By Mekuria Bulcha, PhD*
Many concepts, theories, and stories have been used to explain the relationship between the Oromo people and the Ethiopian state. However, none of them sheds any light on the nature of the relationship they purport to explain because they distort the reality on which the relationship was established and maintained – conquest and colonialism. They propagate the impossibility of Oromo independence and the unreality of Oromo nationhood. The stories are often told by the Abyssinian ruling elites, and the concepts and theories are coined by internal and external scholars.
The purpose of this article is to discuss some of the misconceptions used against the Oromo national liberation and the establishment of an independent Oromo state. Overall, the issues I will revisit and critically evaluate are not new to many readers. However, recent developments make the recasting and re-articulation of the issues necessary. The article builds on the arguments I raised in an article published on this website on February 1, 2012. The points I will emphasize here will include the following: (1) unless we know our own history, we cannot make our own preferences, and (2) unless we make our choices based on our experience as a nation, we cannot attain political freedom. I will also argue that until the Oromo are free and live under an umbrella of their own independent state, they cannot achieve a meaningful cultural and economic development. As stated by the social philosopher Martha Nussbaum, there are two ways in which people make their preferences. They often adjust their preferences to what they think they can achieve, but some of them “adopt what others tell them is suitable for them. Women and other deprived people frequently exhibit such ‘adoptive preferences,’ formed under unjust background conditions. These preferences will typically validate the status quo.” In this article, I will argue that critical thinking and freedom of thought are sources for sound decisions and clear vision in the course of our struggle for freedom. I will also underscore the urgency for a strong Oromo organization while strongly stressing the criticality of self-reliance for the survival the Oromo nation.
Free minds bring about freedom
The Oromo struggle for independence is hampered because many of us tend to listen to those who tell us what is good for us and is achievable or unachievable by our people. We listen, not only to stories invented by the Abyssinian ruling elites and spread by sympathetic external Ethiopianist scholars, but often adopt them without a critical examination of the evidence on which they are based as well as the intentions and values which they reflect. I have nothing against learning from others, including the Abyssinians. I am against the wholesale adoption of concepts, theories and stories from them and others. I will argue that the adoption of stories concocted by Abyssinian rulers and intellectuals as the history of the Oromo people without critical appraisals is harmful to Oromo national interests.
I will start the discourse with the Oromo relationship to the Ethiopian state, its effects on some Oromos, and by extension its consequences for Oromo struggle for national liberation. The discourse pertains to Ethiopian historiography, which argues that the Abyssinian conquest of Oromia was an act of unification of Ethiopia and that they [Oromo] have fared better within the framework of the Ethiopian state compared to the chaotic state prior to conquest. However, most of us know the reality: the relationship between the Ethiopian state and the Oromo people has been colonial, and that the policies and actions of the Ethiopian regimes have been anti-Oromo: Menelik committed genocide against the Oromo people through his wars of conquest; and he confiscated Oromo property turning the Oromo majority into serfs (gabbars). Although Haile Selassie suppressed the slave trade, which had flourished and was a major source of revenue for the Abyssinian rulers, serfdom, which was considered to be as bad as slavery, continued during his rule as under his predecessor. His policy of Amharization by suppressing the Oromo culture and language, and imposition the Amhara culture and language on the Oromo people was deemed by many scholars as an attempted act of ethnocide (the destruction of the identity of an ethnic group or nationality through the suppression of its language and culture). Mengistu Haile Mariam’s regime began by improving some of the inequities that existed under the preceding regimes to garner acceptance before it turned into a regime of terror. It abolished the gabbar system and was commended for that. But the reform failed to benefit the peasants as his regime extracted vast resources, both human and material, from them to build up a dictatorial military rule, and maintain a highly centralized state structure. Moreover, the heaviest burden of his 17-year long wars against the different national liberation forces fell on the shoulders of Oromo peasants in terms of forcible conscription to the regime’s militia forces, which consisted about half a million men in the late 1980s, in the form of forced contribution of resources to its war efforts, and in terms of those who were the main war casualties and thousands of disabled ex-conscripts, who returned home without any state support only to be burden of their poor families.
Notwithstanding the fact of conquest and the well-known oppressive treatment of the Oromo by consecutive Ethiopian rulers described above, those who oppose Oromo claims for national identity give a long list of explanations, such as “Oromo participation in the creation of the Ethiopian Empire,” “intermarriage,” the “unreality of Oromo nationhood,” “globalization,” and the “non-Oromos who reside in the Oromo territory,” to undermine Oromo’s aspirations for independence. We are told and expected to think as “Ethiopians” and continue to live as “Ethiopians,” not as Oromos. In other words, we are told to wear an imposed identity.
Ironically, these false assumptions about Oromo identity and the proposition about what is “suitable” for, or “achievable and unachievable” by the Oromo are coming, not always directly from external sources, but also from Oromo “middlemen,” who subscribe to external sources to define and determine Oromo affairs. These Oromo “middlemen” tend not to take into account Oromo history and collective memory to reflect on what is good for their people; they depend on external opinions as the source of information and adopt what it says is real, possible or desirable. The problem does not stop at the personal knowledge level. As I have indicated above, the middlemen will also “guide” the Oromo people based on distorted information they receive/d from external sources. In this article, I will discuss only some of the arguments, which are adopted by Oromo and have been obstructing the Oromo struggle for national liberation by creating doubts in the minds of Oromos about the legitimacy of its claims and the achievability of its goals. I will point out also how the arguments fade away as the Oromo struggle for independence gains ground and become louder when it faces serious drawbacks.
I will start with the assumed “unreality” of Oromo nationality. I remember an incident in the early 1980s in one of the annual congresses which the Oromo Students Union in Europe (UOSE) used to organize. Some of the topics which the particular congress discussed were the “national question” and Lenin’s theory on “the question of the state.” Papers which were prepared on the topics and presented by the study circles of the different branches of UOSE were commented by the audience. Having listened to one of the commentators, who used frequently phrases, such as “Marx akka jedheeti,” “Lenin akka jedheeti,” “Maon akka nu barsiisetti,” etc., which means “As Marx said,” “as Lenin said,” “as Mao has taught us,” etc., a reflective participant in the audience asked the commentator with unconcealed sarcasm: “Yee obboleessaa, Oromoo-noo maal jedhee?” “My brother, what do the Oromo say about that? What did our forefathers teach us?” The commentator did not have any answer which reflected the Oromo view on the subject, except what the Marxist literature said in general about the superiority of class struggle over the struggle waged in the name of “narrow” nationalism. In fact, many of us did not have answers to these reflective questions at that stage. We learnt a lot in the course of the struggle later on.
