The Solar Oven Society (SOS), a Minnesota based non-profit corporation that promotes solar cooking through the production of solar ovens, hosted Mr. Gemeda during his visit. That organization’s president, Mr. Mike Porter, visited Oromia two years ago taking a prototype solar oven with him. Its effectiveness was realized immediately, and a business contract was signed soon after, making the Oromia National Regional Government, one of SOS’ biggest clients. SOS will only make the basic parts of the oven, and train local Oromos to assemble the solar oven, creating jobs in Oromia. With the civil war and drought, Ethiopia’s land is becoming increasingly barren since a lot deforestation has occurred making the solar oven an attractive solution.
Oromia is the largest federal state in modern day Ethiopia, occupying southern and central Ethiopia. The region has been marred with civil strife as the Oromo, the majority in Ethiopia, feel that they are oppressed by Ethiopia’s central government. Thousands of Oromo have fled their motherland in fear of their lives and safety, making the Twin Cities their home. According to a report by the UN Minnesota and the refugee camps in Kenya have the largest number of Oromo residents in the world outside of Ethiopia. According to the Minnesota State demographer’s office, in 2003 there were about 7,500 Ethiopian immigrants. Ethiopian community leaders estimate that this number is over 20,000. The Oromo Liberation Front claims that there are around 15,000 Oromo immigrants in Minnesota.
In response to the conflict between the Ethiopian government, and the people of Oromia, Mr. Gemeda contends that his government’s goal is to bring development to its people allowing them sustainability. In the context of Ethiopia/Oromia politics however, the OPDO of which Mr. Gemeda is the chairman is viewed by many in his community as a creation of the TPLF (Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front). TPLF is the dominant party in the EPRDF ruling coalition. TPLF is the party of Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi. Prior to joining politics, Mr. Gemeda was the defense minister in Prime Minister Zenawi’s government. As the only Oromo party in the coalition, the OPDO is viewed with suspicion by many Oromos. There are many Oromo separatist groups that call for an independent Oromo nation, the most well known being the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF).
In a tense meeting with the Oromia community conducted exclusively in Oromo, Chief Administrator Gemeda and his delegation made a presentation in which they discussed his cabinet’s five-year strategic plan. With a population of 1.5 million people, the Oromia federal government is faced with the task of ensuring that its people receive basic needs. The region, like the rest of Ethiopia, faces food scarcity despite immense resources. The causes of food shortage are numerous: drought, health, low crop productivity, few healthy livestock, population pressure, land scarcity, and misuse and degradation of natural resources. Chief Administrator Gemeda and his government hope to solve these issues through: water provision to the people, health improvement of man and livestock, improved infrastructure, resettlement of domestic refugees, and sustaining natural resources.
The meeting with his community held at the Assemblies of God Church in Saint Paul was marked by tense exchanges between Mr. Gemeda’s delegation and local Oromias in the Twin Cities. Pressed by this reporter to translate what the exchange was about, the Oromia community members refused saying “these are in-house matters”. A follow-up interview with Mr. Gemeda himself yielded no answer as he would say those were constructive exchanges between people and their leaders.
Also on his itinerary was a visit to Compatible Technology International (CTI), an organization whose objective is to improve the lives of people in developing countries by designing food and water technologies that are sustainable and appropriate to local cultures. CTI is working with people in countries such as Nicaragua, Zaire, India, and Uganda among others, where they have made hand grinders that reduce the physical labor required to realize production. Not only do technologies such as these allow individuals to be self-reliant, but they also increase productivity according to CTI.
Bruce Humphreys, CTI’s executive director expressed a willingness to work with the Oromia Regional Government in developing a coffee grinder and preservation techniques and tools for potatoes. According to Mr. Gemeda, his region is in dire need of food preservation tools since the crops spoil soon after harvest contributing further to the hunger and poverty of his people. Jenni Anderson, program director, with CTI, assured the delegation that their company engineers will work closely with the local community to ensure that cultural practices are maintained and respected as the new technology is implemented.
Chief Administrator Gebeda is also keen on forging a strong relationship with the Oromo community in the Diaspora. He believes the Oromo in the Diaspora will be instrumental in mobilizing technology, financial resources and expertise for the benefit of their region. They would have the potential of promoting tourism in Oromia and investment opportunities found in Oromia regional state. “With all the resources available in Oromia, it is important that Oromos the world over work together in developing our region.”
About Julia N. Opoti
A former Mshale editor, Julia Nekessa Opoti is now the producer and host of the radio show: Reflections of New Minnesotans on AM950 . She also edits/publishes Kenya Imagine.