Adherent of democracy, defender of human and women’s rights, proponent of change

October 25, 2018 Africa , Interviews , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS , OTHER

 

 

Ambo Mekasa interviews Seena Jimjimo

 

 

Today’s guest is the human right campaigner and activist Seena Jimjimo. Seena Jimjimo was born in place called Adaabbaa in the Oromia State of Ethiopia. From a very young age she grieved over the injustice she saw perpetrated, especially against the Oromo people, particularly against women. Wanting to help, she studied political science as an undergraduate student. Then she pursued public health and public administration, enrolling in postgraduate studies.

 

While at the University of Illinois, she was graduate students’ senator at large and treasurer for the African student organization. In addition, she was part of the Obama campaign in 2008 as well as 2012 and an intern at the U.S. State Department. She is also the co-founder and president of African Students’ Organization at Truman College and assistant executive director for Oromo Community Association of Chicago.

 

Seena is a recipient of many awards including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. scholarship and Mitheny M. Young Fellowship. Throughout her career, Seena has been founding and representing numerous students and other organizations.

 

Currently, she is the site director for two primary after-school programs that serve low-income and homeless population in Springfield, Illinois parallel to being adviser to the Oromo Youth Association in Chicago. Seena is an author and a dedicated human rights activist.

 

This journalist earlier had a moment of togetherness with her in a Conference held in Jimma:

 

 

Ambo Mesaka: What inspired you to be an activist and human rights campaigner?

 

Seena: Since my childhood I have been witnessing with bitterness the discriminatory treatments women were suffering. In my village everyone used to belittle and hit women. Every parent in my locality was taking having a boy instead of a girl as a source of pride. Due to this wrong mentality, many girls wished they were a boy. Women were forced to imbibe everything imposed on them though they did not believe in it. That really disturbed me a lot. Awakened to the ugliness of this unsatisfactory trend in my childhood, I decided to fight and stamp out such wrong preferential treatments from the face of the earth. I started my activism towards the empowerment of women all over the world.

 

 

AM: How were you elected to the student union?

 

Seena: I used to work for the African Students Union at high school. There should be three people to establish the union. There were three Oromo students. Discussing with them, I established the Oromo Students Union. As a result, I started working with African students on the issues of African students. In America an election campaign is a precondition to be elected for the student union. This way I was elected and became a secretary of the students union in Illinois University.

 

 

AM: What is your take on the current change in Ethiopian politics?

 

Seena: The change is very exciting as it mended the corrupt system. That put down a curtain on the reign of the brutal system and replaced it with a genuine democratic leadership, which is the first of its kind in the country. As we know, the previous system had perpetrated a lot of criminals on citizens including murder, imprisonment and exile. Thanks to the introspection and reform held in EPRDF by a few people and group called team Lemma the suffering of citizens is screeching to a halt, though there are some problems by the displeased.

 

Though I stayed in the resistance for more than 15 years, for the last three years now, just like the other Oromo people, day and night, I have been fighting for a true democracy.

 

Since 2015, the time the resistance of the Ginchi elementary students against the leading party started, I have officially started my campaign towards actualizing the current changes. Many had given up their lives to ensure democracy. My contribution pales into insignificance compared to them. I used to see 20 senators per day at that time. I reported the situation in the homeland to the office of President Obama. In addition, I used to work with Amnesty International Freedom House to end the injustice and breaches of law in Ethiopia. Kero was the force of change we have seen in country. Though the change is incredible, given present trends, we are not taking the change to a new chapter to transform the country. Rather some are seen using it for destruction. Due to the ill motives of the displeased, many have been killed, displaced and lost their property.

 

Citizens have not yet outgrown the hangover from the stifling rules and laws of the past. They were given orders at gunpoint but now after Dr. Abiy declared freedom, citizens are exercising their democratic rights. Yet, few go to the extent of breaching laws unaware that rights entail obligations too. They are insulting and displacing others. Though such a thing is bad, they consider they are doing right. We have to do aggressive sensitization work so that citizens enjoy the benefits of the change in an accountable way.

 

Especially, the to dos in some parts of the country cast a cloud on the fate of the country. In the past Kero and others had been posing a challenge on the government to weaken the economy. But now, things must not go like that. Destructing things is very easy, but building necessitates more intelligence and patience. So, the reformed government taking aboard think tanks should work on ways forward and how to build the nation.

 

 

AM: Are you a member of any political party?

 

Seena: I diligently worked with some Oromo organizations and others on how to reform the undemocratic system. But I am not a member of any political organization. I am simply a votary of democracy and peace. I can work with any citizen who works towards sustaining the change. Unleashing my knowledge and talent I am ready to serve my country.