In general, in the 1970s and 1980s, the struggle of peoples, such as the Oromo, Sidama, and Afar, for an independent state was seen as backward-looking, and their aspiration for independence was labeled “narrow nationalism.” The source of these nationalisms was described as “false consciousness” or a belief without tangible material basis, and the argument was that they would disappear as soon as the working class took power. I presented papers at conferences on the Horn of Africa in many countries in Europe in the 1980s and 1990s, and remember the many “grimacing” and ashamed Oromo faces I saw in the audience in reaction to my use of the word “Oromia.” I could almost read the question “kanammoo eessaa fide?” — “from where did he get that name?” on those faces. Some of them laughed louder than the Amharas sitting beside them to show their rejection of the term. To these Oromos, both the name Oromia and the territory it designates “did not exist.” To use Nussbaum’s terminology, these were victims of “adoptive preferences.” Those who used Marxism to ridicule or demonize Oromo nationalism were those who did not make their own interpretation of the theory, but had adopted interpretations made by the “Greater Ethiopia Marxists” in the late 1960s and 1970s. The “Greater Ethiopia” discourse in general – conducted by both Marxists and non-Marxists – denies the colonial characteristics of the Ethiopian state. It reduces the history of the Ethiopian to the history of Abyssinian rulers rendering, not only the history of the Oromo and all the conquered peoples invisible, but also the territories they inhabited unrecognizable. I do not mean everything is wrong with Marxism. But, to be useful as a theory it should be read, critically assessed, and reflected upon and made to serve the cause of freedom. By rejecting the genuine Oromo self-definition, those Oromo, who adopted “Greater Ethiopia Marxism,” were indirectly contributing in the preservation of the Ethiopian Empire and the marginalization of the Oromo national and territorial identity.
The “Greater Ethiopia Marxists” emphasized the supremacy of class struggle subordinating the ‘national question,’ which was often seen as a regional problem or even a ‘tribal’ trivia. That being the case, and since the name Oromia or Oromoland was not accepted by the “Greater Ethiopia Marxist” elitse, Oromos who used the name to designate their homeland were ridiculed even by some “progressive” or “internationalist” Oromo men and women. Since it was believed that the Oromo lived scattered in different provinces interspersed with different peoples, even the possibility of a contiguous Oromo territory was questioned.
It is interesting, however, to note that, after the name Oromia had been accepted widely by mass media in 1991, some of Oromo, who were reluctant to pronounce the word “Oromia” in the 1970s and 1980s, were on the stage at every Oromo political meeting singing Oromiyaa, biyya abbaa keenyaa (“Oromia, Our Fatherland”), championing the Oromo struggle for independence. Even though many of them left the scene after the OLF had withdrawn from the Transitional Government in June 1992, this showed the success of the Oromo national struggle over colonialism.
There are at least two lessons we can learn from these incidents. The first is that the “adoptive preference,” which these Oromos were making before 1991, was opportunistic. Behind the pro-Ethiopia masks they were wearing, most of them were individuals who, apparently, had wished they were free from Abyssinian domination every time they felt slighted because of their ethnic background. The “grimacing faces” and laughter reflected lack of historical knowledge and the doubt infused in their minds by Abyssinian colonialism. They lacked self-confidence to take off their pro-Ethiopia masks and join those who struggled for their rights against all odds. They also lacked confidence in the Oromo nation’s ability to cast of the yoke of Abyssinian colonial domination. Overwhelmed by the fairy tale of the “three-thousand-old Abyssinian-cum-Ethiopian nation, state and culture” on which the “Greater Ethiopia” thesis was based, they accepted the Abyssinian elites’ argument that negated the Oromo national and territorial identity. To paraphrase Frantz Fanon’s famous conceptualization of colonialist ideology and its effects on the colonized and apply to our case, every effort was made by the Abyssinian ruling elites to make their Oromo subjects admit the inferiority of their culture and to recognize the unreality of their nationhood. Particularly, some of the school-educated Oromo elites succumbed to that.
The second point pertains to the need for a strong organization that can enhance Oromo self-confidence. Although the appearance of the OLF on the political stage in 1991 had given that self-confidence to the Oromo people, it left the scene too soon before the self-pride of those who were affected by colonialist anti-Oromo propaganda was sufficiently strengthened. That the OLF became weaker militarily during the last ten years seems to have led to a relapse of self-doubt among some of our people. I will hasten to point out here that this is particularly the case in the diaspora. Notwithstanding the odds which the Oromo struggle is facing, there is a growing political consciousness among the qubee generation youth as reflected in the militancy of Qeerroo Oromoo, the activities of university students, and of the Oromo masses throughout the country.
To go back to the main point, it is absolutely wrong to subscribe to the idea that the situation of our people was better under any of the Abyssinian regimes that have ruled Ethiopia hitherto, or will be better under future ones. The situation will become better only when our nation is free from domination by an incorrigible political culture. We know that the enemies are not just the Amhara elites, who dominated the Ethiopian government in the past, or the Tigrayan elites, who are dominant toady. The enemy is the system, the political culture, and the mind-set, which all of them had inherited from the past, and which will remain to be there when Meles Zenawi and his regime are gone. We cannot change all of that for them even if we want, but we can and must free ourselves from it.
The mistake that many Oromo intellectuals and politicians tend to make repeatedly concerns the belief that the Oromo situation “will be better” if we join this or that Ethiopian political group, adopted this, or that ideology, and fight against the present regime. As I have indicated above, in the past, regime change did not change the Oromo situation for the better: the rulers of the Ethiopian state have remained basically hostile against anything that stood for Oromo identity; they are prejudiced against Oromo history and culture. In the absence of change in the political culture of the Abyssinian elites, the formation of a democratic Ethiopian state through the alliance between Oromo and Abyssinian political organizations and elites cannot be anticipated. Oromo-Tigrayan elite alliance has failed miserably. It may not be different with the Amhara elites if they manage to recapture political power in Finfinnee tomorrow in co-operation with the Oromo. The possibility of building a democratic system given the tenacity of political culture mentioned above is doubtful.
Questioning the wisdom of the Alliance for Freedom and Democracy (AFD), which was forged by Shanee Gumii-OLF with the Amhara elites in 2006, the Norwegian sociologist and longtime expert on Ethiopian affairs, Sigfried Pausewang stated in a paper he presented at the Oromo Studies Annual Conference of 2007 that the Amhara elites have “adopted pan-Ethiopian nationalism built on a vision of a strong central state with Amharic as an integrating language and urban culture.” He noted that they are absolutely convinced about the sanctity of Ethiopia’s territorial integrity and the inviolability of the Ethiopian national identity, and will not see the reason why their politics and image of Ethiopia is not accepted by other groups. He argued that their political programs reflect the belief that the solution to Ethiopia’s problems can only be found in the political heritage, which values the domination of the center and has been passed down from Abyssinian rulers. I agree with his views. To understand what that means, it suffices to listen to Ginbot-7’s Secretary General, Mr. Andargachew Tsige (ESAT, October 27, 2011), who says “Izaa akabaabi Oromiyaa yemibaal netsaa yehone gizat temesirito be-ekonomi iyebeletsegee qwanqwawun iyetexeqeme, bahilun iyaasadege yemihed netsa ager memesiret be-awunu ye-Etiyopiya techebaach huneta aychaalim.” Translated freely, this means “It is ‘impossible’ to establish in that region (Ethiopia) a free country called Oromia which will be prosperous economically, use its language and develop its culture.” In addition, he stresses that, as far Ginbot-7 is concerned, any discussion with the OLF on federation or referendum is out of the question. Although the attitude of the Amhara elites is well-known, given the stage which Oromo nationalism has reached now and the question mark under which we find Ethiopian identity, the type of arrogance expressed by Mr. Andargachew was not expected by many people. But if one reads and listens to what is being said in Amhara media, his views are not just that of Ginbot-7; it reflects the views of the Amhara elites at large.
