Gumii Paarlaamaa Oromoo (GPO)
Oromo Parliamentarians Council (OPC)
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Oromia: A National Crisis, Open Dialogue, and Building National Consensus
Asafa Jalata, PhD
OROMIA: A NATIONAL CRISIS, OPEN DIALOGUE, AND BUILDING NATIONAL CONSENSUS
We have reached at the dead end in our national struggle. The Oromo national movement has lost its steam and direction as its leadership and ideology have faced deep crises. The leadership of the Oromo national movement, specifically the OLF, could not effectively lead an Oromo revolution due to some external and internal factors. The external factors have included regional, domestic and international forces (i.e. Ethiopian, regional and global forces) that are determined to destroy the Oromo struggle. The internal factors have included the lack of substantial coherent revolutionary Oromo elites, the explosion of opportunist and mercenary Oromos, the failure to transform Oromo awareness to Oromummaa (Oromo nationalism), the lack of ideological clarity, and the political ignorance, passivism, and the fatalism of the populace. These internal problems were mainly caused by the policies of the successive Habasha governments that have conspired against the Oromo people by destroying their independent leadership and institutions and by denying an education to the Oromo majority. This piece focuses on the problems of the human agency the Oromo elites and society, and proposes some urgent practical solutions.
The Oromo Elites: Recognizing Shortcomings and Overcoming Them
The Oromo elites whether they are in leadership or not lack ideological coherence, political maturity, and skills for national consensus building. They focus on their narrow perceptions and agendas. Hence they jump to form political organizations that promote such perceptions and agendas at the cost of the national interest. Those in leadership position are determined to maintain their dead-end politics and status quo without effective contributions. There are also some Oromo elites who have commitment to serve the enemies of the Oromo people. In the 1970s, some Oromo elites joined Ethiopian and Somali organizations while a few created the OLF. Furthermore, the lack of ideological and political maturity led to the division of the OLF in the 1970s, and recently, in the 2001 and 2008. Without creating the Oromo national power, the Oromo elites fight on non-existence power. Some Oromo elites have also formed several nominal liberation fronts and other political organizations without engaging in armed and real political struggles. Overall, the Oromo elites did not yet establish a political and cultural mechanism that helps in resolving their contradictions. Consequently, they have failed to understand that they are on one team that must work together to organize the Oromo nation for its self-defense and liberation.
It is impossible to build an effective institutional order or organization without integrating formal and informal rules of the society. As a result of the lack of bureaucratic codes and procedures in Oromo tradition, Oromo political leaders and the Oromo community at-large have had no immediately-available, culturally-consistent models to draw upon when confronted with the need for establishing the bureaucratic structures that are an essential part of the overall liberation struggle. As a result, the Oromo elites have reacted in a number of different and contradictory ways. This lack of coherence in the leadership in turn has created conditions in which suspicion has flourished creating conditions that have prevented open and honest dialogue among leaders and between leaders and followers. In the absence of a coherent organizational milieu, rumor, gossip, and impression management have replaced a critical and open dialogue within the movement. Like any movement, the Oromo national movement must develop a collective identity that results in collective action. Oromo nationalists cannot develop an Oromummaa that facilitates collective action without critical discussion and open dialogue.
