Gumii Paarlaamaa Oromoo (GPO)
Oromo Parliamentarians Council (OPC)
Page 2 home
A Critical Assessment of Arguments against an
This is the third in a series of debate articles I have written this
year concerning the on-going Oromo struggle for freedom from
Abyssinian domination. Two of the articles were published on this
website on February 1 and March 23, 2012 respectively. A version of
the present article was presented at the Oromo Studies Association
(OSA) annual conference on 14-15 July 2012 at the
It is no news to Oromo readers of this article that there are controversies between the different factions of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) over the objective which the front was organized to achieve and the methods and strategies to be used to fulfill that mission. The road to freedom is never smooth. In most cases, it is very rough. Difficult terrains have to be traversed and tantalizing problems courageously surmounted by those who struggle for freedom. Therefore, at some junctures the journey not only be slow or at standstill, but the goal of a struggle for freedom is questioned and abandoned by some. Our struggle has gone through such junctures and has suffered many setbacks in the course of the last ten years. The viability of an independent Oromo state is even being questioned.
However, taking into account the voices we hear through the channels
that express popular aspirations, it is possible to argue that, at
large, the demand of the Oromo people is consistent, and their
aspiration for “the blessing and security of self-government” is
increasing, to borrow words from a letter written by Thomas
Jefferson, US President 1801-1809, on June 24, 1826 to be read at
the 50th anniversary of the American Declaration of Independence
which took place on July 4, 1826. In the letter, Jefferson explained
that it was the aspiration for the blessings and security of
self-government that stirred him and the other founding fathers of
More than a hundred nations have declared their independence from foreign domination since Jefferson wrote the lines I have quoted above, not because they heard or read what he wrote, but because there is, as Martin Luther King has famously expressed, a throbbing “desire for freedom within the soul of every man [and woman]”, and I should add, in the “soul” of every nation on earth.
Obviously, since the occupation of their country at the end of the nineteenth century, the desire for freedom has been throbbing in the souls of our people; and as we all know, they rose up many times in many places to throw out those who took it from them. But, since the Oromo struggle was sporadic and un-coordinated, it failed to give tangible results before the 1960s. Therefore, expressing the collective aspiration of the Oromo nation, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) issued a political program in 1976, declaring the fundamental objective of its struggle as the “the realization of national self-determination for the Oromo people and their liberation from oppression and exploitation in all its forms.” The young men who wrote the political program stated also boldly that the declared objectives can only be realized “by the establishment of the People’s Democratic Republic of Oromia.” Despite the sacrifices it demands, it is this goal which we are now striving to achieve together as a nation.
That the declaration of the OLF is accepted by, and is reflecting the collective aspiration of the Oromo people, is expressed clearly by the support which the front is receiving from the Oromo masses. It is also indicated by the deeds of numerous men and women who sacrificed their lives during the last four decades. The popular manifestoes issued at the great pan-Oromo meetings which took place in 1991 and 1992 bringing together tens of thousands of Oromos from all walks of life and from all over the Oromo territory manifested the depth of the popular support the front’s political program is enjoying. This is reflected particularly in the manifestoes issued by the two historical pan-Oromo meetings held at Odaa Bultum, the ancient seat of gadaa assembly of the Ittu Oromo Federation in east Oromia and Odaa Bulluq, the seat of the gadaa assembly of the Horroo-Guduruu Oromo Federation in Horro Guduruu in western Oromia in 1992 where a program for the realization of the independence of Oromia was adopted. The spirit has not only survived the difficult time in which our struggle found itself during the last twenty years, but has grown robust and is strongly expressed in every song that Oromo poets and artists compose and perform, in every meeting our people hold, on Oromo websites across the world and every debate article penned by Oromo politicians and scholars, and above all by a variety of symbolic garbs and ornaments our men, women and children wear. As an Oromo, one has to be deaf or blind not to hear or see this.
Thus, because of the struggle we have waged collectively during last
forty years, the Oromo nation is a reality and the Oromo state is in
the making today. I believe there is a widespread awareness about
that, at least among the Oromo people. As a political sociologist
and historian I study processes rather than only discrete events.
Therefore, based on my observation of chains of perceptible and
imperceptible developments which stirred Oromo political
consciousness overtime, I will argue that the struggle for an
independent Oromo state has passed the point of no return. Having
adopted the objectives inscribed in the political program of the OLF
of 1976 the Oromo people will move forward to achieve the goal for
which tens of thousands of their compatriots sacrificed their lives.
