Gumii Paarlaamaa Oromoo (GPO)
Oromo Parliamentarians Council (OPC)
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A DECADE AFTER THE ABORTED OROMO EVICTION FROM FINFINNEE
A Persistent Story of Expropriation, Humiliation and Displacement
By Mekuria Bulcha
version of this article was published under the title
Addis Ababa in the Making: Stop Them, or Keep Quiet and Perish
in 2003. The sub-title is added now. My main aim then was to
awaken the Oromo to a tragedy which was in the making in
connection to the decision, made by the Ethiopian regime,
regarding the status of Finfinnee as the capital city of
version of the article was published in both
on December 6, 2003, and also broadcast on Oromo radio stations.
A copy of the article was also included as a background document
in a petition submitted to the United Nations Secretary General
Kofi Annan on 13 January 2005 by delegates representing the
Oromo Studies Association (OSA), and the Oromo Communities in
North America and
Following the 2005 elections in which the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) lost its seats and a ‘mandate’ to rule the capital city to the opposition, the late PM of Ethiopia, Mr. Meles Zenawi, made an opportunistic turn and withdrew the decision of making Adama the capital city of Oromia evicting Oromo institutions from Finfinnee, which hitherto had been the capital city of both Oromia and Ethiopia. The aim was to win Oromo support. Although the decision to end Finfinnee’s status as the capital city of Oromia was aborted, the problems which were raised in 2003 have remained, not only unresolved, but some of them have even been exacerbated. The eviction of the Oromo from the city’s surroundings has continued and thousands of Oromo families have been displaced to open space for the expanding city. Thus, the expropriation of Oromo property, which started about 120 years ago, has continued and is extended by the present regime to other districts around Finfinnee in all directions. The regime is building “Greater Addis Ababa” displacing the Oromo population. As the cause and consequences of the recent clash between Oromo and Tigrayan students indicates, the Oromo are still being provoked, denigrated and persecuted by the oppressive regime that will displace them from their city.
November 30, 2003, the Macca-Tuulama Association (MTA), an Oromo
mass organization with its headquarters in
When I wrote the first version of this commentary in 2003, my intention was not to narrate the history of Finfinnee/Addis Ababa, but to comment on the appeal made by the Macca-Tuulama Association to the international community to help them stop the Ethiopian government’s plan to uproot them and other Oromo institutions from Finfinnee. Although three episodes I have described below and the historical documents cited support the claims which the association made to Finfinnee on behalf of the Oromo nation, my intention to investigate the events which occurred in the past was not to argue that city belongs (or should belong) only to its indigenous population, but to reveal the impunity with which generations of Abyssinian leaders have treated the Oromo in their homeland, in this case in their city, Finfinnee.
As I have argued in 2003, although appealing to the international community for moral, legal and material support is the right thing to do when violation of their basic rights occurs, that alone is not going to protect the Oromo from the violence of the Ethiopian ruling elites because they seem to be obsessed with the idea of dispossessing and uprooting, or as in the case of the present attack on the Oromo students at Finfinnee University, humiliating their subjects. Persistent struggle is needed in order to end the impunity with which the Oromo are treated in their city and homeland. Fredrick Douglass, the famous anti-slavery African American once said that:
Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did, and it never will. Find out just what people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.
Fredrick Douglass’s words were about the injustice of slavery in
I. Amhara Predators Raid Finfinnee: 1843
Ethiopian history books tell us that the Amharic-speaking community of Menz started to expand from its mountain stronghold in the early eighteenth century to become the Abyssinian rulers of Shawa at the time of Sahle Sellasie (r.1813 to 1847). In 1843 Sahle Sellasie went on one of the predatory raids, he usually conducted twice and often three times a year, into the Tuulama Oromo territory bordering on kingdom of Shawa. Major W. C. Harris, who was sent on a diplomatic mission to Shawa leading a British delegation and followed Sahle Sellasie on several of his raiding expeditions against the Oromo during the 18 months he stayed in the country, reported what he witnessed in his book The Highlands of Aethiopia (1844, Vols. I-III). Harris depicted vividly what he saw while following Sahle Sellasie on his many raiding expeditions against the Oromo. One of these expeditions took place 180 years ago in December, 1843 against Finfinnee, a cluster of prosperous Oromo villages with rich farm lands and numerous life-giving springs and wooded valleys. The quotations in this paper are from Vol. II (p. 185-198) of Harris’ book. What he wrote was corroborated by Johann L. Krapf (Travels, Researches, and Missionary Labours, 1858, 1968) who was in Shawa during the same period. Harris saw Finfinnee from a hill as the Amhara forces descended on it. He called the vast and thickly populated plain lying at the foot of the Entotto hills “the very picture of peace and plenty.” He wrote,
Hundreds of cattle grazed in tempting herds over the flowery meads [meadows]. Unconscious of danger, the unarmed husbandman [herdsman] pursued his peaceful occupation in the field; his wife and children carolled blithely over their ordinary household avocations; and the ascending sun shone bright on smiling valleys, which, long before his going down, were left tenanted [occupied] only by the wolf and the vulture.