The role of the leader is very important in building a leadership core through persuasion, analytical capacity, capacity to communicate, and capacity to listen and learn. The leader is responsible for the creation of formal and informal networks that allow for the development of an effective leading political team by bringing together layers of people who share strategic ideas to win over others. Recently, the Oromo movement has tried to create an exclusivist leadership that does not fit Oromo-centric democratic values. While the Oromo love their heroes and heroines and admire them, they expect open dialogue and interaction consistent with their democratic political tradition. The Oromo also reject the leadership style of the Habasha. The Oromo dislike exclusivist leaders who equate their personal interests with the interests of the organization they lead and separate themselves from the rank and file members. Practically speaking, the Oromo political leadership is neither coherent nor exclusivist, although there has been an attempt by a few leaders to develop an exclusivist leadership modeled on the Habasha political culture. However, there is no question that the leadership of the Oromo national movement manifests some exclusivist characters. Just as the Oromo nationalist leadership lacks political coherence, some Oromos lack organizational discipline and engage in political anarchism or passivism. Without challenging anarchism and passivism among the Oromo populace and the exclusivist political tendency of the leadership, the Oromo nationalist movement cannot search for combinations of forms of organization and leadership, which are practically compatible with larger struggles for popular self-emancipation. Oromo nationalists need to speak up and struggle to develop leadership for self-emancipation through facilitating the integration of “leading” and “led” selves of the Oromo political leadership. While struggling to build a democratic and coherent political leadership, Oromo nationalists must fight against political anarchism, passivism, and anti-leadership sentiment that emerge in some Oromo sectors. Anarchist and anti-leadership Oromo elites discourage the emergence of strong leadership by engaging in endless debate on secondary issues—such as clan, religious, and regional identity—and by making personal attacks on prominent Oromo leaders and organizations as a means of avoiding substantive debate. While demanding accountability from their leadership, the Oromo must fight publicly against an anti-leadership ideology. The Oromo need to acknowledge, value, encourage, and support an emerging democratic Oromo political leadership since strengthening the leadership of the Oromo movement is essential in the struggle to defeat dangerous enemies. Since an amorphous and less structured leadership is functionally ineffective, the Oromo national struggle must have a more structured leadership that can provide the organizational capacity necessary to eventually take state power and establish a functioning democracy consistent with the principles of Oromummaa.
Oromo nationalists cannot build a more structured leadership without clearly understanding the processes of leadership and followership. Just as Oromo leaders do not adequately understand the essence and characteristics of their followers, the followers lack information about their leaders and leadership. While Oromo political leaders like to lecture their followers and sympathizers, they are less interested in establishing formal and informal relationships with their followers and sympathizers in order to engage them in dialogical conversation. Because they care little about the opinions and experiences of their followers, they fail to ask for the input from their followers. Leadership is a processing of influencing followers and others by changing their perceptions through closely relating and communicating with them. Similarly, much of the Oromo populace has yet to develop constructive mechanisms by which they can influence their political leaders and hold them accountable. As a result, sometimes they engage in personal attacks and debates on peripheral issues blunting the impact of their personal political efforts and delaying the development of an effective political leadership. It is difficult to identify the weaknesses of the leadership without identifying those of the followership. I recognize that the role played by the Oromo national political leadership is dangerous, complex, and difficult. This leadership has been politically, ideologically, and militarily attacked both internally and externally.
To date the movement has been able to survive by developing shared meaning, purpose, language, and symbols. But as the complexity of the Oromo movement increases and as the number of Oromo nationalists expands, the leadership will not be able to improve its organizational capacity without simultaneously developing a degree of internal cohesion, leadership expertise, and widespread support through the establishment of effective coalitions within and beyond the Oromo nationalist movement. Without (1) changing the past habits, ideologies and approaches, (2) building internal cohesion by developing Oromummaa on the individual, relational and collective levels, and (3) fully mobilizing Oromo human and economic resources, the current Oromo political leadership will continue to face more crises and may eventually become a political liability. The Oromo national political leadership must be challenged to abandon its reliance on a narrow political circle and borrowed political ideologies and practices. In addition, it must be encouraged to embrace Oromo-centric democratic values, using them to develop different forms of organizational leadership in Oromo society thus making the dynamic connection between the values of Oromo society and its organizational structure. The Oromo leadership should be pressured to speak with the Oromo people and listen as well, allowing the Oromo community at-large to engage in the process of self-emancipation by participating in and owning their national movement. More than any time in its history, the Oromo national struggle now requires a more centralized structured organization and matured national leadership that can learn about the Oromo people in order to organize and lead them to take any necessary actions for national survival and liberation. The maturation of the Oromo national leadership will be recognized by many factors; one of these factors is to know the defining characteristics of Oromo society.
The Main Characteristics of Oromo Society
What makes these problems complex is that some Oromos who claim that they are nationalists confuse their sub-identities with the Oromo national identity. Oromo relational identities include extended families and clan families. Historically and culturally speaking, Oromo clans and clan families never had clear geopolitical boundaries among themselves. Consequently, there are clans in Oromo society that have the same name in southern, central, northern, western and eastern Oromia. For example, there are Jarso, Gida, Karayu, Galan, Nole and Jiru clans all over Oromia. The Ethiopian colonial system and borrowed cultural and religious identities were imposed on the Oromo creating regional and religious boundaries. Consequently, there were times when Christian Oromos were more identified with Habashas (Amhara-Tigray) and Muslim Oromos were more identified with Arabs, Hararis, and Somalis than they were with other Oromos. Under these conditions, Oromo personal identities, such as religion replaced Oromoness, central Oromo values, and core Oromo self-schemas. There are Oromos who still confuse such identities with the Oromo central identity.