Having lived under atrocious regimes of injustice for over a
century, they are looking eagerly for the security of
self-government. Ironically, however, there are some Oromos who will
cling to the irredeemably hostile anti-Oromo fold of the
Arguments against an independent Oromo state
Most of the arguments against the idea of an independent Oromo state are well known. The arguments are shared by both non-Oromo and Oromo critics. What is lacking is a critical assessment of these arguments. In an attempt to fill the critical gap, I will present a brief appraisal of the arguments in this article. To dispel the distortions and doubts which the opponents of independent Oromo state create in the minds of the public, I will compare the Oromo situation with the experiences of other peoples in different parts of the world who have defeated obstacles similar to the Oromo and have attained freedom from foreign domination and formed their own states in modern times. I will categorize the arguments and discuss the factors presented against the formation of an independent Oromo state under the following four themes: (a) views about “megenxel” or secession, (b) impact of Oromo independence on their neighbors, (c) globalization, and (d) the discourse about Oromo demography and geography. In the article, I will also critique the idea of forging alliance with Amhara political organizations to depose the present regime and build another Ethiopian regime instead of uniting the Oromo to solve the century-old problem with the Ethiopian empire state by building an independent Oromo state as declared in the OLF political program.
Megenxel—an Amharic term that distorts the Oromo quest for freedom
“Megenxel”, is a distorting term which politicians and scholars, both Oromos and Abyssinians, who basically oppose the idea of an independent Oromo state, have introduced into the debate on Oromo struggle. It is used to denote both independence and secession. It connotes negative consequences: as if a branch falls off from a tree and dies. Representing the Oromo quest for independence as megenxel –“break- or torn-off, fall and destruction” confuses many people. There are even some Oromos who tend to see the aspiration for an independent state as negative and the action being taken to realize it as harmful. To see the Oromo quest for freedom as megenxel and to question the legitimacy of the struggle for an independent state is to agree with those Ethiopianist scholars and politicians who argue that the Oromo did not have a state in the past and cannot have it now or in the future. As I have shown in detail based on evidence in my book—Contours of the Emergent and Ancient Oromo Nation—it is important to recognize that Oromo history and national identity pre-date the Abyssinian conquest of the late nineteenth century. The Oromo had lived in their own states which were destroyed by the conquest. The Oromo people are not “tearing” themselves from anything of which they were an organic part or moving anywhere: they are fighting for bilisummaa (freedom), not megenxel (fall and destruction). What will take place is not some sort of organic rapture or displacement of population but the termination of an oppressive relationship created through conquest and maintained by force, in a hierarchical political structure which has relegated our people to a subordinate, exploited and disadvantaged collective category. That is to say, we are not going to take anything from anybody that does not belong to us or we are looking for something which was not ours in the past. We will reclaim what was taken from us: restore our human rights and ascertain control over resources that belong to our people. Oromia will remain a homeland to its inhabitants as it has always been, and all its inhabitants whether they are Oromo by blood or are immigrants or descendants of the conqueror-settlers have full right to remain citizens and stay at home. In other words, Oromia, now a state in the (re-)making, like any other modern state is a multi-ethnic entity, and will remain as such even when it achieves its independence. But, after independence, the bureaucratic structure of the Ethiopian state which has been its instrument of oppression will be removed from the Oromo country and replaced by an Oromo state system which will reflect the democratic gadaa tradition of our nation.
Forty-three years ago in 1971, after describing the plight of the Oromo people under the Ethiopian rule in the well-known article titled “Oromo Voice against Tyranny”, a group of Oromo intellectuals argued that “An Oromo has no empire to build but a mission to break an imperial yoke.” The primary purpose of the struggle for an independent Oromo state is to secure the basic rights and opportunities which are required for descent human life. The imperial policies of the Ethiopian regimes have denied the Oromo people these rights for too long. Therefore, in general, the aim of bilisummaa, the OLF strives to achieve, is to mend the harms done by the Abyssinian conquest, restore our national pride which was hurt by institutionalized humiliation, and eventually uplift our people from the miserable social, economic and psychological conditions into which they were thrown and are kept by a colonial structure for more than a century. Since our people’s demands for the acknowledgement of their grievances and reinstitution of their human rights were repeatedly denied by Ethiopian regimes, it is logical that we struggle to establish an independent Oromo state to protect our rights. I believe, this ought to be clear to those who demonize the aspirations of our people for bilisummaa instead of characterizing their struggle as megenxel. They should also stop labeling those who struggle for their liberation as tegenxaay by which they often mean not only “separatists” in the literal meaning of the term, but also “racists”, “criminals” or “agents of foreign powers scheming to destroy the Ethiopian state” (Lt. Ayalsew Desse, ESAT TV, August 9, 2011) depending on the audience they are addressing.
