Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Case for a Sovereign & Independent Oromia

By Gumaa Guddaa


Oromia is one of the richest in natural resources in the world. There is a huge potential in energy supply from its rivers and natural gas reserves. Billions of dollars worth of minerals is being exploited. Laga Dambi, southern Oromia, alone produces 5,000kg gold/year. The rivers, hydroelectric power, lakes, farmlands and forests of Oromia can improve the economic development of the entire Horn of Africa. The Oromo population, estimated to be 40 million, one of the fastest growing populations in the world, has huge potential for economic development.

Nearly 90% of Ethiopia’s hard currency earning comes from agricultural and mining sectors of the state of Oromia. According to official statistics from the Ethiopian Trade and Industry Ministry, last year (2009) alone, export of coffee raised $288.8 million, gold $282 million, and jimaa/khat/ $194.74 million in hard currency for the Ethiopian regime. Sheik Mohammed Hussein Ali Al-Amoudi’s Midroc Gold exported 5,000kg of gold, has pocketed $160 million.

The gold price has increased five-fold over the past 10 years, reaching a record high of $1,300 US an ounce ($41,686/kg) for the first time in September 2010. The latest rise was sparked by caution over global economy, as well as weakness in the US dollar. The precious metal has always been a stabilizer of world economy as a safe currency but also a reserve against which all the governments around the world hold bonds and the value of their currency. The Ethiopian state is the most secretive regime and subsequently it is impossible to find out the true gold trade figure. It can, however, be safely estimated that the truth is much higher than the official figure. For example, there is a daily chartered plane flight, exclusively ferrying Oromo gold, from Finfinne to the international London Bullion gold market, uninterrupted since the time of Haile Selassie.

Oromia’s livestock population is one of the largest in Africa. Livestock export accounts for about 10% of Ethiopia’s export income.

Furthermore, Meles and co. are busy making billions of dollars from illegal Oromo farmland sale since the global scramble for farmland began in 2008. Driven from their farms, the Oromo have to farm for the foreign investors, and it is in the “wealthy” Oromia that the highest human and natural price is being paid, by the indigenous Oromo people, through toil and blood, poverty, acute starvation and Ethiopian state-terrorism, thanks to alien rule and lack of independent state.

The entire economy of Oromia is controlled by the Endowment Fund for Rehabilitation of Tigray (EFFORT), conglomerate of 13 different “private limited” companies, exclusively owned by the central committee of the TPLF. Some estimate that EFFORT controls half of the Ethiopian economy. The author actually thinks they control nearly the whole of the Ethiopian economy as well as aid money. Everything is for Tigray and the Tigreans do not seem to care to understand its implication for the future. The Tigray ruling class seem to feel they deserve it since they fought for it and Oromia is their colonial territory to be exploited to the maximum and sold to the highest bidder. However difficult it may be to believe, the TPLF even takes top soil from fertile lands of Oromia and transplant it, by truckloads, to Tigray and creating new farming fields.

In the meanwhile, Oromia is creaking under the heavy burden of neo-colonialism superimposed on classic colonization. The status quo is not sustainable any longer. It is simply not acceptable. Most of all, there is a serious pressing concern for the ecosystem of Oromia.

On the other hand, realization of an independent Oromia is within the grasp of the current generation. It requires the small matter of putting our own house in order first – unite under a strong leadership that believes in independent Oromia and we can shorten our people’s suffering.

The Oromo must stand together and defend what we have won so far and march forward to consolidate the final victory by claiming what is rightfully ours. It is a must that we consider an end game to the century old struggle as the enemy is contemplating the ‘final solution’.

A people sharing a common geographical space, history, language and culture is a common definition of what we normally think as a nation. In these aspects Oromia clearly qualifies with its established boundaries, language and shared history for thousands of years, above all by a shared sense of national identity.

Far from killing national aspiration for independence of nations, as some argued few years back, globalization has led to increased demand for protection by nations. After the recent credit crisis nations have become not only powerful in taming globalization but also the only way forward in preventing global economic meltdown.
A great majority of the Oromo populous support independence. It is the preferred option and declared position by the OLF. The first stage of our struggle, the re-establishment of our national identity has already been accomplished through immense sacrifice. The second phase is the struggle for the formation of an independent state of Oromia with co-operative outlook to the rest of the globalized world. To this end, the following are advantages of independent Oromia.

Liberated Oromia

“For an Oromo worthy of the name, there is one and only one way to dignity, security, liberty and freedom. That single and sure way is to hold common front against his oppressors and their instruments of subjugation. In this, s/he is ready and willing to join hands in spirit of brotherhood, equality, and mutual respect, with oppressed nationalities and all persons and institutions of good will, s/he is equally ready and prepared to pay any sacrifice and oppose any person or groups that in any way hinder her/his mission for liberation from all forms of oppression and subjugation. An Oromo has no empire to build but a mission to break an imperial yoke, and that makes this mission sacred and his sacrifices never too dear.” (The Oromo: Voice Against Tyranny, 1971:23). This declaration is four decades old. It is even more relevant today than when it was written. It is a mission yet to be accomplished. No doubt, accomplished it will be.

The Oromo people lost more than their land. They are robbed of their souls and declaration of independent Republic of Oromia will be the only befitting way of the realization of liberation from all forms of operation and subjugation. Imagine the euphoria that will be felt when we raise our flag over Maskel Square, in the heart of Finfinne.

When people have lived under total subjugation, as the Oromo people have been subjected to, the word liberation takes totally different meaning altogether. Liberation means something more than what words can describe in this situation. Liberation of Oromia will mean freeing a beautiful people and land from the worst ugly colonization mankind has ever seen. It will not only mean setting free the people physically but liberating Ayyaana Oromoo/the Oromo spirit/ – setting the land and the spirit of the people free.

