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Harnessing Qeerroo Power


Harnessing Qeerroo Power

Assefa A. Lemu



  1. Introduction

In his article published on Ethiopia Insight on August 21, 2020, Dr. Mosisa Aga provided detailed information about the establishment, accomplishments, and leadership of QeerrooBilisumma Oromo (QBO).

He also provided additional information on Kaayyoo Multimedia Service (KMS) on August 27, 2020. Kudos to Dr. Mosisa for sharing what he knows about Qeerroo and for provoking us to have our say on the issue.

In this article, I would like to pick up the issue from where Dr. Mosisa left.

The motto of our fathers which says “gabrummaahiddaanbuqqifna, yoodadhabneilmaanittiguddifna” (we shall uproot dominations; if we can’t, our children will do it) is all about the relay and continuity of struggle and coordination of efforts in all spheres of life to build a better future.

Dr. Mosisa explained how the flow of information from members of QBO shifted from an organization (OLF) to an individual, Jawar Mohammed, whom the writer said came to the surface of Oromo politics by asserting OLF was “damaged beyond repair”. said, Jawar “…never stated he is the founder of Qeerroo or even the leader of Qeerroo directly, but he played a game that made him the leader—implicitly”. According to Dr. Mosisa, after the larger Oromo Protest which started on November 12, 2015 in Ginchi town of Oromia and engulfed the whole Oromia, the leaders of OLF and QBO ordered all members of Qeerroo on the ground to forward all Oromo Protestsnews updates, pictures, videos, etc. directly to Jawar Mohammed because he controlled Oromia Media Network (OMN) TV station.

He posted the news, pictures, videos, and audios he received from individual Qeerroo members on the ground on his private Facebook minute-by-minute before they were even announced on OMN and he appeared on OMN daily to give analysis on the Oromo Protests, “…often acting like the commander in chief. Although he did not have any access to the Qeerroo leadership, he was acting as if he was the one giving orders”.

This shows where things went wrong: putting Qeerroo under an individual who is even not a member of Qeerroo simply because he had a control on the resources they wanted to use rather than maintaining Qeerroo under the organized body or helping it to operate independently as an institution.

As the name indicates, the main objective of QBO is the bilisummaa (freedom) of Oromia, i.e., the right of Oromo people for self-determination. Blocking the implementation of Addis Ababa Masterplan, demanding the implementation of the special interest of the State of Oromia in Addis Ababa as stipulated under Article 49 (5) of the Ethiopian constitution, getting political prisoners out of the jail, and changing the government in Ethiopia were incidentals. The Qeerroo movement has short term, midterm, and long-term objectives-the release of political prisoners, the end of Neo-Neftegna system in Oromia, and assuring the right of self-determination of Oromo people respectively. As explained by MudihinSirajin his book titled “The Hijacked Revolution”, Qeerroo’s movement/revolution was hijacked by Team Lemma who used the coalition of individuals from Oromo and Amhara (Oromara) as a political instrument. Therefore, Qeerroo movement/revolution of 2015-2018 didn’t achieve its main objectives and considered commandeered by Oromara, the group whom Artist FalmataKabada says “the gamblers”.

If OLF is the one who organized Oromo students’ protest which started on November 9,  2005 and continued non-stop until early 2006 and led to the establishments of “Oromo Students’ Union”, “Oromo Student Association”, the Oromian Students Movement (OSM), and National Youth Movement for Freedom and Democracy/NYMFD(QeerrooBilisumma Oromo/QBO) and the one who ordered members of Qeerro to report to Jawar as Dr. Mosisa told us, then I would be lured to say that OLF is the one who ‘sold’ Qeerroo to an individual who was even not a member of QBO.

Nowadays, Oromo political organizations and prominent Oromo individuals like Jawar have their own Qeerroo and these Qeerroos are fighting each other. It is heartbreaking to hear that OLF has been involved in converting the purposefully organized conscious Oromo youth movement to mob who follow novice politicians like Jawar, follow wrong tactics and strategies that expose them to unnecessary dangers and heavy repercussions as well as delay the end of the suffering of the Oromo people.

Dr. Mosisa went a long way to convince his readers that Qeerroo is not a spontaneous movement, but he didn’t deny that there are spontaneous actions taken by Qeerroo which led to unnecessary loss of lives and properties.

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He wrote “[t]here is no doubt that the reported destruction of property and attacks on civilians was committed by a spontaneous and disorganized mob that are outraged by the killing of their beloved singer [Hachalu Hundessa] and the arrest of opposition leaders mainly Jawar Mohammed”. It is a public secret that Qeerroo is criticized for sometimes moving in herds’ mentality. That is why some groups use pejorative words like Menga (herd) and Girrisa (a flock of birds) to explain some of the actions of Qeerroo. These are symptoms of problems associated to Qeerroo organization and leadership. 