 

 

AM: What should be done to empower women in Ethiopia?

 

Seena: I have seen lots of organizations and institutions that aspire towards the empowerment of women. They are doing nothing beyond holding the name to get support and appreciation from the government and other countries. I have visited many parts of Oromia to see firsthand women’s participation in every field, particularly in higher institutions. Women’s participation in almost all fields I have observed is unsatisfactory. We do not see women leadership in the nation.

 

Especially, society’s attitude pertaining to women should be changed. People are wrongly considering women as weak and ill fit. For example, in my community, parents and relatives are eager to have baby boys. Almost nobody gives priority to girls or women. They force girl students to stay at home and help out their mothers in tackling domestic chores rather than sending them to school. Due to this, many girls feel obliged to flee or marry someone they don’t even know.

 

I am yet to see what kinds of policy the reformed government is going to translate into action. We should go beyond the political rhetoric “We support women and we are for women!” and the like. Everybody likes to say so. But now, there should be serious policy implementations to empower women.

 

 

AM: What do you think about the rise of narrow nationalism in the country?

 

Seena: Ethnocentrism has been popular in this century. Nationalism has no problem by nature. But, taking narrow nationalism to a bad stage threatens others. Hence this inclination is not supported at all. Everyone has a right to talk, grow, love and respect his/her own culture. For example, I am an Oromo. I love my being an Oromo and I am proud of it. I have to respect others. I believe this is how things should be. In the U.S. we have many ethnic groups. For example, we have Mexicans, Latinos, Chinese, Indians, and so many others. We have to create a new Ethiopia that represents all Ethiopians and which is good for all. We have to make them sense the bond of unity and the sentiment of love rather than imposing and forcing on them to accept what we believe in. Every state should be represented well. Media should stop disseminating biased and destructive news. Though we can’t materialize this overnight, we have to lay the foundation for others not to repeat the mistakes done by others. Let us forget the past and think how to build a new Ethiopia suitable for all generations.

 

 

AM: What is the secret of your success?

 

Seena: The secret of my success is determination. Since my youthful years, I had been determined to speak for the Oromo people with added emphasis to Oromo women. Through my perseverance and persistence I have reached this stage. Academically, I was unsatisfactorily not among the top students. I fitted in the average student group. But, I have been laboring to fulfil my goals without giving up. If we persist in pursuing our dreams, we can turn out to be what we want to be.

 

I have been persistently striving to carry across the cause of the Oromo people. I have been working with different churches and universities to let them have knowledge about the Oromo people and their history.

 

Being a member of the fair sex in Ethiopia by itself is very challenging because they are taken as inferior and not capable of doing things. But in reality women can do almost anything on par with their male counter parts. The moment we entertain doubt about the capability of women that will be the point we start falling. So, everyone should focus on their success. We have to have a confidence in everything we do. Parents should work to upturn such mindset with a special focus on the new generation, who are supposed to have a good attitude.

 

 

AM: How did you join Obama’s campaign?

 

Seena: The Obama presidential campaign was the greatest campaign for me. I joined the campaign with pride as a confident African to contribute my own in the history of great America. I addressed thousands of people what to do and how to do it. I did that with pride. I am proud of being part of that big history in the world. Obama has brought much change for black people. But, it gave them a sense of ownership. Due to Obama many black Americans are facing hurdles for just being part of America. That is what we are seeing in Ethiopia now. Many Oromos are more concerned about the country.

 

 

AM: What do you think as the way forward for Ethiopians?

 

Seena: The country abounds in natural and unsatisfactory man made resources to be devoted to the development of the country. Youngsters should change the ways they are employed to coerce the incumbent reformed. Previously, they did all things they could to weaken the economy. Now, they have to work on how to harness resources and develop the country. As they sacrificed their dear lives for the freedom of the nation, they also have to work hard to shape the fate of the nation.

 

Moreover, the government should facilitate ways how the youth are going to be productive. It should create job opportunities and facilitate things for them. Since the new government is one of the fruits of their struggle, youngsters should listen to it and follow its order. There should be a series of discussions with society members to end the displacements cropping up here and there again and again due to the heinous acts of the displeased.

 

The other thing is that the government should arrest those who had been killing, imprisoning and torturing. The government should also solve the hot issue about Finfine and make Afaan Oromoo the additional working language for the federal government. Let us unite, let us stand for each others’ rights. Once more, ensuring our Renaissance, we can be an ever great country in the world.

 

 

 

 

Seena Jimjimo

Author, human rights activist, motivational speaker, humanitarian, founder of DF & COHRD and aspiring to change the world better than where she found.

 

Ambo Mekasa

EPA reporter, earning his BA in English Language and Literature from Arsi University.

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