Sunday, November 23, 2008

Ali Bira & Kemer Yousuf: Traitors or Nationalists?

By Gurraacho Silgaa


Ali Bira and Kemer Yousuf need no introduction to Oromo communities around the world. Living in exile for over two decades, they have both been compared to Maria Makeba of South Africa for stirring hopes of freedom with their music among millions in Oromia and beyond. Music being a central part of the Oromo struggle against past and current oppressive Ethiopian regimes, Ali and Kemer acted as constant reminders of the events in their homeland.

But unlike Maria Makeba, these icons of the Oromo nation have decided to reconcile with their people’s enemy – the Ethiopian regime – before the freedom they once sung for and raised hope about among the Oromo arrived.

Ali decided to reconcile with the TPLF government in September 2005 following Ethiopian elections in the same year and while the world was in the middle of condemning the TPLF government for stealing elections by intimidating, detaining and murdering hundreds Oromos and others.

Kemer followed suite three years later and flew back to perform in Finfinnee (Addis Abeba) a couple of days ago (November 2008) hot on the heels of mass arrests, “disappearances” and mistreatment of Oromo nationals (Read Amnesty Intenational Urgent Action Request Here) including his popular fellow singer Zerhun Wedajo whose where about is unknown.

Much has been said on and off the Internet about Ali Bira’s and Kemer Yousuf’s visits to Ethiopia to perform there. To my knowledge, not since Leencoo Lataa’s visit to Ethiopia (purportedly to have Ibsa Gutema released from TPLF dungeon) has any Oromo’s visit there generated such a heated debate among our people. Opponents have painted them as traitors and sell-outs. The old adage “everyone can be bought” is heard a lot in reference to the two singers. Supporters, on the other hand, see no issues or concerns with what they have done and argue that their critics’ concerns are misplaced.

Why such a controversy over two singers’ visits to, and performance in, their home land?

No serious person can dispute Ali’s quasi-legendary status when it comes to Oromo music. That he got Oromo music going when the going was tough needs no reminding for any serious observer of Oromo cultural renaissance. Neither is Kemer’s stature as a popular and very much loved Oromo singer is contested by anyone I know. Ali’s and Kemer’s love for the Oromo language and music is beyond dispute. That much is known and beyond debate as far as I am concerned.

Ali Bira had won some ethnic music award, along with other African singers in Canada, in or around 1996. The awards were given out to the winners by ambassadors (to Canada) of their respective native countries. Ali is said to have refused to receive it from the then Ethiopian ambassador, and was given the award by the then mayor of Toronto. I have checked out this story with brothers living in Toronto who confirmed it as accurate.

Rumor has it that Kemer Yousuf was offered hundreds of thousands of dollars by the TPLF government on various occasions to return to, and perform in, Ethiopia which he rebuffed bluntly, often disdainfully. It is said that he refused to succumb to financial enticements by the powers that be in Ethiopia mindful of the political benefit the current rulers of the country would rip from his appearance there.

That was then and this is now.

Inconsistent with their prior abhorrence for the current rulers of the country (and their cronies – the OPDO), Ali and Kemer decided to return to Ethiopia and perform for their former enemies. After having successfully resisted TPLF advances for many years, Ali succumbed in 2005 and Kemer in November 2008.

The official reason for Ali’s performance there was for inauguration of “Gada Convention Center” in Adaamaa, Oromia. Kemer’s official reason for doing so, according to the Toronto Star, is "The system changed, the people changed, I changed," However, no mention of whether the system he condemned for the last seventeen years changed for better or for worse. As Oromo politicians in the country, the likes of Bulcha Damaksa and Marara Gudina attest, the Oromo situation has worsened even further over the last decade under the current Ethiopian regime. Regardless, “the central government [of Ethiopia] is helping to arrange a six-concert homecoming tour [for Kemer] that opens Dec. 7 at the East African country's largest indoor venue – Addis Ababa's 20,000-seat Millennium Hall.” And Kemer is taking advantage of it to make some bucks. Read Here

The central issue, however, is whether Ali’s and Kemer’s performances there, particularly at these critical times for the rulers of that country, impacts (positively or negatively) on the Oromo struggle for liberation and/or life expectance of the regime. It is this issue that needs to be addressed. This is not without reason. It is because of Ali’s prominence, reputation and the legendary status conferred on him by many. Although he is not considered a legend, the same goes for Kemer Yousuf. As a consequence, their fans hold them to a higher standard. Needless to say, it is fair to scrutinize public figures more closely than the average person.

This is not about Ali or Kemer the person per se. It is about Ali Bira or Kemer Yousuf the public figures and the role models for many. It is about all Oromo public figures – politicians and non-politicians alike – and how their association with enemies of the Oromo people impacts on the Oromo struggle for liberation.