Colonial rulers saw Oromoness as a source of raw material that was ready to be transformed into other identities. In the colonial process, millions of Oromos lost their identities and assimilated to other peoples. Consequently, the number of Amharas, Tigrayans, Hararis, Gurages, and Somalis has increased at the cost of the Oromo population. The Oromo self was attacked and distorted by Ethiopian colonial institutions. The attack on Oromo selves at personal, interpersonal and collective-levels has undermined the self-confidence of some Oromo individuals by creating an inferiority complex within them. Without the emancipation of Oromo individuals from this inferiority complex and without overcoming the ignorance and the worldviews that their enemies imposed on them, they cannot have the self-confidence necessary to facilitate individual liberation and Oromo emancipation. Because of internal cultural crises and external oppressive institutions, Oromo collective norms or organizational culture is at rudimentary level at this historical moment. So some comrades in an Oromo organization do not see themselves as members of a team, and they engage in undermining members in their team through gossips and rumors. For sake of self- promotion, they belittle their comrades in his or her absence. Such individuals do not have strong organizational culture or norm. Such individuals cannot develop a core of Oromo leadership that is required in building a strong liberation organization.
Today, the Oromo are diverse and heterogeneous people, and it is impossible to organize them for liberation without understanding these complexities. Some Oromo elites do not understand these issues. Collective identities are not automatically given, but they are essential outcomes of the mobilization process and crucial prerequisite to movement success. Oromo nationalists can only reach a common understanding of Oromoness through open, critical, honest dialogue and debate. Fears, suspicions, misunderstandings and hopes or aspirations of Oromo individuals or groups should be discussed through invoking Oromo cultural memory and democratic principles. Through such discussion a single standard that respects the dignity and inalienable human rights of all persons with respect to political, social, and economic interaction should be established for all Oromos and their neighbors who support the rights to national self- determination. Oromo personal and social identities can be fully released and mobilized for collective actions if reasonable Oromos recognize that they can freely start to shape their future aspirations or possibilities without discrimination. This is only possible through developing an Oromo identity on personal and collective levels that is broader and more inclusive than gender, class, clan, family, region, and religion.
While recognizing the unity of Oromo peoplehood, it is important to recognize the existence of diversity in Oromo society. The lack of open dialogue among Oromo nationalists, political leaders, activists, and ordinary citizens on the issue of religious differences and/or the problems of colonial regional identities have provided opportunities for those who profit from the continued subjugation of the Oromo people to employ a divide and conquer strategy by exploiting religious and regional differences among the Oromo people. Since Turks, Arabs, Habashas, and Europeans imposed both Islam and Christianity on the Oromo in order to psychologically control and dominate them, Oromo nationalists must encourage an open dialogue among adherents of an indigenous Oromo religion, Islam and Christianity and reach a common understanding of what it means to be an Oromo and the positive role religion can play in Oromo society. Also, issues of clans and colonial regional identities must be addressed openly and honestly. Since these issues are not openly addressed, reactionary forces and opportunist Oromo individuals and groups turn Oromo on one another to use them. Basing our understanding of these Oromo issues on Oromummaa eliminates differences that may emerge because of religious plurality and regional differences.
The Ethiopian colonial regions do not correspond to Oromo group or regional identities. As a result, the political diversity of Oromo society can and should transcend regional identities based on the boundaries of colonial regions. The Oromo political problems have emerged primarily from low level of political consciousness, attitudes, behavior, and perceptions that have been shaped by a culture that valued domination and exploitation and have seen diversity and equality as threats to the colonial institutions most Oromos passed through. These problems still play a significant role in undermining the development of Oromummaa and the organizational capacity of the Oromo national movement. The behavior and political practices of most Oromos and elites and leaders of Oromo institutions in the Diaspora—like churches and mosques, associations, and political and community organizations—demonstrate that the impact of the ideology of domination and control that was impacted by Ethiopian colonial institutions and organizations is far-reaching. Despite the fact that the Oromo are proud of their democratic tradition, their behavior and practices in politics, religion, and community affairs indicate that they have learned more from Habashas and Oromo chiefs than from the gadaa system of democracy.
