You are currently viewing Oromo political struggle over last half a century: Inquiry on achievements, challenges and the imperative for pragmatic imaginations

Oromo political struggle over last half a century: Inquiry on achievements, challenges and the imperative for pragmatic imaginations

Participants of the annual Irreechaa thanksgiving festival carry the two flags that symbolize the Oromo people’s struggle for political and cultural independence, October 2019 (Photo: Addis Standard)

By Girma Gutema @Abbaacabsa &
Mirgisa Kaba @MirgissaK

Background

After the politico-military development that historian Teshale Tibebu termed “The Making of Modern Ethiopia”, as led by emperor Menelik’s imperial march to the south was completed, or at least so, during the late 19th or the beginning of the 20th century, some say that the earliest organized modern Oromo political movement was recorded during the Second World War. In that earliest modern Oromo political movement, an organized group of Macha Oromos known as the “Western Oromo Confederation” officially sought, in 1936, to secede from Abyssinia to come under the protectorate of the British government until the League of Nations recognizes it as an independent country—a move that was never materialized. Makuria Bulcha, a veteran scholar in Oromo studies, identifies this group as the “pioneer of modern Oromo nationalism”  in his book entitled Contours of the Emergent & Ancient Oromo Nation: Dilemmas in the Ethiopian Politics of State and Nation-Building.

After the Western Oromo Confederation, the historically significant Oromo nationalist movements were the Macha & Tulama Association and the Bale Oromo revolt, both of which became active and so threatening to the Ethiopian empire state, as of the early 1960s in Oromia, Ethiopia.

Be that history as it may, the Oromo political struggle for freedom, democracy and justice has sustained extremely hostile and hateful attacks over the last few years in Ethiopia, especially after PM Abiy Ahmed came to power in April 2018. There is no study that attempted to look into how such continuously churned out propagandas, day-in day-out, might have affected the rational thoughts of Ethiopians—with both Oromo and non-Oromo heritages—concerning the Oromo struggle for just causes like freedom, democracy, human rights and justice, among others.

The primary focus of this article is, therefore, on the Oromo political struggle for freedom, liberty, justice and democracy after the 1974 Ethiopian revolution and how Oromos and non-Oromos perceived the achievements today. Here, the year 1974 was taken as a temporal point of departure due to the fact that real politics—in the modern sense of it—was essentially commenced in Ethiopia post the 1974 popular revolution. Before that, Ethiopia was constitutionally an Empire State, with no legally allowed political parties opposed to the impero-feudal government, as clearly stated in its first constitution “given by the emperor to the people” in July 1931.

We aim to assess the achievements and/or the failures of the Oromo political struggle over the last half a century, and also its future challenges with regard to addressing some of the Universally valued social deliverables like democracy, freedom, development, human rights and justice, among others, within the wider regional frameworks in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa. After over half a century of struggle, serious debates and deliberations on the theme are severely lacking. Furthermore, we want to invoke informed debates and invite others to cascade the discussions and debates.

Readers should understand that the assessment done for the making of this piece has taken into consideration the all understandably divergent views of those with the federalist and the republican political sentiments that reverberate among the general public in Oromia, Ethiopia. Accordingly, 12 Oromo and non-Oromo individuals constituting intellectuals, diplomats, socio-political commentators, journalists, media personalities, activists and/or community influencers responded to our questions. We present all the respondents’ points of views, dividing it into three thematic areas, without necessarily making attempts to provide further analyses based on the respondents’ comments

Optimistic views

Respondents with optimistic views on the Oromo political struggle over the last half a century assert that the Oromo politics achieved monumental victories. Even though it failed short of delivering democracy, it did strike numerous achievements including not only reclaiming the Oromo collective agency, but also reinstating it within the modern bureaucracy after 150 years of Oromo disenfranchisement. The establishment of Oromia state in 1991 as the homeland of the Oromo people with its own bureaucracy, territorial boundary, and Afaan Oromo as official working language in the state is indicated as one important example here.

