Millennium, a Disguise for Human Right Abuse
It was in 1980 that many Oromo nationals were rounded up and taken to Minilik’s Grand Palace. The Grand Palace had the Grand Hall where imperial feasts were given and where graduation ceremonies and appointments were made. In front of it was a large parking lot for dignitaries that come to the Grand Hall occasions. Under the parking lot was a grave like underground structure. Darg’s ceremonies start with chanting slogans and throwing left arm with clenched feast into the air. One of such slogans was “We shall build our party on the grave of antirevolutionary”. Oromo Nationals were taken directly to the torture chamber at a time when Darg was celebrating the formation of Commission to Organize the Party of the Working People of Ethiopia (COPWE) in the Grand Hall. True to their slogan underneath, Oromo were in the process of death from torture. This is not particular to the Darg, it is in Habashaa tradition.
The Oromo form the major part of the population of the empire. They have the potential to disrupt its smooth running. World socialists and so many others congratulated the Darg on its success. That success was success in putting the Oromo under full control and averting the possible menace they could cause. Nothing was more important for those fans of Darg than its consolidation of power. That was why all of them looked the other way consciously when millions were being devastated by the great famine of 1984 as many did to that of the sixties. As it was said history repeats itself, but how many times should it repeat itself before the Oromo is able to defend itself? Every regime that has come and gone had always something to celebrate on the grave of Oromo nationals that lived with their conscience. Like during the previous regimes now too hunger and decease is destroying the population. Oromiyaa that had rarely suffered from famine has now been the major beggar for food.
Before the birth of Ethiopian empire in the second half of the 19th century shiftaa kings of Habashaa used to disrupt the peaceful life of Oromo in Northern Oromiyaa through continuous raids. The superior arms they got from their Christian brethren abroad gave them the upper hand and they massacred unarmed civilians of all sorts at will. They confiscated their land and property and in one case forced them to change their faith with threat of death and mutilation. As a result thousands perished.
The Oromo chiefs Mastawat and Warqit of Walloo helped Napier to subdue Tedros more than any leader in that area. But it was Yohannis that got the “thank you” gift of arms when he went back. It was with that armament and training from Napier’s men that he wiped out the people of Walloo at later times. Oromoo blood that started to flow like river during the time of both monarchs had never stopped. Communities were displaced many were forced into exile running to where ever their legs took them but away from the tormentors.
Minilik that came after them was not different. He reduced the Oromo population to half of its earlier size, by killing and selling abroad as slaves. The atrocities he committed by cutting hands and breasts, which the Oromo still remembers as "Harma muraa Harka muraa" tells what type of a beast he was. It is also to be recalled that Minilik settled his arm wielding servants on Oromo land and reduced those Oromo left from death and captivity to servitude. Then, Tafarii continued the same policy and turned the whole population into serfs that had no right to leave the land and were considered property of the new horde of settlers they called Nafxanyaa. He also made a good portion of most fertile Oromo land private property of his family that he called “Beeta Rist”.
The first 1974 Land Proclamation of the Darg recognized that land belonged to the people. It was a great victory for the popular revolution. But it was reversed and later amended to read that land belonged to the state. Thousands of young peasants were rounded up and forced to join the army and give their lives for no cause of their’s. That was how the Nafxanyaa system of land holding was reestablished denying the tiller the gains of its years of struggle. Tilling of land was left to aging population thus threatening the whole country to famine. Still that is going on in a different form. The Darg through policy of terror silenced any opposition to its autocratic policy. Darg’s policy known as Red Terror, added more blood to the already swollen river of blood that came down rolling from its predecessors.
Oromo suffering is still continuing because of their number and Oromiyaa’s natural resources. Because they form a majority the introduction of democracy could take away the rein of authority from Habashaa oligarchy. If that happens they fear of being denied the use Oromo resources freely. For this reason let alone taking the initiative to democratize the empire they are not letting them in peace so that they will have no opportunity to think of rebellion. The army that occupied Oromiyaa starting from the first settlers’ period is still there, harassing and torturing the people every day for over a century.
