History: Alkaline to neutralize conflicts or an element to catalyze them?
by: Bayisa Wak-Woya
Geneva, 20th February, 2017
[The Culprit, ESAT Video Interview is posted, herewith, at the end]
PART – I
From the outset:
- The recent ESAT interview with Dr. Larebo encouraged me to write this note, something which I was thinking of doing for some years now. Although I am disappointed with both the form and content of the interview, I found it a blessing in disguise because it provided me with the muse I needed to gather my thoughts to write this piece regarding the use or misuse of history. In bracket though, I would like to express my deepest dissatisfaction that, a) the interviewer seems to have an ulterior motive – because he was feeding the interviewee with leading questions, which is very unprofessional; and, b) the issues discussed were not relevant to the prevailing situation in Ethiopia in general and that of the ongoing rapprochement between the Oromo and Amhara people in particular. To sum up, and in my view, the interview did not have any added value whatsoever. As for Dr. Larebo’s statement about Oromos, I can only say that he is either an educated illiterate or an arrogant individual who is harboring quite a dose of grudge against the Oromo people for reasons not known to me yet.
- Just a short note for Dr. Larebo and others who may share his views about the Oromos: If Oromos call themselves as Oromos, then they are Oromos. Period! If you tell me that your name is ላሬቦ, I should be either ignorant, arrogant or a moron to insist that your name is actually not ላሬቦ but ሌቦ. So, my dear learned Dr. Larebo, you fall into one of these three categories of people, and hence, it does not worth spending my time on this. Stay where you are and continue believing in what you believe. But one thing for sure, don’t expect me to respond if you call me “Galla” because you are not addressing me but some other non-existing ghost. I also don’t expect you to respond if I address you as ሌቦ because it is not your name. Just for the record though: Judging from your academic credentials and the exposures you are enjoying in the Western world, it is very difficult to categorize you as an ignorant or a moron, because it seems to me that you are deliberately using the derogatory word “ጋላ” or “እረኛ” as if for example, you could not find an Amharic version of “pastoralist” – which I am more than happy to enlighten you – it is “አርብቶ አደር”. For your information, “እረኛ” is “shepherd”. Oromos were አርብቶ አደር and not እረኛ. I would have loved to apply in this case one of my favorite Oromo proverbs – “ሳልጶ ሶቆላቴ ሶቆሉ ጋርጋሩ” but then again I feel like, it is waste of my time because you are what people call in Amharic አውቆ የተኛውን ቢቀሰቅሱት አይሰማም! I rather leave you to stay where you belong – in the world of arrogance!
- As a young boy, growing up in a remote village in Western Wollega, and out of sheer ignorance and lack of exposure, I used to use very derogatory terms every time I addressed seasonal workers from Gojam, who were staying in our compound during coffee harvesting seasons. But from the day I learned that the term I was using was a derogatory one, I stopped using it, and forever. I learned it the hard way, but be it! I was young, ignorant, and naïve, a boy without any exposure to the external world outside of my village. Now whenever I retroactively remember these episodes, I do feel embarrassed for using these derogatory terms, although the fact that I was using them out of ignorance, solaces me very well!
- In another similar episode, and until I went to Alaba Qulito during ዕድገት በህብረት ዘመቻ I did not know that ጉዴላ and ወላሞ were derogatory names but when my fellow ዘማቾች from Hosaena and Wolayita Sodo High schools told me that it was derogatory and these two nations actually call themselves as ሃዲያ and ወላይታ, respectively, I immediately deleted from my memories the derogatory words and replaced them with the real names of these people as they told me they were. As simple as that. It is doable of course, if only there is a good will. My basic principle since then remains – who am I to call you differently when you are telling me that your name is said and written this or that way? It is your name and I have to respect it. There is no need for me to dig deep in graves of history and undertake forensic studies to prove that your name is different from what you are telling me unless of course, I have ulterior motives.