While the social and cultural construction of the Oromo collective identity is ongoing process, this process cannot be completed without the recognition that Oromo society is composed of a set of diverse and heterogeneous individuals and groups with a wide variety of cultural and economic experiences. Hence, Oromo nationalists need to recognize and value the diversity and unity of the Oromo people because “people who participate in collective action do so only when such action resonates with both an individual and a collective identity that makes such action meaningful.” Today, those Oromo political leaders who are fragmenting the OLF into three branches and those who are claiming to have nominal political organizations cannot adequately understand the crisis and danger that the Oromo national movement is facing.
In every society, personal and social identities are flexible, and are not rigid and monolithic. Similarly, Oromo self-identity exists at the personal, interpersonal, and collective levels with this confederation of identity being continuously shaped by Oromo historical and cultural memory, current conditions, and hopes and aspirations for the future. The Oromo social selves emerge from the interplay between intimate personal relations and less personal relations. The former comprise the interpersonal or relational identity and the latter are a collective identity. The relational-level identity is based on perceptions or views of others about an individual. Thus, individual Oromos have knowledge of themselves from their personal viewpoints as well as knowledge from the perspective of significant others and larger social groups. The concept of individual self emerges from complex conditions that reflect past and present experiences and future possibilities. The self-concept allows individuals to have “the capacity to reinstate a past situation and locate themselves in it; they also have the capacity to project the self into future contexts, anticipating possible actions and their consequences for the self.” Some Oromos are more familiar with their personal and relational selves than they are with their Oromo collective self, because their level of Oromummaa is rudimentary.
Oromo individuals have intimate relations with their family members, friends, and local communities. These interpersonal and close relations foster helping, nurturing, and caring relationships. Without developing these micro-relationships into the macro-relationship of Oromummaa, the building of Oromo national organizational capacity is illusive. Organizing the Oromo requires learning about the multiplicity and flexibility of Oromo identities and fashioning from them a collective identity that encompasses the vast majority of the Oromo populace. This process can be facilitated by an Oromo political leadership that is willing to develop an understanding of the breadth of the diversity of Oromo society looking for those personal and relational identities that can be used to construct an Oromo collective identity, expanding Oromummaa. Change starts with individuals who are both leaders and followers. Culture, collective grievances, and visions connect leaders and followers in oppressed society like the Oromo. Consequently, to be effective the Oromo political leadership must be guided by Oromo-centric cardinal values and principles that reflect honesty, fairness, single standard, equality and democracy in developing Oromummaa. As one source notes, “a critical task for leaders may be to construct group identities for followers that are both appealing and consistent with a leader’s goals. Indeed, this is a critical aspect of political leadership. Effective political leaders do not simply take context and identity as given, but actively construct both in a way that reconfigures the social world.”
The political leadership of Oromo society needs to understand the concept and essence of the changing selves of the Oromo. These self- concepts include cognitive, psychological and behavioral activities of Oromo individuals. Collective grievances, the Oromo language and history, the historical memory of the gadaa system and other forms of Oromo culture, and the hope for liberation have helped in maintaining fragmented connections among various Oromo groups. The emergence of Oromo nationalism from underground to public discourse in the 1990s allowed some Oromos to openly declare their Oromummaa without clearly realizing the connection between the personal and interpersonal selves and the Oromo collectivity. This articulation occurred without strong national institutions and organizational capacity that can cultivate and develop Oromummaa through transcending the political and religious barriers that undermine the collective identity of the Oromo. Oromo nationalists cannot build effective national institutions and organizations without taking Oromo personal, interpersonal and collective-level Oromo selves to a new level. Oromo collective selves develop through relations with one another.
