Gumii Paarlaamaa Oromoo (GPO)
Oromo Parliamentarians Council (OPC)
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Oromo Liberation Movement and Liberation Organizations
By Ibsaa Guutama*
Oromiyaa is still under occupation. Oromo are still denied the right to their land, their resources, the rights as individuals and as a people, and their freedom. Their culture, tradition, language and identity were being totally erased so that they will never claim nationhood at any point in history. These were the major causes of social and political upheavals of the 1960s. More worst, even after the pseudo recognition of them being an entity, evictions of farmers from their land is going on at the highest rate, and the land is being sold to international and local investors who poison the water and the land, and cut down forests and shrubs indiscriminately. Oromiyaa’s land is claimed to belong to the colonial state, not the Oromo people. Oromo are turning homeless and jobless than ever before while their looted wealth are being enjoyed by occupiers and “investors” — while they are looking on scratching their collapsed bellies. No one will say it will be easy to undo such an arrogant Apartheid policy and what they have done to the sovereignty of Oromiyaa, its history, culture and language, but however long it takes and whatever it may cost, nothing is impossible.
As long as there is discrimination, dislocation, negligence and subjugation based on nationality, it is nothing other than Apartheid. That is what caused the “Anti-Apartheid Movement,” representatives of peoples of the empire’s lowlands from Turkana to Matakkal, customarily referred to as Omotic and Nilotic, talk about. It is a policy being practiced on all colonial peoples of Ethiopia. Therefore, all the colonies must in unison “SAY NO TO ETHIOPIAN APARTHEID.”
The Oromo had tried for their grievances to be heard in a peaceful manner, but in vain. The initial rise and fall of the Pan-Oromo Maccaa and Tuulama Association (MTA) made two things clear: that Oromo nationalism is never dead and that the colonizer will never allow the colonized to air their grievances peacefully. Therefore, the need for galvanizing organized political resistance to harness those grievances into a liberation struggle was proved beyond doubt. At the same time, the world was in revolutionary fervor. Everywhere there were civil, women’s and other minority rights and liberation movements were on the rise. Over and above, internal causes also contributed greatly to the political consciousness of Oromo youth of that time. Modern Oromoo nationalism is anti-racism, discrimination and subjugation of one nation by another. The fabric of Oromummaa or Oromo nationalism as an outlook sprung from the heritage of Gadaa democracy.
The Oromo nation has aspirations and hopes for freedom and independence. Those are what form its kaayyoo, the objective principle of the nation. The OLF [Oromo Liberation Front] set standard by including those ingredients from the Gadaa heritage and present aspirations and hopes of the nation for freedom in its political program for the Oromo struggle. That is what made OLF the “OLF” we know, and what made it the icon and spirit of the nation that no entity can erase from the people’s minds. It is a hero by its own right that everybody has to honor and support it to flourish. Tactics and strategy may be improved, but that OLF goal for independence of Oromiyaa is not negotiable – it must be set clear to friends and foes at the outset. Oromo demands to be given an opportunity for its voice to be heard in determining its own destiny. OLF’s role is to agitate for independence, not free election within Ethiopia, for that is an internal affair of the empire state. But it upholds the ultimate decision of the Oromo nation. The UN is under legal and moral obligation to pressure its member, the Ethiopian state, to obey the UN Charter, conventions and resolutions. That is what OLF ought to demand from the world organization.
The Oromo continued to express their grievances, but they were met with more humiliation and contempt. Such oppressive political atmosphere and nonstop repression of members of the Oromo Nation prompted the people for more cohesive and determined move to demand respect for their rights to life, freedom, education and development. All the cumulative grievances of generations culminated in the formation of MTA mentioned above. But, it was soon thwarted and disbanded. That could have been a good opportunity for the Habashaa rulers to apologize for past abuses and redress all wrong done against the colonial peoples before it became a matter of life-and-death question for the victimized. More oppression cannot be a guarantee for the continued unbridled exploitation of resources and manpower or a solution for the retaliation they anticipate if they lose the rein of power. Provoked by the enemy’s arrogance of that sort, the youth decided to look for ways that were qualitatively different from all past Oromo struggles.