What must be clear, particularly to us Oromos, is also that freedom is not given to a people for free, but is taken by force. Therewith, freedom necessitates also a struggle which often involves violence. Regrettably, therefore, the cost of freedom can be very high; it claims human lives. However, this does not mean that freedom is a fruit of a violent, “immoral” act. Politically or morally, self-defense against atrocities committed against oneself is legitimate and often necessary. It is our right and moral duty to defend ourselves against forces that impair our liberty and challenge our national integrity, deny our right to life and dispossess our individual and collective rights to property. Simply stated, it is our right to live as free people; build our institutions and protect our individual and collective heritage. It is also our moral duty let others live as such. This is what the Oromo moral ethics, known broadly as safuu, is about. As a moral and social code of conduct, the safuu ethics prescribe mutual recognition and respect between humans. It is needless to go into more details to defend the objective of the Oromo national struggle for liberation. It suffices to state here that the purpose of our struggle is not to dispossess others, or hurt the integrity and self-esteem of others, as it is often connoted by the demonizing use of the Amharic word megenxel by those who are opposed to Oromo freedom. It is to break an imperial yoke, to borrow the words of the authors of “Oromo Voice against Tyranny” once again, that has been “breaking the backs” of the Oromo people for over a century and to establish an independent state that protects our rights. As I have repeatedly pointed out, the goal of Oromo national struggle is to realize the aspiration of the Oromo people for the blessings and security of self-government. As I will discuss briefly below, our pursuit for self-determination is supported by international law, by political philosophy and theory, and by developments in the Ethiopian politics of the last forty years.
The support we can find in international law is expressed, inter
alia, in UN Resolutions 1514 and 1541 of 1960, which declare the
right of peoples promulgates the rights of nations to
self-determination. Needless to say that it depends on us to
gainfully exploit the spirit of these resolutions and argue our case
in public. Here, it is interesting to note that secession has been a
process through which most the current UN member states were formed,
historically. To mention just some examples,
The theoretical support for the independence of nations under alien domination is also found in the works of both liberal and Marxist scholars. The political scientist Arend Lijphart (1977), for example, suggests that when a genuine federation is impractical partition is a correct and final solution. Writing along the same line, another political scientist Adelman (1992) also argued that the desire for nations to realize the expression of their identities through a sovereign state, is not the road to ruin but the path to a new international order built on the rule of law and the protection of the freedom of individuals, the equality of groups, and the full realization of each unique nation. Taking up the same issue even more broadly, the Canadian political philosopher Will Kymlicka (2001), in his Politics in the Vernacular: Nationalism, Multiculturalism and Citizenship, states that “the desire of national minorities to form a separate state is often morally legitimate, and it is unjust to force them to remain within a large state against their will.” He recommends that the conditions under which a group has a right of secession, and “the procedures by which that right can be exercised” should be defined by international law. It is important to note here that, although the works of the last two scholars are from relatively recent dates, they say nowhere that the claims of oppressed nations to form their own states are contradicted by globalization. As I will discuss in later on, in fact about 70 percent of the UN member states became independent in the age globalization.
The third important point, which both the supporters and opponents
of the idea of an independent Oromo state should note, concerns
developments in Ethiopian politics since the 1960s. In
The first official acknowledgement came 1976 when the Dergue issued
its Program of the National Democratic Revolution (NDR). Article 5
(Section II) of the Program, declared unequivocally that “The right
to self-determination of all nationalities will be recognized and
fully respected.” This, as we all known, was an unfulfilled promise.
It was used as time buying ploy. The Dergue was opposed fiercely and
overthrown. Those who overthrew the regime, including the OLF,
formed a coalition and proclaimed the Transitional Charter (TC) of
1991 promising the restoration of individual and people’s rights
through a peaceful process. The coalition Transitional Government
had a short life. The promise was also broken by the Tigrayan
People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) which, led by Meles Zenawi,
dominated the government for the last two decades. Yet, at least on
paper, Meles Zenawi and his colleagues adopted a Constitution in
1994 which declared “Every nation, nationality or people in
Impact of Oromo
There are Oromos and non-Oromos who rightly link the question of independence to the interests of our neighbors but often come to mistaken conclusions that distort the reality. For example, it is argued that
1. The Oromo have a responsibility for their neighbors
To start with the first argument, those who posit that the Oromo
have a responsibility for their neighbors and should not struggle
for an independent Oromo state seem to assume that the Oromo people
are created to guarantee Ethiopia’s existence as a state. They argue
that: “We cannot imagine
There are even some Oromos who tell us that we are not the only people who are colonized, but also our neighbors in the south. There is no doubt that our people share the bitter taste of colonial oppression and exploitation with the other non-Abyssinian peoples. Obviously, we must take that into consideration. But that does not mean we must force them to join us in our struggle against Abyssinian oppression or take the responsibility to fight on their behalf. Such approach is paternalistic which neither the Oromo nor their neighbors should entertain. It does not also mean that we should change our goal of independence if it is not acceptable to some or even all of them. The point I want to make here is that we should neither try to impose on anyone of them the type of state we want to have, nor abandon our goal of forming an independent Oromo state, because some of them do not accept it, or even will join the Abyssinian camp to prevent us from realizing it.
