“I mourn the death of our youngsters,” says the Rev. Teka Obsa Fogi of dozens of casualties witnessed since April 25 among peacefully protesting students throughout Oromia Regional State by security force shootings and beatings.* Pr. Fogi is pastor of Oromo Resurrection Evangelical Church (“OREC”) in Kensington, Maryland, a worshiping community of the Metro D.C. Synod with direct ties to the region, one of nine ethnically-based states of Ethiopia. “OREC and all Oromo churches are praying for our young students, their parents and those the government wants to dispossess of their land,” he says. “Please pray with us.”
Protests, which began at universities in large towns throughout Oromia then spread to smaller communities in the region, erupted over the release in April of the proposed Addis Ababa Integrated Development Master Plan. The “Master Plan” outlines substantial municipal expansion of Addis Ababa to include more than 15 communities in Oromia according to Human Rights Watch, an international non-governmental organization that conducts research and advocacy on human rights.*
“The problem is, if this ‘Master Plan’ is put into action, many Oromo farmers will be uprooted from the land they get their living from. They were tilling this land for generations. Compensation, if the government gives any, will only help them for a while,” Pr. Fogi anticipates, “and after that, they will be homeless.”
An Ethiopian government statement on May 1 blamed protests by “anti-peace forces” on “baseless rumours” being spread about the “integrated development master plan” for the capital and acknowledged a limited number of protest-related deaths as reported by BBC News.** This report is one of few from traditional news sources available on the current situation. Indirectly emphasizing the challenge of telling this story, the United Nations human rights chief in a May 2 news release “condemned the crackdown on journalists in Ethiopia and the increasing restrictions on freedom of opinion and expression.”***
“The situation of family members and friends of Oromo members of our congregations and community is very fragile, and communications are very difficult and sensitive,” said the Rev. Michael D. Wilker, senior pastor of Lutheran Church of the Reformation in D.C. The congregation did respond to Pr. Fogi’s request for prayer during worship services May 11. “We trust that God hears us when we cry in pain and shout for justice. May God’s creativity, compassion and courage be with the Oromo people and all the residents of Ethiopia,” added Pr. Wilker.
The Rev. Kathy Hlatshwayo, interim pastor of Oromo Evangelical Lutheran Church in D.C., was one of several local Lutheran pastors in attendance at an Oromo rally near the White House and State Department on May 9 to draw attention to the situation and protest the human rights violations. “We ask your prayers,” she said, “for the Oromo people, especially mothers and fathers whose children have been killed, the region of Oromia, Ethiopia, and those in diaspora and our congregations.”
The Rev. Philip C. Hirsch, Assistant to the Bishop of the Metro D.C. Synod who also attended the rally, shares the following:
God of mercy and of justice: We pray together with our Oromo sisters and brothers in Lutheran congregations in our synod for those who have suffered recent violence in Ethiopia. We pray for the students who were attacked, arrested or killed while protesting. We especially lift up to you the mothers, fathers and community members of the victims. Grant them peace. Grant them justice. In Christ’s holy name we pray, Amen.
* From “Ethiopia: Brutal Crackdown on Protests,” Human Rights Watch (5/5/14)
** From “Ethiopia protest: Ambo students killed in Oromia state,” BBC News Africa (5/2/14)
*** From “UN human rights chief condemns crackdown on journalists in Ethiopia,” UN News Centre (5/2/14)