An Ethiopian politico barnstorms Minnesota


When Bulcha Demeksa, an opposition member of the Ethiopian Parliament, feels compelled to denounce the Ethiopian Prime Minister, he doesn’t bother to organize a political rally in Ethiopia or search for journalists eager to publish his rhetorical thunderbolts.

That’s because opposition rallies are banned in Ethiopia, and the press is government-controlled down to the last pixel and drop of printer’s ink.

Plus, Ethiopia’s jails are filled these days with people brave or foolhardy enough to speak out publicly against the regime of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

By some estimates, as many as 30,000 political prisoners are presently being held in Ethiopian jails. Human Rights Watch and other watchdog groups over the past decade have documented thousands of cases of arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings and torture of political dissidents.

&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbspSuppressing Opinion

So instead of risking life and limb to speak at home, Demeksa travels to Minnesota. He did so last Thursday, speaking to a crowd of Ethiopian immigrants at a sometimes boisterous human rights conference at the University of Minnesota.

“We are ruled by a dictator who wants to cheat the U.S. and Europe by saying he is trying to democratize the country,” Demeska railed, pounding the air with his fists. “But he is not trying to democratize at all. He is suppressing the nation brutally, and he is suppressing difference of opinion. If you want to say something against him, somehow you will be silenced.”

Demeksa has visited Minnesota frequently over the years to build support and raise money for initiatives that he presses back home. Four years ago, following consultations in this state and elsewhere, he founded the Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM), a political party representing 30 million members of the Oromo tribe, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group.

Educated People

Freedom of speech is only one reason Demeksa likes to make political stump speeches in Minnesota. Even more important is that perhaps his wealthiest, most media savvy, and most politically influential constituency lives right here. Minnesota is home to around 20,000 immigrants from Ethiopia, more than live in any other state.

As a result, while he is straitjacketed and muzzled in Ethiopia, Demeksa’s political efforts here can inspire Ethiopian-born Americans to push U.S. officials to exert pressure on Ethiopia. He can get his central message — that Ethiopia today is ruled by a de facto dictator and a brutal one — into the international media. And sometimes he can raise more money in Minnesota than he could in Ethiopia.

“Our educated people are concentrated here,” Demeksa said. “If these people do not help us, who else will help us? First, by providing leadership, and secondly, with financial help. I come, and other politicians come, to allow people here to see problems developing in their country; to see if they accept our proposals; and to listen to their suggestions and proposals.”

Most Evicted

Yet things never go as smoothly in Minnesota as Demeksa would surely like. The same rancor and divisions that split Ethiopian politics are also present here in the state’s Ethiopian immigrant population.

Passions and grudges break in Minnesota along many fault lines. One of those is over whether opponents of the present Ethiopian regime should ever use more than words to fight the present regime. That topic was noisily debated at a political discussion Demeksa hosted with a group of young Oromo immigrants — mostly college and graduate school age — ahead of the conference’s academic lectures.

“The Oromo people are the most evicted, the most displaced, the most repressed and the most occupied people in Ethiopia!” one man in the audience exploded after Demeksa’s talk. “You are the advocate of an occupier! You are aiding this belligerent power! I ask you, are you defending the occupiers or standing with the Oromo people?”

Fever Pitch

Up on the dais, Demeksa blinked under the onslaught, paused for a moment and then pointedly answered his interrogator.

“Baloney!” he barked. “This is the same propaganda that has held us back and kept us down for so many years. You cannot say that I am a friend of the government. They think I am an enemy. They want to kill me.

“I don’t believe you can take power by force,” he added. “If you do, another force will take power from you, and it will go on endlessly like that.”

Whether conditions in Ethiopia are now so bad that only violent resistance will change them has been argued at fever pitch in Minnesota’s Ethiopian population in recent months.

Frustration has been fueled by one after another atrocity in Ethiopia, especially since 2005 when government troops killed more than 200 demonstrators at a rally protesting the national elections that year. Local elections earlier this year have also been widely dismissed as fraudulent by Demeksa and international monitors.

Fault Lines

Recent crackdowns by Ethiopian troops in the eastern Ogaden region and the western Gambella region of Ethiopia; total press censorship and control; and the widespread jailing and torture of political dissidents across all ethnic lines have all added urgency and credibility to the Oromo’s longstanding complaints against the regime’s brutally oppressive tactics.

By virtue of its enormous size – comprising roughly 40 percent of Ethiopia’s population – the Oromo have an especially strong claim to deserving a greater voice in Ethiopian politics and culture. Yet Demeksa’s OFDM party holds only about 2 percent of the seats in the Ethiopian parliament.

