Oromia’s Independence: Has the Time Come? Under Whose Watch?
On May 9, 2005, Voice Finfinne under the title of “Fortifying Oromia’s Political Landscape as the Old Guard Gets Foothold in Menelik’s Garrison Towns” suggested that if the main opposition group in Ethiopia, the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD), came to power and attempted to redraw the federal map that is based on the identity of the people of the state, the current state of Oromia should consider invoking Article 39 of the current Ethiopian Constitution.
That call was made because the CUD was claiming that it won the elections and was making preparations to form the next government, or that was at least what its spokesperson once told the world. Voice Finfinne’s call may not have been necessarily bad in view of CUD’s clear attempt to challenge the integrality of the State of Oromia, as well as other regional states. Oromo’s are not CUD’s constituents unless this party’s leaders are foolish enough to deceive themselves and others into believing otherwise. In fact, CUD’s spelled out plan has made it a political party worse than the TPLF as far as the group right of the Oromo people is concerned. No sooner had Oromo politicians made careful observations about CUD’s stated goal than they shifted their focus from the TPLF to the CUD. CUD had been making all political machinations to overtake the central government power although it was clear that there was no powerful enough political force in Oromia that took part in the elections with Oromo interest as its top priority.
As it stands now, the TPLF/EPRDF is reported to have won the majority of the parliament seats. However, that is not without some panicking in the aftermath of the elections. Meles’ first action was to ban any demonstration in Finfinne for one full month, which was later extended by another month. Yet, it appears that the CUD had called for demonstrations after which the TPLF/EPRDF government is reported to have shot dead over 40 people, including one parliament elect from Arsi Negelle constituency of Oromia.
The trauma of the killings was grabbed by the CUD, and then shamefully posted on the internet and found its way into many homes around the world to traumatize decent human beings at the sight of blood-soaked and bullet-riddled human corpse. After so much aggressive campaigning and sacrifice, the CUD would not be a decisive political force during the next five years of politicking in Ethiopia. It could well be a significant opposition party to reckon with, even though it has pushed itself to the surface bold and tall to be put in focus by almost every other political group in the country because of its stated stand. It has volunteered to carry a heavy load in reversing the current federal structure that only time will tell whether this load may break its back or not.
The competitions between the TPLF/EPRDF and the CUD seems to have caused a head-on collision between these two parties, one in its quest for power and the other in its quest to remain in power. To add to its loss of a very significant number of parliament seats through the elections, including the seats of several of its executive members, the killings eroded the credibility of the ruling party as well as that of the Prime Minster, Meles Zenawi's. In what appears to be a consequence of the killings that took place at the demonstrations, the Africa Commission of which Meles Zenawi was a member, has been dissolved. The United Kingdom suspended a previously pledged financial support to Ethiopia.
Although the oppositions alleged widespread vote fraud, the TPLF/EPRDF party also counted its version of elections fraud and went into the rerun competition and came out the winner in the reruns as well. What is most striking may be the fact that the results of the reruns appear to have shifted the number of opposition parliamentarians below the one-third critical mark, although it had been reported by the National Elections Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) that the number stood above that mark before the reruns, according to uncertified results. This mark is critical in the decisions to be passed by the next legislature of Ethiopia. This boils down to the TPLF/EPRDF’s exclusive right to pass decisions as it wishes for the next five years. What the reruns effectively put on the ground is the shifting of the results around this critical mark.
In its recently released document titled “preliminary statement on the elections’ appeals process, the rerun of elections and the Somali region elections”, the European Union Election Observer Mission’s (EU-EOM) made criticisms about the elections to the extent that led Meles Zenawi to write his first personal public letter that may be long enough to be included in the World’s Book of Records as the longest letter. Apparently, there is a slowdown or some sort of disagreement in the ranks of the TPLF/EPRDF that he couldn’t wait for an official response of his party.
