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HomeOpinionThe Need for Redefining and Refining the Demands of Oromo

The Need for Redefining and Refining the Demands of Oromo

Editor’s note : Views in the article do not necessarily reflect the views of borkena.com

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Assefa A. Lemu 

Some ask what do Oromo want; what are their demands and what are they fighting for? Different individuals and Oromo political organizations provided responses to these questions ranging from demand for basic democratic rights to having an independent Oromo State. According to the Manifesto of Oromo Liberation Front-Oromo Liberation Army (OLF-OLA) issued in January 2023, the reason why OLA fight is for the Oromo people’s right to self-determination; and for the freedom of the Oromo people from political exclusion, economic exploitation, and socio-cultural marginalization.

The point of this discussion is not only to present the menu of Oromo demands, but also to explore possible ways of how to achieve these demands. The question is can the Oromo people achieve the demanded rights and freedoms through peaceful means or armed struggle is the only solution? Below, let’s see some of the demands and briefly discuss if they could be achieved through peaceful means which are relatively easier, less costly, practical, and sustainable.

  1. Right to Self-determination (Political Rights)

According to Article 39(1) of Ethiopian Constitution of August 21, 1995, “Every Nation, Nationality and People in Ethiopia has an unconditional right to self-determination, including the right to secession”.  Article 39 (5) also says “Every Nation, Nationality and People in Ethiopia has the right to a full measure of self-government which includes the right to establish institutions of government in the territory that it inhabits and to equitable representation in state and Federal governments”. This shows that there is the possibility of achieving the demand for the right of self-determination through peaceful and legal means. 

Then, why Oromo struggle shouldn’t focus on the respect for rule of law in Ethiopia and proper implementation of the current Ethiopian constitution? I know some readers may respond to this question that it has been tried multiple times and the peaceful means of struggle failed to work. By the same token, we do not have guarantees for the armed struggle to work to achieve the right to self-determination, freedom from political exclusion, economic exploitation, and socio-cultural marginalization. History shows us that achieving these rights and freedoms through armed struggle is either impossible or if possible, not successful in bringing better life to the people. For example:

  1. The Republic of Biafra (1967-1970)- The Igbo ethnic group of Nigeria who are mainly Christians and who thought that they were targeted and killed by Hausa and Fulani ethnic groups of the northern Nigerian who are predominantly Muslims, established the Republic of Biafra in the south-eastern Nigeria by declaring session from Nigeria on May 30, 1967.  After 30 months of fighting with the Nigerian Government and hunger which led them to eat mice because of siege, Igbo’s Biafra surrendered on January 15,1970 and the conflict officially ended with the motto of “no victor, no vanquished”.
  1. FARC of Colombia (1964-2016) fought for 52 years and failed to remove the central government through armed struggle. As a result, FARC was transitioned to a recognized political party in Colombia to operate peacefully.
  1. Tamil Tiger of Siri Lanka (1972-2009) fought for 37 years to establish an independent state for Tamils. But after a series of failed negotiations and military defeats, disbanded, and ceased to exist.
  1. IRA/Sinn Fein of Northern Ireland (1969-2010) fought for 41 years for the freedom of Northern Ireland from England but failed to achieve its objective and disbanded and Sinn Fein transitioned to a recognized political party in the UK.
  1. Polisario Front of Sahrawi people– Fought for the freedom of Sahrawi people since its establishment in 1973 first with Spanish until it withdrew in 1975, and then with Mauritania until it relinquished its claim of Sahrawi in 1979, and until now with Morocco. The UN considers the Polisario Front as a legitimate representative of the Sahrawi people and believes that the Sahrawis have a right to self-determination. However, it was not successful to bring the right of self-determination to the Sahrawi People for the past 50 years.
  1. Azania (South Africa)- Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) who broke from ANC in 1959 and opposed ANC’s idea of “the land belongs to all who live in it both white and black” wanted to establish an independent black state for black South Africans called Azania, but not successful. Now, PAC is one of the political parties in South Africa operating peacefully.
  1. Ambazonian Rebels of Cameroon- Has been fighting since 2017 to establish an independent state of Anglophone Cameroonian called Ambazonia, but not successful.
  1. Eritrea (1991)- The Eritrean struggle for independence from Ethiopia got support from the Western countries mainly because of West-East ideological competition when Ethiopia was a socialist state, but Eritrea couldn’t be a better place for its citizens. With the support of Ethiopia and international recognition, Eritreans got political independence for their country, but so far failed to bring democratic and political rights for themselves. As a result, the youth are migrating from the country and Eritrea is suffering from extreme poverty and lack of democratic and political rights.
  1. South Sudan (July 2011)-The South Sudanese liberation struggle got support mainly because of the competition between Christian-Islam religions and racial differences between black Africans South and Arab culture dominated North. Independence of South Sudan from Sudan didn’t bring to South Sudanese peace and security, democracy, and better life.