Liberation after a total humiliation and collective trauma will set free the people mentally as well as physically and will release a tremendous positive energy, creativity and self-belief much needed to be harnessed to transform the society for good. For a dehumanized and demonized people, only total liberation and independence will be the way to regaining dignity, security and liberty. Once they have gained their independence, it will be up to them as to what they will do with their freedom. They will collectively decide to determine their future and the future of the coming generations through the system they replace the old order with. The author is confident that liberated Oromia will make the right decision.

Safer Oromia

The primary purpose of an independent sovereign state is to safeguard the security of its people. The Oromo experience, over the past one century, has been nothing but a collective trauma of lack of security. An independent state of Oromia will be the surest way of ensuring the collective security of its people. Living in a safe country, where people can live in peace and are able to bring up their children, is a basic human need. The alternative, continuing to sustain the forced unity of Oromia and Ethiopia, is recipe for disaster. You cannot expect safety from a system that is inflicting the trauma in the first place.

The Abyssinians and their overseas supporters, it seems, from their strategic point of view, at least for the time being, have chosen to ignore the plight of Oromia. Becoming an independent country will save the Oromos from torture, harassment, imprisonment, exile, extra-judiciary killings, famine, and poverty and above all from becoming victims of genocide.

After so many wars – Anole, Calanqo, Raya, Bale, and the ongoing war of independence led by the OLF for the past 35 years – hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost in the resistance not to speak of the incalculable damage to Oromia’s natural resources. The Oromo must reinstate free and democratic Oromia to ensure total freedom from fear of being attacked for your identity - not only for Oromos but for anyone who chooses to live in Oromia,

Sustaining Ethiopia will always be a high risk strategy for Oromia. Ethiopia will inevitablly be a failed state in a not too distant future. Declaration of independent Oromia will be the safest option in order to create stable governance for the Oromo nation as well as stabilizing the whole region. If we attempt to patch up some sort of agreement with the Abyssinians before the sovereignty and independence of Oromia is a reality, you will quickly be back to where you started as we witnessed it in 1992. Oromia has to stand on its own as a sovereign and independent nation before any agreement with Abyssinians can be entertained.

Wealthier Oromia

That the empire heavily depends on Oromia’s wealth does not justify the current situation or any future economic ties between Oromia and Ethiopia. Over the past one hundred years, especially the last 2 decades, it has become abundantly clear that the enemy is well prepared to destroy us, through war, manmade famine, and severe economic exploitation. Even if Ethiopia became a fledgling democracy, by some unique miracle, from economic point of view, the Oromo would still be much more prosperous by going it alone.

The greatest enemy of development opportunity in Oromia is Ethiopia/Abyssinia/. As long as the Ethiopian system exists, the Abyssinians will be supported by the West. Love it or loath it, the Western powers recognize only Abyssinia as Ethiopia. For them Oromia is there just to be blundered and exploited. The evidence for this was clearly demonstrated when the Americans conspired with the TPLF in 1991-92, after the fall of the military regime, and subverted a golden opportunity for the Ethiopian empire to end peacefully or set itself on another course of history.

Would independent Oromia dissolve Ethiopia? It is unclear whether an independent Oromia would simply make Ethiopia smaller or terminate its existence altogether. The author’s best guess would be that Oromia and Ethiopia will live side by side as respectful and good neighbors. Both would greatly benefit from the peace, stability and economic co-operation as the byproduct of being good neighbors. Both become wealthier separately than they would ever be together. The reasons why unity would mean poverty are obvious for all to see. With the above mentioned wealth and natural resources of Oromia and other parts of the empire, Ethiopia is one the poorest African countries who top the list of world poverty ranking. The majority of the population lives below poverty line. This is not for lack of resources but because of the colonial relationship between the Abyssinians (the colonialists) and the other nations and nationalities in the empire including Oromia. This relationship is one of exploitation and subjugation which the colonized are justifiably resisting by any means necessary including wars of liberation. The result has been state sponsored terrorism by the colonizer and resistance by the colonized which creates instability in the region even beyond the empire’s borders. It is universally accepted that there is no worse enemy of development and economic progress than instability. A de-colonized Oromia, separate from Ethiopia/Abyssinia/, will contribute immensely towards peace and stability in the region thereby making development and economic progress in the region possible.

Today, there are about 13 million acutely starved people in Ethiopia totally reliant on food aid, whereas the Ethiopian regime has sold 3 million hectares of fertile farmland since 2008. The irresponsible land sale policy of Ethiopia has not only created a famine of huge proportion but also a total environmental disaster. Notwithstanding this, adding insult to injury, the West has appointed Meles Zenawi, unashamedly, an African spokesperson on the environment. So, there you have it.

Greener Oromia

Talking about the environment, the Oromo are green through and through. They plant trees. They respect nature. The Oromo believe that ‘nagaa’/peace/ must be maintained not only between God and man but also between man and nature. When the Abyssinians have been busy cutting down trees and destroying their environment over the past one hundred years, the Oromo have maintained a perfect harmony between nature and man.

The Oromo have customary and legislative Gada laws that govern land use. They allocate pastoral land, farm land, forests for bee farming, and forests for wildlife and building materials. The Oromo way of farming and land use is scientific. Practices such as crop rotation and using natural fertilizers are common. Oromia is the most bio-diverse country on earth. The Oromo farm several unique species of crops and plants. They introduced coffee and jimaa/khat/ to the world for example.

The Tigrean ruling class (TPLF) think that the beautifully balanced land use practiced by the Oromo is just God’s blessing. Not so. The beautiful countryside, is not by chance but a systematic advanced land use tradition and resource allocation that the Oromo have perfected through several generations.

The Tigrean ruling class are the worst enemy of the environment compared to their Amhara counterparts. Between 1990 and 2005, Oromia lost 14% of its forest cover or 2.1 million hectares. Change in deforestation rate since the 1990s has increased by 10.4% according, a charity considered a leading source of information on tropical forests by some of the world’s top ecologists and conservationists. What has been happening to the remaining forest in Oromia since extensive land lease began in 2008 is anybody’s guess.

