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Pitfalls of the Atlanta Oromo convention

November 16,2016


Six hundred “Oromo leaders” – allegedly from all walks of life – took part in a three days convention in Atlanta, Georgia, between November 11 and 13. As you may know, there was no arrangement,for no good reason, for Ethiopians to watch the convention live. As a result, most of us had to wait until completion of the conference to get updates about the outcome it and the process itself from Ethiopian news outlets.

Explanations to justify the closed convention are hardly convincing. One of the explanations relate to issues of logistic ; that there were nine rooms and was not possible to transmit it live which does not answer the question as to why the meeting was not planned in a way to be convenient to transmit it live for the public outside of the convention hall in the first place. Possible “infiltration” by TPLF regime intelligence, which is the other justification, does not make sense either. In an interview with BBN radio professor Ezikiel asserted that the convention was not a platform for political parties to discuss political program or political modalities but rather a “public consultation” – which implies that there was nothing secretive about it. But that does not seem to be the case.

Oromo based political party leaders attended it but, says Ezkiel, were there just to learn about what the public wants from political parties. Clearly,Ezkiel’s explanations are meant for public relation purposes.

Had there been an arrangement for the rest of Ethiopians to get first hand information from the convention, it would have been possible to know who is who in the diaspora based Oromo politics and that would have been relevant for politicized Ethiopians. But the planners, Jawar’s group primarily,deliberately wanted that not to happen.

In addition to discussing “Oromo charter”, the meeting discussed four agenda, according to Ezkiel and of course all of them are intended to foster unity among Oromo parties and politicians. As much as mystification of unity among oromo political parties sounds palatable populist agenda,especially to manipulate gullible one, it does not escape the question whether it is really possible for different Oromo political parties with different world view, including views on Ethiopia,to unify simply because they are Oromo (or claim so)? In the past twenty five years, we have seen Islamist Oromo political parties and what not, and the fact that it is muted for purposes of strategy at this point in time does not tell much about viability of unity among Oromo political parties.

Jawar’s groups is certainly not ignorant about it. And perhaps, Jawar and his group meant to proactively tame possible, perhaps inevitable, power struggle within the Oromo when they crafted the project tailoring it to radical path on the assumption that radical Oromo ethno nationalism is popular cause.

For now, Jawar and his group seem to have succeeded, at least superficially, in what he wanted to achieve out of the project.In an apparent move to boost moral authority, Bekeke Gerba – who is actually languishing in prison and probably will not come out any time soon- is made as a leader of Jawar’s (“Oromo”) project and Jawar has positioned himself as a second person (technically he is the first person).

Also, what is troubling is that there seem to be an appetite to take radical Oromo ethno nationalism along a particular path when it comes to religion. And they have done so in a way that will not offend the western world. Orthodox Tewahdo church priests are deliberately omitted from ritual ceremony at the opening of the convention- apparently.

Overall,the project is purely political and the tendency to paint it as a “public consultation” is nothing but nonsense.

What became clear in the process is that the ostentation about moral supremacy of Oromo radical ethno-nationalism as a cause and monopoly about assumed representation of the Oromo cause has to be challenged seriously by Oromos who have clarity about and commitment to Ethiopian cause which is a formation of new democratic Ethiopia for all Ethiopians. Those who do not dwell on deliberate misinterpretation of Ethiopian history, often times with no consideration for the shortcomings of anachronistic judgement, should come forward, join hands with the rest of Ethiopians and openly challenge the radical quarter before it is too late. Oromo political parties need to reject sensationalism and give due considerations to realities of geo-politics in the region and think about what forces like the ones that Jawar leads could do ten or so years down the road if they get what they want now : which is moral authority as leaders of Oromo.

By Dimetros Birku. Can be reached on twitter : @dimetros


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