Oromo 101: Beginners Guide – Past, Present & Future

Who Are The Oromo people?

The Oromo people are the largest Cushitic ethnic group indigenous to the Horn of Africa. This community make the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, making up majority in Ethiopia’s largest federal region, Oromia. The Oromo people have a rich with ancient culture, speaking Afaan Oromo (the Oromo language), which is the 4th most widely spoken language in Africa. This community comes from the only ancient democracy that existed outside of Europe, called ‘Sirna Gada’ or the Gadaa system. Oromos have experienced a long history of assassinations, ethnic cleansing, systemic marginalization, abuse, discrimination, and countless numbers imprisoned in Ethiopia along with other marginalized communities – all documented by human rights organizations, namely: Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International, even in recent decades. After Abiy’s transitional government came to power, the systemic abuse continues unabated as recent assassinations have shown. Threats of violence and imprisonment towards Oromo civic leaders continue to occur much like under his predecessors. The visible example being the assassination of the most famous living Oromo musician/activistst, Hacaaluu Hundeessaa. The suffering of Oromo people and all marginalized communities in Ethiopia continue to occur, and this is what we are fighting to end for ourselves and our neighboring communities.

What Is The History of Oromo People?

During the last quarter of the 19th century, Oromia was conquered by Menelik II and colonized by Abyssinia with the assistance of European powers and subsequently occupied by Abyssinian settlers. The conquest involved atrocities and massacres of the Oromo people, such as the Anole massacre and Oromos were forced into subjugation under the Nafxanya-Gabbar system (serfdom).

Later, Emperor Haile Selassie banned the practice of the Oromo traditional mono-theistic religion, Waaqeffanna, and the public use of the Oromo language was also made illegal. If you were caught speaking, writing, or singing in Afaan Oromo in public you could be imprisoned unless you were one of the few Oromo people who are members of the ruling class. 

Large scale land grabs were also commonplace throughout Ethiopias 150 plus years as an empire and supposedly a nation of equals. The most brazen of this is the capital city Oromia, Finfinnee. This is one of the many cities the Oromo people were displaced from, the land seized and renamed, and the new settlers renamed, Addis Ababa. To highlight the damage done in the Oromiya region, some 100 cities across the region were renamed, populations also displaced, so the new settlers from the monarch could ‘civilize’ and ‘christianize’ the local population. This might sound familiar, since this is the same propaganda the European monarchs used to justify colonization, genocide and ethnic cleansing of other non-European peoples across the world.

Lack of Equitable Representation in the Imperial Project

To this day, the damage can be seen in the urbanization levels in the census reports from Ethiopia’s Central Statistical Agency. Despite the zones surrounding the city of Finfinnee (Addis Ababa) in every direction, having a population of about 5.9 million that’s 86% Oromo among living in those four zones. In contrast only 10% of the residents in Addis Ababa speak the Oromo language.

When people speak highly of Ethiopia’s past monarch, without realizing it, many people are saying Oromo lives don’t matter and neither do all other marginalized communities of Ethiopia fighting for democracy, equal representation, and access to opportunity. This is not a minority of the population but a demographic majority of Ethiopians that share this continued oppression. This goes obviously beyond just the socio-economic disparity, but it also touches even the cultural representation of the diverse communities in Ethiopia. Sadly even in its’ name, Ethiopia was built on a northern Ethiopian culture. The Geez alphabet used in Ethiopia and Eritreas semitic languages is commonly referred to as the Ethiopian alphabet. Despite latin alphabet being the most popular way to write the languages of Ethiopia’s as a percentage of population. Among the officially recognized languages according to census reports; namely Oromo, Somali, Sidamo, Afari and many more languages in the southern region.

What Is The Oromo Movement for Self Determination?

During the oppressive rule of Emperor Haile Selassie, a lawyer by the name of Haile-Mariam Gemeda became one of the founding fathers of modern Oromo nationalism. He helped form the Macha Tulama Self-Help Association, advocating for the self-empowerment of the Oromo people through education and development. 

Later, renowned general Taddese Birru joined and became a prominent Oromo leader. Subsequently, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) was established to wage the struggle for self-determination, along other liberation fronts fighting for their conquered peoples. olf gained prominence during the brutal rule of Ethiopia’s derg communist regime (1974 to 1991). 

The Oromo have their own language and writing system called Qubee Afaan Oromo. it is an Afroasiatic language belonging to the cushitic branch and enables younger generations to read and write in their mother tongue – effectively creating inter-generational consciousness.