Millions of hectares of Oromo land are under the cover of greenhouse for the purpose of cut flower farming. Punjab farmers are flocking to Oromia in their droves. China, India, Arab states etc. are taking the lion share of Oromia as we speak. There is no consideration for the environment. The Tigrean ruling calss behave like robbers who ransack a building after taking any item considered valuable.

Independent Oromia will have to work hard to rescue the environment. The combination of nationalism and Oromo wisdom about the care of the environment will offer Oromia the only chance of becoming green again. This is possible only in Sovereign and independent Oromia.

Democratic Oromia

Democracy is a culture of attitudes, expectations and norms which takes time and effort to take root. When one makes such a statement in reference to democratizing the Ethiopian empire, it is important to understand that one is speaking of the Abyssinians, not the Oromo. The Oromo have developed such a complex democratic system of political governance called “Gadaa” through hundreds of years of practice. Independent Oromia will benefit greatly from its proud heritage of democracy. There will be no difficulty in reviving Gada. It still exists and is functional in many regions of Oromia. Thus, Oromia will not waste time training or learning the values of democracy.

On the other hand, the concept of democracy is new to Abyssinians not to speak of its practice. It would take at least another hundred years for it to take root in their society. For Oromos to attempt to democratize Ethiopia is tantamount to another hundred years of subjugation and instability for the region including for Abyssinians which is not in their best interest. Having a deeply rooted culture and own democratic institution of Gada is a huge advantage for Oromia. To combine Oromia with Ethiopia and endeavor to democratize it will be a formidable task. Creating nationalism and identity is a condition sin qua non for establishing a democratic system acceptable to the great majority of the subjects of a territory. Forming a single Ethiopian nationalism and identity would be a never ending project. Subsequently, creating democratic Ethiopia remains a long slog, which may take several hundred years, if not impossible.

There is no known agreed upon form of democracy that will practically be applicable to Ethiopia. It will be costly and may yet be unachievable. The Oromo have tried and failed to democratize Ethiopia for more than a century albeit from a non dominant position. Ethiopia is an empire and it will never democratize. It will eventually surely disintegrate; the question is how - big bang or slowly.

Look at the supports and opponents of Meles Zenawi and his regime. Just for the record, there were three groups out there. The Tigreans naturally support him because they are not only free but now own a vast empire at their disposal. The Tigreans are jubilant and euphoric. The rest are tearful hugging pictures of massacred relatives and national heroines. The Amahra oppose him because they lost the empire to the Tigreans. The Oromo and other southerners oppose him because he enslaved them [WATCH HERE]. How can you create uniting nationalism and identity for these diametrically opposing groups and interests?

Finally, whether you are for or against an independent Oromia, or maybe not entirely convinced either way, the author will be keen to see a mature informed debate instead of name calling and the usual technique used by some to dodge the issue by focusing on few lines rather than the topic in its entirety.

Have your say!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Berhanu Nega’s “Identity Politics and the struggle for liberty and democracy in Ethiopia”: a fresh thinking or re-articulation of hegemonic discourse?

By: D. Bultuma*


As an Oromo with interest in issues pertaining to both Oromo and Ethiopia, I followed the controversy or inter-Oromo debate revolving around Dr. Berhanu's invitation to Oromo of Studies Association (OSA) conference of 2010. I have also read the paper he presented at the meeting under the title of “Identity Politics and the struggle for liberty and democracy in Ethiopia” ** posted and available on many websites.

I am for academic freedom on the one hand but, at the same time, share the concerns expressed by some Oromos, posted by Oromo affairs in particular, about the dismissive and ethnocentric comments made by Dr. Berhanu on Oromo nationalism and aspirations which he reduced to “hatreds”. This is a typical attitude of centralist elites who tend to be allergic to identity based nationalism and the grievances of subordinated people whose experience and perception of “Real Ethiopia” contradict with their views of "Mythical Ethiopia". Nothing was academic or scholarly in they way Dr. Berhanu characterized Oromo frustration perhaps for the consumption of his social/electoral base. Dr. Berhanu found himself in prison for wrong reasons but he found ways to blame the victims who also happened to be in jail for wrong reasons. In his judgment, Dr. Berhanu did not realize that Oromo's century old grievance narratives are as legitimate as his grievance narratives against EPDRF. Incidentally, those who denied or minimized ethnic oppression in Ethiopia can see now how it feels being dominated and alienated by another ethnonational group.

The president of OSA, who tried to justify the invitation of Dr. Berhanu missed the opportunity either to withdraw the invitation or, at very least, to ask him for a clarification on his comments. Yet, it’s not sufficient to judge Dr. Berhanu’s thoughts based on a video clip or a paragraph from his book and I was curious to see the paper as I never had a chance to read any of his writings. Is he really different from other imperial ideologists/centralists? Is there something new in his insights or just a charm offensive to sell old ideas presented under the cover of a scholarly discourse? After reading the paper, I got a partial response to these questions, and the following comments reflect my understanding and perspective on the issue which may be shared by the silent majority (Oromos). First, I will frame the debate in the context of Oromo politics and then focus on the paper devoted to identity politics in Ethiopia.

Part I: Contextualizing the debate

I believe that the paper of Dr. Berhanu is hybrid with both academic and political thrust. While he tried to inject some scholarly insights on the issue of identity, democracy and liberty, his understanding of the root causes of Ethiopia’s century problems is not that different from the conventional view held by the centralists, the Amhara, and he does not offer workable and lasting solutions to century's old problem. He essentially puts blames on the current Tigrean rule and ethnic politics, the major concerns of his socio-political constituent although some of this is now shared by others. It goes without saying that their target is not the legitimacy of the Ethiopian state, not the "fact of conquest", neither is it the convoluted nature of centre-periphery relations but the wrongs of the EPDRF. His views and solutions to Ethiopia's ills better appeal to the former dominant group who are disillusioned and frustrated by loss of power and prestige and see the world upside down since 1991. The dilemma of the Amhara was summarized by one of the leading Ethiopianists in the following terms:

"Amharas faced the converse problem: whereas they had been accustomed to regard being Amhara as virtually coterminous with being Ethiopian, it was now no more than a constituent identity within a larger state, in which they enjoyed neither political power (which rested largely with Tigreans) nor numerical predominance (which fell to the Oromo) and in addition inhabited one of the poorest, and least developed and most environmentally degraded parts of the national territory… "(Calpham: 2002).

