Tuesday, March 5, 2024
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Ethiopia : Who is seeking a Referendum? The Oromo people or Oromo elites? By Tedla Woldeyohannes, PhD

1 Available, among other places, here http://www.ethiomedia.com/1000codes/7953.html

Second, one of the most important issues that needs to be addressed regarding a referendum to achieve the ultimate goal of the Oromo movement, i.e., the independent, sovereign nation, Oromia, is distinguishing the will of the people on the ground and the will of those elites who speak on behalf of the people. Now which “people” are we talking about in this context? Obviously, proponents of referendum would say by “the will of the people” they are referring to the will of the Oromo people in general. But this view needs to be clarified. Is it the case that NOW the majority of the Oromo people are demanding a referendum to seek secession of Oromia from the rest of the country? In light of publicly available evidence, the answer to this definitely is no. As far as I can tell, a poll has not been conducted that shows the majority of the Oromo people seek a referendum to decide the future of the Oromo people. If there is data that show that the demand for a referendum is the demand of the majority of the Oromo people that will help. Those Oromo elites who propose referendum as an ultimate solution to solve the problems of the Oromo people are most welcome to share such data or evidence to support seeking a referendum is based on the demand of the majority of Oromo people.

There is a serious question that needs to be addressed about the will of the rest of the Ethiopian people when debating and discussing whether a referendum is an ultimate solution to the Oromo people. As everyone knows, what happens in the Oromia region will have consequences for the rest of the people of Ethiopia. In this case, a referendum for Oromia to secede from the rest of Ethiopia will bring to an end to Ethiopia as a sovereign nation. Obviously, the people of Ethiopia, including Oromos who do not support secession, have interest in the fate of Ethiopia as a country. That means, a referendum will not happen in a vacuum since it will have a ripple effect for the rest of Ethiopia. It will affect the interests of both pro-secession Oromos and those who are pro-unity and pro-territorial integrity of the sovereign nation called Ethiopia. That means, the will of the people of Ethiopia, both Oromos who want to remain as an important part of Ethiopia and the rest of Ethiopians who are in favor of a united Ethiopia must be taken into account in deciding the future of Oromia and Ethiopia. That means, to argue for the view that the will of the people must be respected must be clearly stated because there are several groups of people whose interest and will or desire matters. Furthermore, owing to its geographical location, Oromia is home for many non-Oromo Ethiopians and their will or desire along with the desire of those who are pro-unity Ethiopians must be taken into account, including people in Addis Ababa. Obviously, the will of the people of Addis Ababa needs to be taken into account if and when a referendum becomes real. To sum up, when we talk about a referendum to achieve a secession for Oromia, the will of the pro-unity Ethiopians, including the people of Addis Ababa, non-Oromo Ethiopians who live in Oromia, and Oromos who want to remain with the rest of Ethiopia must be taken into account.

Third, in this connection, it is common to hear from the proponents of referendum that referendum in other parts of the world is used as an example to make a case for referendum for the Oromo people. But this must be clarified. To make a case for referendum using examples of referendum elsewhere must take into account the similarities, differences, and the historical context that justifies a need for a referendum before modeling it for the referendum of the Oromo people. An argument from analogy can be good, or strong, and hence justified only when the similarities between things compared outweigh dissimilarities. That means, when proponents of referendum use examples of referendum elsewhere to support their argument for a referendum for the Oromo people such arguments must be challenged, not because one is against the will of the people, but because the analogy can be bad and does not reflect the reality on the ground. To expose a shaky ground on which a case for referendum is made can be a good a thing for the people since it is far better for people to make a life-changing decision better informed than otherwise. In this connection, we must guard against views copied from other countries before putting them to experiment in Ethiopia. We, as a society, are victims of imported ideologies and it is the responsibility of the elite to make sure the people of Ethiopia, in general, and the Oromo people, in particular, do not end up serving as another ground to experiment failed ideologies or flawed theories that do not serve the interest of the people.

People Know What They Want

It is crucial to understand what proponents of referendum often say when anyone raises any question about referendum for the Oromo people. It is common to hear at least two objections from proponents of a referendum when anyone raises any question about referendum for the Oromo people. One of these objections is that to raise any question about referendum is to stand against the will of the people. But that need not be the case and in my case I have already made it clear that if and when people express their will to decide what they want I, for example, have no objection whatsoever. To debate the value of referendum should not be discouraged at any rate. The other objection goes as follows: Who are you to tell the people what is good for them? The people know what they want or what is good for them? It is important to note that those who often raise these objections are also other elites—-how can they be “the people, all the people”? But it is not productive to respond to them likewise, because such a response does not advance the debate. An attempt to understand what they are trying to communicate and to address the issue properly is more important. I conclude this piece with a reflection on the role of the elite, both the pro-referendum Oromo elites and pro-unity elites on the future of Ethiopia insofar as the issue of referendum for the secession of Oromia is concerned. This reflection also serves as a response to the objection, who are you to tell the people what is good for them? (continue on page 3)

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