Draconian : Marginalization of the Amharic speaking majority in cities across the Oromia region, Ethiopia

Mikael Arage

Nazreth (Adama )

Alemu’s grandfather was born in Nazreth. Alemu’s close friend—Tenkir—and over 60% of the natives, and current residents of the city of Nazreth aren’t ethnic Oromo, according to Census 2007 by the Central Statistical Agency of Ethiopia (CSA). Ever since the government of the Oromia regional state passed a draconian law in 1991, Oromiffa has been subjected as the only official language of the administration of the city of Nazreth where Amharic is spoken as a first language by 59.25%, 26.25% speak Oromiffa and 6.28% speak Guragiegna; the remaining 8.22% speak all other primary languages reported, according to Census 2007. Furthermore, the majority of the inhabitants said they practiced Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity, with 63.62% of the population reporting they observed this belief, while 24.7% of the population were Muslim, and 10.57% were Protestant , according to Census 2007. Following the introduction of the draconian law in 1991, most public sector workers who demographically co-relataed with the normal population of the city were removed from their job immediately. The entire public services of Nazreth — health, education, judiciary and etc — was enforced to be in Oromiffa while the sweeping majority —over 90% of the population— had Amharic as the most common means of communication.

Figure 1. Languages of Nazreth(Adama), according to census 2007


“It’s very cruel and unfair that Amharic was written off from being an official and working language in Nazreth when it’s reported as the most spoken— and written — language by far at 59.25%, twice more than Oromiffa which is at 26.25%, ” said Ahmed, a Gurage business man in the city of Nazreth.

“My sons and daughters can’t work in the city administration. Nor can run for the city council. We are considered inexistent. Our basic human rights in the city we built was stripped overnight since 1991. The name of our city —Nazreth—was changed in to Adama without our majority consent,” continued Ahmed.

Kiros, a business owner who was born in the city of Nazreth says: “The rights of the non-Oromo ethnicity is suppressed by the Oromo who constitute only 26.25% of the languages spoken — and who have a statically insignificant language representation as compared to the Amharic speaking, which is 59,25%.

“Having taken the city council draconically, the Oromo regional government has prevented more Churches from being built while a number of Mosques were erected in the last two decades,” continued Kiros

According to subsequent censuses carried out befor 2007, the percentage of residents in Nazareth speaking Amharic as their first language was even more higher. As a result, systematic displacement tactics and autocratic laws implemented by the Oromo regional government (OPDO), is to blame for the slight decrement since 1991.

Kidest , a young engineer who doesn’t know any other world than Nazreth, said : “we are still the majority despite living through a draconian enforcement of laws aimed at chasing us away. And, the Federal government must look in to the case of Nazareth where the majority is suffering from a crazy suppression of linguistic rights”

Amhara and Debub actvists accuse Oromia broadcasting Network(OBN) of being reticent about the demands of protestors— Linguistic rights of the non-Oromo majorities —in the restive cities across the Oromia regional state of Ethiopia.

Ayenachew , a resident in the town of Nazreth, said : “OPDO isn’t counting us at all. It is masking our issues by hyping irrelevant issues that are of a subject of interest and right only to the residents of the chartered city of Addis.”

According to the constitution of Ethiopia, regional states are only legally administrative frameworks, and that the entire country of Ethiopia belongs to Ethiopians equally regardless of race, religion, language, sex, disability and etc.

One of the reason as to why relentless protests engulfed cities across the Oromia regional states, according to the majority of protestors who are non-oromos as far as demographics is concerend, is : “Severe violation of rights of administering our city ”

The same story of severe human rights violations are pertinent in different cities across the Oromia regional states where the Amharic speaking people and non-Oromos are predominant.


Debreziet ( Bishoftu) Demographics


Amharic is spoken as a first language by 71.95%, and 20.12% spoke Oromiffa; the remaining 7.93% spoke all other primary languages reported. Concerning religious beliefs, 87.87% of the population said they practiced Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity, 6.93% were Protestants, and 4.02% observed Roman Catholicism, according to census 1994. The name of the city — “Debreziet”— was changed to “Bishoftu” without a full consent of the residents of the city.

Figure 2. Languages of Debreziet, according to census 2007


Jimma Demographics


Figure 3. Languages of Jima, according to census 2007


Amharic is spoken as a first language by 41.58% and 39.96% speak Afan Oromo; the remaining 18.46% speak all other primary languages reported. The majority of the inhabitants said they practiced Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity, with 46.84% of the population reporting they observed this belief, while 39.03% of the population were Muslim, and 13.06% were Protestant, according to  Census 2007

Legal synthesis :

Linguistic rights are the human and civil rights concerning the individual and collective right to choose the language or languages for communication in a private or public atmosphere. Other parameters for analyzing linguistic rights include the degree of territoriality, amount of positivity, orientation in terms of assimilation or maintenance, and overtness, according to wikipedia 2017.

The majority of the residents in cities across the Oromia regional states —who are non- ethnic Oromo and have Amharic as their first , or the most convenient language, are deprived of their linguistic rights which includes, among others, the right to one’s own language in legal, administrative , judicial acts, language education, and media in a language understood and freely chosen by those concerned.

Linguistic rights in international law are usually dealt in the broader framework of cultural and educational rights.

Important documents for linguistic rights include the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights(1996), the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (1992), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) and the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities(1988), as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966).

UN, EU, US and ICC don’t need to send investigators to check if there’s any sever violation of human rights— ‘Linguistic rights’ —in the Oromia regional state of Ethiopia as they have enough data which can serve as an evidence to prosecute or sanction the government.

