By Tekleab Shibru Associate Professor of Geomatics, Chicago State University
The video observed youth physically assaulting elderlies in Shashemane has sent the wave of shock across the country and here in diaspora. The reasons been that footage marked a stark departure from Ethiopian (Oromo) common values and beliefs. Most of us, if not all, grew up vacating sitting places and prestigious stages for the elderlies. As Oromian, we are embodied with a tradition of yielding the elderlies and seeking their blessing as they are believed to have divine power to discharge or withhold fortune and misfortune. In general, it is universal principle to respect elders because the present (we) is (are) the workmanship of the past (i.e., our grandparents). Elderlies are wisdom, knowledge and backbone that bounds the community together. They balance by imparting culture in otherwise fast modernizing (changing) society.
Contrary to this value that we hold close to our heart, we lived long-enough to see youths recklessly throwing fist toward elders. Throwing elderlies on the ground, hitting and bumping them against the wall. The youths’ glaring mercilessness was in displace while knocking elderlies down. As if the kicking, fisting, hitting, throwing, bumping etc…weren’t enough, stones, and cobbles were thrown to hurt and baton used to damage. Painfully, it was an unfair match-up between the youths in the age of 20s or less against elderlies in the 60s and 70s. Their hopeless and helplessness are devastating to see and no one could watch the footage without tears dropping on both sides of the chins. Since when our upcoming generations transformed into breaking our extremely revered and protected custom? How and Where did they this cruelty against the weakest among us?
The tragedy is that this is not an isolated incidence. There are three other incidences in Borana Zone, Southern Oromia, in just past 6 weeks. The first two was in Yabello Woreda, the capital city of Borana Zone. In what can only explained as utter display of human cruelty, On November 05, 2018, youths identify themselves as Yabello Qeerroo denied the burial of an old man with the name “Gimbe Borde”. Working Norwegian Church Aid, Gimbe Borde was known for life-long dedication and services to the people of Yabello, in particular and the zone, in general. He was relief, rehabilitation and development expert in this semi-arid region often hit by recurrent draught. In an attempt to deny the burial of the deceased, a group of 50 youths (Qeerroo) marched to the graveyard and started beating the old and young working on the tomb. The deceased was wronged for being member of Burji community of Yabello, an ethnic minority in the woreda. While, the burial did take place, escorted by police officers and security forces, several individuals sustained minor and major injuries. None of these Qeerroos held accountable.
Ten days later, on November 16, 2018, in Yabello Comprehensive High Schoo,l a student from the Burji tribe was found holding a “bullet case” on his hand. This was enough for Yabello Qeerroos to disrupt the school and started beating and assaulting students and teachers (i.e., Ocha Golo and Dube Simon) from Burji tribe. Alarmed by the situation, the principal called the police for intervention, Qeerroos overpowered the policemen and chased them out of the school premise. The next day, November 17, 2018, the principal, Borana zone administration, the community leaders were gathered to resolve the issue. “Qeerroos”, started physically assaulting and beating extremely revered community elders, Boru Boneya and Sara Jirmo in a manner that is unprecedented in Borana culture. Severely beaten elder had to be hurried to Hawassa Hospital for medical treatment due to sustained life-threatening injuries.
Just last week another conflict erupted between “Qeerroos” of Teltele and elders of the woreda, Borana zone. Angered by the conflict in Moyale, Teltele Qeerroos organized to vandalize and steal ethnic Somali shops and properties in town. In a perfect example that mirrors what Gamo elders had done in Arbaminch, the elders, mostly from Burji community, marched in the town and pleaded with “Qeerroos” not to do these crimes against fellow native Teltelians. With experiences of Gamo elders, Teltele elders believed the youths wouldn’t trespass their plea. However, Teltele Qeerroos, had long-lost any sense of culture, trespassed, beat the elders and invaded the village to loot, destroy and burn properties. While no body was killed, the violence displaced approximately 3000 people, 706 household looted, 61 homes destroyed, and 250 cattle was stolen.
In Shashemane, the city administrator pointed the blame on the timing of the video release as if what shames the city is not the act of violence but the timing of its release. It hard to believe and fathom the explanation. The expectation was for the administrator to use the video footage, he was going to hunt these culprits to the end of the earth and make the face the full weight of the law.
In Borana zone, at least administration admit that the local government is totally overpowered by Yabello “Qeerroos”. The local government feels extremely powerless as the unruly mobs threaten to burn the entire city upside down, should they not get their way. The fact that few cabinets allegedly covering and remotely agitating the youths have produced a crack in the local government to further humble their situation.
In Teltele woreda, government officials allegedly orchestrated and facilitated the disaster. Local population alleges the following individuals for triggering the violence, and submitted the name to the powerless zonal administration.
1) Nura Huka Kusaro (the woreda peace and security expert).
2) Baraqo Cana (Teltelle Woreda ODP head)
4) Tadhi Wako (Woreda Peace and Security head)
5) Habtamu Halake (Local Police officer head)
However, as I am wind-up this note, can’t help but shake grasping what I only hope to be a nightmare not reality. Our elders, and Abba Gadaas are facing a bitter dilemma of urge to carry out their social duties (i.e., reconciliation and pacification) on one hand and avoiding wraths of lawless and uncultured “Qeerroo” on the other. It’s a troubling dilemma. So difficult to say goodbye to the Ethiopia, my people and culture we cherished since the time of immemorial. No one can fathom this sea-change in perspectives. Where, what and how did we go wrong as people to get to this? I thank ESAT for their Eletawi yesterday December 26, 2018, it was great conversation and it need to continue.