Handover the Battered Baby to the People!
Since the conquest of Oromo country by successive Abyssinian rulers started over a century ago, the Oromo people in general and countless visionary Oromos in particular have been paying heavy sacrifices for liberty and justice. The quest by the Oromo people for liberty has gone through several episodes, which is not news to any watchful international eyes let alone to the Oromo people. What is news now is the recent headline in a Norwegian newspaper titled “Disarmament in Ethiopia: With the help of Norwegians, the opposition movement of the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia said that it will disarm itself…”
Termed as the Conference on Conflict Resolution in the Horn of Africa and held from September 27, 2004, to October 1, 2004, it is reported to have been attended by what has been named “a consultation among Oromo elders, civic associations, professionals, leaders and international scholars”. It was sponsored by the Christian Michelsen Institute in Bergen, Norway, with the help of Norwegian Department of Foreign Affairs.
In his address to the participants of the conference, Dr. Christian Michelsen seems to be not well informed or naïve about the politics of Ethiopia. On the one hand, he indicates that “OPDO [Oromo People’s Democratic Organization] is in shambles” and “Meles is in deep trouble.” However, he fails to give the exact reasons why this is so. On the other hand, he indicates that “there must be ways to negotiate conditions of amnesty and of peace also with EPRDF [Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front].” One can’t help but ask if the struggles of the Oromo people in general and that of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) in particular are not the major factors that have weakened both OPDO and Meles, perhaps beyond any repair. Given this fact, which we hope Dr. Michelsen agrees with, why should an organization that has weakened its political enemy to such an extent enter, out of its own or third party initiative, into amnesty negotiation with the same political enemy? If negotiation is not initiated, he warns, Meles may cede Articles 39 and 40 to the urban Amhara elite. To hinge the Oromo people’s right on Article 39 gives no sense at all since this article serves better Tigray and Amhara regions than Oromia. Secession for the majority is not the logical prescription or demand. Ceding Article 40 will not have major impact that should urge the OLF to submit to Meles. In fact, Meles and his Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) should leave Oromia and the Oromo people alone. The philosophy of submitting to human master may be attuned to missionary teaching but it is not in Oromo culture. One can’t help wondering if Dr. Michelsen is bothered more about the OLF or about Meles.
His other reason is that guerrilla movement has no support any more. Perhaps, the participants should have well informed him that the OLF was formed to defend the Oromo people from Abyssinian system using every means it deems necessary. Such defense should not stop as long as the TPLF, which was set out to liberate Tigray, rules over Oromia. Whether or not to use guerrilla army or other necessary means should not be something to be prescribed to the Oromo people. There will be no escaping of justice by plundering the rights of the majority group, whether that is in Ethiopia or elsewhere. The presence or lack of guerrilla movement is neither a luxury nor a curse for people who are determined to defend themselves. Just recently, rulers have left their palaces in Haiti, Liberia and Iraq. People have gone beyond their borders and took pre-emptive measures. The Oromo people should not be denied the right to self-defense in their country even if that means self-defense through pre-emptive measures.
Yet another reason to convince the OLF to submit to Meles is so the OLF can help improve the lives of the Oromo people. In Ethiopian culture, even non-governmental self-help organizations such as Macha and Tulama that can improve the lives of the Oromo peasants has been disbanded three times in its history, one just this year. If he is concerned about the Oromo peasants and has power to wield on Meles, he should ask him to lift the banning of Macha and Tulama and the Oromo Relief Association. Economically, what can the OLF as a party in Meles’ government do for the Oromo peasants that these two organizations can’t do?
Somewhat equally interesting is the statement of the participants. In their “brilliant” political calculation, they have concluded that “The Oromo people have nothing to lose and all to gain in participating in a free and fair election.” It may have not occurred to them that the flip side of this political calculation is that if Meles' regime fulfills their wish of free and fair election, the TPLF has nothing to gain and everything to lose. If that was achievable from the regime of Meles Zenawi, why would the Oromo people prefer a second OPDO when the first one with thirteen years of experience is there but in shambles? If they think they can participate in the election process in the fashion of Oromo National Congress (ONC), how will what has not worked for ONC work for a brainchild of Dr. Marara Guddina? One would note that this party has been already there for over ten years now. Do the participants believe in the so called free election from Meles’ government when everyone knows that these elections haven’t been free at all? And there is no incentive for the TPLF to make it free from the promises of Norway’s Christian Michelsen Institute? Didn’t the TPLF step on with impunity Mr. Herman Cohen’s “no democracy, no aid” promise? If confusion begot the OLF leadership, it would be more honorable to do what Abba Biya Abba Jobir reportedly did: resign.