At the discussion with young Oromo immigrants, Demeksa’s insistence on non-violent resistance hardly mollified the crowd.

“Demeksa has good ideas but no way to get to his goal,” said Sena Jimjimo, an Oromo student who traveled to Minneapolis from Chicago to attend the conference. “He calls for peaceful demonstrations, but there are no such things in Ethiopia. It’s impossible. So my question to him is, ‘If I go to demonstrate, what guarantee do I have that I will come back alive?’”

Apartheid Parallel

I chatted with several of the young people during a break. None of them agreed with Demeksa’s insistence on using only non-violent means to establish democracy in the country of their birth.

Instead, they cited the American Revolutionary War and the sabotage and other violent tactics used by the African National Congress in its long struggle against South African apartheid, as possible models for Ethiopia.

“Martin Luther King needed Malcolm X to pave his way,” one Oromo woman said. “I agree with that. We have reached the point where we need change in Ethiopia by any means necessary.”

Douglas McGill has reported for the New York Times and Bloomberg News–and now the Daily Planet.

To reach Douglas McGill:

And visit The McGill Report

24 thoughts on “An Ethiopian politico barnstorms Minnesota

  1. excellent work writer McGil. Finally journalism to be proud. Its level of analyis and genuine integrity to the truth of whats happening on the ground in Oromia by the Meles regime’s criminal acts of mass killings and violations of human being’s rights is a testament to good journalism.

  2. Not a bad report of one side but you have a lot of bias against Ethiopian government. You need to diversify your sources if you want to cover stories completely.

  3. Dear Mr. McGill:
    Bulcha Demeksa is an OLF, one of a terrorist organization in Ethiopia, supporter. He is a hate preacher towards other non-Oromos specially the Amhara and Tigre ethnic groups. He doesn’t want democracy, he wants separation from Ethiopia. He gives speeches in Minnesota only because that event always occurs in Minnesota every year and all Ethiopians are not welcomed. It’s for Oromos only. If you don’t believe me ask Demeksa himself to give you a copy of the invitation flyer. The Oromo state is currently ruled by people from the Oromo tribe that doesn’t want separation, but unity. Why doesn’t he give speeches in other cities like D.C., L.A., Seattle and Atlanta where there are lots of Ethiopians??????

  4. Thank you Mr. McGill. Your reports always go to the heart of the matter.
    The Oromo are probably the most peace-loving people and there is no doubt that the past and present Ethiopian regimes have misread this attitude as a lack of courage to fight. I remember a statement Meles made more thnan a decade a go while OLF was still in the government. When OLF and the Oromo called for a greater democracy and free election, Meles mockingly said, ” We (the Tigres) will not give up through democracy, the power that we earned with our blood and you just have to fight us to get it”. This is a typical dictator mentality and unfortunately an African reality. Obbo Bulchaa Dammaksaa is ahead of his time. He is jeopardizing his life and his career for what he believes. He is indeed an Oromo hero and to accuse him of helping the regime would be unfair. Some Oromos think that he is doing the regime a favor by making it look like there exists a multi-party system. However, the whole word knows that numerous members of his party have been jailed and many more have been killed and harassed. The truth is whether there are many parties or one party, Meles is the one who makes every decision-No democracy, no voice, no change. The only alternative at Oromo’s disposal is an armed struggle. I know people will die but, people are still dying only for being suspected of thinking about their own rights.

  5. Non violent ways are the only ways of the time now. What guarantee do we get if we die for democracy and the next government does the same? Ethiopians have been given false prmises for very long time. If there seems to be alternative to this government, I don’t mind trying it but not at my life’s cost. We damaged our country for centuries fighting and look where we are now. We masterd fighting and that is all we know. Time to work hard to feed ourselves and peacefully fighting the government for democracy at the same time..

  6. Mr. Mcgill,
    You are a very sad reporter. If you have been in Ethiopia and knew what the terrorist OLF is up to you wouldn’t have written such a crap. Ofcourse he can not organize a rally for tribal genocide which he and his group belongs to. Mr. Mcgill, please do your home work.


  7. there is no way that the olf party has or will have 30 mill. oromo memebers.that is a lie,doug mcgill i wish if he tells us where he got this rubbish eyegougeing lie.

  8. McGill, you become a hero for the voiceless people. Fact, we can be a voice and advocate to our people in Ethiopia. Fact we can demonstrate the street in MN. But the question in my mind is what is the reason our government blindly supporting a regime that killing its people, burning their homes and even selling their aid food. We inherited and become struck continues of injustices and the silence of international communities. On the other hand, giving and building their millitary power.

