Gumii Paarlaamaa Oromoo (GPO)
Oromo Parliamentarians Council (OPC)
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Gadaa (Oromo Democracy): An Example of Classical African Civilization
By Asafa Jalata, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology, Global Studies, and Africana Studies
Oromo Democracy and its Major Principles
The Origin and Branches of the Oromo
Oromo Worldview, Philosophy, and Religion
Efforts for Reviving and Revitalizing Oromo Democracy
paper briefly introduces and explains the essence of indigenous
Oromo democracy and its main characteristics that are relevant for
the current condition of
Prior to their colonization during the European Scramble for
But, today, the Oromo do not have any autonomous or democratic
political representation; they have been ruled by the successive
regimes of the Amhara-Tigray ethno-national groups that have been
supported by global powers (Jalata, 2005; Holcomb and Ibssa, 1990).
The Ethiopian colonial terrorism and genocide that started during
the last decades of the 19th century still continue in the 21st
Without the expertise and the modern weapons they received from these European powers, the Amhara-Tigray warlords could not colonize Oromia (the Oromo country). The Oromo and Abyssinian peoples fought each other over territories, religions, and power between the 16th and mid-19th centuries without defeating and colonizing each other. This balance of power was changed by the intervention of the European colonial powers on the side of the Amhara-Tigray warlords in the second half of the 19th century.
During Ethiopian colonial expansion, Oromia, “the charming Oromo land, [would] be ploughed by the iron and the fire; flooded with blood and the orgy of pillage” (de Salviac, 2005 : 349). Calling this event as “the theatre of a great massacre,” Martial De Salviac (2005 : 349) states, “The conduct of Abyssinian armies invading a land is simply barbaric. They contrive a sudden irruption, more often at night. At daybreak, the fire begins; surprised men in the huts or in the fields are three quarter massacred and horribly mutilated; the women and the children and many men are reduced to captivity; the soldiers lead the frightened herds toward the camp, take away the grain and the flour which they load on the shoulders of their prisoners spurred on by blows of the whip, destroy the harvest, then, glutted with booty and intoxicated with blood, go to walk a bit further from the devastation. That is what they call ‘civilizing a land.’” The Oromo oral history also testifies that Ethiopians/Abyssinians destroyed and looted the resources of Oromia, and committed genocide on the Oromo people through massacre, slavery, depopulation, cutting hands, famine, and diseases during and after the colonization of Oromia.
According to Martial de Salviac (2005 : 350), “With equal
According to Alexander Bulatovich (2000: 68-69), “The dreadful annihilation of more than half of the population during the conquest took away from the [Oromo] all possibilities of thinking about any sort of uprising . . . Without a doubt, the [Oromo], with their least five million population, occupying the best land, all speaking one language, could represent a tremendous force if united.” The destruction of Oromo lives and institutions were aspects of Ethiopian colonial terrorism.
The surviving Oromo who used to enjoy an egalitarian democracy known as the gadaa system were forced to face state terrorism, political repression, and an impoverished life. Bulatovich (2000: 68) explains about the gadaa and notes, “the peaceful free way of life, which could have become the ideal for philosophers and writers of the eighteenth century, if they had known it, was completely changed. Their peaceful way of life is broken; freedom is lost; and the independent, freedom loving [Oromos] find themselves under the severe authority of the Abyssinian conquerors.” Ethiopian colonialists also destroyed Oromo natural resources and the beauty of Oromia (the Oromo country): Oromia was “an oasis luxuriant with large trees” and known for its “opulent and dark greenery used to shoot up from the soil” (de Salviac, 2005 : 21-22).