After having rebuffed Wayyannee’s approach for many years, why have Ali and Kemer changed their minds at these particular times – in 2005 when TPLF and OPDO were fighting for their very lives and today when mass arrests of Oromo nationals is a daily occurrences? Why have they stopped feeling their people’s pain and suffering? In the case of Kemer, where is the solidarity with his “disappeared” fellow Oromo singer Zerhun Wedajo and the many Oromo nationals suffering in TPLF prisons at the present time? If they were so desperate to see their aging parents, as they both claim, why did they not slip in and out of the country quietly? In fact, Kemer was offered an all expenses paid rendezvous with his parents in the Middle East by Oromo nationalists which he refused to accept. Were they so desperate for money that they decided to perform for enemies of their people, or do they not consider OPDO and TPLF enemies of their people anymore? If the later, what has changed? Why would OPDO (TPLF) pay so much to have Ali and Kemer perform for them? Will their performance there contribute to prolonging or shortening the life of this regime which has wrecked havoc on the Oromo people for the last seventeen years? How much Oromo support will their popularity gain (lose) the TPLF government? What message does their performing for OPDO/TPLF send to our people back home and in the Diaspora – particularly to those who view them as role models? Will it encourage them to carry on the fight, or it will give them that “things are changing for the better” feeling and fool them in to relaxing their guards? It is these and other similar legitimate questions that propelled many compatriots in to this debate. I don’t believe any of their critics hate them but would like to know whether these larger than life personalities in Oromo music have sold their people’s struggle for liberation for a few bucks.

Their critics are concerned that (1) Their onetime heroes appear to have sold their souls to enemies of their people for the opportunity to earn some bucks (2) Their performing for OPDO/Wayyaanee will contribute to prolonging the life of the regime (3) Their association with OPDO/Wayyaanee will send the wrong message to those who look up to them as their role model – if it is ok for Ali and Kemer to perform for the enemy of our people then why is it wrong to support OPDO/TPLF? (4) Their performing for OPDO/Wayyanee has the potential of demoralizing, or setting a bad example for, other Oromo artists - inside and outside the country – engaged in agitating our people to fight to the end through their music.

I share these concerns with their critics.

Mr. G. Silgaa may be reached at gurraacho@yahoo.com

Have your say!

31 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is a clear case of betrayal of the Oromo struggle. Hopefully Oromos back home will not attend any of their concerts. Most importantly, when they return to the Diaspora let us make sure we stay away from their songs and concerts.

Anonymous said...

Qamar was my hero;
He was a last person I thought will trade his people's passion for money.
I am more disappointed in him telling the whole world that the system has changed, making it look like it has changed for good when in reality the system has changed from bad to worst as far as the Oromo people's well being is concerned. The Oromo are getting killed, arrested and tortured every day by the system Qamar says has changed.

Waaqni Oromo isatti haa haraaramu.

Anonymous said...

These two known Oromo music icons runaway from their own people's side of the political platform to legitimizing the enemy's camp. Their act is despicable to say the least. They are the ones that tarnished their long time reputation as far as many Oromoos are concerned. Regardless whether they are on the side of their people or otherwise, the struggle will continue till we earn our liberation!!! Although it's hurting to see one or some of our liberation voices (Qamar & Ali) go down, hundreds will replace them and the songs of liberation will pour into our ears.

My fellow Oromians, think of many Oromo singers who lost their precious life fighting for their people through their voice. Think of many Oromos who had to leave their country due to life threatening conditions and/or after imprisonment. Think of many Oromos who are languishing in the prison cells of the colonial rulers. Qamar Yusuf and Ali Birra step on, dance around, and laugh over the blood, bone and flesh of those freedom fighters.

Waaqni warra wareegamee hojii haarka isaani hakeenufii!

Anonymous said...

Yaa jama Qamariin maal godhi jettu kan dalla banee gadi dhiise hoo shaneedha.

Tikse raatu

oromantic said...

A very well written analysis!
I like to begin my comment by expressing my deepest admiration and respect for these Oromo icons. Secondly, both of these musicians are going to face the music. Some in the diaspora are really angry at them while millions of Oromos in Oromia would love to see them perform right in Oromia. I don't know why everybody is up in arms at them while our target should be TPLF. They went back risking incarceration and worse not to sing for wayyaannees but to our people who are their main audience.

So in my opinion, they are not traitors - they are brave nationalists!

Anonymous said...

What else do you expect from unliberated minds? Money is the route to all evils, as the old adage goes. Do not hold singers as heros. Make sure you know the definition of hero. Heros are people who put their live in danger to save others. If you do brave things to save yourself or other personal gains you will still not be a hero. Ali and Kamar are both cowards. I bet they will not dare to sing any song that refers to ABO or bilisummaa in Finfinnee.

