Ethiopia Table of Contents
Created in July 1973, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) set forth as its goals Oromo liberation from "Ethiopian colonialism" and the establishment of an independent Democratic Republic of Oromia in southern Ethiopia (see Other Movements and Fronts, ch. 4). The following year, the OLF began an offensive against the Ethiopian army in Harerge. After the collapse of the imperial regime in 1974, the OLF increased its military activities after it became evident that the Mengistu regime would not allow the Oromo to elect their own representatives to run peasant associations or to use their own language in schools and newspapers. However, the OLF had little success in mobilizing support in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Beginning in the mid-1980s, the OLF experienced a resurgence. According to spokesmen, the organization had 5,000 fighters and more than 10,000 militia personnel; most other sources, however, suggested that the OLF's personnel strength was much lower. In 1985 the OLF overran the goldmining town of Agubela and "freed" about 1,000 mine workers. The rebels also confiscated coffee valued at approximately US$2 million from the Ethiopian Coffee Marketing Board.
In early 1988, the Ethiopian army attacked OLF forces in Welega. Fierce fighting occurred around the garrison towns in Kelem and Gimbi awraja. Shortly after these battles, the OLF acknowledged that it had received support from the EPLF and the TPLF. Despite this activity, however, some Western observers believed that the OLF was still in the fledgling stage of its growth. Its chief weakness remained its inability to mobilize and coordinate the activities of its eastern wing in Harerge, Bale, Sidamo, and Arsi. As a result, another organization, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), competed with the OLF for the loyalty and support of the peoples living in the east (see The Somali, this ch.).
On June 10, 1989, the OLF reported that it had "disarmed" an unspecified number of Ethiopian soldiers and freed more than 2,000 Oromo prisoners by destroying five "concentration camps" in Gara Muleta awraja in Harerge. The following October, the OLF also engaged the Ethiopian army in Welega and Harerge. From November 10 to November 17, 1989, the OLF held its second congress in Golelola in Harerge. Besides adopting many antigovernment resolutions, the congress promised increased military activities against the Mengistu regime. A few weeks later, in December, OLF units, with EPLF support, launched an offensive that eventually resulted in the capture of the town of Asosa along the EthiopianSudanese border. The OLF also escalated activities in Harerge after many Ethiopian army units redeployed to other locations in Ethiopia.
After occupying Asosa in January 1990, the OLF launched no further offensives against Mengistu's army until the end of the year, when OLF units saw action at several locations in western parts of the country. In 1991 the OLF remained largely in the background as the EPRDF and the EPLF fought their final battles against government forces. The OLF's last military action before the demise of the Mengistu regime occurred at Dembi Dolo in southerwestern Welega, when some of its units reportedly killed more than 700 government soldiers.
Relations between the OLF and the EPRDF seem to have been ambivalent even at the best of times because the Oromo were deeply suspicious of the ultimate designs of the Tigrayan leadership. These relations hardly improved during 1990 when the OLF was confronted by a rival group, the Oromo People's Democratic Organization (OPDO), sponsored by the TPLF as a member of the EPRDF umbrella organization. OLF spokesmen also repeatedly denounced EPRDF claims that it was the EPRDF that had freed the Oromo from the regime's domination. Actions such as these further alienated the OLF and helped account for the rift that developed shortly after the occupation of Addis Ababa between the OLF and the EPRDF over the composition of a new government--a disagreement that did not augur well for the future.
Data as of 1991
Ethiopia Table of Contents