As de Salviac (2005 : 21) also notes, “the greenery and the shade delight the eyes all over and give the landscape a richness and a variety which make it like a garden without boundary. Healthful climate, uniform and temperate, fertility of the soil, beauty of the inhabitants, the security in which their houses seem to be situated, makes one dream of remaining in such a beautiful country.” As the Oromo people were killed, terrorized, and repressed, the Oromo natural resources were depleted and their environment and natural beauty were destroyed. Human beings have basic attributes that Hussein Abdilahi Bulhan (1985: 262) characterizes as “essential human needs and essential human powers” in order to survive and develop fully. The people who were colonized and dominated cannot adequately satisfy their basic needs and self-actualizing powers: “(a) biological needs, (b) sociability and rootedness, (c) clarity and integrity of self, (d) longevity and symbolic immortality, (e) self-reproduction in praxis, and (f) maximum self-determination.” Human beings must satisfy their basic biological needs such as food, sex, clothing, and shelter to survive; these biological needs can only be satisfied in a culture that provides sociability and rootedness. Those people whose culture has been attacked and disfigured by colonialism are underdeveloped; their basic needs and selfactualizing powers are stagnated. According to Bulhan (185: 263), “For to acquire culture presupposes not only a remarkable power of learning and teaching, but also an enduring capacity for interdependence and inter-subjectivity. Not only the development of our higher power of cognition and affect, but also the development of our basic senses rest on the fact that we are social beings.” Colonialism can be maintained by committing genocide or ethnocide and/or by organized cultural destruction and the assimilation of a sector of the colonized population.
Ethiopian colonialists expropriated Oromo economic resources, such as land, and destroyed Oromo institutions and cultural experts and leaders. They have also 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 were intended to uproot the Oromo cultural identity and to produce individuals who lack self-respect and become submissive and ready to serve the colonialists. 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,” Bulhan (1985: 263) 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.”Furthermore, the Ethiopian colonialists have attempted to introduce social and cultural deaths to the Oromo people in addition to millions of physical deaths for more than a century. That is why the Amharas and Tigrayans are mad at the current revival of Oromo culture, history, and the Oromo language, and the latter presently use the state machinery to control these developments in order to promote their political agendas at the cost of the Oromo. Both the Amhara and Tigrayan elites have also attempted to destroy Oromo selfhood in order to deny the
Oromo both individual and national self-determination. From all
angels, they have tried their best to prevent the Oromo from having
clarity and integrity of Oromo self; they have prevented the Oromo
from establishing their cultural and historical immortality through
reproducing and recreating their history, culture and worldview, and
from achieving maximum selfdetermination “The pursuit of
self-clarity is . . . intimately bound with the clarity developed
first about one’s body, the body’s boundary and attributes, and
later one’s larger world. This pursuit of clarity has survival,
developmental, and organizing value. It entails both a
differentiation from as well as integration with others and with
one’s past. Without some clarity of the self, however tentative and
tenuous, there can be no meaningful relating with others, no
expression of inherent human potentials, no gratification of
essential needs” (Bulhan, 1985: 264) The founding fathers and
mothers of Oromo nationalism purposely engaged in political praxis
to save the Oromo individual and collective selves from
psychological, social, and physical deaths. Without a measure of
self-determination a person cannot fully satisfy his/her biological
and social needs, self-actualize, and engage in praxis as an active
agent to transform society and oneself. “Self-determination
refers to the process and capacity to choose among alternatives, to
determine one’s behavior, and to affect one’s destiny. As such,
self-determination assumes a consciousness of human possibilities,
an awareness of necessary constraints, and a willed, self-motivated
engagement with one’s world” (Bulhan, 1985: 265). The revival of
empowers the Oromo to achieve their personal and national
self-determination. The Oromo have internal power to make their
choices from the best possible alternatives and to have control on
what they do despite the fact that the Ethiopian colonialists have
imposed on them nearly total control to deny them the right of
self-determination both individually and collectively. Currently,
the Oromo are an impoverished and powerless political minority
because they have been the colonial subjects of Ethiopia/Abyssinia
since the last decades of the nineteenth century. However,
numerically speaking, today the Oromo are estimated at 40 million of
the 80 million people in the Ethiopian Empire alone, and they are
larger than combined numbers of Tigrayans and Amharas. Some branches
of the Oromo also live in
To change their deplorable status, presently the Oromo national movement is engaged in struggle to restore Oromo democracy and to liberate the Oromo people from all forms of oppression and exploitation (Jalata, 2010; 2012). A few elements of the Oromo educated class clearly understood the impact of Ethiopian colonialism on Oromo society by familiarizing themselves with Oromo history, culture, values, and various forms of the Oromo resistance to Ethiopian colonialism (Jalata, 1998).
