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The Need for Critically Understanding of Oromummaa (Oromo Nationalism) Part I

The critical conceptualization of Oromummaa requires at least five levels: at the first level, having a basic form of Oromummaa means to manifest Oromoness by practicing some aspects of Oromo culture, language, belief systems, values, and norms. Whether an Oromo is politically conscious or not, she or he automatically develops this form of Oromummaa because of the influence Oromo family and community institutions. Hence, every Oromo, if not totally assimilated to another culture, has the basic form of Oromummaa. At this historical moment, most Oromo have this kind of Oromummaa, and their national political consciousness is limited. On the basic level, all Oromo speak, except the totally assimilated ones, the same language called Afaan Oromoo, claim common historical and cultural backgrounds, and face similar challenges of Ethiopian colonial terrorism, repression, cultural destruction, exploitation, and humiliation. More or less, most Oromo manifest basic Oromummaa in their cultural values, norms, and belief systems. The Oromo belief systems, norms, and cultural principles have been encoded in and expressed by Afaan Oromoo that primarily unites all Oromo branches as one people or one nation. Therefore, the Oromo language has been the main carrier of the essence and features of Oromo culture, tradition, history, and peoplehood.

            Since the Ethiopian colonizers had failed to destroy this language and replace it by that of their own, they could not successfully suppress basic Oromummaa that has survived in scattered forms for more than a century. According to Bonnie K. Holcomb, “The essence of colonization was the replacement of the values of Oromummaa as the overarching, integrating mechanism of the Oromo superstructure and replacing it with the ideology and the resulting institutions of Greater Ethiopia.”[1] Oromummaa as the total expression of Oromo peoplehood has developed from the historical, cultural, religious, and philosophical experiences of the Oromo society. As a self and collective schema, Oromummaa encapsulates a set of fundamental beliefs, values, moral codes, and guiding principles that shape the Oromo national identity and make the Oromo society different from other societies.[2] Consequently, basic Oromummaa has been built on personal, interpersonal, and collective connections. It is “an historically shaped form of knowledge that emerged out of the Oromo experience of several centuries of life and living (jiruf jireenya);” it has “served as a mechanism that built Oromo society in the past and left its unique mark upon the people, and their environment.”[3] Similarly, other colonized and dominated peoples have similar basic essence and features that are the foundations of their cultures, histories and identities.

            Currently, the Tigrayan-led Ethiopian government that claims that it has allowed cultural autonomy for the Oromo and others opposes particularly the manifestation of basic and other forms of Oromummaa. According to the November 2014 report of Amnesty International entitled “Because I am Oromo,” “Expression of Oromo culture and heritage have been interpreted as manifestations of dissent, and the government has also shown signs of fearing cultural expression as a potential catalyst for opposition to the government. Oromo singers, writers and poets have been arrested for allegedly criticizing the government and/or inciting people through their work. People wearing traditional Oromo clothing have been arrested at Oromo traditional festivals.”[4] The Ethiopian colonialists have been attacking the individual psyche and biography of the Oromo, as well as their collective culture and history. These damages have been occurring through various forms of violence, including colonial terrorism.[5] According to Hussein Abdilahi Bulhan, “Violence is any relation, process, or condition by which an individual or a group violates the physical, social, and/or psychological integrity of another person or group. From this perspective, violence inhibits human growth, negates inherent potential, limits productive living, and causes death”[6] (Author’s emphasis). In order to make the Oromo people submissive and control and exploit their labor and economic resources, successive Ethiopian governments have used different forms of violence that have caused genocidal massacres and societal and cultural destruction in the Oromo society. The current report of Amnesty International that is mentioned above attests to this reality.[7]

            Until national Oromummaa emerged, basic Oromummaa (Oromoness) primarily remained at personal and interpersonal levels because the Oromo were denied the opportunities to form and maintain national institutions. Still most Oromo have basic Oromummaa because they have been denied a formal education and free institutional spaces by successive Ethiopian governments, which have never tolerated the existence of independent Oromo leadership, institutions and organizations. The Ethiopian colonialists have also expropriated Oromo economic resources and destroyed Oromo institutions and cultural experts and leaders. Oppressors don’t just want to control the oppressed economically, culturally and politically; they want also to control their minds, thus ensuring the effectiveness of domination. Na’im Akbar succinctly explains how the mental control of the oppressed causes personal and collective damages.[8] The Passivity of the majority of Oromo and the mental enslavement of most Oromo collaborative elites are the major reasons why the Oromo people that comprise almost about the half of the population in the Ethiopian Empire are brutalized, murdered and terrorized by the minority Tigrayan elites today. Most Oromo collaborators have lost their Oromo norms and values through the process of Ethiopianism and suffer from an inferiority complex. Without the emancipation of Oromo individuals and groups from this inferiority complex and without overcoming the ignorance and the worldviews that the enemies of the Oromo have imposed on them, the Oromo collaborative class and the Oromo masses cannot have the self-confidence necessary to facilitate individual liberation and Oromo emancipation. 

