By Mirgissa Kaba @MirgissaK &
Girma Gutema @Abbaacabsa
Various interest groups who tend to see political developments in Ethiopia in as balanced way as possible may read Dr. Yonas Biru’s writing entitled “Averting Civil War in Ethiopia: An emergency Manifesto” with utmost attention. Every single writing has its own purpose and more importantly, putting ideas in a recorded form would contribute to future historical accounts. No matter how rightly or wrongly such writings are framed, history could benefit, among others, from such an account. Nowhere else could one see distortion of history easily transformed into ‘an authoritative history’ for future reference than in Ethiopia. Some commentators including Bahiru Zewdie, a well-known professor of history at Addis Abeba University, argued that such distortions of history in Ethiopia often happen due to obsession with history itself.
In our view, the Oromo as well as all nations and nationalities that have suffered under the subjugation of the Amhara political elites in Ethiopia often do not give much attention to such hostile rhetoric as well as intentionally corrupted writings. This might have to do with the complete disagreement with the point of view and hence shunning it off or perhaps because they do not have traditions of engaging in such hollow debates. For the Oromo elite in particular, engagement in such debate was considered a luxury early on, and to date such engagement is believed to be counterproductive at different levels.
Yet, for us, we wanted to engage in this discourse that Dr. Yonas Biru and his associates appear to formulate yet another nascent narrative and wanted to keep it as a reference to the future history. In our writing, we only intend to focus on the points made and use some evidences to debunk their nascent narrative. The purpose of this piece of writing is therefore to show the flaws and false claims of their nascent narrative intended to be constructed and also to open up for genuine and scholarly debates with constructive purposes.
Key thesis and anti-thesis of the points in the manifesto
From the Ethiopian history, we know individuals who are within the government system or associates have been actively shaping the politics and policies. We do not have to go spending much space to convince each other on this. The political manifesto of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP) and the governance modality of EPRP comes from individuals who named themselves as “ultimate power” – yebelay akal. People in both have come from the same political generation and effort to shape and influence policies and presenting manifesto is nothing than keeping that same tradition in the twenty first century. The struggle in Ethiopia, as it stands now is everyone should have equal voice to chart the future of the country. Yet, individuals and their narrow groupings like that of Dr Yonas Biru still appear to influence the process through their writing, advocacy and twisting their alike in foreign government system.
Nevertheless, we appreciate the efforts made by Dr. Yonas Biru and his collaborators in writing such “an emergency manifesto” of their own. Dr. Yonas claims to have collected ‘inputs from many prominent individuals and groups in Ethiopia and abroad and conducted preliminary survey in which 556 participants took part’. This could perhaps be great research although from basic research principle one could still flag red if this is really representative from positivist instance and maximum variation is considered from constructionist stance. Thus, this manifesto, in our view, is essentially an opinion of individuals or at best people in the same circle who may have their own dream which has nothing to do with what the general public believe it should rather be.
Oromummaa and the Oromia Prosperity Party
The effort made to convince readers and listeners on the wrong link between “Oromummaa and Oromia-PP” clearly is an amateurish act if not an awkward one. There are two important points that the writer appears to have missed, perhaps intentionally. These are the foundational concept of Oromummaa and the relationship between Oromia-PP and the Oromo public at large, in which cases the writer intentionally flawed these facts.
Oromummaa is a fundamental concept among the Oromo. The Oromo that occupies a vast land mass and speaks Afaan Oromoo is tied up by its identity of being Oromo/Oromoness and thus Oromummaa. The early leaders of the Oromo liberation struggle have paid their ultimate life to protect their Oromummaa.
Every April 15, on Oromo Martyrs Day, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and the Oromo nation honor the bravery of those who sacrificed their lives on the line of duty, fighting for the freedom and liberation of Oromia. Mid 1978-1979 was the time when survival of the Oromo national liberation struggle, led by the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), was under a severe threat of extinction due to the immense threat from the Dergue. However, in 1980’s the units in the different zones regrouped and intensified their resistance. Same time a ten-member high-ranking military and political delegates travelled to Somalia to meet with political leaders there. Unfortunately, these leaders were captured by Somali bandits in Shinniga desert (in Ogaden). The bandits not only abused and severely tortured the captives but also tried to divide the group into Muslims and Christians. The Oromo leaders then chose to stay together as an Oromo undivided by religion and face any bitter consequences. All of them were executed together and their bodies thrown into a single grave. So, we as an Oromo cherish this and celebrate it April 15 as the day of the Martyrs. In fact, had there been a rational system, they deserved a statue and could serve as references for teaching. The Oromo public cherish Oromummaa so much to date not only because of the martyrs but we all share common belief as the martyrs.
