Charting Lasting Solutions Instead of Quick Fix Adventures

Many scholars are expressing their worries about the political situation in Ethiopia. Some are not surprised while others have been baffled by recent developments. However, many appear to agree on the unpredictability of the future of Ethiopia. The proposed solutions vary widely and include the EPRDF government constitution’s Article 39, the all party conference adventure that brought together all sorts of 15 political groups under the United Ethiopia Democratic Front (UEDF) umbrella, the self-determination demand by freedom movements, and abundant number of wishful dreams. A careful observation of these solutions, or the oppositions to them, may suggest that most of the proposals target quick fix adventures instead of long-term solutions. 

Interestingly enough, Article 39 appears to have stirred clash of egalitarian and dictatorial cultures of the south and the north, mainly of the Oromo and the Amhara peoples, respectively. Many Oromo political activists appear to accept the now famous Article 39 of the Ethiopian constitution, which is about the right of nations and nationalities up to and including succession. This is despite the fact that the Oromo people are the single majority nation in Ethiopia. On the other hand, many Amhara political activists vehemently oppose this article although such provision may arguably be a good safety factor for the Amhara people since they are one of the minority nations in the country. Perhaps, it emanates from a dictatorial culture and overconfidence that things will always work their way in Ethiopia at all times in the future. The opposite hypothesis suggests that unless it is a quick fix adventure, Amhara political activists should not be the devoted opponents of this article. 

The conference that brought together 15 different political groups is about to celebrate its first anniversary amid rows between its members and the first resignation of one of the coalition’s top officials, Dr. Admasu Gebeyehu. While some critical observers presumed such fallout coming from the beginning because of the nature of the mix, the general populace cheered the formation of the coalition in the hope of winning the 2005 election without carefully evaluating the questions of how to get there and how to go from there.  

The wishful dreams are generally sharply critical of certain dictators and prescribe various sorts of solutions. Such analyses overpass the system that put these dictators in place in the first place. We have witnessed dictatorship in various forms. Mengistu and Meles are the classic examples. It may be time now to seek the system that works instead of blaming oneself and almost about everyone else for not helping enough to level out dictatorship. Whether the issue is to solve a problem between nations or within nations, dictatorship only spoils it. The row between Ethiopia and federal state Eritrea was blown out of proportion because of Haile-Sellassie’s treacherous political maneuvering and Derg’s mishandling of what it inherited. It has led to the serious political fight between Ethiopia and Eritrea over Assab. Because of TPLF’s government led by Meles Zenawi, the relationship between the Oromo and Tigre peoples have gone from almost neutral, at least in recent times, to a serious crisis. Nothing is politically more disgusting than watch Meles Zenawi’s mouth spit the word “Tebaboch”, a senseless term which literally means “the narrows”, as he did in his recent interview with a reporter for the Ethiopian Television in reference to Oromos. One is left with the lack of proper vocabulary to logically translate the term Tebaboch into English as it is not easy to associate human consciousness with such shallow terms. It was routinely used by Mengistu and his cadres against the freedom movements, including the TPLF whose chairman is Meles himself. The freedom movements deposed Mengistu amid his continuous and constant hurling of this term at them. 

The political wrangling has left every people in Ethiopia with eroded national pride. There may be no international organization desk that volumes of appeal letters from different directions reached regarding Ethiopia’s problems. We have become crying children with insignificant determination to make a difference out of our own deeply rooted initiative and vision. 

Whether the peoples in Ethiopia are going to live together under the same roof or under different roofs in the same neighborhood, there should be an orderly process to get there. Dictators have and will spoil an otherwise easier process. It doesn’t matter whether it is Mengistu or Meles or may be Merara (some stories have it that African leaders often have names that start with the letter M), the cost of dictatorship has been proven to be heavy. Leaders whose narrow focus is only reaching the top of the power hierarchy, not coming down, misuse their own followers and should be weeded out right at the source by creating a working system. Instead of belaboring to find quick fixes for Ethiopia’s chronic problem, all parties involved should seek to establish a system that brings a lasting solution to all the peoples. Other nations of good will could consider supporting such efforts to save themselves costly policing attempt here and there around the world. 