In fact, in his own admission, he has broken his party’s tradition by sending for publication a letter bearing his name for the first time in his entire political life. In addition, in his own admission, he had never felt before the urge to publish anything in his name, and that is because under normal circumstances, he would have “nothing interesting and/or different to say” vis-à-vis his party line. These all amount to a bold move as well as admission on the part of Meles Zenawi.
One can contemplate of at least a minimum level of panicking in the camp of the TPLF/EPRDF as well as the possibility of a point of departure between Meles Zenawi and his close circles on the one hand and his party on the other hand. Under such circumstances, those of us from outside are left at the mercy of contemplating the possible future political strategies of the ruling TPLF/EPRDF party on the one side and Meles Zenawi on the other side. His letter clearly suggests that he could potentially depart from that of his party line in matters that concern either the government or the ruling party.
When it comes to its relations with the oppositions, what the future holds for the TPLF/EPRDF is either a further confrontation or smooth working relationships with the opposition parties. The rhetoric in the air suggests that even though the oppositions have called for the formation of unity government, even after the alleged vote fraud, the ruling party doesn’t seem quite ready to work with them. It is reported to have rejected the call by the oppositions to form a unity government. On the other hand, the UEDF has called for a nationwide demonstration to take place next month. The international community doesn’t seem to dislike the idea of forming a unity government. In fact, the US is reported to be supporting the idea, which must be welcome for any genuine and democratic political discourse.
The current political atmosphere in Ethiopia makes it appear that Ethiopia’s politics is headed in uncertain direction. And this uncertainty is what prompted this analysis.
Now that the oppositions are no longer in a position to claim the majority of the parliament seats to form the next government, CUD’s stated stand to dissolve the current federal structure is no longer a threat to the group rights of nations and nationalities in Ethiopia as far as the current federal arrangement is concerned. The door for CUD’s coming to power through legal means has been closed by the TPLF/EPRDF, and it may not be in its interest to follow the illegal means since that will threaten its very existence. It may just have to prepare itself to be the subject of the next five years intensive discussions.
Oromo political organizations and activists may be at a crucial point of stocktaking the opportunities and challenges they are facing.
What could be worthwhile to know if it were possible to predict would be how Meles Zenawi and his TPLF party on the one hand and the OPDO on the other hand may be preparing themselves for various possible eventualities. It is not clear how seriously the OPDO may have taken Voice Finfinne’s recent call to invoke Article 39, in case the CUD came to power.
Just in case the OPDO may have thought to consider invoking Article 39 for the state of Oromia, one might ask how Oromia’s independence would be possible given the current federal structure of Ethiopia. Voice Finfinne’s call for invoking Article 39 was conditional with trade-off between CUD’s potential decision, if it overtook the government, to dissolve the current federal structure and the State of Oromia’s right to become independent.
In practical sense, Oromia’s independence becomes possible if and when the other states secede from the central government in Finfinne, which is controlled by the TPLF. Oromia’s independence may not be possible until, for instance, Tigray declares its independence or negotiates to join Eritrea to become a bigger country. There are other states that will have to determine their future, whether that is association with some states or whether it is independence. Of course, this is a mere exercise of what if scenarios that may not be over the horizon at all. Yet, we are left at the mercy of contemplating what the future holds for East Africa that we should take the liberty to analyze all possible eventualities, even if the possibility is unlikely or we think that it is unlikely.
That is because, no one knows with certainty about what may be in Meles’ mind at this point in time after loosing a few old right hand friends who lost their seats in the recent legislative elections, as well as friendship in the European Union and the United States. In addition, his image has been damaged so much that his top post political life in Ethiopia might end in five years, provided that he manages to retain it in the next government. In fact, in an interview with the CNN, suggests that what he is in now is a continuation of his guerrilla fighter days and he doesn't expect to be in his position for much longer. Therefore, might it be possible that some adventurous thoughts would cross his mind for us to analyze the possible scenarios?
