On August 23, 2018, a group of nearly 40 Oromo citizens of Ethiopia met with members of a US Congressional Delegation and the US Ambassador to Ethiopia in a town hall format at the Sheraton Hotel. Invited guests included activists, political figures, scholars, entrepreneurs and humanitarians – including many Qeerroo participants that had taken part in the #OromoProtests resistance movement. Chairman Chris Smith (R-NJ), Ranking Member Karen Bass (D-CA) of the US House Subcommittee on Africa and Ambassador Michael Raynor engaged with Ethiopia-based Oromo community leaders inviting them to raise issues relevant to US – Ethiopia relations. The event was hosted by the American Embassy and facilitated by US-based Oromo diaspora advocacy groups COHRD and OAA.
This meeting was groundbreaking in that it was the first of its kind where diaspora groups connected members of Oromo civil society, in Ethiopia, with American officials to talk about the role of the Oromo in Ethiopia’s future. Oromo participants emphasized the role the Oromo protest movement played in bringing about regime change through nonviolence. Lemi Tilahun, of the Oromo Advocacy Alliance and one of the meeting’s conveners, repeatedly stressed the need to recognize the role the country’s youth, particularly the Oromo youth, played in bringing all of Ethiopia closer to democratization than the country has been in two generations. He drew attention to the urgency of providing opportunity to youth across the country as a road to prosperity.
The discussion revealed that much work lies ahead to put Ethiopia on a track toward democracy. All participants called for a creative and sustained US-Ethiopia partnership. Stating that Oromia can no longer be sidelined, the participants raised the urgency of bringing to justice those agents of the state who participated in killings, torture and violence against peaceful protesters. Also high on the agenda was the massive humanitarian crisis of food, shelter, medical care and insecurity for two million internally displaced persons, resettlement of the displaced back to the homes and lands from which they were evicted, the challenge of reintroducing formerly incarcerated persons, more equitable pathways toward land distribution, US assistance with strengthening civil society in preparation for the nation’s upcoming elections.
Both US officials and Oromos from Ethiopia expressed appreciation for the unique role the diaspora advocacy groups played in facilitating the open, candid and productive exchange in such a format.