- A nation may decide to be called by any name it may wish so, including a derogatory one, provided that it is the choice of the people and that they don’t consider it derogatory. Take for example, how proud we are to call ourselves Ethiopians or habesha. Wherever we are, especially in diaspora, we are so proud to be called as such and we are rather kind of offended if people mistake us for other nation or call us differently. We are too proud to be Ethiopian or habesha. It has become a norm now to even wear T-shirts and cowboy capes with logos like “ኩሩ ሀበሻ“,”ኩሩ ኢትዮጵያዊ” to demonstrate to the world who we are. But if one looks at the origin and meaning of these two words, they are derogatory, in real sense. Ethiopia, as the Greeks used to call people south of Mediterranean, the Cushitic, means burned face, dark face, which in modern language is Negro or Nigger. And Habesha, is an Arabic word which literally means mixed race, otherwise in Amharic “ክልስ” or “ዲቃላ”. In other words, we are proud to call ourselves “ኩሩ ዲቃላ” and “ኩሩ ኒጌር”. So be it, as long as we like to be called as such. It is nonsensical if others call us otherwise.
My disappointment about the interview:
- At this particular junctions of history of our nation, we are witnessing an unprecedented level of violation of the human rights of Ethiopians by the TPLF regime which led to the uprising of the Oromo people, later followed by similar uprisings of the Amhara, Konso, and Benishanghul and Gambella people. The government declared state of emergency following which tens of thousands of civilians from all the areas where the uprising took place, detained, tortured and in some places killed. In general, the situation in the country has gone from bad to worse with no sign of light at the end of the tunnel, at least at this stage.
- The affected nations of Ethiopia, especially the two most populace ones i.e. the Oromo and Amhara, fully understanding that their separate resistance may not yield the desired result, decided to forge certain form of understanding which would possibly lead to form a coalition to remove the TPLF-led regime and replace it with a democratic government of all Ethiopians. Amhara demonstrators in Gojam and Gonder made it clear to the TPLF regime that they consider any attack on the Oromo as an attack on Amhara people. Whether it was in Wolqait Tsegede or Gonder, Bahir Dar or Wogera, the Amhara demonstrators were seen carrying banners with pictures of Bekele Gerba and other Oromo political prisoners demanding their immediate release. Numerous Amhara elders travelled from Gonder and Gojam all the way to Bishoftu to participate in the annual Oromo Thanksgiving celebration (ኢሬቻ) – an event which the Orthodox Church until very recently, used to label as un-Godly. The Oromos reciprocated by declaring that they have nothing against the millions of Amharas living in Oromia, as long as they are not against the freedom of the Oromo people, and announced all over Oromia that no one should attempt on their lives and their property. To-date, and despite the fact that the uprising at times was very intense and involved massive killings and disappearances, not a single Amhara person was hurt in the entire Oromia region. This is what I call, the height of mutual understanding between nations that for very long time used to perceive each other as arch enemies. So, if this is the prevailing picture in Ethiopia as we speak, which I believe, both the interviewer and interviewee are fully aware of, why on earth then one dedicates the full hour air-time of the organization on a traditionally controversial theme of “history of nations” which has no relevance whatsoever to the prevailing situation in Ethiopia?
- One last comment on a subject related to the interview: there is something which constantly puzzles me and now rekindled after watching this ESAT interview. It has always been the Oromo history which is under scrutiny as if everyone else is indigenous and the Oromos were late comers i.e. immigrants. Every Ethiopian media outlet considers it part of its objective to entertain politicians or so called experts in Ethiopian history to analyze Oromo history past and present which always ends with some sort of condemnation of the Oromos claim that they were oppressed by the Amhara ruling system. By design or coincidence, similar scrutiny has never been brought up for discussion, for example, about the history of the Abyssinians, past and present.