Girma Tadesse, who was the first executive director of the Oromia Media Network (OMN) and now a community organizer based in Washington DC says:

I think of Oromo’s fight for freedom, liberation, democracy, dignity and human rights and feel that none have been fully achieved yet. Sure, things have changed from when the 60s and 70s generation began the liberation movement, significant gains have been made and we have come a long way with many battles won but I don’t believe the war is won yet.

The late Baro Tumsa had asserted that in order to achieve the goals of liberating the Oromo from the yolk of the Abyssinian [sort of dependent] colonial domination that completely clouded vital Oromo interests (including independence if that’s what the Oromo decide is it’s destiny), capturing state power is crucial. But certainly, we can’t claim that the center is now captured by Oromos nor serves the Oromo interest regardless of what Lencho Leta and co would want us to believe.

Multiple opportunities have been squandered largely because of the fault lines in the Oromo camp: the latest of which was handing over total power to OPDOs. How that can be overcome even in the future remains to be a mystery. The incredible sacrifices paid by the youth to liberate the masses ended up enriching and empowering a corrupt few, who in turn have not only derailed the fight for democracy, dignity and liberty but also caused insurmountable suffering to human lives (Oromos as well as other people of Ethiopia particularly Tigray) and socio-economic well being of Ethiopian society in general.

Nevertheless, Mr Girma optimistically suggests systematic and detailed reassessment of the paths traveled in the past, the means of the struggle and how to achieve the goals in the future.

Having said that, I do believe that the path traveled, the means of struggle and how to achieve eventual goals should be re-assessed against local and geopolitical realities. Short term and long term measures should be evaluated, debated and clearly laid out.

Denboba Natie, Sidama intellectual, community organizer and leadership member of the Sidama National Liberation Front (SNLF) sent us an extended commentary which compliments much of Girma Tadesse’s assertions, as we quoted it here at length:

As the rest of the various subjugated nations of the empire, Oromo was equally—if not more—subjected to series of human rights violations including repressions, extra judiciary imprisonments, displacements and evictions from their lands, executions of thousands of unarmed civilians and various forms of brutal treatments during the EPRDF’s 27 year reign. More essentially, the Oromo civilians were continuously imprisoned allegedly for collaborating with the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). Therefore, the numbers of Oromo prisoners during the EPRDF’s regime exceeded all prisoners from the 83 nations and nationalities of the country combined. The entire prison cells in Ethiopia changed to an Afaan Oromo speaking torture chambers to show how the EPRDF regime did target the Oromo civilians as part of its campaign against the OLF, the party that was portrayed as bogyman of Ethiopia under whose pretext political opponents were threatened, silenced and extra judiciary executed.  

Mr Demboba goes on arguing that the rampant injustices naturally gave birth to a very stiff resistance that ultimately brought down the EPRDF rule in 2018.

The brutalized nation whose rights are continuously violated will be obliged to raise arms to fight back with whatever resources it may possess. This will be more so when people are labeled, stereotyped, and dehumanized altogether for the simple reason of ‘who they are’ although rulers use various contradictory masking and explanations. Such collective punishments further mobilize the peoples of the same aspiration by giving them impetus, the necessary inertia to unify and consolidate their struggle; whatever the cost of the struggle may demand. That is why over 5000 Oromo youth known as Qeerroo/Qaarree gave their lives during the #OromoProtests movement that challenged the EPRDF’s regime between 2014 and 2018 to ultimately ensure its demise. They sacrificed their precious lives for the national cause that unfortunately didn’t materialize thus far. To date the Oromo are fighting for their survival to avert existential threats posed by Abiy Ahmed’s dictatorial  regime.

The compatriots of Oromo youth who have sacrificed their precious lives whilst topping the EPRDF’s regime once again raised an arm to resist the current regime that has embarked yet on another anti-Oromo campaign. This is so simply because Abiy’s regime is actively engaged in anti-Oromo campaign diametrically opposing to his claims that ‘his era belongs to the Oromo nation’ as he and his kleptocratic Oromo cadres align their lineage to Oromo. However, never in their history, the Oromo people were  dehumanized and demeaned as they have been over the last 6 years. This is why we pragmatically argue that the EPRDF’s regime was unfortunately replaced by the worst of all the most deceitful and dangerous ruler ever the empire has had since its creation in the modern form by Amhara’s notorious slave master king, Menelik II in the 1880s.      