These elements facilitated the emergence of the Oromo national movement in the 1960s and 1970s by initiating the development Oromummaa (Oromo culture, identity, and nationalism). Specifically, the emergence of the Macha-Tulama Self-Help Association in the early 1960s and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) in the early 1970s marked the development of Oromummaa and its national organizational structures. Since the 1980s, by replacing the OLF’s Marxist-Leninist-Maoist ideology, gadaa has reemerged as the central political ideology of the Oromo national movement (Jalata, 2005). As we shall see below, the revival of gadaa as the Oromo democratic tradition is the central aspect of Oromummaa or Oromo nationalism.
Gadaa as the Totality of the Oromo Civilization
The critical and comprehensive understanding of the classical Oromo civilization requires studying the historical, cultural, political, philosophical, religious, linguistic, and geographical foundations of Oromo society. This is a monumental task that cannot be adequately achieved at this historical moment. Currently our knowledge of the social and cultural history of Oromia (the Oromo nation) is very limited and fragmented. For generations, the Oromo have mainly transmitted their history and culture through oral discourse. Since Oromo scholars and others have been discouraged or prohibited by the Ethiopian colonial state from documenting Oromo oral traditions, adequate information is lacking. Due to the dominant role of oral history, Oromo historiography requires a thorough and critical study of oral traditions. For the Oromo, as for many African societies, the observation applies that “each time an old man [or a woman] dies a library is lost.” The Ethiopian colonial state has suppressed the production, reproduction, and dissemination of the intellectual knowledge of the people by destroying and/or suppressing Oromo institutions, culture, and history.
Oromo Democracy and its Major Principles
The indigenous gadaa system organized and ordered society around political, economic, social, cultural, and religious institutions (Baissa, 1971, 1993; Legesse, 1973). We do not know when and how this system emerged. However, we know that it existed as a full-fledged system at the beginning of the sixteenth century. During this century, the Oromo were under one gadaa administration (Baissa, 1993). According to Lemmu Baissa (2004: 101), Gadaa government comprised a hierarchy of triple levels of government: the national, the regional and the local. At the pan-Oromo level, the national government was led by an elected luba council [leaders] formed from representatives of the major Oromo moieties, clan families and clans, under the presidency of the abbaa gadaa and his two deputies . . . The national leadership was responsible for such important matters as legislation and enforcement of general laws, handling issues of war and peace and coordinating the nation’s defense, management of intra-Oromo clan conflicts and dealing with non-Oromo people.
In 1522, the Oromo had already begun to participate in the extensive and intensive struggle in the Horn of Africa. This was before the Muslims seriously confronted Christian Abyssinia in 1527. In the first half of the 16th century, after two centuries of domination, the Muslims destroyed Christian rule and established their own under the leadership of one Ahmed Gragn for more than a decade. The Oromo were caught in the wars of the Christian and Muslim empire-builders, and according to Darrel Bates (1979: 7), "The [Oromo] . . . of the southern and western highlands had suffered in their time from both parties, and were waiting in the wings for opportunities . . . to recover lands which had been taken from them." Internally, an increase in both population and cattle had exhausted the scarce resources; externally, the wars with both the Christians and the Muslims endangered the Oromo's survival as people. Butta wars occurred every eight years by the Oromo, when power transferred from one gadaa grade to the next, and were organized for revenge, or for defensive and offensive purposes. In the beginning of the 16th century, when they began to intensify their territorial recovery and expansion through the butta wars, all Oromo were under one gadaa government.
