A Familiar Ground with A Strange Feeling, The Current State of Oromo Struggle

     The Oromo struggle for freedom has been going on for many long years. There have been many critical junctures during this long period of struggle each with limited gains and missed opportunities. Again, we are at a critical juncture, and unfortunately, this too may be a replay of the past.

     Just under three decades ago when a coalition of guerrilla fighters toppled the government of the Dergue the OLF was part of the coalition. During its short time in the government, the OLF became very popular with the Oromo people. It negotiated certain terms and conditions that partially corrected the prejudicial policies of the past for the Oromo. It did this despite being forced to disarm and encamp its fighters. This decision, to encamp its fighters and the tragic consequences that ensued for the encamped fighters, still haunts the OLF and every conscious Oromo.

     Soon the EPRDF pushed the OLF out of the coalition and the TPLF emerged as the uncontested leader of the government. Of course, the EPRDF presented itself as an all-encompassing coalition of all the peoples of Ethiopia with the many PDOs it formed for this very purpose. In reality, it was just TPLF. It was hoped that, with the demise of the OLF, the OPDO would be accepted by the Oromo people and that there would be no serious opposition to the Tigre hegemony. Instead, the Oromo people, angered by both the exit of the OLF and the onslaught of the Oromo fighters, fiercely rejected the EPRDF.

     With its fighting forces dismantled, the OLF left the country and struggled to regroup. Yet, inside the country, all Oromos who opposed the detrimental policies of the EPRDF were branded OLF and were made subject to unimaginable indignities including: arrest, imprisonment, torture, death, decapitation, disappearance, etc. In the eyes of the EPRDF, Oromo became synonymous with OLF and OLF became criminal, liable to be exterminated. Thus, any Oromo, whether OLF member, sympathizer, or indifferent, became a target. What role did the OPDO play in intensifying the miseries of the Oromo people? No accounting has been done so far and I doubt that we will ever know.

     The spirit of Oromo struggle and resistance to oppressive powers of any source have been implanted by the OLF. It is this spirit of resistance that gave rise to the Qeerroo movement. In spite of repeated threats followed by barbaric repression, the Qeerroo became not only a force to contend with but also a serious threat to the very survival of the EPRDF/TPLF government.

     Thus, we find ourselves at this critical juncture. The realization that it cannot continue doing Business-As-Usual created a turmoil in the halls of government. The EPRDF had to engage in a struggle of survival for itself. (Elsewhere I have tried to explain the nature of this struggle in a short poem entitled Bulguu Qolee Lamaa.) The ensuing internal struggle produced Team Lema. It is hard to say that the emergence of Dr. Abiyi as the new prime minister ended the internal struggle and sealed the survival of the EPRDF as an organization. However, we observe a change in tone that points to an impending change in direction in which the EPRDF government would like to do business from here on. This phenomenon, the emergence of the Lema team and the ascendance of PM Abiyi to his current post, as well as the promised change in direction (reform), reminds us of the arrival of the coalition government that followed the departure of the notorious Mengistu regime. No one thought anything can be worse than what we have been through. The direction of the proposed change seems promising. Opposition parties are invited to campaign freely and openly. Those in exile are invited back with their ideas and monies. The previously banned and branded “terrorists” are declared non-terrorists and are invited to come back and present their cases to the people.

     Warranted or unwarranted, there is euphoria in the air. There are talks of victories. There are even talks of limiting demands and withholding criticisms in favor protecting our “gains.” OPDO is now ODP. While the government is still in the hands of the EPRDF and those in charge are still serving at the pleasure of the EPRDF, the leader claims to be a reformist who has been in a struggle. Some opposition groups are not only going in to compete openly but are taking offices to serve in the “reformist” government. All this seems to be a sign of progress.