         The Oromo collaborative elites that are opportunists or lack Oromo nationalism have become raw materials for successive Ethiopian regimes and have implemented their terrorist and genocidal policies. As Frantz Fanon notes, “The intermediary does not lighten the oppression, nor seek to hide the domination . . . he is the bringer of violence into the home and into the mind of the native.”[9] Ethiopian Colonialism has been maintained by committing mental genocide and organized cultural destruction and the assimilation of a sector of the Oromo population that has lost its basic Oromummaa. The Ethiopian colonialists have denied the Oromo opportunities for developing the Oromo system of knowledge by preventing the transmission of Oromo cultural experiences from generation to generation. All these have been intended to uproot basic Oromummaa in order to produce individuals and groups who lack self-respect and are submissive and ready to serve the colonialists at the cost of their own people. Under these conditions, the Oromo basic needs and self-actualizing powers have not been fulfilled. In other words, the Oromo biological and social needs have been frustrated. “If failure to satisfy biological needs leads to disease and physical death,” Hussein Abdilahi Bulhan notes, “then denial of human contact, communication, and affirmation… leads to a social and psychological ‘starvation’ or ‘death’ no less devastating than, and conditioning, physical death.”[10]

         The Ethiopian colonialists have caused the physical death of millions, and further attempted to introduce social and cultural death to the Oromo by suppressing their basic Oromummaa and by preventing them from developing Oromo nationalism. Those who were born from Oromo families and lost their basic Oromummaa developed inferiority complex and self-hatred that Ethiopian colonialism had introduced to them, and they have becomes the tools of the Ethiopian state. Since the colonization of the Oromo, one of the goals of the Ethiopian state has been the destruction and underdevelopment of an independent Oromo leadership; the Amhara-Tigrayan state has used both violent and institutional mechanisms to ensure that the Oromo remain leaderless. In addition, to ensure its colonial domination, the Ethiopian state has destroyed or suppressed Oromo institutions while glorifying, establishing, and expanding the Amhara-Tigrayan government and Orthodox Christianity in Oromia and beyond.[11] This state has also sought to suppress Oromo history, culture, and language while promoting that of the Abyssinians. The main reason for suppressing or destroying the major Oromo institutions was to prevent the transmission of the Oromo belief systems and cultural norms from generation to generation and to stop “each new generation engaging creatively with the circumstances in which they found themselves to find expression for the core values in the way they organized themselves.”[12]

         Because of Ethiopian colonialism Oromo relational identities have been localized and not strongly connected to the collective identity of national Oromummaa. Consequently, the Oromo have been separated from one another and prevented from exchanging goods and information on national level for more than a century, and their identities have been localized into clan families and colonial regions. Consequently, the Oromo have been exposed to different cultures and religions and have adopted some elements of these cultures and religions because of the inferiority complex that Ethiopian colonialism introduced to them. The Oromo national struggle has tried to solve the internal problems of Oromo society by developing national Oromummaa before it can fully confront and defeat its joined external enemies. Ethiopian colonial history demonstrates that most Oromo collaborative individuals and groups have been king makers and have protected the Ethiopian Empire without seeking authority for themselves and their people. These collaborators have acted more Ethiopian than their colonial masters. “The oppressed learn to wear many masks for different occasions;” Frantz Fanon notes, “they develop skills to detect the moods and wishes of those in authority, learn to present acceptable public behaviors while repressing many incongruent private feelings”.[13] The Oromo collaborative elites have been politically ignorant and tools of others. According to Bulhan, “Prolonged oppression reduces the oppressed into mere individuals without a community or a history, fostering a tendency to privatize a shared victimization.”[14]

