By Ibsaa Guutama* | July 2013
The organized struggle for liberation started to take the first step with sacrifice of Oromo martyrs. With that, many remarkable achievements were registered. They gave for their people, the only precious thing they had – their lives – to enable all Oromo say, “I am an Oromo” instead of identifying themselves first with a tribe, region or religion. That broke colonialists spell put on them. That was one of the achievements in the first chapter of the struggle. It does not mean the objectives of activists and aspirations of the people has reached their desired goal with all the sacrifices. Those who survived the carnage and the new generation is expected to make more efforts and sacrifices to reach a victorious end. Reminiscing on past achievements alone cannot take one there. It requires urgency to secure the gains and proceed to the second chapter. When the struggle got started, activists had a clear objective and were indefatigable. But, with time, there were interference that blurred their vision and sucked their strength. Some, among pioneers who rebelled against the “kaayyoo,” had no alternative to offer in overcoming the difficulties encountered than whitewashing obsolete ideas. That proved OLF as the standard bearer of the Oromo revolution. OLF is spirit of the people that no one was able to corrupt though able to put it off balance. At this juncture of sluggishness, old enemies thought they got the opportune time to dismantle the nation. Oromo youth came out from all corners and told them that they can no more be silenced. All, from northern to southern hemispheres, told them in one voice “We are Oromo first.”
There are many peoples under the Ethiopian empire. For the enemy, the Oromo does not have difference from all the rest to claim exclusive right. For this reason, they say the Oromo have no different question as a separate entity. For them, the Oromo are what they are and where they are because providence ordained it and so should not try to mess up with the status quo. Another view is that the Oromo have historical, territorial, and world vision difference from all others. Their question is based on historical facts of having had independent existence from their neighbors. It is a question of birth right, of identity, and of national self-determination up-to and including independence. There are few sycophants that accept most of these, but could not swallow the right for independence and difference of world vision. According to the first, to question ‘Oromo being Ethiopian’ is absurd. According to the second, ‘being Ethiopian’ was imposed on them by force. It is only a parasite to suck their blood, and they have never been part of it from free will. Their patriotism emanates from Oromummaa, pride of distinct history, culture and tradition that has come down from generation to generation.
Those who disfavor independence do not deny that there is a burden imposed on the Oromo. But, they want others to join them in a struggle to democratize the empire and to live in it as equals. The others say that they have to get rid of the imposed relation of the victor and the vanquished – the colonized and the colonizer, and determine their destiny without fear or threat from any external body. They take an attempt to democratize an empire as a joke. OLF has put in its program the possibility of voluntary alliance based on their free will with those colonized like them. But, to initiate struggle is the right of those concerned. The struggle initiated by the OLF has its objective for the Oromo to attain independence by utilizing their right to national self-determination. That is to be consummated by establishing the democratic republic Oromiyaa. Some, who claim to conduct a research to bring to light the plight of the Oromo, gloss over this fact. The Oromo liberation movement had never had ‘being Ethiopian’ as its objective. The Oromo look up on all African peoples as siblings. Unless they also take them as such, the Oromo will not accept being viewed as any one’s subordinate or appendage. It considers the Habashaa as one among African peoples. Until they take the Oromo as an equal who have authority on own territory and rights, it is difficult for the region to have peace and stability. That may require democratizing their system. The choice is their own, and concerns no one. As the saying goes, “When they said let it be cut for it is too long, the snake replied, it is up to one to roll oneself.”
The Oromo have history of democracy. These days all in power claims to be democratic. One, who anointed oneself, and that, elected by the people, equally brag with it. For the Oromo, democracy was inbuilt into their life structures. For that reason, to transfer power at a given time had never raised bickering and fighting. All generations had positions and roles in society at different levels. The group, whose turn was to take power, might have in-party competition to be elected to leadership. That did not overflow past its period.
