Analysis: Mass displacement, neglect as ethnic Oromos flee communal violence in East Wollega zone

The East Wollega zone witnessed recurring communal violence over the past several months

By Dereje Gonfa @DerejeGonfa

Addis Abeba, December 22/2021 – Thousands of ethnic Oromos were displaced from Guto Gida woreda of the East Wollega zone of Oromia regional state, reports said. Days-long communal violence broke out in Four kebeles of the woreda earlier in November according to residents who described it as ‘unlike anything that they’ve seen before.’ The violence claimed the lives of many and forced thousands to flee to Nekemte and many other areas with little to no contact from concerned bodies. 

The East Wollega zone has been a scene of recurring communal violence that is often linked with clashes between Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) and Amhara militias. Civilians continue to pay the price as parties to the conflict trade blames and the increasing humanitarian crisis go unaddressed. The latest of such incidents took place in the Horo Aleltu, Meti, Gadissa Oda and Lugo kebeles of the woreda where residents spoke of mass displacement of an estimated number of 80,000 to 100,000 people following the incident in November alone. 

Jiregna Merga who sought refuge in Nekemte said, “Many lost their lives but I managed to escape and save my family’s lives. We didn’t harvest our crops. All of our belongings were destroyed.” He pleaded, “We left our homes empty handed, we need help.” He narrated the sequence of events that took place between November 12 and November 18, “A minor dispute escalated into an ethnic strife after members of the Amhara community organized themselves and began to engage in armed combat with the OLA,” he added, “Later the Amhara militias turned their gunpoint towards innocent civilians.” According to him, the Four kebeles were looted, houses were set ablaze, several people were killed and thousands others were driven out by Amhara militias.

“A minor dispute escalated into an ethnic strife after members of the Amhara community organized themselves and began to engage in armed combat with the OLA.”

Jiregna Merga, a resident of Guto Gida

Jiregna recalls the harmonious co-existence of the Oromo and Amhara community ,“For years we lived as a family. We have been through thick and thin. This is all very strange to us.” He continued, “Dozens of people were killed in cold blood and some have gone missing. Several people were robbed while many others watched all of their belongings turn into ashes.” He explains that members of both communities were killed and displaced, “It is hard to know the exact number since this conflict spread over Four kebeles.”

Hailu Alemu, another resident of Guto Gida who fled to the town of Ukkee  said, “The first shots were fired in Lugo kebele. Before we knew it the attacks spread to neighboring kebeles. We had to run for our lives.” Hailu expressed his frustration with the government for failing to address the suffering of civilians caught in crossfires. “This is part of the country’s political crisis. It is saddening to see the suffering of innocent people that have nothing to do with politics.” 

Describing the extent of the impact Hailu said, “This is the worst one yet, no one was left behind in the four kebeles.” He puts the number of IDPs in Ukkee town between 80,000 and 100,000 including women, children and elderlies. He noted that the number could be higher as several other people fled to nearby towns and woredas. He stated the shortage of food and the urgent need for humanitarian assistance.

“This is the worst one yet, no one was left behind in the four kebeles.”

Hailu Alemu, a resident of Guto Gida

“It has become common to see people get killed everyday,” said a primary school teacher at Angar Gute primary school. The teacher who commented on conditions of anonymity added, “It appears that the killings are widespread revenge killings. There are a lot of armed people around and it is hard to identify who is going after who.” The conflict prompted the shutting down of schools according to the teacher, “The constant interruption of school amid recurring violence forced us to give up and prepare to leave.”

To make matters worse, the security situation of the zone made it difficult to mobilize resources for the IDPs. Yadeno Hundera, a volunteer community organizer stated that  his team was unable to reach the people in need with the goods and cash collected from the local community in Nekemte. He noted that mobilizing resources is not sustainable to address the needs of the large number of IDPs. “Aid organizations  and the government need to step in,” Yadeno said. 

While the violence in the Kirmau woreda of the East Wollega zone garnered attention of the media and the government, the case of Guto Gida woreda evaded coverage despite the scale of the humanitarian crisis the residents continue to face. Earlier in September, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission(EHRC) addressed the mass displacement of the residents of Kiramu Woreda. The commission demanded swift actions by regional and federal governments to lift the closure of roads between Kiramu woreda and Nekemte as well as Bure towns to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the IDPs. 

“Lately the commission has scaled down reporting on Western Oromia due to the increasingly contradicting information surrounding the security situation in the area and the complexity of the matter.”

Imad Abdulfetah, monitoring and investigating hub director at EHRC

When asked why the commission failed to issue a statement on the mass displacement of the residents of Guto Gida woreda, Imad Abdulfetah, monitoring and investigation hub regional director at the EHRC, said, “Lately the commission has scaled down reporting on western Oromia due to the increasingly contradicting information surrounding the security situation in the area and the complexity of the matter.” He continued, “Added to lack of accurate information, there are different political interests being driven in between and we don’t want our reports to be used for that purpose.” Without disclosing specifics, he recalled that the commission received harsh criticism for a recent report surrounding western Oromia. 

Imad noted that majority of the IDPs in the Oromia region are from Western oromia and said, “It is difficult to specify in terms of ethic backgrounds of IDPs due to lack of accurate information,” he said, adding, “Even when accurate information is available to us, the commission refrains from disclosing it to prevent the usage of our reports to advance political agendas.”   

The latest development surrounding the deadly communal violence in Guto Gida woreda is that efforts are underway to return the IDPs to their homes. Addis Standard was able to confirm that the woreda administration held a reconciliation process led by community leaders and the elderly last week. 

Addis Standard’s multiple attempts to contact authorities on both federal and regional levels regarding the current situation of the IDPs were not successful. Dagne Dhaba the head of East wollega zone disaster prevention and preparedness bureau declined to comment saying, “I won’t give information to non government media.” AS

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