Mr Denboba also got his own say on Oromo opportunists who are enabling the regime in one way or another. In fact, he characterizes them as “traitors”—flat out.

The late British PM during WWII, Winston Churchill, once stressed ‘Where there is no enemy within, the enemy outside cannot hurt you’. That’s True. This is compatible with the current Oromo situation simply because, the so called Oromo groups and individuals who used to call themselves the Oromo liberation fighters publicly declared that the ‘Oromo nation now has got what it has struggled for’. It makes someone with genuine humanity, sense of political maturity and intellectual rigor to feel deep and dagger stub pain when hearing the erroneous assertions from such self-centered Oromo’s opportunist individuals who have allied themselves to Abiy’s anti-Oromo project. In light of Oromo’s ongoing suffering more than any time in nations history; as closest family and ally of the Oromo nation, this writer feels appalled when Obbo Lencho Bati made a revolting claim: “there is no single reason for the Oromo to oppose this government”. At the heart of this claim lies utter treachery.

Lencho’s blatantly erroneous assertion yet revealed how the Oromo opportunists are more dangerous than even their outside enemies. Moreover, seeing the Oromo’s once beloved freedom fighters who were seen as towering figures in the history of Oromo resistance movement succumbing to egoism and personal gain thus actively working with Oromo dehumanizing Abiy’s projects defy sane beliefs. Additionally, those who were considered reliable and famous Oromo freedom icons for the last half a century such as Lencho Leta, Dima Nogo (PhD), Kajela Merdassa, and numerous others are becoming the subjects of conspiratory entablement’s political projects. The objectives of these all are achieving their own egoism at the expense of subjugating the Oromo nation predominantly and the rest of nations and nationalities of the empire at large. 

These and the other Oromo opportunists now have the audacity of claiming that grassroots-based Oromo Organization with wider popular support are anti-Oromo organizations, using state owned media outlets and so many  hired YouTubers and their vulgar platforms.

Mr Denboba also debunks the counter-productive campaigns of the nostalgic old guards, underscoring how their war coalition with Abiy ultimately crumbled.

Since Abiy Ahmed hijacked power in April 2018, the Amhara elites praised him at unprecedented scale. Their intelligentsia, religious leaders and those who live with the rest of nations – Ethiopia wide- all prematurely gave him a blank Cheque. This was simply because they were terribly deceived by Abiy’s lip service when he claimed ‘Ethiopia’s lost hegemony will be restored’, the claim that prematurely elevated their hopes, raised their heartbeats, thus their wider diaspora and domestic circles became ecstatic. Moreover, Abiy also cunningly confused and convinced them that he is there to punish TPLF and also the OLF—both pro-self-determination political entities—as part of his wider goal on removing all opponents off his delusional avenues of becoming “the seventh king” of Ethiopia. 

Therefore, the indicated elites prematurely and without scrutinizing his moves believed him as being one of the angels who was sent by their ‘god’ to satisfy their interests, restore their imagined territories. They thus were prepared to do what it takes on Abiy’s behalf. This was the time when they started to expand their territorial claims towards Wollega,  north Shoa, Agaw, Benishangul Gumuz, Kemant, Tigray and elsewhere; and cooperated with Abiy’s regime when he waged genocidal war in Oromia and Tigray.

When Abiy failed to militarily defeat Tigray’s resolute self-determination fight and thus agreeing to a November 2022’s Pretoria peace deal, the war coalition of the old Amhara nostalgic camp with Abiy collapsed. In Tigray’s genocidal war, Amhara elites and the Eritrean regime led by its ruthless dictator Esayas Afowerki did play key roles. The same is true in Oromia where these same elites cooperated with Abiy for the very same goal. 