     The OLF, it is to be remembered, is broken up into many groups organized under different leaders. Most of these groups went back one by one following the invitation. But one group, pejoratively dubbed Shane, was based in Eritrea. It was led by Obbo Dawud Ibsa. When this group went home the reception by the Oromo people was exceptional. No other group, Oromo or not, was received by so many people in so many places. Again, we are reminded of the reception the OLF received from the larger Oromo population back in 1991. It is also indicative of the popularity of the idea the OLF stands for despite the propaganda spread by the Ethiopian government then, now, and throughout.

     While all of the different Oromo Liberation Front groups can be criticized similarly, namely for lack of significant military victories, Obbo Dawud’s group is targeted for special criticism by friends and foes alike. I heard a representative of one of the Amara groups tearing away at “Shane” for sitting in Asmara doing nothing until they were invited home, thanks to the generous policies of Dr. Abiyi. Different spokespersons of the government also have pointed out Obbo Dawud’s group was invited like everyone else and there was no special arrangement with Obbo Dawud and his group. Some of the Oromo groups have been heard deriding Obbo Dawud’s group as having no real armies to speak of. Here, both friends and enemies could benefit from a little bit of honesty and approaching facts as they are instead convenient fiction if real problems are to be solved.

     There is one fact that is undeniable. Like him or not, Obbo Dawud had fighters. One can minimize their size, strength, or effectiveness, but they are with him. Despite its claims otherwise, the Abiyi government made a special arrangement with this group. If two widely publicized trips by high officials, one by Dr. Abiyi, and another by Obbo Lema, to Eritrea does not point to a special arrangement, what will? Which one of the other groups was so visited?

     It is the presence of a liberation army that makes a Liberation Front what it is. This, again, is not a criticism of those who were not accompanied by their own forces or did not have any forces to negotiate special arrangements for. If they believed in liberation, but because of their situation, they did not have the place to raise and train armies they could not be blamed. The fact is, freedom, to be acquired, requires s force. Once acquired, it needs force to defend it. That may be why the Oromo people so enthusiastically support the OLA/WBO. Not only its current status but the symbolism of its potential.

     Even before Obbo Dawud and his delegation made it to Finfinne the enemies started crying foul. “Why would one need an army for a peaceful struggle?” “The others did not come with their armies, why would he?” “Is he waging armed struggle and peaceful struggle at the same time?” Such questions are disingenuous. When you have an army and you accept a call of a peaceful struggle what are you supposed to do? Let go? If you let go, what are the consequences? If these armies are already inside, and they are shot at by the same forces that used to hunt for them, what are they supposed to do? That is why you negotiate.

     The consequences of disarmament and encampment are not just discussions of academic interest for any responsible Oromo. We had been talked into, forced to, tricked into, (whatever the case may be), disarming and encamping our fighting forces on our own land before. The ensuing carnage and the humiliation we suffered is not an ugly scar but a festering wound not only for the Oromo leaders of the time but for any Oromo nationalist. Any Oromo who forgets that is either not fully aware of our situation or he/she is benumbed by “addiction to Ethiopia.”

     The Ethiopian government has the capacity, and apparently the willingness, judging from Obbo Lema’s posture, to repeat the carnage. Just like the OLF was the boogeyman of Ethiopia for the EPRDF/OPDO of yore, WBO is being made the boogeyman of Ethiopia for the EPRDF/ODP of today. WBO is embraced by the Oromo people not because they want to fight but because they want to defend themselves. Even as the campaign against WBO is gearing up, the war drums are upping the tempo, armed groups are killing Oromos, burning houses and removing Oromos by the thousands from their homes, without fear of any retribution. In light of this, the heavy-handed approach to WBO by EPRD/ODP is a suspect. The unreserved criticism, by some, of Obbo Dawud in this regard is ill-conceived and disingenuous. No responsible leader must be expected to abandon armies under his command and enter into an alternative struggle. He must make sure that they remain part and parcel of the new struggle albeit in a different position. To do otherwise is irresponsible and treasonous.

