Hailu Gemeda was born and raised in Liben Chukala Woreda, East Shoa Zone. He completed his primary education at Koka Primary School and his secondary education at Mojo High School. Up on completing high school, he went straight into the private business. He was one of the people who joined the struggle after the 1991 change of state in Ethiopia. In the process, he had become the mayor of the city where he first lived. He then served as Lume district administrator. He was elected as a member of the Oromia State Council.
After serving as a member of the State Council, he then became a member of the Regional Executive Committee. He also served as head of the Legal and Security Sector in the Executive Committee of OPDO until the end of the Transitional Government in 1996. But then things changed. As a result of the TPLF's long-running conspiracy at the time, he was not only removed from office, but also arrested and abused; his wife was also imprisoned.
Passing through all these hardship, Hailu Gemeda, a father of two children and three grandchildren, is currently engaged in agriculture, trade and transport. With Ethiopian Press Agency, he discusses the national and regional issues; the struggle and current situation of the Oromo people; the TPLF's long-running conspiracy and reform activities. Excerpts:
Q: In TPLF-led system, the country had been experiencing series of hardships for more than two decades. Among these, its evil tactics to oppress and rob the Oromo people takes the highest share. How do you explain TPLF'S intervention and strategies to oppress and rob the then OPDO leadership and the interests of the Oromo people?
A: In this regard, three main points can be raised especially the direct impact and intervention of the TPLF on the Oromo people, as well as its decision-making strategies. One indication of this is that when the House of Federation was established in 1995, its members were elected by state councils. When the Oromia State had been formed in late June 1995, at the end of the conference, it elected 23 members to the House of Federation.
The reason for electing 23 members was that the results of the census did not reach Central Statistics Agency. This could be a deliberate act. The election was held in the presence of the then President of the Federal Supreme Court and Chairman of the Electoral Board, Kemal Bedri. The election was observed by both the Chairman of the Electoral Board and the President of the Federal Supreme Court. In my opinion, those who get one to 19 votes should be taken directly as members of the House of Federation , but five people who received the most votes and were considered to be better educated, more experienced, and politically mature were reduced. For example, I was elected unanimously and the first one was my vote. And the reduction began with me. At the opening of the House of Federation, I saw my name on a table prepared for me.
The main issue is to discard strong Oromo scholars whom TPLF did not want to participate. To name a few, Tafa Tulu who was an Oromia Executive Committee and Head of the Economic Sector; Mulugeta Amena who was a head of labor and social affairs; Seyoum Haleke who was head of the Oromia Coffee and Tea Bureau; Mekonnen Nega Begna who was head of the Oromia Education Bureau. These are people who have master's degrees and worked in government offices for a long time. All decisions of the TPLF are non-democratic and abusive.
The second manifestation of the intervention was the fact that all EPRDF member organizations (ANDM, OPDO, and SEPDM), except the TPLF, including the Executive Committee, conducted a month-long evaluation in the summer of 1996 until the end of October of the same year. The evaluation of the leadership of the Oromo People's Democratic Organization (OPDO) was carried out at the palace with Dr. Negasso Gidada a member of the Executive Committee of OPDO.
However, during the evaluation period, like any other OPDO leadership, Senior TPLF members (Alemseged Gebre-Amlak, Tewolde Woldemariam, Solomon Timo) and ANDM's Bereket Simon led the evaluation and gave direction throughout the meeting held daily from morning to night (sometimes until midnight).
Following the evaluation, I was expelled from the Executive Committee on November 5, 1996, and two members (Mekonnen Nega Begna and Gemechu Tilahun) were also expelled from the Central Committee. This shows that the organization was influenced and guided by the will and desire of TPLF. It was difficult to move freely.
The third indication is the economic crisis in Oromia State and its people.
In order to stabilize the market and strengthen organizations financially and economically; various development and business enterprises were established following the 1991 change. The aim was to stabilize the market and strengthen the financial and economic capacity of the organizations as well.