One positive side that may have come out of this conference is to set the tone of the struggle outside the usual political tone of the OLF, recognizing the fact that the Oromo people will gain by participating in Ethiopia’s politics. Indicating this fact, no doubt, has a purposeful vision. However, this is only the beginning and the details of how that can be achieved needs to be studied. One can draw an analogy between present-day Ethiopia with the former U.S.S.R. before its disintegration, not so much in terms of how the two countries were formed. Russia’s de facto independence came when all the other republics became independent. However, TPLF can be analogous to a Latvian hypothetical independence movement group that finally overtook Kremlin in Moscow. If Russia finds itself in that scenario, it makes no sense at all for Russia to demand self-determination from the Latvia group in Moscow. The logical step should be to remove that group from Kremlin through all means necessary and offer self-determination to Latvia if it so desires. In the same analogy, Oromia’s independence will come when and if Tigray, or the Amhara region for that matter, demands it and becomes independent from Finfinne. That will be after the power of the majority starts leading from Finfinne, issuing statements in the language of the majority.
The splinter group from the OLF has won in the moral court, but lost in the political analysis court. On the other hand, the de facto OLF leadership has won in the political analysis court but lost in the moral court. However, in terms of how to achieve what they won, there is a lot of homework that needs to be done. To begin with, any liberation front that started the front to liberate the people it sought to represent should not start any participation in Ethiopian politics before changing its name. The OLF should not go in the footsteps of the TPLF, a liberation front that was set out to liberate Tigray from Ethiopia but ruled Ethiopia without any shame for over a dozen years now. Such miscalculated political maneuvering doesn’t bode well with the Oromo people’s Safu, a highly developed culture with integrity. We have been ruled for so long partly because of the absence of greedy political maneuvering that is common among Abyssinian circles. So far, we have not won our freedom, but we are on our way for a bright future with far better record of political cleanliness and should not be tainted with Abyssinian style greedy and temporary personal power at the last minute. Such maneuvering will be good neither for the Oromo people nor other peoples in Ethiopia. Let us not forget the fact that TPLF’s maneuvering of the last 13 years does have legal implications to which it may have to answer in the future, if not now; at least in the history books. As one writer correctly observed, "Our mistakes do not disappear into thin air, they come back to haunt us."
Now turning back to the state of the Oromo people’s struggle, this development calls for important review of the steps taken in the history of organized struggle. The rebellion movements in Raya and Azebo and later Bale, the formation of Macha and Tulama and Haileselassie’s attempt to crush them all as they come led to a pan Oromo political movement that culminated in the formation of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) whose program may have been drafted by young radical, but inexperienced, university students.
That was a critical and determined step taken to bring back lost liberty to the Oromo people. However, the front doesn’t seem to have been without its weaknesses from the very beginning. It may have become escape house for some that sought refuge from the Derg as well as Meles cadres. In addition, certain elements of missionary school of thought may have hijacked the struggle at its baby age. These elements seem to have been possessed by their missionary school of thought that entered their soul at a young age and they don't seem to be able to cleanse themselves off this possession. They may have been in the struggle with divided mind, one part for freeing the people and the other part, perhaps a larger part, for carrying on the missionary’s work.
Perhaps, one of the worst confusions that befell the Oromo people is to be born in Oromo culture and be Christian or Islam. Just like the tobacco history that purposefully served for Medicine in Africa crossed over to Europe and came back as a risky product only with better aesthetic style, Oromo’s Waaqa tokkicha belief system may have gone through similar route. This belief system that may have crossed over to the Middle East to unify under one God their divided pre-Christian and pre-Islam societies has turned out to be risky enough to turn people into this world’s misfits who do all acts of murder perhaps believing, or may have been made to believe, that it is courage and a way to heaven. Religious scholars suggest that the achievements of these two religions are monotheism (equivalent of Waaqa tokkicha), peace and love. As far as the Oromos are concerned, the concept of polytheism is absent; there have never been gods and goddesses for the Oromo except Waaqa tokicha. In terms of peace, one would wonder if there is any better concept than the combination of Gada and Guma systems. One would also wonder if there is any stronger bond that brings people of different backgrounds together than the system of Guddifacha.
These elements in the OLF and their collaborators do not seem to show any humility in calling their missionary work Oromo Church. If they get their way, they might do everything in their power to frustrate the Oromo people to coerce them into mass acceptance of their missionary doctrine. But they must be told emphatically that they can’t break the spirit of the people which lived through out their history believing in Waaqayyo. They may blame the Oromo people for not accepting their missionary doctrine without question. But they should blame themselves for accepting it without question or those missionaries who came to their village and coerced them into it before they stopped feeding from their mother’s breasts.
