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Oromo: a society pushed into a difficult corner

oromowomanFrom this week's 'Letters to the Editor' ... name withheld upon request*

Little girls they were when they fled their country. Three of them.

They stayed together in a refugee camp in Kenya, cementing a lifelong friendship in the midst of a life of trials. They protected each other. Shared whatever they got. After a few years at the camp, two were lucky to be allowed to settle in the U.S. One was not. She returns to Ethiopia, exasperated. She knew nothing had changed in state-society relations to make her optimistic about life in Ethiopia. But she figured if she stayed out of politics, she would be safe.

Two weeks ago the returnee gave birth to twins, a baby boy and baby girl. Married only a year ago, she was as happy as a new parent would be. She was very hopeful, if not certain, that the reasons that drove her out of her homeland would never return. She never thought the sun had set on repression. But she had hoped that the demons of senseless repression of the people by the government of the type she witnessed in the 1990s would not be repeated.

She made her humble life in Dodola, on the Eastern banks of the Waabee river. Last Friday, when the townsfolk in Asasa, a town on the western bank of the same river, went to the mosque for prayers all was well. By the end of the day, a few souls did not return home, biting the dust in front of the mosque, consumed by bullet fire lodged into their chests by the security forces hired ostensibly to protect them. The townsfolk could not bury their dead bodies, the security forces had whisked them away to the capital, may be the Ethiopian authorities wanted to see with their eyes "how," in the words of the Prime Minister, "the dead bodies of 'enemies of the state' looked like." The dead included two teens and an elderly who was trying to entreat the police not to shoot at its own people and somehow broker peace.

The news of the tragedy in Asasa spread like wildfire. Residents of Dodola were among the first to learn the shocking incident. The returnee was nursing her twins when a neighbor broke the sad news to her. Upon hearing the tragic loss of life, she fainted. She never breathed again.

One of the girls that made it to America was pregnant, expecting her first child. Upon hearing the news of her friend's sudden death, she, too, collapsed. By the time she recovered to recollect her mind, she saw that she was bleeding. She was rushed to the hospital. She has bled profusely and doctors had hard time stopping the bleeding. Her life was saved, thanks to the doctors and her lucks. But not the life of the baby she carried. She had miscarried.

I came to know the story through the husband of the third girl. A group of four friends had gone to pay our respects at the home of the returnee girl's brother in St. Paul, Minnesota. The men were in one room, the women in the other. A lone voice was crying from the ladies room, wailing ceaselessly. None gave much attention. Her husband, as if he somehow knew that an explanation was expected, begun telling the story of the three girls. "This girl crying now is my wife" he said, before breaking into tears himself. He relayed the story as he sobbed, wiping his tears.

I, too, could not resist the tears. Glimpsing around in the room, I saw many wet faces. None of these folks knew any of the girls. What made them cry was the story, which happens to be their own story, the story of a great Oromo people who, failing to unite, humiliated itself by allowing others lord over it. It looks like we can only cry.

The reaction of Oromo nationalists to the situation reveals a startling ambivalence. On the one hand, it is our people that are dying. On the other, a sectarian fear is evident. Our tragedies do never end, both self-inflicted ones and those inflicted upon as by our enemy keep on repeating themselves year after year because of our failure to say enough is enough.

*Editor's note : Each week we will feature "letters to the editor" --- send your comments and observations on the stories we cover or other Horn of Africa related stories to [This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ].