Gadaa.com conducted an interview with the President of the International Oromo Youth Association (IOYA), Mr. Kitesso Chiri, regarding the upcoming IOYA’s peaceful rally (which will be staged on April 20th, 2009 in Washington, DC) against human rights violations in Ethiopia, and in the State of Oromia, in particular, the current human rights situation in Ethiopia, and the immediate actions required to improve human rights situations in Ethiopia. The April 20, 2009 March starts at the State Department and ends at the US Capitol. 210 South Carolina Avenue SE, Washington, DC 20515. For more info: contact 612-237-9993 (primary) or 678-357-9419.
The President of IOYA, Mr. Kitesso Chiri, is the founding member of the Oromia Youth Association and was a treasurer (2001-2002) of the Pan-Afrikan Student Union at Augsburg College, from which he graduated with a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree in Computer Science in 2003. He is currently employed with one of America’s largest financial companies as an Information Technology Professional and is pursuing his Master of Science (M.S.) degree in Software Engineering at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.
The International Oromo Youth Association (IOYA) was formed to serve as an umbrella organization for all Oromo Youth Associations and Student Unions around the world. IOYA was founded with the vision of creating an effective network of Oromo youth from across the globe in order to synchronize the efforts towards the alleviation of the economic, social, and human rights deprivations of the Oromo nation.
IOYA is committed to bringing a meaningful change to our society, to strengthening unity among the youth, to building the youth capacity, and coordinating our activities and resources towards building strong and successful Oromo citizens, both abroad and in Oromia. At the core of our coming-together is our commitment to support the Oromo people’s struggle for freedom, justice, and equality.
Gadaa.com: Could you tell us how IOYA was formed?
Mr. Kitesso Chiri (KC): The story of ‘IOYA’ started when a couple of individuals, who were attending a university in USA, released a proposal indicating the need for an Oromo Youth Leadership Conference, which ended up being called, obviously, Oromo Youth Leadership Conference (OYLC). Then, all interested youth picked up the idea and started the planning of the first OYLC conference, which took place in July 2006 at the University of Minnesota. The participants of the conference came from places, such as USA, Canada and as far as Europe. That was where the need for ‘IOYA’ was discussed, an ad-hoc committee was created and then a year later, the International Oromo Youth Association (IOYA) was officially formed by ratifying its constitution.
Gadaa.com: Describe the general political and human rights situations in Ethiopia at the moment.
KC: The general political and human rights situations in Ethiopia are getting worse by the day. Most of the citizens of the country, with the exception of the minority ruling class, have been subject to a number of human rights violations. Since I am closely aware of the Oromo situation, I know for sure Oromos are the main subjects of harassment, political suppression, economical discrimination, and/or extra-judicial killings. The government of Ethiopia has no regard to a human life and will do anything to stay in power, even if that means killing, torturing and imprisoning the majority of the people.
Today, prisons are filled with innocent people who are being held indefinitely for no apparent reason. To make the matter worse, not only is the government letting the poor people starve to death, but it is also involved in obstruction of food distribution and other humanitarian assistance.
Gadaa.com: Tell us about the work IOYA has done to bring to light these human rights abuses in Ethiopia and, particularly, in the State of Oromia.
KC: IOYA, besides other activities it carries out throughout the year, has done its share to bring the grave human rights situation in the Oromia to the attention of the world, although it believes more needs to be done. We are in the third year since the formation of IOYA, and the demonstration that is planned to take place on April 20th, 2009 is our third annual rally to be held in Washington, DC. IOYA has an objective of holding a minimum of two rallies a year, which it has kept on track so far.
The goal of this rally is, not only to draw attention of the United States to the human rights abuses in Ethiopia, but also to make it a national movement that will expose to the world the human rights crimes being committed in Oromia and the entire Horn of African region. We believe, unless the human rights situation in Ethiopia progresses, which we hope it will through our relentless struggle, it is a matter of ‘when’ before we start to hold a rally around the world simultaneously in an attempt to raise awareness.
Gadaa.com: What were some of the great things you took away from past years’ demonstrations?
KC: If you look at big rallies, preparing a successful rally requires a lot of resources and planning months ahead. We have learned, and we hope Oromos in Diaspora have done so as well, that we need to be persistent. Unless you are persistent and hold a rally annually, bi-annually, quarterly, or however many times you are able to do, no one will know about the issues you stand for. That is exactly what we are trying to do in IOYA: to hold a minimum of two rallies a year, one around the month of March/April in Washington, DC, and the second one during the Oromo summer annual gathering.
Gadaa.com: What does IOYA want to get out of this year’s March in DC? Will you get to speak with US government officials?
KC: IOYA hopes to raise awareness about the continued gross human rights violations in Ethiopia, to put media spotlight on the plight of the Oromo people, and to send a message to the people at home that we will not back down from doing all that we can until their living situation improves.
We have a team working on inviting a US State Department representative to listen to our issues. We are also working on having US Senate and/or House of Representatives delegates from our constituencies be present at our rally on April 20th, 2009 in Washington, DC.
Gadaa.com: There are some who would say that Ethiopian prisons “speak Afaan Oromoo” to show how Oromos are singled out and put in prisons in thousands for their political views. At the same time, they say Oromos are not the only ones oppressed in Ethiopia, so they should not speak out against state-sponsored abuses. What would you say to those individuals?
KC: The former president of Ethiopia, Dr. Negasso Gidada, during an Oromo Studies Association presentation in Minnesota in 2007, said in his own words that during his presidency (1995-2001), “they have imprisoned over 20,000 innocent Oromos,” and he further added that he feared the number could have doubled since he left office. So, for the people doubting the suppression on Oromo, I just refer them to the testimonies of the former president on the singling out of Oromos for imprisonments and other human rights violations.
When you have a former president accusing his own government, for the first time in the world’s history, only a heartless would question why we have to speak against state-sponsored abuses in Ethiopia. This is not (by no means) saying Oromos should not care about the other oppressed people in the country. Oromos have as much responsibility, when they advocate for the rights of the Oromo people, to advocate for all oppressed people who are not Oromo. We also have to understand the fight starts from home, and unless we stand up for the right of our people, the Oromo people, first, we will be lying if we say we advocate for all oppressed people at once.
Gadaa.com: Who is responsible for the current human rights crisis in Oromia, Ogadenia, Gambella and other regions of Ethiopia?
KC: The government of Ethiopia would like to blame the deteriorating of human rights situation and humanitarian crises in Ogaden, Gambella and Oromia regions onto rebel groups. Every time the Amnesty International and the US State Department conduct their own investigations, they always find the government of Ethiopia behind massacres and humanitarian crises that have taken place in these regions. Likewise, we have no reason to believe no one, other than the government of Ethiopia, is responsible for these crises, and soon or later, those officials of the Ethiopian government should be brought to justice for the crimes against humanity they have committed or are committing unabatedly.
Gadaa.com: How can those responsible be brought to justice?
KC: The responsible party could be brought to the justice only if we persistently continue to struggle for the human rights, political rights and economic rights of the oppressed people and are able to educate the world community about what’s going on inside our country. This may not even come until Oromia is free, but we must still fight until either comes first.
Gadaa.com: Speaking of justice, any lessons IOYA and other Horn of African organizations could learn from the Darfur worldwide activism that successfully brought Sudan’s President Al-Bashir to justice?
KC: The case against Al-Bashir is a symbolic one and is one big step forward for human rights activism. As I have tried to state earlier, we will need to be persistent in our struggle. We will also need to invite non-Oromos and educate them about the struggle of our people. If we keep up what we are doing, it is only a matter of ‘when’ before the responsible party in the government of Ethiopia is brought to justice.
Gadaa.com: What kinds of genuine changes are needed in Ethiopia today – in terms of improving human rights situation?
KC: In simple terms, political prisoners will need to be freed or face a fair trial; the education system will need to be free of political influence and it should not be used as a tool to crack down on students; the resources of the country should be used to help with economic development of the country, not for making only the few the rich; the people should be allowed to exercise their political rights and views without a fear of persecution; and the citizens of the country deserve to have a fair and fraud-free election as it is defined on its constitution.
Gadaa.com: Let’s talk about the Oromo youth in Diaspora. What do you think can be done to empower the Oromo youth in Diaspora?
KC: Oromo youth in Diaspora has a unique opportunity to go to school, to make a career and to enjoy access to a better living situation. Living under such relative comfort and security, the youth also has the opportunity to carry out its responsibility by being a voice for the voiceless people at home. We believe educational empowerment is an important step toward creating a community that will then be able to develop its own home, country, and society, both politically and economically. In most school campuses in Diaspora, we have Oromo student associations/unions that strive to motivate each other to go to school and never to forget where they have come from. We believe these steps are very important in empowering the youth and preparing it to be future leaders in political and civil issues of the Oromo People.
Gadaa.com: What are some of the items that IOYA is working on for the immediate future?
KC: We have several action committees that work on human rights issues, cultural empowerment, this summer’s leadership conference (OYLC 2009), and so on. These committees are formed and are run by youth, living in different states and continents – and communicating using the latest technologies, like video chats and phone conference lines. We are also, for the near future, working on the ideas of providing scholarship opportunities for students and creating a network between the youth in Diaspora and at home.
Gadaa.com: We thank you for taking your time to share these uplifting messages of activism and information about the IOYA’s April 20th, 2009 March in Washington, DC. Any other message you would like to pass on to Gadaa.com visitors?
KC: “United We Stand, Divided We Fall!!” – The issue of human rights can only be solved if we all stand together. This is not an issue of the Oromo youth only, neither does it belong to a political party only. Everyone, from every corner of the country and every kind of political view and any type of personal interest, has the responsibility to fight against injustices. Only then can we ALL overcome the enemy within and elsewhere.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the IOYA Board Members for the limitless effort they are putting in to the organization to make sure the objectives of the organization are met. I also like to thank the IOYA Action Committees for working tirelessly to empower the youth and complete the many projects we do each year, the local youth organizations and student unions for their contributions, and Oromo political and civic organizations for their continued support and commitment to the issues of the Oromo people. Last, but not least, I would like to thank Gadaa.com for giving us this opportunity to introduce the work we are doing within our communities and inside our organization.
– Website of the International Oromo Youth Association
– Oromia Youth Association – Minnesota
– The Winnipeg Oromo Youth Association
– Picture Gallery: Past Years’ IOYA Rallies (Manabuna.com)
Gadaa.com would like to extend our deepest appreciation to IOYA and its commitment to bringing to light the human rights violations in Ethiopia, and in the State of Oromia, in particular. Gadaa.com will continue to cover the 2009 IOYA’s March in Washington, DC. For more, please visit our special report page: