Obang O. Metho
Director of International Advocacy, Anuak Justice
Speech to Ethiopian community at Tsehai Conferences
Antioch University, Los Angeles California
July 5, 2006
Good Afternoon my fellow Ethiopian brothers and sisters. I am thrilled
to be with you in this great city of Los Angeles, a city well known
for its movies and media. First of all, I want to especially thank
all the organizers of this event, the Tsehai Conference, for their
efforts in making this happen. I am happy that one of the stated
goals of this conference is to start the conversation about the
state of Ethiopian affairs and the Diaspora. I cannot agree more
with this goal. I have been waiting for this kind of conversation
for a long time.
As most of you know, I was with Ana Gomes here in LA a couple of
days ago when she and I talked about where to begin in bringing
to an end, the injustice in Ethiopia. We talked about what Ethiopians
could do to free themselves, their leaders and all political prisoners
from tyranny. We agreed that this could not happen without the mobilization
of every Ethiopian in every walk of life. This requires everyone’s
effort regardless of our education, sex, age, religion and ethnic
Now, the conversation can truly begin because of the efforts of
the organizers of this conference who brought us all together at
this critical time. I also want to especially thank Elias Wandimu,
who called me in Canada as he was organizing the conference. When
Elias first called me three weeks ago, I thought he was an older
man. Now, I realize he is around the same age as I am. I thank him
and all the others for what you have done. This reminds me that
age does not matter. We can all fight injustice regardless of our
age and other factors.
Elias asked me to talk about the state of Ethiopia and ethnic relations,
but I was not sure I should do this because I was not an expert
in ethnic relations, so he then told me I could speak on human rights
and unity. I was then delighted to accept the invitation. I hope
I can contribute at least a small bit to this discussion. However,
after learning something about ethnic relations since that time
of our discussion, I now would now like to include some thoughts
For instance, just an hour ago during lunch, as I was in line to
get the injera, I met an Ethiopian sister who asked me if I ate
injera and I said I did. She then asked if I had eaten it before
and I said, “Yes, I have been eating it for a long time.”
She then asked if I had been in Addis and I told her yes, not only
that, but I told her I was an Ethiopian—that I had grown up
in Ethiopia. Then I started talking to her in Amharic and she looked
at others around her in astonishment and said, “Amarigna
Yichalal ende???” meaning “Unh-h-h-h, he speak
Amharic???” Then another man responded to her and said I was
Ethiopian. She said she thought I looked like a Kenyan, a Ugandan,
a Nigerian or perhaps a Sudanese, but not an Ethiopian! She had
never even heard of Gambella where I came from and from where most
of my ethnic group, the Anuak, come.
The truth is, we sometimes know more about people in other countries
than our own people. In fact, there are many more Ethiopians just
like me, who live in our beloved country, yet who do not look like
the stereotypical Ethiopian! These Ethiopians come from one of the
many different ethnic groups and areas of our country.
My point is that to be an Ethiopian, you do not have to belong
to one of the larger ethnic groups or come from certain regions
of the country. Instead, we must remember that Ethiopia is a rich
country of great diversity. Regardless of our differences, our country
unites us as Ethiopians. Even more importantly, shared values of
human life; peace, liberty and justice unite us as human beings.
Brothers and sisters in this room, I am thrilled to stand in front
of you today. I assure you I am here first and foremost as a fellow
human being. I am also an Anuak and my name is Obang Metho. Additionally,
I am an Ethiopian and an African who is trying to contribute even
a small bit to make sure that the world of the gun, corruption,
discrimination and injustice becomes a better place not only for
us, but also for our children in generations to come.
I am standing here not as an expert or as a member of a political
party. In fact, I am not even here as someone who is much more mature
or more well educated than most of the panelists who are sitting
next to me. For as you can tell, most are a lot older and already
have gray hair, proving their maturity and life experience whereas
if I did not have a baldhead, you would know that I still am not
gray haired. Regardless, I am privileged to be here with the more
politically mature guests so as to share what I know and to learn
more from them.
Brothers and sisters, most of us know about what is going on in
Ethiopia. I will not focus on what has happened, but instead on
what we can do. To me, what is going on in Ethiopia is a crisis.
A crisis, by its definition, demands urgent action. As you know,
action should have been started a long time ago. This crisis became
full blown to the Anuak people on December 13, 2003 when 424 Anuak
leaders were massacred in an attempt to eliminate a whole group
of people—the educated leaders of the Anuak community of Ethiopia.
