Monday, June 15, 2009

Rapprochement between OLF factions: evidence of progress or cause for concern?

By Gumaa Guddaa

"Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better."~ Samuel Beckett

The Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) has been divided into two main factions for the past one decade due to ideological divergence - Oromia versus Ethiopia. The break-up came about on a backdrop of a series of failed diplomatic effort to produce a peaceful settlement of the dispute between the OLF and the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF). You may recall that the mediation effort by the Eritrean government (1992), the former US President Jimmy Carter (2004), and the US Congressional Task Force led by Henry Johnston (2006) were all frustrated by the intransigence of the TPLF. Thereafter, any glimmer of hope to bring the OLF and the TPLF to a negotiating table fell up on the shoulders of some European NGOs.

Some time in 1997 a group within the OLF, the group that later on crystallized as the Asmara Group also known as Shanee, gave up and accepted the demand from the TPLF – to surrender. The TPLF ad infinitum ad nauseam demanded “The OLF to denounce armed resistance, put down guns, and accept the Ethiopian constitution” before any peace talks. Put simply to accept the TPLF/Wayane rule over Oromia. The OLF on the other hand had a clear policy on peaceful settlement and refused to yield to Wayane’s unreasonable demand. OLF proposed “Talks about peaceful resolution of the conflict must be without such or any form of precondition, in the presence of a third party, according to internationally accepted norms and standards of peace talks”. The TPLF’s position is and has been to resist the notion of peace at all cost.

Having exhausted all perceivable venues of peaceful settlement the defeatists wrote a falsified letter and submitted it to the group of NGOs that offered to be mediators. Shanee’s letter accepted what the TPLF demanded. They wrote “The OLF is ready to unilaterally abandon its armed resistance and accept the Ethiopian constitution as an existing reality” in preparation for peace talks with the Wayane regime. After it was already sent to the European NGOs their secrete letter of acceptance to surrender was to be known to Galaasa Dilbo. As the chairman of the organization he ordered the immediate withdrawal of the letter. But, the plotters refused and the Extra-Ordinary Congress of the OLF 1998 convened and removed some of the saboteurs from position of influence and power. As it transpires latter on remnants of the plotters and some tribalist elements in the organization cooperated in formalizing the Asmara Group in 1999 and issued the infamous peace agenda in 2000 in pursuit of their subversive ploy.

The group that succumbed to the relentless demand from the TPLF, it would appear, had come to the conclusion that their time was running out. It became clear that they had been somehow ambivalent towards the objective of the Oromo struggle for some time even before they came public as they later attested to. It would appear the collapse of any hope of peaceful resolution of the conflict between the OLF and TPLF was a tipping point for them. In order to justify their abandonment of Oromia the Asmara Group had to come up with a list of excuses. They said “Liberation in the era of globalization is impossible”. They also said “To insist upon the right to fight for freedom and self-determination will categorize the OLF to the list of terrorist”. They also preached “We cannot liberate our self”. Instead of liberation of Oromia they made the objective of “democratization” of Ethiopia a fundamental and central mission of their organization.

It is abundantly evident even today that the Shanee holds to the ideology of “democratization” of Ethiopia. The Asmara Group is now deeply infiltrated by ex-derg cadres, ex-OPDOs and true OPDOs. What is more, they are wholly dependent on Eritrea for their very existence. If one goes by what the Eritrean dictator Isayas Afewarki has been bubbling recently, the odds seem stuck against the Asmara Group ever liberating themselves let alone democratizing Ethiopia. Or else they share the Eritrean vision of “Ethiopian unity”. After all what is the purpose of the Alliance for Freedom and Democracy (AFD)?

On the other hand, contrary to the Asmara Group, the genuine OLF continued with the ideology of liberation and formation of independent republic of Oromia. It seems that the quest for independent Oromia remains very popular and supported by the vast majority of the Oromo populous. The one simple fact no one can doubt is that the genuine OLF remains completely independent, self-reliant, and confident, supremely disciplined more than ever before and ideologically armed and organized. The doubters and the pretenders had gone. The last 10 years had been truly testing to the extreme. The relentless vile propaganda campaign by the enemies of the struggle against the OLF leaders, members and supporters has been so cruel you would not find a single sole in the genuine OLF that is a doubter as to the just cause of the Oromo people.

The Asmara Group has only succeeded, it could be argued, in weakening the OLF and dividing the Oromo people. You will not find any Oromo civic and religious organization that has not been divided by the Shanee. The Shanee in collaboration with the Eritrean security force even turned against the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) resulting in bloodshed. The Asmara Group issued death sentence on some of the finest Oromo leaders and requested and was granted the means to execute the death penalty by the Eritrean security forces. The resilience and intelligence of the leaders and immense personal and organizational sacrifice paid by true sons and daughters of Oromia was what assured the survival of the OLF.

