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Opinion: Extraordinary Situation Demanding Extraordinary Solutions

By Olaana Abboma* [posted May 23, 2006]

Dawud Ibsaa’s recent interview on Les Nouvelles d'Addis and Hassen Hussien’s presentation to the EU Parliament prompted me to write this peace. There is no denying that since the May 2005 elections Ethiopia is entering a new political landscape. Finding itself at a cross-road every few years and taking the wrong turn is not a new phenomenon for Ethiopia. In the last thirty years we had traversed from one crisis to another in search of a political arrangement that could accommodate the diverse national, ethnic and political constituent parts, and every time we had failed. This trajectory has taken us from aristocratic government via military junta and communist state and landed us in a curious state dominated by Tigrai communist clique and intriguingly supported by western powers. In this long political journey the Oromos state of affairs of had somewhat incrementally improved, but there is no denying that the main Oromo question, the question of power remains unresolved.

Both gentlemen’s statement and the news on Ethiopian Review over the weekend clearly indicate that there is something cooking; a recipe is in the making to create a broad coalition of forces. This is a new view for the OLF, and the OLF leadership should be congratulated for thinking out of the box and for taking such a bold and creative action that will promote the Oromo question to a higher level. The Oromo people are the most numerous people in Ethiopia, and the OLF is one of the oldest political organizations in Ethiopia. Both factors demand that the OLF take wise and bold actions that are commensurate with the people it claims to represent. The OLF cannot any longer afford to function in isolations from other Ethiopian people and other organizations, its stature and critical time we live in does not allow it.

What Necessitated This Change and Why Now?

In the past the OLF’s struggle concentrated on implementing the right of self-determination of the Oromo people after defeating and dismantling the Ethiopian state. The current thought, as could be discerned from Obbo Dawud’s interview, if possible is to change the identity of the Ethiopian state through democratic ways. This is a revolutionary idea whose time has come; and I say it should be firmly supported by all those who have Oromo interest at heart. Of course questions will be raised, some serious, some childish, some incisive and some shallow. And along series of question that may be raised, one of the first one will be, “what necessitated this change and why now?”

The first answer is, “the 2005 May election”. As “9/11 changed everything in America,” (President Bush) the May 2005 election changed everything in Ethiopia. Its effect is fundamental; hopefully students of history, political science and other will carefully study its ramifications. Here, I will show only few. First, it showed the possibility of changing the EPRDF government through election. It showed the extent of how much the EPRDF is rejected. The rejection is such that any contested election that is not near perfect could lead to the ousting of the incumbent.

Second, it showed that even though the people have rejected the EPRDF rule and are ready to oust it if they could get any chance to vote, they are not ready sacrifice their lives to achieve this. Mind you, I am not talking about few brave individuals who have been doing this and are still doing this; I am talking about the people as a large group.

Third, the election has shown not only the weakness of the government, but also exposed the weakness of the liberation fronts and opposition organizations. Even if they could win elections, when the EPRDF rejected the result of the election, there was nothing much the opposition parties with or without other liberation fronts were able to do. They were not able to mobilize the populace in order to impose the will of the people. It showed the government inability to rule as before, as well as the others inability to take power yet.

Fourth, the May election exposed the true nature of the EPRDF to the international community. Given that this government depended much on the life support of the international community, this is a huge point. No government in Africa had such a good will from the donor countries as much as the EPRDF government. From the very time it came to power the government relied on the international donor countries not only for developmental aid, but also received huge amount of fund for budgetary support. If we look at the political support, we even see a much cozy relation between the west and EPRDF. Meles Zenwai was one of the first to realize the importance of the war on terrorism and one of the first to jump on the bandwagon of antiterrorism forces. The support he received, both economic and political, since then is a matter of public knowledge. He was one of the few African leaders who received the distinction to be labeled one of the new breed of African leaders. He was also one of the few handpicked leader to be on the Tony Blair’s Commission for Africa. The May election changed all this, and he had become an embarrassment to the powers and individuals in the international community that supported him. But, even though the international community has cooled its relation and kept its distance, it has not come out and denounce Meles Zenawi’s actions and did not cut diplomatic relation or taken other drastic majors.

