it should have solved many issues. However, it is not because of another party, but because we lacked listening to each other, we lacked understanding one another, because of our own reason, that it was suspended up to now. But today when we see whether we have the opportunity we had yesterday to push for its approval, there are things that may be challenging. And it is very good that this should be understood. This is why we say we have to listen to one another. Because not listening to one another affects us in such a way.
However, the rights Oromo people have on Finfinne have to be respected. I don’t think that we have difference on this. But it is very important to consider why the issue of Finfinne became the current issue and who created this agenda. After working on border areas, on regions, and now to bring the issue to Finfinne city, what is being done very widely, to bring it to Finfinne city. Anyone crafts his agenda in his home and when he completed his agenda, he brings his agenda to the market and makes us get involved in that market. What is going on from both sides, is not our agenda. The demands our people have on it should be asked properly and it should also be met properly. No-one has to stand in front of this. What could the war, which is being opened from this direction and that direction, bring? Does it bring solution or a problem that doesn’t have solution? It is important to see this.
Oromo rights on Finfinne have to be respected
For example, some give press statements saying Finfinne should be a special zone. But does it really bring solution for Oromo people? If 10 or 20 people stand in a row and give press statement, can it bring solution? What would happen after that press statement? Is that press statement a law? Is it a decision? Why is making it an agenda needed? What was planned following that? Or, is it to make that agenda beat drum on the air? What comes after the drum was beaten? Is a solution for that ready? Nothing was seen about it. And it is very important to see it in this manner.
From both sides, it is the drum that is being beaten. What is happening is not to bring solution but provoking one against the other and trying to force them to eat one another. So whose agenda is this? Is it our agenda, which we discussed upon and made it an agenda, or is it an agenda loaded on us by others? It is important to see it in this manner. If we didn’t create the agenda in any situation or time, we believe that it is important to see it carefully. Any individual says this is ours, demographically we are this, we have to do this, and many things are being said. And I don’t think that we have to follow each and everything that is being said in various places and do the same thing. But working on the right that we have legally and historically in a proper and mature way on how it could get a solution would be productive for us. We all of us have the same position on the Finfinne issue, but we have to carefully see into agendas that are created for us. So it is good if it is seen in such a way.
The other issue is in relation to illegal construction. Illegal construction is present everywhere. Not only in towns, but also in rural areas. Even if it may not be construction, land grabbing is present in rural areas of Oromia. Anyone interested grabs land in towns, anyone interested grabs land in rural areas, too. In Oromia, which town is the town where there is no illegal construction. And the one who gets ready starting from morning and works through premeditation, they shake the world when you do something in one place, because it has media in its hands, it has someone who speaks for it and he knows how to speak, it shakes the world. From any direction, what anyone, whoever it is, has to know is, that any illegal deed can never be legal from any direction. It can never be legal. This has to be known. Any work has to be done legally and legally only. Illegal thing can never be legal because of any type of pressure, or through any type of twisting in Oromia. However, why is Oromia land being robbed in towns? Why is it being robbed in rural areas? Again we have to see the problem on our side, not pointing to somewhere else.
In rural areas of Oromia where Oromo farmers have a land of not more than two or three hectares, there are those owning 20 or 30 hectares of land today. Where is equality on economic benefitting? It didn’t come as a bee and land on this land. What brought it is Oromia structure, who sold this land out, at least the kebele knows. Whether we say kebele administrator or so and so, the kebele knows. If we go down to there and investigate, these people have cards. Any house that gets demolished is illegal house and it can never be legal today, tomorrow, and and a day after, as long as theirs is a government. And houses that are getting demolished today are not tents, a house cannot be built in one night. Where is the kebele chief; where is Got; where are the town’s cabinet? Is it the air that administer it, if they don’t administer the land? It is not a person, who has house and lives among his family, that he administers, it is a land. Where have they been? When its foundation was laid and when it was built, where have they been?