The Oromo have not been indifferent to the plight of others, particularly that of their neighbors with whom they share the experience of conquest and colonization. There is plenty of evidence from the last three decades which indicate the concern of Oromo political organizations including the OLF about the oppressed peoples who are under the rule of Ethiopian regimes. It is important to note here that many attempts were made by Oromo organization in the past to cooperate with non-Abyssinian organizations. In the 1960s, the Macca Tuulama Association (MTA) was open to members of the southern peoples such as Walaita, Sidama and Kambata who attended many of its meetings. The effort of ECHAT in the mid-1970s to unite the oppressed non-Abyssinian peoples is also well known to most of the readers of this article. What is perhaps less known is the OLF’s attempt in the 1980s to cooperate with the liberation fronts of the oppressed peoples such as the Sidama, Benishangul, Afar and Gambella. Needless to say that the attempt should continue; but it should not be our major political and organizational task.
Our neighbors are not a homogenous group: they differ in many ways. Some of them are politically better organized; others are not. Some will build their own independent states, others may or may not. Therefore, our approach to them should vary according to their interests. We can build a federation with those who wish that form of co-existence with our people. We can cooperate with others in different ways. When a federal arrangement or other forms of co-operation we make with some of them proves democratic, mutually beneficial and successful, others may follow suit. In that manner we can contribute to peaceful co-existence with our neighbors.
It is absolutely necessary, particularly at this crucial juncture in our history, to consolidate our own resources, strengthen our unity, and make concrete short- and long-term plans to achieve our goal of liberation. We have to put our house in order before we rush to join our neighbors. That the Oromo are the most populous nation in the Horn of Africa does not make us automatically strong. In other words, it is real strength, and not just the potential strength inherent in our demographic size, which decides whether our neighbors will form a durable political alliance with us vis-à-vis the fate of the Ethiopian state. As I have argued in my previous article we have to translate our demographic strength into a military and political force in order to gain from or make meaningful contributions to any alliance we wish to enter with others. I do not mean that we should close our doors to potential allies, but that we should, as I have suggested above, spend more time on the consolidation of our unity than on alliance making with others.
Having said this, there is no reason for the Oromo to change their
kaayyoo (goal) and focus on staying within the Ethiopian state
system “because they have to take the interests of our neighbors
into consideration.” In my view, it is absurd to play the role of
good Samaritans arguing that we have responsibility for our
neighbors while our own home is in a predicament and demands our
undivided attention. I will pose the following questions to the
reader to test the rationality or irrationality of the argument I am
critiquing here. Did the conditions in Darfur and the rest of the
Related to the above, one of the flimsiest arguments against Oromo
right for self-determination is that, since Oromia is located in the
center of the Ethiopia, its independence will lead to the
disintegration of Ethiopia. Indeed, the Oromo territory is located
in the middle of
To argue that the Oromo bear the responsibility for maintaining the
Ethiopian state, which was built and maintained by force, intact, or
to suggest that we should abandon the goal of independence and join
others to build a new “democratic Ethiopia”, is to say the Oromo
people are wretched beasts of burden who must continue a journey
carrying a load that is breaking their backs. It should be clear to
the reader that I am not against democracy as a system of
government. I am for it. But, I am indicating that, first, as many
scholars have indicated for decades, democracy is at odds with the
political culture of the Abyssinian ruling elites; Ethiopia cannot
be democratized as quickly, if at all, as suggested by some Oromo
politicians who are trying to persuade our people to abandon their
aspiration for an independent state and join them in the holy
crusade of democratizing an empire. Will the Abyssinian elite
welcome such a crusade? I have my doubts. Second, as every Oromo
knows, the goal of the Oromo struggle is not to democratize
The second argument is a speculative “if-not” argument. It is speculated that unless our neighbors become democratic, it will be difficult for Oromia to be independent state and for Oromo democracy to function. The fear is that they will gang up against the Oromo making the existence of an Oromo state impossible and the life of Oromo masses miserable. Which are the factors that will originate from those societies to prevent the Oromo from exercising democratic rule in their own state? How do they make Oromo democracy dysfunctional: through subversion and aggressive intervention? Shouldn’t the Oromo have a strategy for self-defense militarily and diplomatically? We know that the present regime has been creating numerous conflicts between the Oromo and their neighbors during the last two decades to divide and rule them. Recently it was with the Gumuz against the Oromo in the west; just now it is with the Garre against the Borana Oromo in the south. We and our neighbors know that the Oromo people have an accommodating culture. We should keep on reassuring them that we are for co-existence as always.