In the face of their failure to remove the Woyane regime through several pseudo elections which have been organized to ensure TPLF victory and armed struggle for which they are not ready, some of the centralist parties are turning to the OLF, which has also failed to deliver on its own objectives. It is true that many Oromo themselves are critical of OLF, its weakness/divisions and underachievement in political and military realms despite its huge popularity and a wide socioeconomic base rare in the history of ethno-national liberation movements. It may be 'inept' but it is the symbol of Oromo identity and embodies their aspiration. That is why both centralist and the Woyyane hate it to death and its crisis and endless factionalism are the most welcome news. Some rag tag commentators, including some Oromos with ideological ties with neo-imperial elites, have declared the "death of OLF". It is not surprising to see some groups launching a sort of razzia over an organization which appears in disarray. They need the Oromo votes, OLF's social base and bastion, in case of electoral democracy or foot soldiers for an eventual armed struggle. Their hope of returning to power is unlikely without the help of "others" - in this case the Oromo.

People like Dr. Berhanu are conscious of the fact that even their claim of victory in 2005 elections is just virtual or hypothetical and the unpopularity of the EPDRF does not mean they won or would win genuine polls. In order to win open and competitive elections, you must get enough support in Oromia regardless of the electoral system. Otherwise, the numbers do not add up. In 2005, they only got 6% of the votes in Oromia according to independent sources. There is no surprise if they scramble to reach out to OLF to fill the gap without realizing that is not an easy task even if they bring all OSA members and disgruntled leadership of the OLF on board. In fact, some Oromo have been bombarding us with redundant terms such "self-marginalization" and "self exclusion" to justify the invitation of Dr. Berhanu, and several others like him, but they did not tell us in what and how such initiatives release the Oromo nation from the so-called "isolation"/"self-marginalization"?

On the other hand, the Oromo are anxious and have strong desire to remove the Weyane from power. But, they are not desperate to the point where they would be willing to contribute, even indirectly, to the restoration of Amhara power for another century. In effect, no guarantee that CUD and its allies, with unproven democratic credentials but imperial mindset, will organize free and fair elections and hand over the power to winners - that never happened in a long Ethiopian history. They may even come back with a sense of revanchism where they will rollback modest concessions made under the Darg and the current regime - the most nostalgic elements may dream of the possibility of going back to status quo ante (pre 1974). Moreover, the experience of “third wave democracy” in many developing nations has shown electoral democracy gives rise to illiberal and undemocratic regimes whose power is legitimized thorough procedural elections. Given Ethiopian political culture and the failed democratic transition under TPLF/EPDRF, one cannot be optimistic about the triumph of justice, liberty, democracy and the rule of law in a situation where power is good for its own sake and the focal point.

Needless to say that Oromo did not have power both under the Amhara dominated state (1889-1991) and the Tigrean version of a reconfigured imperial state (1991- ) - they continue to be powerless. They do not have any reason to think that yesterday was better than today and they would be better off should they return to the past (Amhara's Ethiopia). They deeply resent the status quo and are hopeful that tomorrow will be brighter. In other words, the historical and political grievances of the Oromo people did not start two decades ago but goes back to more than hundred years ago. The central issue and concern for the Oromo is not only how to oust EPDRF/TPLF from power, under which they continue to be oppressed and alienated, but also how to end all forms of domination and colonial type socio-economic relations once and for all. Whether or not that can be realized within Ethiopia or outside Ethiopia proper is a great inter-Oromo debate.

For Dr. Berhanu and his allies the major preoccupation is the current regime. On the contrary, for the Oromo the problem is the Ethiopian state itself which both Tigreans and Amhara co-own and on which they fight at times. In the face of this contradictory aspirations and goals, an alliance/coalition between a liberation movement, the OLF, and political organizations which appear to embody imperial legitimacy/ideology and the past is an anomaly, unnatural and infeasible. Even if you follow Machiavelli's thinking/wisdom that politics is amoral and there no morality in politics, one must be convinced that the end justifies the means: power and interest. The Oromo do not have anything to gain by allying with CUD and its offshoot parties except discrediting and burying the OLF altogether and, eventually, breaking Oromo unity.

Ideally, people are expected to learn from history, but they rarely do. The failure of Alliance for Freedom and Democracy (AFD) should have been enough to suggest that this unholy alliance cannot serve a great purpose. I know some people try to make the case for this alliance – some of them even appear to be genuine in this thinking that the alliance between the Oromo and Amhara is the only way to bring about change. If that is the case, the best thing to do is to join Dr. Merera Gudina who got that idea first and strives for the same goal instead of dragging OLF into this hodgepodge alliance which will never be understood and recognized by the majority of the Oromo people even if it is endorsed by OSA.

As stated above, despite its shortcomings and political/strategic mistakes in its history of more than three decades, the OLF is and remains a pan-Oromo movement embodying a set of values and aspirations. It still symbolizes Oromo unity and nationhood. Their alliance with CUD and affiliated political groups may well signal the end of its tumultuous journey, although it does not signify the end of Oromo nationalism, and the rationales of its raison d'être. It will no longer be a liberation movement and neither will it be a representative of all Oromo. The belief that OLF is an organization created and led by Oromos and, as such, embodies the inner voice of the people will end as well. Does it really make sense to ally with neo-imperial organizations after more than three decades of struggle and suffering for the Oromo, its members and leaders? Is it the promised "Imagined Community..."?