Post the Pretoria 2022 peace deal, the Amhara and Amharanised elites made U-turn and claimed the current regime is ‘an Oromuma regime’ that stands to defend the rights of Oromo nation, and thus it is ‘anti-Ethiopia’. They badmouthed the Oromo nation that became sandwiched between the regime committing genocide on the nation more than its entire predecessors on one hand, and on the nonstop Amhara elites’ anti-Oromo campaign that only helps Abiy’s regime to remain on power- on another.

Mr Denboba wrapped up his extended comments with the following important note:

The Oromo nation is misunderstood and portrayed as the supporter of Abiy’s dictatorial regime. This has been ongoing since early 2019 and there is no sign of abating. Contrary to this, the Amhara elites claim to be not moving an inch forward. We urge Amhara elites to be pragmatic and assertive with their understanding of the Oromia wide reality to clear ambiguity thereby forge a realistic alliance for our common goods—peace, democracy, freedom, human rights, popular dignity and unity.

Trevor Trueman is a British Family Doctor and a long time friend of  the Oromo nation. In fact, he is also an Oromo man with an adopted Oromo name Dr Geleto. Dr Geleto is a long established campaigner for human rights and is currently the Chair of the Oromia Support Group (OSG)—a charity organization based in London.

Dr Geleto argues that until there is an internationally mediated ceasefire in Oromia, opposition to the current Ethiopian federal government and the vulgarly rude and hostile Fano forces needs necessarily to include violence.

Below, we quote Dr Geleto’s comments on this issue at length:

‘A freedom fighter learns the hard way that it is the oppressor who defines the nature of the struggle, and the oppressed is often left with no recourse but to use methods that mirror those of the oppressor. At one point, one can only fight fire with fire.’ Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom 1994.

‘When the elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.’ Ancient African proverb.

Devastation of infrastructure and property; destruction of agricultural potential; millions of displaced and destitute people, prone to starvation and epidemics; and an economy in free fall, are the result of conflict in Ethiopia. 

Isn’t peace at any cost the solution? Should pacifism prevail and dictate inaction in the face of worsening destruction? All agree that killing is wrong and that all disputes must eventually be settled by dialogue.

But if an oppressor continues to kill and destroy, to commit crimes against humanity – even genocide – should it not be opposed? This was, after all, the justification for fighting in the second world war.

This dilemma seemed to be resolved in Ethiopia when the peaceful Qeerroo Oromo student movement demonstrations from 2014, strengthened by Amhara student involvement from 2016, forced the collapse of the oppressive EPRDF regime and the withdrawal of the TPLF to Tigray in 2018.

The TPLF development model, orchestrated by Meles Zenawi, brought astonishing economic success to the country, especially the Tigray Region. As he said, economic benefits enabled him to ‘run ahead of the avalanche’ of demands for human rights and democracy.

But the pivotal moment for democratic change, opened up by the Qeerroo movement, was squandered by the machinations of Abiy Ahmed to mete out revenge on Tigray, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with Isaias Afeworki. 

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed unleashed two forces which are so retrogressive, evil and destructive, that they must be opposed. In doing so, he left the, by then peaceful, opposition with no alternative than to fight fire with fire, as explained by Nelson Mandela a quarter of a century earlier.

If not opposed, the two forces would continue on their destructive path. In rekindling the desire for a unified state, which is kept intact by coercion and violence, the Prosperity Party has strengthened the atavistic desires of former, mostly Amhara, elites to once again dominate the whole of Ethiopia with a single culture, language, religion and bureaucracy. This presages a return to totalitarianism, zero-sum politics and a weakening of democracy and respect for human rights.

Initial collusion with and strengthening of Amhara regional militia has let loose extremist Amhara nationalist forces which cooperated in the destruction of Tigray and are guilty of ethnic cleansing of Western Tigray, of Oromo from the Oromo zone in Amhara Region, of Agaw and Qemant in Amhara Region, of Oromo and Gumuz people from Metekel zone of Benishangul-Gumuz and of Oromo from Horo Guduru, East Wollega, and North, West and East Showa.

