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Is Western Oromia returning to normalcy?

During a public assembly held in May at Wollega Stadium, Nekemte, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed underscored the critical significance of peace and unity for the Oromo people. He exhorted them to preserve the advancements they have achieved and to continue pursuing positive transformations (Photo: Office of the Prime Minister of Ethiopia)

By Abdi Biyenssa @ABiyenssa

Addis Abeba – Less than two weeks ago, Ethiopian Airlines Group inaugurated the Nekemte Gudina Tumsa Airport following the completion of a runway and terminal at a cost of 1.3 billion birr. The national carrier announced plans to resume flights between Addis Abeba and Nekemte three times a week.

This development is welcome news for the residents of Nekemte, located in the East Wollega Zone, who have suffered greatly due to the ongoing militarized-conflict between government forces and armed group, the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA).

The people of East Wollega Zone have been longing for peace, hoping for a return to normalcy to continue their daily activities, primarily subsistence agriculture.

The rural areas of Nekemte and its surroundings are renowned for their agricultural outputs, particularly coffee and fruits.

A month before the inauguration of Gudina Tumsa Airport, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, accompanied by top government officials including the Speaker of the House of People’s Representatives Tagese Chafo, the Speaker of the House of Federation Agegnehu Teshager, Deputy Prime Minister Temesgen Truneh, and the president of the Oromia region, Shimels Abdisa, visited Nekemte.

During his visit, the Prime Minister attended a public rally at the Nekemte Stadium, organized “to support the national reforms and the achievements of his government” over the past six years.

Such visits by high-ranking government officials to East Wollega or any other zones in Western Oromia are unprecedented.

On Thursday, President Shimelis Abdissa, along with federal and regional senior government officials, kicked off the annual tree planting campaign under PM Abiy’s Green Legacy initiative at regional level in the Lalo Qile district of the Qellem Wollega zone. 

Shimelis Abdissa, Oromia president planting tree seedling in Lalo Qile district of Qellem Wollega zone (Photo: OBN)

Officials attribute such endeavors to a significantly improved security situation in conflict-ravaged Western Oromia. The resumption of regular flights from Addis Abeba to Dambi Dollo town, situated in the Qellem Wollega Zone in February 2024 was also credited to improved security and seen as a step towards normalcy.

However, despite these developments, residents in both East Wollega and Qellem Wollega zones continue to express concerns about the ongoing security situation in Western Oromia, which they perceive as both persistent and deteriorating.

A resident and lecturer at Dembi Dollo University in Dembi Dollo Town, Qellem Wellega Zone, who has chosen to remain anonymous for safety reasons, informed Addis Standard of a severe conflict occurring in several districts within this zone, including Anfilo, Jima Horo, Dale Sedi, and Gidami.

According to the resident, civilians are being tortured and harassed under accusations of supporting the OLA, referred to by government officials as “Shane,” resulting in widespread insecurity throughout the zone.

To underscore his assessment of the deteriorating security in Qellem Wellega, the lecturer highlighted a recent incident in the area.

He stated that “On June 22, 2024, federal forces killed two brothers, Yohanis Hordofa and Gemechu Hordofa, in the village of Gogofi, located within the Yemalogi Welele district.”

Dereje Tola (name changed for security reasons), a resident of Ejere Village in the Gida Ayana district of East Wollega Zone, recently returned to his hometown after being displaced due to conflict in the area.

In an interview with Addis Standard, he shared his concerns about the persisting security issues, expressing ongoing insecurity and fear of renewed conflict.

Furthermore, the resident reported various challenges they are currently facing, including the suspension of schooling and the insufficient availability of school places for children.

“The community also struggles with limited access to healthcare and education, a scarcity of employment opportunities, and difficulties in accessing livelihoods and clean water,” he emphasized.

The remaining zones in Western Oromia—Horro Guduru Wollega and West Wollega—continue to experience a decline in security and ongoing armed conflict.

Wakuma Tesfaye, an internally displaced person (IDP) from the East Wollega zone, and currently residing in a camp located within the Jarte district of Horro Guduru Wollega, provided firsthand information to Addis Standard.