Although the writer argues “Oromummaa is in equal measure part cult and part political dogma. Its adherents uphold it above religion and family”, this argument even from an ethic perspective lacks a simple professional reflexivity vis-à-vis the foundation of it. In as far as the Oromo is concerned the fundamental question remains: Did we achieve as much laying the foundations and developing it to the extent where it could also serve as a model for others? No, we are too far yet.
Understandably the Oromia-PP as mentioned in the manifesto is blamed for promoting this. The blame as presented is again based on false narrative. For us, had Oromia-PP promoted it, Oromummaa could have been for the best interest of the country. The model could be used to build the bigger picture for the country. Nonetheless, in our view much of what they do remains on paper or perhaps in speeches as presented by the author where “The Prosperity Party is built in such a way to advance the interest of Oromo” …… “spending billions erecting Oromummaa markers in Addis Ababa”. We don’t see any problem with this speech for this could, as stated above, serve much bigger purpose had this been translated into action.
The writer tried to color Oromia-PP is in hands and glove with the Oromo public. As we all know and from recorded evidences, the Oromo has suffered much under the ‘Ethiopian empire’. We opted to use the concept empire here because a) we all now recognize the military march by Menilik to the south and enslavement of the people on their own property b) the policies and rules levied were to protect the rights of the rulers neglecting the indigenous people 3) the indigenous ones were denied right to participation and more. So, yes, the empire has subjugated the Oromo. In view of this the Oromo has been fighting for its freedom, justice and equality all along and consequently suffered immensely. Recent history itself shows that Afaan Oromoo was a ‘prison language’ to show the incarceration of the Oromo which has continued to date. We do see imprisonment of journalists, activists, political party leaders and members who are released after a while. Unfortunately, thousands of Oromo activists, journalists and political leaders are still behind bars in Oromia while others are publicly executed. The ongoing struggle for freedom, justice and equality has continued and will never stop since it has been there for generations as the demands are not addressed yet.
Thus, the intention of the writer to bring in a newly thatched up narrative that the ruling party at best sympathizes for the Oromo values and works more in developing the Oromo system is completely unfounded. Still, the system of the state put in place since Menelik’s time is at work and that is certainly the challenge for the country today. In fact, the writer himself argues that the shear number of Oromo youths who were killed and imprisoned during the reign of the current regime far exceeds the sum total of all the preceding ones in Ethiopia.
Oromo relations with other nations and nationalities
The writer went too far to justify how neighbors to the Oromo have suffered in the hands of the Oromo. We understand that there are units who are working with the divisive mentality of the Amhara elites in every part of the country. Such units orchestrate events that bring people who live together peacefully into conflict. Now, what are presented by the author in our view are simple allegation of dramatized act by themselves. The Oromo lived peacefully and has never enticed any wrong to any peoples whom they live with as neighbors. Even when conflicts in boarder areas happen, they established joint mechanisms to resolve such localized conflicts. This could be amenable for further study.
What has Oromo offered to the country and perhaps to the world?
The Oromo has long been known and this is also well documented for its authentic contributions. We wanted to dwell just on the two that the writer mentioned: Gadaa and Moggaasaa.