Good interpersonal relations and good treatment of one another create sense of security, confidence, sense of belonging, strong and effective bonds, willingness to admit and deal with mistakes and increase commitment to political objectives and organizations. The individuality of an Oromo can be observed and examined in relation to the concept of self which is linked to psychological processes and outcomes, such as motivation, affection, self-management, information processing, interpersonal relations, commitment, dignity and self- respect, self-preservation and so forth. The Oromo self-concept as an extensive knowledge structure contains all pieces of information on self that an individual Oromo internalizes in his or her value systems. Every Oromo has a self-schema or a cognitive schema that organizes both perceptional and behavioral information. An individual’s self-schema can be easily captured by accessible knowledge that comes to mind quickly to evaluate information on any issue. The Oromo self is the central point at which personality, cognitive schema and social psychology meet. The Oromo self consists both personal or individual and social identities, and the former is based on an individual’s comparison of oneself to other individuals and reveals one’s own uniqueness and the latter are based on self-definition in relation to others or through group membership.
Without recognizing and confronting these issues at all levels, the Oromo movement cannot build its organizational capacity. The social experiment of exploring and understanding our internal selves at individual, relational and collective selves must start with the Oromo elites who aspire to organize and lead the Oromo people. Since the ideological and organizational tools that Oromo elites have borrowed from other cultures have reached their maximum limit of capacities and cannot move the Oromo movement forward in the quest for achieving self- determination and human liberation, Oromo nationalists must reorganize and practice their approaches based on Oromummaa and the gadaa democratic heritage. The Oromo elites have passed through schools that were designed to domesticate or “civilize” them and to mold them into intermediaries between the Oromo people and those who dominated and exploited them. They have been disconnected from their history, culture, language, and worldviews, and have been trained by foreign educational and religious institutions that glorified the culture, history, language and religion of others. Consequently, some Oromo elites do not adequately understand Oromo history, culture and worldview. Today, some of such individuals have emerged as agents of the Tigrayan elites by joining the OPDO and are terrorizing the Oromo people.
Oromo movement has achieved many important accomplishments, the
organizational and ideological tools that it has used did not
provide an effective basis for organizing the Oromo people and
enabling them to defend themselves from their enemies. At present,
the Oromo human and material resources are scattered and used by the
enemies of the Oromo nation. Without a structured organization and
national leadership, the Oromo people cannot take effective
political actions that involve national self-defense and a popular
and wide rebellion through the total mobilization of the nation. For
many generations, young Oromos have been forced to fight as
mercenaries and defended the interest of the Ethiopian state elites
that have repressed and exploited their society. Even the Siad Barre
The Major Opportunities and Constraints for the Oromo Struggle
Ethiopian colonialism had disconnected the Oromo nation from the international community for more than a century. However, with the resurrection of the Oromo national identity, culture, and nationalism, the Oromo people have started to be represented in the world by its political refugees. For the first time in Oromo history, the Oromo people started to have its Diaspora that has a great potential to link Oromia to the global community. The imposition of Ethiopian state terrorism on the Oromo to suppress Oromo nationalism created and expanded the Oromo Diaspora in the world. In this process, a few serious Oromo intellectuals emerged on the global level and dug the graveyards of history to uncover Oromo history and culture and to publish books and journals that are stored in world libraries. Furthermore, in Oromia, millions of the qubee generation (Oromo youth educated in the Oromo language) emerged as demonstrated by the recent Oromo student movement. The national projects that were designed by the Oromo national movement have produced fundamental results that have become the cornerstones of the Oromo national struggle. These achievements are great political opportunities for the Oromo nation.
Unfortunately, since the Oromo national struggle did not yet achieve its main objectives, the enemies of the Oromo people have created political constraints to abort the struggle. There are millions of Oromos who have betrayed their nation to satisfy their economic interests. By creating and building the OPDO and recruiting such Oromos to this subservient organization, the Meles regime uses them to attack the OLF and other organizations and to suppress and control the Oromo people. The regime has also mobilized several ethnonations against the Oromo people and their movement. There are also anti-Oromo forces such as Amhara colonial organizations and others who use any opportunity to undermine the interest of the Oromo nation. The constraints of the Oromo struggle are not limited to these problems. The Oromo national movement did not yet secure adequate sympathy and support for the Oromo cause from the international community.