This factor, according to Asmarom Legesse (1973: 8, 10, 74), and the ability of the gadaa system to consolidate the people both militarily and organizationally enabled them to expand or recover their territories and accommodate their increased population and stock. Their recovery and expansion signaled their survivability (Ta’a, 1986: 17). The Oromo fought twelve butta wars between 1522 and 1618, recovering, expanding, and establishing Oromia (the Oromo country) to its present boundaries (Ta’a, 1986: 21-28). In the course of their continued expansion intovarious regions, different groups established autonomous gadaa governments.
Various Oromo groups kept their relations through the office of Abbaa Muuda (the father of anointment) (Ta’a, 1986: 10) and formed alliances or confederations during times of difficulty. The gadaa system has a very logical structure, but because of the interlinking of the two concepts of belonging and responsibility that are at its core, it is not easily accessible at first glance. Several descriptions are offered here. John Hinnant (1978: 213-214) says: [Gadaa] divides the stages of life, from childhood to old age, into a series of formal steps, each marked by a transition ceremony defined in terms of both what is permitted and what is forbidden. The aspect of gadaa, which throws the concept of age grading into confusion is that of recruitment. A strict age-grade system assumes that an individual’s social passage through life is in tune with his biological development. An individual enters the system at a specific age and passes through transition rites at intervals appropriate to the passage from childhood through full adulthood to senility. However, recruitment into the gadaa system is not based upon biological age, but upon the recruitment that an individual remain exactly five stages below his father’s level. Recruitment is thus based on the maintenance of one socially defined generation between father and son.
fighting so that they can engage in battle to defend their country and economic resources (Baxter, 1979: 69-95). P. T. W. Baxter (1979: 177) argues that the Oromo have used age-sets because generation-sets “cannot be an efficient means to mobilise troops, and a quite distinct organisation based on closeness of age . . . exists for that purpose.” In the Borana community, where many elements of the gadaa system still exist, the assembly known as Gumi Gayyo (the assembly of multitudes) brings together every type of important living leaders, such as living– Abba Gaddas, the qaallus, age-set councilors, clan leaders and gadaa councilors, and other concerned individuals – to make or amend or change laws and rules every eight years (Huqqaa, 1998). The Gumi Gayyo assembly has the highest degree of authority than the gadaa and other assemblies, and other assemblies cannot reverse its decisions (Legessee, 1973: 93). The Abbaa Boku (the father of scepter) was a ‘chairman’ who presided over the assembly.
According to G. W. B. Huntingford (1955: 54): “The Abbaa Boku and his two colleagues are chosen from the oldest or most distinguished families, which are known as `families of Hayu.' The principal function of the Abbaa Boku is to preside over the parliament . . . to proclaim the laws, and to act when necessary as ritual expert in the gadaa-ceremonies.” Abbaa Gadaa is another name for Abbaa Boku.
The Abbaa Duula (the defense minister) was also one of the leading figures in the gadaa government. He was the leader of qondala (army) and was elected by the people. His main responsibility included assisting the Abbaa Boku, especially during the time of war. The Abbaa Boku was also supported by a council, known as shanee or salgee, and retired gadaa officials. Gadaa laws were passed by the caafee (assembly) and implemented by officials. There was no taxation under this system except that gadaa leaders and their families were provided with necessary materials, such as food.
Explaining how the gadaa system brought these two domains together by establishing mechanisms of balancing, regulating, and safeguarding these domains, Qabbannee Waqayyo (1991: 8) argues that “men have controlled the mobile resources -- those that required going out from the homestead – herding, defense of livestock and land, tilling new fields, plowing, etc. Women have controlled the stationary resources – the house, the grain and other products of the fields once they are brought into gotara for storage, etc. Even the cattle around the house are under their control; women milk them, decide how much milk goes to the calves, how much to the people in the household for drinking, how much for butter or cheese to eat or sell, how much to guests who bring valuable information, become friends in time of need.”
