By Dereje Gonfa
Addis Abeba, September 29/2021 – Eye witness reports from received by Addis Standard from residents in Borana zone, Southern Oromia, reveal that civilians are suffering from severe food shortages resulting in deaths have occurred as result of starvation particularly in Wachile woreda of the zone.
Multiple residents of Wachile woreda who wanted to remain anonymous for fear of retribution from local authorities describe similar stories. An eye witness who is close to elderly victims who died of hunger told Addis Standard last week that “two elderly men aged 75-80 and a 70 year old woman have died due to starvation.”
A second eye witness corroborated the story. “A lot of people are dying from hunger,” a said. “Although we are poor people who are dependent on aid, they told us we have to support the defense force and took everything from us forcefully. Now we are exposed to hunger.”
Conscription, forced contributions to army and crackdown on suspected OLA supporters: residents
“They [local authorities] are conscripting youth who support their elderly parents, and this has led to hunger among the elderly” the second eye witness explained, “No one joined the army willingly. If we speak up they will call us terrorists and ‘Shanee’ (A term used by regional and federal governments correspondence to refer to the Oromo Liberation Army) and throw us in jail,” he said.
“..those who represent the people and are administrating the woreda are facing a dilemma, if we don’t speak God will judge us, and if we speak the government will prosecute us.”A civil servant
A third resident also told Addis Standard that the zonal administration officials took money and cattle from residents to support the national defense forces from people who are already suffering from food insecurity. According to him, in addition to that forced conscription of the youth has made the elderly vulnerable as they depend on the youth for farming and other activities. “People who resisted have been arrested and many went missing,” he said, adding, “We wish for these acts to stop.”
A civil servant in Wachile woreda corroborated residents’ testimonies. “It is true there is hunger. Even an ordinary pastoralist can be a witness to that,” he said, and explained the predicament facing public servants who want to speak up: “those who represent the people and are administrating the woreda are facing a dilemma, if we don’t speak God will judge us, and if we speak the government will prosecute us.”
He also accused local authorities of blocking services in response to OLA armed rebels’ advances. “The government blocked services amid intensifying operations by the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) in the area. [which has] aggravated the hunger,” he said. “If we speak up they will accuse us of defaming the government and suspend us from work. At the same time they [local authorities] ordered us to donate one month’s salary to the national defense forces and deducted it without our consent. We are in fear, even if they ask, no one can refuse.”
What do zonal and woreda administrators say?
However, Yaballo Hospital administrator Arero Bikicha told Addis Standard that people with acute malnutrition are admitted to the hospital from time to time. He said “Usually people are admitted to the hospital for treatment of acute malnutrition. However I haven’t witnessed a surge in such cases, there is no sign of acute malnutrition becoming an epidemic. There is no reported case of death as a result of acute malnutrition in Yaballo Hospital.” Arero added that he has no information about the death of three people from hunger in Waacille Woreda.
The Borana zone administrator Guyo Galgalo dismissed these accounts and insisted that there was no disruption in normal activity because of the OLA’s movement. “There is no blackout of network, electricity, no disruption of commerce and overall no disruption in social services due to the movement of Oromo Liberation Army.”
According to the administrator, “the accusations related to conscription, forcing of employees to contribute their salaries to the army and death of people from hunger are all lies.”
“There is no blackout of network, electricity, no disruption of commerce and overall no disruption in social services due to the movement of Oromo Liberation Army.”Guyo Galgalo
Jilo Dida, the administrator of Wachile woreda, also disagreed strongly with residents’ testimonies and said, “This is enemy’s propaganda created on social media. No one died of hunger.”
In Jilo’s account, the death of elders were attributable for various other reasons unrelated to hunger. “Those people who supposedly died from hunger are old people. They were sick and getting medical help repeatedly.” Nonetheless, he admitted that the pastoralists community in the arid area of Borana zone are dealing with a crisis of food shortage. “They are receiving support as the government sees fit,” he said.
“The youth joined the army based on the national call made by the federal government. We called on the youth to use this job opportunity and this is not the Derg era, no one is conscripting the youth. I repeat we are not doing that.”Jilo Dida
Moreover, the woreda administrator denied allegations of conscription and abuse of power against those who resist it. He said, “Those who were supported by the safety net program are still receiving aid,” he said, adding “the aid delivery to those who were displaced due to conflicts has been cut after they were returned to their homes.”
“The youth joined the army based on the national call made by the federal government. We called on the youth to use this job opportunity and this is not the Derg era, no one is conscripting the youth. I repeat we are not doing that.”
Aid obstruction aggravating food shortage
Due to the drought and shortage of fodder, pastoralists in dry areas of Borana zone have been suffering from food insecurity and humanitarian agencies have been supporting them for years. However, residents told Addis Standard that food aid was not consistently delivered for the past two years.
According to one resident the obstruction of the delivery of aid could be a reason for the current food crisis. “The aid never stopped but the administrators took everything for their personal use. The problem is not only hunger but lack of good governance and care for the people,” he said.
Jilo Dido did not deny accusation of aid obstruction. “Food aid used to be distributed by kebele administrations. However, we received complaints from the community accusing the Kebele administration of using the food aid for personal gains,” he admitted, but said actions have been taken against those officials who were proven guilty of this act. “We investigated the issue and took measures against the perpetrators. We addressed the issue by holding responsible those who took part in obstruction.” AS