No Single Talented Young Oromo Invited To The White House?

A Historic Example that Reveals Marginalization of the Oromo Youth in Ethiopia

By Siiban Abbichuu

“Across Africa, more citizens believe they now have the power and the duty to shape their own lives, to help their communities, to hold their governments accountable. So for all of the challenges, which we hear much about, I want to focus on these gains, because it is through this positive progress that we can motivate and incentivize even more to take place…” said Hillary Rodham Clinton, US Secretary of State, in her speech to more than 100 youth invited from the Sub-Saharan African countries to the White House, on August 3, 2010. Well said Madam Clinton! The invitation of 115 youth from about 46 African countries to discuss the challenges facing sub-Saharan Africa with seating US president in the White House is a good start.

The aim of this piece is not to describe or comment on the content of the speeches given both by the President or the Secretary of State. But just to shed a light on how the youth from Ethiopia are selected to attend this historic event. Out of the 46 Sub-Saharan African countries invited to send delegates, Ethiopia is ‘represented’ by four youth namely: 

  1. Mahlet Eyassu Melkie, 29, A Climate Change Activist
  2. Meron Getnet Hailegiorgis, 27, Author
  3. Salsawit Tsega Ketema, 30, Founder, Sel Art Gallery and
  4. Yohannes Mezgebe Abay, 35, Vice President, Pan African Youth Union.

The number is not much bigger quota for the second populous country in the continent with more than 80 million people. The question here is how were those four youth selected out of millions of Ethiopian youth? What are the major criterions used to be selected to represent Ethiopian youth at the African youth forum in the White House? What capacities and achievements were required to be invited to such forum? Answers matching these questions can be found all over the speeches of both the President and the Secretary.

Let me quote one from the speech delivered by President Obama.

“Now, I called this forum for a simple reason.  As I said when I was in Accra last year, I don’t see Africa as a world apart; I see Africa as a fundamental part of our interconnected world.  Whether it’s creating jobs in a global economy, or delivering education and health care, combating climate change, standing up to violent extremists who offer nothing but destruction, or promoting successful models of democracy and development — for all this we have to have a strong, self-reliant and prosperous Africa.”

As these words of the President imply, the goal of the forum is in short; creating jobs, delivering on education and health care, combating climate change, standing up to violent extremists, and promoting successful models of DEMOCRACY and development. The invited youth are the future hope for Africa to achieve these goals. Bear in mind that those invited from Ethiopia are also expected to bear the same responsibilities.

Here are few more words from the speech given by Secretary Clinton. 

“Now, I know that later this afternoon, you will have the unique opportunity to go to the White House and to meet with President Obama. And I think from what you heard already today and the comments of my friend and extraordinary Assistant Secretary for Africa, Johnnie Carson, this Administration, from the top, is very committed to, concerned about Africa, and especially about Africa’s future, because we know that it is people like all of you and others who are not in this room today who will determine what Africa’s future will be.”

We can simply realize from these words that the youth invited to the White House are those who ‘will determine what Africa’s future will be’. Or at least are expected to. By extension the four young people invited from Ethiopia also will determine what Ethiopia’s future will be.  One can simply understand from both speeches that these youth are ‘young leaders’ who will determine what Africa’s future will be. When we see this fact in Ethiopian context, it is a total miscalculation. The four youth who had to represent Ethiopia are not capable of carrying out such a respected duty. They are selected only for their representation and loyalty to the government, not to the people.

As sources in Sheger knowledgeable with the selection reveal, almost all of them are people who came from minority ethnic group that is currently ruling the country. Amazing! In a country said to be the home for more than 80 nations, nationalities and ethnic groups, only those who came from a single ethnic group were smart enough to be selected as youth leaders. It is a pity that the Oromo, the single largest nation who constitute more than 40% of the total population and known for it’s hundreds of talented youth in the fields of art, environment, technology, science and politics couldn’t contribute a single young man to such forum. Oromos have no smarter climate change activists, have no better talented authors, have no well known founder of art gallery and have no more intelligent Pan-African than the selected ones, according to the selectors.