The balancing of the domains of women and men and maintaining their interdependence have been preconditions for keeping peace between the sexes and for promoting safu (moral and ethical order) in society (Kelly, 1992). “By exercising a real day-to-day control over the disposition of the resources at every point of the decision-making process in ways that are protected by the value system of society,” Waqayyo (1991: 9) writes, “the woman wields determinative influence in the society as a whole.” The gadaa system and the siiqqee institution had influenced the value system of Oromo society. In pre-colonial Oromo society, women had the siiqqee institution, a parallel institution to the gadaa system that “functioned hand in hand with Gadaa [sic] system as one of its built-in mechanisms of checks and balances” (Kumsa, 1997: 119). These two institutions helped maintain safu in Oromo society by enabling Oromo women to have control over resources and private spaces, social status and respect, and sisterhood and solidarity by deterring men from infringing upon their individual and collective rights (Kumsa, 1997: 115-145). If the balance between men and women was broken, a siqqee rebellion was initiated to restore the law of God and the moral and ethical order of society.
When there were violations of their rights, women left their homes, children, and resources and traveled to a place where there was a big tree called qilxxu and assembled there until the problems were solved through negotiation by elders of men and women (Kumsa, 1997: 129- 130). According to Kuwee Kumsa (1997: 126), “Married women have the right to organize and form the siiqqee sisterhood and solidarity. Because women as a group are considered halaga [non-relative] and excluded from the Gadaa grades, they stick together and count on one another through siiqqee which they all have in common . . . in the strange gosa [lineage] where women live as strangers, siiqqee represents the mother and they even address each other as `daughters of a mother.’
They get together regularly for prayers as well as for other important individual and community matters. If men try to stop women from attending these walargee (meetings), it is considered against safu.” Oromo women used different siiqqee mechanisms to maintain their rights; such mechanisms included the law of muuka laaftu (soften wood), the abarsa (curse), iyya siiqqee (scream), and godaana siiqqee (trek). As Kumsa comments, “because of their liminality, women wield a special religious power where they draw an enormous moral and ritual authority. Men, therefore, try to avoid their curse and seek their blessings . . . `Women in general are symbolically and politically liminal and correspondingly enjoy special sacred power as a class.’ . people respect and revere a woman because Waaq made her to be respected and revered . . . . Interference with a woman’s sacred authority is regarded as violating seera Waaq and safu” (Kumsa, 1997: 127).
The Origin and Branches of the Oromo
Between the 12th and 13th centuries, the Oromo were already organized into two confederations or moieties known as Barentu and Borana (Hassen, 1990: 4-6). All Oromo subgroups can and do trace their genealogies to these confederations. Practically, however, it is not possible “to trace in detail the manner in which further division and the formation of” these moieties, sub-moieties, clans, and lineages did occur (Haberland, 1963: 775). According to the Oromo oral tradition, these Borana and Barentu moieties descended from the same family stock called Oromo (Baxter 1983: 129-149). Despite the fact that the Oromo claim that they descended from the same family stock, Oromo, they do not limit their kinships to biological ancestry. The Oromo kinship system has been based on a biological and social descent. The Oromo recognize social ancestry and avoid the distinction between the biological and social descent since they know that the formation of Oromo peoplehood was based on the biological and social kinship.
According to Hector Blackhurst (1978: 243-244), “Oromo political structure as it existed before [the sixteenth century] expansion began was flexibly centralized, in that major office holders were located at fixed points but power was sufficiently diffused throughout the system to enable local-level decision making to continue without constant reference back to the center. However, the whole system was renewed spiritually and structurally by the meetings at the caafee where legal matters were discussed and the law laid down or reiterated.”
