By J. Ebisa
Like millions of Oromo and non-Oromo worldwide, I watched the recent Irreecha Oromo Thanksgiving festival where hundreds of Oromo, about 700 according to sources, were gunned down, provoked to run into deep ditches and suffocated or stamped by massive crowd in panic. I still feel angry and distraught by the tragedy which could have been avoided. It is not far-fetched truth to suggest that it was deliberately and meticulously organized by the Wayyane regime which worked over years to sabotage and discourage this important ceremony which it assimilate to Oromo nationalism. This is a painful day which adds a chapter to the collective humiliation of the Oromo nation which has experienced many genocidal killings and massacres under successive regimes. In the following pages, I briefly discuss the significance of Irreecha in embodying Orommuuma and the multi-faceted struggle for the survival of the Oromo as nation both in the past and the present.
What makes Irreecha unique in Oromo history and ethnography?
For the Oromo, Irreecha is a unique day of celebration of life and communication with God since immemorial times. Irreecha, Oromo thanksgiving, often takes at the end of rainy season and welcome of a new harvest where they collectively thank their God for His providence, peace and harmony and interact with each other. It is the most peaceful day in Oromo culture where people do not carry spears, knives and other harmful weapons but green grass (Irreecha) and Sniqee the symbol of peace and fertility and femininity in Oromo culture. Even in the event of conflict and hostility between individuals and groups, it is seen the most peaceful day and rallying time. However, the Woyane, which never stopped killing and harassing, every single day and night since its coming to power, could not even give a one-day respite by deliberately creating havoc and terror which took the lives of hundreds of these beautiful young people and adults dressed in ceremonial attire and Irreecha in their hands. In doing so, it created indelible memory of sorrow and hatreds against this regime which has never been recognized as legitimate and representative despite its false claims to the contrary. This tragedy is a testament to its declared war against the Oromo nation, which it escalated with the State of Emergency declared on October 9, to justify the ongoing genocidal killings.
Historically speaking, all Ethiopian rulers (of Amhara-Tigrean stock) share the same view on Oromo identity and unity. They are scared of Oromo demographic strength and potential cohesion and strove, and are striving, to prevent large Oromo national gatherings such as pilgrimage (Muuda) and Irreecha (Thanksgiving) which attract millions of Oromo from all corners of Oromo land. It has to be stressed that Menelik was the first to ban Irreecha and pilgrimage of Oromo to the holy place as he felt that this large crowd would create insecurity and threat to the newly created empire. In so doing, he broke and undermined the kinship bond and unity of Oromo groups who kept their interaction and institutional linkage for centuries despite their dispersion over an extended territory.
In addition, emperor Menelik also forced the Tulama Oromo to circumcise before the Gaada time which literally undermined the Gadaa system in order to convert them to the Orthodox Church. The military defeat and political pressure exerted on the colonized Oromo meant most of the Oromo became Christians and Muslims which eroded Oromo representative institutions. Gadaa and Irreechaa continued to be organized locally and marginally at community levels by losing their central importance in Oromo’s socio-political life.
The fear of Oromummua (Oromoness) continues unabated among old imperial elites who have to yet to come to terms with the idea that the Oromo are a nation, a Great Nation as de Salviac named them, a formidable nation, whose identity is based on deeply noted in cultural tradition (Gadaa, Qaallu, Irreecha) and a common language completely intelligible and continuous geographic conditions. Some of them have pretended that the Oromo are not one nation but congeries of related tribes.
Some Naftagna, pseudo historians or their coolies are mobilized to argue that Oromo /Oromia was created by Tigreans in 1991. When they lost war to deny Oromo nationhood or Oromia, they kept the fight by opposing and protesting against the Qubee, the use of Oromo alphabet to write Afaan Oromo. Additionally, they denied or continued to minimize Oromo proven historical grievances against the Ethiopian state. The priests went up to excommunicating its members who prayed in Oromo. At one point they allegedly refused church service for members for using Qubee, etc. The Qubee generation is waging a battle on the two fronts: the fight against the vestiges of the past and those who have never renounced to reign again under another name and the current oppressors.