However, what is surprising most is not Mr. Andargachew’s condescending attitude or dismissal of Oromo autonomy in any shape, but that his party’s politics is considered “too liberal” and “dangerous to the unity and territorial integrity of Ethiopia” by other Amhara political organizations, such as Andnet (“Unity”). Here, a debate between Lt. Ayalsew Desse of Andnet Party and Mr. Andargachew Tsige (ESAT, August 9, 2011) is a case in point. Both Lt. Ayalsew and Mr. Andargachew are dedicated Amhara-cum-Ethiopian nationalists. They have similar aims — both will destroy the OLF which they see, not only as the custodian of Oromo nationalism, but also an enemy of Ethiopia. But, they differ in their approaches to the Oromo “problem.” Lt. Ayalsew will not conceal his arrogance when talking about the OLF, whom he calls “anti-Ethiopia elements” to be ignored and rendered nonexistent. He maintains that they will disappear by themselves and talking with them or about them is giving free advertisement to “tribal” organizations that exist only in name. Criticizing Ginbot-7, he argues that, to talk to the OLF leaders is tantamount to encouraging them to continue with their crimes against Ethiopia. But, according to Mr. Andargachew, the leaders and members of the OLF are misguided Ethiopians, who should be persuaded to drop their idea of independence. He believes that the Oromo nationalists should be talked to and rehabilitated, and not ignored. He assures his audience that Ginbot-7’s listening to the Oromo nationalists does not mean accepting their claims for national autonomy; it is to convince them to “abandon narrow nationalism” and “repent” their sins. As we have been hearing and reading from the media since January 1 this year, Ginbot-7’s policy seems to have succeeded with General Kamal Galchu and some of the Jijjiirama members, who have “dropped” the question of independence and even denied committing the “sin” of opting for Oromo independence in the first place.
However, what we should note here is that there is nothing new about either Ginbot-7’s or Andnet’s policy on the Oromo: the former is paralleled by the “Greater Ethiopia Marxists” debate of the 1960s and 1970s on the question, which applied the notion of “narrow nationalism” to vilify the struggle waged by the Oromo and other peoples subjugated by Abyssinian rulers for national liberation. The latter, which is a mixture of the policies of the Haile Selassie and Dergue regimes, criminalizes Oromo claim for recognition and struggle for independence. Haile Selassie even showed clemency; he bribed Oromo leaders who opposed his rule and bought them to change their position.
Judged by the attitude of its representative, Andnet seems to be less tolerant to its adversaries than the imperial regime, and more like the Dergue and the present regime. The Dergue punished “narrow nationalism,” not only with long terms of imprisonment and torture, but also death sentence. The current regime has made Oromo nationalism a collective crime: its punishment is directed, not only against individual Oromo nationalists, but as we have seen with its concentration camps and in other cases, it is also against the Oromo people collectively. The Amhara elites, who are now in opposition, seem to have the intention to go beyond what the present regime is doing in order to destroy Oromo nationalism, of course, if they ever get the chance and come to power in Finfinnee.
Oromo roles in the making of the Ethiopian state: then and now
There are two stories that are advanced by Oromos, who are pro-Ethiopia, regarding the relationship of the Oromo people to the Ethiopian state. The first story posits that the Oromo have built the Ethiopian Empire together with the Abyssinians, and therefore, they are stakeholders in parity with the Amhara elites, who boast “abbatoochaachin yaaqoyyulin hager” (“the land we inherited from our forefathers”); they will preserve the Ethiopian Empire built by Menelik. The second view maintains that the Oromo constitute the majority of the Ethiopian population and that they have, not only the capacity to take over power, but also the responsibility to democratize the Ethiopian state. The first story is built on historical distortion while second one is a result of political naivety or lack of critical thinking. Both stories work against internal and external support for the struggle for national liberation. The first argues against the colonial nature of the Ethiopian empire and state, and will present the Oromo struggle as an act of secession and not a liberation; the second one gives the false hope that democracy is just in the corner and that the Oromo people will, not only become free citizens, but also stakeholders with the Abyssinians and other peoples in the democratic state that Ethiopia will become in the near future.
Fallacies with the participation argument
One of the arguments that is persistently used by both the Abyssinian elites and Oromos, who are pro-Ethiopia, is the so-called Ormo collaboration in the Abyssinian conquest and colonization of the south. The argument, which posits that the conquest is mutually beneficial to both peoples, is a post-colonial Ethiopianist propaganda and pertains to the role of individuals, such as Ras Gobanaa, Fitawrari Habte Giyorgis Dinagdee and Dajjach Balcha Safo, who committed crimes against the Oromo people on behalf of the Abyssinian conquerors, and the acts of three Oromo Mootis: Moroda Bakare of Leeqaa Naqamtee and Abba Jifar II of Jimma and Jootee Tulluu of Leeqaa Qellem, who submitted to Menelik peacefully. The argument presents the three men and others, who participated in the Abyssinian conquest of the south, and the three Oromo Mootiis, who submitted to Menelik because of lack of firearms, as representatives of the Oromo people at large. The confusion which the collaboration story is creating about the Oromo-Ethiopia relation must be clarified.
To start with, the first three men were not independent actors: Habte Giyorgis and Balcha were ex-slaves whose loyalty was to their master and not to the Oromo nation. They had the bad luck of falling into the hands of Amhara raiding parties in their youth, and brought up in Menelik’s royal household as servants decades before the conquest of Oromia. Gobanaa was not a captive, but was not a free man. The historical record says that, born in 1819 from Oromo parents, he was in the service of the rulers of Manz since his youth. The three men were competent military commanders who used their skills in fighting the Oromo people: not in defense of Oromo interests; they excelled as commanders of Abyssinian forces. They were rewarded with high posts for their service in the Abyssinian army that committed atrocities on the Oromo as the servants of the Amhara emperor Menelik and his successors.
To be fair, the three Oromo Mootis did not enter their “relationship” with Menelik voluntarily. Their acts were not even accepted by most of the Oromos they ruled both in Leeqa Naqamte and Leeqaa Qellem who fought while and after Moroda Bakare and Joote Tuluu submitted to Menelik. Let alone being partners and beneficiaries of the Ethiopian Empire, the modicum of autonomy which the three Mootis negotiated with Menelik did not last long. Joote was imprisoned, and died in prison in 1920. An Amhara governor was appointed in his place. Jimma’s autonomy was withdrawn in 1932, and Haile Selassie’s son-in-law became its governor. The autonomy of Leeqaa Naqamtee was successively undermined and revoked in 1941.