- Regarding this never-ending “dispute” as to who is indigenous to Ethiopia, I am always puzzled by one “historical fact”, as written in the Bible and corroborated by historians very often. The name Ethiopia (burned face) a Greek word, is given to the black people who lived south of the Mediterranean Sea. It is also a fact that the territory south of Mediterranean is what is mentioned dozens of times in Bible as Ethiopia is, land of the Cushitic people. And Oromos are from that Cushitic tribe which is never contested. On the other hand, the Abyssinians are proud of their ancestry that they are from the Semitic tribe and that their languages (Geez, Tigrinya and Amharic) are all adopted from the original Sabean (ሳባውያን) language which of course is Semitic. So if these two historic facts are never contested by both groups, i.e. the Oromos are proud of being from the Cushitic tribe and the Amharas are equally proud of being from Semitic tribe, and the Cushitic tribes lived south of Mediterranean, in the Biblical Ethiopia whereas the Abyssinians naturally lived in what is today known as the Middle East and Gulf areas, then why is the controversy as to who is indigenous to Ethiopia. Isn’t that self-evident?
PART – II: History
- That all being said, let me now proceed to the main theme of my piece – history: a theme which Dr. Larebo extensively dwelled upon although, at times it was difficult, at least for me, to distinguish whether it was a bed-time story or real documentary. I will try to briefly analyze, what history is all about, who writes them, when does history starts to be historical fact, and are they relevant to the prevailing situation in Ethiopia and so on.
- I love history as a subject, to learn how people lived and interacted in the past, why they went to war against each other, how they made peace and developed their respective nations, how societies’ evils were treated by a community, how nations survived mother nature’s adverse behaviors etc. Apart from that, ancient history of nations, at least in my view, do not provide useful tools to solve contemporary socio-political problems, where individualism reigns, and war is no more a means to achieve certain goals (for example, defeating the enemy and bring peace) but rather, has become a goal by itself.
- History is a very wide subject, corruptible and difficult to study because and unlike scientific subjects, which can be proven empirically, it is written and recorded by human beings who in turn, are guided by their instincts and personal judgments. In other words, what is presented to us as “historical facts” is the combination of subjective and objective judgment of the writers. One and the same event can be interpreted and recorded differently by different historians depending on the state of mind of the writers, among others, at the time of writing. Dr. Larebo and Dr. Lapiso, despite the fact that they both grew-up in one አውራጃ and may have even attended the same high school and thought Ethiopian history by the same teacher, ended up holding different views about history of the Oromos.
- For politicians, the beginning or cut-off-date of history is a never defined one. They consider it dynamic and to be invoked “as necessary”. The goal post (of an event) is moving very often depending on who possesses the ball at a given time because every player (I am talking about politicians here) fixes the exact location of the goal post depending on what it wants to achieve using “history” at that particular moment in human history. In the case of Ethiopia, the Abyssinians and the Oromos for whatever reasons, have different start date of their respective history within the context of Ethiopia.
- History, especially written during or following wars or conflicts, which is the case in Ethiopia, normally do have two specific characters:
- It cannot objective and neutral. The chroniclers were always attached to the rulers and their task was to document all what they see or heard from the side of the ruler. If they wrote about the other side, it is only the negative effect or impact of what is coming from the other side. This is very natural. If you are an Amhara chronicler following Menelik during his expedition to the South, and observing the loss of lives and pains inflicted upon the fighters from “your side” it is very natural that you portray the behavior of the “enemy” i.e. the other side, as barbaric. And the same is true for those who were witnessing the event from the “other side”. Hence if አባ ባህረ, after returning to his tranquility writes that the Oromos were brutal and barbaric it is very natural to expect from the Oromo war leader, to tell the Oromos his version of the cruelty of the Abyssinians;
- It is about the victors. Today, the world knows history of WW II from the victor’s side. Every year when we celebrate Victory Day, you hear these never-ending narrations about the gruesome, sadistic and mass killings of civilians by the soldiers of fascist Germany but you never read anything negative about the behavior of the soldiers of the victors as if they were angels. Had it been Hitler who won the war, it would have been Stalin and Churchill who would have been at Nurnberg. History of WW II would have been written like – the “barbaric” Soviet dictator, Stalin and “authoritarian” Churchill attacked the “peace-loving people of Germany”, and of course, “the German people defended their motherland and won a decisive victory”. That is naturally the way Abyssinian war chroniclers recorded “history”. When Tewdros gathered and burned hundreds of priests, his chronicler would have written in such beautiful poetic words that the perished priests were nothing better than parasites of the society. Not difficult to guess what such chroniclers wrote at the end of a war with Worqitu – the Oromo queen of Wollo, or other Oromo chiefs.
