Peoples right, individual right, democracy and self-determination
from Oromo perspective
Peoples rights, individual rights, democratic rule and self determination are phrases the Habashaa toy with but never comfortable with their implications. Currently these concepts are being remolded in Habashaa elite class workshops to reshape, redefine and sell them to Habashaa and world community markets. It must be stated at the outset that what the Oromo demands is not what they call “group right” but people’s independence. For them it is a new tactic being coined to pave the way towards their strategy for sparing the empire from crumbling.
The Oromo are elegant and charming as individuals. They are intelligent and efficient in their performances. They are subjected to racist slurs and abuse because of their national origin not their individual appearances. To stop indiscriminate killings among his people the emperor once ruled “do not kill human beings even if it were a Gaallaa (Oromo). He had doubts if any body would accept the Oromo as human beings. So he has to add the contemptible phrase “even the Gaallaa” to his proclamation. This being the basic outlook of the colonizer they now want the Oromo to accept their deceptive presentation of rights and democracy ignoring the basic issue of peoples rights to self determination.
Oromo had been voicing their grievances to the world and to all concerned from the time they were colonized. In 1974 there was a great commotion in Oromo society concerning land holding system. Spontaneous uprising from all corners scared the colonial system. A revolution was in the setting. It was then that a junta came in to save the empire passing itself for friend of the downtrodden. To check momentum of the revolution, the junta said, I have overthrown the monarchical system for you; it also started to recognize certain rights for nations and nationalities in the empire. But already enough damage has been done to the empire, to return to the past was a lost case even if they vow to the forty four tabernacles.
In the past much has been done by the colonizer to dehumanize and humiliate the Oromo. Millions were massacred, thousands sold into slavery and the remaining made to grind grain for colonial army and the bureaucracy, to cut fodder for pack animals, build fences and roads, and fetch water from down hills for their on top hill garrisons. Many were also used as pack animals to carry loads for their endless campaigns. Their leaders were all wiped out or taken to prisons on Habashaa Mountains never to return to their country. Their language culture and tradition were suppressed. It was total genocide, affecting life, culture and tradition. That was why Oromo movements remained stunted and limited only to occasional scattered spontaneous uprisings for a century. The present Habashaa contempt and arrogance emanates from that history of aggression.
The Oromo are fast learners. With fast developing world Habashaa colonial administration could not sustain its system with mediocre members of its nobility alone. It was why they started to open their schools for few individuals from the colonies. That set ajar a window for the Oromo to look out through. After few years of education some were recruited into the system. Out of them many rose to high ranks in the civil administration and the army. Most of them evolved into Habashaa while very few remained attached to their people. Because of them the colonial system started to get porous.
Each passing day information started to involuntarily trickle to the down trodden through the fingers of the colonial masters. That led to Oromo awakening and the formation of social and political movements. The vanguard organization, Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) was born out of those movements and declared its political program of 1974. In it, it vowed to take the people's kaayyoo, the inspiration that guides the nation to a victorious goal, to the finish line. Oromo shade their blood in thousands for that purpose. That is why the struggle cannot be stopped till victory.
Since then several papers were presented, conferences conducted, interviews made, positions declared, diplomatic campaigns and battles waged. Yet the colonizer and those who lived as parasites on the Oromo had failed to understand the essence of what they were being told. Oromiyaa is not Ethiopia but a colony of Ethiopia. From Raayyaa to Mooyyaale and From Begii to Jaarsoo it is one country mutilated by the colonizer. There are few pockets of indigenous peoples with their own territory, within Oromiyaa. Like any country in the world there are people who came from outside Oromiyaa to work and live, in addition to remnants of the old colonial army and the active occupying force of the present day.
Neighbors of Oromo have smaller population count when compared to Oromiyaa. Many feel deep in their hearts that Oromo cause amounts to their own. On the other hand there are few elites from those neighbors as there are from Oromiyaa who collaborate with the colonizer and try to stand on the way of Oromo and their own peoples’ independence. Among those that collaborate with the oppressors Oromiyaans are the majority. Among the oppressed we have said Oromiyaans are also the majority. Free Oromiyaa will deny the common oppressor majority of such collaborators. Therefore relief and liberty will be for all. To liberate Oromiyaa means to liberate majority people and land of the region. That is why we say Oromo independence would be a guarantee for freedom and stability for the whole region.