Do not waste your time talking about loosers. Letr the struggle continue.

Anonymous said...

Ormantic said,

"I don't know why everybody is up in arms at them while our target should be TPLF."

Our target is always TPLF. That [TPLF] being the major enemy what is wrong with condeming one of our own Oromos? Especially, when they sell-out there people's cause for their own greed. Ali in the past now Qamar has demonstrated just that by showing solidarity with OPDO and TPLF. In Qamar's case he said the "..country has changed and I changed..." It's obvious that when he said he changed, he meant changed from opposing TPLF to supporting it [OPDO/TPLF].

I was in Finfinee in 1991 when Qamar performed in the then OLF compound. Does he mean things have gotten better for his people since then? The Oromoo people answers that question every day. May be things have changed for him personally at least in the last few months.

Ormantic, you also said he performs for millions of Oromos.... who are you kidding? do you think Oromos have the peace of mind, and economic capability to go see Qamar on the stage. You may be right OPDOs and few people who happen to lead a comfortable life working with woyaanee would go see him dance, but their number would not be in million may be few hundreds.

You also said, he risked his life. Oromantic, you either have hidden interest suggesting such a bold lie or you don't know woyyane and its trick/tactic/dealings. How on earth a known Oromo singer especailly that of Qamar's and Ali's stature would go to the empire without closing a deal with the occupying force? I'm real Sorry for you [Oromantic]. go back to your sleep.

oromantic.com said...

A response to one of the anonymous commenters who quoted me:

I don’t know why you are saying he is showing solidarity to OPDO when in fact he hasn’t said or done anything to that effect. He said things have changed. No one can deny that fact. He didn’t say things are better now; all what he said is there is change. Change could be for better or for worse.
When the tide rises, some people prefer to stay away from the ocean while others ride the tide. People like you and me are nowhere near the ocean while these guys are out there riding the tide by entertaining our people.
Everyone knows the circumstances our people are in but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to hear patriotic, encouraging, calming, motivating songs. An example about African Americans’ life in the past comes to mind when I think of the power of music. They used to sing blues while picking cotton when their slave masters were exploiting their labor and doing a lot of crazy stuff. So don’t tell me Oromos in Oromia are not happy to see these great artists.
I don’t know on what conditions these guys went back home and I don’t think you know either but you are just speculating rather a pessimistic view of yours. Qamar is going with a Canadian journalist for a reason so stop dismissing and tarnishing their name with your unfounded accusations!

Let’s just hope he will put on a good show and come back safe!

Anonymous said...

There is no denial that Qamar has contributed to Oromo struggle
But he gets compensated for his service in most cases. He no longer serves
Even community organizations for free. Singing is his bread and butter and it is ok if he gets compensated for his work. What is out of proportion is a credit he gets like he “rides a tide”. Let us put things in to prospective. There are many out there who are giving a free service to this struggle for years. He is one of very few who is ripping a fruit of struggle right from the beginning. I actually think he used the Oromo struggle as stepping stone to move on to a wider audience.

Anonymous said...

Oromantic,
Are you for real or is this your way of sarcastically approaching this sad development? First, let me put it out there that in my opinion, there is nothing wrong in going home for a musician to perform for the Oromo audience. The issue here is how Kemer and the Canadian journalist you mentioned in your response systematically try to paint a rosy picture of the “change” in the article. They clearly described the situation of Oromo persecution in the past by Hailesilasie and Derg. But when it comes to this government, a government who has been killing, torturing and imprisoning thousands of Oromos everyday, they were mute. In fact, Kemer’s reason to flee his country 24 years ago was because of fear of persecution, while his return back home was because “the system changed, people changed, and I changed” according to him. Does that imply to you that Kemer went back home to console the Oromo people because the system changed for the worse? Be honest if you want to be taken seriously. Based on the article’s characterization, one can easily infer that it was intended to boost the TPLF government’s human rights records while denying the reality on the ground of indiscriminate abuse, torture, killing, and imprisonment of the Oromo people.

Anonymous said...

Oromantic said,
"Qamar is going with a Canadian journalist for a reason so stop dismissing and tarnishing their name with your unfounded accusations!"

I am not sure why Oromantic thinks the case unfounded just because Qamar is going with John Goddard a candian jouralist. Couldn't John be a TPLF supporter?
If you read John's article on this matter it doesn't take much to see he is actually Melese's supporter.
He says
"About five years ago, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi opened a dialogue with expatriate Oromo communities in Europe and North America."
"The changes brought a new infectiousness and universality to his songs, and opened him to the new, mass audience."

He painted Meles as a democrat who extends his hands to opposition when the reality on the ground is much different.

Oromantic, try to look at the big picture, this case beyond Ali and Kemer. They are just part of a big plan Meles put together to passify, demoralize, and eventually kill the Oromo nationalism.

oromantic.com said...