The third argument is also speculative. It says that unless the
peoples of the Horn of Africa become democratic it is doubtful that
the Oromo can achieve freedom and exercise democracy in their own
independent state. This argument makes the democratization of the
Horn of Africa not only a precondition for the establishment of
peace and justice in Oromia, but also seems to suggest that
something great in which the Oromo are going to be leading actors
will happen if we prioritize regional integration over an
independent state of Oromia. Regrettably, however, given the many
conflicts in the region, the wish that is reflected in a theory
about the Horn of Africa as “common homeland” is nothing more than
figments of imagination. The project is even less achievable than
the working class paradise the theory of class struggle promised,
and which had confused many Oromos and others in the past. The
proponents of class struggle argued that nationalism must be
abandoned and socialism be adopted for the workers of the world to
live in peace and prosperity. Likewise, albeit on a small regional
scale, there are Oromo who argue today that it is pointless to think
about Oromo democracy and independence unless the Horn of Africa is
democratized. I do not have any problem with the idea as a theory.
My worry is that it may make the uninformed masses, and even
intellectuals who pay little attention to politics of
The argument is bothersome even as a theoretical issue. How do you
democratize the peoples of the Horn of Africa? Who has
responsibility to do that? Democracy has no roots in most the
societies of the Horn of Africa. What will be the channels to be
used to spread democracy to the rest of the peoples of the region
even if the Oromo were to do it? Is it through PDOs á la TPLF? Or is
it kadires á la Dergue. Who will organize the PDOs or the kadires
and how? Those who advise us to give up the notion of an independent
state and bequeath Oromo democracy to our neighbors and live
democratically together with them in a “common homeland” called
I do not want to be misunderstood here. I am not saying that the fate of the peoples of the Horn of Africa does not concern Oromos. I mean solving the region’s democracy and stability deficit should not be the primary issue of our struggle at the moment. It is an enormous task even if we were to shoulder the responsibility. To begin with, it requires a lot of time and energy to find out if there are organizations that represented the other peoples in the region which are interested to cooperate with us to bring about such a change. In any event, democracy is inherent in our tradition, but it must be put first to experimentation as a pan-Oromo ideology and policy through a pan-Oromo government before passing it over to other peoples for adoption. However, it is simply unthinkable to reconcile traditions such as the Abyssinian political culture which is fundamentally at odds with democracy, the equally undemocratic and non-secular fundamentalist trends growing in Somalia, and the other cultures and traditions of the other peoples of the region to create homeland that is democratic and common to all. It is a theoretical project that cannot be realized at least in the foreseeable future.
In my opinion an Oromia-centered scenario is more reasonable to
consider. The idea of staying in the framework of the Ethiopian
state and imparting democracy to our neighbors is not conceivable.
One needs a base in which to consolidate democracy and from which to
spread it to others. Once it is independent and democratic, a large
Oromo nation and state can influence its neighbors in the right
direction. The stability in the Horn of Africa will benefit from an
independent Oromo state than from an Oromo nation that is divided
and oppressed in
It important to note in this connection that the destruction of the
environment in Oromia has consequences not only for the Oromo people
in particular, but also for their neighbors and the other peoples of
northeast Africa. As the Oromo reader may know, Oromia is the “water
tower” of northeast
We all know the alarming rate at which the environment is being
destroyed and the water sources are poisoned and drying up in Oromia
because of the scale of land-grab policy of the present regime. I
believe that the creation of a situation which enables the Oromo to
take care of their resources will be the best solution to the
environmental destruction which is being caused by the reckless
policies of the present regime. In other words, a peaceful and
democratic Oromo state will contribute greatly not only to regional
peace but even prosperity. It will protect its environment and water
sources that are crucial to most of the peoples of northeast
Globalization versus an independent Oromo state
One of the arguments raised constantly by those who directly or
indirectly oppose the idea of an independent Oromo state and promote
the politics of democratization of
To start with, the argument is not reflective as it should be: it misses two important realities. First, it overlooks that the human desire for freedom is a timeless phenomenon throbbing in the heart of every man and women. The rhythms of the throbs respond to constrictions on human freedom. Globalization does not affect that reality. The argument also fails to notice the current development of the political consciousness of the Oromo masses and their growing desire for the blessings and security of self-government.