  9. Team Ogaden is more like Team Darfur.The Chinese Government should be brought to justice just as well the United States Government should be brought to justice in their extensive involvement of the Ogaden Genocide.United States seems to be fully sponsering the Genocide in Ogaden by training the Ethiopian Armed Forces and financing them.United States have to respect its own laws and those of the International Comunity.

  10. well when we are talking about the current situation in ethiopia we have to face and the fact and talk about the reality without looking over the fact the ethiopian regime and its atrocities against oromo and ogaden peace loving people is something that the international community must consider and figer out every single day ethiopian merciles forces are killing thousands of innocent man and weman in these tow regions.
    so my advice to ormia and ogaden people is that they should be united and show the world what their innocent men and wamen are experiencing which is all kind of inhuman activities

    long life ogadenia long live oromia lets be one in order to defeat our enemy and we have to keep on fighting till we get our independence

    VIVA ONLF VIVA OLF OUR heros and worriers

  11. Thank you Mr. McGill for writting this article. The only people who can defend Malez’s atrocities committed in the Ogaden and Oromia are the TPLF and its supporter who are in the minority. Everybody can see what is happening. If this regime has nothing to hide, why does it not let international media into the trouble areas. The only meaningful conclusion would be to hide the acts of war crime against civilians in what can only be described as ethnic cleansing. We all saw Human Rights report of the villages burned by the tugs loyal to Zenawi proved by the US stalite images. This regime will not give up power peacefully because they know the crimes they committed and Malez wants to hang on to power until dies to avoid having to visit the Hague for war crimes.

  12. The rule of gun.

    Past and present history.

    As usual, ever since the foundation of Ethiopia, it is a gun fire that ruled the country. Who ever gets his gun from European fire arms traders rules the country.
    The gun-trade destroyed the country and its people.

    Even today Ethiopia buys guns, tanks and war planes in thousands of millions of dollars every year.
    Tractors, Harvester machines, Land leveller, Irrigation equipments have no respect in Ethiopia. The venerated Fire arms, yes! They are glorified like Idols.

    The out come of this tragic tradition is this: Famine, the National symbol of a country.

    Freedom of opinion is a democratic right.

  13. The writer of this article is focussing on Oromos. The Ormos are ethiopian and the writer should have written about ethiopians. We have to focus on uniting our people. The Oromos should stand for equality and unity of Ethiopia. It is very saddening to hear so many Oromos are busy about their ethnic group and not about Ethiopia as such.Why do they work towards the fragmentation of our country or work towards the fragmentation of our nation – Ethiopia. We are one nation- Ethiopia and one people – the ethiopian people. Though federalism is preferable, we should see us working for one country-Ethiopia.

    The secession of Eritrea from Ethiopia should have been opposed by all of us. The Oromos should understand that the secession of Eritrea is illegal and is an international conspiracy to weaken our nation – Ethiopia. We have to review the events that took place since TPLF-EPLF took power. The present regime in Ethiopia is not democratic and change can only come by use of illegal means. But the problem is that some of the Oromos have been working agains a United Ethiopia. We have to stand for a United Ethiopia with pre-1991 geography. When do we start to work for our own benefits strategically?

  14. Let us be sure of several things. First of all, Obbo Bulcha is neither an OLF member nor a supporter. Second, he is a believer of the future sturcture; sitting on a table and have a dialogue with supporters and opposers alike. Third, the man is free to express his freedom, speak about the current attrocities that are occuring in Ethiopia especially against Oromos.

    It’s our human right to speak against abuse, inequality, and injustice. Unless our voices are heard, nothing will be changed.

    Stop attacking the man for speaking his piece and do not distribute hate against the reporter who covered the story. Mr McGill never had an opinion, but reporting the one-on-one dialogue.

    Let us grow up.