It is very clear that the Tigrayan-led government with the support of global powers and its agents terrorize and rule the Oromo not because of their strengths but because of the weaknesses of the Oromo movement, political leadership, and Oromo society. If some elements of Oromo society are well organized under one structured organization and leadership, they can rebel and dismantle the Meles regime within a short period. The Tigrayan soldiers, cadres, and their agents can be easily dismantled in Oromia if substantial numbers of Oromos engage in self-defense and coordinated uprising. If the Oromo people intensify their struggle, the international community will recognize the political problem of the Oromo nation. The Oromo people will achieve their national self-determination by intensifying their national struggle by any means necessary and by receiving international recognition.
The crisis of
the Ethiopian Empire that started in the early 1970s still
continues. The popular uprisings of ethnonations, classes, and
social groups have challenged the collapsing Ethiopian state for
several decades and introduced some changes. These uprisings have
resulted in the overthrowing of the Haile Selassie and Mengistu
regimes and caused the emergence of the Meles government and
Tigrayan ethnocracy. But these changes have failed to change the
nature of Ethiopian colonialism.
Learning from the past experiences of the Ethiopian state, we can understand that the Meles regime has already dug its own grave. This regime is already rotten from inside, and it only survives because of the weaknesses of different political forces in the empire and financial and diplomatic support it receive form powerful countries. What will happen if the Meles regime collapses? Are the Oromo liberation fronts and political organizations ready to use this political opportunity? Oromo nationalists, liberation fronts, political organizations, community organizations and associations should start a serious national political dialogue to overcome their political naiveté and immaturity in order to build a national political consensus that will enable them to capture state power in Oromia by any means necessary and to build multinational democracy with other nations that accept the principles of self-determination and democracy. While preparing themselves to use any available political opportunity, the Oromo national movement and society must start to fashion a national Gumii Gayyo to produce a designed political results. These designed political results can be produced through determination, hard work, sacrifice, and a collective effort of all Oromo liberation fronts, political organizations, and associations.
Immediate Political Tasks for Genuine Oromo Nationalists
Third, the Oromo Diaspora must challenge the Oromo activists who have built their separate organizations in order to break down barriers among different Oromo organizations and unite them under one structured organization and leadership. Fourth, Oromo youth and women should be mobilized in order to actively participate in national dialogues and town hall meetings; they must play a leading role since they are less corrupted by the ideologies of egoism, clan, religious and regional politics. Fifth, Oromo nationalists must establish the rule of law fashioning on the principles of gadaa and other democratic traditions to use it in running their national affairs. Sixth, since unconscious people cannot liberate themselves from colonial domination, the Oromo Diaspora should receive liberation knowledge through regular dialogues, seminars, conferences, workshops, lectures, and study circles. The Oromo must learn their history, culture, language, and traditions; they also need to learn about the world around them. At this historical moment, the number one enemy of the Oromo people is political ignorance; Oromo nationalists must smash this enemy.
When this is accomplished, the Oromo people are going to play their historical roles that will commensurate with their number. When this sleeping giant nation will be awakened, others cannot use the Oromo as raw materials. One of the main reasons why the forty million Oromos are terrorized and ruled by the elites that emerged from about four million Tigrayans is the low level political consciousness. Low level of political consciousness results in passivism and fatalism. Seventh, every self-respecting Oromo must realize that he or she has power to determine the destiny of Oromia. Every Oromo must be educated about his or her potential power and what he or she must do to translate it to real power. Eighth, the Oromo Diaspora movement must start building from bottom-up a confederation of Oromo political, religious, community, and self-help organizations to create a Global Gumii Gayyo of Oromia that will contribute ideological, organizational, and financial resources for consolidating the Oromo struggle and the Oromo Liberation Army and self-defense militias in Oromia.
Ninth, most members of the Oromo Diaspora must engage in public diplomacy by introducing the Oromo and their plight to the international community. Tenth, Oromo nationalists in the Diaspora must start to build a well-regulated system that can provide support and security for Oromo’s who are determined to advance the Oromo national interest whenever they face hardship beyond their control. Finally, the Oromo must believe that they will liberate themselves by any means necessary. There is no any doubt that, despite hardships and sacrifices, the Oromo “social volcano” that is being fermented will soon burn down Ethiopian colonial structures that perpetuate terrorism, genocide, diseases, absolute poverty, and malnutrition in Oromia and beyond.
is the Professor of Global Studies. Dr. Asafa Jalata has authored
and/or edited eight books, published several referred articles, and
contributed chapters to quite a few books on issues related to the
Oromo people and Oromia.
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