During the Scramble for Africa at the end of the 19th century we lost our land, suffered countless indignities and hardships. And yet far from it we did not capitulate an inch without resistance and became a victim unlike what our adversaries are saying-“take the land, the Oromo ceases to exist”; a hollow claim which did not square with facts. Through it all, Oromummaa survived such an historic era with full Oromo identity in tact. Though time and circumstances were not on our side as it is at this present juncture in history, we fought off tooth and nail against superior weapons to reverse that deadly situation to our favor in what was then initial phase of colonialism, a fore taste of headache to come a century later with such bogus concept of “globalization”. Only one thing seems enduringly the same. We will always fight to reclaim what is rightfully our own. That is the articulated set of our Kaayyoo, be it under colonial or neocolonial settings.
It hardly needs stating that the Oromo was an independent nation that had democratic Gadaa, a sound administration under the rule of law. Whereby the law operates in a social environment where elected leaders perform diligently their series day-to-day affaires and more significantly how a leader leads. The whole edifice of this set of social institution is based on logic and principles and best of all, on the consent and free will of the people as the supreme condition of the governed. This free will was protected by culture, law and ethos of the nation laid down over thousands of years. In addition, its true power genuinely emanates from virtue and true values. This age respected system came to a death throes by the war of insolent aggression known in the annals of history as “The Scramble for Africa” spearheaded by Britain, Belgium, France Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain, and then their non- European protégés doing their dirty jobs of the white master at his beck and call.
With this in the background, Oromos for the first time became a subject race whose rights were trampled upon and their culture uprooted in a most shameful and demeaning ways. Gone were the standard of legal and democratic governance, they were superseded by an unrestricted power based on force, not on law, which reduced Oromo to the lowest form of life on planet earth. More blatantly, there is a huge division between these two historically opposed and glaringly contrasting societies.
TPLF expropriation and the continued colonial occupation of Oromiyaa
Eviction of Oromo peasants
Under the neocolonialism, what happens to Oromo violates every premise of common decency. Like in the past, the onslaught under this new circumstance is in the shape and form of agribusiness before the old one phased out. Never before nor since have we known anything like it. There is a desperate demand for farmland. Be aware of these spooky and kooky land grabbers for they are merciless predators like that of horrific Neanderthal that wiped out anything that stood on its way. Oromo families are being ejected from their traditional fertile lands and divided into large estates and the ruling elite have reserved large tracts of lands for their own use and future settlement. Like its forebears with demonstratively raciest policies, it treats the Oromo as an outcast in their own lands. This has baleful consequences for Oromo individually and collectively. For the land is almost religiously worshipped and holds a deep meaning that transcends our series day today needs. It is on the land that the abutment of Gadaa thrived and our essential connection with our ancestors.
Human rights that were the cornerstone of Oromo Gadaa system were pulverized once and for ever. From all appearances, Oromo could be imprisoned without due process before they are tried. Government imposed living conditions have rendered them to a life of poverty, trapped in an economic genocide where they are often powerless to have a say in a matter that adversely affects their life. In the meantime, positions of Oromo have deteriorated from day to day while the fate of other ethnic groups improved staggeringly at the expense of Oromo. Two layers of human society were created, those of the victors and the vanquished. The victors had the right to exploit the labor and resources of the vanquished at will. The vanquished were left only with the duty to obey the victors. They were turned into serfs. Participation in any decision-making in the interest of the vanquished people was always ruled out. A handful of token Oromo who scurried behind the “Big Magician “ do not represent the Oromo aspiration, they represent only their political career like that of ominous character of a prison Capo who was a Jewish in Auswitz at the zenith of Nazi power. History will met out justice for their crucial roles in this wanton destruction of their own people and beloved country.
The old and the new
When European colonizer took the dust off his feet from Africa, a dark prince was left behind in Oromiyaa as surrogate, camouflaged under his color and proximity of the mother country. Ever since the Oromo had been waging a struggle to free itself from serfdom and regain its lost independence. Two formidable governments met a similar death blow like the British in Kenya, Ian Smith in Zimbabwe and the Boers in South Africa and the Oman Arabs in Zanzibar for failing to take into account the legitimate grievances of the people they govern. The second government unlike the previous one in a bombastic overstatement vowed to rectify the grave mistake once and for all. Sure enough, it initially recognized that the land belong to the indigenous people. Then it made a dramatic u turn and declared that the land belonged to the empire state, in other words the colonizer. It is instructive here this kind of attitude and contempt did not spare leaders from undignifying death and a living death of humiliation as it happened to Idi Amin of Uganda and Syiad Barre of Somalia among numerous others. Like all before him he did not learn from others’ experience. With some other events added the culprit Darg was sent packing dishonorably in less than two decades.
