The Oromo activists achieved yet another spectacular victory by catching the Ethiopian regime off-guard and disturbing the “order” it set for the country’s youth. The leaking of the Ethiopian national examinations prior to the exam date greatly tarnished the self-imagery of the government while at the same time boosting that of its present-day nemesis, the Oromo youth activists. It has now pitted it against its yet another adversary, the Muslim activists.
For one thing, the leaking of the exam proved to be a surprising incident of sudden defeat of a government with a record of accomplishment of ignoring popular demands. It lately learnt the lesson—in the hard way—that the “terrorists” that it despises and over whose demands it was well prepared to ride roughshod can actually force it to submit to their wills (this time, of postponing exam dates).
Incidentally, such a victory could never—as it used to be in the past—provide the government the chance to reclaim its loss as an opportunity (as was the case with the rescinding of the Addis Abeba Master Plan, for instance, which the government tried to portray as a sign of its willingness to respond to people’s demands). The change in the exam dates came very late and only after the eerie leak of the exams and was thus clear manifestation of the government’s not only utter but also un-reclaimable defeat.
Secondly, the leaking of the exams catapulted Oromo activists as reliable co-owners of the destiny of their rebellious brethren in the country. In authoritarian settings, daring non-violent protesters, at least in the short-run, throw their whole lot into the hands of the regime they decry. The consequences for activists of their rebellious activities are to a huge extent controlled by the regime and are very much subject to the coercive apparatus of the state as long as the government has direct access to those activists. Activists do not necessarily own their fate; nor do they necessarily own the fate of their comrades. They plunge themselves gallantly into the unknown (or the bitter known, actually) in order to see something bright in the long-run. That is why we usually hear, among some Ethiopian detractors of the Oromo protests, that “some diasporic Oromo activists lead a happy life in the West and agitate the poor Oromo inside the country to rebel against the government with detrimental consequences to the protesters. The far-away activists do not come to their rescue in the event when the regime takes action against these poor fellows”. That assumption/assertion has now been blown apart. The leading Oromo activists—whether inside or outside the country—have proven themselves to be co-owners (the government still having a share, of course) of the fate of their rebellious comrades-in-protest. These activists do not simply “encourage” the Oromo youth in the country to launch anti-regime protests, only to abandon them later on to be devoured by the regime as and when it likes. By surprisingly forcing the regime to cancel exam dates, the activists have stood out clearly as the students’ reliable protectors of their academic security.
The government thus humiliatingly agreed to set another date for the exam. However, – and this is the third untoward consequence of the exam leak – by doing that, the regime, knowingly or otherwise, clashed not only with a fundamental rights of another section of the population but also with a much-cherished and much-celebrated idea in post-1974 Ethiopia. The secularization of the Ethiopian state and the equality of all religions was one of the few achievements of the otherwise controversial revolutionary turn of events in the country’s recent past. Part of the achievement was the official and equal status given to all religious holidays, including the Muslim ones. By announcing a new exam schedule that flagrantly clashes with an important Muslim holiday, the current government stood to commit an additional crime of historic proportion. It was also poised to clash once again with another major adversary, the Ethiopian Muslim activists, who, just like the Oromo activists, have been protesting government violation of their constitutional rights and had been the torch-bearers of a sturdy show of non-violent social movement before the Oromo protests erupted.
Apparently sensing an impending backlash, the regime once again made a flip flop and excepted the Eid day from the exam schedule. But it insisted that students will sit for exams while fasting and immediately after the holiday. This is, needless to say, in blatant disregard for the interests of Muslim students who wouldbe forced to write exams on an empty stomach and thus with much reduced power of concentration and productivity. The morrow of a major holiday would also not be appropriate for writing exams given the environment of festivity and socialization on that day that are obviously at odds with the atmosphere of tranquility and stability that sitting for exams naturally requires. Moreover, students would not be in a mood to make the most out of their holiday while their minds are preoccupied with exam-related stress and final preparation. Thus, exams dates fixed during periods of fasting and around holidays would no doubt be of grave concernfor Ethiopian Muslims, who most likely won’t allow the exams to come to pass sitting idly. If the regime insists to go by its plan for “Plan B” as it exists at present, it is only paving a more fruitful opportunity for Oromo and Muslim activists to intensify the struggle hand-in-hand towards the realization of free Ethiopia.
Ed’s Note: Yasin Muhe is a Lecturer at the Addis Abeba University (AAU). He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org