Union urges help for Oromia

by Elizabeth Giorgi

A student group on campus hopes to make changes overseas by bringing awareness to the Twin Cities.

The Oromia Student Union is working on campus to bring an understanding of the political and educational issues concerning the current Ethiopian dictatorship of Meles Zenewi.

The group is organizing workshops and peaceful demonstrations at the University and around the Twin Cities.

Oromia Student Union President Midhasso Foge said the problems and concerns in Oromia, once a self-determined country, now a region of Ethiopia, are their concerns as well.

“We are not just another Ethiopian student group,” he said. “We have a reason to be here.”

The group’s goal is to mobilize the community and educate about the current regime in Oromia, he said.

Zenewi’s regime has created an education apartheid that keeps many from Oromos from attending schools, Foge said.

There are approximately 25,000 Oromos in jail because of this repression and hundreds have been killed, he said. The Oromia Student Union feels as if these problems are their own because of family and friends at home who are suffering under the regime, he said.

Foge said the group is looking to the U.S. government to help them in their fight because Ethiopia is so reliant on the United States.

“We are trying to work with the community to educate and influence U.S. government to pressure (the Ethiopian government) to refrain from these activities,” he said.

Last week the group demonstrated outside the state Capitol and some of the students hope to demonstrate outside the Minneapolis Hilton where President George W. Bush will be staying today, Foge said.

The group has been looking for support from Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., to help bring awareness about the issue, he said.

Luke Friedrich, press secretary for Coleman, said “the U.S. can use its diplomatic leverage as it engages with the government of Ethiopia to urge it to provide equal education access to all ethnic groups.”

Political science professor Kathryn Sikkink said the Oromia Student Union’s attempts to bring awareness to the issue by contacting the U.S. government is one way to bring attention to human rights issues.

U.S. laws often encourage using diplomatic practices when dealing with human rights in other countries, she said.

“It is reasonable to ask the U.S. to be concerned about human rights in other countries,” she said.

The group wants to bring a great amount of attention to the community at large as well, not just the University, said Dawit Baisa, Oromia Student Union vice president.

The group is planning a workshop for the community regarding the current situation as well as working on a mentorship program for Oromo students in the area to inform them about the situation in Oromia, he said.

“One of the most successful things we have done was coming together as an association and being a voice for the people back home,” Baisa said.