OMN: A Misguided Missile
As stated in part I, this part will focus on issues that terribly went wrong with OMN and its leaders. Though there are several issues and concerns that can be raised here, we only focus on the major ones that we think are worth mentioning and letting our people know. It is morally degrading to sit idle and watch when the media we built to serve our interest is rather working against us. We want our readers to understand that we can’t afford losing the only media institution we established as a people, especially in the diaspora. At the same time, we shouldn’t also allow this media to be used to compromise our unity.
OMN was founded three years ago by the involvement of Oromo from every background irrespective of the region they come from, the religion they believed in and the political organization they are affiliated with. Many hoped that this all-inclusive nature of OMN would pressure its management to focus more on the common interest of the Oromo and Oromia. Sadly, however, within three years of its inception, OMN turned out to be a media that works against our common interest. We regrettably observed, on several occasions, that OMN and its affiliates running propaganda against one Oromo political organization while embracing others. As a major Oromo media outlet, OMN should have treated all Oromo political organization equally. It was in public record that the director of OMN, Mr. Jawar Mohammed, endorsed this divisive propaganda against the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and called for its destruction. We are not here to defend the OLF but using it as an example to make our case. Jawar, as an individual, has every right to like or dislike any Oromo political organization. He cannot, however, use a media built by Oromo from every background, including members of the OLF, to promote his hatred of the organization. It is very important to note that this divisive nature of Jawar and his supporters is very dangerous, and one should realize its consequences on the future of our unity and our struggle.
Jawar also failed to lead OMN as a public media institution. His immature and irresponsible act of leadership led to the resignation of several prominent OMN Board of Trustees and staff. This happened only within three years of its establishment. Today, as Professor Mohammed Hassen described it on Oromo studies association (OSA) panel, “OMN is a ONE-MAN led institution”. Professor Asfaw Beyene also described “OMN as a media that lacks the true diversity of Oromia”. These are among the top Oromo intellectuals who have sacrificed a great deal of their own resources and precious time to make sure that OMN serves the purpose that it was established for. Here is Jawar’s, the CEO of OMN, response on Facebook to the comments of these two prominent Oromo intellectuals on OSA (please see a print screen of the comment below).
His response shows not only the immaturity of him as a leader of an institution but also the traits of a dictator in the making. Instead of listening to Oromo intellectuals of high integrity and learning from their wisdom, he chose to insult them. He also removed all the posts about the OSA conference in retaliation. This is not a quality of a great leader but that of a dictator in the making. It is this dictatorial tendency that led to the firing of several highly qualified OMN staff for no reason other than attempting to maintain journalistic standards.
Here are some additional issues that we think are dragging OMN towards failure:
1) OMN, unlike most modern institutions, does not have a conflict resolution mechanism. This could possibly be due to lack of experiences in leadership. Of course, we can’t rule out the possibility that conflict resolution system was intentionally left out or not being in place.
2) The OMN’s board of trustees is handpicked directly by the OMN director or indirectly by the so-called leaders of the OMN chapters and assigned to a role within the board. He (Jawar), along with his handpicked members of the board of trustees, controls all the resources within the institution. He has also established a parallel structure that accomplishes his personal or his group’s interest within the OMN management. This parallel structure interferes with the duties of the Board of Trustees to accomplish their responsibilities, and their attempt to fix issues within OMN that are especially related to the director. We have also seen that members of the board as well as OMN staff who dared to speak up to Jawar’s wrong doings being sidelined, bullied and eventually either forced to resign or pushed out by the director himself.
3) Lack of checks and balances in the institution. As a public institution, OMN should have a check and balance mechanism to control the power of the director, the board and the overall operation and management of the institution. Lack of this system gave the director the chance to fire anyone who disagrees with him, or hire whom he thinks fit into his interest and group. Over the last one and half to two years, OMN looked more of a family business than a media for the Oromo public. To many people, OMN and Jawar have become synonymous, implying that OMN either belongs to Jawar. As a consequence, these days the majority of Oromo don’t feel that the OMN belongs to them. This clearly has a huge impact on OMN’s future.