         Since they have been cut from their individual biographies and the collective Oromo history, most members of the Oromo collaborative class have only known what the Amhara or Tigrayan elites have taught them and, as a result, they have constantly wore “Ethiopian masks” that have damaged their psyches. The colonizers have never been content with occupying the land of indigenous peoples and expropriating their labor and other resources; they have also declared war on the psyches of the oppressed.[15] As Fanon asserts, “All colonized people—in other words, people in whom an inferiority complex has taken root, whose local cultural originality has been committed to the grave—position themselves in relation to the civilizing language . . . The more the colonized has assimilated the cultural values of [the colonizers], the more he [and she] will have” imitated his/her masters.”[16] As the European colonialists did, the Amhara-Tigrayan colonizers have manufactured the Oromo collaborative elites to use them in their colonial projects. According to Bulhan, “in prolonged oppression, the oppressed group willy-nilly internalizes the oppressor without. They adopt his guidelines and prohibitions, they assimilate his image and his social behavior, and they become agents of their own oppression. The oppressor without becomes . . . an oppressor within . . . They become auto-oppressor as they engage in self-destructive behavior injurious to themselves, their loved ones, and their neighbors.”[17]

         The Oromo People’s Democratic Organization that was manufactured in Tigray jungles by the Eritrean and Tigrayan liberation fronts from Ethiopian war prisoners in the late 1980s clearly demonstrates what Bulhan says above. This so-called organization has been owned, controlled and used by the Tigrayan-led regime to brutalize, kill, imprison and as well as evict Oromo farmers through dispossession. The Tigrayans and Eritreans probably learned form the Siad Baree regime of Somalia that created the so-called Somali Abo Liberation Front in the 1970s from Oromo refugees in Somalia whishing to colonize and Somalize some Oromo branches. What Fanon says about other colonial intermediary elites applies to the collaborative Oromo elites: “The European elite undertook to manufacture native elite. They picked out promising adolescents; they branded them, as with a red-hot iron, with the principles of Western culture; they stuffed their mouths full with high-sounding phrases, grand glutinous words that stuck to the teeth.”[18] Furthermore, since most Oromo elites who have passed through Ethiopian colonial institutions have not yet achieved psychological and cognitive liberation, they consciously or unconsciously prefer to work for their colonial masters rather than working as a team on the Oromo liberation project. What Walter Rodney says about the consequences of the colonial educational system in Africa also applies to the situation of Oromo intermediaries: “The colonial school system educated far too many fools and clowns, fascinated by the ideas and way of life of the European capitalist class.” “Some reached a point of total estrangement from African conditions and the African way of life . . . ‘Colonial education corrupted the thinking and sensibilities of the African and filled him with abnormal complexes.’”[19]

         Similarly, some Oromo intermediaries who have passed through the Ethiopian colonial education system have been de-Oromized and Ethiopianized, and have opposed the Oromo struggle for national liberation. Colonial education mainly creates some submissive leaders that facilitate underdevelopment through subordination and exploitation.[20] Considering the similar condition of the African Americans in the first half of the 20th century, Carter G. Woodson characterized the educated Black as “ a hopeless liability of the race,” and schools for Blacks were “places where they must be convinced of their inferiority.”[21] He demonstrated how White oppressors controlled the minds of Black elites through education in the United States: “When you control a man’s [or a woman’s thinking] you do not have to worry about his [or her] actions. You do not have to tell him [or her] not to stand here or go yonder. He [or she] will find his [or her] ‘proper place’ and will stay in it.”[22] Most African American elites had achieved psychological and cognitive liberation after the mid-20th century and intensified the Black national struggle in the US.[23] The behaviors and actions of most educated Oromo intermediaries parallel what Woodson says about the educated African Americans before they intensified their national struggle. Such intermediaries lack basic Oromummaa, and even collaborate with the Ethiopian colonial state in killing, torturing and imprisoning Oromo nationalists who have embraced different levels of Oromummaa. When the Oromo national struggle will be intensified, some of these intermediaries may join the struggle as most of African American elites joined the Black national struggle after the mid-20th century. 

