Attack on national character and the Oromo experience
Throughout history of colonization, after conquest and occupation of a nation, the colonizer opens a new war frontier. The new war is a war against the national character of an occupied nation. The following paragraphs attempts to explain the concept of national character and its importance.
First of all, to understand the concept of national character we need to describe, define, and explain as to what it is and what it means. Before that, it is important to understand what is meant by the term nation. Generally, scholars agree that a nation is a people united by bond of origin sharing common heritage, and by its customs and character. Jean-Jacques Rousseau defines nation as a sovereign political body; a union of citizens created by the social contract. Baron de Montesquieu defines it as a collectivity sharing common customs, morals, history and temperament. And Joseph Stalin defined it as a historically evolved, stable community of language, territory, economic, and psychological makeup manifested in a community of culture. And a nation is shaped and strengthened by its civic and national political institutions.
It is from this definition, nations draw their national character. The question to be asked is as to what national character means and as to what it constitutes. Opinion varies among scholars. However, general agreement is that it is an attitude as to how a people thinks and believes. And it is how a people looks at itself, sees itself, and perceives itself as an entity; as an organic whole. The characteristics it reflects to the outside world and the characteristics that world nations recognize about a nation. It is, therefore, a political identity and social value. Hence it is a collective mentality of the members of a nation; it is collectively a distinctive set of psychological make up of members of a society; it is a sense of belonging to a nation and hence it gives a sense of obligation to ones nation and its country. It is oftentimes defined as “the spirit of a nation”, but not as spirit of tribes, or clan or region or religion. In fact, the tribes, the clans, the region, and religion should reflect the spirit of the nation, its national character, and its social and political philosophy. That is, national character is a feeling of pride in being a member of a nation. For example, a feeling of pride in being an Oromo is a national character. It is feeling of pride in the name Oromo, in their history, in their cultural tradition, in their institutions, and in Oromiyaa itself. It is this character that distinguishes one nation from the others. And indeed, it is this character that distinguishes Oromo nation from the rest of nations. In this case, it is generally agreed, among scholars, that national character consists of and is grounded on unique combination of factors as geography, land and climate, and historical facts, maxim of government, cultural and spiritual tradition, morals and mores, the habits of thought and behavior, temperament and manners, ethos and pathos, and interrelation and interdependence of a nation. It welds all elements existing within a nation into an organic whole, into a single nation as a single entity. It is for this that it is oftentimes said that each nation has its own distinctive national character that distinguishes it from other nations. It is this distinctive national character that Jean-Jacque Rousseau regarded as the basis of national consciousness and patriotism and which according to him are the foundation of sovereignty and of a free government.
Furthermore, national character stands as a resistance against foreign occupation. It promotes, enhances, sustains, and preserves nationalism and patriotism that strengthens national identity and national pride which are defenses against foreign occupation. It also helps a nation to rationalize their national resistance, national struggle, and national uprisings against foreign occupation. It not only rationalizes a national resistance, but it also legitimizes military action and political and diplomatic steps undertaken in support of the national struggle. That means national character is in the service of nationalism and patriotism. Hence, national character is a powerful weapon of resistance a nation can possess in its fight against alien occupation.
The Oromo experience
As aforementioned, a nation of strong national character resists and fights foreign domination and occupation. And such nation maintains its unity, its national identity, and its national pride. That is, a nation that preserves its national character cannot be permanently occupied, subjugated, exploited and maintained as a colonial subject by colonial power. Colonial authority understands this power of national character. It is for this, a colonial power fights against the national character of a colonized nation or nations. Colonial power fights national character of a colonized nation on myriads of ways. First, what the colonizer does in its fight against colonized peoples is that it demobilizes, terrorizes, represses, marginalizes, curtails free movement, dehumanizes, despises, and then manipulates them. Second, it balkanizes the occupied country and disperses its population. And third, it creates collaborators in the occupied territory to help it in exploitation of human and natural resources. These are not new to the Oromo people.