Harris noted that, after conferring for a while with an Orthodox priest acting as his father confessor, Sahle Sellasie ordered the expectant army to “carry fire and sword through the land.” What followed was exactly what the king ordered his forces to do.
Rolling on like the mighty waves of the ocean, down poured the Amhára host among the rich glades and rural hamlets, at the heels of the flying inhabitants—tramping underfoot the fields of the ripening corn, in parts half reaped, and sweeping before them the vast herds of cattle which grazed untended in every direction. When far beyond the range of vision, their destructive progress was still marked by the red flames that burst forth in turn from the thatched roofs of each village; and the havoc committed many miles to the right by the division of Abagáz Maretch, who was advancing parallel to the main body, and had been reinforced by the detachment under Ayto Shishigo, became equally manifest in numerous columns of white smoke, towering upwards to the azure firmament in rapid succession.
indicated the utmost satisfaction expressed in Sahle Sellasie’s
eyes while watching the progress of his forces who “poured
impetuously down the steep side of the mountain and swept across
the level plain,” the British envoy continues to describe the
magnificent view over the country that was devoured by sword and
fire. The “beautifully secluded
The luckless inhabitants, taken quite by surprise, had barely time to abandon their property, and fly [flee] for their lives to the fastness of Entotto … The spear of the warrior searched every bush for the hunted foe. Women and girls were torn from their hiding to be hurried into helpless captivity Old men and young were indiscriminately slain and mutilated among the fields and groves; flocks and herds were driven off in triumph, and house after house was sacked and consigned to the flames … Whole groups and families were surrounded and speared within the walled courted yards, which were strewed with the bodies of the slain. [Those] who betook themselves to the open plain were pursued and hunted down like wild beasts; children of three and four years of age, who had been placed in the trees with the hope that they might escape observation, were included in the inexorable massacre, and pitilessly shot among the branches. In the course of two hours the division left the desolated valley laden with spoil, and carrying with them numbers of wailing females and mutilated orphan children, together with the barbarous trophies that had been stripped from the mangled bodies of their murdered victims.
Continuing with his description of the woes and destruction inflicted upon Finfinnee’s inhabitants who, as mentioned above, lived a peaceful and happy life just moments before the invaders descended on them, Harris wrote:
The hoarse scream of the vulture as she wheeled in funeral circles over this appalling scene of carnage and devastation, mingled with the crackling of falling roofs and rafters from the consuming [burning] houses, alone disturbed the grave-like silence of the dreary and devoted spot, so lately resounding to the fiendish shouts and war whoops of the excited warriors, and to the un-pitied groans of their helpless captives … gloomy columns of smoke rising thick and dense to the darkened heavens, for miles in every direction, proclaimed that this recently so flourishing and beautiful location had in a few brief hours been utterly ruined, pillaged, and despoiled, as far as the means of ruthless and savage man could effect its destruction.
After looting and destroying Finfinnee, the Amhara forces marched to Eekkaa (Yekkaa), today a suburb of Finfinnee/Addis Ababa. Harris noted that “the Abyssinian system of warfare consists in surprise, murder, and butchery, not in battle or fair conflict.” The reason for avoiding open engagement by Sahle Sellasie was in fact that the Oromo had repeatedly defeated him in battle. Taking the Eekkaa Oromo by surprise, his forces repeated their work of destruction they have already performed in Finfinnee. Harris wrote,
As the evening approached the scattered forces began to rendezvous around the state umbrellas, now unfurled, to which they were directed by the incessant beating of kettle-drums. Whilst the work of destruction still continued to rage on all sides, herd after herd of lowing beeves [cattle) pouring towards the royal standard, and each new foraging party brought with it fresh groups of captive women and girls, and the barbarous tokens of their prowess ... The slaughter had been immense. Every desolated court-yard was crowded with the bodies of the slain—childhood and decrepit age fared alike; murderers, unconscious of the disgrace attaching to unmanly deeds, unblushingly heralded their shame, and detailing their deeds of cruelty, basked in the smiles of their savage and approving monarch ... (emphasis mine).
Night Life in the Predators Camp
Harris wrote that after fourteen hours of raiding, looting, killing and burning, the weary forces halted in the Eekkaa valley. The “horses and mules were ... turned loose among the standing beans, and several thousand head of cattle [43,000, see Sven Ege, Class, State, and Power in Africa: A case Study of the Kingdom of Shawa, 1996] tired to death with the distance they had been driven from their … pastures, were, with infinite difficulty” collected in one secure spot. And “the King took his position for the night” contented with what he had achieved.