I don’t know where in that article you see rosy picture of the present day Ethiopia being painted. You guys are reading what is not written. The article talks about the awful things that happened in the past and as you said it is mute about what is going on under the current dictatorship. Everybody knows TPLF’s dismal human rights record and I think the writer has good reason for not mentioning it in that specific piece. Qamar was also very diplomatic in his innuendo by using the now famous word in the whole wide world thanks to Obama.

Change!

Another thing that you’re ignoring is who in his right mind criticizes the government when they are going to Ethiopia? If they do that, it is considered nothing short of a suicide mission.

Why didn’t I hear any outcry when Ababiya Aba Jobir, Lencoo Lata and others went back? Why all of a sudden are you guys holding musicians to the same standard as politicians? These individuals are entertainers and not politicians; so you should treat them as such!

As entertainers, they need to make money. Expecting them to sing for free while you wouldn’t do that yourselves is hypocritical to say the list. Let them go and sing! How often do Oromos in Oromia get to see their favorite artists? Do they have to wait a life time to see one good show or should they all take the next flight to US or Canada? I don’t think Ali Birra, Qamar or Saliha are going to sing kumbaya over there. I think they know well the situation our people are in and they are over there to ease the pain by the therapeutic sounds of their music.

We have no evidence at this point to call this recent development a sad development. For all I know, they might be doing what you guys are suggesting but at this point in time you shouldn’t be outright dismissive without gathering enough information. This culture of praising folks one day and ostracizing them the next day is not going to get us anywhere.

Anonymous said...

Oromantic,
Good try. I do not think Qamar can actually compete with the real Oromo artists back home. 'Biyya jaamaan baayyate nama ija tokkootu mooti ta'a.' I personally do not appreciate Qamar's songs. He has very little original songs of his own. He is a Karaoke singer parroting others. Can anyone help me by telling me a highlight of his songs?

That said, I do not think the Oromo people even know him let alone loving him. Forget him.

Nagaan jiraadhaa.

Anonymous said...

Oromoantic,

You said "Why didn’t I hear any outcry when Ababiya Aba Jobir, Lencoo Lata and others went back? ". In my opinion, no one in Oromo politics, generated as many critism as Leenco Lata atleast in the last decade. You might be new to Oromo politics to miss this.
In abba biyya's case, just scroll down this blog and you will find one article.

Kenassa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kenassa said...

Oromantic,

Are you playing “Devil’s Advocate”? I’m cool with seeing the glass as half full But, It does not take a rocket scientist to understand the ramifications of their return. If anything else, it legitimizes Meles’s argument for filling his prisons with Oromos.
You also said “millions of Oromos in Oromia would love to see them perform right in Oromia”. That remains to be seen. Are they going to perform at the Sheraton only or travel to the remote areas such as Robee and Dembi Dollo?

NAMA said...

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Anonymous said...

thestar.com. calls him "Ethiopian Kemer Yousef" how true?

This is not the first time Qamar is performing at habasha places. He performs at ehtiopian restaurants in Toronto for a long time now and this past summer he performed at Ethiopian soccer tournament in DC.
Suuta suutan ijoollen milla fuuti jedhan miti.

Anonymous said...

Oromantic,

Have you listen to qamar's you-tube on gadaa.com. It is official that he is there by government invitation.

Btw, his amharic is good.

Anonymous said...

aja'ibba immo.

Why don't you guys be in the shoes of the people at home and talk.


Gebiba

Anonymous said...

Do U guy's know How the people back home is happy when them ( the artists)after long time despite the atrocities by the rigime.


Gebiba

Anonymous said...

Those who criticize them are those who hold these people to high standards. But you have a point they are just regular singers and treat them as such. No need to except more from them. No need to waste time on them.

Anonymous said...

MY peoplpe!! listen my people. There is no doubt on any oromo people that this two singers are indeed very important to who we are. It is becosue of them that we are well known around the world! they have struggled until they become old and tired!! We msut understand their pain. Why is it okay for us to back to our counry and see our family and not okay for these two singers. Thy just human being like us. There precence in Addis could not mean failier for the oromo people, it would rather mean a wake up call and for the grouth of music industry in our country.

MS. YOUSOUF said...

wow.. i did hear about this issue and when you think about in the eyes of our young ones these two so called oromo singer showed us the path to freedom from the ethiopian regiem but then sliding back to them does not show us anything of what you used to belive in. Ethier what you are doing is out of the good of tour people, OROMO , in case you did no know that, or else what you belive in is well just a LIE!!!

TELL ME I WOULD LIKE TO KNOW!!

Bye, MS. YOUSOUF

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final year projects said...

i agree with oromantic.
yes, they are brave nationalists!

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