- That is why, for Oromos, the story which is passed from generation to the generation that, Menelik was barbaric, he cut hands of men and breasts of women is as authentic as it can get, and there is no way you can convince an Oromo that the Anole and Chelenqo massacres did not take place. Judging from the way the Amhara ruling system oppressed, discriminated and exploited the Oromos up until the fall of the emperor, serves as circumstantial piece of evidence corroborating that cruelty. But, today, as modern thinkers, we can deduct four different scenarios from these two separate accounts: a) አባ ባህረ was right and aba Gadaa was wrong, b) አባ ባህረ was wrong and aba Gadaa was right, c) both of them were wrong, and, d) both of them were right. Naturally the sides chose what suits them best to prove that the other side was crueler.
- Why are stories about war especially those written during conflicts are far from being authentic? Experts in conflict and war studies conclude that parties to any conflict, while preparing themselves to go to war, must make sure that, two most important things are well taken care of ahead of the beginning of the actual war:
- Truth must be killed, i.e. tell your people a distorted version of facts to justify your action for going to war. You cannot go to war unless you convince your people that the enemy is bent for example, to destroy your people or humanity at large. If possible, produce proofs like that little can Collin Powel brandished at the UN Security Counicl to convince States that Sadaam Hussein was actually not only amassing weapons of mass destruction but was ready to use them against the interests of the USA.
- The enemy should be demonized: Because you should not be seen as fighting a good guy, you have to at least try to convince your people that your enemy is not a human being but a devil. In the case of Ethiopia, and as seen from chroniclers of Tewdros, he was pleading to the Almighty to give him the strength to go and exterminate the pagans, non-believers, otherwise, the Gallas as he identified them. And of course, the Oromos, were pleading to the same ዋቃዮ ጉዳ, to be on their side in their fight against the “Abyssinian mass killer”, who they were portraying as barbaric and brutal not only towards adult fighters but also towards their children and female population. And it is incumbent on the chroniclers, in our case, the አባ ባህሬዎች, to convert all these “facts” into written document and save it for future generation that their “beloved” rulers fought against evil people and only in self-defense or defending a common good.
- Once the war started, it is up to the chronicler to sit on the hill nearby and document what he is observing. Obviously, what he observes is not buckets of flowers coming from the “enemy” side but barrage of spears, stones, poisoned arrows with devastating effects on this side. Of course the chronicler is not in a positon to document the damages the weapons from “this side” inflicts upon the “other side”. In any case, it has already been concluded that there are no human beings on the other side but evil people who deserve to be exterminated, as it was established before to the war started.
- To illustrate how “authentic” are the so called “historical documents”, let me inject one of real-life story in which I happened to be among the main characters. It is related to the war in Yugoslavia in 1992 – 1995. Right at the beginning of the war, I was appointed as a United Nations official and was sent to Croatia – a newly emerged state after secession from Yugoslavia. To be as close as possible to the epicenter of the conflict, Bosnia Hercegovina, I was stationed in Southern part of Croatia from where me and my Croatian colleagues could easily cross the border and get as much as possible closer to the confrontation line to “observe” the violations of humanitarian law in general and human rights of civilians. Friends of mine were stationed in Belgrade from where they too make daily cross border missions to “their side” of Bosnia. At the end of every month, we were summoned by our overall boss in Zagreb “the closest safe place” and were asked to report on our findings from the Confrontation zones of both sides. Similar to the chroniclers of Abyssinian kings and war lords, we present our chronicles “ዜና መዋዕል” as we recorded them during the month. We reported all what we saw from our respective “sides” of the confrontation line. Of course, in addition to what we observed and recorded at the frontline, we also enriched our reports with “facts” which we usually gather from those soldiers who were returning home for rest and recuperation as well as from the civilian victims who most of the time were the direct target. As we were reporting our respective “authentic” ዜና መዋዕል, we realized that the reports coming from the “other side” is not really tallying with what is presented from “this side”.