Although the story that suggests that the Ethiopian Empire, in the creation of which the six men and other Oromos were involved had served or is serving the interest of the Oromo people, is a historical distortion, there are some Oromo politicians and scholars, who will accept that role played by these men as binding links between the Oromo people and the Ethiopian Empire overlooking the fact that the empire was created ruining Oromo gadaa republics and kingdoms. They ignore the fact that the maintenance of the empire is the major cause of the abject poverty we see in Oromia today.
The discourse about Oromo participation in the creation of the Ethiopian Empire, which has been endorsed by some Oromos, came about for the first time in the late 1960s and was meant to be used as an argument against the application of the notion of colonialism to the Abyssinian conquest of the south. It arose as a reaction to the then on-going decolonization of Africa and the birth of Oromo nationalism. It was argued then that, since some Oromos were participants, the conquest of the south was a joint Oromo-Amhara undertaking, and that the creation of the Ethiopian empire was an Amhara-Oromo joint affair. Consequently, the conclusion was that Oromo independence was a question that cannot be raised. Although over-zealous Oromo converts of the ideology of the supremacy of class struggle over nationalist concerns joined the Abyssinian elites in condemning the Oromo quest for independence as “narrow” nationalism and its proponents as “narrow” nationalists in the ensuing years, that argument did not discourage Oromo scholars and nationalists from defining the conquest as a colonial undertaking and struggling for an independent Oromo state.
Problems with the democratization argument
The idea of taking power to democratize the Ethiopian state and improve the Oromo situation has been circulating since the 1970s among some Oromo intellectuals and politicians. Those who propagate the democratization approach argue that, instead of sitting idle and criticizing the Abyssinian ruling elites or defining the Oromo-Ethiopian relationship as colonial, the Oromo elites must snatch power from them and reshape Ethiopia as they wish. They posit that, since the Oromo are the largest population group in Ethiopia, they are, not only capable of taking political power, but also able to democratize the country. In short, they are advising us to “conquer” our conquerors. The idea may sound heroic in the ears of some Oromos, but its feasibility is not convincing. It is a costly project. What the proponents of this idea have overlooked is the complexities, which the “conquest of our conquerors” and the “democratization of Ethiopia,” would involve and how much the
“project” could cost the Oromo people.
To start with the complexity of the project, there are many roadblocks, which make the democratization of the Ethiopian state, which the pro-unity Oromos are aspiring for, an unachievable dream. I will mention two of the roadblocks, which I see as the major ones here. First, the democratization of Ethiopian requires a reconstruction of the state. Today, the Amhara opposition, from the most conservative to those who present themselves as liberal democrats, speak one language: they reject the idea of restructuring the Ethiopian state with ethnicity and language as criteria (for example, listen to a debate between Ginbot-7’s Andargachew Tsige and Ayalsew Desse of Andnet on ESAT, August 9, 2011). In short, they do not accept the principles which promise the Oromo and other peoples a basis for a democratic future within the framework of the Ethiopian state. Consequently, there is no room for practicing the idea of “self-rule” and “shared-rule,” which the proponents of a democratic united Ethiopia, whether they are members of General Kamal Galchu’s Jijjiirama group, leaders and members of the Oromo National Congress (ONC) or Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM), have in mind. It is said politics is the art of the possible. That means, politics deals with what can be done in the benefit of citizens, or is exercised in the service of humanity. Based on historical knowledge and what is said above concerning the attitude of Amhara political elites about the Oromo question as reflected in the debates of the two representatives of Ginbot-7 and Andnet, in my opinion, it is difficult to see a democratic, peaceful, and prosperous future for the Oromo people within the framework of a united Ethiopia to be created through an Oromo-Abyssinian elites’ alliance. Not in the foreseeable future, however.
The second obstacle is the sceptical Oromo attitude. It is remarkable that, during the last 20 years, the majority of Oromos with higher education have been persistently reluctant to work with the so-called Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO), the Oromo are sceptical about the possibility of genuine unity with the Abyssinian political elites, and hence, are reluctant to support Oromo organizations that would ally with Abyssinian political parties and regimes. The causes of Oromo scepticism are obvious: they include failed attempts of democratization and unfulfilled promises made by the Abyssinian ruling elites in the past; the practices of the present Tigrayan rulers; and the position held by the Amhara elites and political organizations, which are currently in opposition.
There is lack of clarity about the purpose of keeping Oromia within the framework of the Ethiopian state, as suggested by pro-Ethiopia Oromo individuals and organizations. We know that Abyssinia conquered the Oromo country for its natural resources. Why should the Oromo control Abyssinia? How is that to be conducted? What and whose interests will the Oromo protect in Abyssinia? Why should it be our business to democratize Ethiopia? Did South Sudan try to democratize the Sudan or extricate itself? Is not Scotland asking independence from democratic Britain?
The point I want to make here is also that an attempt to capture military and political power, and impose democracy over Ethiopia can be a costly affair for the Oromo in many ways. First, it will lead to the loss of human lives. In the absence of democratic elections, it is difficult to imagine a peaceful transfer of power to the Oromo. The problem is that democracy cannot be imposed. Secondly, even if it is materialized through the use of violence, it should also be consolidated with the use of force. Consequently, such a transfer of power may not lead to democracy, but to dictatorship which is a contradiction of the vision of the Oromo struggle – emancipation from dictatorship. The end result could be an adoption of authoritarian political culture by a ruling Oromo elites, and not the implementation of the gadaa democratic tradition. In the face of this reality, will the pro-Ethiopia Oromo politicians have the appetite to choose the democratization of as a viable answer to the Oromo question? Do they really think that the Oromo people can benefit from such a solution? How?
In the final analysis, the arguments of Oromo politicians and intellectuals, who hold the two overlapping views described above, will promote the survival of Ethiopia as a state, and not the aspirations of the Oromo people for nationhood, justice and democracy. The type of urgent reform needed to end the Oromo-Ethiopian conflict cannot be implemented in alliance with Ethiopianist organizations that are opposed to even the current demarcation of the country into federal regional states to give a modicum of autonomy to the different peoples. The “pro-Ethiopia” individuals and organizations have taken the unenviable position of a jurist, who defends an incorrigible offender, in the court of justice. They may wish for and also advocate the moral reform of the Abyssinian ruling elites, but the latter are not open to ideas on which democracy can be built. Unfortunately, for the proponents of the “democratization” project, it appears that the Oromo people will not see any reason to wait in their present situation until the Abyssinian elites are redeemed from their authoritarian political culture. Just listen to the voices of Oromo youth and Oromo artists (Gadaa.com; Ayyaantuu.com), who are tired of the vicious treatment they are receiving from the present regime. Although the decision is theirs, to me, it seems advisable if the pro-Ethiopia “democrats” discard their misguided conviction that the Oromo can only survive as “Ethiopians” in a state called Ethiopia, and make contributions to the Oromo liberation. I am sure most of them care about their people.
