Jalddeessi mariiyate agadaa fixna jedhe, caxee tamssaasna jedhe,
maaloo ya midhaan koo kana keessa baddaare?
Balleessi maryatee gudgudduu fixna jedhe, gadhee mancaafna jedhe,
maaloo yaa qomooko kana kessa baddare.
The quotation above is a verse in geerarssa I heard as a child. While the geerarssaa tradition of using poetry and song to convey important messages is timeless, the message of the above verse is of immediate relevance. Enemies near and far, inside and outside, big and small, have colluded to destroy Oromo identity and erase Oromo nationhood. For the Oromo, now is the time to choose between “to be or not to be.” Choosing not to be is akin to choosing to continue existing under a false identity. A self-negating existence, while not enriching is existence nonetheless and possible. For those Oromos who may be inclined to choose to exist under a false identity, let me stress, without trying to infringe on their right to choose, that there is nothing inherently wrong with being. Neither is there an inherently redeeming value in being. I have not chosen to be born Oromo. But once I am born an Oromo, I have a right to live my life and enjoy just like any other human being of any other identity. What is wrong is a system that forces one to deny his/her identity and survive under an assumed identity.
If the Oromo are to survive, those who embrace Oromo identity as their own, not as a tool to persecute other identities, not as a subordinate identity to other identities, nor as a super identity seeking to subordinate others, but as a birthright to be cherished and defended, must act now with urgency.
Why the Urgency?
We used to believe that our population size can guarantee that we will not face extinction. Some people refer to the fact that during the war of occupation we lost half of our population of the time, and still survived as a majority in the resulting empire of Ethiopia. But today we are facing a different kind of enemy. This enemy is aware, calculating, and working to reduce our numbers threatening our survival.
The late Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi, was quoted as saying ‘the Oromo majority can be made a minority.” That this was not a rhetorical statement, but a policy determination can be deduced from the wholesale imprisonment and murder of Oromos both during his time and after his death. This kind of policy subjected any living Oromo to arrest, torture, and killing. Oromos are suspected of being either a member or a sympathizer of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), a symbol of Oromo identity. Only God knows the actual number of Oromos lost in this nefarious scheme. The loss continues at an accelerated rate.
This is also a crucial time because, enemies of the Oromo, in and out of government, in and out of politics, hitherto known and unknown, have come together and joined forces in opposition to Oromo and Oromummaa. Hence, we hear a hate-filled woman calling herself a scholar taking an issue with “ummaa”, the suffix of Oromummaa. The clear, clean, unadulterated use of the suffix is to show a condition of being Oromo. Listening to this woman whining about “ummaa” and its powers to conjure evil spirits of disunity and destruction is a sign of how low the enemy is willing to stoop to achieve its goals of defaming, dehumanizing, the Oromo. A deacon, supposedly, a man of God, is heard recently calling for the eradication of an entire group (Tigre people) as a people whose sign of ever existing must be eradicated so that “Ethiopia can have peace.” To him, genocide is a legitimate means of maintaining Amhara hegemony. Prime Minister stated that Oromo nationalism is backward, suggesting that it must be eradicated to “move Ethiopia forward.” When asked why it is that while the Ethiopian army could destroy the TPLF in a short time (a false claim) but it is taking so long to get rid of the Shane (referring to the Oromo Liberation Army, OLA)? The general answered, “We fought a conventional war against the junta. But the Shane live among the people. To catch the fish, we have to drain the sea.” Oromo lives mean nothing to the current government of Ethiopia The mass killings, mass removal of entire villages, burning of houses, often with the residents in them, mass incarceration, and the indiscriminate killings of the detainees by the security forces, all targeting Oromos, point to the grim situation facing Oromos today.
The Oromo Servile Class
Ever since the Oromo fell under the cruel and savage control of the Ethiopian empire there have been servile Oromos. They were mainly used as functionaries supporting the control and exploitation of the Oromo by the colonial administration. They were not especially organized or trained. Their only purpose was to secure a meager living by appending themselves to the enemy. The emergence of the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO) ushered in a new type of servile class. OPDO was firmed to counter the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). Their function was to pretend to be representing the Oromo while actually representing the TPLF. They were instrumental in all the crimes the TPLF committed against the Oromo. The crimes of the TPLF could not go on forever, and the rising tide of popular uprise threatened to sink the ship taking the OPDO along with their patrons the TPLF. It was time to jump ship and find another purpose, service to render.