As a result, Dinsho was established in Oromia, Ambasel in Amhara, and Wondo in the Southern State. They were not organized and complete by manpower and materials. The TPLF, on the other hand, owned a giant companies like Guna, Mega, Trans Ethiopia, and Sur Construction. These are the largest companies in our country, in East Africa, perhaps at the African level. With their special support and care, while the Dinsho, Ambassel and Wondo businesses have been economically underdeveloped, the TPLF companies have taken control of all trade, transport, print, media, and similar activities across the country, causing significant economic damage to the Oromo people.
Beyond this, the organizations also have its members fired from time to time; they would be arrested at any time. Central Committee's evaluation was held following that of the Executive Committee and some leaders from both parties were expelled. The evaluation was then continued to the zonal leadership with similar purpose. And many of the zonal leaders were fired and some were arrested.
For example, three days after I was fired from the organization on November 5, 1996, I was arrested on November 9, 1996, and spent two years and two months in Adama Prison. For more than four months, my wife was imprisoned intending to demoralize me and to destroy my family. She was imprisoned by the Oromia Police Commission near a toilet at Kazanchis in Addis. There were many activities that were abusive to the mind, moral, and personality.
After I was imprisoned in this way for more than two years, the Oromia Supreme Court told me that I was free. No one paid us for moral compensation, though we were imprisoned in this way for no reason. I was not asking anyone to do this. There was no accountability at the time. And we all had to deal with the problem. There were also other zonal leaders who were imprisoned with me while I was in prison. For example, East Shoa Zone Administrator Belachew Demissie, West Welega Chief Administrator Debele Kabeta, Borena Zone Administrator Muktar Abdella; from Arsi Zone Mulugeta Kebede, Kassahun Tulu; Elias Wako of Borena Zone and Dejene Ayele of East Shoa Zone have also been imprisoned for several years.
There were also prisoners from district leaders. For example, the Ada'a Woreda Administrator, Kebebew, and a Woreda leader from East Welega whom I forgot his name was among them. Ibrahim Melka, a former founding member of the organization and a former member of the central committee of the founding council; senior leaders of the organization, such as Mohammed Yusuf and Moti Tulun were fired.
Hassan Ali Ibrahim, who served as the state's vice president during the transition period (since June 1995), former Speaker of the House of Federation Almaz Meko, former head of the OPDO Central Committee Yassin Hussein, former head of the Oromia Politics and Administration Sector Yonatan Debisa, former head of the Oromia Militia Division Diriba Arkew, former head of the Oromia State Public Service Administration Bureau. Dr. Tolosa Sufa, former head of the Oromia Health Bureau; senior government officials such as Dereje Tesso and Kasu Morkan were forced to leave the country because they opposed the TPLF's influence and intimidation.
Shortly afterwards, Chala Hordofa, secretary of the Oromia regional government, was arrested and spent years in prison. Expulsions, arrests, and persecution continued. Some leaders even committed suicide. Take, for example, Sutuma Tolera, a district leader in Arsi Zone. There were also political killings; one of the most suspicious was Bayu Gurmu Mered, an executive member of the OPDO and head of the Central Office's organizational affairs was killed deliberately knocked by military truck around Mieso. Mekonnen Fite, a member of the Executive Committee of the organization and the General Manager of East Hararge, was killed in a collision with a truck in Akaki.
Similarly, Alemayehu Desalegn, a member of the Central Committee of the OPDO during the evaluation which began in the summer of 1996 and ended in late October of the same year, reported committed suicide in the palace. He was buried without any autopsy or other inquiries. Political assassinations such as these are still the subject of much speculation. These actions were undoubtedly carried out by the TPLF's long-ruling and dictatorial leadership.
Q: Why do you think that all these acts of expulsion, imprisonment, persecution and murder were taking place? What was the role of the OPDO leadership at all levels in fighting all these?