- For me, what I saw and recorded was a true account of the impact of Serbian artillery on civilians’ on “this side”. My report was enriched with authentic first-hand accounts of the women and children who were showing me their wounds and telling me the ordeals they had to go through. I had no reason to doubt the authenticity of their accounts because I saw them bleeding, maimed, tortured and suffering from trauma of being raped. So my report was very accurate. For me, I could not imagine that the person on “other side” behind that artillery and tank was a real human being but a barbaric creature if not the devil itself, to be cruel enough to inflict such a pain on fellow human beings, especially on non-combatants, i.e. the women, children and the elderly. My friend Steve (based in Belgrade), was also producing similar chilling report demonizing the “other side” i.e. the Croats, those who are from my side. Steve being a native English speaker his presentation has always been well-articulated and damn convincing. In short, both of us left no room for doubts in our respective reports, which of course, were communicated to the overall UN boss for possible action that may include sanctions against one or both sides. The problem for our immediate boss was, which report to present to the UN High Commissioner. We both stood by our respective “authentic” reports and tried to convince him that he should be on the side of the “victim”, which was difficult for him to choose. He was smart enough and decided that we change our locations every month – I went to Belgrade and report from there on the impacts of Croats artillery and Steve had to be based in Croatia and report on the impact of Serbian artillery on “this side”. We soon realized that both sides were equally evil and that there are actually no Angeles during wars. We learned our lesson, and of course our boss managed to submit a very balanced report fairly and equally demonizing both sides making it easier for the international community to take appropriate action.
- Now think about it – If we, foreigners, who happened to be at the war zone because of pure professional reasons having neither any particular interest in the war nor special attachment to or sympathy with the Serbs or Croats or Bosnians, and yet we produce reports which are favoring one-side and demonizing “the other”, imagine the “authenticity” of the so called “historical facts” of chroniclers of Ethiopian kings and war lords who without doubt, a) were already biased against the other side even before the war began; and, b) did not have the possibility of assessing the situation on the “other side. I am certain that our respective reports on the war in Yugoslavia are archived at least in the UN library, either in Geneva or New York, hence those who are interested to know the true story about the war in Yugoslavia can make reference to them. Imagine two young students of history, one of Croat and the other Serbian decent, writing their thesis on the Balkan War of 1992 – 1995, going to the library and making references to our respective reports. You can guess their conclusions. Knowing the attitude of these two nations towards each other, I can say with certainty that their conclusion will be that “the other side” was a murderer, rapist and violators of all possible human rights and humanitarian laws.
- What I am trying to say with the above real-time story is that, it is very dangerous to take the so –called “historical facts” written or oral, at their face values and use them as tools to settle outstanding scores. Now let us try to analyze the impact of these written and unwritten “history” in the context of Ethiopia.
- Unlike people of the South, whose past history is mainly passed from generation to generation as a verbal story, hence rarely recorded, my fellow Abyssinians do enjoy the luxury of available written documents (ዜና መዋዕል፡ ክብረ ነገሥት: ራዕየ ማርያም: ፍትሓ ነገሥት) authored by their chroniclers, clergies as well as foreigner who visited Abyssinia. Anyone conducting research on “ancient Ethiopia” and the creation of modern Ethiopia could fetch these books in libraries and make reference to them. And it is these findings from the documents by the researchers that are used to prove to the “doubters” for example, about the “brutality” of the Southern people as a “recorded fact”. To convince the wider public about these assertions, my fellow Abyssinians, especially the elites, went extra mile to use not only the recorded chronicles – secular “facts” – but they even involve St. Mary, by quoting from what she allegedly saw in her revelation “ራዕየ ማርያም” that even God was against the “Gallas” entry to heaven, even though we all know that these supplementary-to-Bible booklets including ራዕየ ማርያም were written and reproduced by no other than ቀኛዝማች ተስፋ ገብረሥላሴ ዘብሄረ ቡልጋ. Unfortunately, similar “written facts” could not be produced about the Southern people, hence whatever we learn at Ethiopian schools and universities as “history 101” is history of the Abyssinians, which enjoys the luxury of “written facts”.
- Menelik, the man at the centre of all the arguments when it comes to the emergence of modern Ethiopia, is perceived by different nations differently. For Abyssinians, there seem to be across-the-board agreement that he was a hero who founded modern Ethiopia and kept it together, the first black leader of a nation that declared victory over white European state (Italy), thus remain a symbol for black peoples’ pride and so on. Teddy Afro in his song “ጥቁር ሰው” said it all. But, for Oromos, who lost the battle of expansion against him, but played a key role in the battle of Adwa, he was a butcherer, barbaric, a killer and in short, not a normal human being but a mythological sphinx. His brutality, the way he killed and maimed the men, how he cut breasts of women, how he burned or buried people alive etc had been told by Oromo elders and passed from generation to generations and is inculcated in the minds of every Oromo person today – young and the old alike! That perception, no one can ever erase it from the minds of Oromos. A re-mix of Teddy’s “ጥቁር ሰው” was sung by a famous Oromo singer, Shukri Jamal, who maintained the melody but changed the lyrics to “Menelik nuuf diina – ምኒልክ ጠላታችን ነው” or that of Qamar Yusuf “Menelik bineensa – ምኒልክ አውሬ ነው” is self/explanatory. The hatred of the Oromo people towards Menelik has reached its peak as we speak. Residents of Finfinnee are witness to the non-stop demands of the Oromo people to remove Menelik’s monument from አራዳ ጊዮርጊስ and to replace it with Anole and Chelenqo monuments.
- The issue is not about being right or wrong but about how human beings can perceive one and the same issue differently. It is not about tarnishing the Amharas for what they did to the Oromos who resisted them during the expansion to the South. The Oromos, hadn’t they lost the war during their own expansion to the North, and, had they succeeded in subjugating the Abyssinians, they would have done more or less the same with the exception that, they might have applied one of the key Gadaa practices “አማቺሳ” i.e. peaceful assimilation of the conquered population instead of humiliating them. Again, this may also be hypothetical for you but for me, that is what is passed over to me as part of history of the Oromos.
- To illustrate how much the Oromo people, especially in areas where the expedition to the South met with stiff resistance, and subsequently brutal, local residents consider Menelik as an enemy (ዲና), let me inject one real-life event, a close friend from Arsi once told me. An Oromo man in Asala was accused of an offense and appeared in court. The judge, trying to fix the identity (bio-data) of the accused, started asking him:
Judge: How old are you?
The accused: Your honor, I don’t know. I am illiterate.
Judge: thinking of a relatively recent event to help establishing approximate age of the accused), asked, how old were you when the “enemy” invaded our country?
The accused: Your honor, that was too long ago. Even my father was not born then.
Judge: Are you telling me that your father was not born when Mussolini invaded Ethiopia?
The accused: Oh! I thought your honor was asking me about Menelik!
- Now let me continue with the second part of my cautious approach to “history” – namely, how politically motivated historians portray the “others” and try to deny their role in nation’s politics and history. The chroniclers of Amhara ruling system applied all possible tools to ensure that Oromos and their role in Ethiopian history is overshadowed and minimized to the extent possible. The names of hundreds of Oromo heroes, were intentionally omitted from the list of those who took part in the battles of Adwa or Maichew although they not only excelled but actually commanded the Ethiopian army one after another. The objective was simple: to make it look like that Oromos were never part of history of modern or ancient Ethiopia. Exceptions were made in cases where the Oromo heroes adopted Abyssinian first names, and even then, the second names, which were in Afaan Oromos were never mentioned. Most Ethiopians, for example, do not know that ደጃዝማች ባልቻ (ሳፎ), ፊታውራሪ ገበየሁ (ጉርሙ), ፊታውራሪ ሀብተጊዮርጊስ (ዲናግዴ) ደጃዝማች ገብረማርያም (ጋሪ) ራስ መኮንን (ጉዲሳ) etc were indeed Oromo heroes. And the names of those Oromo heroes where both their first and second names were in Afaan Oromo, for example, that of አቢቹ, the teenage Oromo hero or ፊታውራሪ ኦልቃባ ኦላና፣ ፊታውራሪ ማርጋ ጉታማ or ኮ/ል አብዲሳ አጋ and thousands others, were never mentioned in Ethiopian history but luckily in the books of some foreign war correspondents. The same was true for example, about the nation’s spiritual leader who died as hero and patriot, አቡነ ጴጥሮስ (መገርሳ በዳሳ,). Imagine how the Ethiopian mainstream i.e. the Abyssinians would have reacted had they known that it was መገርሳ በዳሳ, an Oromo, who was at the head of the Orthodox Church hierarchy and not someone form Abyssinia. I am certain that there would have been an uproar if not a revolution to remove him.
