This paper although emerged from my reflection at the London Oromo Conference (22-23 Oct 2016)it is not about appraising the conference but about the unspoken messages behind the conference. I convinced myself to attend the conference to observe two major outcomes: how the International Oromo Lawyers Association (IOLA) would bring to diaspora Oromo; the long held democratising Ethiopia in the face of the angry and disaffected diaspora and bring consensus between Oromo political parties that were spilt by meticulous handy work of TPLF for two decades.
What is more fascinating for me to notice at the conference was the arrangement of the speakers and the time slot given to the proponents of Oromo Bilisumma, the democratising Ethiopia speaker’s. The meeting started with a presentation of intellectually stimulating papers the kind you would expect at Oromo Studies Association nonetheless pointing to the themes of the day. In the afternoon of 22 Oct the meeting was dedicated to Oromo political parties presentation. To no once surprise, the Oromo political organisations spilled bins and threaded accusation against each other and the public was also given chance to ask questions at the end that appears to be the strongest criticism of Oromo political parties that would suffice a resignation of the leadership by the standards of Western politicians.
The milestone for the second day was the famous speech by the arch proponent of Ethiopian federalist and democratization activist Izkele Gabissa. His presentation started with a warm up on Gadaa but stopped short of his repeated mantra of paradigm shift in Oromo struggle from liberating Oromia to democratizing Ethiopia. His main argument which is also supported with his article of Friday 21 of Oct, 2016 is that the time for calling for Oromia independence is an out-dated , “What is inscrutable is the fact that the idea of self-identification, self-reliance and self-rule that the OLF planted among the Oromo has grown to the sentiment of “national liberation” expressed by the #OromoProtests. The #OromoProtests has been a national drama unfolding before the entire world. Reasonable people know the demands of the present Oromo revolution. They don’t torment them with the same question they asked of their predecessors’. He further quotes in this same article Obbo Taha Abdi testimony on 8th of April 1992 before US House of Representative and Foreign Affairs subcommittee to justify his stands on democratization of Ethiopia where Taha has allegedly said ; “ an opportunity to democratize, transform and create a new Ethiopia in which the equal enjoyment of civil, economic and political rights of all the people are assured and above all there is no alternative to the democratization of Ethiopia”.
What is more depressing is to note that Eskele uses every public opportunity to promote his view of democratizing Ethiopia as the Alfa and Omega to the life of Oromo nation .He elaborated why we need a shift in paradigm in the struggle against Ethiopian empire at his press interview defending Atlanta Oromo leadership conference to ESAT television and recently in Canada where he outright said, “ I don’t recall Oromo’s protesting for self-determination. What I heard them say is democracy and rule of law.”. I don’t know how loud the Oromo should voice their interest for Oromia self-rule and do away with Ethiopian tyranny other than what they have been saying in the last one year and paying the ultimate price in thousands to this effect. If that is no sufficient to hear Oromo desire for Independent Oromia, I don’t know what a “ reasonable person” Ezkele is referring to want to know about Oromians determination.
His case for demanding Oromo’s struggle need a shift in paradigm has not shifted for a quarter a century nor produced academic evidence to this end. For a quarter of century there has been ‘ democratization of Ethiopia ‘ in the making that the Western stakeholders strongly approved off. One would think an experiment of democratization for twenty five years or so would generate sufficient evidence that political scientist can digest to support their debate not reiterating a simple statement of a former OLF central committee from a quarter of a century to obstruct Oromo struggle and make a case for democratizing Ethiopia as a solution to Oromians national question. One wonders if there is hidden motive for this unsubstantiated rhetoric, I noted the following clues from his essay.
