Interview with former OLF chairman Dima Noggo

February 28, 2019 Africa , Interviews , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS , OTHER , POLITICS

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“We can have self-rule within our respective states, and shared-rule with a common citizenship in our country, Ethiopia”



Ambo Mekasa interviews Dr. Dima Noggo



In Ethiopia, the 1960’s students’ movement was fueled by the question of basic human and democratic rights. During those days, numerous political parties were born to life. The Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) was one of the parties that came onto the political scene basically to defend the violations of the rights of the Oromo People.


Today’s guest is one of the founding fathers and the first chairman of OLF, Dr. Dima Noggo.


Dr. Dima was born in 1949 at the then Ilu Abba-Bor province. He was enrolled at Haile Selassie Elementary and Secondary School. He came aboard the political struggle at a time when speaking in Afan Oromo (language) in public was tacitly discouraged. Even churches were not allowed to preach the Bible in Afan Oromo Language. Together with fellow freedom fighters, in 1976, he declared the formation of the OLF as a party.


Completing his secondary school he joined Addis Ababa University and graduated in political science. He served in different governmental positions.


He worked as cooperative supervisor in Wollega in the former Ministry of Community Development and Social Affairs. He was a teacher in Hawassa and other places. He had gone to Senegal to study Economic Development and Planning. Due to the political turmoil, he couldn’t return to his country. As a result, he went to Sudan to join the armed struggle to fight against the Derg regime.


After the downfall of the Derg regime or during the transitional period, he had served as Minister of Information. Following the disagreement between the Tigrian People Liberation Front (TPLF) which was dominating the ruling EPRDF then and OLF, he was forced to leave his position as well as the country. At the time, leaders of OLF went abroad while others to jungles as they were hunted by TPLF. After the OLF leadership left the country, differences started to brew up among members. This led them to split.


A meeting held in Mogadishu in 1998, resulted in relieving about 18 leading members of the leadership from their responsibilities. This included some of the most prominent founding members of the organization. Dima was one of them.


Then, Dima started to pursue further education. Admitted at Birmingham University, he took his MA in Conflict Management. Later on, he went to a graduate school and earned PhD. After that he was mainly engaged in researches. He has been conducting research on how Ethiopia could have survived that turbulent time. He was also studying the challenges in Africa.



When and how did you start political participation?


Dima: My political participation could be traced back to my youthful days, when I was a student at Haile Selassie I University. I was the president of the student union. It was a time of Ethiopian students’ active political struggle. The time marks the beginning of my political participation.


The other factor was the deplorable condition the Oromo people were in. Though the Oromo people comprised close to half of country’s population, Oromo students comprised only less than five percent. So, I started pondering on why that was happening on my people. That led me to delve into the country’s political economy, which focus on that land tenure issue of the time.


The southern lands were controlled by the northern land lords. As such, the majority of the people became landless on their own village. They were forced to give half of what they produced to the landlords. In addition, the opportunities of the Oromo people to send their children to schools and to participate in socio-economic issues were limited. These and other factors were the main reasons that coerced me to start dealing with the politics of the nation.



How did you assess the changes that took place in the country during those days?


Dima: Well, wherever there is oppression and exclusion, people will denounce tyranny. They ask to have a fair share in their own country. Over the last 50 years, lots of changes have been taking place in Ethiopia. The 1974 revolution, attended by the land reform, got rid of the monarch. It almost ended tenancy, landlords and many others.


Since the country was hemmed in by a war internally and externally, people couldn’t benefit from the revolution. Rather, citizens specially youths became victims of government policies like forcefully or otherwise becoming cannon fodders of war. After inflicting much destruction, the regime collapsed.


After the downfall of the Derg regime, the transitional government replaced it. On the wake of the conflict between TPLF and OLF, OLF was forced to leave the country. As a result, the TPLF instated a complete dictatorship all over the country. Though OLF was unable to advance the armed struggle, the Oromo people continued to protest.


The young who grew up learning via their mother tongue and who were proud of their identity too started demanding the same right. Eventually, things took a turn for the massive popular revolution. Especially, during the course of the last four years the revolution gathered momentum. The aforementioned unfolding led EPRDF to a massive crisis. As a result, officials were forced to come up with new leadership that could tune to the interest of the majority who were protesting.