Some argue that the Qeerroo Revolution was hijacked and derailed and others argue that Qeeroo revolution accomplished its mission and now should focus only on economic activities that could take Qeerroo and the country to prosperity.

Thus, the raison d'état of Qeerroo varies from group to group. However, the reemerging of Qeerroo Revolution in 2020 indicates that either it didn’t achieve its intended objective or wants to achieve additional objectives.The discussion held by senior members and sympathizers of Qeerroo on August 29, 2020 on Kello Media regarding the history and current status of Qeerroo, confirmed that QBO hasn’t yet achieved its main objective bilisumma (freedom).

They said change of government in Ethiopia and the return of OLF leadership to Finfinne (Addis Ababa) is not the bilisumma of Oromo as some claim. They emphasized that strong organization, wise leadership, and financial and logistics supports are necessary to achieve bilisuma.

In my opinion, the failure of Qeerroo to fully achieve its intended objective is mainly because of problems attributed to its leadership. As Sun Tzu said, “When the leader is morally weak and his discipline not strict, when his instructions and guidance are not enlightened, when there are no consistent rules, neighboring rulers will take advantage of this”.

In this article, unlike Dr. Mosisa, by the term “Qeerroo” I am not specifically referring to QBO, but to all Qeerroos who claim organized regardless of their organizational and leadership allegiance. However, I will follow Dr. Mosisa’s rule and use the term “qeerroo” with small letter (lower case) when I refer to an individual Oromo youth.In addition, the term “Qeerroo” and “qeerroo” include not only male Oromo youth, but also female Oromo youth who normally known as “qarree”.

Even though the standard meaning of the word “qeerroo” is “unmarried young man”, for the purpose of this article, the term qeerroo includes “subboo” (married Oromo young man) and “qarreebufatee” (married Oromo young women). More than age, marital status, and sex, the main distinguishing characteristics of qeerroo is political activity.  Therefore, the 15 to 24 years age bracket used by UN for the definition of youth doesn’t apply to describe Qeerroo and qeerroo.Furthermore, it worth noting that this article deals only with Qeerroo movements took place after 2011 and doesn’t deal with the movements of QeerrooGanama/QeerrooKallessa (the earlier/yesterday’s Qeerroo) who played a key role in the formation and operations of OLF.

The below excerpt from Bariisaa Newspaper published in 1976 that refers to Qeerroo Ganama and the song by Artist Hirpha Ganfure published in 2015 and that refers to the current Qeerroo have similar messages:praising Qeerroo for fighting for bilisummaa (freedom) and wishing Qeerroo to live long and forever (buliQeerroo, buliammallee).

2.      Competition to Control Qeerroo

Dr. Mosisa Aga’s article referenced above showed that instead of leading Qeerroo, OLF transferred the leadership role to an individual who had resources. It is not clear why OLF leaders didn’t use Facebook like Jawar did, or didn’t empower QBO leaders to effectively use social media including Facebook, or why the OLF controlled Oromia News Network (ONN) TV was not as efficient as the Jawar controlled OMN.

Because of lack of efficiency, commitment, and good leadership, OLF was beaten in the competition and Jawar who won the competition considered as Abba Qeerro (the Father of Qeerroo).

After 2018, another competitor (ODP, now called Oromia Prosperity Party/OPP) that has better resource entered into the competition for the control of Qeerroo and got its share. Different names of Qeerroo that we now hear such as “QeerrooBadhadhina” (Qeerroo of Prosperity), “QeerrooGutuOromiyaa” (Qeerroo of the whole Oromia), “QeerrooHaromsaa” (Qeerroo Renaissance), “Qeerroo Abba Gadaa” are the reflections of these competition to control Qeerroo or take one’s share.

After the arrest of JawaronJune 30, 2020, to fill in his place more individuals came out to participate in “Qeerroo Market”. These include KedroElemo who went beyond giving instructions to Qeerroo and tried to give orders to Oromo political leaders and disgruntled former members/supporters of ODP/OPP such as Dr. Berhanemeskel Abebe Segne who is even not admitting the Oromo name Finfinne is the original name of Addis Ababa,who brags for having stronger social relation with Amharic speakers than Afan Oromo speakers, and who is known for condemning Oromo political struggle.