The Oromo nation has invested much in the struggle for independence. Many, including those whom we condemn or criticize, or whose names some of us vilify today, for diverting from the goal — kaayyoo, have made great personal sacrifices that must neither be underestimated nor forgotten. It is an investment that should not be wasted, not for its sake, but for the goal it is aimed to achieve — freedom. In a speech he made in 1862, the anti-slavery activist Fredrick Douglas, described the injustice perpetrated against the African Americans for about two hundred years, and putting forward their claims for justice he argued, “We have worked without wages, lived without hope, wept without sympathy, and bled without mercy. Now, in the name of common humanity, we simply ask the right to bear the responsibility of our existence.” That is also what the Oromo are saying.
Resistance to slavery and colonialism may not be exactly the same, but they overlap in many ways. It is not difficult to see that Oromo resistance to Abyssinian colonialism, and their claims for justice have certain similarities to the plight and claims of African Americans before the abolition of slavery in 1863. The plight and claims of both is underpinned by lack of freedom and the quest for it. The socio-economic situation of Oromo gabbars, who handed over 50 to 75 per cent of their produce to naftanya landlords in the past, had many similarities to the condition of the African Americans who worked, without wages, on the plantations owned by white masters; those Oromos who are imprisoned, tortured, killed or made to “disappear” by the present regime are “bleeding” and being killed by their tormentors “without mercy” because of their lack of freedom. One cannot deny that tens of thousands of Oromos are “weeping without sympathy” every day now. These include families whose members are imprisoned or made to disappear suspected of being OLF members, sympathizers or just for being Oromos. They include Oromos whose families are disintegrated and communities dispersed as their land, the only source of their livelihood is sold by the present regime to international land grabbers. Oromo refugees, who are exposed to all the hardships I have described in my article of February 1, 2012, are also in the same situation. Tens of thousands of political and “economic” refugees in northeast Africa and in the Middle East – who often fall into the grips of human-traffickers, ‘organ harvesters,’ and rapists, are literally “weeping without sympathy.” The inhumanity faced by thousands of Oromo and other refugee women in this group is reflected in the fate of Alem Dachaasaa, who was mishandled by Lebanese men in broad day light on the street in Beirut, and died recently in a hospital in the same city.
While it is needless to stress the outrage one feels when witnessing the inhumanity, which is being encountered by refugees, who are fleeing today from the atrocities of a regime that is representing Ethiopia in UN, what I want to point out is that what the Oromo people want is to have ‘the right to bear the responsibility of their existence.’ As a people, the emancipation we are aspiring for is more than freedom from chattel labor and denigration of humanity which the abolition of slavery was meant to bring about in America or elsewhere in the past. The Oromo claim for recognition has an additional element — national sovereignty, which is the goal of our struggle. We are claiming recognition as a nation in accordance with international law, and the status and rights which go with being a nation — the right to build an independent state of Oromia that can protect the rights of its citizens.
My emphasis on the need for a clear stand on the Oromo question, and the quest for independence as the best option out of our present predicament were criticized and my views about other approaches to the solution of Oromo-Ethiopian conflict as “arrogant” by those who prefer the “democratization of Ethiopia” over blisummaa, and other Oromos. To make my position clear, I am not denying anybody the right to advocate for a state model he/she wants Oromia to adopt; what I am saying is that the advocated model should be clearly stated in order to give our people correct information about what is being advocated and help them make their own choice.
Those who have read my previous article have also criticized me for not giving value to the middle position between those who are pro-Oromo independence and pro-Ethiopia. However, the nature and structure of the middle position is not clear to me. What will those who chose the middle option achieve? Are they aiming to establish a common Ethiopian home, an independent state of Oromia, or both at the same time? I suggest that political organizations, which are using the OLF as their names in particular, should not be ambiguous about their political objectives or what they will achieve on behalf of the Oromo people. To take the Jijjiirama as an example, one has to remember that its leaders had promised that they will speed up the liberation of Oromia when they split from Shanee Gumii-OLF in 2008. Many Oromos believed them. With several high ranking military officers in their leadership, a press communique from the war front in the mountains of Oromia that described their success against the TPLF occupation forces was expected. Obviously, these expectations were the reason behind the generosity of Oromos in the Diaspora to them. According to one of their representatives (Ethio-Current Affairs Paltalk: January 7, 2012) they contributed US$250,000 within a short time to support General Kamal’s group. We know now what had happened; since the contributions were made to support the liberation of Oromia, and not the “democratization” of Ethiopia, many of the freedom seeking contributors must have felt cheated when they heard one of the Jijjiirama leaders answering a question put to him by an ESAT journalist about dropping independence from his faction’s political program: “durownim megenxel alamachiin alneberem” (“secession has never been our plan”) as an explanation on an Amharic radio program on January 1, 2012. This sort of behavior will affect negatively, not only the trust which our people have for Oromo political organizations, but will also frustrate their hope for freedom.
Fortunately, however, the incident and the overall drawbacks of the last 10-15 years do not seem to have disheartened our people as one may think. There is plenty of evidence indicating that it is absolutely clear to most Oromos that the only way of out of the century old misery of subordination imposed by the Ethiopian state and its Abyssinian rulers is building their own independent state. Oromo websites, public debates, and music reflect the prevalence of supportive opinion for an independent Oromo state in the popular mind. The OLF remains a symbol of freedom in the hearts and minds of the Oromo people. As a sympathetic and knowledgeable external observer has noted, the “liberation of Oromia from Ethiopian colonialism is not only desirable, but is also an attainable goal.”
Unrealistic expectations from the international community
There is an orthodox and almost naïve belief among the Oromo about the international community’s role in the protection human rights worldwide. The belief that the international community will put pressure on an incumbent regime, and bring justice and democracy to Ethiopia is not a plausible idea, at least now. The Oromo belief that there is some sort of moral order, that guides the community of states and governs humanity, is not true. For sure, there are many good Samaritans in our world. It suffices to mention the many men and women, who are engaged in the work of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Green Peace, etc. But the belief that the world is also led by people and organizations with similar intentions is naïve. The survival of the fittest is a fact, albeit seldom openly acknowledged, even today as it was in the past. Therefore, we have to struggle, overcome our oppressors, and restore justice and freedom to our people. Mankind has changed in many respects, but remains static in other important areas. Self-interest overweighs morality in shaping the behavior and actions of both individuals and collectivities. Although the methods used by antagonists may not be the same, and antagonists are no more “savages,” who depend solely on courage and raw strength, the instinct-driven primal battle of the jungle for survival is still around in different shapes. What is remarkable is that, generally, human values and attitudes have changed little irrespective of all the pretentions of the followers of the different religions of the world, or the material welfare attained through the development of technology. The world still applauds the winner, and despises the loser. Even the Oromo subscribe to this attitude when they say haatiyyuu dabeessa hinjaallattu, which means ‘even a mother despises a cowardly son.’ A coward is a despicable forfeiter; he loses a battle in advance because of lack of moral courage. It seems that this primal feeling about “heroes” and “cowards” evolved as self-defense mechanism among the hunting bands and tribal groups in the early societies. Brave men and women, who protect their families, and defend their bands and tribes, were respected and admired, and the attitude toward those who lack courage to meet those norms was the opposite.