Enter, Oromara. The word itself implies an alliance between Oromo and Amhara. The servile history of the OPDO aside, there cannot be an alliance between Amhara and Oromo considering the unwavering and longstanding quest of the Oromo for freedom, and Amhara's insistence on domination and supremacy. As I argued in my article entitled, “Dr. Abiy Ahmed Will Soon Be the Prime Minister of Ethiopia”, back in 1918, partners with clashing goals cannot travel far together. And when those goals are in direct opposition to one another, it is impossible to start the journey. But what has been clear since then has been the continued servile status of the OPDO with one caveat, i.e.., now serving the interest of Amhara elites instead of that of the TPLF. With this new position, the OPDO was going to be more vocal and play a more active role.
It was the government of Mengistu Haile Mariam that made the phrase “Ethiopia First” popular. At the same time, the phrase became synonymous with terror, as millions of young lives, mainly of Oromo and other occupied nations and nationalities of Ethiopia, fell victims to the idea. The TPLF did not use "Ethiopia First" as a campaign because it nominally supported the idea of Ethnic Federalism as an answer to Ethiopia’s vexing problem of nations and nationalities. The Amhara, unlike the TPLF, view Ethiopia as their own imperial project, and they see any concession to the national liberation struggles as a rejection of their supremacy. The slogan. “Ethiopia First” serves their interests. For them, Ethiopia is Amhara. They reduce the nationalities question to a simple question of who belongs to Ethiopia. In Ethiopia of the Amhara, you do not have a country, the country has you (owns you). If you do not look like Ethiopia, talk like Ethiopia, live for Ethiopia, you are a threat. Remember the Ethiopian woman from the Washington DC area who claimed that she went to an Oromo event, and complained that it did not “smell like Ethiopia.” The OPDO has been aware of this all along. As they were enlisting to the service of the Amhara, they embraced the idea of “Ethiopia First.” They did not only fit themselves with the smell of Ethiopia, but they went beyond and publicly declared that they are Ethiopia addicts (ye Itiyopiaya susanya).
Thus emerged a new brand of servile Oromos I would call, for lack of other terms, Ethiopian First – Oromia be Damned (EF-OBD). They do not say, “Ethiopia First”, they just play their part convincingly. They hide their distaste for Oromo. Like loyal slaves promoted to the position of slave driver, they feel the need to show their intolerance for critics of the Ethiopian system of government. They are eager to prove themselves to the Amhara elite, their current patrons. Ethiopia first, their favorite hallucinogen, carries them back blissfully to the golden Ethiopia of yore where, unawares, they will sink into a state of nonexistence. Lost in this “Abyss” of Abyssinia, they will have no need for identity. They are lost to themselves to become an insignificant part of another. As I tried to illustrate the meaning of Maddamar in my article by the same title in August of 1918, by using an example of addends and sums in simple arithmetic, as an addend, you are at the mercy of the master manipulator, having no agency of your own and when the manipulator is done with you, no sign of you may appear in the resulting sum.
What was not known back then was exactly how many Oromos will fall for this idea of Ethiopia First without considering what that means for the survival of the Oromo. Watching a parade of ex-freedom fighters and pseudo-Oromo nationalists making their rounds to public and social media they can access, in support of the EF-OBD) and maligning the ongoing Oromo freedom struggle is sickening. To be servile, despicable as it may be, is common. The type of self-effacing servility that we are observing in EF-OBD is uncommon as it is unnatural. They are as useless to Ethiopia as they are to Oromo. If you do not have respect for yourself, if you do not care for your own, you cannot possibly respect or care for anyone else.