There are four, five, six blueprints for one area
If we really think about it, demolishing a completed house is not right. I am not saying it is right if it is illegal. What I am saying is, where have we been? We should evaluate ourselves. What have we been administering during the time these houses were being built? Where have we been? We are the ones that should be questioned as criminals, not someone else! Today, there is no house that was built whether it is in our towns that was built without the knowledge of our structure. They knew! They do what they do behind the curtain, get benefits from it and throw a fire somewhere else to another place. The government says these houses that are being demolished don’t have credentials, so it is not legal, but the same administration, which is our structure, gives them letters saying that they should get water, they should get electricity, because they are legal.
What should be noted is that it is our structure that facilitates the situation. If it has to be responsible and if it has to be questioned, such kind of structure has to be questioned. Not only allowing for such kinds of houses to be built, not only legalizing it secretly, because it doesn’t have the authority to give blueprint and plan, it comes through water service card, electric service card, edir card to facilitate it to be legal. In our towns, there are four, five, six blueprints for one area. On only single land area. People are struggling because they are accusing one another in courts. Where is the criminal who is worse than this? If it has to be tried, this is what should be tried. Oromia regional government has never appointed a single person to administer in such a way. No-one gave them legal authority to administer in such a way. If we have to investigate, it is this issue. Purging is not enough. They have to be brought to justice.
We cannot administer our land as long as we don’t know which land is ours
Because the one who facilitated to make it legal in secret is not different from the one who built it, this has to be seen in many of our towns. There are towns that are controlling it, but many are still having this problem. Especially the bigger towns of Oromia. And this has to be seen. Not only in towns, but also in rural areas, the land issue is very important. So now we said we should solve this issue by restructuring because we didn’t want to divide land between rural and urban land, and we restructured it so that both urban and rural lands should be administered under one bureau.
Though the price varies from rural to urban land, land is just land. Not only that, the land bureau has completed a research to develop the majority of rural land, but how should we implement it? And also how could an urban cadaster be prepared? We cannot administer our land as long as we don’t know which land is ours. Because each and every plot of urban land has to be registered and identified. Not only that one, if the land stays open, it will also expose us to another problem. Even in rural areas, are Oromo farmers owning land equally? Who is owning land? It has to be seen and investigated. In the future, many of our youths want to own land. Instead of saying government land should be shared, instead of saying government farms should be shared, there are farmers owning 50 hectares, and it is is not fair to have this much while most of them have two hectares.
In the future we have to see how this land will be redistributed between youths with no land, farmers who are able to work and have no land and are holding too much land but are not working on it. And the land bureau is researching on how to make this thing possible. We will present the research for this respected council and that it would be approved and implemented, so that urban and rural land would be administered systematically and properly.
Why was the drum beaten this much when it is us?
Oromia regional government doesn’t have a wish to let people get displaced and go to the streets. What we want is that people should respect the law as much as possible, and in places they needed help, that the government supports them. However, since making an illegal thing legal is not needed, since it doesn’t help us all, weren’t illegal houses demolished in Finfinne, is it something new? You know, it was demolished in Finfinne city. It was demolished in Bahir Dar—who talked about it? It is good if it was not demolished. They didn’t build it from nothing, they invested what they had on it, thinking that it would be their homes. When you look at it from being in that person’s shoe, it is true that it is a problem.
Why was the drum beaten this much when it is us? We also have our problem, there is also a big problem from outside. So, we have to solve problems within our structure and take legal measures and in places where we have to correct systematically, we do it that way. So we believe that it would be good if we correct things in such a way and all concerned parties are working that way. I think it will be good if it is understood in such a way.
Finally, about security: We all know that Oromia was in a problem concerning security. Though there were problems in western Oromia and Guji, whether it is directly or indirectly, the region as a whole had security issue. As we presented this issue in our report, the Oromia regional government has been working day and night to solve this problem through big patience and carefully and is still working in the same way. With great patience! With great care! If we had reacted to anything that happens with government forces, it just results in harming our people. Because it brings chaos to our region and puts our region under a problem that we could never get out of, we were dealt with it with great patience. What was Oromia regional government patient about? What makes this problem is that it started within us and exposed us to problem. We brought exiled political parties with honor, to solve our problem with respect and honor. Oromia regional government has roadmap for this too.