Although the Oromo had a biologically- and socially-constructed complex kinship system, as we will see below, the formation and expression of Oromo peoplehood are mainly culturally shaped (Baxter 1994: 248). A better understanding of Oromo peoplehood and cultural identity requires the identification and exploration of the main characteristics and essence of Oromo social organizations and politico-religious institutions. Let us have some understanding of the Oromo kinship system on macro and micro-levels since it has been the basic social structure for defining common interests in resource management and utilization and in the process of establishing political and religious leadership and in forming leagues or confederations among Oromo society.
These leagues or confederations were based on a complex kinship system. The Oromo call the largest kinship system gossa, which is subdivided into moiety, sub-moiety and qomo (clan). These subdivisions have lower-order branches of kinship known as mana (lineage), balbala (minor lineages), and warra (minimal lineage or extended family) (Legesse, 1973: 37-42; Knutsson, 1967; Kelly, 1992: 40-63).
Wherever the Oromo were divided into sub-moieties and clans, there is “clear distinction between clans and lineages. The clan (qomo) is first of all a social group, consisting of several descent groups who need not all be Oromo. The heart of every clan is compounded of a cluster of lineages tracing their descent to the ancestor who gave his name to the clan” (Bartels, 1990: 205). There were five sets of sub-moieties that extended from the Borana and Barentu moieties: the Sabbo and the Gona, the Macha and Tulama, and the Raya and Assabo, the Siko and the Mando, and the Itu and Humbana (Megerssa, 1993: 24-37). The first three sets belong to Borana, and the second two sets are branches of Barentu. The descendants of these moieties occupy specific areas in Oromia today: The Raya and Assabo branches occupy northern Oromia (i.e., include some part of Tigray, the whole of Wallo and some part of northern Shawa).
Before the Arab elements immigrated to the Horn of Africa and mixed with some indigenous African peoples and developed into the Abyssinians or Habashas, the Horn of Africa was the home of the so-called Cushitic and other peoples. The Cushitic-speaking peoples settled on the central “Abyssinia/Ethiopian” Plateau, and were differentiated into subgroups. The Oromo were one of these groups that moved southward (Melbaa 1980: 5; Ehret, 1976). The Oromo have complex worldview, philosophy, and religion, as we shall see below.
Oromo Worldview, Philosophy, and Religion
Oromo society like any society has been conscious of its cultural identity, its relation to nature, and the existence of a powerful force that regulates the connection between nature and society. The Oromo knowledge of society and the world can be classified into two: a) cultural and customary knowledge known as beekumsa aadaa, and b) knowledge of laws known as beekumsa seera. The knowledge of laws is further subdivided into seera Waaqa (the laws of God), and seera nama (the laws of human beings). The laws of God are immutable, and the laws of human beings can be changed thorough consensus and democratic means. Oromo customary knowledge is a public and common knowledge that guides and regulates the activities of members of society; some elements of this customary knowledge can develop into rules or laws depending on the interest of society (Megerssa, 1993: 20-23).
Every person is expected to learn and recognize seera Waaqa and seera aadaa; however, should someone does not know the laws of society or the laws of God, there are Oromo experts who can be referred to. These experts study and know the organizing principles of the Oromo worldview that reflect Oromo cultural memory and identity both temporally and religiously (Megerssa, 1993: 20-23). Oromo institutions can be better understood by studying the Oromo concept of social development (finna). As in any society, social changes occur in Oromo society by combining the cumulative historical experiences with the contemporary condition. Hence finna “represents the legacy of the past which each generation inherits from its forefathers [and foremothers] and which it transforms; it is the fertile patrimony held in trust by the present generation which it will enrich and bequeath to future generations . . . [it describes] a developing of the inner potential of society based on the cultural roots it has already laid down” (Kassam, 2007).
