Ethiopia: ‘We are oppressed…All people are equal and that should be ensured’ says Jaal Marroo’s brother

By Jaysim Hanspal
Posted on Tuesday, 7 December 2021 14:44, updated on Sunday, 1 May 2022 21:19

Sisay Diriba Lemessa,brother of OLA leader Jaal Marroo (photo: Facebook)

Jaal Marroo, leader of the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), is an enigma. Despite his position as a leader of the rebel forces in the current Ethiopian war, and his strong feelings about the treatment of the Oromo population, little is known about Marroo or his family. We find out more in the exclusive interview with his brother Sisay Diriba Lemessa.

The last public statement Marroo made was as Tigrayan and Oromo joint forces descended towards the capital Addis Abba on 7 November.

“What I am sure [of] is that it is going to end very soon. We are preparing to push for another launch, and for another attack. The government is just trying to buy time, and they are trying to instigate [a] civil war in this country, so they are calling for the nation to fight,” Marroo said in an interview with AFP.

Marroo’s brother, Sisay Diriba Lemessa, is an economics lecturer at Haramaya University in Ethiopia. He is currently a research fellow at Harvard University in the US, specialising in agricultural economics. He has not had contact with his brother in 18 years after Marroo joined the rebel alliance as a student at Addis Abba University.

In this exclusive interview with The Africa Report, Lemessa discusses the repercussions his family has faced as a result of Jaal Marroo’s actions as part of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF).

Presented here is a transcript, with light editing for clarity.

Checking the facts

The Africa Report: There are lots of rumours about your brother circulating online, with Twitter and Facebook accounts claiming to be him. Are these, and the messages they relay, authentic?

Sisay Diriba Lemessa: First of all, I want to make myself clear, number one I am an academician, and number two I don’t represent anyone. I don’t really present any organisation, any political party, any group. So I’m an individual.

The online accounts are pretending and perplexing and probably from government authorities, or even rebel groups. There are several accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram disseminating information which just doesn’t represent his ideas or his organisation.”

There are reports on an obscure Twitter subreddit that claimed your mother was beaten and left for dead in the street. Did this happen?

Yes, I would like to talk about this in detail.

So it was last year that my mother and father were detained. They were living in a remote, rural area – they are a farming family. The government authorities and military personnel were coming to our home, and frightening and interrogating [his family] to know the whereabouts of their son. They haven’t seen their son in 18 years and they are not responsible for someone who is 38 years old. They came to our home and they burnt everything and detained my mum and dad, who are 70 and 65 respectively.

They beat them, flogged them, dragged them into death. They said: “Where is Marroo? Let him save you now”. My mother was languishing in prison because they felt she was going to die because of her high blood pressure. They released her and threw her on the pavement.

What happened to your dad? I’ve reports online that he is blind and was badly beaten.

They refused to release my dad, he is still in there, no judge – nothing. Yes one of his eyes is badly affected after he got hit in the eye with an ox – he can’t see.

When you say ‘they’, do you mean the government?

Yes, at first it was the Oromia special forces but then it was the government defence forces. This was directly ordered by the higher echelons of the government.

Have you been able to communicate with your parents since this has happened?

It has been totally impossible to communicate with my parents, and they are depriving them of food. There are 250 of my close relatives in prison cells today. People have tried sending food to them via children, but they are still flogging children.

Now we are saying it is good to be in a prison cell, it is a bed of roses. But now the bad thing is military personnel are taking people from the prison cells, handcuffing them, blindfolding them, and then shooting them. We don’t have anywhere to report this that isn’t managed by government authorities.”

Where is Jaal Marroo?

Have you been able to make contact with your brother, and speak to him? Do you know if he is alive and well?

I haven’t spoken to him in 17, 18 years. He doesn’t have any means of communicating with him. He joined the rebel forces when he was at university, while he was a student.

And how do you feel about that? How does your family feel about that?

We feel bad. You know when your brother is under fire, and you suffer a lot because of this, we feel bad, but we do nothing. This has happened to us under successive Ethiopian governments, for the last 150 years. I feel bad all the time, with anxiety and depression. I don’t know what is going to happen to my brothers and friends on the battlefield tonight. I do nothing but speak for them, with any channel I get. I speak for not just my family but the entire Oromo people.

Tension on the front lines

What do you think the ultimate goal is for your brother and the OLF?

I am not authorised to answer this question, I’m not a member. But I can tell you as an Oromo man, we are oppressed. The government has been illegally exploiting our land. Our prime demand was our land, and secondly, we were opposing the successive governments because we demand political justice and equal resource distribution among different nationalities in this country. All people are equal and that should be ensured.

As Oromo people, we have our own culture, our own customs, our own language. That is why most of the people are fighting against this oppressive government. The whole world applauded [President Abiy Ahmed] and awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize. But this is the worst form of government that we have seen in our lifetime. We want our flag, we want our language, we want our capital city, which is Addis Ababa. All tax collected by Addis Ababa should be distributed fairly among the Oromo community.

Now Abiy is on the front line, do you think that changes anything? What do you think will happen now rising tensions?

It is propaganda because they control all the media. They’re appealing to the people to show they are doing something good.

Change will only happen in the country only when everyone has equal rights, and those rights can be exercised practically. We want fair and free elections.

The entire world is watching him, and the entire world is against him.

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