The government has a complete plan to solve its problem. When we have worked to solve our problem with pure heart and mind, they came to us by war, which are responses we don’t deserve, with respect we don’t deserve. We tolerated it with great patience when they opened war on us because we respected them. The patience and care we showed, as Oromia regional government, is this.
Not only this, while Oromia regional government is ruling, woredas, kebeles and zones were dismantled. Many government officials were killed. Many Oromia police, who work day and night to protect security of our people, were killed. This is patience. In places where shots were fired at us, we didn’t fire back, we didn’t kill. Let alone public property, government budgets were taken in many places in western Oromia. Many properties were taken. Not only dismantling the government. But we tolerated this by patience. We didn’t immediately respond by force to the one that came by force. However, our patience has brought a big advantage. Our people were exposed to problems, but we managed to stop it from bringing a great problem. We have managed to stop worse problems from occurring.
They came to us by war
We don’t see that many of those recruited to an army have problems. The problem is with the mastermind. The big problem is there. So we didn’t jump in to respond to these fighters, who are in it emotionally, acting just for being Oromo, to cause other problems and we decided to tolerate it patiently, with great care, though it costs us a lot. This is why we are solving it with patience. If we had tried to solve the issue immediately, there would be many casualties from the public.
Anyway, since we started by saying we will solve it peacefully, we are still working to solve it peacefully, and it is being productive and this is our only option. The only option that can be a solution is solving issues in a peaceful discussion. Using force can never be a solution, it can never bring victory, and it can never be productive. If it happens, we don’t believe that this should happen among Oromos. And there is nothing that can be a reason for this. As far as I know, there is nothing that can be a reason for starting a war and organizing militants in Oromia. But it is because of not listening to one another, it is because of ignoring one another, that Oromia was put into chaos by being a tool for others. Therefore, Oromia regional government has been trying its best to solve this issue in a peaceful way and we will continue doing so. And if there are those who will be going against this, since patience has its limits, as long as this government is a government administering this region, making laws to be respected is a responsibility. It is a responsibility to bring those going against law to the lawful way. Otherwise, just because peace is needed, administering the country is impossible by begging and only preaching about peace. So, it is very important to see it in this way.
Especially, what has to be understood is, we planned, wished for, what we hoped for is that all political parties that came back from abroad and that were in the country, especially Oromo parties, come together and solve our problems within a short period of time and support each other by strengthening ourselves and stand up against to problems that comes to us from outside. How could that occur? We have prepared a plan. In this process of political struggle, there are many who hated each other, who were angry at each other. We know that such things are there among leaders of Oromo political parties. What was the roadmap we put initially? First of all, inviting each other for peace, coming back home, this is the first, which is getting settled. And then bringing peace between Oromo political leaders by reconciling. This is the sequence we placed. We wanted them to solve their personal issues and focus on public interest. So that individuals have to put away their personal pride and forgive one another.
The third one is, instead of debating about ideology, leaving their ideology out and discussing among themselves about what the political agenda of Oromo is in this country, not only political parties, but also involving Oromo elites and then redefine it. We are ready up to this and have put a direction. And after we put this political agenda, by agreeing on how could this meet its target, and who is going to implement it. The one that implements it to meet the target is the one who got acknowledgment, which is through election. This is what we wanted to happen. Because this was not understood, because this was not accepted, especially because this country’s real situation was not understood, it jumped to force. Otherwise, there is no reason.
Attacking one another is to expose people to another hyena
Whether it is for the future, as Oromia regional government, not only what we want and need, but what the public wants, is also not fighting with one another, but to sit and discuss about bringing solution. Otherwise, attacking one another is backwardness. Attacking one another is to expose people to another hyena. It is to give them over to another problem and another slavery. Yesterday, these people were forced by others not to be stable and were in problem. And today, if we make them unstable again, something is changed, but that problem is not solved, and it is making the problem stay. We don’t think a way of war is suitable for us and for our people. It is not other people, who were in trouble in western Oromia, it is our people, Oromo people. Who died is Oromo, Who suffered is Oromo. When? At the time Oromo is administering itself. This is shame.
