The law of negation of the negation, which is unconsciously operative in nature and history, until it is recognized, was first formulated by Hegel. The Hegelian negation of the negation suggests that the natural course of all things was for there to be an original idea or entity (thesis) which comes to be replaced by its opposite (the antithesis) which in turn is replaced by a combining of both concepts (synthesis). The synthesis then itself goes on to become the next thesis and the cycle continues.
This essay, in an attempt to shade some light on the prevailing endless negation in the Oromo political arena, will consider the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) - the original idea - as an entity (thesis) and will attempt to analyze what has been happening since the formation of the OLF by employing the Hegelian concept of negation. The original idea is that the OLF will struggle for the formation of independent democratic republic of Oromia (The OLF Political Program, p 7, 1974).
In addition, there are three sacrosanct pillars of the thesis including nationalism, Oromo unity and self-reliance. The thesis is clearer and better than anything else put forward so far. It is clear because it formulates a goal and the norms required to be observed to achieve that goal. It is superior because it proposes to struggle for the maximum possible natural goal of sovereignty – complete freedom and independence - a cause worthy of sacrificing lives and precious resources. Reclaiming what was lost.
Having looked at the original idea it would be necessary asking how it came about. There was a serious and profound political debate among the Oromo elite class around the end of the 60s and the beginning of the 70s before the original idea was formulated. There were two theses that were put forward as to the solution for the Oromo question at the time. These included a/ national liberation and b/ system change within the Ethiopian framework.
The outcome of the debate hinged largely upon the definition of the Oromo question itself; a colonial question or not. At the end the only rational convincing argument that stood the rigor of intellectual scrutiny was that the correct historical interpretation of the relationship between Oromia and Ethiopia was nothing but to conclude that Oromia was colonized by Abyssinia and needed to regain her sovereignty, which subsequently became the perceived wisdom. Hence, the birth of the OLF as a modern national liberation force, above all as an ideology. There has been no alternative convincing counter argument articulated until now against this interpretation.
Shortly after the creation of the OLF in 1973 an antithesis, which is the opposing position (negation) of the original thesis, was presented by the All-Ethiopia Socialist Movement (MEISON), and the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP) among others. The MEISON and EPRP position was that the Oromo question is predominantly a class struggle and national question to a lesser degree but never a colonial question and therefore the solution was never to be independence but socialist revolution. This antithesis anticipated both questions of class and national struggle will be answered by socialism and later on communism and stateless utopian society. Thus, it argued that there was no need to aspire to create democratic republic of Oromia. Since socialism advocated for 'international proletarianism' struggling for the Oromo alone was caricatured as narrow nationalism. The antithesis did not survive for completely different reason all together in that the proponents made an error of judgment of the first principle, misinterpreting the reality of Ethiopian politics.
The collapse of the Dreg military junta in 1991 ushered another era of negation. The first antithesis to the original idea within the OLF itself appeared in the early 90s. The main political antithesis put forward at the time was that, since the Wayane regime hijacked the opportunity for a peaceful resolution and invited us to fight to get what is rightfully ours, the only viable way forward was to downgrade the objective from independence to some sort of self-rule within federal or another form of arrangement within Ethiopia. This is in direct contrast to the original thesis of republic or Oromia. The promoters of the antithesis have made it clear that they have concluded that there is no need to shed blood and now transmogrified to become believers of the antithesis and attempt to convince the Oromo on the one hand and the Abyssinians on the other that they can live together in harmony.
More recently, the latest antithesis to the original idea has been presented in a similar fashion as its predecessor. The advocates of globalization argued that because of the financial powers of the trans-national global companies i.e. neo-capitalist, the sovereignty of the existing nations has already weakened and will inevitably be consigned to history sooner or later and henceforth no need to form a democratic republic of Oromia. How absurd such a proposition looks now after the debacle of the global financial crisis, moral collapse and the plague of greed the free market of capitalism finds itself in?
The emergence of the antithesis within the organization has and continues to cause a serious political pain. Ottoway argued a central weakness of the OLF has been their lack of definition regarding their overall objective: "the OLF wavered between the ideal of an independent Oromia, the desire for a large degree of autonomy, and the dream of supplanting the TPLF as the dominant political organization in the country" (Ottoway 1999, 70). Many serious observers of Oromo politics would agree with this analysis. “Dubartiin waa lama jaallattu gaba hin bahin”.
The idea of dream of ‘Ethiopianizing’ the OLF was evident shortly after the OLF withdrew from the Transitional Government in 1992. For instance, Alex de Waal reported as far back as 1994 "evidence of a split in the OLF between the more conciliatory Deputy Secretary General Lencho Lata and the Secretary General Galassa Dilbo" (de Waal 1994, 27-28) along the lines of the antithesis and the thesis respectively.
In 1997 there were reports that: ". . . informal negotiations between OLF and government broke down in the spring after splitting the OLF into two positions: that of its secretary-general Galassa Dilbo who wanted to continue the struggle against the regime and that of his deputy Lencho Lata who was more in favor of legalizing the OLF" (Minorities at Risk Project June 1998, 21). Subsequently, the OLF split into two factions of TA OLF and Asmara Group formally in 2001 along the line of the thesis and the antithesis respectively.
