Oromo people protest
Oromo people protesting against planned expansion of capital Addis Ababa in Oromia, Ethiopia's largest state Etana Habte

Protesters and activists in Oromia, Ethiopia's largest state, have denied they have self-rule in the region, contrary to a governement' statement given to IBTimes UK. Abiy Berhane, minister counsellor at the Ethiopian Embassy in London said earlier in March people already rule themselves in Oromia, they use Oromo as the official language, they have their own budget and a regional parliament that rules on all political, economic and social aspects.

Who are the Oromo people?

The Oromo people are Ethiopia's largest ethnic group and their population amounts to more than 25 million (around 35% of Ethiopia's total population).

Oromo people speak Afaan Oromoo, as well as Amharic, Tigrinya, Gurange and Omotic languages. They are mainly Christian and Muslim, while only 3% still follow the traditional religion based on the worshipping of the god, Waaq.

In 1973, Ethiopian Oromo created the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), which stemmed from the discontent over a perceived marginalisation by the government and to fight the hegemony of the Amhara people, another large ethnic group in Ethiopia.

OLF – still active today – also calls for the self-determination of the Oromo people. It has been deemed as a terror organisation that carried out violent acts against people in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya. The group has always denied such allegations, claiming its mission is to terminate "a century of oppression" against the Oromos.

Read more about Oromo people

However, some Oromo people denied the claims made by the official. Activist, author and PhD candidate at London's Soas University, Etana Habte, told IBTimes UK there is no self-rule in Oromia, where people do not trust the region's ruling party coalition, Oromo Peoples' Democratic Organization (Opdo).

"Opdo is an organisation of ex-war captives established by the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) in Tigray in 1990, when the latter failed to co-opt the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF)," he alleged.

"Oromia's regional council, Caffee Oromiyaa, has never had any history of independent decisions, it has been approving what is put on the table by TPLF. If Oromia has no self-rule, no regional council of itself, talking about budget and independent decisions is only a mere waste of time."

Opdo has not responded to a request for comments on the allegations.

Climate of fear

Oromia has been rocked by the deadly protests that erupted in November 2015 against a government draft plan − later scrapped − that aimed to expand the boundaries of the capital Addis Ababa.

Activists claimed some 400 people, at least 200 according to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), have been allegedly killed by security forces. The government denied the allegations of violence and claimed legitimate protests have been infiltrated by people who aim to destabilise the country.

Although the government scrapped the plan, demonstrations are continuing, with people calling for self-rule, the liberation of political prisoners, the end of what they perceive as "military regime" in the region and the cessation of an alleged crackdown by security forces on "peaceful and unarmed" demonstrators, mainly students and farmers.

"The regime is using new strategies to punish Oromia. Amenities have been cut in most urban centres, the regime has brought down all independent TVs and radio broadcasts from overseas, closed selected websites and social media websites. It is doing this in an attempt to breakdown the nerve centre of the protests," Habte alleged.

"There is a serious climate of fear in the public and there is no guarantee that any person would come back home safely once they leave. This situation has convinced people that the state targets you simply because you are Oromo. Amnesty International's report published in October 2014 titled, Because I am Oromo: Sweeping Repression In The Oromia Region Of Ethiopia, is an absolute representation of unfolding realities."

Habte also denied protesters are seeking secession, although it is a right guaranteed by the constitution. He denied that the government started public consultations, contrary to what Berhane told IBTimes UK.

"People are heard time and again saying: 'We don't want to be ruled by a government who has killed our loved and respected ones'. It seems too late, but if the regime wants to solve the current crisis, it has to address it at a national level and with national representation."