I will argue that a mixture of instinctual disposition and social norms even resonate in our minds determining the way we often perceive relations between states and peoples. A people’s struggle in self-defense and for freedom with unwavering determination will pay dividends in moral, material, and diplomatic support. My point is that the world will listen to us only when we convert our demographic weight into political and military strength. We should not wait until the UN, United States of America, or the European Union brings justice to our doors. It is unlikely that they will pay attention to our pleas. Oromia is not Kuwait or Libya. It has some natural resources, but not the much coveted oil. Obviously, the Americans and the Europeans will not come to chase out Meles Zenawi and his TPLF forces as they chased out Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, or arm and advise the Oromo to get rid of Meles Zenawi and his cronies as they armed and advised the opposition in Libya against Muammar Gaddafi. As a Human Rights Watch researcher reported in 2010, “business is as usual” between the Ethiopian regime and the democratic nations of the West, and as well as rest of the world. Meles Zenawi is a man whose security forces gunned down 197 men and women in the street of Finfinnee in front of TV cameras during the Ethiopian parliamentary elections of 2005, and he yet rubs shoulders with political leaders and business magnates in the West as well as in the East.
As most of us know, elsewhere, let alone massacring participants of peaceful demonstration en masse, it is impossible to gun down even a single criminal and go free. Therefore, while exposing human rights violations by the Ethiopian regime is the duty of Oromo organizations and individuals, the prevalent belief that the United Nations, European Union or African Union will relieve our people from the crimes perpetrated against them by the present Ethiopian regime should be reconsidered. Given the situation I have described above, it is our duty to protect ourselves in the first place. It is our responsibility to also make our position clear to the world, by acting in unison, that we are a people who are out to defend our rights and not to harm other peoples. We must prove that we are not victims waiting to be saved by outsiders, but that we are grateful to any government or organization that gives us assistance. It is time for us to take the bite in our teeth and build up our strength, put pressure on the oppressors of our people and win international sympathy at the same time. The urgency of national survival should prompt us to act in self-defense, just like a prey that is pressed by a predator from behind stops fleeing, turns back on its chaser showing its determination to survive. It is time to say enough is enough, Oromia shall be free and our nation shall survive.
The world does not, and will not necessarily, know our people until we rise up in unison, prove our existence as a nation, and declare our determination to regain the freedom, which was taken from our forefathers by Abyssinian conquerors about a century ago. Most of us in the Diaspora were chased out from our homeland and have been in flight for many years; uprooted and chased away from their homeland tens of thousands of Oromos have followed and are following our footpath every year. Our flight has resulted in our survival as individuals. But, as indicated above, survival for those who flee from the atrocities committed by the present Ethiopian regime in Oromia has come now under question.
Given the totality of the current situation in Oromia, it is the survival of the Oromo nation, which is at risk if we continue to accept the Tigrayan rule passively. For each and every Oromo, it is time to stop passive acceptance of repression and fight back. To fight back, we need a strong organization. To organize or be organized does not mean only getting together, electing some leaders, go home and expect miracles which they will perform to bring about Oromo independence. Leaders are there to co-ordinate others; that means, there must be followers who will be coordinated; convinced followers who are ready to be led. Leaders are not there to do all job by themselves; they show the way. Organization means, therefore, leading and following leaders, taking responsibility, chipping in contributions to the power pool of the liberation movement. To achieve independence, we should activate the dynamics of collective action without delay. The contribution of each of us should become a reliable cog in the gear that can thrust the national struggle to its goal.
To state the obvious, a struggle for national liberation demands collective action and responsibility. The life of Abyssinian domination over Oromia, which is the cause for Oromo suffering, can be shortened only through persistent struggle and an effective organization that coordinates our efforts, mobilizes our resources and galvanizes our commitments worldwide. As I have stated in my previous article published on February 1, 2012 on this website, it is not enough to sit on the fence and condemn leaders who have “failed” to liberate Oromia, or feel moral outrage about crimes committed against the Oromo and other peoples in Ethiopia. What is required is channeling our outrage into action and commitment. It means meeting our moral responsibility as members of an oppressed and tormented nation. Let us get down from our places on the fence, join those who struggle for national salvation, and stop lamenting as hopeless victims. Sitting on the fence and saying, “I will remain neutral as long as the Oromo organizations keep on bickering on petty issues” is not a proper patriotic position to take. To dismiss the differences between the organizations without a proper knowledge of their causes is an irresponsible and dishonest act. To my mind, the right thing to do is to approach the concerned groups, investigate the sources for their differences and find a solution, or join one of the groups and contribute to the struggle. After all, all of them are engaged in the national struggle in one way or another. Neutrality, I will argue, is an unpatriotic position to take; it does not advance the cause of our people. It will help only their oppressors.
It is common knowledge that the Oromo are one of the most persecuted peoples in the world today. However, this has not put their case on the agenda of the UN, the European Union, or the African Union for that matter. Therefore, we have to be realistic, believe in self-reliance, and practice self-reliance persistently, but also inform the international community actively and routinely about violations of Oromo human rights. It is needless to stress here that we should not wait for the UN or a superpower to save us from the destruction being perpetrated by the present Ethiopian regime once again. It is good to believe that there are sympathetic fellow humans, who will understand our situation and stretch us a helping hand but, we must also know that, if we spend much time waiting for salvation from outside, the Oromo nation may not survive until the salvation arrives.
In short, we should not be bitter if the world of diplomacy goes on with “business as usual.” We cannot change that as we may wish. I am sure that it will change in due time. What we can and should change now is the way we carry out our struggle for national liberation. The necessity to perpetuate our survival as a people must urge us to look at our commitment critically and make the sacrifices required from us as individuals and a nation. That entails rethinking, rectifying past mistakes, and preparation for what may come next.
Can the Oromo people get their rights by peaceful means?
Will the Oromo people get their rights by peaceful means? Yes, if the opportunity were available. I assume that it is the wish of every human being to lead a peaceful life. No one in his right mind will take up arms, leave his/her family behind and go to the bush to fight a government. The Oromo are not different in that respect. In fact, the nagaa philosophy that underpins Oromo thought and tradition shows the wish and appreciation, which our people have, for a peaceful life. As noted by scholars, it even characterizes their approach to conflict resolution. But Ethiopia is a country ruled by political elites who are aliens to the idea of solving political problems by peaceful means. That leaves the Oromo nation with no other alternative, but to defend itself against aggression by all means necessary, including armed struggle.