Why Are Oromos Demanding Freedom?

After the fall of the Derg regime in 1991, when power was seized by the TPLF party, the ban on the Oromo language was finally lifted; only 29 years ago. Although it is widely spoken, Oromos are still struggling to have their language recognized at a federal level. 

Despite all of this, the generation raised during this new regime is more politically conscious as a result. further land grabs, disappearances, extra-judicial killings, and political arrests forced many Oromos into exile or refugee camps. With the OLF wrongfully deemed a terrorist organization by the late PM Meles Zenawi, young people known as Qeerroo and Qarree (young men and women) staged a peaceful movement of protests and civil disobedience. Although unarmed, they were met with military force, much like Gandhi’s Satyagraha movement.

2014 – 2018 Oromo Protests

The Addis Ababa master plan – the government’s scheme to evict & displace over 2 million indigenous Oromo farmers, families, & youth from their ancestral land under the guise of development – was a tipping point. In 2014, Oromos from all walks of life within Ethiopia & around the globe used non-violent protests and crossed their arms over their heads creating an ‘x’ to criticize land grabbing. The Ethiopian government dismissed the protests as ‘anti-peace’, a common tactic used to crackdown on dissent. brutal killings and unlawful arrests of thousands followed, which were criticized by human rights watch as “excessive and lethal force.” 

On October 2, 2016, over 1,000 festival-goers were massacred at the largest and most culturally sacred event of the Oromo, the Irreecha thanksgiving festival. Security forces fired teargas and live bullets at millions of people surrounded by a lake and cliffs, leading to hundreds falling to their death off of cliffs. With unequivocal video and photo evidence of these injustices and #OromoProtests going viral, global awareness brought the country to a standstill. PM Hailemariam Desalegn resigned, giving way for Abiy Ahmed, a member of the ruling party. He was appointed in 2018 as the transitional PM until a national free and fair election.

Oromo Protests Today

Abiy Ahmed’s government has since restored the political vision of the old imperial Ethiopia – the system which colonized the Oromo people, a system of unelected government officials has once again threatened the collective existence of the Oromo community and our values equality and democracy. On June 29, 2020, one week after critiquing Ahmed’s administration of ongoing human rights abuses in Oromia during a nationally broadcast interview, prominent Oromo singer and activist Haacaaluu Hundeessaa was assassinated. His death was immediately followed by a government-botched funeral, before which Hundeessaa’s uncle had been murdered. Following this tragedy, protests broke out and security forces fired live bullets at unarmed protestors, killing over 300 and wounding thousands. The government also arbitrarily detained over 7,000 Oromo protesters, activists, politicians, journalists, and their families and a number of u.s. citizens. Oromos, within Ethiopia and globally, are now protesting and utilizing social media with the hashtag #OromoProtests to express their objection to Ethiopian state violence, and their systematic marginalization and persecution.

Who Are Qeerroo & Qarree? 

Definition of qeerroo: young man 

Definition of qarree: young woman 

The Oromo protest movement is also referred to as the qeerroo/qarree movement. In the Oromo community, young people take a prominent roles in community development, and this endearing term is used to describe them.

The qeerroo and qarree are a generation of conscious young Oromos who stand for freedom, authentic democracy, self-determination, equality and basic human rights. 

Use Your Voice. Join #Oromoprotests    

Share awareness-raising social media posts 

Sign petitions 

Consistently tweet using #OromoProtests 

Contact your political representatives

Change your profile to red to show solidarity

What Does Red Symbolize?

The pain endured by generations of our community.

The sacrifices and bloodshed in our fight for equitable representation.

Bright colors to draw attention to our demand for justice and freedom for the Oromo people and for all underrepresented, marginalized nations and nationalities.

Visit www.oromoprotests.org and join the global #OromoProtests movement in condemning ethiopian state violence and demanding the release of all political prisoners and unlawfully detained civilians.

Stand With Us

I stand in solidarity with #OromoProtests…do you? pic.twitter.com/TrFasV2J4X Click To Tweet


  1. You should also call out change.org for posting hateful petitions that vilify the Oromo people and Oromo individuals. They are basically doing the same thing Facebook is doing, namely enabling hate-mongers to post petitions that constitute hate speech, without taking any responsibility for removing them despite stating in their “Community Guidelines” that they are willing to do so.


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