What is more, the Asmara Group tried to present the two separate ideas to two different sets of audience. The Asmara Group, for instance, as a whole embrace in different forms and at different levels both the thesis and the antithesis. Some foot soldiers, supporters and low level members of the Asmara Group do support the original idea (thesis) of liberation. However, the top echelon of the Asmara group believes and promotes the direct opposite idea against independence. They say democratization of Ethiopia should replace the struggle for liberation. When challenged the leadership of the Asmara group argues that there is no difference between the two. As a consequence they say the OLF does not have a political program and there is no need to declare what it stands for. They abdicate the decision to the Oromo people. Such an ideological position is that of synthesis replacing the antithesis.
The ‘Change’ faction of the Asmara Group is another classic example of combining the original idea with its direct opposite. The ‘Change’ faction is an amalgam of the ‘Oromo People’s Democratic Organization’ (OPDO) and members of the Asmara group. The Asmara Group has already formed Alliance for Freedom and Democracy (AFD), itself another synthesis, by making a pact with the hardliner Amhara party, namely Coalition for Unity and Democracy Party (CUDP).
The ‘Change’ faction is also calling for reintegration with others who declare independence as their goal. How they can reconcile the OPDOs with the others remains unclear. The Oromo populace has rejected the OPDO precisely because it is the antithesis to the OLF (the original idea). Even the newly formed ‘Change’ wing of the Asmara Group is already divided due to precisely the same problem. The recent defection in the Oromo Liberation Army Southern Command is just that. It was less than 6 months ago since the ‘Change’ Group paraded the Southern Command as the flagship of their strategy of gaining credibility. Alas it was short lived. It would appear that there will be more to come. It is a vicious circle.
The original thesis on the Oromo unity advocates that guarding the unity of 40 million strong Oromos is a sacred principle. In particular, Oromos of similar political persuasion should not divide along the line of region or religion. ‘United we stand, divided we fall’ is one of the most recited slogans by Oromo nationalists. For instance, whatever internal disquiets there were within the OLF camp, before the 2001 official split, the leaders always presented united front to the outside world. The Oromo public embraced the value of Oromo unity religiously and continues to regard dividing the Oromo nation to be the highest possible sin.
Although in the minority, over the years, sadly some have openly embraced the forbidden idea and advocated to organize Oromos along the religious divide. Others have called for Oromos to organize themselves along region and then come together to form a confederation. These notions are clearly antithesis to the original idea of Oromo unity. One wonders how long it may take us to realize the danger of ongoing negation because of what has been manifestly obvious over the past few months. Yet again some groups believe that it is fine to be regionalist and pan Oromo at the same time. These groups think it would be possible to rally the Oromo nation by first forming hegemony of certain grouping at its core. For example, there is a serious charge against the ‘Change’ faction of being regionalists in the public court based on the behavior of some of their supporters.
The original idea is that pan Oromo movement diametrically opposes regionalism. The strategy for the antithetical thinking appears to be that you can organize a particular region as far as you have a pan Oromo name. They consider it to be possible to run regionalism and pan Oromo movement at the same time or as far as it gives you the opportunity to oppose others. It is not only regionalism but also the leadership style as well as that some Oromo ‘leaders’ adopting the Amharic language in making public speeches and comfortably sitting under the Ethiopian flag are all clear examples of synthesis. You can embrace Oromo nationalism and ‘Ethiopianess’ is the synthesis which attempts to replace Oromo nationalism.
It would be lack of farsightedness not to be aware of the possibility of a religious antithesis emerging in Oromo politics. Previous attempts were unsuccessful. But that alone is no guarantee that new one will not appear. The fabric of Oromo unity between Oromos of different religious persuasion was woven by the blood and bones of members of the OLF who paid the ultimate sacrifice in fighting for freedom against the enemy. Nevertheless, the reality is we live in a world increasingly sharply divided along religious lines. There are those who are willing to fund the radical elements of both religions in order to control our society and there are early warning signs already on the ground more so inside Oromia. Vigilance is in order.
Over all, neither the antithesis nor the synthesis has yet replaced the thesis. The thesis is based on reality and has been tested from within and without and it has survived a number of challenges for the past four decades. There is no fear that the synthesis will replace it. For instance, the TA OLF, who are widely considered to be the bastions of the original “kaayyoo”, insist they stand for the thesis and have dug in their heels and stood by it for the last one decade. The great majority of the Oromo people also stand for the original idea with regards to independence, nationalism, unity and self reliance. All available evidence indicates that the Oromo public is firmly supportive of the thesis. The Oromo people hold the OLF in a messianic position because of the original idea. The OLF has become an ideology in its own right.
Attempts by different factions to replace OLF either by forming different organizations or change its political program from within have not been successful so far. The enemy is frightened of its potential. Nevertheless, the process of synthesis (combining both concepts) is already underway and we should be aware of it. We are better advised to be conscious of the process of the negation of the negation itself, which actually is endless unless an active conscious effort is made to end it.
In conclusion, you can eternally split and regroup how many times you would like but you will not stop the process unless you fully understand the reason for the split and the underlying process in the first instance. The only viable solution to the endless negation is to return to the original idea and restore the thesis based on the original idea, norms and values. A serious debate is required. The conspicuous absence of the Oromo intellectual class, the descendents of those who started the struggle, from the debate and analysis of the situation is extraordinary. A serious intellectual analysis and problem solving is required. We have to separate ideas (thesis, antithesis, and synthesis) from the people who hold them. We all have to recognize the mess and take collective responsibility to clean it.