Furthermore, the idea of secession or independence that the political organizations or certain elites promote doesn’t mean that the idea is supported by the majority. For example:

  1. Scottish National Party (SNP) – A majority in the Scottish parliament paved a way for the September 2014 referendum on Scottish independence from the United Kingdom where 55% voted “No” to independence.
  1. Quebec- Based on the demand of Quebec sovereigntists, referendum on Quebec independence from Canada was held in 1995 and 50.6% said “No” to independence and 49.4 said “Yes”.

Furthermore, holding referendums and getting a majority vote in favor of independence alone doesn’t necessarily bring sovereignty.  For example, the Catalonian parliament unilaterally declared independence of Catalonia from Spain on October 27, 2017, following the result of referendum held on October 1, 2017, where 92.01 % voted “Yes” for independence of Catalonia. However, the Spanish State said the referendum was unconstitutional and rejected the declaration of independence of Catalonia from Spain, and Catalonia remained within Spain.

Somaliland is another territory who declared independence, but not recognized as a sovereign state by the international community.  On May 18,1991, following the overthrow of Siad Barre in 1991 and Somali civil war, Somaliland declared its independence, but remained an unrecognized self-proclaimed state. 

Therefore, when demanding independence and holding referendums, it is very important to consider various factors including voter support, required procedures for holding referendums, response of the state from which to secede, and response from the international community.

  1. Afan Oromo

Another Oromo demand on the top of the list is making Afan Oromo the working language of Federal Government of Ethiopia. According to Article 5 (2) of Ethiopian Constitution, the working language of the Federal Government of Ethiopia in Amharic, but the members of the Federation may have their respective working languages. This was simply political decision, not based on fact and doesn’t reflect the demand of peoples in Ethiopia.

During the discussion for the drafting of the current Ethiopian constitution, the language proposed for the Federal working language by the majority of discussants in Ethiopia, except the Amhara Region, was English. Those who favored English argued that it will put everyone in the country on an equal and a level playing field by avoiding unfair competitive advantage created in the past. However, the drafters of the constitution gave more attention to keeping the status quo because of “national pride”, “uniqueness” of letters that Amharic uses for writing, and tradition of the bureaucracy than to peoples’ demand.  To keep the balance between their political decision and peoples’ demand, they limed Amharic to the level of “a working language” of the Federal Government, not “a national language” and declared that members of the Federation (States) to have their own working languages.

According to CIA World Factbook June 2013 estimate, Oromo constitute 35.8% or 41,693,651 of 116,461,712 of Ethiopian peoples and Afan Oromo is spoken by 33.8% of Ethiopian population and Amharic is spoken by 29.3% of the population. This fact shows that Afan Oromo is spoken by the majority of the population in Ethiopia, but it is not a Federal Government’s working language. Because of the number of its speakers in Ethiopia, Afan Oromo should have been the working language of the Federal Government of Ethiopia, at least along with Amharic. 

In addition to demanding Afan Oromo to be the working language of the Federal Government, it is important to focus on its further development. To develop Afan Oromo further:

  • It should be properly used by the Government of Oromia and in Oromia State.
  • It should be the language of urban dwellers, the language of the economy where the speakers are attracted to use Afan Oromo to get economic benefits either through employment or other economic transactions.  It is important to ensure that someone gets the necessary services like health services, government services, restaurant and café services, shopping services, employment opportunities by speaking Afan Oromo. Speaking Afan Oromo should add to the competitiveness of its speakers.
  • Oromos and supporters of Afan Oromo themselves should use the language in public places to promote it.
  • Investment should be made in the development of Afan Oromo rather than protecting it from other languages through discouraging the teaching of other languages in Oromia. 

If the current constitution of Ethiopia is to be amended, one of the reasons for its amendment should be the making of Afan Oromo the working language of the Federal Government of Ethiopia.

  1. The Case of Finfinne/Addis Ababa

Making Addis Ababa/Finfinne an integral part of Oromia is another demand of Oromo. It is with the acknowledgement of this demand that the status of Addis Ababa changed from Region (Region 14) during the Transitional Government to City Administration. Addis Ababa is not a member of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (Art. 47 of the Constitution). Therefore, unlike member states, its council has no vote in the amendment of the Constitution (Art. 104 and 105 of the Constitution).