According to Western democracy, candidates spend too much wealth to run for election. For this reason, only the haves, or those sponsored by the haves, could compete for power. Parties in competition publicize through media or rallies and get themselves accepted without physical fight. They were able to lay down a system of transferring power peacefully and with tolerance without killing and hurting each other much. That made voters the decision makers. Those defeated start to gather mistakes of the elected immediately to help them win in the next election. They never stop exposing their rival’s mistakes at every turn. It is good to understand that to go against each other is a part of Western modern democracy. This is the state of people who have completed national struggle and have bound themselves by a constitution. Those who are still struggling have no law that covers them in common. It is only safuu(ethical consideration) that is in between them. Oromo politician of the day ask, “Why do we go against each other sparing the enemy?” They forget that the relation between them is not that of friends, but opponents. It would not be easy to differentiate opponent from enemy in the field of struggle, when both are in cahoots for the same purpose, opposing kaayyoo of independence. That may be waived between those who believe the possibility of travelling a distance together. That sort of agreement may stop adversarial attacks. Overall, it cannot be denied that cooperation is better than confrontation.
To get organized in parties and teams, and entertain any outlook and express oneself in any manner is a human right. That means, it is appropriate to promote one’s outlook and tear down that of a rival. According to the Oromo tradition, to fight on issues and denounce each other is legitimate. However, the human person is considered sacred. Except for the issue he/she presented, to insult one’s honor is safuu(unethical). For these reasons, to attack a person for one’s ideas when one did not cross a line to slander is despicable. But, in competition to analyze in detail the issues one presented and show the harm it could bring to the people’s interest is a norm. It is good to understand that rivalry between those who are under same constitutions and others under different discipline could be different. Western people accepted democracy because they saw no alternative to competing under peaceful and stable situation. For this reason, putting each other off balance to grab power under the supremacy of one constitution cannot be taken as greed in absolute terms. Legitimate power is necessary to reach required goal. It is greed, when it emanates from breaking the law with selfish arrogance and feeling of superiority.
Westerners adopted the concept of ancient Greek city state democracy after realizing that stable governance is indispensable for development. Earlier, it was the powerful who exterminated several to come to power. It was after that that they started tolerating each other and laying structures for transfer of power peacefully. They accepted that only for its advantage of saving life and property from catastrophe; otherwise, still traces of the gene for wasting one another is observable. That is why the powerful befriends tyrants of the Third World to do for them what their laws do not allow at home. Even in their own country, many are exposed at times, when stealing from each other, fighting underground and sabotaging one another’s efforts. We have said that the supremacy of the law is a culture for the Oromo. That means, they have a tradition to fall back to when they secure their country in order for different parties to compete peacefully and harmoniously in a modern setting. If interested, Gadaa is a rich source.
Even for the West, there is no common blueprint for democracy. But, all accept the rule of law. Human character is many and complicated. Unless it is agreed to bridle, it could lead to what is known as “survival of the fittest.” The situation in the Horn of Africa at present seems that. It is the one that, a historical accident, gave it power – that is pulverizing those who were unprepared. Unless they find solution soon, it is inevitable that the one over them will continue thriving and getting more strength while they are emaciating and growing weaker. Habashaa elites do not dream to accept the rule of law even for their own people. For this reason, the colonized have no other solution than fighting back, or accept the status quo and live by it. Some may try to get acceptance into their fold by cajoling the colonizers. They fail to understand that they are under spell of greater conspiracy and contempt against weak peoples of Africa. There is also lack of self confidence.
No organization remains in its original form because of constant change in nature. If society does not keep on adopting changes in science and technology, it is destined for decay. For this reason, public and private organizations are seen when changing methods to renew themselves. Even colonizers – from Minilik to the present – survived by adjusting tactics to demands of the times. The refresher courses everywhere in the world, regarding education and training, signify that. No less is expected from political organizations. Many technologically manufactured types of equipment are being introduced. Unless one acquaints oneself with changes in communication and diplomatic systems and war instruments being produced, it will be difficult to challenge an enemy that has already adopted them. Even if one has no access to these instruments, to know their existence and how they function can save one from danger. It could also make it easy to capture from the enemy and use it. For this reason, it is good to remember the saying of our ancestors that, “One will not live with dirty hands and old methods.”
