Lemma Megersa: OPride’s Oromo Person of the Year 2017 Runner Up
(OPride)—On November 30, 2015, speaking at a town hall meeting in Burayu, a little-known Speaker of the Oromia State Assembly (Caffee Oromia) said: “As for the Integrated Addis Ababa Master Plan, even if it is for the benefit of the Oromo people; even if it were to pour gold on us, it will not be implemented if rejected by the public; it will not be implemented. The sky does not break up, nor does the earth burst.”
The speech resonated with his audience and catapulted Lemma Megersa to a national spotlight out of relative obscurity. About a year later, on October 23, 2016, he was elected chairman of the regional ruling party and president of the Oromia National Regional State. He took over a badly run state government in the midst of unprecedented protests and a brutal security crackdown, vowing to “address the legitimate concerns of the youth.”
All told, at the onset of 2017, few ordinary citizens knew his name. By its end, Lemma has become a household name—not just in his home state of Oromia but also throughout Ethiopia. A topic of discussion by his fans and detractors alike, Lemma’s meteoric rise beats all expectations. What is most remarkable is that the 47-year-old leader is still part of a reviled Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which has ruled Ethiopia with an iron fist since 1991 and presided over one of the worst human rights abuses on record.
Lemma’s rise isn’t an accident of history. He is the latest iteration of Oromo leaders serving the Ethiopian state—aspiring to also equitably serve his own people as well. In years past, such overtures to the Oromo public by prominent Oromo members of the Ethiopian state didn’t end well.
Lemma has his own skeptics. Many in the country and outside still wonder how far he can go to redress the historical and contemporary grievances of the Oromo people. Can he finally deliver on the Oromo aspiration for self-rule and equitable representation in Ethiopia’s social, economic and political life?
There are reasons to be hopeful: For one, his transformation into the darling of the Oromo came on the back of three years of stubborn protests that have effectively remade—at least rhetorically—a one-time docile Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Organization (OPDO), the junior partner in the four-party EPRDF, into something of an opposition.