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Marginalized Oromos hire lobbyists amid ethnic strife in Ethiopia

A Washington-area nonprofit advocating for Ethiopia’s marginalized Oromo ethnic group has hired its first lobbying firm amid a spout of ethnic violence in the country.

The Oromo Legacy Leadership & Advocacy Association (OLLAA) hired Washington advocacy group Yorktown Solutions effective July 6, according to a new lobbying filing. Registered on the account are Yorktown president and former Mitt Romney 2012 campaign adviser Daniel Vajdich and vice-president Jonathan Gregory.

“OLLAA has hired Yorktown Solutions to assist its engagement with stakeholders in Washington, D.C.,” association president Seenaa Jimjimo told Foreign Lobby Report in an emailed statement. “The purpose of this engagement is to educate and inform these stakeholders about the state of human rights, women’s rights, and indigenous rights among Oromo communities across the globe.”

The lobbying push comes as more than 200 people have been killed this month in protests over the murder of popular Oromo singer Haacaaluu Hundeessaa, who was gunned down in the capital Addis Ababa on June 29. The murder has sparked a wave of unrest in Ethiopia’s Oromia region, the country’s largest.

Oromos make up the largest minority group in the country but have long complained of being marginalized by the central government. Ethiopia had been making progress toward more equality under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the country’s first Oromo leader, but the recent violence has raised doubts about the African nation’s transition to democracy.

Oromo diaspora communities around the world have joined the protests, with 1,500 marching Friday in Minneapolis, home to the largest U.S. population of ethnic Oromos. Many support calls for Ahmed’s resignation and Oromo self-rule.

Jimjino, an Ethiopian-born human-rights activist, founded OLLAA (formerly the Coalition of Oromos for Human Rights and Democracy) in 2017. The group aims to unite the Oromo diaspora community around the world, which includes tens of thousands of people in the United States.

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The association declined to go into specifics about its lobbying plans beyond its emailed statement. But in social media posts on Twitter and Facebook it has applauded a July 6 statement from Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee panel on Africa, calling on the government to bring “calm and stability” to Oromia and punish Hundeessaa’s killers (two suspects were arrested last week).

The association also supported a resolution “supporting respect for human rights and encouraging inclusive governance in Ethiopia” that passed the House of Representatives in 2018. H.R. 128 notably called on the Donald Trump administration to consider sanctions to “hold accountable individuals responsible for gross human rights violations in Ethiopia.” It also called on the State Department and the US Agency for International Development to provide security assistance “in correlation to the Ethiopian Government’s own demonstrated commitment to democracy, rule of law, human rights, economic growth, and peace and security in the region.”

The association has also called on its members to press lawmakers to demand that Ethiopia release two US citizens from Seattle who were allegedly arrested for their membership in the independent Oromia Media Network. Ethiopian authorities reportedly shut down the news outlet on June 30.

The Oromo Legacy Leadership & Advocacy Association isn’t the only Oromo group registered to lobby in the United States.

The Oromo Liberation Front, a formerly banned rebel group, registered a US office in 1992. The group has not disclosed any lobbying activities in recent years however.