The cruelty of Habashaa rulers has been escalating with every passing regime. Unless the victimized stand together, the repression and massacre will continue with more zeal and subtlety by the new greedy generation of the colonizer. People of the south including Oromiyaa had lived the life of second class citizens. Few are benefiting for selling their national interest to the rulers. These sellouts are still conspiring with the colonizer on how to maintain the status quo, for they have established themselves as beneficiaries. Oromiyaa is a multi-religious society.
Oromo as a nation have a centrist temperament. But the Habashaa and their galtuu want to scare the West by placing it on the side of Islamic World in the ongoing “war of cultures”. However that will not stop the Oromo from their legitimate struggle. Waaqeffataa, Moslem and Christians will move hand in hand to freedom. Oromo is leading a life of terror. To fight against it is to satisfy no other interest but their own. Therefore Oromo is a natural ally for all antiterror warriors, not to cover own folly but for survival of the nation.
They also try to scare the masses with negative attributes about free Oromiyaa. Oromiyaa and the southern states had depended on each other, way before they fell under colonialism. Free Oromiyaa will only bring freedom to the south. Like they have fallen together they have to strive to rise together; nothing should jeopardize these long standing cordial relations. They have more chance to a political union with each other through struggle than with their tormenting colonizer. Another scare crow is big power support for the oppressor. But the struggle is between local oppressor and the oppressed and there is no logic for big powers to stand against people and human rights and individual liberties beyond their boarders. The purpose of the struggle is to free Oromiyaa and live in peace under the rule of law and democratic values. As long as one feels the pain and has the determination to be free, there is no excuse not to standup against the reign of terror however colossal and however protracted it may be.
The Oromo love humanity. They are known by their neighbors as kind hearted always willing to help, even to raise children of those in difficulty irrespective of their race or creed. Therefore the safety of those already living in Oromiyaa with good standing cannot be doubted. Oromiyaa has great potential to provide job for its good neighbors. Unlike its colonizers that had never known other than dictatorship the Oromo had the most democratic and egalitarian system when it was a free people. Still that heritage is visible in present day Oromo tendencies. For all who live in Oromiyaa it would be better to struggle for free and democratic Oromiyaa with the Oromo rather than lamenting for a dying colonial system. The colonizer must be humbled and shown the point of contention. Then only could all tackle in unison the problem facing them as good neighbors whose people are going to live side by side for eternity.
The Oromo believe that it is long overdue for Oromiyaa not to be decolonized and for the empire state not to be dismantled. All empires had phased out in that way and it cannot be different for Ethiopia. No conspiracy can stop the wheel of history that has started rolling. Any dialogue with the Oromo by aliens should be on how to affect this smoothly. Other discourses being conducted by Ethiopians is not something that independent minded Oromo could tolerate as a piece of news let alone taking part in them. Their discussions revolve around how they could continue exploiting resources of Oromiyaa and cheap Oromo labor not how to make peace with the Oromo. If Oromiyaa is taken out of their list they will remain with nothing to fight for.
To justify their position they manufacture lies about the nature of the Ethiopian empire and try to feed it to their naïve followers and the international community. They have enrolled some galtuu, equivalent to Imperial French “évolué” in their ranks to claim being multinational. This is part of their deception to their people and the world, as for the truth, they are all “nitsuhi” (original) and naturalized Habashaa.
The Habashaa masses had come for years being fed with lies by the ruling class. They have never questioned the truth of what they say but accepted them with religious fervor. For that reason they have internalized all the lies about their origin, their deeds, their mission, their religion, their history etc. Even now in the age of information technology they are trying to make them believe that the Ethiopian empire is eternal. The demand for independence by some from their “qinyi gizat” (colonies) is an evil machination of the TPLF to destroy the eternal formation. Because they themselves have started to believe in the lies they manufactured they are not able to see the other side of the spectrum that is on the verge of destroying them.
Following their archaic line of thinking Habashaa elites have already pushed aside the Oromo question and started to discuss about group rights versus individual rights. Group for all we know are like sets concerning religion, gender, age classes, gays, special interests, etc. These reactionaries want to consider nations as one of the groups within their system. They do not want to see that a nation like Oromo contains all those groups. They take themselves as all inclusive and so no need for an entity that claims what they claim. For any right to be realized they lay as prerequisite removing Tigree from power. Power struggle between Tigree and Amaara is like struggle between two parties within the same system. For international consumption both try to look inclusive while in reality they are the most exclusives groups in the Horn. Oromo as a people has never been their partner when that happened they think it will be their end.