Part II: Critical commentary

To understand Dr. Berhanu's series of arguments, one has to start with his thesis in this paper:

“I will argue in particular that the prevalence of identity politics partly as a remnant of the socialist discourse of the 1960s student politics in Ethiopia, the inability of political regimes to effectively address the demands for political inclusion by various ethnic groups, combined with the failure of the democratic opposition to effectively articulate the legitimate concerns of ethnic communities within the larger context of liberal democratic politics has enabled the current regime to effectively divide and weaken the democratic opposition in Ethiopia”

Here, Dr. Berhanu omits or ignores a very simple fact that Ethiopia is an empire, where one of the constituent groups dominates, the Amhara and Tigreans have alternated the exercise of power although he would prefer to highlight the Tigrean oppression. Above all, he reduces the national question in Ethiopia and the demand for self determination, respect/recognition and autonomy to “ethnic demands for inclusion”. Inclusion to what? You know the answer: he expects the sociological minority swallowing and assimilating the larger society to create a coherent nation-state! They were already forcibly included into the empire. Then there were attempts at assimilating and destroying identities, and this was presented as a mechanism of nation-building. All they are (Oromo) asking is now to decide their own destiny where they could be part of a free nation out of volition, not an empire, live with others with equality and mutual respect according to political contract/arrangement to b made, or in the state of their own. Dr. Berhanu seems to look at the politics of identity through the old lens of national integration and assimilation around and under a single core culture, not at the possibility of organizing distinct, and even sovereign, societies living together, sharing and cooperating under the new rules of game.

His analysis also gives the impression as though the politics of identity related to socialism. As far as I understand, identity politics is closely related to the post modernity and the consequent challenge to foundational knowledge. Socialism was not the origins of many conflicts either. It is related to the politics of difference and "otherness". Multi-ethnic or pluri-ethnic states and empires are susceptible to face identity based conflicts due to numerous economic, political, social and perceptual factors. The causes of ethnonationalism have extensively been studied by scholars (Tedd Gurr, 1993, Connor Walker 1994, etc.) and I do not have space to engage into esoteric academic debate about identity based ethnonational conflict.

Although Dr. Berhanu is right in underlying the extent to which the writings of students in 1960s were influenced by socialist principle on the national question, he seems to be out of his comfort zone when it comes to the understanding and analysis of ethnic based conflicts both theoretically and empirically. For instance, he confuses ethnic nationalism and socialism in his typology as if you can be ethno nationalist and socialist at the same time. But, the fact is that classical Marxism /socialism refuses to recognize different forms of identity: ethnicity, religious, gender in favor of class identity. Marxists only look at who own the means of production and who do not, and the consequent unequal power relations.

However, this Marxist doctrinaire did not prevent socialist countries to grapple with issues of nationalities/identities, but in the context of socialism and internationalism. Despite undemocratic nature of socialist solution to the question of nationalities, it was definitively an improvement on the politics of empire. No doubt that the Bolsheviks solutions to the questions of nationalities in Russia were more progressive than policies of the Tsarist regime. By the same token, the Darg’s stance on the question of nationalities was an improvement over Haile Selsasie in its early progressive reforms although I agree with those who believe that the revolution reinforced the power of the Amhara in the 1980s and their cultural hegemony more than ever before.

On the other hand, as opposed to what Dr. Berhanu claims in the paper, Darg nationalism was inseparable from Amhara nationalism which was presented as Ethiopian nationalism. The Darg got unqualified support to its many wars against nationalists fighting throughout the country. In this sense, Darg nationalism was the continuation of official /state nationalism; it fought to protect Menelik’s empire. It inherited the Eritrean war from Emperor Haile Sellasie, but was not willing to make any compromise with Eritrean nationalists and other emerging rebels (Tigrean, Oromo, Afar, Sidama, etc) that might have initially believed the progressive government at the hub of empire would end a century old national question. The major failure of the Darg was not only economic and gross abuse of human rights but its inability to understand and manage the national question due to the preponderance of Amhara influence and the primacy of "national unity and territorial integrity". Despite its perversion and manipulation for self-interest, EPDRF's ethnic federalism, its cultural side in particular, is a progress over the Darg.

In other words, the Darg, which annihilated all its opponents regardless of creed, religion, ethnicity and ideological orientation, became the custodian of official nationalism inherited from the emperors and the failure of Darg nationalism was, in a way, the failure of Amhara nationalism/patriotism, its definition of national identity, concept of statehood and nationhood. TPLF did not miss the opportunity to emphasize Amhara communal domination to justify its ethnic politics and under the cover of ethnic federalism. Even today, it can easily unleash "Naftagna return" propaganda to keep its grip on power. The misery of the past is used as a justification to perpetuate its dictatorial rule. The impact of the Ethiopia administration or internal colonialism was so deep, deeper than what Dr. Berhanu understands, any party allied with CUD and its affiliates cannot get audience and support among the majority Oromos. The OLF which awoke peasants, gave hope and contributed to the adoption of some important reforms during its short spell in the government in the early 1990s will have difficulty to convince anyone why it is allying with CUD and its ideological affiliates.
As an ally with the most conservative elements in the country, who even denied the existence of different people and identities in the country, Dr. Berhanu cannot convince us that his party has the right policy to address the issue of diversity and national question. He has a point in emphasizing the distrust between political forces in the country. How can it be otherwise? Unfortunately for him, it is not certain that his paper would help to create the missing trust. Also, as mentioned earlier, this short video clip mentioned showing his take on Oromo nationalism and frustration cannot help his image.

More importantly, I did not see any concrete proposal how his party wants to tackle the national question despite convincing analysis of the rhetoric of 1960s and 1970s. He set out to take examples from other nations who have the same problems and the way they addressed them. The paper falls short of achieving this goal. He referred to some books and discussions on identity politics. But he lacks, both theoretical framework and practical examples, how to address collective rights, group rights and individual rights in the context of an empire comprising of tens of nations and nationalities. Dr. Berhanu may have mentioned "political liberalism" and “democratic politics”. He did not tell us the meaning of liberalism and liberty and democratization in Ethiopia's social-economic settings. In Western Europe, political liberalism came out of enlightenment movement which gives the primacy of individual rights and collective freedoms. According to this, Polis (organized communities must be self governing), and it was this very idea that gave rise to nationalism and the principle of self-determination, which serves as the foundation of the international system. He spent a lot of time discussing Leninist version of self-determination but paid less or no attention to Liberal/Wilsonsian principle of self-determination and its variants in the contemporary world in general and in conflict prone multiethnic nations in particular.