         Oromummaa as a conceptual and theoretical framework is elastic and expands to a political arena. Therefore, an Oromo, who has an Oromummaa national ideology, is somewhat different on the level of political knowledge from other Oromo who did not yet develop this ideology or Oromo nationalism. The combined process of developing the Oromo nationalist ideology and engaging in the struggle for national self-determination is the second level of Oromummaa.  Between the first and the second levels of Oromummaa, there is a stage of having political awareness. Most Oromo stated to develop national political awareness in 1991, when the OLF joined the Transition government of Ethiopia dominated by the Tigrayan Liberation Front that was then supported by its Godfather, the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front. At the second level, Oromummaa is seen as a nationalist ideology that attempts to mobilize the entire Oromo people to restore their national culture, history, identity, language, human dignity, and freedoms that Ethiopian colonialism has destroyed or suppressed for more than a century. At this level of Oromummaa, Oromo political awareness is transformed into Oromo nationalism and enables Oromo individuals, families, groups, and communities to comprehend the illegitimacy, evilness, and criminality of Ethiopian colonialism and to struggle for their national liberation. In other words, Oromummaa as the nationalist ideology empowers Oromo to build and strengthen their ideological determination, solidarity, and capabilities to define, defend, and struggle for the Oromo national cause.

         More or less, the ideology of national Oromummaa increases the determination of Oromo individuals, groups and communities to be ready for paying sacrifices of different forms and levels including sacrificing lives for the Oromo national cause. Basic sacrifices include joining Oromo associations, investing in Oromo material and intellectual products, and spending time, energy, and money to promote the Oromo national cause. Levels of sacrifices depend on the level of national Oromummaa consciousness as well as commitment. There have been Oromo nationalists who have been killed or tortured and imprisoned while struggling to liberate their people and their country. We can list thousands of them from very young to very old and from women to men who have sacrificed their precious lives to further build national Oromummaa. Furthermore, there have been also thousands of Oromo who have been suffering in Ethiopian concentration and military camps and prisons because they have manifested national Oromummaa or sympathized with or struggled for the Oromo cause. There are also thousands of Oromo who have escaped from the brutality of the Ethiopian government and who are suffering in refugee camps in different countries or settled in foreign countries. 

         Nevertheless, there are millions of Oromo who did not yet develop the national Oromummaa ideology and who do not involve in the Oromo national struggle even at the basic level. As already explained, there are also Oromo who have joined the enemy camps because of their political opportunism or lack of political consciousness or ignorance. The main reason for not involving in the Oromo national struggle or joining the enemy camps is the deficit of Oromo leadership and organizational capacity, which is necessary to raise Oromo political consciousness, develop national Oromummaa and to stop those who are joining the enemy camps through different mechanisms. Without developing national Orommummaa ideology, it is impossible to raise Oromo political consciousness in order to organize and build a formidable leadership and organizational capacity that can challenge and defeat the Ethiopian colonial state that is supported by global powers and the imperial interstate system. Oromummaa as the Oromo nationalist ideology defines and promotes the Oromo political, material and cultural interests in order to develop an Oromo political community and transform it into a state through destroying all powers and ideologies, mainly Ethiopianism, which have been keeping the Oromo society under political slavery by all possible ways. According to Antonio Gramsci, political domination is practiced through ideological hegemony.[24] Ethiopianism has been imposed on the Oromo via physical coercion including terrorism and mental genocide.

            All forms of domination, including colonial domination, cannot be practiced without imposing “a structure of meaning that [reflects] its leading beliefs, values, and ideas;”[25] the process through which the dominated internalizes the ideology, worldview, culture, and mentality of the rulers as natural order is called ideological hegemony. In order to consolidate the Oromo national movement, it is necessary to recognize its current ideological inadequacies and overcome them. The triple ideological problems of the Oromo national movement are Ethiopianism and the failed ideologies of the East and the West that have victimized the Oromo.[26] Oromummaa as a theory of liberation refutes false or biased knowledge, and challenges reactionary narratives that naturalize and justifies colonialism and all forms of social hierarchies, injustices, and exploitation because it is mainly informed by the principles of egalitarian Oromo democracy of gadaa/siqqee system. Furthermore, as a theoretical foundation of the Oromo national movement, Oromummaa with other critical theories enables the Oromo to engage in producing knowledge for critical thinking and liberation to promote egalitarian democracy. Despite the fact that the development of this theory is mainly based on the Oromo cultural foundation, it recognizes the importance of multicultural and critical knowledge and theories

[1] Bonnie K. Holcomb, “Oromummaa as a Construct or Peace Through Balance: Oromummaa in the Twenty-First Century,” Presentation prepared for the Oromo Studies Association Conference Roundtable,” Washington, DC, July 27-28, 2002, p.1.