For the Oromo change of colonial government does not answer their questions. Any government that sits on the throne of the empire state is the institution Oromo address their demands to. Oromo does not contest the seat of Habashaa power; it rather demands independence from it. For a keen observer the convalescing members of the fallen class are not of the generation of information age but the reincarnation of Minilik’s father Nafxanyaa. For the Oromo whether Amaara or Tigree come to power it makes no difference as far as the empire state is in tact.
The incumbent government is at least wiser than all their past rulers in realizing the major problems that are threatening the existence of the empire state. It recognizes the relation of the colonies with the empire state. It is on that understanding that it manufactured its laws and built all tools of oppression to plunder Oromiyaa fast instead of wasting time trying to justify the unjustifiable for independence of the colony is inevitable. Not only that, it also recognizes that the heirs of the fallen class will be mismatch if they are included in the exploit. So it preferred to run it alone until the time to pull back together to Habashaa land comes. But like its hero Yohannis IV it has started to go beyond territories under its control and make war with a neighbor, this time Somalia. That may deny it pulling back in one piece.
From its historical nature and the reality of its existence it is difficult for the present regime to behave otherwise. To deliver solution to a democratic question is outside its scope. Yet it has recognized this short fall and devised tactics to temporarily divert the regional and international negative disposition generated by its nature. Having done so, it did not stop imprisoning, kidnapping and torturing the Oromo in the most insidious way. Who cares for local terror as long as it is a member of international anti-terrorist league?
Members of the fallen class and their collaborators have nostalgia for their past. As a result they do not want to accept the right of the Oromo to national self determination. They never hide that they are allergic even to provisions like article 39 of constitution of the present regime that was provided with intention to lull the colonies. They see no virtue but disaster in it. Every thing done to pacify the people must be erased and the emperor’s model of governance reinstituted with iron hand. They are warning their people that without their dependencies life will not be as rosy as it used to be.
In the course of Oromo struggle the issues of peoples right, individual right, democracy and self determination, had been raised and resolved among Oromo revolutionaries. These were the major elements of Oromo debate in the process of the liberation movement. It was after getting clear understanding of their relation to Oromo struggle that the political program of the OLF was drawn. The rank and file members of the organization had common understanding on these issues before they came out to lay down their lives for kaayyoo of the nation. Similar debates were going on in Habashaa camps but they saw no other solution other than domination. Instead of trying to understand the issue from Oromo point of view diversionary views are being forwarded to mislead the general public on the concept of individual and peoples rights. That is what we refute here.
The Oromo see themselves as one of the nations that fall victim to a phenomenon known as the scramble for Africa. Before that it had a different Political system from the colonizer. It was a democratic system nourished by the egalitarian Gadaa principle. As a separate people from the Habashaa and as a colony their demand for liberation is legitimate. The world body had ruled that all colonies be freed. The Absinian territory and Oromiya are distinctly apart. Even the founder of the empire, Minilik II used to call himself “Emperor of Ethiopia and the Gaallaa countries”. It is these later ones that demand from them to be let free. Even if international law is found not to be adequate to cover the liberation of Oromiyaa it is up to Oromo revolutionaries to fill the gap.
Because of its skin color and its territorial proximity, the colonizer is yet trying to pass for being the same people with the others. Its supporters are also turning deaf ears to the demand for independence of Oromiyaa. They preferred it to continue as is as long as there was no profound challenge to it. The Oromo is a peace loving egalitarian society. Its reluctance to use organized violence for over a century had been taken as consent to its position of servitude. But the Oromo has never willingly submitted to Habashaa rule.
The colonizers are from a minority group that takes, losing power, as an end to its very existence. Never in their history had they treated their own people as equals let alone those of their colonies that they consider as their property. Yet their people had benefited from the colonial system while the others totally lost. Comparing the material life of Habashaa peasants with those of the colonies to say they are of the same status is forgetting the psychological dominance their chauvinist propaganda earned for the first. The poverty in the motherland cannot be justified for the continuation of colonial rule over Oromiya. Oromiyaa had paid more than it produced. It was up to the first warlords to develop their country instead of piling their exploit in foreign land and foreign luxury. They had more years to develop their kingdom than Tigree they despise and no use now to envy when they see how TPLF developed Tigray within two decades.
Many chances of easing the Oromo problem were overlooked in the past. The Oromo for the first time was coaxed in 1991 to join Habashaa forces to find solution for the perennial political problems that are destabilizing the region. The Transitional Charter could have helped as an instrument to decolonize the empire and restoring freedom to the colonial peoples. By it trust could have been built and many of the nations and nationalities given the opportunity to choose from independence and some sort of voluntary political union.