The change is incredible. It is a source of optimism for the betterment of the country. Everyone should work to sustain the change and work on how to get better things to his/her own people and country.



What do you think are the main challenges to the ongoing change in the country, what solution do you recommend?


Dima: Always changes have challenges. The first one is an inherent one, which was there for close to three decades. Needless to mention, there are people who, unfairly, had become beneficiaries of the last system. These people are shocked that they would lose corruption-amassed fortune due to the reform being carried out by the new leadership. They want to see the change suffer a setback. As they had put in place a system to siphon the country’s wealth, they know they are going to be losers if the change takes shape. So, they make a futile bid to abort the reform so as to return the status quo, which used to promote improprieties.


The second one is the great expectation accompanying the new reform. The reformed government has created lots of hope and expectation among the people. People had been yearning for change in this country for many years but in vain.


These people want the change that came out of the blue to bear fruits as soon as possible. Especially, the youth, who have paid dearly to bring this change, expect much. There is a massive unemployment in the country, highly populated by youths.


Though, the government had been certifying huge number of youngsters, the job market was not seen accommodating the labor market. I think fulfilling the expectation of the masses will be another challenge to the ongoing change.



What is your reflection on the forthcoming election; some say it has to be extended, what do you recommend?


Dima: Personally I don’t see why it should be extended. The remaining time is sufficient enough to hold election on schedule. We should not forget that it is not a new government in power. It is a new leadership within the party that has been empowered for the last 28 years. So, it is the same government whose mandate will phase out a year and some months later. I believe the election should be held on schedule.


I hope the next parliament would not be a rubberstamp one, engulfed by members of one party as before. I expect, five years after the election, the country will experience a genuine transformation. It would be a period when the new democratic order takes shape and when we manage to build effective democratic institutions. The election could show us whether the leading party has a mass base or revered solely because it is leading the country.


Including the leading party, the political parties in the country are not a real one. They seem weak and pervasive. In this fashion what we plan to achieve could not come anywhere near success. It is better to form coalitions to emerge strong. Somehow the leading party is better. It is better to have a robust and mass-based party in the country.



What do you say about federalism, is it appropriate for Ethiopia?


Dima: Ethiopia has had many challenges. During the past systems, power was centralized. There were also centrifugal forces demanding freedom, self-administration and autonomy. Eritrea is the best example for this. Devolution of power is essential for the betterment of the country. Federalism is the best way of equalizing everyone in the country. It is absolutely appropriate to the country if implemented in the true sense of the word.



What do you say about citizenship and ethnic politics?


Dima: They are not exclusive of each other. One can be a citizen of one’s country and have own identity. We can have common citizenship and also hold our identity. For example Germany is a federalist state. It has nine states within one country. There also other countries like USA, India and other. We can have our common country Ethiopia, while still administering own respective state, to develop one’s own language and culture. In general, we can handle both simultaneously.



What is your take on the foreign policy gains since the change has taken place?


Dima: I am not front liner to some of the foreign policies except the original politics. The one I know and publically known is regional politics in the horn. The end of conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia is the major success. The new leadership took an appropriate measure so that people of the two countries can resume normal relations. Happily, people on either side of the common boarder share culture, language and other. Separated family members, relatives, friends are reuniting.


In addition, the unfolding had positive impact on the region. For example the conflicts among Eretria, Djibouti and Somalia are laid to rest because of what the premier has done. Ethiopia always works to create the best relation with any other country. The country had better diplomatic relation even in the former system. Now, the turn of events is encouraging. Yet there is a lot to be desired.



How did you observe the Ethiopian history courses?


Dima: As the saying goes, history it is written by victors. It does not come as a surprise for me if the written history of Ethiopia reflects the history of the northern part of the country. It relates about leaders, who hail from victorious parts of the country, and who in 19th centuries, opted to expand the territory of the country. More of the country’s history reflects the culture and traditions of the people.


There is also a certain bias. According to Western historiography, it is only the people who have a written history that are seen having their history. Others, without written traditions, have to be studied via anthropology. This is one of the factors that cast a shadow on the history of others.