After having hijacked the baby at its infancy, these elements went with the baby in the wrong direction for unblessed Hammachisaa in different houses that are unfamiliar to the culture and aspirations of the Oromo people. The first Hammachiisaa may have been in their missionary school of thought, which may not be over yet. They have also taken the baby for Hammachiisaa to the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF), an organization that may see the baby as a future threat to its interests. It may be because of such unblessed Hammachiisaa that the baby sometimes seems to speak languages of the EPLF’s school of thoughts, which include lump-sum hate, failure to differentiate between a political system and people, my way or no way, and so on, all of which are uncharacteristic of Oromo values. Interestingly, such subconscious school of thought has pushed some who may have their roots in Yemen to try to erect a permanent wall in the middle of the native people and tell these native people on the other side of the wall that they can’t take a single step toward the Red Sea coast.
Instead of soothing and nurturing the baby among the Oromo people to become a loveable baby with Cushitic heritage that outside people come to visit, these elements let the baby cry to international lip-service organizations through the unending appeal letters which these organizations may have been tired of by now. This baby has been battered enough by their misgivings and this latest news of another Hammachiisaa that calls for going back to the first step the OLF took and reverse that very step is a threat to the baby and an insult to the nation. And above all, it is another insult to the nation to hear the baby’s noise from far away distance before being told it has been heading that way. Shouldn’t the people be kept appraised of the baby’s whereabouts?
All these call for full investigation of what the Oromo people have been going through since 1992. In breaking the news of the Norway conference to one of Oromo internet discussion forums, one participant, seemingly an insider to Oromo politics, wrote: “Political observers say that this is one of the highest manifestations in the development of the conspiratorial political scenario which has been going on behind the closed doors since the 1992 Charter period.” Based on this revelation, we are forced to ask some important questions. Did the OLF have any hand in the formation of the OPDO? Was there a conspiratorial political scenario behind the 1992 encampment? Was the OLF leadership that stupid to have one of the finest resistance armies Oromos had built for a long time not able to escape from its camps, if not fight back? Was there any conspiracy behind crushing the local resistances that were formed after the 1992 fiasco, everywhere they were found? Is there a political conspiracy behind the recent assault on Macha and Tulama? Who was behind the attempted assassination of the leader of Waaqeffannaa religion? Why were Oromo students that were protesting peacefully against the removal of Oromia’s capital from Finfinne being exposed by SBO as fighting the TPLF/EPRDF government? Why were any dissenting voices quickly labeled as agents of the enemy even knowing full well that such voices had nothing to do with the enemy?
All genuine minds should ask of both groups of the OLF without confining the problem to the past three or four years. Some elements in the splinter group also attempt to cleanse themselves off all this fiasco. They should be put in the same camp and put under the same scrutiny. Whether these elements are free from all the activities starting in 1992 must be verified. Weren't these elements not part of the “Agenda for Peace” drafting process? Or is it because they are not steering the wheel of this agenda for peace that they have been making this careful but mild noise against the Asmara group? The Oromo people should not be the ground for their less than half intra-fighting show.
In the meantime, it is time for the OLF leadership to handover the battered but precious baby to the Oromo people who know how to bring up their baby. They know how to bring it up so that this baby may walk bold and tall amid the international community in Cush’s glory. The people have been walking ahead of the OLF leadership since 1991. They told the leadership not to encamp its armies but it did against the people’s demands and we all know now who was wrong. They told the mission school undergraduates about Oromo’s Waaqa tokkicha but these undergraduates are too busy to listen to them. Now the Oromo people need to tell them to have unity of purpose among all the Oromo organizations to fight dictatorial rule on both Meles’ terms and on the people's terms. For that, the Oromo people have three layers of forces: collaborators with Meles’ dictatorial rule, legal opposition and independent resistance movements to Meles’ dictatorial regime. That may be a divine set up for our people whose adept wisdoms have always been interpreted by visionless Abyssinian rulers and their scholars as inept qualities. Instead of driving a wedge between our forces for the sake of theoretical self-determination for the Oromo people, it is time to use this as an opportunity and do what is good for the people. The Oromo people will not and should not care if it is Chaala or Chaalchisaa who is in charge. In addition, sitting in foreign land and telling the Oromo people only what those in the Diaspora want is political ignorance and corruption. Such maneuvering to control the political process through remote control only stretches the time to do the job of a few years.