Second, seen historically, globalization and economic integration do
not work against political self-determination: it seems that the
quest for independence among indigenous peoples and national
minorities all over the world has accelerated in tandem with the
pace of globalization. Before 1900, there were only 53 independent
states in the world. Between1900-1920 elven states became
independent as a consequence of World War I and the disintegration
The largest number of states became independent between 1960 and
1980 in tact with increased globalization and de-colonization of
Globalization is a complex process: its acceleration is affecting national minorities more negatively than ever before. Driven by the market and monopolized by a new global capitalist class, economic globalization is affecting the poor adversely in almost every country. It tends not only to exacerbate poverty, but also to diminish the civil and political rights of marginalized population groups. This is occurring because local power holders are colluding with multinational companies and eroding the security of indigenous national minorities, in whose homelands valuable natural resources such as timber, precious minerals, metals and oil deposits are located.
The widely reported auctioning of Oromo farm- and pasturelands on the international market by the present Ethiopian government is a scandalous example of such collusion of local and global interests which intensifies the suppression of national minorities. In Oromia and Gambella, for example, the rights of global capitalists who have leased vast tracts of land and water for decades from the Ethiopian regime are protected while the Oromo, the Anuak and the Nuer are persecuted, killed, and displaced as their villages are burned down by the security forces of the Ethiopian state. That shows democracy and globalization are not coterminous, but, that the opposite often is the case.
There is plenty of evidence that indicates, today, the collusion of the interests of local ruling elites and global capital owners is a major source of conflict in many countries. This is a trend that may not change even in the foreseeable future. The first line of self-defense against this is a responsible, democratic national state. Those Oromos who question the wisdom of Oromo demand for their own state have overlooked this fact.
As I have briefly discussed above, as a process, globalization per
se does not hinder the independence of any nation. It is not for or
against life under dictators. Oromo independence is not opposed to
globalization. Seeking independence does not mean closing one’s
doors to others; it is making decisions about own affairs, living
under laws that are made by own representatives. That is what we
desire, and are struggling to achieve.
Like many other oppressed peoples around the world, we are using the
communication technology of the globalising world in order to voice
our claims and defend our rights. The internet, a technology of the
globalizing world, has made long-distance political activism
possible. Thus, we are linked to the struggle of our people at home.
We are making our contributions in shaping the dynamics of their
national struggle for justice. We could scatter around the world,
and even establish contacts with governments and international human
rights organizations to garner moral, material and diplomatic
support for struggle which our people are making at home, because
globalizing is making it possible. This was not possible forty or
fifty years ago. We have been key providers of some of the services
that are unavailable or prohibited at home. These services include
intellectual activities, such as writing the supressed history of
our nation and developing the Oromo language. Using global networks,
the Oromo in the diaspora are challenging the Ethiopian regime that
denied them the freedom to stay at home. What the regime has denied
us to do at home we are now doing trans-nationally using the
cyberspace. Take for example Oromo poets and singers who were
harassed, imprisoned, tortured and were forced into exile to silence
their voice. They are now available at home over the cyberspace.
Thanks to radio stations and particularly Voice of Oromia Radio,
which is transmitted from
Although its scale may be limited, we are mobilising different kinds of support for the national struggle at home. Our websites display the territorial map of our homeland and the national symbols of our people. Oromo radio stations in the diaspora express in words and music the natural beauty of Oromia and expose the injustices perpetrated against our people by the state. Information about Oromia and the Oromo people, and the claims they make to culture and identity, are defined discursively. We must understand that the Oromo Studies Association (OSA), the Oromo Relief Association (ORA), the International Oromo Youth Association (IOYA), the Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA) and the different Oromo religious organizations in the diaspora, which are engaged precisely in such activities are also products of the globalizing world. The point is, globalization is also working for us; not only against us. Let us make the maximum use of the opportunities it offers to bring about the end of Abyssinian political domination in Oromia and establish an independent state of our own.
Distortions about Oromia’s demography and geography
Demography was/is often used to argue against Oromo independence.