Qeerroo activists were targeted as Abiy Ahmed’s ‘number one’ enemy at the outset. Thousands were killed from the end of 2018 onwards and the killings continue. The devastation of Tigray has not been repaired and the ethnic cleansing in all zones adjacent to Amhara Region is unabated.

National forces, the ENDF, and Fano, despite their now mutual antagonism, continue to spread death and destruction and must therefore be opposed.

Peaceful political opposition must also continue, despite the continued illegal detention of OLF leaders, the killing of OLF political officer, Bate Urgessa, and detention of OLF and OFC members and closure of their offices.

On behalf of the OSG, Dr Geleto calls for a multilateral ceasefire and a return to the constitutional order in Ethiopia, and then embark on an all inclusive national dialogue.

OSG, in line with many Oromo human rights and advocacy groups, calls for a multilateral ceasefire and a return to the federal division of responsibilities as outlined in the Transitional Charter of 1991 and the Ethiopian Constitution of 1995, while a National Dialogue process is begun, which should involve all stakeholders, including armed groups, and is supervised and facilitated by international, neutral actors.

Self-determination for all peoples of Ethiopia, and an end to zero-sum hegemony by any group, including the management of national institutions, and representation in international bodies, are essential for a sustainable peace in Ethiopia.

Until there is an internationally mediated ceasefire, I believe that opposition to the Ethiopian government and the Amhara Fano forces, needs necessarily to include violence. This is regrettable.

Skeptical views

Nasir Kalil, an Oromo activist and long time observer of political developments in Oromia and Ethiopia, underscores that the lack of ideological clarity has contributed a great deal for most of the current political crises we see in Oromia and Ethiopia. He even calls for a “National Dialogue” that the Oromo political groups should conduct within themselves to tackle this problem.

I didn’t have time to fully explain the lack of ideological clarity. The core of my point is that we need to engage in a national dialogue and explore new ways of looking at ourselves and our struggle.

In my view, the Oromo national liberation struggle for freedom and democracy is in a serious ideological dilemma now more than ever before. One important and irreversible mistake we made was our shallow approach to supporting reformist elements from the EPRDF regime, which was rotten to its core in terms of corruption, poor governance, and lack of ideological clarity.

They swept into power on the back of a nationwide #OromoProtests movement for fundamental democratic changes in Ethiopia. Once in power, they disregarded the causes people fought and paid the ultimate sacrifices for, embarking instead on the dangerous political expediency of stirring intercommunal conflict to stay in power indefinitely.

Mr Nasir argues that despite all that, the 2018 regime change in Ethiopia brought Oromo leaders to power at the center.

Having said that, the change in government, despite its shortcomings, brought Oromo leaders to the center, though the Oromo quest for freedom and democracy is not sufficiently addressed. I believe that any conclusion that does not acknowledge this fact will miss the whole objective of the Oromo nationalist movement and be deemed to fail.

On the other side, we have the Oromo nationalist movement that remains committed to the same approaches as if we are still in the 70s and is unwilling to accommodate important changes.

The biggest stumbling block to a peaceful settlement of the political crisis, in my view, is Prime Minister Abiy’s adamant refusal to negotiate in good faith. The representatives of the Ethiopian government at peace talks always rely on the constitutional legality of their power, demanding the disarmament and unconditional surrender of rebel forces.

Coming to the ‘why’ of it, it seems that he does not want to give anything away from what he thinks is good for Ethiopia, making the resumption of peace talks with the armed opposition extremely difficult.

Mr Nasir Kalil concludes by recommending intellectual debates on the issues at hand.

I do not want the Oromo people to lose what they have already achieved by fighting for what they have not yet accomplished. Therefore, I believe that intellectual debates and consistent messages, not lies or fabrications, must be communicated to our people.