Long before the Oromo recovered from the trauma of the old scar, the new comer started to ploy more dirty tricks, deceit and cunning than his predecessor did. With support to the hilt by the powerful financial institutions from overseas, he is able with his ingratiating character to cling gingerly to power so far. Like the old colonial masters TPLF cultivate the minority as a way of controlling the majority. One should keep in mind no amount of external help can sustain unpopular regimes for long when internal dissentions are simmering. For the masters in any unequal convenient relationship will always sacrifice their allies at the early sign of trouble. Now a new phenomenon is developing in the world, a movement to penetrate Africa and grab its land at the detriment of the indigenous people. These are new imperialist groups ready to provide a mechanism for despoliation of Africa all over again.
Though the main cause of the first Scramble for Africa was economical, what affected the continent is not only the economic exploitation but also the culture of Eurocentric spear headed by some Western Professors as the fighting intensified for decolonizing the mind gained momentum. Those were in the nature of political, social, religious, ideological and cultural influences. These packages had left permanent damage on African personality, sovereignty and integrity of its nations. The packages that are coming with the second wave will not be less devastating than the first ones. None of the actors is known to have respect for human rights let alone democratic governance, which for the Oromo remains a legacy of historical and cultural heritage.
Possible consequences of land grabbing
In all fairness it should have been only the people of Oromiyaa directly or through their representatives that should determine how land is to be distributed, owned, possessed and disposed off. However by a glitch in history an illegitimate group has perched on power and has started to act without mandate as the real owner of Oromo land. More significantly, there is hardly any interaction. They do not feel a part of Oromiyaa. They adapted rather a kind of policy and action that drain the pond to kill the fish, which is diabolical in concept and maniacal in execution. This is not to be heard but to be seen that Oromo are getting worse before they get any better. Had it not been for the desire to derive out the Oromo from their domain it could have helped the farmers to adopt alternative methods of farming instead of depending on unpredictable seasonal rainfall. The eviction of the Oromo is going to push them to urban centers. With new settlement, Oromo is going to be a technical minority in Oromiya for any future political negotiation. Land grab and new settlement of non-Oromo population is aimed at changing Oromiyaa demographically for their vested political interests. Its unforeseen consequence could be among others things, intensification of racial feelings to the tune of countries like, the Sudan, Yugoslavia and Rwanda.
The use of rivers, stream and ground water of Oromiyaa was never advised for the rightful owners of the land. But foreign grabbers are enticed with these resources to buy as much land as they want. At least when in Tigray public fund is used to introduce the use of artificial ponds and irrigation facilities Oromo farmers are not encouraged to harness their nature given resources. Tragically promotions of land sales are made by quislings to make it seem Oromo are involved in such despicable suicidal mission. The Oromoo are industrious people; it is only bad governance that is denying them the expression of their full potential. The colonial government is settling members of its nation on Oromo land without the owners consent. When that is already frustrating Oromo aspirations, it has allowed overseas land grabbers to penetrate Oromiyaa evicting the farmers from their ancestral grounds. Land grabbers are like locusts that obliterate natural setting and social fabrics at a landing.
The land grabbers would not waste their money without assuring fat profits return with no tax, which amounts to right away theft. Already they have acquired land with cheapest price in the world. To maximize their gains further, they must make sure that they control or influence the policy making machinery of the host country, through carrot and stick approach. The rulers of Ethiopia are going to sell the entire arable land ready to take status of a banana republic, which gossips already attribute to them. The future Oromo struggle then is going to be with agribusiness imperialists and Ethiopian rulers turned compradors. Gone will be the days of “the king being jealous of his kingdom.”
The drive to maximize profit is going to force intensive use of fertile soil and the use of chemicals that could render it useless after few years. The consequence of uncontrolled industrial farm is going to destroy the environment. Already people are complaining about the effect on bees and other animals that help in pollination of plants. Chemical used on farms and other manufacturing business are not affecting areas above ground alone but also are sinking into the ground affecting streams and underground water. That many persons and animals are maimed and dying as a result of drinking such water is no more state secret. So also are the effects of chemicals used for new farms and mines on fertility of the workers and Oromo living around there? The new imperialist venture is coming with hidden genocide and the world needs to pay special attention. The Oromoo nation and their environment are under threat of extinction with devastating consequences. Destruction of environment has chain effect that could affect the whole world in the long run.
The first scramble for Africa was triggered among other things by shortage of raw material for post- Industrial Revolution machines. Competition to control the source for such raw materials in order to assure unhindered supply to satisfy the fast expanding global market had also a crucial role. On the other hand the present scramble for African land is said to be instigated by world food crises. This has created a new area for lucrative business opening a leeway to market so far dominated by few countries. Land grabbers may claim their aim primarily to be only feeding their people. Actually it is going to undercut others by introducing a new trick for competition in global business. With a give away price for land and the cheapest wage rate in the world it would be difficult for those paying high wages to fairly compete in food market. The caparison would be paying less that $0.50 a day and $7.25 an hour. These new imperialists were big markets for grain producers. The trick they came up with will no doubt be met with furry that could threaten the principles of world trade.
