By Gumaa Guddaa*
- Gumaa Guddaa
If you thought there was no appetite for yet another ‘Front,’ it seems, you should think again, at least according to some. I, for one, am not so certain if the Oromo public, at home and in the Diaspora alike, is not fed up of this Oromo and that Oromo political organization. Nevertheless, it seems we have to endure attending endless rounds of public meetings after meetings, almost ad nauseam that you feel giving up on life, from Scandinavia to Australia, Canada to South Africa to listen to what you have already heard many times over.
Talking about hearing things over and over again, and if having read the press release heralding the formation of the newly formed Oromo Democratic Front (ODF), but wonder if you have not heard the same discourse before, you are not mistaken. If you are a person of certain age, you most definitely heard it all in the mid-1970s. For those not so familiar with what I am referring to, there was a political movement by the name of MEISON that advocated the same political ideology of democracy for Ethiopia. Alas, ODF is not so new after all; it is a new political party with an old failed idea. Do not get me wrong and get mad at me thinking I am discrediting the founders of ODF. Far from it, I actually admire the foolish bravery of the main protagonists in ODF and their members.
In fact, you would have to admire the audacity of the founders of ODF. Even if they manage to register their party for the 2015 Ethiopian general election, notwithstanding the fact that it is too early to speculate that ODF will aspire to employ elections as a means to achieve its political objective, I am not sure as to how viable the party will be. But, it will not be unreasonable or unfair to assume that a party that calls itself “democratic” would have to agree with elections, however much undemocratic the election may turn out to be. After all, elections are not easily winnable anywhere, let alone in Ethiopia.
The political ideology of ODF is confusing, too. The main philosophy expressed in the press release issued by the party implies “citizenship rights” to be fundamental, if I am not mistaken. Let us now look at the concept of citizenship. The aforementioned press release assumes that there is a difference between the concept of ‘citizen’ and ‘subject.’ It argues that ODF sees Ethiopians as ‘citizens’ of the state of Ethiopia, but EPRDF sees Ethiopians as ‘subjects’ of the Ethiopian state. Whoever these Ethiopians are is also a contentious issue. For example, there is no common concept around what an ‘Ethiopian’ really does mean as a national identity. If it exists, I am not sure. You can call the people whatever pleases you, but the main issue is what type of society you will create. ODF will need a book on glossary of terms and concepts to communicate with both the Oromos and the Abyssinians. Oh, by the way, I am not sure if there are Amharas, Gurages and Tigreans, etc. in ODF. If not, why not?
Even more problematic is that there is no consensus on the concept and definition of citizenship at all. The debate goes back to Aristotle. Other philosophers, including Tacitus, Cicero, Machiavelli, Harrington and Rousseau, had a stab at it. There is no one universally accepted concept of citizenship. It depends where you live. I assume ODF bases its political ideology on the concept and definition of citizenship as membership in a political community that furnishes a distinct source of identity i.e. Ethiopian identity. It is a tall order and the odds of its success are not nearly exciting enough for the ‘Ethiopians’ to be invigorated by this concept – let alone a cause worthy of dying for.
There are two important debates about the implications of social and cultural pluralism to conceptions of citizenship: first, should they recognize, rather than transcend, difference and, if so, does this recognition affect citizenship’s purported role in strengthening social cohesion? Second, how are we to understand the relation between citizenship and nationality under conditions of Ethiopian pluralism? How about the challenges which globalization poses to theories of citizenship? The theories of citizenship have long taken for granted the idea that citizenship’s necessary context is the sovereign, territorial state. This premise is being increasingly contested by those who question the state’s right to determine who is accepted as a member and/or claim that citizenship can be meaningful beyond the boundaries of the nation-state.
If I am not mistaken the founders of ODF were, not long ago, the main protagonists who drove us all nuts for so long by incessantly arguing against independence of Oromia evoking the defense of ‘globalization’ rendering citizenship worthless. My own position, which is also becoming increasingly acknowledged since the recent crisis of globalization, is Oromo nationalism, not citizenship, that is required. If you accept Oromia as an independent state, then we can talk about citizenship. If not, it is a pie in the sky, I fear. Pay credit where it is due. The Oromo people will eternally be grateful to ODF for adopting a new name that, more or less, fits their agenda. In fact, it would have been much better if they named themselves the Ethiopian Democratic Front (EDF). That would have been an achievement in and of itself.
ODF ignores many different things related to identity, both individual and collective, and social integration. ODF also does not explain how we come to terms with brushing away Oromo national identity. It does not acknowledge it exists at all. Arguably, this is inescapably the most controversial political move since citizens’ subjective sense of belonging, sometimes called the “psychological” dimension of citizenship, necessarily affects the strength of the political community’s collective identity. ODF does not explain how it intends to promote the idea of ‘citizenship’ to Abyssinians, who feel and claim that they have ‘citizenship’ of a state of Ethiopia that they believe, rightly or wrongly, existed continuously for 3,000 years. The Oromo claim that they belong to the nation of Oromo that is known to have been in existence for centuries as a distinct people and their own Gadaa state for thousands of years.
ODF also advances the argument that EPRDF failed to democratize Ethiopia mainly due to insufficient goodwill by the ruling elite. I am sorry, but this is too simplistic. The notion of lack of interest in democracy ignores the actual reality on the ground. It could be argued this is, as far as Ethiopia can go down the route of democratization. It is an empire. Democracy is a threat to the existence of an empire. That was why the USSR disintegrated. If, by some magic, you introduce democracy to Ethiopia it will disintegrate; it will cease to exist – which is actually not only inevitable, but desirable.
On the other hand, the political ideology that ‘the Oromo have historical responsibility of democratizing Ethiopia’ is absurd. Our forefathers and fathers have tried it. It has never worked. It has always backfired. The irony is the founders of ODF know where the bodies of several generations of Oromo victims of the battle of maintaining the unity of Ethiopia are buried more than anyone else. Was it Albert Einstein who said, “Repeating the same things and expecting different results is a form of insanity”? Do they not also say “those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”? And, the Oromo say “maal haa baasuuf dhama raasu”?
Finally, before you become sleepless over it, my humble prediction is that ODF will not stand a chance of gaining grounds for two opposing reasons. Firstly, the enemy will not accept it. It is actually evident from the press release itself that ODF has no friends because it condemns everyone. Secondly, ODF is 20 years too late, and the Oromo have moved on. The Oromo people have removed the word Ethiopia from their parlance altogether, let alone converting to Ethiopian citizenship. I have to admit, reading the press release I found it totally alien to my being. Safe to say, it did not exactly fill me with hope and excitement. Oromian citizenship is written in blood, and it is now in the DNA of the entire Oromo nation. Attempting to reverse this is like swimming against the tide. Good luck to ODF, and they really need it in abundance.
* Gumaa Guddaa: firstname.lastname@example.org