     The controversy surrounding Obbo Dawud and the WBO aside, there is a good reason for Oromos to be concerned. The promised change addresses none of the issues the Qeerroo have been protesting about. Yes, prisoners have been released and there is a little more freedom of expression. But families who do not know the whereabouts of their loved ones are still waiting for answers. Those whose properties were taken illegally are still waiting for justice. Even worse, the enemies of the Oromo have orchestrated war of ethnic cleansing against the Oromo by arming and dispatching thugs to harass Oromo populations on the peripheries of Oromia region. Oromia government seems to be incapable while the federal government is mute about these issues. Both seem to be quite concerned and determined to punish the culprit when the Oromo people, Qeerroo, or WBO move to defend themselves. The battleground is Oromia. The war is on the Oromo. Who is there to defend the Oromo? We need the capacity to defend ourselves, not benevolent rulers who might be less harsh on us at their own convenience.

     Whatever the course of the change that Dr. Abiyi is leading, however the political forces re-align in Ethiopia, and whatever happens between the OLF and the ODP, the Oromo question must be addressed directly and honestly. If not, we will go into another two or three decades of disaster in which Oromos of all walks of life are persecuted as WBO, prisons swell again until the resistance of our people shakes the powers that be and brings us to another juncture and we start this story over once again.

 

Teferi Fufa,

January 2018.

Identity Politics and Ethiopian Reality

The map of current Ethiopia encloses a large number of disparate peoples of different languages and cultures whose customs and traditions differ as the land masses they occupy. Yet, from the very beginning, the architects of Ethiopia saw it fit to consider all these peoples as amorphous bodies ready to be shaped and formed into identities, not of their own, but those assigned by powers that be.

 

Only God can make or unmake living beings with unique identities. But, Ethiopian authorities never shied away from claiming this, God-like power to deny real identities, and, assign alternate ones to the peoples of Ethiopia. Furthermore, attempts to hold onto one’s own true identity was criminalized while acceptance of the assigned identity is rewarded.

 

Thus, in Ethiopia, we have always had people “without history and culture.” We have people who have ties to the Biblical King Solomon, and, through him, ties to God Himself. In short, we have people who are born to rule and those who are born to be ruled, those who are born to be served and those who born to serve, those who have rights to resources and those who do not. The Oromo have always known which group they are in. Even today there are those who are trying to convince us that Menelik’s only purpose in Oromia was to civilize. Where else have we heard that before?

 

No matter how deep you bury it, truth can never be concealed indefinitely. Hidden and banned identities found the spirit of revival from the heavy burdens of their false identities. Resistance gathered force and the empire was shaken. Hence the birth of ethnic federalism in Ethiopia. But, like everything about Ethiopia, federalism too is a sham. The ethnic states aka regional states exist only in name. All instruments of government reside in the colonial garrison continuing the practices of misrule at the pleasure of the man at the helm. Only this time the man at the helm, up until recently, Meles Zenawi, represented a different group, Tigari, leaving the former group, Amhara, out of favor. I am leaving Mr. Hailemariam out as during his period it was the ghost of Meles who ruled through him.

 

The TPLF government presented Ethiopia with two problems. It legitimated and exposed the hidden and banned identities, by endorsing Ethnic federalism and it alienated the Amharas, long uncontested undertakers of the colonial empire and defenders of the imperial system, treating them like any of the other amorphous bodies. These two problems come face to face as the newly installed leader, Dr. Abiyi, tries to form the course of his regime as the new strong man of Ethiopia.

 

Oromo Identity Behind Ethiopian mask

It is good to be blessed with natural beauty and riches. But it does invite jealousy and produce enemies. Oromia seems to be blessed by natural beauty and wealth. She is also, undoubtedly, cursed by the presence of a determined and ruthlessly envious neighbors. Ethiopia, for the Oromo, is the direct result of this admixture of blessing and curse. The deliberate negation people’s identities referred to above has been directed at the Oromo. As the consequence, the Oromo had been forced to wear the mask of Ethiopia. Wearing the mask opened certain opportunities, lessened certain burdens, and rendered one relatively trustworthy, while the unmasked face of the Oromo not only removed these advantages but exposed one to a brutal abuse that threatens one’s very existence. The pressure to hate oneself, believe that one is inherently inferior, and silently accept such negative a self-concept is real and constant.