Major Harris’ description of life at Sahle Sellasie’s night camp reveals a telling contrast between the defeat and destruction of the Oromo on one hand, and victory and joy of their adversaries on the other. While reading what he narrates about the night, one almost ‘hears’ the sounds made by the displaced and agitated livestock, the screams of female captives calling for help or pleading that their captors leave them alone, the crying children who saw their parents killed during the day and now being dragged into slavery by their captors, the burning of their villages and homes surrounding Sahle Sellasie’s camping site, and the boastful fukara and qararto (war songs) of his Amhara forces. Harris wrote that,
Loud whoops and yells, arising from every quarter of the wide valley, mingled with the incessant lowing kine [cattle], the bleating of sheep, the thrill neighing of the war-steed, and the occasional wailing of some captive maid, subjected to the brutality of her unfeeling possessor. Groups of grim warriors, their hands embroiled in the innocent blood of infancy, and their stern features lighted by the fitful flame, chuckling over the barbarous spoils they had won, vaunted their inhuman exploits, as they feasted greedily … Spears and bucklers gleamed brightly around hundreds of bale-fires, composed of rafters stripped from the surrounding houses; and the whole distant landscape, red from the lurid glare reflected by scores of crackling [burning] hamlets (emphasis mine).
One may add that this happened, not only in Finfinnee or was committed only by Sahle Sellasie, but in numerous Oromo districts for many years after him leading to the genocide that killed half of the Oromo population at the end of the nineteenth century. Harris noted that Sahle Sellasie had carried out about 84 raids against his Oromo neighbours in every direction between 1813 and 1843.
Sahle Sellasie returned to Finfinnee and Eekkaa for the second time in 1843 because those who survived the first onslaught refused to submit or pay tributes to him. Harris wrote “The survivors of Ekka and Finfinni tribes, believing the fatal storm to be expended, had already returned with the residue of their flocks and herds, and were actively engaged in restoring their dilapidated habitations, when the Amhara hordes again burst over their valley, slew six hundred souls, and captured all the remaining cattle.” This time the predators looted 6000 head of cattle (Ege, 1996). Sahle Sellasie was not able to bring Finfinnee under his control. He died in 1847 and was succeeded by his son Haile Melekot, who continued with the predatory raids against the Oromo until his death in 1855.
II. Amhara Conquest and Occupation in the Mid-1880s and Oromo Eviction
Menelik, the son of Haile Melekot, became the ruler of Shawa.
Sahle Sellasie could repeatedly raid but not able to occupy
Finfinnee. Though equipped with firearms, his forces were not
capable to defend themselves against the famous Oromo cavalry on
a permanent basis. But, Menelik was able to do what Sahle
Sellasie failed to accomplish. He was, not only able to raid the
Oromo territories, but also occupy them permanently. He was
assisted by modern weapons he could amass in exchange for
booties he collected in his numerous raids against the Oromo and
other peoples in the southern regions what is today
started expansion into Oromo territory, Menelik first built his
capital in 1881 on the Entotto ranges overlooking the
magnificent plains and valleys of Finfinnee. Entotto was chosen
as a strategic site defensible against the surrounding Oromo who
were not yet subjugated. By mid 1880s, the subjugation of the
Oromo in this area was completed, and Menelik was able to
descend from Entotto, build his capital over the ruins of
villages and farms in Finfinnee in 1887, and renamed it
No more standing on Intottoo,
to look on meadows blow,
No more taking cattle to Finfinnee,
to water at the mineral springs.
No more gathering on Daalattii,
where the Gullallee assembly used to meet
No more going beyond Gafarsaa,
to chop firewood.
No more pasturing calves,
on the meadows of Hurufa Bombi.
The year the enemy came
our cattle were consumed.
Since Mashasha came,
freedom has vanished.