Then colonizer makes for the colonized people impossible to interact as a community of people, as individuals, and as a group or groups. It limits the colonized people access to means of communication as printed media, as Radio, telephones, and limits access to the means of transportation as Roads and etc. It limits access to education to deprive them modern skills and knowledge. Hence the interaction was non-existent. In this way, it controls the flow of information and ideas among people and limits movements of the people within and among colonized region. These are used as a means to weaken the bond between them, weaken their interaction, interdependence, and to loosen up the interconnectedness of the colonized people and hence to weaken their sense of national character and national unity. In so doing, the colonizer limits the colonized people to their respective little domain. That is, they are limited to their localities, the localities that are informationally and physically disconnected from each other. This limits the colonized people to their respective localities and that makes the loss of the national character of those localities. Once a national character is lost, in turn it causes the loss of national unity. The loss of national unity causes a loss of national identity and national pride as a nation. Following these, the colonizer dismantles the traditional cultural, traditional religious, traditional political and civic institutions. In Africa, the European colonizers accomplished these through African Chiefs and in Oromiyaa, the Abyssinians accomplished through Baalabbaats, Qoroos, Darg’s party cadres and party members and other opportunists. Using them, the colonizer artificially creates local character, local identity, and local pride to supplant national character, national identity, and national pride. With the support of these groups, the colonizer promotes and encourages local differences. These were what Europeans had done to African people and Ethiopian regime having been perpetually doing to the Oromo people since occupation.
In this process many Oromo individuals have lost the Oromo identity and totally absorbed into Ethiopian identity. Some were absorbed simply into local identity. Some of them are absorbed in the mix of Habasha and the artificially created local identity. Then the colonizer encouraged them to glorify local character. As the old generation passes away, the new generations that followed it take the colonial created local characters as normal and natural. And Hence, localism became their identity and pride. In this case, their primary frame of reference becomes local or regional. Their politics becomes local in origin, in thinking, in practice, and in orientation. In this case, such groups become selective in what they want to hear, to see, and to believe and talk. Oftentimes, they base their arguments on illogical talking points accompanying with lies, fabrications, and misleading statements disregarding facts, logic, and common sense. These are the crowds who never take time to comprehensively think over issues. Instead, they react to their momentary impulses on issues in their discourse. They loose the grip of the national picture. At this stage, localism, villagism, regionalism, or provincialism becomes antithetical to nationalism and patriotism. Hence regional character comes into conflict with national character. This leads to division among nationals on regional basis. This has been the aim, the objective of the colonizer. Its policy is to create artificial differences and inject these differences in body politics of the colonized nation. It is on the basis of these that Asmara group (also known as Shanee) split. Its split is not based on political line or ideological outlook but on egoism and regionalism became scapegoat for egoism. Hence the driving force of the Asmara group’s split was egoism. It has nothing to do with Oromo struggle. Hence its friction, its collision, its difference, and hence its split is not over political difference or political line, but it was over who is best suited to serve the empire and its colonial rulers. Regionalism, localism, and villagism are their springboard upon which to mobilize the low information denominators in the diaspora. Suffice to say that both have identical political position before and after the so-called split. Indeed, both are pro-Ethiopian empire democratization. Both are Ethiopianist. Both are more Ethiopianist than the Ethiopians themselves. Hence, the Oromo nationalists should not distinguish one faction from the other; both are one and the same.
Moreover, both groups are conspirators; they have been conspiring against the struggle for independence for so long. They have been lying about the Oromo struggle to the international community. In this case, both Asmara groups have been twisting the Oromo struggle for independence of Oromiyaa as a struggle for the democratization of Ethiopia. These conspirators continued to maintain their relation with Abyssinia in conspiring against the Oromo struggle to-date. Having failed to stop or destroy or dismantle the Oromo struggle, then they schemed and designed a new way. The new way the group found is how to divide Oromo on regional, or village or provincial basis. After having split, both are now concentrating their efforts on trying to artificially create dissention, suspicion, mistrust, and then stir up such heinous campaigns among Oromo nationals so as to divide them along geographical basis. Now both groups are mobilizing one region against the other. The leaders of conspirators are continuing to operate to unleash their dirty tricks, the tricks of how to divide the nation from behind the scene sitting in the corners, in the dark shadow and from their snake pit of hole. Some of the leaders and followers of these conspirators are those men and women who were created by Emperor Haile Sillassie and his regime to help him to maintain the empire. And some are the Darg’s products; Darg’s cadres and Party members who were condemning the Oromo nationalists during Darg era as the “enemy of Ethiopian unity” raising their left hands with clenched fists and foam in the corner of their mouths, shouting “Down with narrow nationalism” and others are those who profited under TPLF regime, the former members of the TPLF’s prisoners - former OPDO members. The leaders of the two groups are men and women who have been indoctrinated with Ethiopianism and their members and followers are fanatical Ethiopianists, though they were born to Oromo families. Indeed, it is impossible to find any member of these two factional groups that can be trusted to fight against Ethiopian colonialism. And it is impossible to trust both groups with Oromo unity, with the struggle for the independence of Oromiyaa, and with the unity of the Oromo nationalists.