Ironically, there are those who argue that the age of using arms in the struggle for political rights and interests is passé and that, therefore, the Oromo should denounce armed struggle. The argument distorts the logic of self-defense or the right to life. It ignores the fact that there are those who use arms to occupy and oppress others, and those who are forced to raise arms to defend themselves against oppression. It ignores the fact that every state and government, big or small, uses arms to protect its citizens and interests even today. That the Oromo people lack a government that protects their human rights is obvious to all. That the TPLF regime has used and uses arms to occupy power in Finfinnee in the heart of Oromia, and is oppressing the Oromo and other peoples in Ethiopia are well known facts. What is wrong if our people use arms to defend their lives and their property? In a world in which most member states of the UN are armed to the teeth to “defend their rights” and sovereignty, why is it wrong for the Oromo people to regain the sovereignty they had lost due to conquest and colonization using arms?
Because of the talks about terrorism, there are also Oromos, who entertain the fear that, if we use firearms in our struggle for independence, the international community will not listen to us. The question that must be asked is: Why did the international community “allow” the Southern Sudanese to use armed struggle and gain their independence? What does using a peaceful means mean when dealing with a regime such as that of Ethiopia that rejects a just and peaceful settlement of conflict, and uses state terrorism against our people? Ethiopia is not the British Empire that tolerates an Oromo Mahatma Gandhi, who travels across Oromia openly propagating resistance against Abyssinian rule, or the United States of America that allows an Oromo Martin Luther King to organize a hundred thousand-man-march on Finfinnee and hold a fiery speech about liberty and freedom in Revolution Square. The Ethiopian regimes won’t even see an Oromo Mandela stay alive with dignity in a prison cell. Take the case of General Taddese Birru, for example: as he told the Ethiopian court which gave him a death sentence in 1968, he was disgraced and tortured because of his nationality. Out of jail in 1974, he was executed in 1975 by the Dergue. An Oromo Desmond Tutu will end up in prison, will be tortured, killed and buried in an unmarked spot in prison: most of us recollect the case of Reverend Gudina Tumsaa. To raise arms against a regime, which treats a people and their leaders in the manner the Ethiopian regimes have been treating the Oromo people and their leaders, is not terrorism; it is a commendable act of self-defense: an act for survival.
My point in raising what is said above is to argue that it is not logical to condemn the use of arms and preach the Oromo, who were and still are exposed to mass murder, about the virtues of passive resistance. In a state run by a regime, which meets peaceful demonstrators with bullets, to renounce armed struggle is tantamount to committing suicide. An Oromo, who condemns the use of arms in self-defense, is one who has lost touch with reality. The impracticability of peaceful methods makes armed resistance the only option the Oromo have for self-defense. The alternative is perpetual domination and exploitation by an Abyssinian minority rule. We must remember the role of firearms in our subjugation. As the historian Richard Caulk pointed out, “the system of near serfdom imposed on wide areas of the south … could not have been maintained had the newcomers [naftanaya] not been so differently armed.” Before the mid-1930, in some of the Oromo provinces, the Oromo were not even all owed to carry spears for defence against wild animal. Since the sixteenth century, the Abyssinian rulers were obsessed with firearms. A great deal of the 17th, 18th and 19th century-correspondence of Ethiopian kings, which Richard Pankhurst examined in his study on the history of firearms in Ethiopia, show the effort they had been making to acquire firearms from Europeans powers. The expenditure the Ethiopian regimes have been making on firearms shows that the ruling Abyssinian elites understood the power of firearm centuries before Chairman Mao reminded us that “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” They have used it successfully against the Oromo for more than a century. They will continue to use until the Oromo stop them using the same means or give up the question of freedom.
Armed or not, an Oromo, who claims his or her rights, is an enemy
The external “experts’” advise to the Oromo has been (see, for example, the proceedings of the Bergen Conference of 2004) to renounce armed struggle. But, armed or not any, Oromo, who demands his/her rights, is seen as an enemy of Ethiopia and is met with regime violence. That was the case in the past and is also the case now. When asked why he fled from Ethiopia by a journalist (ESAT February 10, 2012), artist Dawite Mekonnen replied, “because I am an Oromo.” Explaining what he meant by that he added, “Oromo means enemy in Ethiopia.” He said that his songs were politicized, and he was put in prison. Out of prison, he was harassed and forced to leave Ethiopia, and save his life. Otherwise, his fate could have been the fate of other Oromo artists, such as Eebisaa Adunyaa and Usmayyoo Musa, who were murdered by TPLF regime because of their Oromo music. As indicated by the now well-known observation made by Dr. Berhanu Nega in Qallitti, Oromos who sit in Ethiopia’s prison cells are saying the same thing. Dr Berhanu Nega said: “When I saw that more than 90 per cent of the prisoners in the Qallitti were Oromos and that some of them were very young while some are very old (over eighty years), I asked them why they were imprisoned. Their unanimous answer,” he said was, “Because we are Oromos” (approximate translation from Amharic). That is exactly the impression one gathers when talking to an Oromo ex-businessman in the street of Nairobi or Khartoum. A highly educated Oromo, who is earning his/her livelihood, employed as a worker in Stockholm, Berlin, London or Washington D. C. will tell you the same.
There are also Amharas who fled from the same regime for political reasons. However, after just a little scratch one can find a great difference between the two groups. They contend political power with Tigrayan cousins. They do not have any problem with Ethiopia like the Oromo. In fact, they will restore their beloved motherland Ethiopia back to her past glory. They surpass the TPLF regime in condemning the Oromo as the enemy of Ethiopia (see, for example, Lt. Ayalsew Desse’s interview with ESAT, August, 9, 2011). Whether it is dominated by Tigrayan or Amhara elites, the politics of the Ethiopian state will remain anti-Oromo. Therefore, the problem the Oromo will solve has a complex historical depth than the question of ruling Ethiopia, on which the Abyssinian cousins are quarrelling; it is not created by the present regime. Meles Zenawi’s regime has “inherited” the problem and continued treating the Oromo people with impunity as its predecessors had done in the past. The method paid off well in terms of power and wealth in the past, and it is also paying very well now.
Explaining why she had vacated her post of ‘Speaker of the House of Federation,’ and is seeking asylum in the United States in a press release she made a few years ago, Mrs. Almaz Mako wrote, “The EPRDF government has brought untold miseries and suffering on the Oromo people.” She added that the OPDO is “a rubber stamp for TPLF rule over Oromia,” and that the regime of Mr. Meles Zenawi is “categorically rejected by the entire Oromo nation and survives only on the back of its repressive security forces,” which is comprised of almost only Tigrayans from the ordinary soldiers to the commanding officers at the top. The situation is the same or even worse today. For the last 20 years, the TPLF security forces have been an army of occupation in Oromia. It is the duty of the present generation of Oromos to free their land by all means necessary. Armed struggle is a normal method used by patriots to win freedom from oppressors throughout history. There is no reason for the Oromo to stop using arms until they restore their freedom, and there is reason to see them as terrorists if they struggle against forces which conduct the extra-judicial killing, cause the disappearance of thousands Oromos, as reported by human rights organizations. The armed guards of the prisons and concentration camps, where thousands of Oromos are imprisoned, humiliated, tortured, raped and killed, can be removed only with the use of firearms.