Ethiopian historians should come together and conduct research throughout the country not only in the churches of the northern part of the country but also those found in caves, oral histories and others. It is better to come up with Ethiopian history that depicts the whole picture. If we fail to have the common understanding of our past history, we cannot move forward together.



Could you tell us few things about the transitional period and what factors forced OLF to leave the country?


Dima: When we established the transitional government, we agreed the political ground to be a level one. TPLF wanted some form of legitimacy for the new government. Alone they could not make that happen, because they came from a small region in the northern part of the country. Militarily, they were superior but politically they had a narrow base. The OLF was not militarily that strong as TPLF but it had a large political base.


So, we agreed for regional administration within six month based on direct election. But this regional election could not take place. It was not only postponed but also banned others from election. They closed the offices of OLF, killed and imprisoned members. Due to this, we couldn’t participate in the election fairly and later, they forced us to leave the country. To ram home the message, they raided my apartment and imprisoned my driver. In addition, they intimated us “Unless you leave the country you will be no more!” At the time TPLF had a large military bases. OLF was not strong enough to fight back. In addition, our party had its own internal problems. These are the main cause for OLF to flee the country.



There are several parties in the name of OLF, which one is the real OLF?


Dima: There are three parties that call themselves OLF. But the original OLF movement was there until 1992. There is no OLF now. There is no founding member of the OLF who is actively participating in these parties. The wings are simply claiming the name OLF. The political objective of the OLF was all about the people and people empowerment. It had never been territorial, it was popular.


Currently, things are all about the power for oneself. The old OLF no longer exists. The OLF was the part of Oromo people history. It was started to unite Oromo people and make them strong but few individuals’ twisted things to their own benefits and wants things to go their way.



What is the reason for splits in the OLF? Who is to blame?


Dima: It was all about power struggle. The first split in the OLF happened in 1978. Abdulkarim Ibrahim left the movement. Later on, he came back with an Islamic front of Oromia. He came with Islamic agenda for tactical reason to get support from abroad. Otherwise, he was an Oromo nationalist like us.


The second one occurred in 2002 after many of us were chased out. They deposed the chairman and elected a new chairman. Following this, the other faction came with the OLF Transitional Authority. Again in 2008, the one, which was in Asmara split. The reason given was difference along the political line. But, if we look at things deeply the three factions that call themselves OLF use the same flag and two of them have the same program.


One of them is still claiming itself loyal to the original program of the 1996. The program has not undergone fundamental changes, except some phrasings. Except for personal clashes, I don’t really see the political differences. Only one is engaged in armed struggle.



Since they can’t unite themselves, how can they unite the people?


Dima: Currently, the Oromo people are united more than ever before. The people are one. Especially, looking at the massive popular movement for the last four years shows the movement rippled from towns and cities to far-flung corners uniting people.


The recent movement started opposing the Addis Ababa Master plan. Every Oromo took the same agenda and fought it. But there are a lot of political factions among the Oromo. At least there are 15 political factions.


I don’t see political and tactical differences. Though things seem people are divided by political views they are one and the same.



What do you think are the reasons for the breaches of law and crisis in some parts of Oromia state?


Dima: After introspection within EPRDF and reform, the previously banned political movement has been given a green light into the country. Some of the OLF wings were engaged in armed struggle. Other groups had no problem. While some of the armed groups agreed to join the security and serve the people. Few didn’t accept this. Those that fall in this set were trying to get a foothold in the western part of the country. Confrontations were taking place between those armed forces and the government. Though we don’t know the agreement between the two, people should not be victims. All activities of residents and commuters in the area were banned. The services of schools, banks, and other public enterprises had screeched to a halt.


Government and the OLF should iron out differences to solve their problems. Laws should be respected.



What do you recommend to Oromo and Ethiopian people?


Dima: Naturally, reform takes time. Everyone should be sober and work hand in glove with the government. The Oromo people are decisive for the survival of the country. All the more so, since the Oromo people form the largest ethnic group in the entire horn of Africa. In addition, the Oromia State produces nearly 60 percent of country’s growth domestic product. The state has common borders with all states except Tigray. Whatever happens in Oromia could create a domino effect on the country.


Everyone should work together. We can have various political parties but we have to have a national consensus on the fate of the country. We have to be united to go forward.






Ambo Mekasa

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

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