Professor Getachew Assefa is an accomplished academic, a scientist, public intellectual and founder of the UMD media. His media organization has gained reputation for steering intellectually informed debates and discussions on current  issues pertinent to Tigray, Ethiopia and the wider Horn of Africa, especially after the war on Tigray broke out in November 2020. The professor argues that, among other things, the leadership of the Oromo struggle has been exclusively focused on external oppression all along, often neglecting—or even enabling—internal oppressors, and hence the reason why Oromia and the whole of Ethiopia had to be in such a quagmire today.

Here we quote his opinion at length:

In my view, a significant fault line in the decades-old Oromo struggle has been its reliance on an urban elite leadership. This leadership has often been quick to trade long-term strategic allies for short-term tactical support, ultimately betraying its own constituency when it mattered most, particularly after April 2018. The elite’s emotional detachment from the hardships and pains of the masses has exacerbated this issue. For decades, the leadership of the struggle has been exclusively focused on external oppression, often neglecting—or even enabling—internal oppressors. This narrow focus has not only derailed the grassroots movement but also undermined the broader goals of the Oromo struggle by failing to address the multifaceted nature of oppression. The ramifications of this failure extend beyond the Oromo people, affecting the rest of Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa as a whole.

Mr Faisal Roble is a Somali intellectual, respected community organizer, long time observer and commentator on political developments in Ethiopia and the wider Horn of Africa regions. In his opinion that we extensively quoted below, he doubles down both on the issues of ideological clarity and also the achievements of Oromo politics.

As one of the oldest armed [and also non-armed] struggles in the Ethiopian political theater, the Oromo struggle has achieved tangible goals in the last 50 years. Some of these undeniable achievements include the abolition of feudalism and the successful and historic land to the tillers. Although many members of other groupings in Ethiopia struggled for this achievement, one can argue that the Oromo struggle was the major force or rather constituent for this revolution; If not for any reason, the Oromo was the largest single group that suffered under the primitive accumulation which characterized Ethiopia’s pre-1974 feudalism. Certainly, the Oromo political stake moved from being one of the periphery to the center. Even with or without Prime Minister Abiy’s administration, the Oromo political muscle is no longer as peripheral as it was a decade ago. 

But major challenges have faced the Oromo struggle which started about 70 years ago. One is ideological and another is its democratic goals towards other neighboring nationalities. First, there is a lack of clarity as to what are the goals of the Oromo’s struggle. Is it a full liberation from Ethiopia and so it can establish an Oromia state? After all, it is the second largest ethnic group in Africa. This argument reverberates well with certain sections of the Oromo nation, especially Muslim Oromos and some intellectuals from the Wollega area. 

Mr Faisal suggests that as a major southern group, Oromo has to find ways to bring together all those that seek democratization of the Ethiopian state.

Then there is the opposing view which seeks full domination of the political space of Ethiopia.  The more moderate voices are less heard. It is all the more confusing to find Oromo struggle on-and-off embracing pan-ethiopianism and then discarding it when it suits its short-term political gain. When one listens to the old guard of OLF, case in point is Dr. Dima, one gets confused where the Oromo struggle is headed. The second challenge for the Oromo struggle is its inability to accommodate its less numerous neighboring nationalities such as Somalis, Afar, Sidama, and others. In other words, the Oromo struggle has yet to design a broad democratic ideology that seeks its political goals without appearing a threatening force to others. As a major southern group, Oromo has to find ways to bring together all those that seek democratization.

Butta Dafi was a former OLF operative in Oromia during the period of the transitional charter (1991-1995) in Ethiopia. Exiled afterwards due to his political activism, he now lives in Norway. He is a community organizer there, and a frequent socio-political commentator. Apparently, he believes that the failure of the Oromo political struggle in 2018 is even more pronounced than the one in 1991. As someone who was part of the 1991 failure, it isn’t clear how Mr Buta squarely blames what happened in 2018 though. In any case, he wrote us the following reasons essentially blaming the #OromoProtests movement for all the failures. Nevertheless, we have presented his points of view below