A: This was done for two reasons. One is to weaken the ruling party and the regional government so that the rights and interests of the Oromo people are not fully realized. One of the things deliberately done was that to block the Oromia leadership from steadily gaining experience and maturing and developing their education system.
For example, only two of the 19 executive members of the Oromia State Executive Committee during the Transitional Government were able to return to the executive during the formation of the Oromia State. 17 did not enter. This is not the case in other regions. For example, in ANDM, Addisu remained the Deputy Prime Minister of the Federal Government. Ayalew Gobeze became the Regional President. Demeke also continued to be the secretary. Tadesse Kassa, Kassa Tekleberhan and others continued in the same manner. In Oromia, not only at the State's central committee level, but also at the zonal, woreda and kebele level, the region has not been able to produce enough manpower.
Secondly, all these series evil strategies were done to oppress and rob the state's properties. The steps taken starting from me are to psychologically punish those who observe us. This is to undermine the self-confidence of the late comers. Those who were supposed to be forefront fighters and assumed to stand in favor of the public's benefit were briefly executed. This is one of the main reasons for the escalation of corruption and the proliferation of administrative abuses.
However, the leadership of the organization at every level did not abstain from fighting this. They have suffered a lot because of their struggle. At the same time, there were members of the leadership who had improved their lives and moved to higher levels of authority with the help of TPLF being spies instead of serving the rights and interests of the Oromo people from whom they came. For example, in an evaluation by the Oromia Council to strengthen the Oromia Police Commission; the evaluation was carried out by Getachew Assefa and Hassan Shifa. As a result, the leadership of the then Police Commission was removed and replaced. They were the ones who make the most decisive comments on the elected ones. According to the constitution, this was not their job. Instead, according to the constitution, it is the duty and responsibility of the state security forces to maintain security in the region. However, there was no legal process without their intervention.
Q: During the 27 years of TPLF rule, apart from the problems against OPDO, was there a problem towards the Oromo people as a people? If so, how it can be described?
A: What happened to the people, for example, in the far-flung rural areas of the country, people were arrested in large numbers being labeled as members of the OLF. Not only were they arrested, they were severely tortured. Many were killed. Second, the Oromo people did not have the opportunity to freely express their ideas, to pursue their political goals. The economy of the state has deliberately been designed to prevent the youth from benefiting from it.
Moreover, Oromo urban and rural land has been invaded in the name of investment and development. The farmers were uprooted from their ancestral homeland and moved to the city. This land was taken in the name of development and investment without any compensation. It started during the transition period. After that, even though they were given compensation, their treatment was sometimes insignificant. It did not allow them to make a living. They were not given land to replace them.
The plight of the Oromo people experienced cannot be listed and stated simply. It is the people who have suffered the most. The people did not have the right to vote freely; it does not comment freely on its own representatives; leaders whom the people trusted were not allowed to stay on the leadership position. And the Oromo people were suffering from these and similar problems. Following the 1991 change, both during and after the transition, the Oromia State was established in accordance with the constitution, but these abuses continued to worsen.
Q: How would you view the current reform brought about by the struggle began in Oromia and then extended to Amhara State?
A: The main reason for this is the oppression I described earlier. This is where the revolution that led to change came about. The people have been fighting in a fragmented and an organized manner. One thing that makes the 2013 and later riots unique is the escalation of the problem. Second, following a traditional monastic system based on age and settlement, all of them (mostly young people between the ages of 14 and 20) went out in full force and joined the entire population, and this was ignited in almost all regions. Unable to control the unrest, the EPRDF government was pushed out of power.
Another major reason for this struggle is the constant repression against the people and its leadership. What was happening to the people reinforced the struggle from the inside out. They have made the struggle effective and fruitful by coordinating the struggle both at home and abroad. And this struggle is the result of the sum of these struggles that led to the collapse of the TPLF regime and the expulsion of the TPLF.