Jawar Mohammed, the then activist, and now politician and media mogul, led the 2015-2018 Oromo protests that finally brought down the regime of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). But he has been put behind bars by the government, which, he, along with millions of Oromos, brought to power, on charges of instigating conflicts following the assassination of Hachalu Hindessa, an Oromo singer and activist.
A well-versed, charismatic, and eloquent activist, Jawar organized “Qeerroos,” a word for young people in Oromo language, to protest the Addis Ababa Master Plan, a government project that would have expanded the capital city’s territories into the surrounding Oromia region. To this end, he effectively used social media particularly Facebook, Twitter, and mainstream news media such as Oromia Media Network to disseminate information about the protests to millions of Oromo Ethiopians both at home and abroad.
In August 2018, Jawar moved back to Ethiopia after Abiy Ahmed took power. Prime Minster Abiy and Lema Megersa, the then president of the Oromia region, and now minister of the Ministry of Defense, asked Jawar to help them with transitioning the country into democracy. Multiples sources indicate they even offered to give him a ministerial position if he agrees to be a member of their political party, but he declined the offer saying he would rather help them from outside.
Jawar Mohammed’s home coming was celebrated with a big ceremony attended by high government officials including President Lemma Megersa and Takele Uma, mayor of Addis Ababa City, at the Millennium Hall. He was received into the auditorium by tens of thousands of his cheering supporters. Some were seen wiping tears rolling down their face out of happiness and disbelief.
In his speech punctuated with rounds of applauses almost every minute, Jawar announced that he came back home to help the country to transition to democracy. He caught thousands in the hall and millions watching him live on TV by surprise at the end of his speech when he awarded Lema Megersa a laptop computer he said he was using to organize the protests.
Jawar Mohamed changed his political course last year when the government allegedly attempted to remove his security details. The news of the incident prompted protests which led to the death of at least 86 people across Oromia. Jawar accused the government of exposing his life to risk. A few months later, he announced his decision to join the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), one of the strongest political parties in Ethiopia.
Once he joined OFC, Jawar intensified his criticism of Abiy Ahmed’s policies. Particularly, he accused the prime minister of trying to restore the old feudal system, a nightmare for the Oromo people and other nations and nationalities in Ethiopia. He also criticized the government for postponing the national elections due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He said political solution which should come out of discussion among all stakeholders was the only option. However, the government opted for what is called, the “constitutional amendment.”
The Abiy Ahmed’s government arrested Jawar Mohammed, Bekele Gerba and other political leaders on June 29 following the assassination of Hachalu Hundessa, an Oromo singer and activist. It accused them of using force to return the body of Hachalu Hundessa, which was on its way to Ambo, back to Addis Ababa. Jawar Mohammed and other leaders deny the charge.
Many people are wondering the real reason behind Jawar Mohammed’s arrest. Some say it was part of the government’s plan to get rid of strong politicians who pose a challenge to its power. Others say it’s part of the scheme particularly by Abiy Ahmed to retaliate against a politician who bitterly criticize him nonstop. Yet, others suspect that the arrest has to do with the fear that he may lead protests across the country to overthrow the government following the killing of Hachalu Hundessa.
However, the arrest of Jawar Mohammed hasn’t stopped the ongoing protest across Oromia. It just became another reason to continue their oppositions to the government. “Free Jawar and all Oromo political leaders” has made to the list of slogans protestors hold during rallies and post on their Facebook walls.
The protesters have now shifted to market and transportation boycott. Many fear that this will make the life tough for businesses and city dwellers. In the long term, it may even put the already weak economy of the country at risk.
There is no doubt that Jawar Mohammed is capable of posing a big challenge to the government. As astute politician with deep understanding of theories of social movements and someone who gained practical experiences over the years, he will sure shape the future of the Ethiopian politics. He is a change agent and a real hero for millions of his supporters.
Abiy Ahmed, whom many Ethiopians have hoped to transform the country into democracy, has suddenly found himself fighting with his own constituency in Oromia, the largest federal state in the country. Many political commentators are warning that the country may collapse unless the prime minister starts a serious dialogue with all political parties with the aim to address a century-old systemic problems.