  15. First of all thank you Mr.Mcgill for continious support for human right.Secondely,Mr.Bulcha is not strange to the world.strange for democratic institiutions.he lived it for a long period of time.He lived in the USA and worked for world bank.when it comes to his part,his party have programme set to achieve eqaulity,democratic rights and economic rights to his people-the oromo.Since he started his new party about four years ago,besides establishing his party has gained nothing at all.cause the ethiopian governments past present don’t believe in democratic institiutions at all.They rather believe by the number of guns they buys to buritally suppressed the people.we’ve seen them in the past we are seeing the current very small minority group ruling by the barrel of guns.No change for the last hundered years.This is the truth.I appreciate obbo bulcha’s effort but he can’t change the TIGRAY-AMHARA lead government at all.They have the culture to rule by guns and to rule by any means necessary.Look at TIGRAY-AMHARA history,filled with blood,They always come to power by guns and shed lots of blood,and removed from power by guns and shed lots of blood.These is the truth and these is TIGRAY-AMHARA culture.It’s sad but it is true.we oromos are world class peace loving people and that is why we are under occupation of ethiopia,If we were bloody people like theTIGRAY-AMHARA we were not in these sitiuation.But we will fight for our basic human right until we achieve it by all means necessary.once again thank you Mr.Mcgill for enlithinging the readers.
    God Bless

  16. Every time some one writes the reality that the Oromo and other nations in Ethiopia face, TPLF surrogates try to scare off the writers by accusing them of bias/lack of knowledge. It so naive on their part to think that the writers write a story just by talking to politicians without doing a background research.

    I highly commend the writer for speaking the truth. And I hope that this baseless accusations by TPLF agents will trigger him to write another story exposing the inhumane treatment of opposition groups by Ethiopian government. No other country on the face of earth denies its citizens a food aid when the entire village is being wiped out by hunger. There are so much that needs to be written and the world must see the true face of the criminal government of Mr Zenawi.

    “No matter how long the night is the day is sure to come”.
    Justice to Oromo, Justice to all!!

  17. Mr.Mcgill I was reading all the respond to your report about Mr Bulcha from the Ethiopians who hate Oromo.These Ethiopians wish all the 30 million Oromos dead.We Oromos have no hate for any Ethiopians.Some Ethiopians here call Bulcha OLF member.Noone could be OLF member and hold a power and live in Ethiopian today like Bulcha.Under TPLF ruler Meles if you’r Oromo and OLF supporet you will be arrested and sent to jail under groud and you will never see a day light ever.There’r jails everywhere all over Ethiopian filled with Oromos and Ogdean people.Bulcha doesn’t only speak out in MN but even in Ethiopia infront of Meles on ethiopia tv.Bulcha wish Oromo people the best.Bulcha wants what is best for his Oromo people.Bulcha wants Oromo people be ruler by thier own people not by outsiders like TPLF child killer Meles.

  18. Thank you so much for the honest report. So many are arguing against this report because of fear, not facts or truth. They fear the moment Oromos get a voic in any part of the government, that they’ll use the power to wipe out other tribes. The Oromos are one of the most peaceful people living in africa who want nothing more than the basic human rights giving by God to all humanity, and the right to do whatever they want with their land – be it separate or stay together with Ethiopia – it should be their choice! The bottom line is that it’s not fair to try to hide the oppression of the Oromo people for selfish reasons like abusing Oromia’s resources of water and fertile land while the people of that land die in hunger or are sent to prison for trying to defend it. (Check the millions in Oromia that are facing famine as of right now)

  19. I appreciate your article. It’s a difficult issue, obviously with many sides to it. Speaking as a professor who has looked at both sides, I think you did an excellent job reporting on an issue that few Americans understand.

    I’d like to respond to some of the comments who claim Bulcha Demeksa belongs to a terrorist organization. That is clearly false, because he is a member of the Ethiopian parliament.

    On the other side, some comments claim that the Oromo are merely a peace loving people. That is also false, since we know that the Oromo courageously defended their territory from the Abyssinians and only lost when the Abyssinians received weapons and tactical support from the British and French governments. Also, the OLF has in the past tried to liberate the Oromo people from oppression through military means. Of course, so did the United States from Britain, and almost all of Africa from the European colonial powers, so that hardly makes the OLF a terrorist organization.

    So, two things should not surprise anyone here, and anyone who pretends to be surprised is dishonest. The first thing is the Ethiopian government’s suppression of OLF activity; the Oromo can’t pretend to be suprised by that. The second thing is the OLF’s courageous determination to liberate its people from systemic oppression. The Amhara and Tigray people can’t pretend to be surprised by that.

  20. Dear Mr.McGill,
    I am grateful for your factual article. I have searched for evidence on the facts you have presented. The information you exposed is extensively backed by credible institutions like the Human Rights Watch.
    Thank You!

  21. U.S government stop aiding terorist that are killing our people! Leave us alone! We can govern our own contry as we have for centuries. One Ethiopia.

  22. We would be grateful for any suggestions of good sources of news from Oromia and also any Oromo groups/organizations in USA. (Also, any Oromo language programs or books?) Thank you very much.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *