I, Hamza Borana, plead not guilty to the charges levelled against me. I am innocent of all the charges and I consider the case political. I am charged with:
(1) Inciting violence between nations and nationalities
(2) Inciting the people against the government
(3) Inciting the Oromo people against the Amhara and Orthodox Christians,
(4) Stating that the Neftegna will not govern us and that the Neftegna system has been killing the Oromo people
(5) That I have stated that people should not carry the federal flag during national holidays in Oromia and agitated for measures to be taken against those found carrying it
(6) That I have stated that Oromo nationalists are being killed and the Oromo people should arm itself and rise up.
Before I enter a plea on these charges, I would like to take a few minutes to tell the court about myself.
This is the first time in my life that I have been accused of a crime and stood before a court to plead to a criminal charge. Unless we work towards building a democratic order, I don’t believe this will be my last. Politically motivated legal proceedings against political foes will continue until we address the central political challenges and practices. If we fail to address our country’s original political sins and continue on this path of manipulation and oppression, innocent citizens will continue to be victims and the oppressor will continue to oppress.
I am here today before this court accused of committing a crime because I wanted to play my part in the struggle against this politics of manipulation and domination.
I was not surprised by the detention and the charges. Before joining this struggle, I knew quite well that there is always a risk of detention, suffering, and being killed like my forefathers. I was not surprised because I joined the struggle after preparing myself to pay the necessary sacrifice. Before becoming a politician, I was forced to flee my country and live-in exile for seven years because I fought for equality and justice. Within those seven years, I founded Radio Daandii Haqaa (RDH) and served as its director and journalist to amplify the voice of my people.
The whole nation and the programs we did and the guests we invited are a testament to the fact that I used the Radio to lead the people’s struggle by peaceful means only, while building bridges between communities, and focusing our energy on the dictatorial system. The dictatorial system was eventually overthrown by the bitter struggle of our people and the sacrifice of more than 5000 youth. When the government changed in April 2018, I was one of those who returned home. Having said that much about myself, I would like to address the accusations:
First, I was accused of inciting violence among nations and nationalities. Before I address the issue, let me provide a quick background about myself. I was born and raised in Borana, Southern Oromia. Borana shares a large border with the Southern Peoples region and I grew up and attended school among multi-ethnic groups. I was shaped by the Gadaa system and values of tolerance and accommodation is an integral part of our culture and way of life. After returning to Ethiopia, I traveled to Gambella for peaceful discussion between the nations and nationalities. We had fruitful discussions with representatives of both sides to establish peaceful relations between the people of Gambella and the Oromo people. I was also invited by both sides to contribute to the peace process between the Afar and Wollo Oromos, which I attended in Batte, Wollo. I also attended a peace conference convened by the leaders of the Oromia and Somali regions as part of the ongoing dialogue to resolve the conflict between the Oromo and Somali people and tried to fulfil my civic duties. Similarly, I attended the Oromia Conference in Ambo by the invitation of the President of the Oromia Regional State and supported the efforts to establish a solid foundation for relations between the Somali and Oromo nations. Finally, in the event of ethnic clashes in the universities, I was able to hold an emergency joint meeting with Amhara Region activists to discuss the steps to be taken to prevent the conflict from spreading to the public.
Second, I am accused of inciting violence between the Oromo, the Orthodox Christians and the government. I do not think it makes sense for religion to be the basis for social and political conflict because I view faith as primarily a private matter. I was born to an Orthodox Christian family. My parents and all my relatives were and still are followers of the Orthodox Christian faith. I learned the Amharic language I speak today at a church. For someone in my position to want to instigate violence against Orthodox Christians or Orthodox churches would mean encouraging violence against my mother, who is today attending this very trial travelling more than 600kms from Borana. She should not have been here to see her son if I were in any way capable of even imagining such a thing. The same goes for my father and my brothers.