1. The biased nature of movement facilitator’s (organizers).

2. Unnecessary dependence on Badhoo (by Badhoo, he meant the ruling prosperity party, PP).

3. Strong views of Oromummaa aka self-determination were purposefully sidelined.

4. Division among the activists, those who adhere to democratizing the Empire.

5. Power consolidation of the elites rather than empowering the mass . Highly elitist nature of the movement leaders.

6. Failure to understand  hard power controlled by Badhoo (PP).

Neutralistic views

Hafsa Mohamed is a California based Somali activist and community organizer who focuses on bringing diaspora based Horn of Africa communities together for peaceful co-existence. She says:

The contemporary Oromo movement for freedom and democracy  is struggling to succeed due to division along the lines of zones/subgroups and religion — and those divisions are taken advantage of by those ruling the country.

Solomon Shumiye is a media personality, a  host of an influential TV show known as “Shahi Buna”, which he independently produces and broadcasts on the state owned and oldest television station EBC (formerly ETV). He has engaged many politicians from Oromia. Solomon argues that if the struggle has been for freedom, democracy and human rights, it wasn’t supposed to be waged only in the name of the Oromo. Regrettably—or so to say—it seems that Mr Solomon conceptualizes the Oromo political struggle as a fight not only against oppressive regimes in Ethiopia, but also as one “against the rest of Ethiopians”—as reflected in his comment we quoted below:

If the struggle has been for freedom, democracy and human right; I don’t see why it should have been in the name of Oromo only. It’s a major cause to share with all the Ethiopian societies. Unless they have interest in secession, there is nothing special that makes the Oromo politicians to stand alone and fight against the rest of Ethiopians (or any regime). After all, the Oromos are one of the major elements to establish modern day Ethiopia and I don’t think it’s possible to detach them from the rest of the Ethiopian society. 

Dr Mohammed Hassan is a senior Somali intellectual, author of numerous books  and a former Ethiopian diplomat in Brussels and Washington DC, among other places. Currently based in Belgium, he is a senior member of the Belgian Workers Party (PTB). He also briefly served as the advisor of the current president of the Somali Regional State, Mr Mustefa Oumar—post the much anticipated reform in Ethiopia with the coming to power of PM Abiy Ahmed in 2018. He says:

Failures of inter-Oromo dialogue and negotiations in 2018 and afterwards are among the fundamental reasons for why Ethiopia had to find itself in its current predicaments. The Oromo political leadership repeated the same mistake that it committed in 1991. If there exists willingness and political patience among the parties, such mistakes can be rectified even today, and that can come for the best interests of Ethiopia and the wider Horn of African regions.

Anania Sori is an exiled journalist and human rights activist currently based in the Netherlands. He is also a commentator on Ethiopian political issues. Below, we quote the comments he sent us at length, in which he started with recounting his family anecdotes on the issue at hand:

As someone with a mixed Oromo-Amhara heritage, I do know and experienced (to a certain extent) the humiliating/degrading offenses mated out against the Oromo as a nation. My father, who is originally from Jalduu—his hometown in Maccaa—has told me lots of anecdotal stories regarding such traumatizing experiences. Thus, for me as a person who has an Oromo side, the psychological and ideological offense against Oromo identity and whatever it represents is vivid and structural. I remember the stories my father told me about “Macca & Tulaama” from ancient times till the formation of a Development organization by this name. It is public knowledge that this organization served later as a springboard for the emergence of the “Oromo Liberation Front”.

Mr Anania Sori identifies and suggests some points for genuine and bold debates and deliberations in Oromo politics.

Now, getting directly to my comments regarding “the Oromo Struggle”, I want to pinpoint some remarks which (in my opinion) need genuine and bold deliberations;

1) On the issue of the making (formation) of Ethiopia as a State , Nation-building project of Emperor Minilik & Gobaana (Because this has direct & consequential impact on the Oromo struggle goals – “Liberation from a Colonizing empire” or “Democratizing an empire co-created with an Oromo”?). Here, I see many historical narrative discrepancies or rather conflicting views from OLF and other Oromo political organizations (for example OFC) ….This needs to be settled in an open intellectual dialogue, since there are historical records and intellectual writings as well as living witnesses. 