He tended to avoid the use of the word self-determination as he may see the issue as that of inclusion. His central concerns, shared by his allies, are individual rights, not collective rights, even not group differentiated rights which could help to maintain both. It is important to stress that both collective rights and self determination are enshrined in the enlightenment agenda. As well, Dr. Berhanu made numerous references to "politicalliberalism" which does not mean much in the absence of liberal system and liberal values. Ethiopia did not adopt western type of liberalism; it went from feudal autocracy to modernizing autocracy, and then jumped to Afro-Marxist dictatorship to end up with a Tigrean oligarchy. The political culture of Ethiopia does not have supporting values of liberty, human rights and republicanism and compromise as well as social and political pluralism. Does electoral democracy, assuming there is one, address the competing identities and unequal power relations in the country based on conquest? What types of political arrangements need to be made? Surprisingly, in his lengthy discussion, Dr. Berhanu did not even mention "consociational democracy "; neither did he analyze the theory and practice of "group differentiated citizenship/rights", power sharing in multi ethnic societies, etc. He did not tell us how some nations have succeeded to maintain both collective/group rights and individual rights.

It is safe to say that he, like many centralist politicians, appears to dislike federalism and identity based federalism in particular. But, he did not talk about the ugly face of a centralized bureaucratic empire in the service of one ethnonational group. I personally prefer a decentralized state and any form of federalism (ethnic based, geographic based or the combination of both) can be better than a centralized ethnocratic state. That does not mean federal system is perfect; there may be some problems arising here and there but it is more suitable in the context of divided societies although statecraft is needed to conceive and implement them.

Finally, one can doubt the validity of his numerous typologies used in his paper. He knows more than anybody that typologies do not reflect empirical reality especially when it comes to political and ideological discourses. The use of typology may be good to teach but reduces a complex reality to incoherent assertions. The use of moderates and extremists in this typology makes little sense. Who are the extremists and moderates among the Oromo forces? What is the centre? He might have tried to flatter those receptive to his ideas as “moderates” and those who are opposed to a “rapprochement” of the Amhara/Oromo as extremists. By the way, where is his place in this label or where does he categorize himself? If there is extremism, he was allied with the most chauvinistic elements of the CUD and shared their core ideas and claimed “virtual victory". Where does he place some leaders of OLF who struggled for self-determination and a separate state and who may now agree with the idea of democratization? Does it mean they were extremists then and moderates now? People change or soften their positions for tactical and strategic reasons without necessarily renouncing their core principle.

Also, when it comes to OLF, I am not sure if it was (is) a socialist organization. As far I know OLF was not created with socialist/Marxist credo. And I do not know any influential Oromo leader who was officially communist although some might have read Marxist literature without necessarily endorsing it. Mr. Lencho Leta, one of the founders of the organization, said that they did not know much about Marxism. Even today, the division in OLF is not between the right wing and left wing or conservatives Vs progressives and it emanates from, even personal, strategic differences- the Oromo do not have ideological and religious extremists. Even those who uphold the principle of self-determination, OLF's original program, are not extremists.

Although Dr. Berhanu has tried to embellish his discussion with an apparent scientific approach, his perspective is old and does not have any workable policy framework. Dr. Berhanu qualifies Tigrean rule and hegemony as “tyranny”. But he forgot to employ the same term or equivalent expression for the Amhara rule in the preceding century. While he has sufficiently emphasized on grievances against the rule and misrule of the last two decades, he is almost silent on the experiences of peoples under what he calls "centralizing monarchy". This euphemism disguises or glosses over the imperial oppression which led us to the present situation; oppression, violence, abuses of basic fundamental human rights have not started with the Woyane's takeover in 1991 but they continue unabated under the current regime. The problem is that Dr. Berhanu is an aspiring politician and he may not need to provoke the wrath of his allies and socio political base. Thus, he is a partisan politician in the analysis of the complex reality and his perspective is Amhara centered despite his attempt to reach out to others: balanced/critical scholarship may not be compatible with political loyalty and vested interests.

I may add one quick note: I was surprised not to see any references to Oromo based scholarship and scholars in Dr. Berhanu’s paper. The Oromo scholars have been writing extensively on Ethiopia and Oromo as well as on issues related to the politics of identity. He did not mention any sources although he may not agree with their perspective on modern Ethiopia. Even if he disagrees, he could have mentioned where the disagreement resides in order to have a healthy debate on the question of identity and political problems and what can be done; this would have been an opportunity to learn about each other perspectives instead of lecturing the déjà vu discourse of centralists.
Finally, he invites the children of Gadaa people to join him for a "lofty purpose." As a matter fact, Gadaa’s republican, egalitarian and democratic ideals have nothing to do with what he is offering. Above all, he may not be aware of the fact that Gadaa was destroyed by Ethiopian autocracy and the Oromo may be under Gadaa, or re-adopt aspects of it, when they are free again or sufficiently autonomous, not under the tutelage of oppressive state and a fake electoral democracy perverted and manipulated by neo-patrimonial elites.

In brief, in this paper, Dr. Berhanu has tried to marry academic perspectives and praxis by expressing his views as a politician. In fact, this is a risky business and I am not sure if he succeeded in his "balancing act". While one commends any scholarly endeavor, I was not impressed with the way he interpreted historical facts; he is selective and partial, and this seems to have obfuscated his academic insights. His understanding of the root causes of Ethiopia's competing identities and crises and the way he wants to address them are not different from déjà vu neo-imperial and hegemonic panacea which led to the current situations. Thus, the paper cannot change a thing and I do not see any reason why the Oromo should ally or join forces with him and his party to advance their cause. Instead of wasting time and energy in search of this never ending, meaningless and unworkable alliance, the Oromo organizations need to work towards their own unity and reconciliation. Lest they forget, they have more in common than what divides them.

