By Robel Yohannes
Getachew Bedane, an MP, is one of the members of Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Organization (OPDO) Central Committee and one of its founding members. In light with the 25th Anniversary of the organization’s establishment, Ethiopian Press Agency journalists held a short interview with him. Excerpt;
Herald: Tell us about the establishment and armed struggle of OPDO and the struggle to overthrow the Derg regime.
Getachew: OPDO was established 25 years ago. The main reason and factors that led to the establishment of OPDO has to do with the fact that the organizations that joined the struggle to overthrow the Derg regime under the name of Oromo people were very weak and their activities was very anaemic and didn’t have people’s interest and basic aim in heart. And on the other hand, forces of democracy from the northern part of our country were growing at a rapid rate and the areas freed from the control of Derg were also growing. And it can be said that this has made Derg to be was heavily reliant on the Oromo people and the Southern part of our country for material and military personnel needs for the war. When the majority of the northern part was getting freed from the control of Derg’s rule, the Oromo people were forced to finance the war and human power, as many young people were forced to join the war they don’t believe in. On the other hand, Oromo organizations fighting the Derg regime were not able to invoke the Oromo people to fight for its right and freedom. So, there was a need for a democratic organization that would coordinate the public’s struggle to be able to stop the misery and oppressions that’s levied on the Oromo people and to enable them play their own key role within the struggle of Ethiopia’s nation, nationalities and people, and come to a situation where they’ll have a better living condition by protecting their rights. So, OPDO was established to answer this very important and critical question of the people.
And secondly, given the Oromo’s people settlement pattern and size, there was a possibility that the armed struggles to overthrow Derg might face hardship in reaching their final objectives if they do not get involved in the struggle and contribute their share. So it was decided that the involvement of the Oromo people and the need for them to have their own leading organization that would guide it to play its own role is one key ingredient needed to overthrow the Derg regime and build a democratic, peace and stable country. And it was also to answer this that the organization was established.
It was children of Oromo involved in armed struggle within an organization called EPDM (Ethiopia People Democratic Movement) who decided to establish OPDO. The organization started its armed struggle, in Dera, Northern Shoa. A new organization and at a time of war, OPDO was able to gain acceptance within the wider public and attract many young people in short period of time. As the organization was able to strengthen its structures throughout 1982 and 1983, and as the Oromo people stood by the organization, it was able to participate at the side of EPRDF in the ‘Tewdros Campaign’. The organization also has played its own decisive role in liberating Wollega and western Ethiopia from Derg.
It was within the first year of establishment of OPDO that Derg was overthrown. It was during this time working as EPRDF member that the organization was able to enter into Oromia region. It was a time when the Oromo people faced double suppression. On one side the people was not the master of its own labour and the wealth it creates, with the Derg regime taking away the fruits its labour through various oppressive structures. Its livelihood was messed up through forced villagization programs. More than this, they faced double suppression; by being made to forget and not be proud about its identity. They were easily mobilized and stood by the side of the organization. So, OPDO was able to hugely boost the capability of its fighting army up to division army in less than a year. After that the organization participated capably in important battles, establish its own control in freed areas while administering the people and protecting its own peace. Moreover, it was an organization and people that was able to play its own contribution in creating a conducive environment after the fall of the Derg, where all political parties were able to bring their programs to the public and participate in free election. It also helped the tenure of the transitional government to be completed peacefully by shielding it against the activities of various political parties especially Oromo political organizations the likes of OLF and IFLO aimed at stirring chaos and violence in the region, while helping create the situation where the country have a freely elected government through an election that is based on the constitution. As the conditions where all nation and nationalities can live together in equality, tolerance and brotherhood is created, we are now in the right track that would lead to the country’s current development path.
Herald: – What are the changes brought in Oromia State after the downfall of Derg?
Getachew: After the downfall of Derg, the Oromo people have established its own regional state like every Ethiopia’s nation and nationalities. It has set up its own administrative structures. The region’s people are now able to administer themselves through the governmental administrative structures setup starting from the Kebele through Woreda, City and regional council by appointing its officials through periodical election as per the law. Conducive environment has also been created in the region so that the peoples’ language, culture, tradition and values are not only respected but they are also utilized, strengthened and nurtured. Nowadays, Oromo people get its education, administration and court service through its own language. And economically, the people now utilizes the wealth it produces without any interferences from outside forces, while being able to pool its own contribution for the country’s development.
As it is known, given Oromia’s huge population number, it had large number of its people were relied on food aid when drought occurred. But now, through a rural-based strategy and development direction, the people are now creating their own wealth, while most of the region’s farmers are getting free from poverty through the rural-based strategy. The people of the region are now moving from creating wealth to investing and moving to industry by expanding their own wealth. Today in Oromia State, the farmers not only improved their lives by winning against poverty, but they are also now involved in some investment activities; transferring from farming to agro-processing and industry. People who faced difficulties to feed themselves or could not administer itself, are now getting themselves out of poverty and move to other endeavours by saving wealth, fully utilizing the current suitable situation which afforded them self-administration and protection of their personal wealth. And now it can be said that the region is at peace and people in State are involved in the development activities with full capacity.
Herald: What does the organization of the region look like now?
Getachew: Looking at the organization of the region, we find an independent regional State council. By assembling every three and six month, it assesses the general activity and performance of the region. The council assesses the work done by the regional executive bodies and supervises them through a check balance system; it puts direction, guaranteeing the people are benefitting and remain the owners of the sovereign power. There are now up to 18 zones below the region, where cities are now independent and considered as zones. For instance Adama, Jimma, Shashemene, Neqemte, Bishouftu are considered as zones and have their own councils at city level. Woredas, kebeles all have their own councils. Generally, the region today is in a position to deliberate and decide itself up on issues that concern the region, through its elected representatives. On the other hand, government organs and public service delivery institutions are working by organizing themselves up to the lower level incorporating and subscribing experts and professionals that supports for various social issues. Therefore, the council of Oromia is established and led by people of the region own participation and their elected agents. Within this arrangement, judicial bodies, security forces, administrative and governmental structures are organized from top to kebele level. As a result the people of the region are fully participating and benefitting from the developmental endeavour and administering the region by fully protecting and exercising its rights.
Therefore through the freedom and rights the people of the State secured, it is playing a pivotal role in the effort to realize the country’s vision of entering middle income status by involving committedly in the fight against poverty. Generally, the region now has a full-fledged structure and organization that allows it to administer its own affairs capably at every level.