Transform demographic weight into organizational and political power
As I have pointed out in a previous article mentioned above, there are many Oromos who love to talk about the demographic strength of our people and plead for democracy because we will have an advantage. I do not think this kind of talk is advantageous to our cause. It may even generate contempt and not sympathy, particularly when it is declared by Oromo politicians and scholars that we are the majority in the country and are being persecuted by a minority. The international community is not impressed by demographic size, but by military strength. When he heard that the OLF was not satisfied with the 12 seats it was allotted in the Transitional National Council in 1991, an ambassador of a European state to Ethiopia told the late Rev. Dr. Gunnar Hasselblatt that the Oromos should not complain; they did not fight enough; the TPLF did. Proportionality or the fact that the Oromo are the largest population group in the country did not matter to him. What mattered was the military strength of the OLF.
Each crack has made the Ethiopian system weaker, which in turn has made the people bolder than before. A new Ethiopian regime may be weak, but does not make it humane to the use of violence or accommodative to popular demands for rights and justice. It may open itself for democracy for a while to buy time, and then become meaner and murderous. We have seen that with the Dergue. The one-year democratic opening of 1991-1992, if it was that at all, helped the TPLF/EPDRF to do the same. Many times, the system has cracked, but it was able to regenerate, and dominate again because we have not been able to make use of the opportunity created by the breakdown in the system. There were various reasons for why we have missed the opportunity created by the crack to transform our demographic strength into full political and military power and get control over our natural resources. The opening created in 1974 by the Ethiopian revolution was not exploited because our people were not prepared both politically and organizationally. In 1991-1992, while we were very quick in exploiting the situation to introduce the qubee alphabet and establish school education, public administration and the conduct of the legal system in Afaan Oromoo, we were not quick enough in other vital areas: that allowed the TPLF to use the space and build self-confidence and strike at our forces. In general, the TPLF’s aggressive strategy paid dividends for the regime. It usurped, not only political power, but it confiscated public property and military hardware imported for billions of dollars.
The consequence of our inability to make use of the 1991-1992 breakdown of the Ethiopian political system is what we see today. As I have pointed out in my article of February 1, 2012, the TPLF/EPRDF has imprisoned more Oromos for political reasons than the Dergue did. It introduced concentration camps for the first time in Ethiopian history and those who were incarcerated in such camps were Oromos. So far, concentration camps have been used only in Oromia. Given information gathered from torture survivors, the cruelty of TPLF torture methods seem to surpass the methods used or have their parallels with those that were used by the Pinochet regime in Chile in 1970s. International human rights organizations have reported routinely the regime’s multi-dimensional violation of human rights. Amnesty International (AI) has adopted thousands Oromo prisoners of conscience during the last twenty years. Extra-judicial killings and “disappearance” (hidden assassination) of political activists induced by the Meles Zenawi administration surpass those which occurred under previous Ethiopian regimes. The atrocities are affecting the Oromo more than any other nationality in the country. Millions of hectares of the most fertile Oromo farm- and pasturelands are sold to international bidders displacing Oromo peasant families. How long are we going to tolerate the crimes being committed against Oromo people? The moral responsibility of answering this question concerns all of us: it concerns every Oromo political and community organizations; it concerns each and every Oromo family as well as each and every Oromo village and district. It is a national concern. Otherwise, what is going to come after the demise of the present regime, may not be better or pleasant.
We are seeking justice, not vengeance
The purpose of the Oromo struggle is justice. Hate speeches about the OLF and the Oromo people broadcast currently on media networks run by some Amhara elites in the diaspora cannot change that fact. We know, and must make it known, that the OLF is seeking justice for the Oromo people. The OLF exists not to commit injustice against others, including our enemies. In his famous speech, “I have a dream” delivered on 28 August 1963, Martin Luther King reminded the 200,000 men and women, who participated in the famous March on Washington that “In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.” This is also how the Oromo struggle has been conducted, is being conducted and will be conducted. Seeking vengeance will be committing crime against humanity, and injustice to our people and to future Oromo generations. Vengeance goes against the purpose of our struggle for national liberation. We are not seeking vengeance, but will bring those who committed atrocities against our people before justice. The aim of our national movement is to establish justice, not to spread war and chaos. That does not mean we will not respond to violence, which others are committing or will commit against our people. It means we will not initiate violence that will affect others. We will always uphold safuu, the traditional ethics of Oromo ancestors, which means respect for life, which in a war situation, is expressed in nagaa (peace) with the uninvolved civilian population, the aged, children and women who happen to find themselves in conflict zones.
The 130 years of Abyssinian occupation constitute the darkest hours in Oromo history. All of us have lived our lives during the dark years of Abyssinian colonial rule, and many of us have even experienced its effects. I have had the opportunity to travel extensively within Ethiopia, before I left it at the end of 1977, and in the neighboring countries after that. During my travels I had seen the tormenting “faces of hunger” in “famine camps” called mexeleya in Amharic in Wallo, Afar, and Ogaden regions inside Ethiopia in the 1970s, and the insecurity and woes of homeless Ethiopian refugees in camps in the Sudan in the 1980s. I had seen the insecure life of Oromo and other refugees from Ethiopia in the slums of Nairobi in the 1990s. I had seen despair among refugees stranded in no-man’s land in the remote border areas between Oromia and the Sudan. Mirrored in the innocent eyes of refugee children, I had seen the fear and insecurity that their parents felt. The plight of refugee children is exacerbated because they come from homes that are destroyed, and families that are scattered by violence – which means they are often separated from their siblings and are almost always without grandparents and the entire extended family system that was their haven of emotional security and social support. The cause of their agonies and deprivation is the political system into which they were born. It is an incorrigible system: the opportunity to redeem it has been missed many times by its leaders. Unfortunately, it is missed by the present regime.
To survive, the Oromo have to free themselves from the Ethiopian political system. They must not waste more time and energy attempting to reform the Ethiopian state that has defied reform repeatedly. The colonial political culture on which it rests cannot be reformed. It is only when an Oromo state is rebuilt and Oromo independence is restored that the vestiges of Abyssinian colonial political culture, that has been affecting the lives of millions of Oromos for more than a century, will dissipate.
* Mekuria Bulcha, PhD and Professor of Sociology, is an author of widely read books and articles. His new book, Contours of the Emergent and Ancient Oromo Nation, is published by CASAS (Centre for Advanced Studies of African Society), Cape Town, South Africa, in 2011. He was also the founder and publisher of The Oromo Commentary (1990-1999). He is an active member of the OLF and has served in the different branches of the national movement since the 1970s.