The competition to control and to take the credit of Qeerroo reminded me a passage which I read when I was a sophomore student but the title and author of which I don’t now remember. The writer argues that there are no living heroes to take the credit for winning the battle because those who fought in the battle were killed and those who survived didn’t fight. Therefore, those survivors who claim they fought the war and pretend to be heroes are not heroes. This analogy applies to the case of Qeerroo. Persons who played key role in the formation and leadership of Qeerroo on the ground such as Engineer Tesfahun Chemeda were either killed while carrying out Qeerroo’s operations or died in Ethiopian prisons or sentenced to death like Engineer Mesfin Abebe Abdisa or victims of inhuman treatment of Ethiopian Government forces and sustained lifetime injuries. Thus, most of the individuals who make noises on media from the foreign countries are not true leaders of Qeerroo and even not members of Qeerroo. As Professor Asfaw Beyene clearly put it, some groups and individuals are ‘harvesting what they didn’t sow’ while qeerroos who plowed and sowed are suffering.

If the scramble for Qeerroo and misguiding continue, it may lead Oromia to chaos and Ethiopia to worsening instability. Therefore, streamlining and reengineering the Qeerroo movement is advantageous to all stakeholders.

3.      Harnessing Qeerroo Power

Like any other organized youth, Qeerroo has a potential power that can change the lives of its members and the lives of its community and benefits the country.

Qeerroo power ought to help Oromo youth reach their full potential and transition to healthy and educated productive adults, not to unnecessarily die or injured or incarcerated or loss job or become refugee or deportee at young ages.

The Ethiopian political transformation which was brought in 2018 with huge sacrifices of qeerros and which was expected to improve the lives of qeerroos is claiming additional lives of qeerroos and putting them under more sufferings. The Qeerroo power which could change the country for better is wasting in confusion and pulling and pushing each other.

Qeerroo power is like a fire—it has a potential to be used for good or for evil. What is important is that how can we mobilize, direct, and manage it. Currently, qeerroos have been well mobilized to promote Oromo causes and defend Oromummaa as well as ready to pay necessary sacrifices for Oromo causes. Unfortunately, some individuals are wrongly exploiting this readiness.

Therefore, the urgent question that needs answer is how we can harness this Qeerroo power to use it for the improvement of qeerroos’ own lives, the lives of their community, and their country rather than serving the egos of individuals? How can we avoid or minimize unnecessary deaths, injuries, and sufferings without compromising Oromo questions?

The leadership crisis which hit Oromo political organizations and manifested itself in the recent removal of Lemma Megersa and Teyiba Hassen from Executive Committee and Milkessa Midhaga from Central Committee members of OPP and purge or suspension from PP membership and the feud in OLF Executive Committee between groups led by OLF Chairman DawudIbsa and Vice Chairman Ararso Bikila also hit Qeerroo.To overcome the crises, I propose the following approaches.

3.1. Know Rules of the Game, the Playing Field, and Behaviors of the Players

Ethiopian politics is based on Abyssinian/ Habesha political culture which requires either to submit or to fight (gebir weyim shefit).

To be effective in Ethiopian politics, one has to be well fit to operate in the environment dominated by Habesha values or must change the rule of the game as TPLF did from 1991-2018.

As written in the Bible under Mathew 10:16, when Jesus sent out his twelve disciples for mission, one of the guidance he gave them was that to be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. He said “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves”. Keeping the balance, understanding the reality on the ground, working with different players, and being able to maneuverer in difficult circumstances is necessary. Furthermore, to survive the propaganda bombardments, to resist tempting offers to change positions, and to endure harassment for supporting genuine Oromo cause, strong commitmentand being competent and cunning is necessary. Oromo leaders must develop these qualities.

In addition to what I said in one of my articles (Elites in Ethiopian Politics), I still feel that we the educated Oromos need to wake up and do more because others have intensified their moves by coordinating the efforts of their community members ranging from maids to university professors, from daily laborers to investors, from ordinary Facebook users to trained journalists, from ordinary church members to top religious leaders (Abunes),from ordinary vocalists (Azmaris) to trained artists, from those who live in remote villages to those who live in modern cities in Europe and North America.

Some religious institutions who are supposed to stand for the rights of all human beings and value all lives operate in Oromia with political motives and try to present Qeerroo and Oromo as cold-blooded killers.Most of the main stream media are busy with soliciting ideas on how to discredit and present Qeerroo as terrorist. Some of the so-called intellectuals repeatedly appearing on the media and repeatedly accusing Oromos for this and that and call for systematic measures to be taken against Oromo.

3.2  Make More Friends than Enemies

Politics is about compromise and persuading people to support your programs or objectives.