The Oromo majority’s lives continue to be marred by discrimination in public and private. One other example may be given that the land on which they have survived for generations is taken away from them without any restitution. What could a day’s starvation wage of 10-50 cents buy in the market flooded by consumer goods from these grabbers, even if we assume every evictee will get job? What is the price of salt, an item very important in the peasants’ diet? What would the world do to protect the environment friendly small farmers whose plots are grabbed without compensation? Can humanity afford destruction of the ecosystem more than it already did? The new scene raises so many questions that need prompt answers. No one cornered is expected to give up the right to life without putting up the last fight.
In world market the phenomenon is going to create fierce competition that could affect sovereignty of African countries further. Competitions that led to the incidents between imperialist countries during the first Scramble for Africa, like Kruger telegram and Fashoda incident are not yet forgotten. They were at each others necks over wealth that was not theirs. Africa lost all it had; wealth, freedom and human dignity. Even the nominal independence did not solve problems then ensued. Such is the fate of Oromiyaa state living through the most critical watershed period of globalization.
As for the Oromoo the new add on would only energize it to continue its struggle of liberation with more vigor. Oromiyaa belongs to Oromiyaans. Oromo Struggle will not be expected to recognize any deal with the colonizer, for it is not the legitimate voice of the people. As a matter of fact the interest of the TPLF and that of the Oromo are irreconcilable. That of the Oromo is to be free and mind own business. On the other hand, TPLF’s interest is to enslave and make the best out of Oromo resources and labor for its own interest. The present, so called state of Oromiyaa, is somewhat akin to Bantustan administration of Apartheid South Africa under the tutelage of a Tigryan leadership. This kind of deceit does not seem to end.
Oromiya had vast arable land. The people know how to use them. Some are reserved for posterity. Others are left fallow for crop rotation. Some are protected for grazing. There is no piece of land that is in excess of the needs of the nation. Environmental protection is part of national culture and laws of Gadaa fathers which are still respected by the nation. Now all fertile land occupied by small farmers and those mentioned above are put on sell. Surveyor airplanes of agribusiness are said to crease cross Oromiyaa daily to identify fertile areas. Mines of precious metals and stone have already been given for foreign conglomerates with out any restriction on environmental destruction. Such areas have already scanty vegetation and are vulnerable to desertification. In particular the Saudis are making deep penetration through there inside man called Mohamed Al Amoudin. Al Amoudin had been with the Ethiopian ruling clique since their inception. He has great influence on social, cultural, religious, economic and political settings of the empire. No area of economic life in the whole country has been left unscathed by this billionaire entrepreneur. He is the chief exponent of agribusiness imperialists.
The Chinese, the Indians, the Indonesians, the Koreans and many governments and corporations of the near and far east are involved in the eviction and stripping off the Oromoo from their legitimate rights. All those involved in disenfranchising the Oromoo in their own land must bear the responsibility of the debacle their actions may bring to Africa in general and the Oromo in particular. It is only the Oromo people that can give away, lease or sell their property be it agricultural land or mines. This is also true to all peoples of other African countries. The Ethiopian government and the land grabbers may want a weakened Oromiyaa. But even if Oromo activists fail their people the enemies will be entangle in their own machination and crumble. Injustice has never escaped the wrath of history.
Oromo can no longer tolerate losing their land, their freedom and want their honor intact. They have had enough. They are in enviable position than 19th century spear and arrow wielding forefathers. Even then, they did not yield an inch without fierce resistance. Now the world is turning into a ‘global’ village. No one can harm the other without being noticed by the world media. What matters is not fire power but the fierce ultimate determination to say “no!” in one voice to foreign invasion and the commitment to uphold Kaayyoo of Bilisummaa. Let us not forget the adage, “power concedes nothing without a demand”. Our history reverberates with heroes, heroines and events full of inspiration. The choice is to either live as a proud human being or be reduced to third-class human beings signing our death warrants and go giggling to the gas chambers. Our silence equals our death; those who want to make a deal under various guises with a devil will enormously regret their mistake. Their appearance in new style and new groupings does not alter the facts about Oromo as the sole legitimate owners of Oromiyaa; where land grabbers will have no place. We may be uprooted, killed, impoverished, maimed and sterilized by our enemies and the chemicals used for quick return on our land, produce, and our natural resources. Yet we are people with deep root in our soil, we will sprout in millions more to reclaim what belongs to us. Above all wachout for land grabbers! They are the face of neocolonialism. The struggle continues.
Honor and glory for the fallen heroines and heroes; liberty equality and freedom for the living and nagaa and araaraa for the nation and the Ayyaanaa of our forefathers!
Ibsaa Guutama is a member of the generation that drew the first Political program of the OLF