It is a must, not a choice, to keep on changing on how one thinks and functions. That does not mean to change the fundamental objective when the cause still remains, but to sharpen what one already has. There are those who say, “you say ‘kaayyoo, kaayyoo something that did not bring any change in two decades.’” Kaayyoo is an outlook that reflects people’s aspirations and interests, not something that translates itself into work by miracle. It would be better to ask, could it be the people supposed to implement it who failed? EPLF and TPLF were liberation fronts – why did they succeed while OLF lost. Did anyone investigate that? It is after investigation that they ruled out kaayyoo as impracticable or by sheer whim? The Eritrean liberation movement brought forth EPLF. It succeeded without changing the objective of liberation, except for tactics of war. It is only after it captured Tigray that TPLF was prompted to change its strategy for there was no one to confront it. Tigreans were as Habashaa as the government in Shaggar. Their rebellion was for not getting their proper share. The Oromo are people different from them and were colonized by their ancestors. Their complaint was not about fair share, but about losing their country and rights. How can it be wrong to struggle in order to disentangle oneself from empire’s rule? The Tigreans crossed to the south finding it weak to challenge them; otherwise, did not they keep on swearing not to be ruled by Shawaa? What is wrong if Oromo say to them, ‘we will not be ruled by you?’ To say, ‘we will roll and put in the armpits of minority such a great nation,’ would be nauseating not only for the people, but for those who are listening.
Some cadres of OLF want to negotiate with their masters before building strong organization and dependable force. It can be guessed from experience that the enemy in its thought would say“Wadeet kafkaff” (How dare you)? It was for the benefit they want to get from their southern colonies, in particular Oromiyaa, that they were tearing each other down to grab power. As long as they have superior power, why would they negotiate with them? If not as a lackey, the facts do not show to force they negotiate as equals. Those cadres call the ones who still yearn for independence as “those who are frozen in history” without shame. Instead of laboring in history of slavery, wouldn’t it be better to get freeze in where they say? Folks, shouldn’t the Oromo people freely, in one voice demand what they want? Are the Oromo a nation that could present themselves as one people or are they collection of riffraff? The later would be contemptible; the Oromo are people who claim one country and one destiny. Before jumping to international relations, they have to determine their destiny. The road to be laid down by activists should be one that takes there straight, not falling short. Those who choose such a road can form alliance.
To say more on the Oromo struggle, it seems those of us who claim to struggle for one people are missing the big picture. The big picture is for our people to put away the yoke of colonialism and become masters of their own destiny. The pioneer youth gave themselves for the cause and started struggle that cost their lives. To advance the struggle, structure was laid down and assignments were shared. It was assumed that periodical assessments and how to transit to the following level was visualized. Unfortunately, there was a flaw in the process and the big picture was lost. Trust, among activists, started to melt away. The condition became conducive for revisionists and infiltrators. The hullabaloos of past few years, the rallying of opportunists and agents, the “melting to each other” phrase coinage is a grim reminder of how situations can be manipulated to create confusions and derail people’s struggle. For over five years, they had been frisking claiming there were no revolutionary like them; no expert in independence and freedom was born except them, but today we know where they stand. It was to divert us from the road we started, and were never concerned for freedom and independence. We just realized that. They were such overt and covert conditions that stunted the struggle. It was the clear kaayyoo, and nationalists who stood their ground, that kept the struggle alive staggering. Past activists have brought it so far. Yesterday only paves the road to today, but cannot help the present thrive and cross to the tomorrow. Each generation of an era has a role to play to make the interconnections. To join the liberation struggle, and wage internal and external struggle does not wait for a call.
The calamities and the changes faced by a people can be understood better if one lives among them and share the hardship they are subjected to. Those who claim to struggle for them must live and experience whatever they are going through. Otherwise, it will be like the saying, “One that became deaf during Abbaa Gadaa’s reign will remain swearing in Abbaa Gadaa’s name long after his demise.” One cannot make correct decision on what one cannot see or feel. Oromo are being herded to prisons, killed, and disappeared without trace for remaining with their conscience. Their land is given to others, and they are chased out of their ancestral grounds to become paupers. They are denied freedom of worship in the manner they choose. Enemies are attacking the nation from all directions to keep them in bondage as usual. The people have nowhere to run from atrocities. There is no exist or safe heaven to escape to.
