Opinion

The untold History of Ethiopia: 1992 TPLF-OLF War

By Tuji Jidda, Washington, D.C

Since the time of its founding in 1973, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) has waged a continuous low-level armed struggle for the independence of Oromia mainly from Abyssinia. Later on, it would change its objective to solely self-determination. Recently, it has been pushing for Oromo people’s self-determination with in the Federal Union of Ethiopia. During the last years of the Derg regime, Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the OLF attempted to form a coalition but it failed. Then TPLF established Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO) and others as its puppet organization for its own political consumption.

OLF wasn’t a major participant in the Ethiopian civil war, even during the final stages of Derg, but became the major participant in the transitional government. During this time, it has managed to get unprecedented support and gathered huge troops within short period of time in the history of liberation fronts. This happened not by reading OLF’s political programs, but simply by indoctrinating how the Oromos became dehumanized by the Abyssinian Menelik’s campaign of “Galla Holocaust”[1] and the atrocities committed by subsequent enemy (Abyssinian/Ethiopian) regimes.

Later, rumors circulated that OLF is expecting to take over the post-war Ethiopian government merely on grounds of popular support, its undeclared landslide victory in the flawed interim election as well as representative of the single largest Oromo ethnic group. On the contrary, the TPLF was sabotaging the encampment agreement, started provoking, intimidating, closing and confiscating OLF offices, snipes hooting, mass killing and, in some cases like in ‘Water town’[2] massacring the OLF militias, its supporters and Oromo at large.

Matters eventually came to a head when the OLF couldn’t control and lead the mass support it has gained, became over confident and demanded that they take over the government as of right but without a mandate. This became a good pretext for the TPLF to wage an all war against Oromo people. It encircled all OLF military camps and offices. Then all of a sudden OLF declared the collapse of the transitional government called their representatives out of the transitional government and tried to bring their troops out of camps.

“The western Ambassadors (i.e. donor groups EU, US and Australia) in the country recognized that the OLF had no grounds for dispute inside government and certainly not for taking their troops out to fight military battles. However, they were clear that their own governments would have a very different attitude and would want to interfere. In an almost unique decision these ambassadors-as a group-did not tell their governments what was going on but only asked the TPLF leaders (Ethiopian government) to ensure that the effective suppression of the OLF military force happened as discreetly as possible! They would allow the government to round up the OLF and end the new war. However, this had to happen as quickly as possible and news of this hadn’t to leak out in to the front pages of Western newspapers. One memorable quote during this negotiations was “…for god’s sake don’t send in helicopter gunships!”[3]

The above quote parallels the then OLF leader Lencho Leta assertion in an article entitled “The making and unmaking of Ethiopia’s Transitional Charter’ supports the above statement.[4]In collaboration with Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF), the TPLF first cut all communication, including its Radio transmissions from Sudan, made the disorganized leaders hostage in their office compound and slowly disintegrated the front. Even though more than 100,000 troops were involved, the OLF’s Oromo forces were practically defeated within months, though there were skirmish clashes during subsequent years, without major fighting involving helicopter gunships or fighter planes.

It should be noted here that ‘defeated’ was OLF army but neither the moral nor the hearts and minds of the Oromo people. That is why the ruling enemy regime spends millions to categorize the OLF as a terrorist organization to thereby get a cover for committing all kinds of atrocities on the Oromo people, especially on Afan Oromo speaking Oromos.

The surprising thing is that no report has been produced in any media regarding the war and causalities except the massive detention of both military and civilian Ethiopians in different camps. Even though the TPLF-OLF war had been one of the biggest battles of the decade, the Ambassadors’ home governments never realized what had happened in Ethiopia let alone leakage of reports by Western media. Also whole atrocities committed during the years long campaigns of war waged by TPLF to clear OLF army and Oromo ideology was not reported at all. Unconfirmed sources, however, estimate thousands dead, thousands fled to neighboring countries, many thousands imprisoned and millions displaced to lead miserable lives, most internally. And its effect: the Green famine.

Since the OLF’s founding, its undisputable genuine cause for struggle has been weakened by many reasons; by inability to defuse the artificial differentiation created during cruel past regimes among the vast Cushitic Oromo regions, OLF’s own lack of unity and clarity regarding its ideology and ultimate objectives or strategic vision, lack of organizational leadership qualities, due to historical animosity and extreme hatred towards Abyssinian politics, lack of support due to politics of fear from other  Southern minority groups, lack of support from neighboring countries, the effect of politics of new world order and the critically biased  intervention made by  Western donor countries.

Many believe that Abyssinia-Ethiopia conflict and that of the whole of East African problems would not be solved unless the 120 years of the shadowed 40 million Oromo tragedy is addressed. That is why there is almost no possibility of forming coalition of rivals in Ethiopia. The rise and fall of Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) is also consequence of similar sabotages. It is expected FDD would face the same fate.


[1] Galla is a name invented and loved by Abyssinians to call Cushitic Oromo.

[2] Water is a small town in Eastern Hararghe (Afran Qallo) zone. Said between 150-200 demonstrators massacred by TPLF machine gun in minutes

[3]Retrieved from “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/siye_Abraha”

[4] Oromo Nationalism and the Ethiopian Discourse, 1998.

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