Here you go.
After four years at the university, I was about to graduate. I was very excited and had even invited my parents all the way from Oromia to join in my celebration. As former prisoners of the DERG (my mother for 6 months, my father for four and a half years) for no other reason than being Oromo nationalists (Xabbaab, OLF, etc … as they were called at the time), I was mindful of the attachment we have as a family to our identity. So, I thought it would make my parents, myself and my nation happy to use my graduation as an occasion to do some thing that would introduce our nation to graduation attendees even if it meant just as a symbolic thing. To do this, I decided to use the university’s tradition of displaying the flags of nations of graduating class in the graduation hall.
The day of the graduation, as we were marching in to the graduation hall the first place I looked was at the stage - searching with my eyes for the Oromo/OLF flag. There it was, a symbol of our resistance against extermination! True to its words, the university had hang it there among flags of other nations a bit removed form that of Ethiopia. I was speechless! Words cannot capture the pride I felt not to mention that of my family members which they tried to express to no avail once we got home. It was bitter sweet victory but a small one.
I guess you could now say Team Oromia 6 – Team Ethiopia 0.
But I was known to Ethiopian students from our African Students Association (ASA) meetings well before this incident.
ASA and African Night
Then came what was known as African Night. African Night was for my Alma mater what Afro-Caribbean Night (CAN) is for the UW. I was one of the organizers for the occasion and it was a busy night for me. We had invited a key note speaker (an African-American professor) from a neighboring college. The key note speaker read a poem about Africa in which he mentioned some African countries (mainly Ghana, Egypt and others) and their ancient civilization. Along the way he said a few words about Axum and Lalibela as well.
Some half hour or so later I saw an Ethiopian man (not a student of the university) intercepting the speaker while he was passing by one of the tables occupied by group of Oromians. He approached the professor and said to him “your speech was okay but you missed one major point, Minilik and the battle of Aduwa. I am disappointed that you missed that.” Incidentally, I was in the area chatting with the Oromo folks at the table and could not help over hearing the conversation. I felt like a Jew standing idle while Hitler was being praised or a Palestinian listening to Ariel Sharon’s adulation. I tuned around, and said to the professor, “Well, I’m glad you did not mention that black colonizer’s name, Minillik. Do you know that he himself was a colonizer and doesn’t deserve to be mentioned along with the other great African leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah and others you mentioned tonight?” The Abyssinian man almost hit the roof. He turned to me and said “how dare you speak of a great leader of a land with 3000 years history in this manner!” he almost went beserck on me had his wife and others intervened and pulled him away.
I latter approached the professor and explained what I meant. He promised to educate himself about the Oromo.
Why am I sharing this story with you? It is most certainly NOT to ask you to hate anyone but to inform the Oromo reader that Maaruu’s story is not an isolated one. Believe it or not, the effort to bury our identity and impose Ethiopian identity on us is wide spread even in foreign lands. Knowing what is going on is the first step in resisting injustice for those who value their Oromo identity. Sharing experiences like this one will help other victims in how to deal with similar incidents. Please share your stories, if you have one, for the benefit of our younger generation in foreign universities.
Have your say!