Gumii Paarlaamaa Oromoo (GPO)
Oromo Parliamentarians Council (OPC)
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A Quest for a Clear Vision for the Future of Oromia: Declaring our Preferences
By Prof. Mekuria Bulcha Friday, March 23, 2012 7:32 AM
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 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
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
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 Oromo nationhood” “globalization,” and the “non-Oromos who reside in the Oromo territory” to undermine Oromo 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 opinion 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 reflects the Oromo view on the subject except what the Marxist literature says 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 will disappear as soon as the working
class takes power. I have presented papers at conferences on the
Horn of Africa in many countries in
The “Greater Ethiopia Marxists” emphasized the supremacy of class struggle subordinating the national question which was often seen as 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” elite, 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 was 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 withdrew 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 is based, they accepted the Abyssinian elites’ argument that negates 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
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 Abyssinians 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 elite 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
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
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 stake-holders in parity with the Amhara elite 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 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
Problems with the democratization argument
The idea of taking power to democratize the Ethiopian state and
improve the Oromo situation has been circulating since the1970s
among some Oromo intellectuals and politicians.
Those who propagate the
democratization approach argue that instead
of sitting idle and criticizing the Abyssinian ruling elite or
defining the Oromo-Ethiopian relationship as colonial, the Oromo
elite must snatch power from them and reshape
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
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
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 elite 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 the Abyssinians
conquered the Oromo country for its natural resources. Why should
the Oromo control
The point I want to make here is also that
an attempt to capture military and political power and impose
In the final analysis, the arguments of Oromo politicians and
intellectuals who hold the two overlapping views described above
will promote the survival of
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 on the plantations owned by white people without wages;
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
While it is needless to stress the outrage one feels when witnessing
the inhumanity which is being
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
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 describes 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 almachiin 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
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,
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 violation 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 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
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 it 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
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
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
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 allowed 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 have 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’” advice 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
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
Explaining why she had vacated her post of Speaker of the House of
Federation, and is seeking asylum in the
Transform demographic weight into organizational and political power
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 break down 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
break-down 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 have their parallels with those
that were used by the Pinochet regime in
We are seeking justice, not vengeance
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
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.
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),
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