According to him, ongoing armed clashes continue to disrupt stability in the area.

Students in Western Oromia, including those attending Agemsa Preparatory School in the Sulula Fincha district of the Horo Guduru Wollega Zone, have been profoundly affected by the ongoing conflict that has beset the region for the past six years (Photo: Addis Standard)

These conflicts involve government forces and armed groups, including the OLA and the Fano militia originating from the neighboring Amhara region.

Wakuma further indicated that the situation in the East Wollega zone remains precarious. “Just last week,” he revealed, “clashes erupted in various districts throughout the zone, including Tija Jangir town within Gida Ayana district.”

Wakuma additionally highlighted the absence of lasting peace along the Oromia-Amhara border, specifically within the Horro Guduru Wollega Zone.

“Recurrent clashes between armed groups and government forces continue to plague the zone,” he stated, “impacting civilians from both Oromia and Amhara regions.”

Tolosa Gebisa (name changed), a farmer residing in the Horro Guduru Wollega Zone, in the Guduru district, in the village of Tulu Habib, informed Addis Standard that farmers are required to undergo militia training to receive fertilizer and seeds.

“Those who refuse the militia training are denied these essential supplies, while only those who complete the training receive them,” the farmer stated.

He added that people are suffering greatly and constantly live in fear due to the lack of sustainable peace in the area.

Another farmer, Habtamu Kebede, who resides in the Abay Choman district in the village of Migiru in Horro Guduru Wollega Zone, confirmed Tolosa’s account.

He stated that only those trained as militia receive fertilizer and improved seeds. “Individuals without farming land who undergo militia training often sell the seeds and fertilizer they receive at higher prices,” he explained.

Habtamu Tizazu, the Education Affairs Coordinator of the Gurmu Development Association, a local charity in the Horro Guduru Wollega Zone, informed Addis Standard that education materials have been damaged and burned and still require maintenance.

“Several schools remain closed in the East Wellega and Horro Guduru Wollega Zones,” he disclosed, adding that the movement of cars, goods, and transportation services is still limited.

Ethiopian Airlines recently reported a surge in domestic air travel, which critics attribute to increasing insecurity that made roads between most zones and districts in conflict-hit areas unnavigable.

According to Habtamu, the regional government is attempting to reinvigorate the local government structures and administrations, which were fractured due to the ongoing militarized conflict in the four zones.

“Meanwhile, the conflict between the OLA and government forces continues in several districts across the four Wellega zones,” and the impact has never been eased, Habtamu stated.

“Although hospitals and health posts in the four zones located in Western Oromia are in better condition than before, several health posts remain non-functional. Measles has killed more than 30 people and affected over 800 in the Horro Guduru Wollega Zone. Malaria is also spreading in the districts of Horro Guduru Wollega Zone, and there is a shortage of tablets to treat it,” Habtamu asserted.

He mentioned that there has been an attempt to resettle internally displaced people who were forced from their homes due to the conflict. “However, many remain unable to return home, and those who have resettled live in constant fear due to the precarious security situation in their villages,” Habtamu added.

The security situation in the West Wollega Zone also remains uncertain.

A resident of the Kondala district, who chose to remain anonymous, revealed that federal forces captured a young man named Ahmad Daraba in the village of Ofaffa Arga on June 22, 2024.

“Ahmad was accused of supporting an armed group, which he denied,” stated the resident. “However, government forces rejected his denial and killed him the following day.”

The resident added that a conflict is ongoing between the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) and the federal forces in several districts of the West Wollega Zone, a situation that began three weeks ago. “Intense fighting is reported in Shura Lopi and Shura Maramu.”

According to him, youths, women—including pregnant women—and children are facing significant hardships due to the ongoing conflict.

“Torture, arbitrary imprisonment, beatings, and killings are rampant in several districts of the zone,” he emphasized. “The government is not acting as the defender of the people,” the resident stated.

Recently, Addis Standard published an article detailing how the ongoing violence and instability in Western Oromia have devastated civilians, crippled social and economic institutions, and left the once-thriving education sector in ruins. AS

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