Irreecha and the roots of Oromo protest:
The change in 1991 appears to have given the hope that the Oromo felt that they would be free to revive the Central Oromo institutions such as Gadaa and Irreecha as a symbol of Oromo nationhood and emblem of identity. Irreecha became an immediate success both among Oromo’s at home and Diaspora. This time, in 2016, the ceremony have rallied 4 million people together despite government tricks to sabotage to impede it. The TPLF seems to consider the 40 million Oromo as its enemies, not free citizens who have inalienable rights to meet and worship together and to express dissent, the rights guaranteed in the Ethiopian Constitution and the Federal Act.
The TPLF junta, more than any regime in Ethiopian history, predicated on the control of every facet of Ethiopian life: religion, politics, economy (the patriarch has to be a Tigrean, it had to select the Imam from its preferred sect) and it would like impose their own Abba Gadaa. They practically control the entire national economy and political institutions, including 100% representatives in the pavement. These shameless leaders claimed 100% victory in a nation where they do not represent more than 6% and where Tigray does not add practically nothing, or very little to a national wealth. The Oromo, as other people in the country, saw first-hand that these penny less and horde hungry men taking over their land and resource and thrived at their expense and they became nouveau riche, millionaires or even billionaires in a very short period of time “because they are brave warriors and hardworking” while “others (Amhara and Oromo) are coward, lazy and envious” – the expressions attributed to a young Tigrean woman living in Diaspora which may reflect the view of empowered Tigrean elites. It is funny that the Amhara are now at the receiving end of these TPLF insults and degrading remarks which they generally distributed to disempowered people, Oromo included.
Beyond the total control of the economy and exclusion and marginalization of the non-Tigrean, the Woyane have induced fear and insecurity in the country; pupils and students are not safe in schools, dormitories and on the streets. Successful graduates are unsure to get job opportunity in economy controlled by Stalinist plutocrats. Those who have a job are worried losing it with the changing mood of the autocrats. Even being loyal to OPDO does not guarantee anything they often brought new OPDOs to keep members under pressures. For any success, the TPLF takes credit and for any failings OPDOs easily become the scapegoat and disposable. Did not it place the blame for the Addis Integrated Master Plan on local authorities? Does not it try attribute the cause of social discontent to bad governance and corruption to OPDOs, their powerless local agents while they in total of the control of the economy and politics? This is not surprising for the government founded in lies and manipulation.
Farmers are not secure on their holdings because the land belongs to the state which could dispossess them anytime. Religious believers are harassed because of the government intervenes in religions affairs – it may know the Imam who better communicate with Allah! Citizens can easily go to jail, disappear and even being killed for no reasons other than expressing their dissent. Anybody can be accused of terrorism, and anti-peace and anti-development and persecuted by the so-called anti-terrorist laws. In fact, this was reported by Human Rights organizations, UN and EU. The Kleptocrats who have never enjoyed popular support and legitimacy rule through terror. Despite repeated calls from UN, EU and human rights organizations to allow independent investigations into reported abuses of human rights, the government would not agree.
One of the major problems which the international community has failed to understand or chose to ignore is that, this government is not a national government but ethnocrcay. Everything from local level administration to national institutions were designed to ensure a Tigrean hegemony. Its army is not a national army but private militia in the service of TPLF agenda. It is not the embodiment of a nation protecting national interests and common good. The presence of Agazi (name for Tigreans special forces) in any place struck fear like SS under the Nazi rule or the Rwandan Interhamwe (the killer militia in 1994). They are seen not as the protectors of citizens’ safety and security but a hostile force entrusted with the mission to kill, maim and arrest, and rape. The daily deaths in the different parts of the country, Oromia regions in particular provide a vivid picture.
Thus, despite its relentless campaign globally and nationally to pretend that the government is legitimate and democratic based on rational bureaucracy and a rule of law, it is far from meeting the basic standard of a modern government: the whole thing is a farce (fake democracy, fake federalism, fake justice system, fake rational administration, fake prime minister, fake double digit economic growth and prosperity which were sold to the West government and International financial institutions. Yet a pseudo “success story” from war torn and unstable region looks attractive. The questions is: for how long do the Western donors tolerate the gross abuses of human rights? Do they understand the depth of the grievances of the Oromo and others under this regime? Is it morally acceptable to tolerate insecurity of tens of millions in the country for their alleged security? The long term consequences government violence and marginalization could be dramatic consequences for the region in case this government allowed to continue its misrule.