The Current State of Affairs
With EF-OBD at the helm, we have entered a period in which the government acts as an organized gang of criminals. The government plans and executes the murder of a prominent person. Then it uses the ensuing anger and confusion as an excuse to commit further murders, arrests, and intimidations. Take the murder of Hacaalu. Within seconds of the gunshot that took Hacaalu’s life, the government has announced that the culprits are Shane and the Junta. Yet, prominent Oromo opposition leaders who have nothing to do with either Shane or the Junta were rounded up and imprisoned accused of having something to do with the despicable act, of murder. Some of them are still in prison. Hundreds died. The story of who really did the killing kept changing. The truth of the matter is the government had the motive, the ability, and the opportunity to do it. Even by the government’s admission, part of the reason Hacaalu was killed was because of the interview he did with OMN in which he said things about Menelik that Amhara activists and the Ethiopian government did not like. Immediately, threats to Hacaalu’s life started to come from different Amhara sources. The government did nothing to investigate these groups. To date, no serious investigation has been carried out. Nor have any attempts been made to bring the murderer to face justice. Hacaalu’s killing has been part of a strategy to disenfranchise the Oromo, all along.
In Ethiopia today, a plethora of security forces go around killing people, burning houses, confiscating properties in Oromo areas without regard for laws or morals. Take the recent killings of Karrayu Abbaa Gadaas. They were in a holy place doing their sacred duties. They were unarmed and unguarded as they did not think they needed armed guards. They suspected no harm when they were surrounded by government forces. But this is Ethiopia in the era of EF-OBD. The government forces slaughtered these Abbaa Gadaas without mercy. Soon the usual distraction followed. The government pointed to "Shane" as the culprit. Weeks later, it was determined that the security forces did it. The investigation is promised, but we know that in Ethiopia justice is blind, lame, dumb, and mute. We wait for another horrific incidence, not justice.
Amanuel Wondimu was a young Oromo residing in Dambi Dolo, Oromia. He was suspected of being a member Abbaa Torbi, a unit of what the government called Shane, Oromo Liberation Army. Government security forces arrest this young man. They tie his hands behind his back. They suspend a handgun from his neck to suggest that he was armed and dangerous. They parade him through town making a spectacle of him. Then they execute him publicly. Arrest, accuse, execute, no judge, no jury, no defense. Not even the usual kangaroo court.
Gamachis Melaku was also a young Oromo who lived in the Sibu area of western Oromia. On the night of May 16, 2021, he was taken from the home of his parents, murdered, and his body thrown in the forest. The next day, the family found and took his body home and buried him. As the family and friends gathered to mourn, the soldiers arrived and ordered the family to dig up the grave and lift the coffin. They removed the corpse and tossed it aside. Then they forced the mother to sit on the coffin. Oromo families suffer abuses like this without recourse.
Biqila Amanu was another young boy. Knowing what happens to Oromo boys when they encounter government forces, he took to his feet when he saw security forces. They chased him, shot him, brought him home to his family, and executed him in front of them. How tragic and uncertain the existence of a people without a government of their own!
Enemies are Emboldened and Mobilized: Naftagnas of yore followed orders from their king, grabbed their guns, and went about killing, burning, and looting Oromo farms and villages. Now we hear about vigilante groups of one name or another armed and dispatched in all areas of Oromia, all under the guise of defending Amhara settlers scattered throughout Oromia. The Governor of Amhara Region openly calls for such armament endorsing the same purpose. The government of Oromia is not only failing to defend Oromo peasants but seems to be collaborating with their tormentors. No other regional government in Ethiopia fails its people like this.
Silence of the International Community: Despite repeated pleas and appeals by the diaspora Oromo, international commotion to bring peace and stability to Ethiopia is all about the war in Tigray. Yes, there is war in Tigray. There is a humanitarian disaster in Tigray. But the war and humanitarian disaster started in Oromia and continue at an accelerated rate. The Oromo are left to fend for themselves.
Half a century of struggle for freedom has brought us this far. The revival of our culture, the growth of our language, and the self-confidence of our youth are the fruits of the sacrifices our leaders made. The enemy is now determined more than ever to not only stop our progress but also to throw us back into serfdom. We must fight to survive just as much as they are fighting to destroy us.