MTA was able to lay down the groundwork for the coming together of Oromo from all tribes and regions before its collapse. By virtue of that, a political organization with clear goal and purpose to lead the national movement and fight the colonial system was founded for the first time in the nation’s history in 1974. That was how the vanguard organization, OLF was born and brought up in Oromiyaa. OLF is secular and favors no one religion over the other. But it upholds the religious freedom for all people. It believes the right to worship anything, or in any peaceful manner is a birth right. In principle, it may ask foreign aid, but remains nonaligned; it will also not be a satellite let alone to the Habashaa state, but even to greater powers. It can be a partner for those that favor people’s rights, tranquility and independence. Their relation will be advancing mutual interest, not one being dependent on the other. Historical accident might have exiled the leaders once, but struggle requires rubbing chests and cannot be done with remote control; it has to return to where it is required. Only independent organizations can bring forth independent country. If there are those who believe they can march from outside and capture Oromiyaa, it will only be fooling oneself and unprecedented. Even Afghani and Iraqi diaspora that marched under the shadow of the foreign great army did not win their objectives because they were considered runaways not fighters.
The OLF was mindful of its neighbors that came under the colonial rule at the same time. They all share the same pre and postcolonial history. Their numerical strength may vary, but there are over 80 proud nationalities with own sovereign territories. They had tried numerous uprisings to regain their freedom and country back. But those were defeated by mobilizing foreign military experts and setting one oppressed against the other. To thwart such vicious tactics of the colonizer and bring together the oppressed for the resistance struggle, OLF joined activists from other oppressed nationalities in forming the “Revolutionary Struggle of the Oppressed in Ethiopia” (RSOE). Its members were from peoples in the lowland bordering Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, Sudan and the Red Sea and from all so called Southern States and Oromiyaa.
The understanding was that RSOE is a cover organization under that brutal regime from which national organizations could sprout underground and form a united front of oppressed nationalities to wage the anticolonial struggle for freedom and independence. During its active days, RSOE had saved many activists of the colonies from persecutions. It did not take the Nafxanyaa much time to identify it as a ‘reactionary façade created by narrow nationalists,’ and put it under surveillance. RSOE preempted them and dissolved itself before further damage when it was known for what it was. OLF had made clear in its political program about its stand on the possibility of forming partnership in the struggle and beyond. It has come making rapprochement with several friendly organizations. Much work is needed to win trust in each other and together bring an end to misery of their peoples. Colonizers originate from a minority group. If the colonies could unite, it would only be a onetime campaign to push them back to where they came. OLM [Oromo liberation movement] does not show concern for the Oromo alone, but is mindful of the agony of its neighbors. There can be no peace in the region until all colonized peoples are liberated.
Oromo liberation organizations did not give enough attention as it should have done to women’s power throughout the struggle. Oromo women are no lesser fighters than their brothers. The few who got the chance to be enrolled had proved that during the past four decades’ armed struggle. In olden days, the division of labor was such that when women take care of the home and upbringing of children, the men were responsible for all outside home, including battle fronts.
This does not mean to forget the role of women in preparing provisions and weaponry for the warriors as well as feeding and saddling battle horses, and playing the role of rear guards. Now situations have changed. The difference between chores is becoming nonexistent. Therefore, men-women work relations have to be reassessed. In particular, forums in all fields have to be opened for women’s participation. They should be judged by what they can do, not by their gender. No particular gender has more concern for the liberation than the other. Therefore, all positions have to be open to meritorious women as they are for men. Oromiyaa cannot be liberated without the liberation and participation of its women. Hence, Oromo women are called up on for dual struggle: struggle for equal rights of human beings irrespective of genders, and also for the equal participation in the liberation of their country, Oromiyaa.
In four decades the OLF had registered more successes than past and contemporary Oromo organizations. But given the great number of the Oromo and the rich resource Oromiyaa yields, it could have mobilized much more than what was expected. Instead, it was ridden with internal conflicts and betrayals from failure to maintain strong airtight organization to keep out the invisible enemy’s hands. Internal conflicts led to schisms. Most splinter groups uphold the same Kaayyoo of independence and freedom as the mother organization though as of recently there are a couple of them who officially move with Itophiyaan agenda. Most of them happened by misconception of the new world order and loss of the lofty vision they initially had.
The enemy knows where to strike. Whether an organization is fighting for independence of Oromiyaa or for democracy under the empire state, it will be regarded by Habashaa leaders as real and potential danger. To serve as an excuse for suppressing Oromo voice, OLF is branded as a terrorist organization. Terrorism is now a term used worldwide to define “Islamist fundamentalism” that has no regard for civilian lives and strikes anytime anywhere with the purpose of terrorizing human beings so that they lose confidence in the present world order. Even if not fully accepted by the world, Wayyaanee’s plan is serving its purpose of terrorizing the Oromo and herding them into prisons, death camps and exile.
