Beekan Guluma Erena
Scholars at Risk Fellow Beekan Guluma Erena is an Oromo writer and scholar who has taught Afaan Oromo and Oromo Literature and has published works on political, social, and economic issues facing the Oromo in Ethiopia. A motivational speaker helping young writers to write and publish in Afaan Oromo, he aspires to advance Oromo literature and scholarship, his works serving as resources for Afaan Oromo students in secondary and tertiary grades. He has published 29 book-length literary works (including Giimii, Gindillaa, and Kooticha Kota’ame), many articles and Oromo poems, and has completed five reference books. His recent publication responds to the “Addis Ababa Master Plan,” which would take land from thousands of poor Oromo farmers. Other works concern the revitalization and development of long-repressed Oromo culture and language. Born in Nuunu Kumba, in West Oromia, Wallaga, into a poor farming family, he was driven to study and teach. In ninth grade, he fashioned a small tent and instructed seventy-eight people, forty of whom advanced to university, an effort for which he was recognized by local education officials. After teaching for one year in Ambo, he was sent to Addis Ababa University where he received his M.ED in Oromo Language Instruction and Literature, later returning to pursue his PhD. His project “Documenting Oromo Oral Poetry and its Semantic Analysis,” focusing on socio-cultural and political oppression and resistance as reflected in Oromo oral literature, addressed major gaps in research, documentation, and scholarship. After three years, the Ethiopian government, under the Tigray People Liberation Front, suspended him. He is unable to continue his education in Ethiopia, where the content and uses of his works have placed him at risk. His current project is ''The Oromo Students’ Demands for Justice and Democracy, and Violent Repression by the Ethiopian Government." He believes that through the opportunity to be in residency at Harvard, he can preserve his life, continue his work, and push peacefully for cultural and political transformation in Ethiopia.
The Oromo Students’ Demands for Justice and Democracy, and Violent Repression by the Ethiopian Government
This project focuses on Oromo students’ protests against repressive regimes in Ethiopia and traces this conflict to the history of the Oromo struggle for self-determination. By historicizing successive Oromo movements for freedom, justice, and human rights, and by synchronizing that history with ongoing student protest, the project attempts to bring to light the Oromo question which successive Ethiopian regime had failed to answer so far.
In Ethiopia, as elsewhere in the world, student movements contributed to regime change in the past. In the 1960s and early 1970s, Ethiopian students in universities, colleges, and secondary schools had not only protested against the oppressive feudal regime in the country but also revealed the political and economic ideological underpinnings of the country’s history. During those early times too, Oromo students had relentlessly presented their demand for the Oromo right to self-determination, language, and culture and for freedom from economic and political suppression under the successive Ethiopian regimes. It is common knowledge that Oromo students from high schools, colleges, and universities have been voicing grievances and making peaceful demands on behalf of their people during the last fifteen years, and that the response of the Ethiopian regime has been naked violence. However, information about the grievances of the Oromo youth and the Ethiopian regime’s recurrent violent crackdown on peacefully demonstrating students had been limited to pieces of information in media. A scholarly investigation that provides a holistic picture of the contentious episodes that can help us to the nature of the grievances and the harms caused by the violent methods used to silence them is lacking.
This project focuses on strategies which the Ethiopian government uses in silencing opposition, particularly Oromo students, and how the strategies strengthen collective political mobilization among the Oromo. It also probes into the trajectories of successive Ethiopian regimes’ responses to the Oromo questions for self-determination and analyzes the ongoing repression by the present government vis-á-vis its rhetoric of democracy and in contradiction to the international human rights conventions it had undersigned. In doing so, the project goes further to challenge the approaches of the West in general, and the US in particular, which advocate human rights, good governance and democracy, while continuing to give unreserved support to the authoritarian regime in Ethiopia. The project, therefore, aims at contributing to debate, dialogue, and knowledge-production on the policies of the Ethiopian regime in general and with regard to its policies and responses to Oromo questions for justice and democracy in particular. In doing so, it attempts to provide a valuable imperative to international institutions, governments, donor agencies, and human rights’ organizations to double-check their policies and programs on Ethiopia – a state controlled by a regime that superficially presents itself as democratic, but is inherently authoritarian.
- 2015-2016: Scholar-at-Risk Fellowship