This fact reveals at least three things about Ethiopia:

1.  It is a historic example that reveals marginalization of the Oromo youth in Ethiopia. While one of the important goals of the forum called by President Obama was to combat youth marginalization in the African political and economic development processes, in Ethiopia the reverse is true. Youth from different majority ethnic groups are being marginalized when there are opportunities like this one are offered by the international communities. Asking, who is from Oromo, who is from Amhara, who is from Tigray… is not Americas business. They know all the people in one packet – as “Ethiopians.” They are not to blame. It is the Ethiopian government who has to find answer to such questions. Of course they can’t find any convincing answer for such direct questions. They know well that they are cheating the whole people of the country as they like. They don’t feel shame, because, one of the biggest goals of their government is to dominate and rule over the whole country.

It is not hidden that the ruling party, TPLF, is working hard to dominate the university communities in the country with its small number students from Tigray region. As these students are members of the ruling party, they are decision makers among the rest of the students. Sometimes, even they are found well armed in every university campus in Ethiopia. When we look at the number of Ethiopian students who are offered scholarship opportunities, again we find them with the highest number. Sources also reveal that 70% of Ethiopian students offered foreign scholarships are from Tigray, a state that make up a tiny 6% of Ethiopia’s total population.   

2. The way in which these four youth are selected to attend this forum shows that the Ethiopian government has not embraced the rest talented youth, except those hailing from ruling party’s ethnic enclave. The most talented youth who are the hope for development in business, art, literature, science, technology, politics and other important fields in future are against the tyrant regime and they are always marginalized. Youth from Oromo, Amhara, and others are not loyal to the government and they are usually far from such opportunities.

There are a number of talented youth authors who are well known for their interesting novels, poems and films in Amharic, but are ignored. It is amazing to see one of the four selected, a young girl referred to as an ‘author’ with no book published to date, to attend such a high profile event. People in Ethiopia know Meron Getnet as an aspiring journalist and one of the artists on the Ethiopian Idol and GEMENA drama series, not as an honorable ‘author’.

There are also several talented free press journalists and essayists who people admire for their contribution, but are ignored. Because what they write is not interesting to the government.  Especially talented Oromo youth are far away from such opportunities offered by the government. In fact, they have no opportunity to show their talent in the country due to lack of free media outlets. Usually they are against the regime. Even if a talented young man is given such opportunity, the government cadres fear that he/she will defect after attending the forum. The one-party-government which announced its ‘election victory’ with an amazing 99.6% figure does not dare to embrace talented youth especially those who are not pleased with the unfair practices of the regime. This clearly shows that the government and the talented youth are farther apart.

3. The other point that this fact reveals is the complete pseudo nature of the OPDOs. OPDOs, who claim to be part of the Ethiopian government and bring in an overwhelming number of seats in the rubber stamp parliament, can’t even make a very simple influence. Six years ago, when TPLF ordered the OPDO to move their capital city from Finfine to Adama, Juneydi Saddo cried out something amazing.

Juneydi, the then ‘President of Oromia Regional State’ said at an event in Adama, “…nuti Oromoon biyya kana (Ethiopia) bulchaa jirra, bulchuus qabna…” roughly translated, ‘we the Oromos are governing this country, and we have to do so, of course.’ Shame on you Juneydi! Are you really governing Ethiopia? If so, why couldn’t you utter a single word when you were ordered by your creators to shift your fake Caffee Oromia from the heartland Finfine to Adama? Now, when the TPLF shows you that they can do whatever they like at the cost of your 178 parliament seats why did you keep silent? What is the answer of OPDO cadres like Juneydi Saddo, when the TPLF government carefully select only Tigriyan youth as brilliant young leaders of future Ethiopia? Shame on you OPDOs!!!

Finally, I would like to make something clear. As Secretary Clinton often says, ‘Talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not.’ I have no problem with the four young people selected to attend the forum. They might be innocents. As Meron Getnet told the VOA Amharic service Mestawet program over the last weekend, ‘there are a lot of talented youth, but it was the matter of selection’. Well said Meron!

Of course, it was a matter of selection by TPLF cadres. The single message I want to forward for those selected youth is, ‘Congratulations! But don’t undermine others who are equally or even maybe more talented on their own rights. Use this opportunity to fight against tyranny, along with the majority of the Ethiopian population, including the respected people of Tigray.


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OPride Staff

Collaborative stories written or reported by OPride staff and contributors.

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