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Designate the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) as a Terrorist Organization

A Global Call for the AU, Canada, US and EU to label Africa’s Monstrous Terrorist Group, Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) as a Terrorist Organization.

In 2018, Tigray People’s Liberation Front’s (TPLF) repressive rule and its political domination of Ethiopia ended, and Prime Minister Abiy came to power. PM Abiy was seen as an inspirational and transcendent leader. There was hope that PM Abiy would be successful in implementing democratic reforms and eliminate – once and for all – the need for armed resistance as a means of asserting individual rights and political aspirations. Unfortunately, what transpired in the last five years is the opposite of that hope. With several violent fighting; ethnic conflicts in many regional states; TPLF starting an armed insurrection in Northern Ethiopia; armed guerilla type fighting in Oromia by the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) and neighboring regional states, Ethiopia’s internal security keeps on deteriorating. The following is a list of major violent events that have resulted in the destruction of property, displacement of people, injury, and deaths since April 2018.

  • Failed Reconciliation attempts between Oromia and Somali Regions from 2016 to 2017 resulted in over a million Oromos being internally displaced and additional fighting in May to December 2018.
  • Violence between Gedeo and West Guji with nearly 300,000 Internally Displaced people – June 2018.
  • Violence in Addis Ababa during Prime Minister Speech in Addis Ababa – June 23, 2018.
  • Violence in Burayu against Gamo People – September 2018.
  • Violence in Addis Ababa OLF Rally over flags – September 2018.
  • Demolition of almost 3,700 homes in Legetafo leading to the displacement of residents (February 2019)
  • Violence in Bale, Jimma, Arsi, Ziway, Dera, Shashamene, Addis Ababa and Ambo following the withdrawal of the security detail for Politician Jawar Mohammed – October 2019
  • Violence in Addis Ababa 22 Area over disputed church construction – February 2020
  • Violence following death of artist Hacahalu Hundessa – June/July 2020
  • Violence in Metekel area of Benishangul Gumuz region – August/September 2020
  • Violence in Bekoji – December 2020
  • Violence in Bati – March 2021
  • Violence in Ataye – March to April 2021
  • Violence in West and East Wellega – August 2021
  • Violence in Addis Ababa over flags at Epiphany Celebration – January 2022
  • Amhara Massacre in Tole and Sene Kebeles – June 2022 (most horrific massacre)
  • The Northern Ethiopia TPLF Insurrection (November 2020 to October 2022)
  • The Oromo Liberation Army led Oromia Insurrection (August 2018 to Present)

The last two insurrections are notable for the hundreds of thousands of lives lost and the destruction of property. With the TPLF’s defeat, handing over of heavy weapons, and its agreement on paper to lay down its light arms, there is hope that the fighting in the north has finally come to an end. However, there is serious concern that the issue of Welkayit and Raya could lead to a resumption of armed conflict in northern Ethiopia.

The violence in Oromia stands out as it has terrorized many Ethiopians, especially civilians that are attacked based entirely on their ethnicity. Due to its unpredictability, brutality, and randomness, many Ethiopians are certain and expect with dread that some gruesome violent event may happen anytime in Oromia and neighboring regions. Ethiopians also think that there is a good chance that these violent activities may lead to a larger conflict between Amharas and Oromos and terrorize the whole country.

What is Terrorism?

The UN defines terrorism as “acts of violence that target civilians in the pursuit of political or ideological aims”. The UN also states that terrorism includes “criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes” and that such acts “are in any circumstances unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or other nature that may be invoked to justify them.”

The United Nations’ 1987 Additional Protocol to the 1949 Geneva Conventions clearly includes Internal fighters in its humanitarian rules during times of war. Article 13 – Protection of the civilian population clearly states “Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited.”

Who is the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) and is it a Terrorist?

OLA or Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) Shene is the military wing of OLF that splintered from OLF. Shene also called “Shane,” is reportedly derived from the Afan Oromo word Shan which means five and refers to the fifth faction or splinter group from OLF. OLA is a violent armed group targeting mainly soft targets such as innocent civilians. Killing innocent women, children, and elderly; robbing banks and looting property; holding national and international aid workers for ransom are some of its modus operandi. In addition, OLA utilizes armed insurrection against the federal government. OLA aims to install the tyranny of a select few from a single ethnic group on the entire population of Ethiopia. Chaos and mayhem are its preferred choice for achieving that goal.

