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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Oromo in Ethiopia

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Ethiopia Facts
Area:    1,251,282 sq. km.
Capital:    Addis Ababa
Total Population:    55,000,000 (source: Ethiopian Embassy, Washington, D.C., 1994, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

The Oromo in Ethiopia exhibit four factors thought to encourage future rebellion: persistent protest and current rebellion; territorial concentration; generally high levels of group organization; and recurring government repression. Until a truly open political system is allowed in Ethiopia, the future condition of the Oromo remains questionable. With the continued insurgency in the south, even Oromo unaffiliated with militant and violent organizations are still targeted and subject to governmental abuse and detention. Further complicating a viable projection of Oromo participation in Ethiopian politics are the disparate claims that various Oromian groups hold, ranging from full political independence to greater regional autonomy to greater participation at the central state level. When and if rebellious activities conclude will likely indicate whether the Oromo can carve out a political niche adequate to their many distinct members. The fact that the Ethiopian regime has completed preparations to annul the official use of Oromo language in over 375 cities and towns of Oromia is one of the many indicators of the level of repression the Oromo people face.


Analytic Summary

The Oromo, the largest single ethnic group in Ethiopia constituting approximately 40 percent of the country's total population, are found mainly in southern Ethiopia. The OLF, a major political force which was founded in 1973, fought against Mengistu in an attempt to build an independent "Oromia" (integration of various Oromo regional and religious groups into one Oromo nation). Although the OLF had been at odds with other Oromo groups such as the Islamic Front for the Liberation of the Oromo (IFLO) and the Oromo People’s Liberation Front (OPLF), they began coordinating their action after Mengistu's fall. The political slogan for Oromia facilitated a union between the OLF and other Oromo organizations. Historically, they had never formed one Oromo state, but were organized into smaller units of clans or villages. Although the Oromo remain a plurality of the Ethiopian population, they have historically been marginalized politically in Ethiopia, although the Tigrean-dominated EPRDF government of Meles Zenawi has instituted some remedial policies in the form of devolution of power (POLDIS00-06 = 1). The Oromo are mainly Sunni Muslim. While Oromo Christians live in the north and west of Ethiopia, the Oromo Muslims live in the south and east (GROUPCON = 2). While smaller Oromo tribes speak Oromifa, the majority of its group members speak Ethiopia’s official language of Amharic (LANG = 0). However, because of their relative dispersal throughout the country and varying beliefs, the Oromo have generally been less united both religiously and socially than the Tigreans or Amhara.

This diffusion of Oromo throughout Ethiopia, coupled with their sheer numbers, has led to a complex formation of numerous conventional and militant Oromo groups that have at times cooperated with and at times rebelled against the dominant EPRDF. The Oromo Liberation Front in 1991 revived a small-scale guerilla war in southern Ethiopia that continues to date, and seeks separation from the central government and other southern ethnicities (REB00-03 = 4; REB04-06 = 5). Other Oromo organizations include the militant Islamic Front for the Liberation of the Oromo (IFLO) and the Oromo Peoples Liberation Front (OPLF) and the more conventional Oromo People's Democracy Organization (OPDO), created by the EPRDF as its own Oromo affiliate (GOJPA06 = 3). This division has at times resulted in intragroup factional violence, most notably between the OLF and IFLO. While a peace agreement was signed between the OLF and IFLO factions in July 2000 (INTRACON00-01 = 0), intragroup violence continued to erupt in recent years between cadres of the OPDO and members of the Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM) as well as various Oromo clans (INTRACON05-06 = 1).

Oromo civilians have also taken to the streets frequently in small-scale protests (PROT99-00 = 3; PROT01-03 = 2; PROT04 = 4; PROT05-06 = 3) to argue for greater political rights and proportionate representation in Ethiopian universities. By virtue of being the largest ethnopolitical group in Ethiopia, the Oromo are perceived as a threat to Tigrean EPRDF power and this has resulted in government repression against the group (REPGENCIV04-06 = 3; REPNVIOL04-05 = 5, REPNVIOL06 = 4; REPVIOL04-06 = 5).



Abbink, J. 2006. "Ethnicity and Conflict Generation in Ethiopia: Some Problems and Prospects of Ethno-Regional Federalism." Journal of Contemporary African Studies. 24:3.

Baissa, Lemmu. 1992. "The Oromo and the quest for peace in Ethiopia." TransAfrica Forum. 9:2.

CIA World Factbook. “Ethiopia.” 2004-2006.

Debbede, Girma. 1992. The State and Development in Ethiopia. New Jersey and London: Humanities Press.

Hassen, Mohammed. 1990. The Oromo of Ethiopia: A History 1570-1860. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Keller, Edmond. 1995. "Remaking the Ethiopian State." in I. William Zartman ed. Collapsed States: The Disintegration and Restoration of Legitimate Authority. London: Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Keller, Edmond J. 1995. "The Ethnogenesis of the Oromo Nation and Its Implications for Politics in Ethiopia." The Journal of Modern African Studies 33:4.

Krylow, Alexander. 1994. "Ethnic Factors in Post-Mengistu Ethiopia." in Zegeye and Pausewang eds. 1994. Ethiopia in Change.

LexisNexis. Various news reports. 1990-2006.

Minorities Rights Group. 1989. World Directory of Minorities, St. James International Reference. Chicago and London: St. James Press.

U.S. Library of Congress. 2005. "Country Profile: Ethiopia."

Zegeye, Abebe and Siegfried Pausewang. eds. 1994. Ethiopia in Change: Peasantry, Nationalism, and Democracy. London and New York: British Academic Press.

U.S. State Department. "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Ethiopia." 2004-2006.


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Information current as of December 31, 2006