Thousands are in prison, thousands killed, thousands disappeared without trace and thousands are still in torture rooms all over the land. A witch hunt is in progress in search of the ghost of OLF. All sorts of crimes are committed by the regime for which OLF is blamed. That gives them the excuse to arrest any Oromo that is not registered to their surrogate party. Millennium celebration is now serving as another excuse to put independent minded Oromo behind bars or execute them summarily. Many even disappear without trace. The regime has no authority to account for. It is believed that there are no prison houses in the empire where one cannot find an Oromo.
Under this circumstance the occupiers are going to celebrate their success in keeping the Oromo under their feet. Just like the Darg the TPLF is strengthening its party base and organizing millennium celebration on the graves of Oromo children. Those who are collaborating in providing such base are goobanaas, replica of quislings of yester years. They have no brain of their own to way consequences or the guts to oppose the atrocities being committed against their own people. The Habashaa rulers are beating their Nagaariit (war drums) like they did during the past century; mowing down the unarmed civilians which cannot defend themselves as warning to all that think of opposing the occupation.
Thousands of TPLF supporters are converging on Finfinnee for millennium celebration. On the other hand equal numbers of Oromo are being added to those already lingering in prison for the last seventeen years of Wayyaanee rule. The population is facing great hardship by market speculation of TPLF trade institutions that have targeted people coming with hard currency from abroad. They are hording every thing it is said, to benefit through unfair trade on the millennium week. Some have already branded the occasion as “allicaawu Millennium” (allicaa is sauce without pepper) for the price of seventeen kilo of pepper has skyrocketed to Birr one thousand. Most of the popular dishes cannot be prepared without pepper.
One celebrates an occasion in memory of something nice, something that worth remembering with joy. In the last thousand years the world has registered great achievements. Technological development has reached this information age. There is total transformation of political outlook throughout the major population of the world. In Ethiopia there was nothing worth mentioning except wars and devastations. Habashaa ruling class may celebrate their success in colonizing countries with greater population than themselves to the south of their boarder. By their invasion they were able to export their archaic political system, which has kept their own people ignorant of the world around them. Even the bible and religious paraphernalia were kept away from the masses as something confidential. If there is a sweet memory of the past millenniums they were those achievements. As for the colonies they lost all they had and left with a low class substitute. Over and above that they are being subjected to the most brutal inhuman treatment. That is the millennium they are ordered to applaud.
The constitution that they had since they had a government they remember did not change progressively. For all types of development the last centuries of the so called Ethiopian millennium are a period of regression and stagnation. The rulers were no better than the masses they lead as far as education was concerned. The church which had the monopoly of literacy keeps any new idea at bay as sacrilegious or adopts a distorted good for nothing portion of it. That was partly why there was no improvement on the means of production. The working people had always been forced to share their produce with those unproductive segments of society without compensation. Therefore there had been no incentive for innovation. Farmers still use implements wielded before the counting of millennium started. For some that is a unique situation that makes Ethiopia what she is. It is a heritage they tell us, of which every body must be proud of.
Oromo society is majority peasant whose labor is exploited mercilessly. It has to work hard so that at least there will be stubble to glean for its own survival. Under the circumstance there is no time for improvement on any means of life. Its night and days are equal. There is no power to provide it with light so that it can steal part of the night for thinking. From dusk to dawn every day of the week the farmer is in the field cultivating or guarding his plantation from predators. He has no time for other things. That by itself could put him in prison of the occupying force. If his crop fails he has nothing to pay for fertilizer lent out by government usurers, tax and different contribution not mentioned in proclamations. But he is expected to attain rallies of pro-government parties. Otherwise he will be branded as supporter or member of OLF and dehumanized and humiliated to make him lose balance and the will to resist.
Over and above the undue exploitation, the Oromo are suffering in the hands of aliens who are now evicting them from their ancestral lands in the name of investment and new settlement for the occupiers. It is true that the new owners cannot role the land and deposit it in foreign banks. It may take generations if not years but the people will certainly get them back with due compensation. A day will come when greedy land grabbers are going to regret, be them Oromo or aliens. No one can erase the Oromo nation from the surface of the earth. It will always be there with its land and on its land. We hope the present suffering shall not be remembered then. For now it will keep on resisting all forms of oppression. No group or individual can compromise Oromo independence without the expressed free will of the people. The present suffering and treachery will only harden it, in its struggle for freedom and independence.