This requires increasing the numbers and qualities of friends and having fewer enemies. Doing politics requires seriousness, commitment, and strict discipline. As Chairman Mao Zedong described, "Politics is war without bloodshed while war is politics with bloodshed".Therefore, politics is a serious matter which requires utmost attention and dedication.


The Qeerroo and other Oromo organizations and leaders must develop persuasive skills to attract more supporters and sympathizers not only from the Oromo people but also from outside Oromo.


Qeerroo and Oromo politicians must refrain from taking provocative actions and also discipline their members.Being provocative is easy, but costly. As much as possible, the actions taken by Qeerroo must be justified to convince more audience.


3.3.Avoid Waste, Abuse, and Fraud

One of the weaknesses of Oromo political leaders is over-estimating the Oromo resources.

A good example is Qeeroo’s slogan which says “Oromoon galaanaa, irra dhangalaana”(Oromo is a sea and can inundate). This slogan refers to mere size and mobilized qeerroos without adequate implementation procedures, tactics, and strategies. As a result, the other side used the biblical tactic of “strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered”—and stopped the planned inundation.

According to Al Jazeera, following the murder of Hachalu, betweenJune 29 and August 13, 2020, more than 9,000 people were arrestedand the great majority of them are Oromos because the protests were done by Oromos and took place in Oromia. For the implementation of this plan which was announced on social mediabut not organized or ill-organized,Qeerroo and the Oromo people wasted (thoughtlessly or carelessly lost) significant amount of resources (human lives, production/service provision time, property, money for medical treatment and other purposes, etc). I am arguing these resources were wasted because Qeerroo or the Oromo people could have saved them or used them in better ways to achieve intended objectives.

Knowing the inhuman punishments that qeerroos are receiving from government security forces and making repeated calls to make peaceful protests leads me to the conclusion that Qeerroo‘leaders’ are sometimes abusing (improperly or excessively using) their powers or loyalties given to them. The prices the protesting qeerroos in Ethiopia pay are mammoth and shocking. 

Therefore, those who give orders to qeerroos from the distance must consider these heavy prices.

At different levels, many individuals got job, money, and power stepping upon the shoulders of ordinary qeerroos. They intentionally cheated the qeerroo, the Oromo people, and the government of Ethiopia by presenting themselves as leaders of Qeerroo. Their main objective is not to struggle for the rights of qeerroo and the Oromo people but to have financial and other gains through fraud.

Thus, to avoid waste, abuse, and fraud and make the Qeerroo movement effective and efficient, overhauling Qeerroo is necessary. As Dr. Mosisa told us, Qeerroo was established in April 2011. That means Qeeroo’s first gada (eight years) was expired in April 2019. We do not want Qeerroo leaders to cling to power/leadership like those of OLF and rusted away there. The transfer of power/ leadership following the Gada rule must be done and looking for excuses to remain in power should be considered as dishonorable.  

4.      Conclusion

One of the characteristics of Oromo leadership is group leadership. The down side of this group leadership or team work approach which we inherited from Gada System is that it doesn’t help to bring forward strong and prominent individuals around whom to rally. In addition, because of this group leadership culture, Oromos are not giving due credits to their individual leaders and not giving them protections they deserve.

Both in OMN and in Qeerroo, Jawar broke that group leadership culture and appeared as charismatic leader. Regardless of whose name is on the secret logbook as a founder and leader of Qeerroo, the public consider Jawar as the leader of Qeerroo and up until his arrest on June 30, 2020; I assume all Oromo political organizations tacitly accepted that.

Not only its leadership but also the Qeerroo itself is considered mystic.

If we ask the question, who is the true Qeerroo, we will get different answers:are those who brought the former “Team Lemma” to power, are those who rose up in protest of the assassination of Artist Hachalu Hundessa and the arrest of Jawar in different parts of  Oromia and allegedly accused for the damages done in Shashemane and other parts of Oromia;are those who demonstrated in different cities of Europe and North America and said“Down, Down Abiy”, are those who removed Ethiopian flag from the Ethiopian Embassy in London (UK) and replaced with OLF (Oromia) flag on August25, 2020;are those who attempted to control Ethiopian Embassy in The Hague (the Netherlands),are those who Shimelis Abdisa claimed created  by OPDO and still under OPP’s control, are those who are operating in clandestine, or all of them?

Even after Dr. Mosisa provided all this information on Qeerroo, we are left with many questions unanswered regarding its organization and leadership.

To sum up,unless quick actions are taken to harness Qeerroo power, to re-engineer Qeerroo and guide its movements/operations to the right direction, the Oromo people will lose many qeerroos and lose the gains they got since 1974 and their existential will be in danger as the claim which says Oromo do not belong to Ethiopia is surfacing in different forms.


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