One-on-one with Oromia Youth Association President

The Oromia Youth Association (OYA) in Minnesota has recently elected a new president. Despite the growing number of Oromo youth and young adults in Little Oromia, in recent years, OYA had struggled to rally the youth behind its beautifully stated objectives. Marred by low membership and lack of enthusiasm, for the last three consecutive years, a formal election did not take place. Instead, at the absence of contending candidates, power has simply defaulted from one president to the next without casting votes.

I talked exclusively with the current OYA president about her goals, this year’s OYA activities, recruitment strategies, OYA elections and the youth led movements that are transforming North Africa and the Middle East.

Oromsis: Congratulations on being President, briefly introduce yourself to our readers.

Amane: My name is Amane Bedasso Kawo. I am a senior at Blaine High School where I also play soccer. In all my four years at Blaine High, I was on the Debate and Speech team as well as in theatre. I am a writer and aspire to publish sometime in the future. I want to study Economics/ Pre-law and Political science with a goal of eventually going to law school. I am deeply inspired by my parents as well as those around me that have pushed me to become the person I am today.

: Tell me about OYA (history, objectives, etc)

Amane: OYA was established in 1998 with a goal of bringing the community together, especially the Oromo youth. Our doctrine is to promote our culture, introduce ourselves to those who are not familiar with Oromo people, provide positive role models to Oromo youth, and provide a platform for the youth to  support each other in school and contribute to the development of a healthy community . Our cause is clear and it is to continue upholding the Oromo struggle by empowering the youth.

Oromsis: How long have you been involved with OYA before deciding to run?

Amane: I got involved with OYA approximately about 3 years ago. I have since been an active OYA member and also a member of OYA’s Hawisso group.

Oromsis: What inspired and motivated you to take on such a huge responsibility?
Amane: My biggest inspiration is my father who pushes me to the absolute limit. He taught me discipline, and most of all ambition to be who I was set out to be. I value education and yes, I have had failures, lots of them, but I have also overcome the odds in my path to success.

Oromsis:  You mentioned, you are a senior, taking advanced placement classes and perhaps colleges to apply to – how are you going to balance all of that?

Amane: Yes, I am a senior in high school, involved with many activities and have other responsibilities outside of school. Never have I questioned my abilities to balance advanced placement classes and my activities. There were times however, when I didn’t know how to balance all of it, yet with time and experience you adapt to the concept of “you win some, you lose some.”

Oromsis: Walk me through the OYA electoral process (campaign, debates and Election Day).

Amane: In recent years, OYA elections have quite possibly been the biggest failures simply because nobody wants to run, and people just didn’t understand what OYA stood for. Typically, once the announcement is made for the election (months in advance), interested candidates put together a governing board and forward it to the outgoing board. Then debates will be held for the members to hear each side make their case about how they hope to better serve. Then, after a fully fledged campaign by contenders, election will take place to decide the winner.

That did not happen this year. It did not happen the year before, or before that. But in the end, the people who wanted to take on the responsibility did and we are very glad to do so this time around.

Oromsis: Who is in your board?

Amane: My board members are amazing and hard working; they are also quite an intimidating team. We all push each other and correct one another when on opposing sides of issues. My Vice President is Kadir Hussein, a student at the University of Minnesota.  My Cultural Chair is Mohamed Kebeto, currently attending National American University. My treasury is Abdulsalam Abda, also a student at the University of Minnesota. My educational chair/ Public Relations person is Misro Omer, the third student from the University of Minnesota. My secretary is Mieso Wako, a high school senior taking PSEO classes at the University of Minnesota. They are a great group of people to work with, and do tremendous work at their job.

Oromsis: You certainly like the U of M (laughs).

Oromsis: Give me the rundown of activities you have planned for this year?

Amane: We as a board have a lot of goals for this year. Considering we came in months after the election was suppose to be held, we are trying our best to keep up. Our agenda and goals are quite clear, if you attend the monthly meetings – you can learn about our activities in detail. One thing we as a board can promise is a new OYA, with new policies and goals. Two of the biggest activities that OYA does every year are the Oromo ball and Cultural night. We do plan to follow that tradition. We also have a Hunger Relief Project for famine victims in Ethiopia. This year we are looking at an open OYA, meaning we will have upcoming projects that will broaden OYA’s outreach and contribution to the community. We also plan on having a Health Awareness Day for the Oromo youth sometime in may. We plan to work closely with the International Oromo Youth Association (IOYA) as well as the Oromia Student Union (OSU) on a project that will likely take us to  the Horn of Africa, quite possibly Ethiopia itself. In sum, we have many goals; we expect to do the absolute best that we can until the end of our term.