[2] Ibid, p.1.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Amnesty International, “Because I am Oromo: Sweeping Repression in the Oromia Region of Ethiopia,” November 2014, p. 8.

[5] For further discussion, see Asafa Jalata, “Terrorism from Above and Below in the Age of Globalization,” Sociology Mind, 2011, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 1-15.

[6] Hussein Abdilahi Bulhan, Frantz Fanon and the Psychology of Oppression, (New York: Plenum Press, 1985), p. 135.

[7] Amnesty International, “Because I am Oromo,” ibid.

[8] Na’im Akbar, Breaking the Chains of Psychological Slavery, (Tallahassee, FL: Mind Productions and Associates, 1996), pp. v-iv.

[8] Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, translated by Constance Farrington, (New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1963[1961]), p. 38.

[8]Hussein Abdilahi Bulhan, ibid, p. 123.


[8]Fanon, Frantz, A Dying Colonialism, translated by Haakon Chevalier,             (New      York: Grove Press, Inc., 1967[1965]), p. 65.

[8]Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, translated by Richard Philcox, (New York: Grove Press, Inc., 2008[1952]), pp. 2-3.

[8] Hussein Abdilahi Bulihan, ibid. pp. 125-126.

[8] Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, p. 7.

[8] Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, ibid, p. 38.

[8]Hussein Abdilahi Bulhan, ibid, p. 123.

[9] Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, ibid, p. 38.

[10] Hussein Abdilahi Bulhan, ibid, 56.

[11] Ethiopian settler colonialism established five institutional arrangements in Oromia in order to tightly control Oromo society and intensify its exploitation: (1) garrison cities and towns, (2) slavery, (3) the colonial landholding system, (4) the nafxanya-gabbar system (semi-slavery), and (5) the Oromo collaborative class.[11] The colonialists were concentrated in garrison cities and towns and formulated political, economic, and ideological programs that they used to oppress their colonial subjects. The settlers expropriated almost all Oromo lands, and forced most Oromos to work on these lands without payment. The Oromo intermediaries were used in subordinating the Oromo people to the colonial society. Many people were enslaved and forced to provide free labor to the colonial ruling class, and others were reduced to the status of semi-slaves to provide agricultural and commercial products and free labor for their colonizers.

[12]Bonnie Holcomb, ibid.

[13]Hussein Abdilahi Bulhan, ibid, p. 123.


[15]Fanon, Frantz, A Dying Colonialism, ibid, p. 65.

[16]Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, ibid, pp. 2-3.

[17] Hussein Abdilahi Bulihan, ibid. pp. 125-126.

[18] Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, p. 7.

[19] Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, (Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1972), pp. 248-249.

[20] Walter Rodney, ibid. p. 241.

[21] Carter G. Woodson, The Mis-education of the Negro, (Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press, Inc., 1990 [1933], pp. xiii, and 2.

[22] Ibid.

[23] For further discussion, see Asafa Jalata, Fighting Against the Injustice of the State and Globalization: Comparing the African American and Oromo National Movements, (New York: Palgrave, 2001.)

[24] Antonio Gramsci. Selections from the Prison Notebook, (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1971).

[25] Alex Roberto Hybel, ibid., p. 8.

[26] The Oromo national struggle is taking place when the modern world system is at a crossroads, and when the modernization perspective of the West and the so-called socialist/communist model of the East have drastically failed in the peripheral part of the world such as Oromia, Ethiopia, and the Horn of Africa. On one hand, the modernization theory that has claimed that all societies would gradually develop by becoming “modern” under the leadership of powerful capitalist countries[26] is proved to be false and a self-serving ideology of Western countries and their client states in the Rest of the world. On the other hand, the socialist perspective that has asserted that since the capitalist world system has been reactionary and exploitative and it should be overthrown by a revolutionary means under the leadership of the working class dictatorship has become a version of the modernization model and ended up in failure in the peripheral part of the world.[26] As the policies of the West, particularly that of the US, have promoted colonialism, neocolonialism and dictatorship and contributed to underdevelopment and gross human rights violations in peripheral areas of the world such as Oromia and Ethiopia, the policies of the former Soviet Union and currently that of China have contributed to the same problems in the Ethiopian Empire.[26] For the Oromo both the capitalist and the socialist ideological and theoretical models have contributed to their colonization, terrorization, and impoverishment.


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