As you may also know, I got involved in human rights work when
the EPRDF Defense Forces killed these Ethiopian Anuak citizens who
they were supposed to protect. Since that time, our own government
has been killing its own people. Four more Anuak were killed this
week by EPRDF troops in Gambella. When people attempt to protest
it, the government denies their involvement. Instead of admitting
any responsibility, they cover up the incident or blame somebody
The Anuak and witnesses will never forget that bloody day when
the Anuak were killed in the massacre. It was not done in any ordinary
way. In fact, the way people were killed was so gruesome and brutal
that those who witnessed it were horrified and traumatized at the
inhumanity of the perpetrators. Now, three years after this horrifying
massacre, nothing has happened. Those who killed are still walking
around terrorizing others. Those who ordered the killings, continue
to order more killing today and will do so tomorrow as well. Unfortunately,
like some victims of violence, a small group of Anuak young men
have become like some of those who have terrorized them, seeking
revenge against innocent civilians including their Anuak family
member who have sided with the government.
This appalling state of affairs is why I got involved in human
rights work and why I am here today; however, because of lack of
time, I will not go into further details, but if you are interested
in knowing more, visit the website of the Anuak Justice Council
at www.anuakjustice.org for more information, including an investigation
by Human Rights Watch.
I will go on to another crisis which most of you know about which
occurred in the capital city of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, in June and
November of 2005. This is when most Ethiopians learned what kind
of brutal government was controlling Ethiopia. That is also when
most in the Diaspora learned what was really going on back home.
That crisis is still going on and over a year later, no serious
action has yet been taken in response.
It seems like there is a lot of talking, but no action. This is
why I want to change the focus from talking to taking action. I
encourage you to do the same. That is also why I am grateful to
the organizers of this conference who are bringing us together to
start doing something or our people will suffer the consequences
of our inaction. Action is already long overdue, but now we know
much more about the opponent we face.
One thing we have learned is that the government is killing, arresting,
torturing, and imprisoning every one of us regardless of our ethnic
group or the region from which we come. Your only option for some
degree of safety is to say nothing, to do nothing or to actively
side with the government against your own people. We have come to
realize that our government is especially preying on the educated,
the human rights activists, the politicians and anyone who is asking
for God-given rights for Ethiopians. Instead, our government is
taking these God-given rights from our people every day, even as
I speak to you, someone will be arrested, tortured and killed.
EPRDF does not have the support of the people anymore. They do
not have the power of the people behind them, only the power of
the gun—but the gun power will come to an end one way or another.
EPRDF is saying they came into power by the gun and anyone who wants
to take them out of power must also do it by the barrel of the gun!
What a self-revealing and violence inciting statement by our government
leaders, leaders who are pretending to stand for democracy!
For me, as a human rights activist, I will not go for the choice
of losing more lives of our fellow Ethiopians. Our people are dying
already from HIV, malaria, starvation and water-borne diseases.
We do not want any more wasted human lives taken from us before
their rightful time. Every Ethiopian life is precious. When I say
this, I am not only defending the lives and the rights of the Anuak,
but I am standing up for the lives of every human being, even those
who have killed the Anuak as well as Prime Minister Meles Zenawi
himself. Let the rule of law bring justice to the victims of these
crimes and to their perpetrators!
This conference is where the conversation begins, but it should
also be where the action starts! I call you to that. We know that
many of the politicians and people are doing lots of talking, but
are not taking action. Let us be catalysts to that action by starting
to work together in the effort.
The formation of the Alliance for Freedom and Democracy is an example
of taking action and working together. They are new, but I urge
them to quickly move forward with a plan of action and involve the
people so they can see movement. Do not lose hope in our task ahead,
but let it spur us on to action.
Right now, the democratically elected political opposition leaders
are in prison. The defense troops are killing people in Gambella,
Ogaden, Sidamo, Oromia and other places, but it seems that there
is no real momentum working up that will impact these urgent situations.
In fact, to be honest, Meles may be more advanced in thinking of
how to defeat our weak efforts than we are in confronting the tragedy
in our country. He is smart enough to come up with a 52-page strategy
of how to silence the Diaspora whereas we cannot come up with one
voice and action.
Despite the fact that he has no support of the people, we people
have not come up with a united plan to bring freedom, peace and
prosperity to our country. Instead, we are fighting amongst ourselves
and sabotaging the efforts of others. This is a shame when we put
our own self-interests and competition ahead of this cause. This
is a crisis and we who believe in freedom and democracy should keep
our focus on these values, not on our own ambitions.
We must take action that is meaningful. For instance, many of you
or US policy makers on behalf of you, may have written letters to
Prime Minister Meles, but he has not listened. Instead, he continues
to advance his own effort to hang on to power by any means. He is
hoping the Ethiopian people and their international advocates in
positions of power will become discouraged, lose interest and give
up the effort. The evidence of this is obvious now. As you may know,
many Ethiopians have accepted defeat along the way without really
persisting in their efforts, many times because they are refusing
to join in with the efforts of other fellow Ethiopians from a different
background or group.
People are losing hope. This is the worst thing that could happen
to an individual or a society. When you lose hope, you become paralyzed,
accepting that you cannot move from one place to a better place.
This is what I do not want Ethiopians to do. For instance today,
the Anuak in Gambella are losing hope that they will ever live in
a free society. The refugees who are stuck in Pochalla, Sudan are
losing hope that they will ever return to Gambella to rebuild their
lives because they think Meles will crush them as a superpower.
However, God says in His Holy Scriptures that he cares about those
who are oppressed who call on Him and do not go their own way. This
applies to all of us who are suffering. He warns unjust leaders
in Ezekiel 34:
“Woe to the shepherds…who only take care of themselves!
…You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they (my people)
were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were
scattered they became food for all the wild animals…Now,
I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the
Sovereign LORD. I will search for the lost and bring back the
strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but
the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock
with justice. …They will know that I am the LORD, when I
break the bars of their yoke and rescue them from the hands of
those who enslaved them. Then they will know that I, the LORD
their God, am with them.”
Remember these promises. Others may abandon us for many different
reasons, or we may feel overpowered by our oppressor, but we are
not. Have confidence that God can overcome anything!
As we trust in God, we must still do our part, no matter how little
it is. We need a movement of many people that has a very strong
organization at its foundation and good leadership—like the
building we are in today is made up with countless steel girders,
cement and other materials, all of which are important to the final
structure. Each of us must be like the steel girders, the cement
or even the soft cushions upon which you sit. We are all needed
to make the building that is called Ethiopia, a country where its
citizens enjoy freedom, the rule of law, peace, prosperity and justice.
As we do this, we must campaign and rally for the release of the
political prisoners and to bring to a halt the human rights abuses
going on in every corner of our country.
The EPRDF government is relaxing, thinking that they have a grasp
on power. We must sound the alarm and let them know we are not sleeping,
but are waking up and becoming active. We must organize or the alarms
we are sounding will become meaningless groans that disappear into
nowhere. It is not the time to be politically ambitious for yourself,
your own political party or your own ethnic group, vying for power
to be the next ruler of Ethiopia. Now is the time to put one’s
self interests aside and to concentrate on the people who are being
killed, those persons languishing in prison and those persons losing
hope in the future. Now is the time to work towards peace, freedom
Start reaching out to fellow Ethiopians. Start reaching out to non-Ethiopians
in your community, in your places of worship, to your politicians
and co-workers. For example, if you never hang out with the Chinese,
you may never learn how to eat with two sticks. If the Chinese do
not hang out with you, they will never learn how to break injera
into pieces and hold it with five fingers so the food does not fall
between your fingers. You will learn from them and others about
what they have gone through and may find that others will become
engaged in the concerns of Ethiopians.
Do not lose hope. Think of May 7th when a sea of Ethiopian people
came out from all over Addis Ababa to rally together. These people
are still there. They have not died or disappeared. Think of the
25 million who voted on Election Day. Neither did they die or disappear.
They are still there, hoping for a miracle and by the power of God,
that miracle could start with you. The longer you wait the sooner
hope will die.
In this country, you and I can speak out without fear of being
shot. Speak out for those who cannot. Use your gifts and skills
to organize. It is not only for the politicians to act. We may find
that we will end up guiding and influencing our politicians. We
may convince them that they also must be willing to give up things—hidden
agendas, ambitions and ulterior motives—for the sake of freedom
Close your eyes and think of what you might do. You Ethiopian women
might form a women’s organization and lead us men to a new
vision and plan. The youth might come together and with your energy
and creativity, you may become an example for those of us who are
older and have a harder time seeing a new way. The elders may offer
the gift of their wisdom and persistence, grounded in years of experience.