For example, Christopher Clapham posited that “while many Ethiopian
Nationalities do live predominantly in one geographical area,
geography operates against the Oromo interest in self-determination,
as they are the most widely dispersed of all the Ethiopian peoples”,
and that Oromo nationalism, unlike Eritrea or Tigray “cannot draw
claims for the autonomy of any existing administrative unit”
because, according to him, the “Oromo are spread across twelve of
Ethiopia’s administrative regions.” This totally wrong perception of
Oromo geography is recycled by journalists, commentators and others
ad infinitum even today. But, anybody who is informed about the
federal map of
The political or administrative maps prepared by previous Ethiopian
regimes or the multi-ethnic composition of Oromo urban centers are
not plausible as arguments against Oromo autonomy. It is natural
that, as in any part of the world, Oromo cities and towns are
multi-ethnic. In the age of migration and globalization it is
difficult to find a state in the world of which the population is
entirely indigenous. Since Oromia is of central importance in the
Compared to the Baltic States and
I do not want to be misinterpreted here: by Oromo independence I do not mean an ethnically homogenous Oromo state. Nobody says that among the Oromo nationalists I know. What the Oromo people are seeking is control over their affairs and resources. Like in any modern state, the doors will be open to anybody who wishes to live and work in Oromia respecting Oromo laws.
‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend’ – The fallacy of Oromo alliance with all anti-EPRDF political organizations
As I have discussed above, one can ally with the political organization of the non-Abyssinian peoples. But, when it comes to the Amhara-Tigrayan organizations, the decision to avoid alliance go it alone has to be chosen by Oromo organizations, because forming alliances with the Abyssinian elites has ended in countless betrayals in the past. One of the mistakes the pro-Ethiopia Oromo organizations are making today is the assumption that whoever is opposing the regime of Meles Zenawi is an ally. I have voiced my criticism against the Jijjiirama-Ginbot7 alliance in my previous to articles published on this website and need not repeat it here. Here I will pay more attention to other Oromo organizations such as the former Oromo People Congress (OPC) and Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM), which have merged recently to become Oromo Federalist Congres (OFC) and are member of the coalition known as Medrek. We know that the other members of Medrek are political organizations such as Andnet (Unity) whose leaders such as Lt. Ayalsew Desse have nothing but contempt for Oromo nationalists (ESAT TV, August 9, 2011) and their organizations and individuals such the former Minister of Defense in Meles Zenawi’s government Siye Abraha who in the 1990s was responsible for the incarceration of tens of thousands of Oromo men women and children in concentration camps where many died from contagious diseases. I question the value of making alliance with these organizations and individuals, and the moral and political implications for Oromo organizations which build such alliances with them.
In her keynote speech at the OSA conference, in July 2012, the veteran of the Oromo struggle for national liberation Asli said that Araaraa hinqabnu yoo harree taane malee. In English that means “we are not a flock of donkey to comply with the wishes of our enemies”. It is difficult to disagree with her. She knows what she is talking about. She has struggled against the forces of the Dergue. She has been in the prisons of Meles Zenawi’s regime. She survived death sentences several times, thanks to the intervention of Amnesty International. What is the answer of the leaders of Oromo organizations that work for the democratization to veterans of the Oromo national struggle for independence such as Aadde Asli who have struggled for decades, were imprisoned and tortured by the past and present regimes of Ethiopia, and still continue the struggle for freedom and condemn Oromo organizations which make alliances with the afore mentioned non-Oromo individuals and organizations? That they were wrong to raise arms? That it is morally right to ally with those who were responsible for the imprisonment and death of thousands of Oromos or those who have nothing but disrespect for Oromo nationalists?
Indeed, one of the issues that make the struggle for freedom an
urgent collective task is the brutality and terrorism of the present
regime against our people. However, I will argue that the
translation of the dictum ‘the enemy of my enemy is a friend” into
action to stop state terrorism against our people is questionable
strategy: some of the “enemies of our enemies” are not different
from what they were twenty or forty years ago. Their hostile
position on the rights, of the Oromo and other peoples in
The Abyssinian elites have a unique attitude that makes them unsuitable political partners for a self-respecting Oromo. First, they have a problem with telling the truth about Oromo history and Oromo-Ethiopia relations. They deny that the Oromo people have a history, if at all, different from Ethiopian history or had a country. Those who aspire to replace Mr. Meles Zenawi’s regime constitute a coterie of individuals and groups that do not recognize Oromo identity but vilify Oromo organizations which promote that identity. They demonize the OLF as an organization created to commit genocide against the Amhara; they speak about sending the Oromo to Kenya and Madagascar based on the fairy tales of the Orthodox dabtras (clergy) who had posited in the past that the Oromo “came from there in the sixteenth century” (see for example the anti-Oromo hysteria caused by an Oromo Cultural Exhibition in connection to Africa Days in Dublin Ireland, ). They deny the sufferings of the Oromo and other peoples under Abyssinian rule.