All peoples of the world had started the third millennium almost eight years ago except for the Habashaa. It covers the same years starting from the birth of Christ. The achievements and failures of the world had already been assessed and all inclusive development goals set by UN. If there is any benefit for the Oromo what was promised by that millennium would be enough. An eight year lagging millennium is only for the rulers’ political and economic benefit rather than for the peoples of that country. The Coptic calendar, as a religious land mark for the church worth remembering; but not in a way it is now being drummed about. Both Ethiopian and Gregorian calendars were in line with the history of a particular religion, Christianity. Every other people have their own religious or secular calendars. But at present, economic and business considerations had put the Gregorian calendar at the forefront.
The Oromo had its own ways of computing time which were done by specialists known as “Ayyaantuu”. It was purely based on computing the position of celestial bodies and it was secular based. This knowledge was destroyed with advent of colonialism. Thus Oromo have no historical obligation to both Ethiopian (based on obsolete Alexandrine calendar) and Gregorian calendars. But for purpose of PR it will choose a widely used one. Conscious Oromo are already using the Gregorian calendar for every day activity. Ethiopian millennium celebration is being prepared at a time when Oromo’s suffering is at the highest point. The Oromo is looking forward for the day its “Ayyaantuu” computes its own millennium from a beginning it believes in traditionally. Therefore because of historical truth as well as the calamities that had befallen Oromo at this very time, to celebrate the millennium with pomp is humiliating and an insult for the agonized people of Oromiya and for any human being that is suffering under the atrocious rule of TPLF.
That would mean celebrating many disappearances, imprisonment, tortures and genocides. No Oromo home is unaffected by atrocities perpetrated by the empire state. Under such painful circumstance the Oromo are being asked to join in celebration of their own debacle, under the name "millennium", that rings in their minds only sufferings. It is also saddening to see many from all over the glob saying hurray to Wayyaanee’s millennium celebration! They all know the crimes being committed under Wayyaanee’s watch. The streets of Somalia, Ogadenia, Sidamaa, Oromiyaa etc. are witness for all the inhuman activities of TPLF. Lawyers say crime is not by commission alone but also by omission as well. The court of history is free to pass judgment on who ever the worlds’ court is fearful to do so at present.
In short, the millennium cannot be the concern of the Oromo under any circumstance. For the Habashaa it is a calendar that their forefathers have inherited them. They have honored it even though they know that it is an out of date computation in all Christian world. According to their tradition people have the right to celebrate any holiday. But those for whom it is not a heritage and it brought nothing but havoc and destruction must be left alone. This celebration should also not be used to cover up the abuse to Oromo birth rights and national interest. Under normal situation all will join in chorus congratulating the rightful owners of the calendar.
Wayyaanee’s millennium is a political tactic to divert world and domestic attention from the human right abuses being carried out at this very time. Underneath places of celebration, in banquet halls, in rally grounds and halls etc. there will be Oromo victims suffering underground away from the celebrants’ eyes but under their very feet. Millennium fanfare and Wayyaanee propaganda cannot divert human rights activists from bringing to world attention the suffering of this great people. Any applaud, from any quarter for the Millennium could be justified only if it comes with peace and freedom for the thousands who are suffering for being Oromo and their love of freedom. At least they should be asked to justify why beggar spend so much when millions are suffering from hunger, decease, and man made calamities. It is the last part of the second Millennium that brought untold misery and great suffering to the Oromo and many others. Misery and suffering are not celebrated but mourned. Courage and determination is needed to refuse to incriminate oneself. The courageous had already started to say no, to an occasion that came to cover up the enslavement of the oppressed peoples during the last millennium.
Honor and glory for the fallen heroines and heroes; liberty equality and freedom for the living and nagaa and araaraa for the Ayyaanaa of our forefathers!
Ibsaa Guutama is a member of the generation that drew the first Political program of the OLF.