The transgression of the Asmara Group went beyond personal attack, character assassinations and demonizing Oromo heroes. The Asmara Group even instigated and fought an expensive absurd lawsuit in an American court against the OLF. It is interesting to note that close scrutiny of the court case and the verdict shows that the Asmara Group argued for “democratization” of Ethiopia whilst the OLF argued for independent Oromia. Yet again through hard work mounting a robust defense of the Kaayyoo the OLF triumphed in the court.

It is important to note at this point in time the Asmara Group itself is divided in two. Both factions confirm that their agenda is to “democratize” Ethiopia. They claim they are divided on how to achieve their objective rather than what to achieve. Therefore, it would be reasonable to see them as one. Their differences are of low significance and reconcilable. It is interesting to note that both are hosted and supported by Eritrea; the same country that colluded with them to kill off the OLF albeit spectacularly unsuccessful. It is also fascinating to note that the two factions of the Asmara Group ally with the two factions of Kinijjit - an Amhara political party.

Personalities matter in politics. The genuine OLF is led by Dhugaasa Bakakko who by all accounts is a selfless devoted leader of the highest integrity and resolve. He remains true to his people and their just cause. He is one of few trusted leaders who have provided much needed leadership to the organization and the nation during the past decade of turmoil within the organization. He is renowned for his fine judgment and strategic thinking under pressure, on the field, and leading by example. He is an inspiration to freedom fighters.

On the other hand, the two factions of the Asmara Group are led by Daud Ibsa and Kamal Galchu respectively. Daud Ibsa has been in the struggle almost as long as Dhugaasaa Bakakko. The difference between the two is that Daud opted for “democratization” of Ethiopia whilst Dhugaasa remains convinced the right path to lead the struggle is to continue with liberation struggle. Dhugaasa is a risk taker but Daud is risk aversive. Dhugaasa is the man at the forefront but Daud prefers to be a rear guard.

Kamal Galchu is different altogether. He joined the Asmara Group a little less than a couple of years ago. He has been an OPDO. Suspicion exists whether he is a genuine convert to the struggle to “democratization” of Ethiopia or he is a man who finds him self to be a wrong person at a wrong place but trying to make the most of what he can. He was an officer in the Wayane Army. He rose to the rank of Brigadier General in the TPLF/Wayane military; it is alleged, for his unquestionable loyalty to the regime. He maintains a strong link with the OPDO to this day and so is his faction. Nothing is wrong as such with changing side, if genuine. But he is simply an unknown quantity.

Having survived a decade long campaign against it by the enemy within and without, and having seen off the Asmara Group in the court of law, the OLF has now challenged the two factions of the Asmara Group to return to the original program of the organization – to struggle for independent Oromia. It did so by calling for a dialogue to all who call themselves OLF and former members who chose to be not her or there. Now then, is this good news or bad news

Taken prima facie you would think it is good news, wouldn’t you? BUT, can a leopard change its spots? I do not know. What is more, the sticking point one can see right from the outset is the question of Kaayyoo. The question that divided the organization remains ideological, irreconcilable for that matter. The question is simple and clear. Either the Asmara Group should forgo their dreams of “democratization” of Ethiopia or the OLF must abandon the vision of realization of independent Oromia. What matters is what is right. Unquestionably the right thing is to fight for independence.

The question for Oromo nationalists is whether it would not be better to take the matter to its logical conclusion. The logical conclusion surely would be to continue with the endeavor in strengthening the genuine OLF and promote the struggle and leave the disciples of the “democratization” of Ethiopia project all alone. Any progressive mind would think that it is better to be logical. Then again politics is anything but logical.

The theory of ‘association, dissociation and re-association’ in social dynamics might be our only hope for redemption. In other wards, friendship starts with associating with others we do not really know that much about. The initial stage of the association process is driven partly by the novelty of the exercise. Then again people would discover the true color of the people they associate with and decide to end the relationship. If at all the people who disassociate themselves decide to get back together then it would be thought that they now have insight into their differences and similarities and therefore their re-association stands a better chance of succeeding. The danger lies in rhetoric hyperboles like ‘united we stand divided we fall’, ‘nagaa Oromoo’ so and so forth without honest proper debate as to the root cause of the dissociation in the first place. In my views, a serious danger lies in simple re-association just for the sake of formality without ironing out the differences that are so fundamental that otherwise history will inevitably repeat itself.

One has to have a huge respect for the farsightedness and magnanimity of the genuine OLF. Their endeavor to bring back the astray to the fold of the struggle is truly admirable. It epitomizes the Oromo sprit. Such is an Oromo victor that they can resist being carried away with their moral and court victory. In spite of what had gone on for more than a decade that they are willing to entertain to appeal to human decency and do the honorable thing is commendable. Although previous efforts, including Shanacha Jaarsummaa, failed to produce the desired result in the past, in my opinion, we have to remain cautiously optimistic albeit the odds are stuck against us truly mending the rift.

Gumaa Guddaa can be reached via e-mail:



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