The Oromo concept of social development is constructed in seven
Gudina, gabbina, ballina, badhaadha, hoormata, dagaaga,
indicates an improvement in cultural life due to the introduction of
new experiences to Oromo society,
involves the process of integrating cumulative cultural experiences
with contemporary social conditions through broadening and deepening
the system of knowledge and worldview. According to Aneesa Kassam
(2007) “This can only be achieved through the full knowledge,
consent and active participation of all members of the community.
This implies the existence of a political organization, the forum
for debate and the democratic means of reaching a consensus on all
decisions affecting the common good. This should be obtained without
force or coercion, without excluding the interests of any group,
within the Oromo society and outside it, in the broader context of
the national or international arena.
To this end, the Oromo evolved a political process of power sharing reputed for its highly egalitarian nature: Gadaa.” Without gadaa or Oromo democracy there cannot be finna (development), peace, social justice, kao (freedom, peace, prosperity, success, and happiness), and safu. Gabbina emerges through democracy, peace, cooperation and consensus of all members of Oromo society of different levels to improve economic, cultural, and political conditions. Next to gabbina, there is a ballina phase. Ballina involves the expansion of enriched cultural and political experiences from Oromo society to another society through reciprocity of cultural borrowing and resources sharing and interdependence, based on the principles of democracy. This is the phase that focuses on foreign relations. It allows Oromo society to involve in cultural exchange and cooperation with neighboring peoples. The cumulative experiences of gudina, gabbina, and ballina lead to the phase of badhaadha (richness). Theoretically badhaadha is a phase at which the Oromo and their neighbors who accept their philosophy of social development obtain peace, prosperity, and wholeness since there are no incidences of conflict, poverty, disease, and natural calamities.
Until the last decades of the nineteenth century, when European imperialist intervention changed the balance of power in favor of the Abyssinians, the Oromo easily defeated their competitors due to their gadaa organizational capacity and military capability. The Oromo religion called Waaqeefana, worldview, philosophy, and politics have been interconnected and influenced one another. Oromo religious and philosophical worldview considers the organization of spiritual, physical and human worlds as interconnected phenomena, and Waaqa, the creator, regulates their existence and functions in balanced ways. Explaining how Oromos believe that
Waaqa directs the world from above and controls everything from within, Kassam (2007) expounds that the “image of creation has important consequences for the Oromo vision of the universe as a whole. It has influenced among other aspects of its traditional culture, its political and economic thought, and determined its traditional system of government and modes of production.”
The Oromo claim that the understanding of laws of Waaqa, nature, and society both morally and ethically and living accordingly is necessary. They believe in God’s law and the law of society that they establish through the gadaa system of democracy to maintain nagaa (peace) and safu among Waaqa, society, and nature to achieve their full human destiny known as kao or kayyo (Hinnant, 1978: 210). Respect for the laws of Waaqa and gadaa have been essential to maintain nagaa Oromo (Oromo peace) and safu (moral balance) in society (Hinnant, 1978: 207- 243: Knutsson, 1967; de Loo, 1991).
Most Oromos believe that they had full kao before their colonization since they had freedom to develop their independent political, economic, cultural and religious institutions. Original Oromo religious leaders, qaallus, have had a moral authority and social obligation to oppose tyrants and support popular Oromo democracy and gadaa leaders, and to encourage harmonious and democratic relations based on the principles of safu, kao, Waaqa, and uuma. The qaallu “is thought to possess sacred characteristics that enable him to act as intermediary between the people and . . . [God],” and “he had no administrative power, but could bless or withhold blessings from gadaa leadership, and had an extraordinary power to curse anyone who threatened the wellbeing of the entire community by deviating from . . . [God’s] order” (Kelly, 1992: 166).