The Oromo Gada system is being cultivated by the Oromo people and other peoples may also find it useful to learn from such a political mechanism that rules out dictatorship. In Oromo culture, it is a shame to sit on the people’s stage without having been elected by the people or by their elected representatives. The people ought to be empowered and coach their leaders that they are there to implement what the people have assigned them to do, not driving the people in the direction they have never charted. 

For the Oromo people, cultivation of the Gada system is part of their rising from a century of oppression. Its timing is coincident with the world heading towards Gada way by preaching freedom and democracy from every direction. These values are no longer practiced in isolated spots around the world. The coincidence gives a unique opportunity for Gada to flourish. The other home grown Oromo values of Guma and Guddifacha are also reviving. All the three are values to be treasured. The philosophy of Guma is engaging the American people in terms of whether capital punishment is the best form of serving justice or not. The philosophy of Guddifacha embodies love, not hate, and is bringing together American families and Russian and Chinese children. These three Oromo values are perhaps flickers of old civilization that have not died completely. Despite the winds of withering it out for over a hundred years, it is still striving and deepening its roots to rise again and flourish throughout Oromo land. It survived the wind of the Middle East tradition’s blowing up to the horn of Africa. Oromo tradition may soon be blowing down to the valley. Abyssinian autocrats have sat over this truly African civilization for over a century and western support for them has unfortunately contributed its share in depriving such civilization its place. While Abyssinians still give leap service to freedom and democracy, western countries now seem to have discovered its significance in regions beyond their borders. In his recent lengthy press conference with reporters, President Bush talked about spreading freedom around the world with a tone of what some observers noted as almost spreading gospel. In the case of Oromia, it doesn’t need spreading. It has been striving for centuries and currently actively pursued by Oromo scholars. It needs only support of minimal cost, which should include measuring their relationship with dictators such as Meles Zenawi. 

For the Oromo political groups and people, it may now be the time to start practicing Gada at a national level.  This will certainly help avoid the making and shaking of the future of the nation by the wishes of one man in the likes of Abyssinian dictators or a certain group, which is a risky business and meaningless freedom movement. In deed, failing to avoid such meaningless “freedom” would be stupid of the Oromo people for two reasons. First, the Oromo people have seen so many African countries that fought for freedom and still lack the liberation they fought for dearly. Oromos should learn from such experience and avoid falling in the same trap. Second, Oromo political groups have the luxury of picking and using a home grown system which worked in the past for the Oromo people. Gada system has proved itself to be the kind of tool governing the “civilized” world and both the Oromo people and their political groups should not shy away from using it. It is a political machinery no dictator can operate. This could be one of the tributes that can be paid to Oromos who sacrificed what they could. In addition, it is an opportunity to become one of flashpoints in Africa in terms of practicing a home grown system. This can be done while engaging in the freedom movement and Oromos won’t have to enter another struggle of democratization after achieving freedom, like other African countries. The road after freedom should be a smooth one. 

Below is a nine point suggestion about the ways to start reviving the Gada system. This is based on discussions by a few Oromo scholars. We hope the readers will find this helpful. Two Oromo terms have been used in these suggestions. It is often hard to translate words of high cultural value from one language to another without risking the loss of the exact meaning of the original words. With this caveat and for better understanding for the readers, we translate safu and yuba to closely mean “sacred value” and “a retired leadership member”. 

1) Gada Day and month shall be nationally recognized and celebrated every year as Oromia’s national holiday.

2) On Gada Day every eight years, an Oromo political organization shall make power transfer from one group of leadership to the next group of leadership.

3) Any Oromo political organization that fails to adhere to the Gada prescription and proscription shall be cursed and outlawed as having failed to follow Safu Gada and hence Oromo tradition.

4) An Oromo shall not involve in or follow any Oromo political organization that fails to follow Safu Gada.

5) An Oromo shall honor a national call to service according to his or her ability.

6) No Oromo community shall allow any outlawed Oromo political organization to use its stage or resources.

7) No Oromo mass media shall allow any outlawed Oromo political organization to use its forum for its political goal.

8) No Oromo political group shall assume political power without Gada rituals.

9) Yuba members shall be entitled to pension or remuneration according to the capability of their political organization.