Darrell Trent, in 1974 stated that “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” Therefore, it is worth asking whether the OLA or OLF Shene are freedom fighters. Until January 23, 2023, OLA did not articulate its political agenda. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that it was “fighting” not out of principle but to get noticed as an entity. While its manifesto claims, “Our fighters understand that the Amhara and other non-Oromo residents of Oromia who live among the Oromo people are citizens of Oromia. Their rights are sacrosanct and inviolate that cannot be infringed under any circumstances.” This declaration seems to be a damage control action for the many documented atrocities perpetrated by its combatants. Since OLA’s manifesto also brings up the acknowledgment of “the Oromo peoples’ longstanding proprietary right” to Addis Ababa as a confidence-building measure, its commitment to peaceful political struggle is questionable.

OLA claims Oromos support its fight. However, its supporters deny that OLA has attacked Amharas civilians. Yet, OLA Leader Jaal Marro (also known as Kumsa Diriba) did not condemn the terrorist act of killing Amhara civilians when interviewed by Reyot Media and blamed the government for the atrocities. His lack of condemnation shows that the death of non-Oromos is not his concern. The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, Human Right Watch, and Amnesty International denounced OLA’s latest ethnic-based killings. Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa, said, “These horrific killings in Tole (June 2022), allegedly at the hands of the Oromo Liberation Army, reveal its perpetrators’ utter disregard for human life.” Human Rights Watch has said, “Civilians in Western Oromia Left Unprotected” and “Armed Group Kills Hundreds of Amharas in June (2022) Massacre”.

In his January 2023 interview, Field Marshall Berhanu Jula, Ethiopia’s Chief of Staff for Armed Forces, describes OLF Shene as a disorganized entity that relies on random acts of violence led by field commanders without any direction from its “leaders.” He goes on to say that random acts of violence and terror have no political aim. This confirms that OLA is hell-bent on creating chaos as a terrorist entity.

Legesse Tulu, Minister for government communication services, said in his January 2023 interview that the Ethiopian government would pursue peaceful, political, and other means to end OLF Shene as a security threat. He also called upon the Ethiopians, especially Oromos, to pressure OLF Shene to end its “wicked activity targeting citizens.” The above statements from these two high-ranking Ethiopian officials clearly indicate that the Ethiopian government considers OLA a terrorist organization. It is also worth noting that the Ethiopian parliament designated the TPLF and OLF Shene (OLA) as terrorist organizations in May 2021.

U.S. Criteria to designate Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO)

The United States Department of State – Bureau of Counterterrorism identifies terrorist groups that have “engaged in planning and preparations for possible future acts of terrorism or retains the capability and intent to carry out such acts” and designates them as Foreign Terrorist Organizations or (FTO). The designation is based on a determination of whether the “organization’s terrorist activity or terrorism threaten(s) the security of U.S. nationals or the national security (national defense, foreign relations, or the economic interests) of the United States.” The Link here shows a List of FTOs.

Since the U.S. Designation is the more known one, African Union (AU), European Union (EU), and Canada Terrorist Organization designations are not discussed.

Repercussions or Effects of FTO Designation

The FTO designation makes it “unlawful for a person in the United States or subject to the jurisdiction of the United States to knowingly provide ‘material support or resources’ – any property, tangible or intangible, or service, including currency or monetary instruments or financial securities, financial services, lodging, training, expert advice or assistance, safehouses, false documentation or identification, communications equipment, facilities, weapons, lethal substances, explosives, personnel’ to a designated FTO. In addition, it forces U.S. financial institutions to freeze the FTO funds and report it to the U.S. Department of the Treasury. This Link provides details on the effects of an FTO Designation.

The FTO designation will also:

  • Curbs terrorism financing and encourages other nations to do the same.
  • Stigmatizes and isolates designated terrorist organizations internationally.
  • Deters donations or contributions to and economic transactions with named organizations.
  • Heightens public awareness and knowledge of terrorist organizations.
  • Signals to other governments our concern about named organizations.