*The author can be reached at:

** Paper prepared for the Oromo Studies Association (OSA) 24th Annual conference. Howard University, Blackburn Center, Washington DC, July 31st –August 1st 20102

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Call for "After the Dust Settles"

One of my readers writes:

"Dear Oromo Affairs blogger,

Thank you for all your articles and being one of the constant voices for the liberation of Oromia. Would you be kind enough to post for me the following appeal to Oromo community around the world?" Margituu Lataa

My pleasure. Here you go!


A Call for "After the Dust Settles"

In the last two weeks, a number of Oromo organization representatives, Oromo individuals and concerned global citizens have written letters to the President of Columbia University, in opposition to the invitation extended to Meles Zenawi. In spite of this justifiable outcry, Meles has spoken at Columbia and is gone away.

Is this the end of the story? I hope not! Are we going to congratulate ourselves by saying, “Ni gooneef mitii?” I take the incident as a blessing in disguise. Because of the invitation, and because of the protest letters written in opposition to the invitation, more true nature of Meles Zenawi has been put on the spot light. Many peace, freedom and justice-loving people have been given pools of information that is strong enough to put Meles on the same list as Milosevic of Serbia, Charles Taylor of Liberia and Al Basher of the Sudan, in the near future. Who knows, we might even send a “Thank You” letter, to President Lee C. Bollinger of Columbia University.

Having said that, I want to extend a call to Oromo nationals, and more specifically, the Oromo scholars and intellectuals, to join hands with Waraana Bilisummaa Oromoo (WBO) and help it get rid of the current sustainers of Ethiopian Colonialism, and deny anybody that might come after them any means of subjecting our people to endless atrocities. The LIBERATION OF OROMIA IS THE ONLY SOLUTION! Meles will go home in a few days and would defiantly continue with his genocidal policies against our people. Pleas stay on the fighting mood and do not “go home”. Continue writing and help the struggle to liberate Oromia, in every means possible.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Meles Zenawi is not a household name, but he is a despot

"Meles Zenawi is not a household name, but he is a despot. His government has carried out numerous extrajudicial killings, imprisoned political dissidents, and brutally suppressed protests by activists at Addis Ababa University." Read the Columbia Spectator editorial


Best Practices for an aspiring tyrant
OSA protest letter
Peaceful protest by IOYA

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

An Independent Oromia is Inevitable

By Gumaa Guddaa


Oromia was forcefully annexed to a neighbouring country called Abyssinia at the end of the 19th century during the scramble for Africa. It was once an independent sovereign nation which has, since the annexation, been occupied by foreign powers and inevitably needs to regain its freedom.

Abyssinia itself is an artificial and rickety creation which later on changed its name officially to Ethiopia in 1948. It is important to distinguish Abyssinia proper (Tigray and Amhara) from the Ethiopia we have come to conceptualize today. There is no consensus on what really Ethiopia means. There are those who believe in the myth that has been perpetuated for the best part of the 20th century that Ethiopia is the oldest independent African nation. Others are much more in touch with reality and dismiss this, rightly so, and explain that Ethiopia has only existed for the past 130 years only. What went before the 1880s is no different from other contemporary African kingdoms. There were Oromo dynasties and others too. For example, the Warra Himanu and Yejjuu were powerful Oromo dynasties in the 18th and 19th century. Further back the Oromo dynasty is believed to have ruled over Egypt during the 12th Pharaonic dynasty. Therefore, there is no justification in selectively glorifying the Abyssinian past and attempt to present it as a unique existence when in actual fact it was just one of many.

The current discourse about the relationship between Oromia and Ethiopia is sharply divided between on the one hand, those who argue that the Oromo question is colonial in nature and hence subscribe to waging a classic war of independence, no matter for how long. On the other hand, there are those who argue that the past is history and we have to ignore it and pretend the Oromo question will disappear through time. The first group includes the OLF and other independent Oromo political organizations. The second group includes Abyssinian political organizations such as the TPLF, Qinijjit and Ginbot 7. But, the Oromo “problem”, one of the world’s oldest conflicts, is not about to go away without a significant change in the political landscape of the Ethiopian empire.

Be that as it may, there are times, when, after years of discrimination, an unquestionably oppressed ethnic group, fortuitously constituting an overwhelming demographic majority in a given region, becomes convinced of the utter futility of trying to extract any meaningful concessions from its overlords by peaceful means. At this point, some form of separation by force becomes unavoidable. Nowhere is this truer today than the Oromo condition.

Lesson from History

Prominent Oromo leaders and organizations have tried their best to extract concessions from Ethiopian powers through negotiations without avail. Gobana Dache was the first notable Oromo leader who attempted to make peace with the Abyssinians in the mid 1880s, right at the height of the conquest itself. He died in unknown circumstances. Garasuu Dhukkii, a hero who liberated almost half of Oromia from the Italian invaders, had 50,000 armed fighters under his command, negotiated with Haile Selassie on his return from exile from England at the end of the second world war. Having consolidated power Haile Selassie betrayed Garasu Dhukki. General Waqo Gutu, leader of United Oromo Peoples’ Liberation Front (UOPLF), and the first chairman of the United Liberation Forces of Oromia (ULFO), negotiated with Haile Selassie in 1970. The peace packt between General Waqoo Gutu and Haile Selassie was mediated by non other than Gereral Jagama Kello. Having betrayed General Waqo Gutu had to return to the mountains in 1975 and resumed struggle until he passed away in exile in 2002. During the Derge era certain Dr. Haile Fida, leader of a Marxist political organization known as Meison, negotiated with Mengistu Haile Mariam. But he also ended up losing his life.

More recently, the OLF had been involved in a number of negotiations with the TPLF. Talks between the OLF and TPLF began in 1990, a year before the fall of Derge, followed by the London Conference and the Transitional Charter in 1991. The OLF had to withdraw from the agreement as the TPLF fragrantly violated the terms of the negotiated agreements. The OLF is forced to seek solution through armed struggle. It must be noted that the OLF has been in the fields for the past 34 years since 1976.