Oromo pilgrims traveled to the residence of Abbaa Muuda to receive his blessing and anointment to be ritual experts in their respective regions (Knutsson, 1967: 148). Abbaa Muuda served as the spiritual center and symbol of Oromo unity and assisted all Oromo branches to keep in touch with one another for several centuries; “as the Jews believe in Moses and the Muslims in Muhammad, the Oromo believe in their Abbaa Muuda [sic]” (Hassen, 1991: 79). Abbaa Muuda like other qaallu leaders encouraged harmonious and democratic relations in Oromo society. According to the qaallu mythology, Abbaa Muuda, the original Oromo religious leader was descended from heaven (Knutsson, 1967; Gololcha, 1988). Oromo representatives traveled to the highlands of the mid-south Oromia to honor Abbaa Muuda and to receive his blessing and anointment that qualified them as pilgrims known as jilas to be ritual experts in their respective areas (Knutsson, 1967: 148). When Oromo representatives went to him from far and near places to receive his blessings, Abbaa Muuda commanded them “not to cut their hair and to be righteous, not to recognize any leader who tries to get absolute power, and not to fight among themselves” (knutsson, 1967: 148).
The current gadaa of Borana and Guji cannot fully reflect its original political culture under Ethiopian colonialism. Theoretically, most Oromos including those intermediaries who are collaborating with the enemies of the Oromo recognize the importance of gadaa, and some Oromo nationalists struggle to restore genuine Oromo democracy.
Efforts for Reviving and Revitalizing Oromo Democracy
Some core Oromo nationalist scholars advocate that without refining and restoring elements of the original Oromo political culture of gadaa, the Oromo society cannot fully develop Oromummaa, which is absolutely necessary to achieve national self-determination, statehood, and democratic governance. Recognizing that Oromo identity and peoplehood are an expression of Oromo culture, some Oromo nationalist scholars have started to study the cultural foundations of Oromo society to understand the whole essence of this society. Such scholars believe that studying, understanding, and restoring the original Oromo political institutions by refining and adapting them to contemporary conditions are practical steps towards unifying and consolidating the Oromo national movement.
As a national project and the central ideology of the Oromo national movement, Oromummaa enables the Oromo to mobilize diverse cultural resources, interlink Oromo personal, interpersonal and collective (national) relationships, and assists in the development of Oromo-centric political strategies and tactics that can mobilize the nation for collective action empowering the people for liberation. As a global project, Oromummaa requires that the Oromo national movement be inclusive of all persons operating in a democratic fashion. This global Oromummaa enables the Oromo people to form alliances with all political forces and social movements that accept the principles of national self-determination and multinational democracy in promotion of a regional and global humanity that will be free of all forms oppression and exploitation. In other words, global Oromummaa is based on the principles of mutual solidarity, social justice, and popular democracy.
Without recognizing the centrality of
for the national struggle, the Oromo cannot develop a victorious
consciousness that equips them with the knowledge of liberation.
as an intellectual and ideological vision places the Oromo man and
woman at the center of analysis and at the same time goes beyond
Oromo society and aspires to develop global
challenges the idea of glorifying African monarchies, chiefs, or
warlords that have collaborated with European slavers, colonizers
and neo-colonialists and destroyed
as oppressed nationalism and a critical aspect of Afrocentric
worldview, builds on the best elements of Oromo culture and
traditions and endorses an indigenous Oromo democracy. As an aspect
of Afrocentric worldview (
According to Molefi Kete Asante (1988: 49), a critical Afrocentric awareness develops “when the person becomes totally changed to a conscious level of involvement in the struggle for his or her own mind liberation. Only when this happens can we say that the person is aware of the collective consciousness will. An imperative of will, powerful, incessant, alive, and vital, moves to eradicate every trace of powerlessness.” Those who endorse and glorify Ethiopianism are undermining this Afrocentric awareness in order to enjoy power and material benefits at the cost of various African population groups. Hence progressive Habashas, ordinary Amharas and Tigrayans, other Africans, and the African
Diaspora must recognize the negative consequences of Ethiopianism
and support the struggle for self-determination, multinational
democracy, and development in
the existence of various forms of indigenous African democracy
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