Oromsis: As you may well know, the activities of OYA (due to various factors) have diminished since 2008. How do you hope to lift the profile of OYA to pre-2008 time?

Amane: We hope that the youth see us as concerned and motivated people, and look up to us. We as a board have a responsibility to make people want to be interested in OYA. Our whole purpose is to uphold something greater than us through the events  and activities we have planned. To meet our recruitment goal, every board member is responsible to recruit at least one person each month. We will also use various advertisement methods and events in order to persuade people to join OYA. Recruitment is our top priority agenda item, hopefully people will be intrigued by our efforts and come forward.

Oromsis: You alluded to this in your answer above. There has been an issue with OYA not having fixed election time. Do you plan on making amendments to the constitution so that elections won’t happen in the middle or at the end of the year?

Amane: Yes, I intend to completely revise the constitution with my fellow board members. We want to be clear about election dates and that it is not surpassed. I understand, revising the constitution alone doesn’t make people to want to run for office on time. We will devise other approaches towards having a policy that will encourage people to take leadership responsibilities.

Oromsis: Are you going to hold regular monthly meetings? If so, how do you plan to reach out to your members?

Amane: Our monthly meetings are conducted every last Saturday of the month. We encourage everyone to attend, regularly. We explain our policies and meet with our members to reach an agreement on upcoming projects. This year, we hope to find new ways to reach people in terms getting a wide range of youth to attend. Advertisements and personally inviting people are our main targets as of now. Yet, if that fails to bring people out, we will look at different approaches.

Oromsis: What do you want to say to young people reading this conversation?

Amane: My biggest advice to the youth is to simply never question how far they can go. Instead as my parents have always told me, “Go as far as you possibly can, do not limit your success, the moon is the limit”. Yes, I know people always assume, “the sky is the limit.” For me, humans have already touched down on the moon and there is absolutely no reason why anyone reading this can’t be there as well. We all have failures and obstacles but unless you are living in an imaginary world, sometimes you have to cry and pull your hair out, to wake up the next day living your dream. I want everyone, especially the youth to believe in their potential, lift themselves up, and work hard to better not only themselves but also their community.

Oromsis: Let us digress briefly from OYA, how do you think the Oromo youth in Diaspora view the current wave of revolutions in North Africa and Middle East?

Amane: Personally, the revolution the took place in Tunisia, Egypt, and now happening in Libya and other countries is the best thing that could ever happen to the Middle East as well as North Africa. The whole idea of revolution is to establish democracy in countries that lack basic freedoms and where human rights are abused. From the past, we learn that history is written by the people, not governments. In many dictatorial countries, it requires a group of people willing to die for freedom. Today, many are paying the ultimate price in places like Libya, Bahrain, and Yemen.

Generally, I think the majority of Oromo Youth in Diaspora support the revolutions. Many of our youth believe in the principles of human rights and human dignity. When democracy is abused a civil war occurs. As a result, today many African countries are in turmoil, there are millions on the streets, and the conditions are tremendously disturbing. It doesn’t take a genius to recognize one of the worst cases of human rights abuses within the third world countries. One also has to consider the concept of “colonization.” A destructive legacy for Africans – many of the political boundaries from the yesteryears continue to be reasons for political strife. In any one country, if the government is corrupt, the people pay the ultimate price, if you ask me whether freedom is worth dying for, “I would say yes” which is why I strongly support and closely follow these revolutions. That is also why I think many Oromo youth are standing in solidarity with Egyptian, Tunisian, Libyan and other youth – who are saying enough to dictatorship in their countries.

A lot of people, especially in third world countries, don’t understand the impact they have on government. People were simply degraded of humanity, a clear factor why many repressive regimes are facing backlash from the people – hence the much needed revolution. To establish equal rights, some prices have to be paid; the question is whether the people think it is worth the pain to establish democracy. To me the term “revolution” is a bit controversial, but “freedom” is undoubtedly worth fighting for.

Oromsis: I wish you all the best in school, life and with your Presidency. OPride.com has a tradition of partnering and sponsoring OYA events — we hope to continue that tradition and look forward to working with you. Thank you for talking to me.

Upcoming OYA Events :

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Collaborative stories written or reported by OPride staff and contributors.

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