4) Making the OMN an echo chamber for Jawar’s Facebook. To many who have carefully observed the pattern of information disseminated by the OMN and Jawar’s Facebook over the last one and half year, it is straightforward to notice that more than 90% of the major News that broadcasted over OMN have first appeared on Jawar’s Facebook. This has led Jawar’s Facebook amass a significant number of followers at the expense of the OMN, the organization Jawar is leading. As we all know, he does this for two major reasons-a) personal financial gain from Facebook, which is a function of the number of followers, and b) financially handicapping the organization (OMN) he leads by making it dependent on himself. There is credible information that members of the OMN board who have raised this issue have either been ousted or forced to resign.
We should also recall that at its very inception, Jawar created a parallel committee called the Principal Coordinating Committee (PCC). This committee was created without the knowledge and consultation of the founding group. Interestingly, Jawar included his wife in PCC, as a means for snooping on the work of the PCCs. He used the PCC to dominate the founding members, that in fact led him to the today’s OMN director post. Jawar started messing up with the institution from the very beginning and has continued to do so to this date. Without taking the founding groups interest into account, Jawar has fired about 12-14 OMN staff members without reasonable explanation. These are some of the many reasons that put us in a situation where we can certainly say the OMN is heading in the wrong direction. The question one should perhaps ask is that can we afford losing OMN? Of course, we believe that we shouldn’t let it die, as this is the first media that Oromo in the diaspora have established hoping that it serves their people and nation.
As we have mentioned above and in part I, OMN is supposed to be free of the political affiliation of its supporters and ready to serve all groups of Oromo fairly. In many instances, however, we have also seen OMN journalists showing bias, which grossly deviate from a journalistic standard. Furthermore, we have witnessed that OMN giving a platform for individuals who denigrate the OLF while promoting their affiliated political groups. Jawar indirectly endorses such individuals who basically run a propaganda against OLF. Contrary to this, however, members and supporters of the OLF have participated, and have continued to participate in the OMN’s fundraising events at all levels. Thus, unless reversed, we strongly believe that this short-sighted leadership in OMN would certainly lead to a failure. It is also important to note that Jawar and his groups’ propaganda against any political organization, individuals, or groups eventually harms OMN more than these entities.
To thrive as an Oromo media institution, OMN should adhere to the journalistic principles and serve all groups of Oromo equally. Its broadcast should be based on facts, should podcast the public opinions, invite expert from various fields and let them discuss on the future of Oromo and Oromia from different perspectives. As of now, we are rather witnessing that on OMN one person acting as a lawyer, political expert, economic expert, expert of health and the list goes on. In the majority of the cases, we find that these political analysts are either former members of the OPDO or have currently connections with them. We leave the judgement to the Oromo public on this but these practices need to stop if the OMN is to continue as a vibrant Oromo media institution. OMN and its management should learn from international media networks rather than following the footsteps of the EBC/DhRTVO. OMN shouldn’t be a venue for those who seek personal fame over the burning and real interest of Oromos. It shouldn’t give a platform for disseminating divisive propaganda among the Oromos and Oromo political Organizations. OMN journalists and leaders should be accountable and focus more on the enemies of the Oromo, avoiding a conflict of interest, sidelining individuals or groups, and embracing others, advocating for one political organization and vilifying others, etc. If OMN and its leader continue acting in the same manner, we regrettably predict that the chance of OMN failure is very high.
In recent months, OMN has become the sources of many controversial issues. Instead of free media and press, OMN has been acting as a political organization. We have seen when Jawar uses OMN as a venue to promote his future political ambitions. The Oromo Leadership Convention (OLC) is one example of Jawar’s attempt to use OMN as a way to line up many innocent Oromo along his political ambition, despite its position as a non-profit, non-political public institution. The extent of the division the OLC inflicted among Oromo is paramount and still fresh in the minds of many Oromo. Thus, we call up on all Oromo in diaspora, who seriously want OMN to thrive, to stop and think twice. Jawar is accelerating OMN down the hill of failure and we should act now before it is too late.
On the other hand, due to lack of accountability and transparency in the institution, we are witnessing OMN losing its supporters all over the world. Another concerning issue in OMN’s future is the involvement of individuals who have connections to TPLF/OPDO. It is self-evident that the TPLF/OPDO will never allow success of any Oromo institution, let alone a media that was established to work against their interest. We believe that OMN is indirectly influenced by TPLF/OPDO’s. Overall, it’s up to us to make sure that OMN and its management remain accountable and accomplish accordingly their responsibilities. With all its odds, we still believe that it is not too late to save OMN.