In other words, instead of internal and external terrorism threatening the country, the major threat for their wellbeing of the people in Ethiopia emanates from its government. What surprising is not so much its claim to be rampart against terrorism, but the dismissal of all legitimate concerns and protest of citizens as terrorism. Recently, they are trying to justify their never end rule as guarantee against imminent danger: GENOCIDE. Seriously? The misuse and abuse of the concept of genocide by the Woyyane is not new; Meles justified federal model a means of preventing a kind of genocide which occurred in Rwanda. His disciples Abaye Tsehai and Seyoum Mesfin have taken the relay of ignorance and manipulation by branding the spectre of genocide to deflect the conversation from their crimes to suggest that if they are not in charge of the affairs things will go from bad to worse. These pseudo-intellectual talk shows that their shallow education and miseducation to understand this complex phenomenon. It is not a crime not receive higher education or not getting a chance to take courses or a decent lecture on a genocide in world politics and history. Actually, they are perpetrating genocidal killings in many parts of the country in Oromia in particular.
The state of emergency declared today is a recipe for more violence and massacre; it sets the stage for more violence. This intimidation, massacre, planned atrocities cannot stop the oppressed people from standing up for the rights. Historically, those who committed genocides in Germany, Cambodia (the pol pot regime, 1975-1979) and Rwanda in 1994 were perpetrated by fascists and undemocratic governments in power. They were all government induced genocides, genocide from above. Today, the one which engaged in genocidal massacres is the TPLF government and its armed militia. Are they organizing inter-communal conflict as a way of extension of their power which seems to be shrinking day by day? My only hope is they do not use “Genocide” to deflect criticism from widely governmental crimes and abuses of human rights and foment inter-ethnic conflicts for short term political calculation.
The on-going Oromo protest
As opposed to the preceding regimes, this government promised, a measure of autonomy economic, political power and cultural powers for federal regions. After consolidating its hegemony, it has decided to take back the concessions made to the Oromo and it is the promise non-kept promises, disempowerment, contempt and marginalisation that triggered the current resistance. It is to be noted the Oromo never surrendered without a fight although the magnitude of the resistance varied, mostly regional and fragmented. They kept on fighting against injustice and oppression in the different corners of their land. Their collective resistance started to take shape since the 1960s and evolved through the subsequent decades of sacrifice under Haile Selassie and the Darg regimes. The Qubee generation, which was born and educated with the sense of Orommumaa is now spreading of the ongoing revolution. Interestly, to achieve its own policy goals, the government gave civic education including human rights at all levels and encouraged to proud of cultural heritage. They gladly accepted and embraced their Orommuma and have decided to fight for their nation, culture and land. One thing which differs them from the predecessors is that they do not suffer from competing loyalties – they are Oromo and the age of communication and the social media helped to build their unity and wage collective struggle. They are the first victims of Woyane assassination and massacre which is making more resolute.
The recently announced Amhara-Oromo solidarity, by some, does not mean that Amhara and Oromo have the same historical memories and experience. It is true that both the Amhara and Oromo are marginalized and oppressed by Kleptorcatic gangs which mix Stanlism, plutocracy as neo-liberal developmentalism as a method of governance.
However, one of the problem with this solidarity is that may harbour a hidden dream to back to power in the event the current regimes and they are making transitional government to this effect. the Qubee generation and the Qeerroo fighters are ready to uproot the Tigrean Kleptocratic regime, but also not to see the vestige of imperial past under the tautology of individual rights and liberal democracy. They pertinently know that Ethiopia is not a civic nation, liberal individualism is not the answer to oppressed nations like the Oromo. They strongly believe in Oromo nation possesses inherent rights to self-determination enshrined in international law and the charter to create a self-governing proud nation where individual rights institutionalized and respected in order to ensure peaceful co-existence and cooperation. The Qubee generation is forward looking, they do not want to see their people being marginalised and humiliated and reduced to second class citizens. They aspire to live in liberty and dignity on their land to be at home and are ready to pay the necessary sacrifice to achieve these noble goals. Justice will prevail and these combatants of liberty will enter into the pantheon of Oromo history for ever.