Former Oromo rebel leaders return to Ethiopia to pursue peaceful struggle

(OPride) — A five-person delegation of the Oromo Democratic Front (ODF) party is due to arrive in Ethiopia on Wednesday for “substantive talks” with the government. Founded in exile in 2013 by veteran Oromo leaders, ODF is returning to the country to pursue peaceful struggle.

The move follows repeated overtures by the ruling party in Oromia, the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO), that it is ready to work with all Oromo-based opposition groups within the perimeters of the Ethiopian constitution. OPDO chairman and Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed has also repeatedly expressed his government’s readiness to open up the political space and engage with critics at home and abroad.

Fitsum Arega, the Chief of Staff for Prime Minister Abiy, confirmed on Twitter that the ODF delegation will arrive in Ethiopia on Wednesday for “political consultation” with the government. He added that the Ethiopian government encourages other exiled opposition parties to “follow suit.”

ODF’s return to Ethiopia is expected to herald the beginning of a much-needed reconciliation for the country whereby all dissidents groups, including those proscribed as terrorists, will be brought into the democratic fold.

Ethiopia is emerging from nearly four years of resilient anti-government protests, mostly by ethnic Oromos, that facilitated Abiy’s rise to power. Since his election on April 2, the new premier has moved away from the ruling party’s hitherto insistence on developmentalism in which one strong, vanguard party dominates the political space.

In his speeches and tours, Prime Minister Abiy has prioritized peace and reconciliation. His government has freed thousands of prisoners. He personally appealed for and won the release of thousands more held in Sudanese, Kenyan, Saudi and Emirati prisons.

ODF’s return to Ethiopia follows a meeting with representatives of the Ethiopian government in Dubai earlier this month. “Pursuant to its long-standing public position, the ODF reiterated its commitment to deepening and broadening the reforms and democratization process,” ODF said in a statement on May 13 after that meeting. “The government delegation also expressed its enthusiasm to engage all those espousing nonviolent means of struggle.”

The ODF delegation, led by Lencho Lata, the group’s chairman, includes Dima Nago, Lencho Bati, Bayan Asoba and Hassan Hussein. They were all once senior leaders of the outlawed Oromo Liberation Front. The delegates are expected to be welcomed on Wednesday morning by senior Oromia regional government officials and members of the public.

“Returning to our country and establishing itself among its constituents at home, and establishing a legal status in order to play its part in our country’s democratization has been and continues to be the ODF’s highest priority,” the group said in a statement on Tuesday.

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“We would relentlessly continue with our efforts to engage all political actors in our country to realize a just and genuinely democratic order, and sustainable and equitable development in Ethiopia.”

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