Needless to say, the Oromo have been under this pressure for well over a century. Someday, an accurate accounting will show that thousands have chosen to remove the mask reveal their true identities and perished as the result. Most of us, however, learned to be comfortable in the mask breathing restricted air.  Just like we are used to European cloths so much that we view our own traditional attire as treasured relics, at best, or marks of a backward tribe, at worst, the mask of Ethiopia has become part of us in spite of its deforming effects on our being.

 

Ethiopia, as a federal state, relaxes the need to wear the mask and frees people to see themselves as they feel inside. For the first time in recent history, unmasked Oromo faces emerged. Both the former and the current caretakers of the Ethiopian empire did not know how to handle this. People who are aware of their identities do not allow themselves to be abused, exploited, or subjugated. The empire was designed to do just that. So, the current rulers, while giving lip service to the idea of ethnic federalism, continued the destructive paths of their predecessors through a mechanism they called “Democratic centralism”. They also used the age-old tactic of divide-and-rule. Ethnically divided regions made this tactic easier to apply and harder to hide. That is why there is a ruthless and consequential war being waged on Oromia region from many corners, all orchestrated by the current government.

 

Meanwhile, the caretakers of the Ethiopian system representing the previous government want the peoples of Ethiopia to get back under the cover of their masks. They blame the current chaos on a wrong information, namely, the people being told that they can be themselves. “We are all Ethiopians,” they claim. If we all spoke Amharic and waved the same Ethiopian flag everything would be fine if one is to rely on their assertions. This, despite the fact that each new Ethiopian government had its own Ethiopian flag, and none of them had the consent of the peoples of Ethiopia.

 

Dog whistles and assigned identities

In all oppressive states like Ethiopia, master narratives form and inform stereotypes. Accordingly, the different peoples of Ethiopia have been assigned stereotypes via the master narratives. For the Oromo, the word Galla and the numerous negative meanings attached to it formed the stereotype. This is what we fought against. This is what many died fighting. It seems like, except for some die-hard neo debtaras like the ones who show up as guests on ESAT every-now-and-then, most people have stopped using that term. The negative label used to represent Oromos who are conscious of their Oromo identity became “narrow nationalists.” This happened during the Dergue, It was alright to become Ethiopian nationalist, but grossly inappropriate to be Oromo nationalist. Absurd. Under the current government, Oromo nationalists, Oromos conscious of their Oromo identity are called secessionists (tegentayoch), and persecuted and prosecuted as terrorists. Elements outside of government representing the views and values of the former government have now started a new label, namely zeregna or racist. If you speak for the right of the Oromo you are a racist according to these people. These are the same people who have been calling us names denying us opportunities just because we are Oromo. A negative label, be it, “galla” or “racist” and all others in between, are bad, wrong, distorting and must be fought against.

 

Love, Forgiveness, and Reconciliation

There is a new preacher in town. Everyone loves to hear him. He speaks well. His name is Dr. Abiyi Ahemed. Unfortunately, different people like him for different reasons his likeable words notwithstanding. The criminals who have been ravaging the entire region like his message because it seems to absolve them of responsibility. Those who have been watching, with trepidation, the vail of glory being removed from their beloved empire and are aghast at seeing the naked truth like The new prime minster’s message for its seeming dedication to the empire and unabashed admiration of the criminal empire builders like Menelik. Those who are genuinely tired of state terrorism, death and destruction, daily robbery and intimidation, and the summary loss basic freedoms like his message because it promises a moment of relief.

 

The plea to forgive and reconcile is a gesture born of desperation rather than a well-formed plan to solve the abiding problem. Who is to forgive whom and for what? Are we all guilty? If we are, are we equally guilty? What guarantees does this kind of gesture give that past crimes do not repeat, or, even return with greater force? Rather dangerous to contemplate.

