Shelter from the storm

Published 7:08 pm Tuesday, November 16, 2021

While far from conflict,Ethiopian immigrants have their eyes aimed back at their homeland


Ojoye Akane may be raising his family of five children in Austin, but his stressors and fears lie on a land far away, yet still close to his heart.

Akane has his mind on his homeland of Ethiopia, where he lived before immigrating to the United States. The country is in the midst of another conflict — this one involving  Tigray People’s Liberation Front  conflicting with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government, and Akane fears that it could end badly in a nation that has a history of conflict.

“If you change something by the barrel of a gun, it will eventually be changed by the barrel of a gun,” Akane said. “Why this war? Why are we seeing a fight now? I want people to understand that this was nothing but a result of change that (Ahmed) was trying to bring. These people fighting were not happy with it and the sad thing is, (the U.S.) is taking their narrative and using it to spread the suffering of innocent people. My hope is that we support the Ethiopian government and we call our senators.”

Akane is no stranger to the harsh effects of conflict. He fled to Kenya from Ethiopia in his early teens and he lost at least two family members to the violence in the country. His older brother was killed in front of his younger brother, who died just a couple of years later due to traumatic ulcers in the mid 90s. In 2002, his nephew was shot by soldiers while eating lunch with no follow up investigation. His wife,  Achan Ogalla, also lost a cousin to violence in the country.

Achan Ogalla holds a photo of her father Dingur Ogalla, who was killed in a war in Ethiopia in the 1970s. Rocky Hulne/

Ojoye still has family in Ethiopia and he fears for their safety as another uprising begins.

“We have a lot of relatives who are refugees in Kenya and we have to support them every day, every month and every year. Because we are in a rich country, it is expected of us to educate our relatives and siblings. We are an extended community. If this thing continues, more people will have similar burdens in a year or two from now,” Ojoye said. “Ethiopians are not going to back down. They love their prime minister because he did some things that haven’t been done in 27 years.”

While Ojoye admits that change has been slow in Ethiopia, he thinks the country is headed in the right direction. He even made visits to Ethiopia in 2019 and 2021. Ojoye likes how Ahmed’s government has cut down on corruption, put more women in government and released the political prisoners, who were labeled terrorists for speaking their minds.

“If that is not democracy, I don’t know what democracy looks like,” Ojoye said. “We had hope because at least it was a change. The hand was a little less heavy on the people. In the previous regime, the hand was too heavy on the people. If you spoke out, you ended up in prison and a lot of people died in prison. The government was too strong and it was very easy for them to crack down on anybody that speaks the truth.”

Ojoye has lived in Austin since 2011, after he moved to Mankato to attend Minnesota State University in 2004. He has enjoyed raising his family in Austin, where his children are safe and they are able to have opportunities for school and employment.

But Ojoye’s mind is still on his homeland and he wants it to be clear that he is against the TPLF. He is warning that things could escalate in a bad way very quickly, if the government is taken down.

“The outcome will be worse than we have ever seen. I am hearing from back home that they are all saying ‘not in my back yard.’ That means it is going to be a bloody war. People are going to fight. Do we want that? I don’t think so,” Akane said. “If the country falls apart, the worst destruction will take place in Gambella, which is where we came from. The former government did a very good job of trying to kill young people. If someone calls you a thief, they shoot. Even if you were trying to pay. They were trying to sabotage any uprising. How nice it is to be able to speak (in the U.S.). But the problem is, we are not able to speak as we should. I think all of us need to be speaking up so that the world can know.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken was scheduled to depart for a five-day swing to Africa on Monday in an attempt to keep Ethiopia from falling into civil war.

According to the Global Conflict Tracker, the conflict in Ethiopia has displaced two million people and put more than 100,000 children at risk of death from malnutrition.