Jawar Mohammed

OLF Film Festival: Inside Rebel Territory vs. Inside the Limousine

By Jawar Siraj Mohammed

Showing a video of Oromo soldiers every summer has been one of the most effective fund-raising tools used by OLF since the 1980’s. The leaders know that as a people who have been oppressed, humiliated and dehumanized beyond imagination, Oromos are extremely emotionally eager to see their freedom fighters marching to regain the lost pride.

Since the leaders rarely have notable achievement to show, they simply produce videos to tell Oromos about an upcoming major plan to destroy the enemy and free Oromia. So, it was not surprising to see two productions of such videos reach the Diaspora audience this past summer. Now let’s review the goal of the two videos, what impact they had and if any lessons can be learned from it.


Inside the Rebel Territory

This film was supposed to be four parts, and was professionally produced by an impressive Kenyan journalist. The fact that this documentary was produced by a concerned young African native makes its quite interesting in a world where few and only foreign journalists dare to go into such conflict zones to produce documentaries. In most cases the core issues of the conflict are not addressed, in fact the conflict is romanticized and depicts Africans as animals born to kill each other. Yassin Juma deserves a credit for his well researched and balanced reporting.


Unfortunately, for the OLF faction whose primary goal is to destroy each other than advance the Oromo struggle, the documentary became their major cause of controversy over the summer. I have argued in one of my previous articles that the “change: group is unlikely to make any difference because they have not truly differentiated themselves from the faction they rebelled against. My assumption was confirmed by several articles written by individuals aligned with this faction, that clearly indicated that the primary objective of ”change” in helping produce this documentary was to outshine the “shanee”  faction during the summer festivities.


Specifically, they wanted to prove that their faction is the only one with military force and hence the legitimate OLF. As Dawud’s faction could not show anything to counter the powerful video, it is quite fair to say that this summer was dominated by the change group, thus, as far as change’s narrow objective of outshining an opposing faction is concerned, they have been quite successful. Change’s cadres have been obsessed in convincing the public about the death of “shanee— rather tell us how many enemies they have killed.


The video is supposedly meant to show the “existence” of the OLA, but the “change” group has yet to realize that a symbolic existence with no tangible result means nothing. Although they have repeated the outdated promise of liberating Oromia soon, it is hard to believe them as their entire focus so far has been eliminating their factional opponent. We know from past experience that any group that prioritizes fighting internal adversaries will lose sight of the real enemy. So if they want us to believe their military power, they better back up this video with real actions in Oromia.


For this to happen, they need to stop this destructive factional politics and focus. The obsession of the Diaspora cadres with factional politics undermines the sacrifice of those brave young souls like Guracha and Famattuu.  It is my understanding that both the chairman and commander of the army still live in Asmara, unless these leaders move into the jungles of Oromia and command those soldiers, they will not be any different than the persons  he rebelled against.


Inside the Limousine

Mr. Dawud’s faction seem unprepared for the bomb shell “the inside the rebel territory”  video dropped, thus all they could do was send out a self-ridiculing press release that shamelessly claimed how unnecessary and impossible it is to have a base in Kenya. I do not understand how they came to conclude that a neighboring country with the longest boarder with Oromia and where a distance of over 100 km into its land has been occupied by Oromo people is less strategically important than an internationally isolated, economically crumbling failed state.


Unless they are trying to cover up their past failures to have a strong presence in Kenya, there is no question that Kenya is the number one strategically important neighbor for an Oromo insurgency. Maybe it is too painful for OLF leaders to remember that in 1990’s, although several Oromos occupied important positions within Kenyan government, the OLF, consumed with its never ending internal war, was incapable of taking advantage of the situation.


When the press release backfired, the  shanee faction released a video of Mr. Dawud Ibsa , who is been touring America, being received by a limousine. It is not really clear what this faction wanted to gain by that video, but it is quite laughable for a man who led this organization to its grave to show off like that. This video indicates how factionalism has completely disillusioned the supporters, and how the man has lost touch with reality. The self-deceiving line of thinking behind these video and other public appearances by the leaders of all factions is sickening. The way they talk, walk, dress and  act is not like leaders who command starving  freedom fighters and oppressed nation but it is reminds us  the despotic Ethiopian rulers who over-dress to beg leftover from the West.


In general the two video games presented by OLF faction have made the summer quite interesting. As far as the factional politics is concerned the change group has scored 1 point, and the Dawud group -1. But as far moving the Oromo cause forward is concerned, the sum result is 0.


Lesson’s to be learned: The Inside the Rebel Territory and Geopolitics

The “inside the rebel territory” documentary has way more importance to the Oromo cause than change group aimed for. It has introduced our just cause to the Kenyan public in an effective manner, maybe for the first time ever. As Yassin Juma claimed, the documentary truly demystified the OLF.  Few years ago, one of my Kenyan classmates told me that the Kenyan people thought of OLF as cross-boarder bandits who have been engaging in looting cattle. Asked about the allegation of the Turbi massacre, Liban, the field commander, precisely and eloquently responded that their struggle is against the Ethiopian government, and hence they have no reason to fight in Kenya. I do not think it would be an exaggeration to say that the young commander has done a much better diplomatic work in improving the relationship between the Kenyan and Oromo people than the OLF leadership was able to achieve in the last several decades.


Predictably, TPLF showed an extreme reaction to this video. TPLF’s fear  is correct because several sources within Kenya have testified that, when the advertisement of the documentary was released, the Kenyan public was highly eager to watch it. Even after the much altered version was aired, the issue has become one of the major talking points among all sections of the society.  TPLF’s dictatorial attempt to block an independent media in a sovereign nation backfired pushing the issue into several major news outlets around the world.


Some people believed that TPLF’s reaction was because the regime in Finfinne does not want the public to know about the existence of an organization it has repeatedly declared dead. I do not believe so. It is true that the TPLF does not wish to see a strong OLF, but it most definitely needs OLF to be around, and it will even do anything it can to keep it on life support. This is because without OLF around, TPLF will have no excuse to harass, imprison, execute and repress Oromo dissent. Therefore, in my view, the reason why TPLF was very upset with this video is because, if a documentary made by a Kenyan national is aired on a national television, it could have unpredictable geopolitical impact. If a population in such strategically important country become aware of Oromos just cause, they might show sympathy and solidarity.

In addition, the instability in the Northern Frontier has been one of the major security threats to Kenya, and although Ethiopian soldiers have been committing the cross-border massacres for decades, TPLF effectively campaigned to make Kenyans blame OLF for the trouble. This video, although did not show the right culprit of the crime, has helped to exonerate the OLF.

What we should learn from this saga is that the Kenyan people have been kept at dark about the issues across the border, but they are highly receptive of the Oromo cause if and when it’s properly presented to them. This video has opened a great window of opportunity, now it’s up to us to capitalize on it.

Jamal Adam's Response to Jawar's Article : Misguided Criticism and Laughable Review.

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