For this reason, they are running to wherever their legs take them; some jumping into sinking ships to be devoured by sharks; others die from sun stroke, scorpion bites in deserts and eaten by wild beasts. Those who are able to cross borders are only better than the dead. Even under that circumstance, many did not lose hope. They are facing repression gallantly. We are also encouraged by the effort of our artists, writers, students and intellectuals who are keeping the spirit of Oromummaa alive under such dire situation. The youth are daily showing more political consciousness, mental maturity and revolutionary stances. Because of that culture and language the enemy thought to have destroyed is regenerating. Vigor and concern the youth are showing assures us that there is no turning back. But, that alone is not enough. There must be an organization that coordinates their efforts and give proper guidance.
OLF is a political organization that, for the first time, came out with kaayyoo reflecting the interest of the people. It did not draw a road map for the vision of one generation alone, but relevant for generations to come as well. For this reason, thekaayyoo is not subject to change though leaders may be deposed, die or betray, as long as the people remain under oppression. In the second millennium, OLF had suffered from crisis that made its constitution null and void. The power with which to impose discipline had slipped from its hands. Solution for it is expected from revolutionaries. It would be appropriate to draw guidelines until a legitimate constitution is re-instituted. The time is time of emergency. At a time when there is no constitution, what should be discussed is not about defunct constitutions, but on how to survive from marginalization. Integrating grassroots under one objective needs priority. If the mutual understanding at the top is not reflected at the bottom, it could mean there is a problem. It demands quick attention. If those, who claimed to reach understanding, still approach the people separately, it means things are still raw. People want to see ripe products. If still there are those who say “we and you,” it means there is more to clean up. Not to understand that could be inviting more disintegration. For this reason, better to be aware of what is going around and courageously get out with selflessness and determination to take necessary action.
Patriots have to take responsibility to transcend the crisis and put the organization on its proper path. Such a move requires selflessness and magnanimity. It is possible for anyone to have external pressures from different directions as individuals or groups. But, to give ears to each other more than they do for others is what patriotism requires. To overcome distractions from outside, transparent deliberations are required, not petty intrigues. They can heal together if they together find panacea for their pains. Program for short term domestic and diplomatic struggle have priority. If there is positive outlook, it will be possible to lay down provisional structure to implement those. Sharing of responsibilities must be open to consensus and must not be something to be contested among the dignified. The exercise is assumed not to be buying individual glory, but to dismantle conspiracy against the nation and come out of the crisis victoriously. The nation and members are eagerly waiting for the day they are told that the activists have agreed to form provisional unified revolutionary leadership. That leadership is expected to call the Kora to resolve outstanding issues and to carry out its revolutionary tasks in the interim period. That only would heal the shattered hopes of the people. The measures that this provisional leadership of OLF takes are crucial for rallying organizations with similar outlook. For that, the experience gained during the formation of ULFO could be a starting point.
There are dangers aimed at gains registered by sacrifices of Oromo martyrs. Though one chapter of the struggle is concluded with commendable gains, the second got into deep crisis. It is testing the integrity of the vanguard of the Oromo struggle, the OLF. But OLF is one and can never be divided. OLF is “Oromo First” and cannot be Ethiopian. To maintain this oneness, nationalists in the leadership have historic accountability. OLF will fill the gap created by breaking of its laws, and its work will not stop. The time is one of emergency. To cross over known procedures and save the nation, nationalists and the kaayyoo from debacle is of at most urgency. It must be now!! Success of the struggle is in the hands of Oromo revolutionaries who are duty bound to take it to the finishing line. Emergency requires urgency. The Oromo shall disentangle themselves from all machinations by their struggle. Unity of Oromo independence movement shall flourish. The struggle will continue!
* Source: Gubirmans Publishing