For example, what if the thought to be the next Mikhail Gorbachev of Ethiopia crosses his mind? What if his Tigrayan friends’ allegation that he is an Eritrean agent in Ethiopia turns out to be true? What if he has been filled up with the rhetoric of the CUD and its supporters to the extent that it reminded him of his days in the jungle and all of a sudden he felt that he has found in the city life the “enemies” he fought in the jungle for seventeen years? What if he realized that his rule has done damage to the Oromo people as well as other peoples and the only way he can salvage his image is by befriending the OLF, the political organization he told the world a while ago that it no longer exists? What if he remembered Isaias’ mentoring, whom Meles is reported to have praised as a better partner in talk than reading ten books, and wanted to listen to him again? In fact, to the critical observer, the speed with which Siye Abraha, the former defense minister and his rival, was put in detention in the aftermath of the Ethiopian-Eritrean war of five years ago, doesn’t seem to put Meles Zenawi as more friendly to Siye than he is to Isaias. What if the street talk of the early 1990’s that the Tigres (they live both in Eritrea and Tigray) are the Israeli of Africa and he wanted to surprise the world by aiming to write a book called Fourteen Years of Deceptions as the Israeli surprised the world with their Six Day War? That would be one of the best selling books, which may be more adventurous for him than contemplating about another five year premiership position in Ethiopia. After all, how much do we know about his propensity for adventure? We know of nothing that would tell us that he is free from it. We would also be left with void in his farsightedness when he refuses to accept the call for unity government.
We will probably never know the exact answers to these speculative questions or some of them. However, what becomes of greater importance is if the idea to be Ethiopia’s Mikhail Gorbachev becomes important to him. That would make us ask if the time has come for Oromia’s independence? And under whose watch? That is both in terms of time as well as oversight.
In its true sense, Meles Zenawi for Ethiopia is not the same as Mikhail Gorbachev of the former USSR. Gorbachev is from the Russian Federation, the biggest state of the former USSR from which other states seceded. The former Soviet Socialist Republics were centered on Russia. Today, the federal states of Ethiopia are centered on Oromia, with the federal government base in Finfinne, Oromia’s as well as Ethiopia’s capital. Therefore, for any eventualities for Ethiopia in a similar fashion to that of the former USSR, a critical analysis of the similarities and differences should come first.
The simple similarity is that both are made up of states with peoples who identify themselves as different. The ways the two were formed are also different. However, what should interest us here is not the way they were formed, but the similarities and differences between their eventualities. The difference between Meles and Gorbachev is that Meles is from Tigray, a state that can be likened to Lithuania of the former USSR. He has been the leader for a long time of the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF) which started its struggle to liberate Tigray from Ethiopia, and still bears the name as Meles leads Ethiopia. That can be likened to a leader of the Lithuania People liberation front governing the USSR out of Moscow.
If Oromia wishes to seek independence at this time, it will be under the watch of Meles Zenawi. What makes it even more interesting is the fact that the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), the main Oromo political organization that is holding the banner of Oromo liberation, has its headquarters in Asmara, the Eritrean capital. Eritrea was part of Ethiopia and became independent in 1993 after nearly thirty years of armed struggle. In the context of the former USSR, Eritrea may be likened to Estonia in its quest for independence and becoming independent.
To the extent that Ethiopia’s federal government is centered on Oromia is similar to the former USSR government centered on Russia, the current political situation in Ethiopia and Eritrea look like the following scenario in some respects. Estonia, which may be likened to Eritrea, has become independent, the main political organization working for the independence of Russia is housed in Estonia and a Lithuanian liberation front leader ruling the former USSR less Estonia is ruling out of Moscow through its satellite organizations for all the rest of the republics. This Lithuanian liberation front leader is alleged by his former colleagues in the Lithuanian liberation front as Estonian agent.
In fact, he has endorsed the independence of Estonia, put the commander of his army in jail after this commander led a war against Estonia, and his mother is reported to have voted for Estonia’s independence. Estonia has allowed a Russian Liberation Front to operate out of Estonia’s capital for the last seven years, and its operatives are now chattering to send to Moscow the Russian Liberation Front that Estonia has been feeding for seven years, although it is not clear whether Estonia is sending the Russian Liberation Front to dissolve the USSR under the watch of the Lithuanian liberation front leader or whether it is being sent to stabilize the USSR that has entered a shaky state.