Third, with regard to the accusation that I have incited people against the government, I would like to raise two points. As soon as I returned to my country, I was engaged in widespread efforts to encourage people to support agents of reform in government to the point that I was perceived by the public as a member of the ruling party. But as events on the ground shifted and Oromo nationalists began to be arrested and killed and killings become widespread and the transition process went off the rails, I approached leading members of the ruling party and offered my advice. When this failed, I then began to publicly criticise the government’s handling of the situation, and once this too failed, I was forced to join the opposition. There is no doubt that Oromo nationalists have been killed; many human rights reports confirm this, many farmers’ houses have been burnt down. Does anyone deny this? How can anyone who advocates for victims gets detained and made to stand trial while the murderers remain free? Because I am a peace-loving person, I had a 12-day discussion with Abba Gadaas and prominent elders in Borana, in an effort to bring peace to the forces that are sincerely in power and fighting in the name of peace. I was fulfilling my civic duty as a caring citizen.
Next, I would like to raise the issue of the flag: I am basically a citizen who believes in the rule of law, legality, the constitution & constitutionalism. I also believe that the rule of law should be upheld until it is changed or amended. We have a flag that is enshrined in our constitution. Green-yellow-red with a yellow star in the center of the blue circle indicating the equality of nationalities and religions. We also have a law that says where, when, and why we should use this flag. In recent times, we have seen the use of the old Ethiopian flag in different ways and often to incite conflict. As a peace-loving and law-abiding citizen, I have expressed the view that during public holidays only the federal flag should be used and that other symbols that reflect the interests of a single group or provoke conflict should not be allowed, which is well within my constitutional right to free expression. As you know, I am not a government official, I do not have an army to command. I argued that the problematic symbols and insignias should not be carried because remaining silent in the face of an illegal use of the old Ethiopian flag that symbolises ideas contrary to our present constitution would have been a dereliction of my duty. However, my respect for the flag is never in doubt. Lastly, the message I want to convey on this agenda is that I see artists posting the same banner in different ways on music videos and films. For me, this is the illegality that should be condemned. One ethnic group’s view doesn’t represent the rest of Ethiopia and their ideas shouldn’t be imposed on other ethnic groups.
Finally, I was accused of stating that it was the Neftegna who were executing the Oromo people and that the Neftegna will not rule over us. While agreeing with the points made by the second defendant, Bekele Gerba, I will add the following on what Neftegna means for me.
For me, the Neftegna violently displaced my father’s grandfather, Obbo Dhana (Dhaanaa) Roba Gunjo, and his family from the Tulama land and forced him to settle among Gujii Oromo. The Neftegna massacred my mother’s father family in the Dharra District of Salale (North Shoa) and they too similarly fled to Borana. My mother’s father great grandfather Gayo Kumsa, has been uprooted by the evil Neftegna system from the South West of Sheger and forced to flee to Borana. I am the offspring of these displaced families. Yes, this is the system that committed ethnic cleansing on the Oromo people. That is why I am fighting hard to keep this system from coming back. Is it those who support this system or those who opposed it who should be accused? We are forever grateful for the debt of Borana, Guji, Arsi, Bale and Itu-Hubbena (Hararge) Oromo, who reached out and embraced the Tulama Oromo during the displacement of Oromos at the time. I would like to use this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude and respect.
Honourable Court, those of us who returned to our country after the process of democratic transition commenced – former activists, journalists, politicians – many of them chose to turn a blind eye to clear evidence of a slide-back to authoritarianism because they were provided with resources such as land belonging to our farmers, power, and temporary state rents. I felt that the only way I can make a meaningful contribution to the ongoing struggle of my people is by joining a viable opposition party, and I joined the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC). My comrades, my organisation and I were seen as an enemy because the ruling party know of the acceptance and support we have among our people and decided to lock us up because they knew they cannot win an election against us. A clear evidence of this is the current situation where the ruling party has jailed us all and removed our party from the election so that the ruling party will run for the election on its own. Therefore, Honorable court, I want to express with great respect, that I am innocent of all charges and I am here because I am falsely accused by the government, so that they can win the election and impose their views on us all.
It was Haacaaluu. They killed him and they prevented us from attending his funeral and properly mourn our loss. It was while I and my friends were on our way to the burial of our hero that we were arrested from the street and jailed. We have not committed any crime.
March 22, 2021
Finfinne, Oromia, Ethiopia