Origin of the shift in paradigm argument
What appears as an academic evidence for the debate on shifting in paradigm of Oromo national question for independence of Oromia was a note from black American struggle for emancipation referring to The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy in America by economist Gunnar Myrdal who suggested “Once African-Americans started to demand that the principles of liberty, equality, justice and fair treatment of all citizens inherent in the US Constitution be extended to them..”. By the same vein of argument Eskele says. “…Oromo’s should insist the constitutional rights and the federal arrangement be respected. Oromo protesters became defenders of the constitution against a government that with impunity violated the political, economic”. He goes further to recommend that : “ I argue that the art of politics for the Oromo at this point is foregoing the emotional satisfaction of calling for a grand military victory over the “Wayane” and accepting instead specific measures that are likely to produce tangible and lasting results” Meaning the armed struggle against the TPLF should be stopped and worthless and Oromos should be contained by some measures amendment that the TLPF regime might pronounce in response to Oromo-revolution. He further recommends, “ Oromos must use constitutional means to claim that access and gain that leadership”. These phrases will be laminated in collective memories of millions of Oromo’s for the years to come probably worth keeping (translated in Affaan Oromo) them for educating future generation of Oromians on how the struggle has been fought from within in the same scale and magnitude to those at the battle front.
There are two flaws in these disparaging in this seemingly academic arguments I would like to raise here. In the first instance to compare Oromo, a nation with its own homeland, language, history and heritage for thousands of years to disposed black American (Africans forced to slavery) who are uprooted of their native land , culture value, language and heritage and have nothing but the colonizers language, religion and values. Why he couldn’t compare Oromo’s with Kosovo, the breakaway republic of former Yugoslavia but the American America black people struggle is a subject I would like to deal in future article. Second flaw in this too simplistic argument denies the fact that Ethiopia is a lawless land where there is no independent judiciary to uphold the rule of law and . This argument should have appraised the failure of judiciary, policy and all state institutions and the very fact that the present apartheid TPLF government based at the heart of Oromia –Finefine is not something Oromo’s can stomach. It is simply giving unwarranted credence of authority to TPLF a legal instrument with little reference of the reality on the ground.
The truth of the matter Ezkele’s argument for demanding a shift in paradigm from Oromians seeking independence appears to me as to ODF political line. Here is what is said in his article of 21st October ayyaantuu : “ At the moment, it is not clear which OLF is still promoting the idea of “total independence.” Over the last half century, the OLF has splintered into several factions. The Oromo Democratic Front (ODF), for instance, has a new political program that doesn’t mention total independence’. The question one would naturally want to ask: Is the academic argument by Ezkele is there to defend the ODF political line or is it simply to find supportive evidence for ODF. I will leave this to the readers to make up their mind.
Danger behind democratization- agenda
In is seminal article, Assefa Jalata notes the hidden agenda of democratization “ in the ideological clothing of universalism, progress, democracy, development, .. have hidden the massive human rights violations of indigenous peoples and have contributed to the perpetuation of underdevelopment, poverty, and suffering for the majority of the world populations (De Sousa Santos 2007; Rajagopal 2003, 2006).”
What is also hidden behind the agenda of democratization of Ethiopia and demanding a shifting paradiagm from liberating Oromia in effect is advocating for maintaining the present colonial boundary that will work for global capitalism allowing the neocolonial states and local and transnational capitalists to intensify the exploitation and dehumanization of Oromo people an experiment that has been tested for twenty-five years.
As the struggle for Oromian independence draws to close, the proponent of the grater Ethiopia are taking every conceivable public space to get heard and bring their feeble ideological argument against just cause of Oromo nation. While no one deny the role of scholarly debate, but disregarding the lived experience 45 millions Oromo voice willfully is an acceptable. The Oromo’s says for those who want to hear: Galmi keenya bilisummaadha. Our goal is liberation
Oromia is a crime seen at present. The exhibit of the crime committed against Oromo’s are there for all to see. But why the International Oromo Lawyers Association (IOLA) ignored the exhibit and failed to forge alliance with other humanitarian organisation to take the criminals to the International Criminal Court (ICC) but pursue a different path is not clear for us to see. For now is suffice to say to Federalist, Ethiopian democratization advocates amongst Oromo it’s an democratic and not honourable to say to Oromo’s that there is a glass cling how far you can go on yourself determination without your enemies approval. There is more moral and intellectual responsibility in framing a discussion around a party political ideology presented as tenders prescription for a Oromo struggle when it is actually intended for maintaining the present status quo.
Assefa Jalata (2016). Reimagining Global Social Movements in the Perspective of Egalitarian Democracy Ayyaantuu.net [ 27th Oct 2016]
Ezkele Gabissa (2016). The Oromo Leadership Convention and the Future of Ethiopia. Ayyaantuu.net [ 21 Oct , 2016]