More on the Two Tensions

The two tensions described above, i.e., (1) the tension between the peoples’ rejection of the EPRDF, but inability to oust it, and (2) the international community’s realization of the antidemocratic nature of EPRDF, but continuation of its support, could be explained by the fear of the unknown. The fear of what may follow EPRDF is sustaining the EPRDF in power. Although EPRDF speaks in the name of national equality, its policy is not different from the classical divide and rule policy of any oppressive government. Few governments in history have politicized “ethnicity” as much as the EPRDF. It has effectively disseminated a seed of discord between different nations and nationalities in Ethiopia and between different political organizations for targeted benefit. In particular, it has efficiently divided the Oromo and Amhara, the two nations it believes could challenge its rule. It is always difficult for divided people to rise against the common oppressive regime, and this is especially true, where the divided segments fear one another more than the incumbent oppressive rule. To some extent the EPRDF had diligently and subtly worked on this and had also achieved some success. In order to oust the EPRDF, in any way, this should be changed.

The importance of forming an alliance for the OLF with other forces in Ethiopia will mean a huge step in the resolution of those two tensions I mentioned above. The formation of this alliance will diffuse the artificial contradictions and tension that the EPRDF had created between different peoples and organizations. This will in turn embolden the people to rise in unison against a tyrannical regime that is controlling power and hindering free and fair election. Rather than fear each other more that the force controlling the state machinery, peoples could now concentrate on the real deal rather than on shadow boxing or the ghost of the past. The cooperation of the OLF and other organization will help to promote the peoples rejection of the EPRDF rule to more active action of ousting it through any necessary means if the government does not abide by the will of the people. The intentional rift that the EPRDF created and which is sustaining it on power could only be bridged by forming an alliance of all major organizations.

The international community clearly had understood the antidemocratic nature of EPRDF, but they keep on supporting it not because they have special love for it, but simply because they believe that only chaos, anarchy or civil war will follow the fall of EPRDF. When presented with choice between democracy and stability they always opt for stability. The formation of an alliance will also help allay the fear they have regarding what may follow the aftermath of EPRDF. Such a fear that the EPRDF had purposely created could be only be defeated by forming such an alliance. With the formation of this alliance the international community could no longer justify its support for the EPRDF on the premises of stability.

On the Oromo Cause

The changing political environment in Ethiopia and internationally favors the formation of alliance for the OLF. Friends and foes alike are recognizing the importance of the resolution of the Oromo issue. There is a tacit and explicit recognition of the Oromo question more than any other time by other organizations. It could be safely concluded that no force in the county can any longer avoid the Oromo issue or try to hide it under the rug. There is a universal recognition, albeit reluctant, that the Ethiopian political problems could not be solved without head-on tackling the Oromo question. This is the result of the resilience of the OLF and the endurance of our people’s struggle. The international community is almost looking at the OLF as one of the major key players to the persistent problems of the country. They are waiting for a reply from the OLF. The ball is already in OLF’s court, and the OLF should deliver by devising mode of struggle that is palatable to the international community. This is an opportune moment that rarely happens in history, and the OLF should seize the moment and act quickly or else we may lose it, as has happened many times before.

There is a legitimate apprehension among many Oromos regarding some of the organizations that may join this alliance. The basic question is whether these organizations would recognize Oromia. As far as I know there is no party that had officially come out and stated that it would dismantle the existing federal structure. At worst, we find some saying that this issue should be presented to the decision of the people. I have no problem with this. It should be left to the Oromo people whether they want to have their own self-administration or whether they want Oromia to be divided into the old Teklai Gizat or some form of structure that would not include the whole of Oromia. I have no doubt that the Oromo people will choose to have Oromia. And if we are confident about our people’s choice then we should not be worried if this issue is presented to our people. It is only with powers that would not agree to bring this issue to the decision of the people that the OLF should not form any alliance. For me at this stage of our existence, the question regarding the Oromo issue is not whether to form a unitary state or federation in Ethiopia, but whether to form an independent Oromia state separate from Ethiopia or forming Oromia state within Ethiopia (real federation). The choice that the Oromo people would make would highly depend on how other organization and parties will handle our issue.


Formation of an alliance will nurture the spirit of cooperation, and will create a foundation on which to build a lasting and durable solution to the many debilitating political, social, and economic problems. The formation of an alliance will help promote democratic values and will help to overcome attitudinal and structural obstacles for democracy. We have political organizations to lead our struggles and to handle some secondary contradictions from developing into full fledged conflicts, to negotiate and chart new ways and tactics in accordance with changing times and situations. I believe the OLF’s leadership is discharging its responsibility to our people when it is taking such a bold move. Like any new idea, it sure will encounter resistance from some corners. OLF should not be daunted by such resistance, but should build on this creative initiative and continue the struggle. Dogmatic attitudes never achieve victory, particularly when situations are fluid. This is a challenging time, and we should be apt to the challenge. We owe it to our people who have suffered for long.

* Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Olaana Abboma can be reached at