What we know for sure now is that a leading Russian singer, who has been singing nationalistic songs in Russian for the last thirty years, who once declined to take an award he won for his songs from the hand of a USSR diplomat because of the Lithuanian liberation front’s brutality on the Russian people, is already in Russia. This is by all measure the leading Russian singer whose song album released in the west in the early 1990’s would be sent to Estonia for censorship before it was sent for sale in Russia.
This might be too much speculation or too little information about what may be over the horizon. However, what is at stake may be more serious than has been previously thought that we take the liberty to take time to analyze the repercussions of what will be possible to unfold, even though it may be unlikely, and we hope Meles Zenawi will prove us wrong.
Therefore, for the sake of argument, let us complete the analysis by looking at the political implications of this unlikely scenario. If Estonia and Lithuania have carefully designed this scenario and succeed in executing it, it would be one of the most dramatic chapters in the history of the world politics. In fact, not only will it be a dramatic chapter in the history of the world, it will have the potential to change the future history of the world as well since by many accounts, world’s known history itself starts in that part of the world. We do not know if some elements in the EPLF and TPLF may have designed this just to prove to the world what they are not. Of course, the side for whom the shameful history will be written for, if this assumed plan is likely, will be the Oromo people.
In this sense, it may not be what Estonia and Lithuania have managed to plan for or against Russia that will change the history of the world, it is what the Russians and the Russian political activists choose to do for themselves by themselves.
In the context of Tigray versus Lithuania and Oromia versus Russia analogy, however remote it may sound, Meles has been likened to Lithuanian liberation front leader whom fate and western support would install in the Kremlin. Therefore, for Oromia’s independence under the watch of Meles Zenawi, one can imagine a Lithuanian liberation front leader overseeing the independence of Russia.
That is why one would ask under whose watch? That is the oversight part only, not the timing. If Oromia wishes to be independent, a UN body must oversee it or Meles must first give way to an Oromo government in Finfinne, which may mean that Oromia’s independence becomes less relevant than independence for the other states.
The other question of under whose watch concerns the timing. With a genuine Oromo government of Oromia in Finfinne, and with Oromia’s equivalent share of political power in the federal government, the Oromo language will have the means to be the official language or one of the official languages in Ethiopia. Making Oromo language an official language in Finfinne makes sense because Finfinne where Amharic is used as the official language is an island in the ocean of Oromo people who speak their language, not Amharic. That will probably shift the dynamics of politics in Ethiopia from independence to meaningful and just union, which should not be a disadvantage to Oromia by any imagination. However, it may well mean that there will be a new alliance between the Oromo and the Amharic speaking Oromos, and that will have a far reaching implication for Eritrea. Eritrea will simply be less relevant in regional politics, and the political union of the two major nations in present day Ethiopia will have a different future for the region's as well as international politics. It appears that the EPLF has managed to portray the difference between the Oromo people and the Amharic speaking Oromos irreconcilable and some power driven Oromo political activists are fanning this ideology to Oromo political rookies who do not have deeper idea as to where major political decisions might lead the region into.
Interestingly, most other states do not seem to be ready or capable to form their own independent countries. What appears to be the driver for some of the Russian political activists to push for independence is their fear of the comeback of the Ukrainians who have been ruling the USSR out of Moscow, which led to the formation of the Russian, Estonian, Lithuanian, and other republics liberation fronts. Although not quiet right, the reality on the ground seems to suggest that kind of analogy is not far from reality.
So what it boils down to is, that the Estonians became independent, the Lithuanians managed and were supported by other parties to overtake the Kremlin, and now some Russian activists may like to work to become independent from the Ukrainians under the watch of the Lithuanians. The old wound the Ukrainians have caused to the Russians may have politically blinded the Russians that they may choose to become independent from the Ukrainians, who are no longer in the Kremlin, under the watch of Lithuanians and the push of Estonians. The Ukrainians recent attempt to overtake the Kremlin at the expense of the Russians is no disincentive for these Russian activists to push for independence and the encouragement from the Estonians. In fact, the Estonians have managed to present the Ukrainians as wild cats that some Russian activists have convinced themselves that it will not be possible to make any political arrangement with the Ukrainians short of independence.