In addition, the control of the flow of ideas, information, source of knowledge, and movement of people disconnects that particular people from the rest of the world and hence from the events taking place in the world. The absence of these creates a society of low information. This was what Abyssinians had done to the colonized peoples in the Ethiopian empire. In fact, under the successive Ethiopian empire rulers, the Oromo people were reduced to a low information society. Case in point, in 1930s, 40s, 50s, and 60s, when Africans, Asians, Latin Americans, and peoples of Caribbean Islands were struggling against European colonialists, the Oromo people were in the dark. They did not know about those struggles. The reason is simply information was hidden from them. In this way, they were kept outside the world, in terms of information. In the 1970s, when a few educated Oromo nationalists formed the OLF and commenced the struggle, it was immediately infiltrated by local pro-Ethiopian empire Oromo nationals. Today, those infiltrators are using the low information section within Oromo nationals in the diasporas to divide Oromo on the basis of region so as to undermine Oromo struggle and their unity. Hence, what we have to understand is that we are still a society of low information. In general people of low information have a tendency of factionalizing themselves into localism. Once regionalism or localism overtakes national unity, nationalism and patriotism become absent and hence national character. This leads to the division. Hence, the division into faction based clan or region of today’s Oromo organizations is a reflection of this. At least we understand one thing. That is the Oromo militant nationalists are in the minority. Hence in the opinion of this writer, the cure to this localism is development of militancy and nationalism. It is only when militant nationalists are in majority that localism or regionalism disappear.
In general, nationalists must come to clear understanding of the game the two sides are playing. The objective of the two groups is clear. It is the democratization of Ethiopia in the name of liberation. Both groups are Trojan horses. Catering to the Trojan horses is dangerous to spirit of national struggle, to the unity of nationalists, and to the struggle for independence of Oromiyaa. You know very well Shanee has been supported by Abyssinians for so long in its fight against Oromiyaa independence. Now with the split of the group, the Abyssinian political and civic organizations divided among themselves in support of one or the other. However, the overwhelming majority shifted their support to the so-called “movement for change”. As one perfectly knows both groups have been negotiating with colonial regime at the time when our people were hunted down, seized and arrested, tortured, and killed everywhere at anytime at their homes, in streets, in market places, at their work, in towns and in cities, in country and in villages, at Galma Waqqeffataa, at Churches and Mosques by the same colonial regime. This is a regime that burned down the Oromiyaa forests to ashes. Still both are in close touch with the regime that have been ganging the Oromo school children into prison cells and torturing them.
The so-called change and “movement for change”
Recently the Diaspora Oromo nationals have been bombarded with the slogans “change” and “a movement for change”. These slogans were adopted by the splinter Asmara group. As the political slogans “change” and “changing the page” were first used in 2007 by Senator Barack Obama of State of Illinois in his bid to the presidency of the United States. What he meant by the change is to reverse current American political, economic, military, diplomatic, and health policies under President George Bush. And by “changing the page” he meant to abandon the old domestic and foreign polices and embark on a new course, in a new direction. The concepts are in use ever since 2007.