Caffee gad ilaalun haafe,
Finfinnee loon geessani,
hora obaasuun hafe
Tullu Daalatti irratt
Yaa’iin Gullallee hafee
qoraan cabsuun hin hafee
Hurufa Bombi irratti,
jabbilee yaasuun hafee
Bara jarri dhufani,
Loon keenyaas ni dhumani
Edda Mashashan dhufee
(Source: Wolde Yohannes Warqineh and Gammachu Malkaa: Oromiyaa: Yetedebeqew yegif Tarik, 1994)
Dajazmach Mashasha Seyfu, one of the grandsons of Sahle
Sellassie who, on behalf of his cousin Menelik II, occupied the
Finfinnee and the adjacent Oromo territory in the late 1870s. The
destruction inflicted by Mashasha was more severe than that which
was caused by his grandfather Negus Sahle Sellasie in 1843
described above. The Amhara occupation of Finfinnee and Oromo
uprooting became permanent. The author of the poem laments the
occupation of his homeland and suppression of its social
institution, political and military institution—Gadaa, and
the destruction of economic production and the natural environment
of Finfinnee by the occupiers. The conquerors also went on to change
the identity of the place: they renamed it
III. 1991: TPLF Captures Finfinnee and Oromo Eviction Continues
Tigrinya speaking elites from Maqale and
I wrote in
2003 that the TPLF regime is now planning to make Finfinnee and the
surrounding towns and villages into “Greater Addis Abba,” and
displacing Oromo-speaking inhabitants. The Oromo will be relegated
to the backyard and marginalized further as “Greater Addis Ababa”
will be a zone that is free from the Oromo language. I argued that,
if not stopped now, one should expect that the plan which Mr.
Zenawi’s regime has for Finfinnee would have far-reaching
consequences on the Oromo. Their uprooting will not be limited to
Finfinnee area alone.
All the above
is a common knowledge, not only in Finfinnee/Addis Ababa, but
internationally as well. It suffices to look at the many reports
filed by international human rights organisations, such as Amnesty
International, Africa Watch, Human Rights Watch, etc. to get a view
of the human rights situation in
Who Will Stop It?
responsibility of stopping the Oromo eviction is that of the Oromo
people themselves. We should make it absolutely clear to those who
will uproot us from our homeland that they are engaged in a
dangerous enterprise that can backfire. Non-Oromos should know that
we have nothing against those who respect our human rights and will
live with us in peace, but will not accept uprooting and humiliation
anymore. This cannot be done by paper work or appeals to the
international community alone. That is necessary, but not enough. We
know from experience the futility of appealing to others to have
Oromo rights respected. That means, we should engage in a real
struggle to gain respect and security in our own country. Here,
struggle means concrete action on the spot. It means organised
peaceful demonstration and protest in Finfinnee itself. Indeed,
solidarity demonstrations can be staged in cities around the world
by Oromos in the diaspora, but it would be futile to make appeals
abroad until and unless such a demonstration takes place first in
Finfinnee. The population of Finfinnee should not be terrorised by
the TPLF regime into passive acquiescence, but continue to protest.
They should know that, once they are displaced from their territory,
appeals to the international community are not going to help them to
regain their rights. This is what the histories of the Palestinian
refugees, and other uprooted and displaced populations teach us.
Furthermore, there are several million Oromos physically not far
away from Finfinnee who could be mobilised for peaceful
demonstrations. Inhabitants of other Oromo cities and towns can
stage demonstrations in solidarity with those in Finfinnee.
Finfinnee is their city; it is the capital city of
I argued in
2003 that the problem of terrorism and eviction should concern, not
only the Oromo, but also the other peoples of
whatever the cost may be, the Oromo should not accept the
humiliation perpetrated against them in Finfinnee and elsewhere in
their homeland. As Fredrick Douglass had stated, “The limits of
tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”
It is time that the Oromo learn from the historic anti-apartheid
struggle of the people of
In 2003 the Macca-Tuulama Association demanded that the decision made by the Ethiopian Government to remove Oromo institutions from Addis Ababa/Finfinnee be revoked immediately and Oromo rights to their historical homeland respected. As indicated above, the regime did not listen to the Oromo. However, when the regime was forced by the popular mood that led to its loss mandate over the city, it dropped the decision to move Oromo institutions from the capital. However, the revocation, I think, is not enough. The demands should include the following points in order to enhance Oromo rights and special interests in the city as granted by the Ethiopian Constitution and ratified by the present regime. As I have indicated in 2003, this is the least the Oromo can peacefully ask from a regime that has conquered and is occupying their city.
1. Change the
name of the area and city back to its original name Finfinnee. An
Oromo name is as good as any other name.
2. Today Finfinnee’s city squares are decorated mainly by statues of Abyssinian leaders who had committed atrocious crimes against the Oromo people and against humanity. Acknowledge the crimes they committed and build parks and monuments in commemoration of the thousands of men, women and children who were massacred or taken prisoners and enslaved by Sahle Sellasie and Menelik.
3. It is a
violation of human rights to prevent more than half a million Oromos
living in the city from using their language as they wish. It was
4. The last line in the poem cited above reads: “Edda Mashashan dhufee (Since Mashasha came), Birmaadummaan hinhafee (freedom has vanished)”. It time to stop the violation of Oromo human rights that started more than a century ago and rebuild the damages it has caused starting in Finfinnee.
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
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