All Oromo nationals who are not complacent with any silly ideas of the rulers are branded OLF and actions taken. Even in foreign land, Oromo are faced with threats, fears and rejections. Despite such truth, it is heartbreaking to see some Oromo who try to add fuel to fire ignited by the enemy and weaken the OLF. To terrorize peoples who do not agree in opinion with rulers is an inherited trait for the colonizers. Leaving aside the “breast cutting and hand cuttings” of emperors, we have seen during the Darg how what were termed as “Red and White Terrors” were openly executed. Darg’s deeds were performed with bragging and in the open. The Wayyaanee’s methods are termed “anti-terrorist campaigns” and are being executed clandestinely and officially by assassins and torture squads.
The way OLF and others with similar national objectives function is now at stage where it requires thorough renewal. In the first place, if they prophecy similar goal, there is no reason for them to operate separately. Therefore, forming a firm united front is overdue. There is deep-seated mistrust between groups. All complains about usurpation of OLF power by a group and derailment of kaayyoo, but no public debate had ever been conducted to prove or disprove. Lack of competent, trusted leadership, arrogance, indifference of some members of the leadership to warning symptoms of dissension, self-centeredness, lack of critical thinking, loyalty to a group for whom Oromummaa is a secondary matter, low political consciousness and incompetence to distinguish between major and minor contradictions, as well as invisible strings of puppet masters and lack of redress mechanism for wrongs done were some of the possible causes for going apart.
Modern operations require smooth communications between the tip and the center based on ilaa fi ilaamee (dialogue). There is no doubt that there are chronic undemocratic habits of operating in each Oromo political organization. They all have to agree to give up their archaic ways for professionally considered ones. Any of the above mentioned shortcomings need to be gotten rid of and be replaced by an efficient and effective system. It may be hard to forego the force of habit, but nothing is impossible, if tried hard and sincerely. Due to what is mentioned above and other causes like the struggle fatigue, Oromo political organizations have started to manifest decadence. It is visible even to onlookers that no one of them is moving forward to fulfill what is expected of them. It seems they are unable to move – entangled by net they formed around themselves.
More time is wasted in complaining about each other, internal bickering and competing for funds. National days have turned fund soliciting days rather than being utilized for remembrance and socialization. Had they been used for consultations on directions of the struggle and searching for solution for existing problems together it could have enriched confidence in each other. More than that, it could also minimized calumny. There is no heart breaking thing for the nation than Oromo organizations, not having a cubit of liberated land under their control. There is also no more humiliation to the nation than. When minority neighbors cross border in East, West, South, and North to attack and evict Oromo farmers from their ancestral land and there was no one Oromo organizations on hand to defend them.
The time is the time to shade old skin and get refreshed. From their numbers and bravery, no one should have leered at the Oromo – let alone occupy. There had been mute observers over the years that there were negligence and weakness. If there is no improvement, every year one cannot understand why people go the same way. There is no leader who assessed the situation and came out courageously to criticize himself and sought for solutions. Each member of the organization is supposed to have the capability to elect and be elected to any position in the organization. But no platform to improve oneself was created for members. What type of hope can be placed over a member who knows no right, but duty? Self-evaluation would never be late. It is said, “To err is human” but to admit it requires courage. Among Oromo activists to evaluate and criticize oneself are taboos that need to be broken.
Human rights organizations deserve many thanks for putting out reports on inhuman treatments of the Oromo by the system in power. More would be expected from Oromo political organizations. What those saw from afar and reported, the ones who are able to live there to taste the agony first hand could have done better. To build own capacity to help victims and their families as well as defend the remaining from abuses is what was normally expected from half a century old movement. Is it too much for politicians worthy of the name to execute these? No, but they have to first resolve the organizational question. It will be then that they will be blamed or praised as heads of political organizations. Otherwise, it would be talking about caracas of organizations. All Oromo political organizations split from the OLF. Therefore, they are duty bound to save OLF from impending danger even if they abhor it. OLF has become an organization of the Oromo people because they have spilt their blood and wealth for it to survive enemy’s onslaught. The call for each activist is to use all available means to disentangle it from the snare, and save it for the country. One has to believe that if there is any mistake it is not the organization, but someone is there to be accountable. Care is needed not to shun the OLF for folly of individual actors. Not to safeguard the OLF will be considered as offering the Oromo struggle on a silver plate to the national enemy.