One thing is clear that the current leadership of the Oromia regional state —OPDO— has failed in its ongoing period of prohibition. Despite branding itself as ‘quite independent and pro-democratic’ , OPDO failed to deliver not only on issues that matter most to the majority of the residents/protestors in Debereziet, Nazreth, Jimma and etc , but also proved that it can systematically suppress , abstract, divert and use the voices of the majority who are relentlessly demonstrating in cities where ‘ reclamation of Linguistic rights’ are being echoed discriminately.


By አዎ ድል አለ በስሜ (Mikael Arage Yimer)

16/02/2018 3:35:09 AM  EET

Mikael Arage is a techprenuer, manager, engineer, strategist, citizen journalist, life long interdisciplinary student and human rights activist based in Helsinki, Finland. He regularly covers on political economy, technology, innovation and business development in Ethiopia.






  1. Wow wow. Bravo Mikael. I love this guy. He knows politics men! He literally analyzed stuffs like a lawyer, like a strategist, like journalist. This is what we need. Bam bam bam. OPDO has been cheating on the causes of the residents. They tried to Oromize everything. We tested OPDO and they have really been unfair and suppressing others.

  2. The timing of your comment shows who you are. A poletician of the so called student muvement. The student muvment brought 44 yrs of suffering on the Ethiopian people. Time you guys stop. Let the youth take pver5

  3. You are stupid woyane servant who works to divide Amhara and Oromo people. Ethiopian youth question is not language it is freedom. Down Down woyane. We now who you are stupid woyane paid activist.

  4. Mikael is a very very bright Guy. He should be the PM! Excellent Amharic, Excellent english. He’s so genuine and good looking . And rarely emotional but rational and calm. I wanna marry him. Excellent analysis. He stands up for justice. He stands up for Muslims, Christians , Amhara, Oromo, Gurage justly. He doesn’t care about fishing the support of a certain group. He stands for justice independently. Thats what we need. Mikael is very unique as compared to many we saw in Ethiopian politics.

  5. I’m Gurage who was born in Nazreth. I love what Mikael says. ESAT (G7) and weak(stupid) Amhara activists are dividing and weakning the cause of All Amharic speaking people ( Gurage, Amhara, Tigre and etc living in Oromia regions). The super man has raised real issues and very intelligently. There is no one like this guy. I like him. There is fact; there are laws and he can use more powerfull and international media. You can’t stop him. Shame on shitty,gemegema gerdame activists.

  6. Was it not draconian when indigenous Oromos were evicted to make room to settler colonialism? Those people you count here came to these town looking for jobs and other opportunities, pushing locals out of these localities, through political machination and social engineering by all past regimes. Oromos have never been considered as residents of these areas, let alone getting equal rights and opportunities. How many non-Oromos ahve moved into these town following the footsteps of the Woyanes. That is how such garrison towns were created.
    Settler towns can not be treated separately from the general population of the region. The majority are Oromo and language and other policies can not be made selectively and preferentially for migrant people. If you settle in America or UK, you can not demand the working language of the country to be changed to Amharic or Guraginya!! Posing such demands is sheer arrongance and stupidity! If you want to live and work in Oromia, you should learn the language (and culture) of the people. This is not the era of the Niguse-Negest. If the Oromo government thinks that other languages would benefit its people (as a whole) additional languages can be added. You can not impose your wish on the majority. Move on, we are in the 21st century!

  7. “UN, EU, US and ICC don’t need to send investigators to check if there’s any sever violation of human rights…”
    wow! You settle in some other region or country and your human right is violated, because the indigenous people there do not speak your language!! And US, UK, Un and all world powers should come thundering with their armies to defend you!!
    Do you know what “human rights” mean?? Is this arrogance? stupidity?? or both?
    “The universe and human stupidity have no bounds. I am not sure of the first” A. Einstein

  8. Oromo came to the current day of Ethiopia by way of explanation after 1600. So, if you talk about history or use it as your spice for argument then it will work against you. Oromo has distorted many Semitic and indefioums southern languges, communities, churches .

  9. “የዐማራ ብሄርተኝነት ለመለመ ፣ ምስጋናው ታልቅ መሪ ነው” ብሎ በተለያዩ የFB አካውንቶችና በAAPO ገፅ ከመንዛትና ከማስነዛት በስተቀር ልክ እንደ ሚካኤልና አቻምየለህ ብሩህ የፖለቲካ አስተሳሰብ ያለው አላየሁም። በግላቸው ትልቅ አስተዋዕፆ እያደረጉ ነው። በፓርቲ ተደራጅታችሁ እናንተ መስራት ያልቻላችሁትን የሚሰራ ሰው ላይ እንቅፋት መሆን ደግ አይደለም። We have listend to Achamyleh and Mikael speak and compared it to those of you who claim to be Amhara acitivst. Achamyleh and Mikael are really smart people. They are the fruit of Scandinivian education. They are very tolerant because both of the were educated in the most democracies in the world. Pls don’t tell Mesganw to speak because he sucks. We used to run a group in Paltalk years a go. He insuGash tekle. Mesganw isn’t a politician. He can’t get along with people.

  10. You see , you problem is that you can’t argue with Mikael. He’s too smart for you. SO, the only option for you is to keep on changing the topic. Mikael has raised real issue with facts and figures. I’ve really seen any Ethiopian intellectual producing intelligent political analysis. I’ve read lots of bla v bla blas. Nobody is coming out to challenge him. If you look at this mentality and construction of argument, He is very European.

    Dear Mikael. thanks for what you are doing. I’ve read your articles. I liked them all.

    Even those who say, “I’m Amhara activist “ and “ we are Amhara journalists” haven’t written one of the articles that Mikael wrote



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