Recent and Ongoing Terrorism in Ethiopia:

Due to the inability of PM Abiy’s government to stop attacks on civilians, its hands-off approach towards fighting a designated terrorist group, this vicious group, has been able to control territory in different parts of Ethiopia. As many believe and as admitted by some government officials, elements of the ruling Prosperity Party aid and abet this group. The narrative forwarded by the PM about the so-called Amhara Shene (which is a clear false equivalency to OLF Shene) was an attempt to muddy the fact about who the terrorist is, where terror is happening, and against whom the terrorism is being perpetrated.

Ethiopians expect with dread that future terrorist acts will happen anytime, indicating that terrorism exists in Ethiopia. The University of Maryland Global Terrorism Database (GTD) – (See Link Here) provides the following information on terrorist events in Ethiopia. Please note that the most recent data only goes to the end of 2020. The database lists the Oromo Liberation Front (meaning the OLA) as a perpetrator of several terrorist acts.

2020-12-23EthiopiaBekojiGumuz militia22238Private Citizens & Property
2020-12-15EthiopiaUmuguOromo Liberation Front1924Private Citizens & Property, Private Citizens & Property
2020-11-01EthiopiaGumi EldaloOromo Liberation Front43Business
2020-11-01EthiopiaSeka-JerbiOromo Liberation Front, Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF)10UnknownPrivate Citizens & Property
2020-11-01EthiopiaGilla-GogolaOromo Liberation Front, Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF)11UnknownPrivate Citizens & Property
2020-11-01EthiopiaGawa QangaOromo Liberation Front, Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF)11UnknownPrivate Citizens & Property
2020-07-04EthiopiaBatiOromo Liberation Front05Business
2020-07-04EthiopiaBatiOromo Liberation FrontUnknownUnknownPrivate Citizens & Property, Government (General), Private Citizens & Property
2020-06-30EthiopiaBaleUnknownUnknownUnknownPrivate Citizens & Property, Business, Private Citizens & Property
2020-06-30EthiopiaJimmaUnknownUnknownUnknownPrivate Citizens & Property, Business, Private Citizens & Property
2020-06-30EthiopiaArsiUnknown30Private Citizens & Property, Business, Private Citizens & Property
2020-06-30EthiopiaZiwayUnknownUnknownUnknownPrivate Citizens & Property, Business, Private Citizens & Property
2020-06-30EthiopiaDeraUnknown7UnknownPolice, Business, Private Citizens & Property
2020-06-30EthiopiaShashameneOromo Liberation FrontUnknownUnknownEducational Institution, Business, Private Citizens & Property
2020-06-29EthiopiaAddis AbabaOromo Liberation Front (suspected)10Private Citizens & Property
2020-02-23EthiopiaAmboOromo Liberation Front029Private Citizens & Property
2020-02-21EthiopiaBurayuAba Torbe, Oromo Liberation Front13Police, Government (General)
2019-12-04EthiopiaUnknownOromo Liberation FrontUnknownUnknownPrivate Citizens & Property
2019-10-05EthiopiaAtayeOromo Liberation Front (suspected)34Private Citizens & Property
2019-09-12EthiopiaBurayuOromo Liberation Front09Police, Private Citizens & Property
2019-01-28EthiopiaAmaroOromo Liberation Front20Private Citizens & Property
2019-01-13EthiopiaWest Wellega districtOromo Liberation Front00Government (General)
2019-01-12EthiopiaUnknownOromo Liberation FrontUnknownUnknownBusiness
2019-01-13EthiopiaWest Wellega districtOromo Liberation Front00Government (General)
2018-12-19EthiopiaUnknownOromo Liberation Front101Transportation
2018-10-27EthiopiaArba MinchOromo Liberation Front43Private Citizens & Property
2018-10-17EthiopiaWest Wellega districtOromo Liberation Front00Private Citizens & Property
2018-10-17EthiopiaEast Wellega districtOromo Liberation Front00Private Citizens & Property
2018-09-26EthiopiaGimbiOromo Liberation Front40Government (General)
2018-06-23EthiopiaAddis AbabaOromo Liberation Front2156Private Citizens & Property

In addition, the following table compiled from information obtained from the Amhara Association of America provides documentation of terrorist acts from January 2021 to January 2023.