Too much liberalism in mass recruitment to expand one’s circle could only open the way for infiltrators and Ethiopianists to destroy the organization from inside. Oromo organization has been doing things for decades in the same way. It is high time that they reassess their performances in order to improve on shortcoming by using modern technology and know-how. Leaders have to manifest transparency in their work and dedication to the cause they are entrusted with. A leadership that strives to win genuine trust of its comrades and the Oromo people is what all crave for. The Gadaa system had a culture of administration governed by “ilaa fi ilaamee” (dialogue) long before written constitution. This is one of the basic principles of governance that no Oromo can ignore if it aims to be successful in its endeavor. This does not mean the principles of hiriyaa, election and time in office can be overlooked by those proud of their heritage.
It is now the time to involve all Oromoo activists to advance Oromo struggle to its end goal. All that had stayed apart for one reason or other need some sort of orientation and trust building program. If they are still in agreement on the ultimate goal of the struggle leaders and groups have to be careful not to send mixed messages in matters that have connection with strategy of the struggle. Oromo organizations that uphold the original kaayyoo of the nation have their goal as establishing Democratic Republic of Oromiyaa. This is the principle that ought to be reflected in all correspondence, interview or public relation endeavors. In this era where organizations are expected to be guided with precision one man or clique show will only invite dissentions within community of activists’ and spontaneous upheaval in society. An organization has structure to which different roles are assigned to. In general authority is distributed to each tier. In case of any grumbling there must be a mechanism that will help steam it out. It is the duty of a wise leader to keep in touch with all functionaries hammer out doubts and misgiving before they cripple the organization. It must be understood that Oromo movement for liberation (OLM) will never stop with or without leadership until the national question is addressed. However to have committed leadership in the forefront gives it order and discipline required for victory.
All conscious Oromo are aware of what is going on these days in their community, professional associations, religious and political organizations, social movements etc. When those who are building momentum to empower their people are trying their best, saboteurs – who are either enemy agents or misguided nationals – are busy axing it from underneath. To get organized with a clear agenda is the right of each Oromo. But to simulate freedom fighters and try to derail the struggle from its course of freedom and independence is a crime. Wherever these reach, for sure, there will be split in that body. No organized Oromo activity will be safe from them unless vigilantly guarded. These days, they are seen sprouting like mushroom in all Oromo institutions. Because they know the Oromo inside out, those messengers come in as buddies and set one social group against the other that they irrationally detest each other. Schisms in religious orders, schisms in political organizations, schisms in communities, technical establishments etc. are on the greater part their doings. It has become a national character for the Oromo to trust those who get close to them. Oromo nationals have to be careful when it comes to national interest not to be swayed by non-national esprit de corps, but by own critical thinking.
Oromo groups have lived apart for centuries and have some subtractions and add-ons to their common ethos. What they have still in common is greater than what they have lost over the years. All have to recognize this and respect the differences. Their differences have to be taken as spices for the national soup. But they have to be careful not to get swayed by persons who try to project personal problems as being directed against a larger group and mobilize it affecting the national cohesion. Such person could be ignorant of the big national picture or is an enemy agent. In such cases, an hierarchy of loyalty has to be established. For all Oromo nationalists, loyalty to the nation needs to come first before all loyalties to group one belongs to. Then, only can we move as a people with a greater vision.
The Oromo struggle is against colonial domination. Anyone advancing colonial policy – be it Habasha or Oromo – is the enemy. For a true nationalist to favor a clan member in the enemy camp and shun comrades in the liberation camp is a sin that needs absolution. At such a time, when the nation is threatened with extinction those who raise personal or ones’ narrow group interests are either insane or simply backward. They fail to comprehend that the nation is bigger than groups. Such are either those who did not understand the true nature of the struggle or moles from the enemy camp. For those who fail to see the difference between nationalism and cronyism, the cause is lack of political consciousness so are driven by emotions; the advice is to take deep breath, assess their actions and see how much they are puncturing the national struggle.
It is damning when the troublemakers are intellectuals with adjectives in front of their names or senior citizens. The nation, on the other hand, put its hope on such persons to help it disentangle itself from colonial yoke or making peace between nationals. Unfortunately, those are the ones who are helping the enemy screw the yoke harder or promoting dissensions. For this reason, genuine nationalists must be vigilant to fend off or rehabilitate such impostors. Those are the evil hands that are trying to disintegrate the national struggle by mobilizing people against each other based on region, religion and education. It is hopped Oromo activists know better than that. All social and political organizations created to advance Oromo interests may be required to be more thorough in their absorption of new faces. So far, small damage might have occurred, but are not beyond repair.