However, none of this will happen without some organizational structure
Establish your groups, your vision, how to implement that vision
and then find some mechanism that can support it happening. Find
a way to communicate and inform others. Give feedback to politicians
and other groups who are working. Do not only criticize, but also
include some ways to do whatever it is better. Do not just attend
the meetings, as these meetings are not vehicles for change unless
some action steps result from them.
Do not create artificial organizations that do not really exist
without any legitimacy. Register your organizations under the rules
and laws of your states. Account for the way you use funds that
you collect. Be sure the way you are doing it is legal.
Do not promise what you cannot deliver. Keep your word and follow
up with what you say.
Do not pretend to be somebody just to look good to others. The
more I get involved with our people, the more I learn that this
is a deeply entrenched problem in our community. In fact, it is
one of the reasons more action is not taken, as some people want
to be in charge, but never follow through with the actual responsibilities
of the job.
Some people say they are organizing an event and name co-sponsors,
but some of these organizations do not really exist or have never
been consulted before publishing their names. This may be a crime
and is not ethically right. Certainly, it is not professional and
if we continue to do such things in this way, we will not go anywhere
and will burn our bridges with those non-Ethiopians who may have
otherwise helped us but hold to different standards.
The pretending to be somebody must stop. We must become highly
ethical and professional about all we do. We must speak from our
hearts, not just from our lips. We must be honest to ourselves and
to others on all occasions. Many are not speaking honestly and this
must change. I am not an expert, but this is what I have been experiencing
in the last few months when I have been working with our people.
I realize it is difficult and frustrating and that we cannot be
perfect, but we should hold to higher standards. We should be quick
to admit our mistakes and to forgive others. We should try to learn
from each other and keep trying to do whatever it is, better next
time. Do not just criticize, but find something better to replace
it. As we do this, we may become better human beings who can truly
work together effectively.
As human beings, one of our God-given purposes is to love God and
to respect and love others as we do ourselves. God gave each of
us a life that gives us years, months, days and hours with which
to do something. Our choices make all the difference. We can live
for our own selfish purposes or we can choose God-given purposes
that are unique to each of us. God wants our days to be meaningful.
Let us not waste our lives on things that eternally will be worthless,
but instead, let us live our lives to the fullest or we may miss
our best opportunities. If we do not take advantage of these, we
will be no different than the child who is born dead, going to the
grave without ever fully living and contributing.
In conclusion, I want to be more specific about what action I believe
must be taken. Some of you may agree with me, but others may not.
If you do not agree, I hope you come up with something better to
replace it and the reasons for doing so. This is a process and one
person will not have all the answers; instead, my ideas should be
perfected by your ideas as we stimulate each other to think more
deeply about solutions. But because ideas cannot change the course
of history unless they are tried, I am going to suggest a possible
plan to forge a different path for Ethiopia, one of action, not
Before the elections of May 2005, we had good leadership, but
now, they have been silenced, shut away in the overcrowded prisons
of Ethiopia. The foundation of that leadership was situated in Addis
Ababa. Those outside Ethiopia just mobilized the movement by raising
financial support for those leaders inside the country. Now, that
leadership is locked up with many others.
However, Meles had studied his opponent and knew that if the leaders
were removed, he would have more breathing time to regroup and to
regain his control of the country. He succeeded in creating a vacuum
of leadership as he rounded up leaders, like cutting off the head
of the snake so to speak. This is the predicament we now are in—we
have no real leaders.
Meles caught the leadership and us by surprise. We underestimated him and we did not prepare properly. If a leader is removed, another leader
should be ready to take over immediately. But in Ethiopia, we have become like cattle with no one to guide us—like a river which has
been blocked with no where to flow except to back up in a huge pool of stagnant water.
It has been nine months since our leaders were imprisoned and we
still have no plan for how we can free them. Almost every day, we
hear of more people being killed by EPRDF troops. We have no strategy
for how to bring the perpetrators to justice. We have no vision
of how we can bring freedom and prosperity to the country because
we have no strong leaders working through a strong organization
to speak up for all the Ethiopian people. The people are waiting,
but for how long?
For example, if CNN asked the Ethiopians to send someone to speak
for Ethiopia, who would that be? We do not even have one person
who can speak on behalf of all Ethiopians! During the American Civil
Rights movement, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr was that person.
During the Black resistance movement, it was Malcolm X. In South
Africa, the African National Congress had Nelson Mandela and Archbishop
Most movements in the world were empowered by a very strong leadership
backed up by a strong organization! In Ethiopia, we have nothing
right now! We are in a crisis and our legs have been amputated.