But Habashaa autocracy has shown during the exercise of transition administration in 1991/92 that they are not willing to give up power over the empire and let Oromiyaa decide its own fate. That has left an unforgettable lesson that no democratic outcome from relation with them could be expected at any time. It is only those who fail to learn from history that expects Habashaa to democratize.
As a nation they had never had faith in democracy. For Tigrawayi this is the only chance to stay in power. With democracy they remain minority. Even in independent Habashaa they remain the juniors unless they find other way out. That is why Oromiyaa has to suffer.
The only solution for the Oromo is to continue its struggle with all available means it could muster. To paint such struggle as irrelevant, the present regime has “recognized the right of nations to national self determination” in its constitution. But that is an empty word. People are being harassed and executed, allegedly for thinking to be free. Ethiopianist parties legally registered to compete for powers are not spared let alone those who try to break away. In such stifling atmosphere a peaceful struggle for independence is far fetched. Violence initiated by those in power had turned victims into rebels using the same means to counter them.
On the other hand the vocal Amaara which had reminiscence for past glory of the emperor’s days is taking the self-determination provision as a machination to undermine the sanctity of Ethiopia. They recognize no nation in the empire except Habashaa. The others are simply gosa (ethnic) groups. They call the present arrangement as gosa federalism and gosa regional formation. It is doubtful if they can define what they meant by “gosa” in the Ethiopian context. Gosa is an Oromo word for which the Habashaa have no equivalent.
These are persons that glorify Imperial symbols that were used the great massacre of the Oromo and the leaders that lead the genocide. Be it the symbols or the leaders remind the Oromo of the bad days they do not want to remember. Glorifying such symbols and leaders, amounts to a re-declaration of war and widening of the gap that divides them.
The Ethiopian constitution, for the Oromo is another colonial law. They were not invited as a nation in its making. Even legitimate Oromo organizations like OLF were intentionally thrown out so that they will have no influence on it. Therefore Oromo demands are not based on it but on their own birth right and international law. It is also not a question of secession. It has never willingly become part of Habashaa state. They were conquered by force and obey colonial law not because it is fair but because the barrel of the gun is behind it. Therefore what Oromo demand is restoration of their independence. If existing human law is not enough to cover a wronged situation it cannot be said the situation has to remain as it is but natural law has to set in to correct it. That is when the oppressed peoples are justified to use any means at their disposal to free themselves.
The difference between the present regime and the fallen class is that it recognizes the existence of different peoples in the empire and that Ethiopia as it is today can count a history of only a century. On the other hand the other takes present day Ethiopia as an entity that had been there for three thousand years. But let alone present day Ethiopia there is no proof that the Habashaa state centered at Axum existed for a millennium. Their fiction has given face saving device for those who through them want to interfere in the Affairs of the region.
It is only free Oromiyaa that can deal with any party that want relation with it. Otherwise any dealing would be colonial and unfair for the people. It will be an insult and preposterous for any non Oromo to tell others what is good for the Oromo. It is only the Oromo that has the right to choose what is suiting for it.
Archaic colonialist view
Above we have presented some of their views in the course of discussing Oromo view on the topic. For them Oromo are people that live in different provinces (Xaqilaayi Gizaat) demarcated by the Crown. There is no state called Oromiyaa. The population is scattered over several provinces and have no common territory. In between there are many minorities that need protection from them. All provinces are administrative regions of the Habashaa state. In the past they were not equally treated. There were human right abuses in the southern provinces and the Gaallaa provinces.
For them what is needed now is to halt those abuses. The right to develop their cultures and languages will be protected by law. But they have to adopt Amharic as the national language. As long as Tigree is in power, human right abuse and dividing the country on ethnic line will not stop. Therefore Tigreans government must first be removed and be replaced by “forces of unity” (Amaara). The protection of rights will then follow. The claim that the Oromo was abused is taken out of proportion.
They say like all Ethiopians Oromo are victims of dictatorial regime. There are people from Tigree, Amaara and other tribes in prison victimized by Mallas. Among the persons they mentioned are those arraigned for corruption and those who attempted to unlawfully topple the legal government. From their own words they were only the Oromo who were in prison because of their national origin and their position on Ethiopian state. But they want to gloss over it so that the fundamental differences are not observed. Every Ethiopian has the right to work and live where ever he/she likes, they say. Ethiopia, Oromiyaa included is for all Ethiopians. Secessionist like the OLF had to be destroyed before they destroy the empire.