Political organizations are not states. They are organizations of volunteers to liberate a country. Their functionaries are elected with individual merits, not representing a constituency. The concentration of the leadership in the diaspora in relatively calm and peaceful atmosphere is tempting reactionary elements to have representation in accordance with regional quotas. Much hullaballoos are created around these demands and could continue until the leadership is reallocated to the field of struggle in Oromiyaa; a measure that all sane minds expect. It is only then, true revolutionaries, who take all risks for love of Oromiyaa and the Oromo people, are separated from position-monger opportunists. There, peers will elect those they believe could lead them to victory, not because of their place of birth, but because of individual merits. Such individuals could be from one family, clan, tribe or region as long as their peers believed in them. The above is true also for all organizations of volunteers. There could be mistakes committed by veteran activists, but anyone who did not undergo their experience is not qualified to judge them under different setting.
Oromo youth (qeerroo) is moving, paying tremendous sacrifices without waiting for physical presence of political leadership. The recent spontaneous upsurge of students in East, Center, South and Western Oromiyaa when integrity of their nation came under threat shows that the liberation movement never waits for leadership but nudges it to do better to catch up with events. There are tremendous potentials that the nation could release in terms of manpower and resources for those capable of using them. The determined could raise at least ten million strong army and tons of cash products for managing it. For now, leaders are struggling with their own idiosyncrasy. They could come out of it if they adopt basic Gadaa democratic principles that fit any situation, minus the rituals – which can be adjusted according to the time period.
Some of the ingredients of Gadaa democracy are all-way communication and participation of members in decision-making process. Democratic leaders must be able to look up from the ground rather than only from top of the ladder. Oromo leaders, unlike their alien counterparts, are the coordinators of members’ efforts, not the boss. Elections are preferable to selections at all levels. Consensus-building is the major task of a leader in Gadaa democracy. Each Gadaa sets standards of governance for own period in such a way that those coming after could improve on. Under Gadaa, care was taken that the youth would not be exposed to corrupt undemocratic practices. They grow up observing and practicing the rule of law and patriotic practices until their turn for power comes. Preparing future leaders has no other miracle than that.
The Oromo have great potential to play crucial role in peace-making of the region. But they cannot accept to be peaceful slaves under the harsh grip of a master. That is what they had been asked to be so far. They are asking a simple question, the realization of their right to national self-determination and respect for people and individual rights. Though nothing more than this is asked, the interpretation given it is that they are terrorists that believe in violence. The Oromo has never ever terrorized anyone, but have fought with the occupation army that is armed to its teeth and terrorizes them every day in their own land. The Ethiopian state is a member of the United Nations. The Oromo is not ignorant of the covenant they have between them. But with the hope that they will not condone a rogue state, they might have ears for plights of a nonmember nation like Oromiyaa. There is no reason for a body that supported the disintegration of the European empires would insist for integrity of the Ethiopian Empire formed in the same manner. Oromiyaa want to be independent and will be independent despite conspiracies.
In their long history, members of Oromo organizations had never pointed to each other as peace-loving and war-mongering. But such dichotomy is heard from foreign sources that wanted to see them in that way. That did not remain without touching certain soft parts of unpatriotic elements in the organizations. Those are incompetent good for no one or nothing, litters of garbage. The Oromo are organized not because they love war, but to fend of aggressors that violated their rights and their land. They raised arms when the way to peace was blocked.
There is no one that praises “nagaa and araaraa” (peace and conciliation) than the Oromo. But when life is not better than death, both lose their meanings. It is to teach the enemy that anyone can answer violence with violence, but nothing outwits the peaceful way. That was how they decided to build own capacity and challenge it to the peace table with the language it understands. That was how they raised up arms side by side with diplomacy. No one listens to the weak however one keeps on whining. Those who occupy others’ land and live on its resources will not willingly come to negotiation table unless forced. They consider the loss of excessive pleasure and crimes they have to answer for when out of power. World powers are capricious if only the Oromo could show them the fakeness of the empire for enduring partnership they may take them for what they say. The time will not be very far when all start thinking in unison; then it will not be hard for the Oromo to force the arrogant to the peace table.
Honor and glory for the fallen heroines and heroes; liberty equality and freedom for the living and nagaa and araaraa for the Ayyaanaa of our fore parents!
* Ibsaa Guutama: Gubirmans.com
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