 

The Amhara say, “Yewega berasa yetewaga ayirasam.” In deed it is easy for the offender to forget than it is for the offended. To implore the Oromo to forgive and forget all that we have been going through, all that we are still going through, without any accounting, without identifying what went wrong and how, without any compensation or consequence, is to ask us to forget the lives and struggles of those who brought us thus far. We can “love our neighbors as ourselves,” but it is unfair to ask us to love those who harm us more than we love ourselves.

 

As for what the Oromo can expect from the new slogan, maddammar, the jury is still out. The meeting attended by both Dr. Abiyi and Obbo Lema with the people of Bale recently presents an example of a possible mismatch between the ongoing slogan and what the Oromo people expect with respect to the Oromo question. Speaker after speaker rose to remind these new leaders that they are the beneficiaries past heroes of the Oromo who suffered much in the hands of the imperial undertakers. They also implored the new young leaders to join the struggle and clean the slate. On their part both leaders made no mention of those past heroes of the Oromo, presented themselves as co-strugglers, and avoided Oromo problems rooted in the formation and maintenance of the Ethiopian empire. How far can they go in solving the problem of Ethiopia and Oromia without addressing the real issues?

 

Can an Oromo embrace Ethiopia when it denies Oromo identity? Can an Oromo love and protect Ethiopia when it hates the mention of Oromo and exposes everything Oromo to destruction? Can one really hope to live peacefully with those who accuse him of being a racist when one has never taken advantage of them at all, while the accusers themselves have and continue to attack and harass one based solely on his/her identity?  I believe that the Biblical command, “Love thine enemy,” is limited to when the enemy is in his corners. When the enemy has you by the throat, you have not only the right but also an obligation to kick him off. Reconciliation and forgiveness can be discussed when both are safely in their own corners,

 

May peace prevail,

Oromia Shall be free!

 

                             Teferi Fufa, July, 2018

Ethiopia/Oromia: Many Visions, One Reality

under continuous threat

The emergence of Ethiopia out of the ashes of the Abyssinian empire has been and still is a phenomenon little understood. It is easy to see this as the natural progress of events. But a closer look will show that the reality is anything but.

The argument for natural progress uses the process of national formation by noting that strong kings use force to bring different parts together to form a larger united country. This presumes that the period of the use of force ceases and a period of peace whereby all citizens participate in the affairs of the nation with full freedom and equality ensues in a relatively short time. The reality, however, is that the Oromo have never enjoyed a full participation of citizenship in Ethiopia. Oromos, from the days of Menelik to present, are allowed to move freely and participate in any civic activity only to the extent that they deny or hide their Oromo identity. It is always assumed that claims of Oromo identity have no basis.re inimical to Ethiopian identity. Hence, claims of unification

Another famous claim by those who claim natural process is that the people have lived together for so long and have intermarried to the extent that the people have become one. While the recent development of languages and cultures of the different peoples in Ethiopia itself can defy this line of argument, there is another glaring example of how unnatural the natural process argument of the Ethiopians is.  In a natural process, when you mix two things of unequal quantity, the resulting mixture will more closely resemble the identity of that of the larger quantity. But in Ethiopia, the intermixture leaves the majority Oromo totally traceless in culture, language, and anything else.

It is this unnatural process and the blind adherence of the Ethiopians that justifies the hysteria that strikes at all Ethiopians when a question is raised about the rights of the Oromo. That is why the prisons of Ethiopia are filled with Oromos. That is why we have A State of Emergency in Ethiopia today. This is why in every city and village of Oromia today, armed soldiers shoot on unarmed civilians without any fear of repercussion.

To be an Oromo in Ethiopia is, therefore, to be non-Oromo, to have no feeling for Oromo, to have no self-interest, and to live for and in the interest of others. Any Oromo who shows any concern for the wellbeing of Oromo people is identified with the Oromo Liberation Front. And, this is why. In light of the recent popular uprising by Qeerroo, the command post can order and execute a mass murder such as the one Moyale and say, “Sorry, we had a wrong information”, end of story.

All those interested must open their eyes!

 

 

Teferi Fufa, 2018