The splinter Asmara group, though adopted the slogans, however, it did not define or explain as to what it meant by the slogans “change” and by “a movement for change”. So in the absence of their exact definition, one may ask questions: Change? What change? And if there is a change at all, change from where to where? The Asmara group does not say. It only says change! One can again pose questions as: What does the splinter Asmara group want to abandon? And what does it want to adopt in its place? Again it does not say. If the meaning of the term change is sought, it means replacing one thing by another or abandoning one thing to take up another. In any change, there is a bad change and there is a good change. In political terms, change means to abandon the previously held political position for another one. That is to take a distinctively different political position or a political line, or a political view from the position or view one held before. For instance, in 2001 the Asmara group took a distinctively different political line from the position it held before. That change was from political position of the independence of Oromiyaa to the political position of democratization of Ethiopia. That was a change; a grandiose change; a complete turn around. It is a complete conversion. However, it was a bad change.
As aforementioned, the two groups have already told us that they do not have political differences. That means there is no change in the splinter Asmara group’s political position or political stand. It is still Ethiopianist. So, no one understands as to what change the group is talking about. If by change the group meant dividing Oromo nationals on regional basis. introducing politics of regionalism into Oromo national struggle as both groups are doing now, then one can understand that. In this case, what the group meant by a change is a change from unity to disunity. Without question, this is a change. But it is a bad change; an ignominious change; a discreditable change. Such a change is against Oromo interests. That is, against their unity and their struggle for independence. Again, if by change the group meant to sacrifice Oromo children for the “unity of Ethiopia” or for “democratization of Ethiopia” as it is advocating since its split and before, again one can understand that too. It is also a change. But it is a bad change; a bad politics. It is an absolute obscene; an archaic politics. Such is a politics of doom and gloom. All in all, it is a change to ruin our national unity.
Hence it follows from this that “a movement for change” means seeking alliance building, and organizing that alliance for joint mobilizations, for joint actions, and for joint campaigns, formulating strategies and tactics, developing visions and alternatives to achieve ones political goal. After having abandoned the struggle for the independence of Oromiyaa, the Asmara group sought Abyssinians alliance and organized itself with them into Alliance for Freedom and Democracy (AFD) to achieve its political goal; its political goal being the democratization of Ethiopia. The point is clear that the so-much talked split is bogus, deceptive and false; unreal, it is simply a planned design to fool and then divide the Oromo nationals on regional basis. The slogans “change” and “a movement for change” are thrown at the people only to confuse, to fool, and to mislead them. If the slogans “change” and “a movement for change” mean anything at all it is that they mean nothing at all. They are simply empty shells. The group had shouted the same slogans when it split from the OLF in 2001. In face, both have the same political line, the same political view, and the same political position then and now. Hence the so-called “movement for change” is actually a movement for democratization of Ethiopia. Its purpose is to strengthen and perpetuate the colonial rule over colonial Oromiyaa and the rest of the colonized nations and nationalities in the empire. So both groups are one and the same. It is widely observed that both groups are now banking on regionalism, localism, and provincialism to divide the Oromo nationals. Both groups talk about unity. But in practice, both campaign to factionalize and divide the nation. What a naked hypocrisy! Indeed, this naked hypocrisy now lies unveiled before our own very eyes. It is a travesty, cowardly, and dishonorable to plunge a nation and its nationalists into regional factions and it is equally cowardly, shameful, deceitful, and dishonorable to lend support to any of these groups. History will never absolve those who engage in such activities.
Ironically enough, in the twist, there are Oromo groups now catering to support this group. That is, the colonizer and the members of colonized nation are falling in line to support the same pro-colonizer group: the Ethiopian democratization group. This is an irony. It is a reverse of what national struggle is all about. It is important to understand that whatever chance the Asmara group might have had to come back to the fold of OLF dissipated long ago with its launching of armed attack on the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) with the support of foreign mercenaries and with its abrogation of the OLF’s political program in adopting the political platform of Ethiopian empire democratization. And now it is on a mission of dividing the nation. The group collectively has made an irreparable breach with the organization and the nation. It is a foolishly amateurish politics to throw support behind any of these groups. There is no logic and common sense to it. One has to uphold with clear conscience what one stands for and believe in. In the national struggle, the revolutionaries, the nationalists, and the patriots do not support what the enemy supports. As it is oftentimes said, those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it. This seems to be true, in this case.