2) On the issue of “Semitic Vs Cushitic eminence”: Here I see, a tit for tat or hegemonic competition for dominance in creating (recreating) Ethiopia in the image of either of the two (depending on the Power grab). I observe a non-tolerant tendency to wipe out the “other” from the political scene and there seems to be no room for co-existence. The zero-sum game of politics by the elites seem to contribute to this age-old horrifying image of the Oromo as an aggressor or totalizing assimilator. In this regard, the OPDO establishment played and is continuing to play a damaging role for the Oromo—which might instigate a genocidal attack on the general Oromo populace. Thus, I think it is high time for the Oromo intellectual class and dissidents as well to take a firm stance on this “Semitic-Cushitic” political divide irresponsibly pushed by some academics. 

3) On “Democratic dispensation” and the Oromo as “the Gada system” originator: The Oromo in general and the political elites in particular need to take serious stance on the issue of “Democratic governance” – since the Oromo as a nation has a long history of practicing Gada Democracy. It is still intact in parts of Oromia. Thus, rather than inheriting an Authoritarian/Colonial State structure and turning it into an Oromo instrument as it is, the Oromo public as well as elites can play a pivotal role in democratizing age-old Authoritarian institutions in Ethiopia for the benefit of the many.

Ms Mirt Babo is a California  based  Oromo writer who recently authored a popular book in Amharic language titled “Asanti”. She occasionally comments on sociopolitical issues about Oromia and Ethiopia as well. Here is what she had to say on our issue at hand:

I see two major problems as to why Oromo politics still struggle to achieve its goals—internal and external. Illustrations of internal problems include lack of trust among political elites, regionalism and even blazer tribalism among the Oromo  political groups. For the external one, we can mention how the former OPDO agents—foundationally alien to Oromo political struggle served as Trojan horse to TPLF—only to turn against the Oromo after they captured state power on the shoulders of the #OromoProtests movement.

Concluding remarks

There is no doubt that the current regime, which came to power by hijacking the popular #OromoProtests movement martialed for all the democratic causes, has caused serious damages both to the Ethiopian federalist project and also to the state of Oromia itself. Some of the regime’s top political cadres rudely portray the regime as “the Oromo government”.

Such rudimentarily wrong and dangerously delusional tales of the PP politicians who hover over Ethiopia’s bloody power corridors of the day have paved the way for all the detractors to blame and badmouth the Oromo people and all of the just causes fought for in Oromo politics. Fortunately enough though, the findings in this study show that despite such dangerously framed narratives on the part of the regime authorities and the extensive exploitation of this by all anti-Oromo propagandists settled on social and mainstream media platforms, the Oromo political struggle for just causes appears to have still command deep trust and expectations, among well meaning Oromo and non-Oromo elites alike.

As part of the concluding remarks in this article, therefore, we underscore on the imperative for a new and pragmatic [re]imaginations on the part of all of the stakeholders in the Oromo political struggle for all the just causes. In so doing, we are also essentially echoing the voices of those who volunteered to participate in this study. Here, we won’t pretend to make any attempt to dictate or recommend on the qualitative aspects of that badly needed pragmatic [re]imagination. But we argue that Oromo political groups settled on the center-left position can have far more better chances to marshal sustainable coalitions with most, if not all, progressives and democratic political forces in Ethiopia to practically challenge the chaotic and crumbling regime and chase it out of power before sealing its ongoing deal of destroying the Ethiopian state as we know it.


Acknowledgements:

The authors would like to acknowledge Shiferaw Muleta (PhD), an Associate Professor at the College of Social Sciences, Addis Ababa University, for critically reviewing the manuscript of this article.


Editor’s Note: Mirgissa Kaba (PhD) is an Associate Professor at Addis Ababa University. A sociocultural epidemiologist in specialization, Mirgissa is also an ardent advocate of social and cultural justice.

Girma Gutema (B.Pharm., MSc.) is an independent researcher and human rights defender based in Oromia, Ethiopia. He is member of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC).

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