The negotiations between the OLF and the TPLF continued for nearly a decade after the OLF left the Transitional Government in 1992. The Asmara Talks (1992), The Carter Centre Talks (1994), Peace Initiative by Congressional Task Force (1994-5), the unilateral offer by the Asmara Group wing of the OLF in 2000 through the so called “Agenda for Peace” are some examples. These efforts did nothing but proved, yet again, that one cannot achieve concessions from Ethiopia through peace talks. These negotiations were at best detractors and at worst source of conflict and division within the organization itself. Ironically there are some who still propose that the OLF can negotiate with the TPLF to bring about peaceful settlement between Oromia and Ethiopia. “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is a form of insanity” (Albert Einstein).

On the issue of negotiations with the TPLF, “Just for the record, what happens to the immense violation of Oromo national pride and honor, the huge loss of Oromo lives, the horrendous destruction of the social fabric, the colossal pillage of resources? Are these non-issues in peace negotiations with the perpetrator?” asks Abiyu Galata, Harvard educated lawyer and one of the founding fathers of the OLF, in his paper presented to OSA (2002) challenging those who advocate for making peace with the TPLF on flimsy grounds.

Facts on The Ground

For anyone who makes the slightest effort to scratch below the surface there is a tremendous tension in Ethiopia. The tension is created by differential cruel treatment of the majority Oromo by a hegemonic despotic minority. This phenomenon is far from new. It is characteristically Ethiopian since its creation. In the past the Amhara hung onto power through similar distractive techniques. Now, the Tigreans are doing the same. Nevertheless, there a striking difference in the sense that the former was 20th century and now we are in the 21st century.

Technology has transformed the world we live in. Today you can hide nothing. Washington DC and Gadaa Dissii are interconnected. Grandparents not only fly between Finfinne and Washington, London and Minneapolis but also use mobile phones to speak to their children and grandchildren in the diaspora. Young Oromo artists use YouTube to spread the message of ‘bilisumma’/liberation/. Watch HERE. And HERE. There are some who even aspire to revive the Gada ceremony in the Oromo diaspora communities around the globe using the internet. It is naïve to think that you can control people under inhumane condition for long when people can see how the free world is enjoying unrestricted freedom and progress.

More importantly, the Oromo nation has awakened. The word ‘bilisummaa’ is uttered by everyone. “Free Oromia already exists in the minds of the people” as one prominent Oromo political leader described it recently. The OLF has not only become part of the Oromo collective consciousness but almost the DNA of the Oromo people. You cannot separate the Oromo people from the OLF. At the same time you cannot separate the OLF from independent Oromia, within or without. The minority Tigrean led regime is scared of anyone who appears to be self-confident Oromo. The TPLF regard the entire Oromo people as enemy and treat them as such.
The current Ethiopian rulers from Tigray have exposed the Oromo people to famine of epic proportion not to mention political and economic subjugation for the past two decades. Today, the regime is leasing away millions of hectares of fertile Oromo land to foreign investors when there are some estimated 8 million Oromos requiring feeding by donors due to starvation in the most fertile land on the planet. Something has horribly gone wrong here. Watch HERE. It is suspected that these Oromos are now suffering from acute food shortage as a direct consequence of dislocation from their ancestral lands where they proudly lived for many generations.

Democracy or Independence?

The question whether the Oromo should struggle for democracy or independence is naïve at best and foolish at worst. The first democratic right a colonized people demand is the right of self-determination to free them self from the yoke of colonization. There is no higher democratic right than liberating own country from tyrants and set free the nation from poverty. Democracy itself is a flawed system. It is, however, generally accepted as the best system around. Remember how Gorge W Bush was elected in the 2000 US election after the close-call between him and Al Gore? Swapping your struggle for freedom through declaration of independent state for search for freedom through democracy in Ethiopia is a stupid thing to do.

First, one has to struggle for independence and then worry about the system that best serves the new nation. The argument that one can replace fighting for independent Oromia for democratization of the Ethiopian empire is disingenuous. I fail to see where the two separate projects converge. The Oromo demand independent Oromia by rejecting Ethiopia. They reject Ethiopia not because it is undemocratic. They reject it because they are not Ethiopians. The Americans rejected being British subjects because Britain was not undemocratic but the Americans decided to be Americans. Eritrean rejected Ethiopia for not being Ethiopians. South Sudan rejects Khartoum not because of lack of democracy or not. It is a matter of identity.

Democracy is not a burden for the Oromo people anyway. Gada is deeply ingrained into the Oromo way of life. The Oromo people are respected for their tolerance and fair play even by the enemy’s standard. Oromia itself bears witness to this. One of the reasons why independence is so attractive to the Oromo is actually the country will have a great opportunity for peace and stability which are prerequisite for unlocking the immense potential the country has for success and prosperity. Thus, preaching democracy to the Oromo at this point not only untimely but ironical since they are practicing a near perfect democracy wherever they are able to protect their Gada system. Not many people are aware that the Oromo Gada system is perfectly functioning today albeit not at the centre.

In the first place one needs to understand that independence is a guarantee against foreign aggression, the type of violence that the Oromo endure at the present. The primary purpose of a sovereign state is to defend its people. Therefore, declaration of independence is the only sure solution for the Oromo people not to continue to suffer in the hands of others.

More over, Oromia is a potentially rich country. Independence is the best way to bring about the much needed economic development to overcome the century old underdevelopment due to Abyssinian rule and exploitation.


All sorts of nations are declaring their independence around us. Djibouti and Eritrea were part of the Ethiopian empire. Both became independent in our life time. Puntland State of Somalia, independent for the past 20 years, will soon get international recognition. South Sudan is more than likely to be independent after referendum in January 2011. These four countries are geographically connected to Oromia. The Oromo people are engaged in the same journey. No doubt Oromia will follow in their foot steps and become an independent country before the end of this new decade. I expect the Oromo will declare independence before the end the twenty teens. And that will only be a good thing.
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