An alliance with organizations whose leaders and members entertain
perverted views about Oromo identity and history and deny the
atrocities committed by the Abyssinian regimes against our people
and others is not only morally unjustifiable, but also gross
disrespect for the concerns of the Oromo people. What is the meaning
of co-operating with politicians and scholars, who regret nothing,
acknowledge no historical mistakes, and who do not recognize the
other peoples’ rights? The Amhara scholars and politicians love to
talk about Ethiopiawinet—being Ethiopian. As the late Walleligne
Mekonnen had enlightened us forty years ago, being an
The second problem of the Abyssinian elites is their impregnability to dialogue. Dialogue requires commitment to reason. That means give and take in order to solve conflicts of interest and values through discussions and mutual accommodation. It means willingness to recognize and respect the legitimate claims of others. Historically, efforts to build a shared Ethiopian home have invariably been defeated by a zero-sum game that dominates the politics of the Abyssinian ruling elites. At every turn of the game, they want to be the only winners at the expense of the Oromo people. It is needless to remind the reader that, most recently, this was what happened to the spirit of the 1991 Transitional Charter.
We must stop state terrorism against our people; no doubt about that, but, cooperation with those who were perpetrating terror against our people when they were agents of the present regime, or with political organizations that do not conceal their opposition to Oromo rights in public even now, is not a plausible strategy for the purpose. When your home is being robbed by a group of thieves, you do not seek help from another group that had robbed you yesterday or is scheming to rob you as they get the opportunity. You have to muster you courage and defend your life and property. Needless to argue here that the unity of Oromo organizations will make a great difference not only by protecting the achievements made through the struggle waged and sacrifices paid during the last forty years, but also will take us additional miles on the path toward an independent Oromo state.
Even the security and interests of the members of the OPDO can be served better if they support such a unity. They have much to lose in a state of crisis which can shake the Ethiopian state and its administration unless they cooperate with Oromo political organizations. Cooperating with incoming Oromo forces to keep law and order in the vast Oromo territory, protect human lives and to guard Oromo resources is not only their responsibility but can also be a salvation in many ways.
In short, as I have indicated in my previous article (March 23, 2012), it is wrong to subscribe to the idea that our journey to freedom will be short and the situation of our people will be better if we ally with Abyssinian political organizations that are in opposition to the present regime. To shorten that journey and improve our situation as a people we must free ourselves from a state system which is pervaded by an incorrigible political culture. The enemy is not the Amhara or Tigrayan elites or people per se but the system, the political culture, and the mind-set, which all of them had inherited from the past, and which will be there when Meles Zenawi and his regime are gone. We cannot change overnight the Abyssinian authoritarian political culture to a democratic one as some pro-Ethiopia Oromo politicians and scholars tend to believe. In the first place it is not our culture to be manipulated by us. Even if it were, cultural change is a slow process; it takes decades or generations for such a change to have impact. But, we can and should distance ourselves from allying with political elites, be it Amhara or Tigrayan, who are immersed in the intrigues of this oppressive political culture. We can defeat the debilitating political intrigues of the Abyssinian elites by prioritizing Oromo unity over alliances with them and working in unison to create an independent Oromo state for which tens and thousands of our brothers and sisters sacrificed their lives during the last forty years.
To conclude, I will repeat a few points pertaining to the essence of
the issues I have raised in this article. Freedom is a basic human
need, and is crucial in consolidating what the Oromo have achieved
so far and will achieve in the future in order to live in peace and
dignity. The Oromo desire to be free from the Ethiopian state and
transform the present Regional State of Oromia into a full-fledged
independent republic is strong. Self-rule is a cause which only
oppressors will oppose. In general, the pro-Ethiopia argument makes
the Oromo people instruments for the preservation of the Ethiopian
state. It takes the Ethiopian state as a matrix in which the life of
the Oromo people is formed and fixed; it seems to say that the Oromo
exist not for themselves but for
What the pro-Ethiopia Oromo politicians seem not to realize is that the option they are suggesting will keep the Oromo people away from democracy indefinitely. To call on the Oromo people to stay within the framework of the Ethiopian state is inviting them to an unending struggle to exercise their human and political rights. That will make freedom uncertain and Oromo misery permanent. In my view the liberation of the Oromo people from the shackles of the Ethiopian state is not only a desirable and just goal, but building an independent state of Oromia is also an achievable objective.
|Copyright ©2008 GPO/OPC Allrights Reserved|