They say our forefathers had left us this country with great sacrifice, spilling their blood and breaking their bones. Therefore we their children have the trust to maintain it and pass it to the next generation. There is nothing to regret about and apologize for past deeds. Who ever feel victimized by what was committed to acquire this land for us deserved it. It was a civilizing mission and has achieved its goal. What is expected is that all be thankful for our change of heart and extend human right protection to them as well. Their ethnic language and culture can be developed as long as it is not detrimental to the over all Habashaa Christian culture. For them to unite and challenge our authority must be considered blasphemous.
We are opening our door for them individually to live as equals with the right to elect and be elected based on one man one vote principle. Their individual and civil liberties shall be protected in the framework of Habashaa sovereignty. All symbols of Ethiopian unity and valor had to be given primacy by all. All utensils, clothing, furniture, embroideries etc. must curry the green yellow and red Habashaa colors to remind us our heritage at all times.
Thus we see those color every where as if they were discovered only yester day. For the smart ones it has turned to be a big business and for the naïve a reminiscence for lamentation. That is how they think. They had made themselves believe that they are the natural selection to rule over all peoples in the Horn. They want to continue living without apologizing for past genocide and want others to trust and continue to live with them with minor adjustments. All their leaders from Teedros to the present had made Oromo blood to flow like river. For them these are their icons. Their position is developed from contempt for peoples of the colonies, arrogance, greed and ignorance. Suffice to listen to their nauseating rhetoric on how astray they have gone from demands of the time. They seem comfortable to live in dream of the past in this era of globalization. The Russian and Yugoslav empires had crumbled in front of their eyes but they have no capacity to relate it to their own situation.
The general assembly of the United Nations is composed of representatives who in most cases want to maintain the status quo. The far sighted and democratically oriented get through bills with so many modifications that make them vague and short of their targets. Therefore whatever comes out of there cannot be expected to fully satisfy the needs of peace and liberty. Even then the articles cited at the top express the inner feelings of law makers with good intentions. Seen from that angle the solution to solve Oromo question can be found not in the meager international law but in Oromo determination.
The colonizers do not want to compromise their archaic desire to rule the world. Except for the deceptive attempt made by a group to include persons and parties in a transitional arrangement no group from Habashaa restoration movement has ever approached the Oromo with an offer. No one of them had shown remorse and apologized for the destruction of Oromo culture and institutions and the mass genocide that their forefathers had committed on the colonial people. For an African to eat with descendents of his relatives’ killer is a curse that cannot be absolved in a normal way. They know that but their contempt for the peoples did not make them to bother to absolve themselves from past criminal acts. To praise and idolize those leaders that cut limbs, breasts; sold them into slavery and performed more dehumanizing and humiliating acts on the Oromo is no different from participating directly in those acts. To add insult to injury they want the present generation to say “bravo!” to what happened to their ancestors and appreciate how present generation of those murderers had become kindhearted to them. Yes, they now use efficient and effective instruments, yet they still torture, kill and humiliate the Oromo.
In the past they were able to keep the Oromo masses in darkness and imposed their will by threats and terror. Now it is information age. The same model of governance cannot continue. For them, to adjust to modernity will take time. The consequence of that will be far reaching. Nothing short of the realization of national self determination will satisfy the Oromo. That is what we call peoples right. Individual rights and civil liberties will be protected by the people to whom the individuals belong. It is not the colonizer who had never had an idea of democratic practices and the rule of law that should tell the Oromo how to maintain its home.
As a peace loving people the Oromo prefer to reach their goal by peaceful means. But because their adversary is aggressive they are being pushed to the corner. In the absence of cooperation towards common understanding by the other parties, they will be left with no options than fight back hard. The Oromo are ready to talk to any party that recognizes them as an entity by their own right. It also expects an apology from the present generation of the invaders for all the wrongs done to them by their predecessors. That will conclude the chapter on agony of the region and a new beginning as good neighbors will commence. If neighbors cooperate there is a greater world than Oromiyaa to win in this global world. Otherwise all that blood was not shade in vain. But an oath was taken to fulfill the kaayyoo.
If it cannot live as a nation it is being proposed that the Oromo live as individual galtuu of the Habashaa. With the very thought creating local tension could result in common destruction. Oromiyaa if free is sure to be a model for democracy in the world. The rule of law, human rights and civil liberties shall be observed more developed than during the Gadaa period. If that fails there will be no stop to Oromo struggle until victory. It could demand great sacrifice and take years, be as it may, there will be no more submission to the life of humiliation and abuse as a people.
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.