Gadaa is governance system of the Oromo that has survived the subjugation and annihilation for 600 years despite brutal crackdown under the different state of this country. Gadaa not only is governance system but also shapes and guides the economic, social and religious activities of the community. Efforts to revive it in recent years encountered major problem due to the yet negative positions of this by the political leaders in the country including Oromo who are operating within institutions established by the reactionary Ethiopianism ideology–the ideology that aims to maintain the empire state intact. The writer referred to Gadaa as, “– a 16th century traditional Oromo governance system”. Ethiopia unfortunately do not have anything of its own that it could proudly claim to have as relevant to the world, except the monuments in the rocky lands of the habasha Old Testament Biblical belt. The good ones coming from the South including Oromia are shunned down as indigenous etc. Again, this is the perspective upheld for long and maintained to date. For the Oromo, Gada system needs to be developed in line with the twenty first century features and should be celebrated and thought at large given those who maintain the reductionist view lift their hands off. Similarly, Moggaasaa mentioned in the manifesto is related to adoption system of the Oromo known as Guddifachaa where natal family and family that wants to adopt a child go through a ritual to blend the adoptive child into the family. This is the most important adoptive process the Gada system protects and cherishes. In fact, among the Oromo, war captives are taken for Gudifachaa and are named after a group and/or family line Moggaasaa. While this is broadly recognized, the writer again attempted to despise this globally cherished institutional mechanism of families to accommodate “others” that the Oromo has contributed to the country. If no due recognition for this, at least avoiding to campaign against it as an outsider to the Oromo system would have been appropriate.
TPLF and Pretoria agreement
One major problem in Ethiopia is the spiritual breeds of Menelik remain to consider themselves as political players behind the curtain. They want to remain to influence the countries political trajectory. Of course, they have been and still trying to cling to that. However, in our view political civility is sin qua none to development of any country. We don’t understand the role those in Diaspora and not active in politics could play in agreements between political parties in the country. Leave politics to those who are in the field, meaning politicians. The question is what happens then and protest could be staged again in a civilized and peaceful way? For us, we did not believe in violence in the first place and we welcome peaceful deals for we are against life loss in connection to violent conflicts.
Call to the international community
Unfortunately, Dr. Yonas and his associates always tend to maintain their comfort zone. We have seen evidences when they rush to work with government when they feel it works for them at the cost of others. The writers of this piece are here arguing from the perspective of the interests of the general public. It doesn’t however mean we don’t have anywhere to go but we believe we can make a difference here sticking to our professional domain. Our call always remains for collaboration, partnership and win-win play games. Now, the effort by Dr. Yonas and his likes to “Mobilizing international pressure against Ethiopian military and police leaders, launching international investigations and Imposing international sanctions” give us an impression that there is too much unwarranted demands some of which are counterproductive to the country as a whole.
While the international system has its own criterion to evaluate countries on globally set indicators, we do not have to call for that. In our view there is no country’s diaspora community that relentlessly work against its own country. We fully recognize the need for accountability and measures based on findings. So, yes to investigation and consequences. However, the call for security forces in the country and sanctions by international organization reveals that Dr. Yonas and his team do not want to see the Ethiopia that they do not have an absolute influence on. As we indicated above, that cannot happen anymore.
Although this remains a non-formal group of people with shared views, it is important to have such forums where individuals or groups with shared frame of thinking could dialogue on issues of common concerns as long as we could manage to draw common agenda, although drawing common agenda is far-fetched in view of this established notion of ‘mine is mine and yours mine as well’. However, this is probably an important beginning. We however throw a couple of recommendations to those who are in the shade with much non constructive noise. Firstly, arguments that are not based on evidences that are etic reflects nothing but your interest and assumptions which is counterproductive to your own arguments. The hitherto narratives about Ethiopia: its history, culture etc is nothing but a vivid proof. Secondly, staying away from the fire but instigating the fire to do harm is nothing but inhuman and immoral. This would not serve any good purpose. Finally, the country we all are referring to appears increasingly to be different in what it constitutes and what it survived. Our team advocates for the Ethiopia that is inclusive catering for all and could benefit from all. So, good for you to be on this journey to have a country that we all have or that we all claim to own. Calling for embargo and lobbying international organizations and countries that supports this country would at best serve nothing but the demise of the country you claim to love. Instead, Dr. Yonas & co should call for the international community and those that support the country to hold government accountable instead. That way the public would not suffer the consequence on the one hand and we could work on building the country we all want on the other.
Editor’s Note: Mirgissa Kaba (PhD) is an Associate Professor at Addis Ababa University. A sociocultural epidemiologist in specialization, Mirgissa is also an ardent advocate of social justice. He tweets @MirgissaK
Girma Gutema (MSc) is an independent researcher and human rights defender based in Oromia, Ethiopia. He is member of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC). He tweets @Abbaacabsa
The views expressed in the article are that of the writers and do not necessarily reflect AS’ editorial stands.