According to Article 49 of Ethiopian Constitution, Addis Ababa is the capital city of the Federal State of Ethiopia, and the residents of Addis Ababa shall have a full measure of self-government and its Administration shall be responsible to the Federal Government.

Per Article 49 (5) of the constitution, Oromia State shall have special interest in Addis Ababa, regarding the provision of social services, the utilization of natural resources and other similar matters, as well as joint administrative matters arising from the location of Addis Ababa within the State of Oromia. This arrangement is to keep a balance between the demand of Oromo nationalists to make Finfinnee an integral part of Oromia and the demand of others to keep Addis Ababa from interference of other Regions/States, particularly from Oromia.  

The question is should Oromos focus on demanding the implementation of special interest of Oromia in Addis Ababa/Finfinnee or on the changing/amending the constitution to make Finfinne an integral part of Oromia? In my opinion, the first option is more pragmatic.

The case of Dire Dawa is also similar, though Dire Dawa is not mentioned in the Constitution. 

  1. The Initial Objective of Oromo Nationalism (Kayyoo Ganama)

What is the Initial objective (kayyoo ganama) of OLF?  According to the political program of OLF of 1976, OLF’s objective is to dismantle the colonial system of Abyssinia imposed on Oromo by a barrel of gun and oppressive political system and to establish an independent Democratic Republic of Oromia.  According to Dr. Dima Negewo, one of the founders and the first Chairperson of OLF, the idea of establishing an independent Republic of Oromia was not in the original program of OLF which was written by Baro Tumsa, Lencho Leta, and himself and issued in 1973. He says that the idea of establishing an independent Republic of Oromia was added to the revised OLF program which was written in hasty and issued in 1976 and remain unrevised for about half a century.  

The revolutions of 1974 and 1991 changed the political system of Ethiopia and answered some of the political, economic, and social questions asked by Oromo nationalists. However, the higher objective set by OLF in the 1970s, made some Oromo nationalists not to appreciate the objectives achieved so far and not to give due credit to the incremental achievement approach which they call fractions of rights. It also diverted their attention from low hanging fruits and made them keep talking about the higher objective which is very difficult or impossible to achieve the way they are working to achieve it.

 According to one of the former senior leaders of OLF, Obbo Dhugasa Bakakko, the objective of OLF before the formation of the Transitional Government of Ethiopia in1991 was clear and that was to establish an Independent Republic of Oromia; but after 1991, its objective is grayish, the commitments of its members became weak, its leadership has been divided, and its bye laws were violated or failed to be implemented.

Thus, the higher objective of Oromo nationalism and some terminologies like self-determination, self-administration, Abba Biyyumma (country ownership), sabbonummaa Oromo (Oromo nationalism), Oromiyaan Biyyaa (Oromia is a country), etc, need to be redefined and refined based on the current stage of Oromo political development, consciousness, and political situation/environment.

  1. Unity of Oromo

The Oromo nationalists should identify critical unifying factors such as developing Oromo language and culture, developing and utilizing their resources, defending their political, social, and economic rights and rally around these unifying factors. As the determination to oppose racial oppression was the unifying factor for black South Africans and African National Congress (ANC), determination to keep the unity of Oromo, determination to protect Oromia from breaking into pieces and determination to defend Oromo values should be unifying factors for the Oromo people. 

In fact, there are various internal and external factors that could be a threat to the unity of Oromo. The internal factors include tribalism, religion, history, political ideology/ objective, and utilization of resources and these require proper management not to be causes for conflict. The symptoms and competition we see between Gujii, Borana, and Arsi tribes of Oromo on the establishment of East Borana Zone with Negelle Borana as its Zonal town indicates that, unless managed properly, tribalism could be a threat for the unity of Oromo.

Division of Oromo along political objectives is also another internal threat to their unity. For some individuals and groups political ideology or objective or outlook is more important than unity of Oromo. For example, Pastor Dr. Ujulu Tesso Benti advises not to unite with anyone who doesn’t support the political objective of OLA whether he/she is Oromo or non-Oromo because, as he argues, such a person is considered enemy. He says unity can happen only among those who have similar political objectives and the effort to create unity among Oromos must be stopped as there must not be unity among fire and benzine which burn each other. He went further to justify the enmity of father and son to the extent of killing each other because of their difference in political objectives. Oromos are currently killing each other based on such kinds of teachings and the unity of Oromo could not happen until such kinds of teachings are dealt with. 

The external factors that could damage the unity of Oromo is Federal Government policy that may divide Oromos between various clusters, the plan to divide Oromia into various regions, continuous propaganda that try to play one Oromo tribe against another and claim on Oromo land which is legally part of the current Oromia State.