If Estonians and Lithuanians have managed to point a gun at killing the USSR, the shortsighted political maneuvering of the Ukrainians to come to power in Moscow may have pulled the trigger.
What is more, the Russian political activists have been absent from Moscow for a long time now that they may not even fully understand the dimensions of Russia, and no one knows if independence for Russia now amounts to amputating it at the head and at the toe, and no one knows if the bleeding after the amputation continues for a while, and we are not sure if there is a backup plan for it.
What is almost certain is that a condition has been created for the Russians to consider either one of two paths: pursuing independence for Russia or removing the Lithuanian liberation front leader from Moscow while keeping at bay the unilateral march of the Ukrainians to the Kremlin to rule the Russians once more. This is a test of history, a test of how farsighted the Russian political activists are, and a test of how their maturity measures up to the maturity of international political standards. In fact, it is bound to show how much the political activists in that region have grown up.
Admittedly, this analysis may have gone on adventurous course, and Meles may not be that adventurous. After all, we have been told that he is an intelligent leader, and who are we to question his intelligence even if it has surpassed the intelligence of his supporters. He wouldn’t be that subconscious to understand that the implications of what has been discussed, in case of remote possibility, will have implications for local, regional as well as international politics. We would think, although we shouldn’t be forced to, that he will choose to side with history’s better course.
Yet, we couldn’t explain the simple fact that he has been leading Ethiopia for the last fourteen years under the shield of organizations created from prisoners of war, his ethnic group represents less than two digit percentage of the various peoples living in Ethiopia, the oppositions made a major headway in the recent elections, and although many quarters call for a unity government, he is reported to have refused to accept it. His intelligence is so much that we are unable to explain it. What can explain his intelligence in this situation may be if he has been doing this to orchestrate what may be in Eritrea’s interest. Eritrea already seems to be on international diplomatic offensive through a recently published book by Michele Wrong, based on a wrong premise.
If what Meles may be interested in is done with the assumption that it will benefit Eritrea, in reality regional political instability becomes Eritrea’s problem as well. The future political directions of the region will definitely shape the future of international politics. If Meles has been playing deceptive politics for the last 14 years, it may amount to international crime that may warrant Interpol’s attention. After all, he has the blood of many people on his hands. Just recently, he may have overseen the shooting of over 40 peaceful demonstrators.
In Voice Finfinne’s view, Oromo political organizations as well as the Oromo people need to focus on their lion’s share of how to solve the regional political problem during the next five years. As it stands now, Oromo political forces appear to have an excellent edge over any other political group in Ethiopia. One way or the other, Oromia needs to be put under meaningful Oromo leadership and that should give it an Oromo influenced leadership in Ethiopia in five year time. We are at the door of Kushitic Renaissance that is going to shine out of Finfinne, and that will be the beginning of meaningful stability in the region. Independence under the watch of Meles Zenawi at this time may be nothing less than destabilization of the region in which the Oromo people may be the worst losers because being the majority doesn’t only have its merits for opportunities, but also has its demerits when faced with challenges. As far as we know, Meles has not told us that he is an Oromo from Raya, and whatever interest he may have as a positive gesture to Oromos may not be driven primarily by the wish of the Oromo people when compared to other interests. If he is calling on Oromos for rescue, the rescue mission sent his way should be based on negotiations. That negotiation should include his resignation and exiting Oromia.
If one were to offer advice to Oromo political groups as well as the Oromo people, the modus operandi for the next five years might be such as this: make regional stability a top priority, fight off chauvinists or what have remained of them in cooperation with other peoples, teach the TPLF Oromo wisdom, start dialogue with the Amharic speaking Oromos, and work with the EPLF to bring about regional political and economic cooperation for political stability to reign in the region.