The solution will require resources and money. A strong and effective
organization cannot be run by volunteers, working after hours and
in their spare time with no financial means to implement anything,
no matter how good. We must invest in supporting leaders who will
devote themselves to this as their major focus. We must provide
the resources needed to execute the plans. There will be travel
costs, meeting costs, public awareness costs, administrative cost
and other typical expenses of such organizations.
I will use my own situation as an example. If I did not have support
from others from the Anuak Justice Council or from those who have
generously contributed to the Anuak and now to the Ethiopian effort,
I could not be here before you. I could not afford my own living
expenses and would have to take another job. I would not be dedicating
most every moment of my day to this work. I would not be able to
afford travel costs or the cost of hundreds of phone calls every
week. We could not have funded human rights investigations and the
documentaries we are producing.
As it is, we continue to struggle to find the funds to continue
this work. Many times we did not know where our support would come
from, but God graciously provided funds from some, many of whom
are non-Ethiopians, but who had soft hearts for the oppressed and
suffering. Without their help and without organizing, persisting
and oftentimes sacrificing, the Anuak Justice Council would not
have formed into a non-profit organization and would not exist.
Yet, as the demands expand, so does the need for greater infrastructure
and that costs money. It is the same with many other developing
organizations that require a significant commitment and investment
in order to achieve any substantial goals. We as Ethiopians have
a substantial task ahead of us and this is some of what is necessary
to accomplish this task. It will require much from many!
The Alliance for Freedom and Democracy (AFD) is in such a position
now. The AFD needs to have such a structure that will enable the
leaders to develop a vision and then to implement it. It takes time,
resources and commitment to become a strong institution capable
of uniting Ethiopians around the goal of bringing peace, prosperity
and the rule of law to our country.
The organizations that are legitimate and capable of contributing
money, should call a meeting on how to address this crisis. Individuals
should contribute funds to support this effort. The goal of the
meeting would be to establish short-term, mid-term and long-term
The short-term goal on the top of the list should be the release
of the leaders and the Anuak and other Ethiopian political prisoners
throughout the country. Up until now, these people have been leading
the movement. What they have sacrificed should not be taken away.
A second short-term goal should be to stop the killing going on
in throughout the country, but especially in the rural areas like
in Gambella, Oromia and Ogaden. A third short-term goal is to mobilize
Ethiopians and non-Ethiopians everywhere to action.
Mid-term goals should include bringing about a dialogue where all
parties are included, even the current ruling party. The purpose
of the dialogue would be to re-establish stability and the rule
of law in the country.
The long-term goals would involve the development and implementation
of a durable and legitimate democratic process where the people
would be free to elect their leaders. In addition, we need a plan
to address the issues of development, women’s empowerment,
human rights, health and HIV/AIDS, education, chronic famine and
hunger, infrastructure needs, economic development, ethnic tolerance
and the improvement of our Constitution.
It will take a long process to accomplish these short-term, mid-term
and long-term goals. To do so, I suggest that political and non-political
groups join together to form a very strong institution that would
be an umbrella organization, such as the AFD, that would represent
all Ethiopians. In fact, I would support the AFD going ahead and
pursuing this task, as it seems that they are already pursuing this
idea that I am proposing to you. I urge them to continue.
This institution should then call a meeting. Trusted advisors could
help, like Ana Gomes who said she would be willing to do so. Trusted
leaders, who would be willing to sacrifice their own self-interests,
are crucial to the success of the effort.
If we fail, those in prison may die there, the Anuak children
going without an education will be left behind, the Oromo, the Somali,
the Sidamo and the many others suffering from endless persecution
and repression may see their children and grandchildren endure the
same. We cannot just keep talking for another year or two. It is
time to make a move.
I am willing to contribute to this effort in whatever way I can.
I hope all those with a vision for the future will come forward
with their ideas. It is not about whose ideas we follow or about
who leads. It is about Ethiopia. It is about now, not later. Let
us not stand still, but let us move ahead to create a better tomorrow.
Pray for God’s help and direction that your words and actions
may be the right ones and that your human efforts may be multiplied
I hope when you go home today, you go as changed people, willing
to pray, to call a meeting, to contribute money, to organize an
effort or that you are more willing to join someone else’s
efforts if those efforts are going in the right direction. Remember
that nothing gets done if all we do is talk. We must follow it up
with action. Hold to the highest standards.
I am committed to doing the same.
May God bless you as you do start!
May God bring justice and peace to Ethiopia.
Obang’s E-mail: email@example.com
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