Unless we work on the unity of Oromo, simply being an Oromo cannot keep the unity of Oromo. History shows us that being Somali didn’t keep the unity of Somalis and being Korean didn’t keep the unity of North and South Koreans. 

Furthermore, it worth mentioning that the attempt of some individuals to define Oromummaa and sabbonummaa by establishing artificial social strata is very dangerous and weakens the unity of Oromo. Stratifying Oromummaa into Basic Oromummaa (Oromummaa bu’ura/hundee), Higher Level Oromumma (Sabbonummaa Oromoo), Ethiopianized Oromo, and Global Oromumma following Malcolm X’s  division of African Americans in 1963 into House Negro and Field Negro or following Feudal Ethiopia’s stratification of Ethiopian people into Kibur Getoch (The Emperor and his family), Getoch (the noble), Sew (the Governors), Yesew Sew (landowners reporting to nobles and Governors), and Akakinos/Gordendinos (the tenants and the peasants) is detrimental to the unity of Oromo. There are also individuals who group Oromos into “Conscious/ Damaqoo”,  “Assimilated/ Madaqoo”, and “Middle Grounded Seasonal/ Walaanlammi” based on their political orientation or thinking taking the liberation of Oromia as a point of reference or their contribution to the achievement of liberated people and free country called Oromia.

This approach will lead to creating a caste social hierarchy based not on families, but on way of thinking and allegiance to a single political thinking. If stratifying Oromo is necessary, it is sufficient to keep the Gada Grade which assigns roles to each Oromo based on age of an individual. If Ethiopianized or assimilated Oromo is not good enough, how come the Americanized or Europeanized or Arabized Oromo could be good? Are we denouncing any integration of Oromo anywhere or an action of an individual against Oromo interest? What does the segregation or dividing Oromos serve to promote the cause of Oromo? Oromo politics should focus on unifying Oromos rather than dividing them and should be inclusive rather than exclusive.  One of the factors which contributed to the success of Jewish movement is to encourage Jewish to assimilate or integrate with the society where they live and at the same time not to lose their identity and value as a Jewish people. They call this need to conform to a society with whom they live and a need to maintain their Jewish values a “cultural synthesis”.

It is also sad to hear the current President of Oromia Obbo Shimelis Abdisa who is supposed to serve the poor, the rich, the knowledgeable and an ordinary Oromo equally, sayingnamni beekumsaa hin qabnee, namni qabeenya hin qabne Oromoo tahuu hinqabu “ which means those who do not have knowledge and wealth should not be Oromo. Any attempt to divide Oromo based on any criteria should be discouraged because it has negative impact on the unity of Oromo.

  1. Democratization

The argument which says “an empire cannot be democratized” is repeatedly raised in Oromo political discussions. In the first place, the empire system was abolished in Ethiopia in 1974 with the deposing of Emperor Haileselassie. Second, there is no standing rule which says an empire could not be democratized. An empire is simply a group of states or countries under a single supreme authority such as an emperor or empress. Therefore, nothing prohibits democratizing a group of states, but I don’t believe Ethiopia of today is an empire. Let’s not spend our time and energy struggling with what doesn’t exist and mislead our youth with flawed arguments. Ethiopia could be democratized. 

  1. The Way Forward

In the current world order, there is no absolute sovereignty because there are external interferences because of various reasons. We need to identify reasonable and acceptable independence and freedom and work for that. We need to identify potential powers in the country including the party and government in power and work towards the achievement and maintenance of mutual interests. These may include, but not limited to, development of Afan Oromo, improving lives of residents of Oromia, restoring and maintaining peace and security in Oromia, reduction of violence/ceasefire, etc. It would be good to work together to protect the society from going into chaos and to stop the suffering of our people and lawlessness in our country.

Editor’s note : Views in the article do not necessarily reflect the views of borkena.com

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2 COMMENTS

  1. The situation in the western part of Oromia in general and Wallagaa in particular can be called a forgotten death and destruction. It has been proven ground for the new deadly military toy, drones, since those weapons’ arrival in that country from Turkey, Iran and Beijing. Bigots have killed scores and displaced hundreds of thousands merely for their ethnicity. Being an Oromo is not a certificate to live in piece in that part of the country. Armed groups being led by bigots move in at night and round up those they think are collaborators with the regime and massacre them in the most barbaric ways. Then the regime forces return during the daylight hours to round up those especially the youth they think are members of sleeper cells of the bigoted gangs. For the people of that area is living like between a rock and a hard place. It is like damned you do, damned you don’t. Just photo copy that in certain parts of the Amhara region nowadays. Very sad indeed.

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