Tedla Woldeyohannes, PhD
In my most recent article titled “What is the Ultimate Goal of the Oromo Movement”1, I argued for the view, given the evidence, the ultimate goal of the Oromo movement is to seek and establish an independent Oromo nation as a sovereign state. This piece is a sequel to the article I mentioned above. In this piece I argue for the following view: Some Oromo elites raise the issue of referendum for the Oromo people as a means to achieve the ultimate goal of the Oromo movement, which is the establishment of Oromia as an independent, sovereign nation. Below I offer reasons for this view. Now to the question: Who is seeking a Referendum? The Oromo people or some Oromo Elites? A short answer to these questions is that those who are seeking referendum for the Oromo people are some Oromo elites. For evidence that supports this claim one needs to watch media interviews and discussions by some of the Oromo elites.
It must be noted that a referendum as an ultimate solution to the problems of the Oromo people is not at the center of the debate in the Oromo movement for the same reason that the ultimate goal of the Oromo movement, an establishment of Oromia as an independent, sovereign nation, is not at the center of the debate. In my view, the reason is clear, i.e., it is to avoid risking a potential backlash. I concluded the article mentioned above as follows: “It is for the Oromo elites to show that either they accept the claim I have argued for or they reject it or they show another more plausible explanation of the evidence on which my argument is based. If they accept it, that is an important clarification for the Oromo people as a whole and for the other peoples of Ethiopia. If they reject my claim, then it is also important for them to show where the mistake is. That would also add clarity to the ultimate goal of the Oromo movement. Now the most important question is: What is the official, ultimate goal of the Oromo movement according to the Oromo elites, if it is different from what I argued for above, i.e. seeking an establishment of Oromia as an independent, sovereign nation?” Until this moment, I have not seen a published response to my question.
Now returning to the current topic, from the outset, I want it to be absolutely clear that I am NOT against referendum for the Oromo people or any other group IF AND WHEN it is an actual expression of the will of the people. One of the purposes of this article is to trigger a conversation and a public debate and discussion on the issue of referendum when some Oromo elites raise referendum as an ultimate solution to solve problems for the Oromo people. It should also be clear from the outset that to raise the question who is seeking a referendum when it comes to the Oromo people should not be seen as standing against the will of the Oromo people. That is because this article is not a response to the Oromo people who are seeking referendum since I am not aware of the Oromo people in general who are seeking referendum for the Oromo people to decide a secession of Oromia. This article is about the views of some of the Oromo elites who advance the issue of a referendum as an ultimate solution to problems of the Oromo people. I contend that identifying the desire for a referendum by some Oromo elites with the desire for a referendum of the Oromo people in general at this point in time is unjustified because there is no adequate evidence to support the view that the Oromo people are seeking referendum to secede from Ethiopia or to establish Oromia as an independent sovereign state. One can check all available evidence regarding the demands of the Oromo people especially in the last one year so to see if seeking referendum as a basis for secession of Oromia is among the demands. As far as I can tell, the evidence does not support the view that the Oromo people are actually demanding referendum to decide the future of Oromia. Having said this in light of the publicly available evidence, I am not suggesting that there are no Oromos in Oromia who seek referendum to achieve the secession of Oromia. My point is specific in that among the frequently stated demands of the Oromo people during the yearlong protest the demand for a referendum to decide secession of Oromia is not among them. Furthermore, it has to be noted that a demand for self-determination, or self-rule for Oromia has been made mostly by Oromo elites, but often without expressing the demand for self-determination or self-rule as identical to a demand for Oromia to be an independent, sovereign nation.
Why then Referendum?
Let us reflect for a moment regarding the question of referendum and why it is raised by some Oromo elites.
First, it has to be noted that there are Oromo elites who make a case that there was an independent nation called Oromia that has been colonized by the Abyssinian/Ethiopian Empire. A discussion on whether referendum is an ultimate solution to the problems the Oromo people face and have been facing for a long time is predicated, to a significant extent, on adequately answering the question whether the Oromos have been colonized. The question whether the Oromos have been colonized is contentious and should be debated, but to offer a referendum as an ultimate solution to resolve the issues the Oromo people face is begging the question against those who argue against the claim that the Oromos have been colonized. Note that not all Oromo elites share the view that the Oromo people have been colonized. Hence, to make a reasonable case for the referendum for the Oromo people requires making a reasonable case for the view that the Oromos have been colonized. Now note this: Even if a reasonable case can be made for the view the Oromos have been colonized, it does not follow from this that referendum is the only or the best solution for the problems the Oromo people have faced and still face. One can argue that democratizing Ethiopia as a whole where human rights are protected and where there is economic justice for the Oromo people along with the rest of the people of Ethiopia is what is needed. One can argue that if the Oromo people play a vital role in a democratic Ethiopia where their culture is respected, where Afan Oromo is an official language, and if all their just demands are met, why would referendum even be raised? But that argument is not the focus of this piece. (Continue on page 2)