And when we see this, it is not something that is left on some people’s shoulder. Every Oromo should see it calmly and judging it through reasoning and seeing the situation in detail and choose what is better for them, Otherwise, being led by our emotion, being led by what social media says as if is a bridle, will not bring us a solution, except that it will lead us to a hole. Whatever happens, do we have to fight one another? Today, others have built its own militants and aligned them around its borders as another country and have started threatening others, in this country. Those who were seen as enemies of one another are organizing themselves, by discussing with one another. You are all seeing how they are cooperating with one another. For who is it? And what are others doing? And for whose benefit is the one playing children’s game in this area? Is he really seeing this by opening his eyes or is he understanding the cloud that is coming, or is he troubling each other to get edir chair?
If we are not able to see this, we cannot lead politics. If we are not able to lead politics, pursuing our life is one thing. Politics is also mathematics, it is not only an art. Just like 1+1=2, politics also has the so called this plus this equals this. If it is not led like this, if it is not seen like this,…from where does that 1+1 come? It comes by seeing the real situation on the ground, knowing the truth on the ground, knowing the fact on the ground. It needs looking at it by flipping it around. It is not possible to lead politics if it cannot be analyzed based on that.
Especially in a country which is poor and in problem it is difficult. We believe that seeing this is important. Even today, Oromia regional government will continue working, just like it has gone a long way for peace. Not for Oromia regional government, not for few forces, but I want to explain that the government will work with greater patience for the sake of our people. Therefore, this respected Council should understand this, and also our people should understand this because it is important to work for the interest and need of these people.
So from now on, I want to say it would be good that we work for tomorrow instead of putting one another into yesterday’s problems, and we learn from them instead. I want to say to this respected Council and our people that we support one another and work for the peace of Oromia.
Lemma’s comments about the resettlement of displaced Oromo to Addis Ababa and nearby areas in a meeting with elders on December 15
The centre of politics of this country is in urban areas. It is urban areas that even determine the politics of the country. Number one politics in urban area means “demography”. On this, it is important to understand that we have been working many things, but not by pushing one away and pushing the other in, not to benefit one and harm the other. But it doesn’t mean that it is complete and it is enough. But what we have started is encouraging.
We could have returned those who were displaced from Somali, through reconciliation, using Abbaa Gadaas and our structures and any method. At least we could be able to return them back. But by transforming that problem into opportunity, though they are still suffering, we did not resettle them around rural areas. We resettled them in urban areas. We even resettled over 500,000 people around Finfinne and in Finfinne. We have resettled 6,000 people in Finfinne city. Not only surroundings of Finfinne. Though these people, who were displaced from there, who were not aware of the culture of this area, who have many differences in many ways, may suffer for a time being, they are still having problems, but if they suffer, it is better for them to suffer in this town. At least, let them have the place they could put their legs on. Saying that if he suffers, it will be for his children, we resettled them around Finfinne, by burdening our people.
You know, many are Hararghe people. We could have resettled them in Bordede, in East Hararghe. If resettling was right, they had to be resettled there, because they know that culture, they know the weather condition around there. But we brought them here in Finfinne around a place where they are not aware of the culture. Maximum they will suffer for two years, but after that they would get out of that problem. Because, the benefit it has on politics and then on the economy is great. Not only that, but in many ways. We brought many youths to urban area in the name of trade to give employment opportunities for youths. And when we bring them to urban area, they also have places where they reside. The land we gave to 500,000 government employees is not in the rural area. Whether it is small or big, land is given to half a million government employees is in urban area.
We can count many things. But it is not to say that this is enough. We have to work on it. But it is not something that was forgotten. We are still working on it. But when we do that, because it needs to done cautiously, I see that it is good to see this issue from this angle.
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Translation funded by group of foreign correspondents based in Ethiopia
Main photo: Lemma talking to opposition leader Berhanu Nega at the Office of the Prime Minister; Nov. 27; Office of the Prime Minister
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