PART – III: How shall we proceed?
(From the outset, I would like to clarify to the readers that I use the word “you” in the following part of my writing as a dialogue is between me and you, me as an Oromo victim and you, as member of the diaspora based elite minority die-hard Amhara group, who for decades remain bothered with the demand of the Oromos for freedom. I limited our discussion at the level of the diaspora because the issue is less of a problem in Ethiopia. As we speak, the Oromos and Amharas are leading their respective uprisings against the TPLF regime complimenting each other. There is no hatred among people of the two nations, and if it exists in its miniature form, it is because the diaspora based die-hard nostalgic elite infected some of the youth in Ethiopia).
- In my view, I hope you agree with me too, I don’t see any point in digging deep to find the tribal genealogy of Ethiopia’s people. What is the objective? Assume you found a proof through this forensic studies that some of today’s Ethiopia’s nations are “new comers” and “others” were indigenous, or, some oppressed the others and even established facts that one group was brutal towards “the other” – then what? Are we going to accord more rights to those who are found to be “indigenous” and deprive these rights to those believed to come later? Are we going to bring to a court of justice the children and grandchildren of those groups found to have inflicted pain to “the others” during the expansion to the North or South?
- For me, and for millions of Oromos of my age, what we ourselves experienced as an individual Oromo or as a nation, is more valuable than any other piece of “written history” you could produce to proof to us that the Amhara ruling system was not oppressive. I don’t have to conduct research or dig in archives of history to proof my assertions because I am it, I lived it and I experienced it! I witnessed my relatives becoming ገባር after losing their entitlement to their ancestral lands to the Amhara አገር አቅኚ ፣ አርበኛ፡ or አገረ ገዢ. I still remember my father, standing in court room, helplessly looking around for interpreters, which were never there and stirring up in the ceilings as if he was appealing to the Almighty for his voice to be heard in his mother tongue. I remember quite a number of cases where my friends, who were at least as good as other students, failed to join the university simply because their grade in Amharic was not at the required level. The never changing tragedy though, is that, every time I try to tell this real life story to my non-Oromo friends, I face enormous resistance and disagreement. The moment I start telling them how difficult it was for us Oromos to compete with the Amharas at school, how we Oromos had to walk extra miles to be able to get at least average grades in Amharic so that we could be able to join the university, how our parents were discriminated at courts, police stations, how they were deprived of the rights to land ownership etc, I find stiff resistance and outright njet by my non-Oromo interlocutors.
- To advance our discussion, let us agree to remve History from the equation at least when we talk about the prevailing and worrying situation in Ethiopia because it is not becoming handy at all. History seem not to produce the medicament we need to clear the clouds of suspicion amongst Ethiopian nations and nationalities. To the contrary, it is causing more damage to the effort of the open-minded elites’ effort to bring people closer. I am not implying that we should forget history, not at all. We should always remember history, not for revenge, but to learn lessons from it so that we build up on the good part of it while enlightening ourselves and our children not to repeat the mistakes and the wrongs made then. I want my children for example, to always remember what the Arabs did to human beings by introducing slave trade, what the migrant white Europeans did to native Americans, how King Leopold of Belgium exterminated nearly 10 million Congolese people, how Menelik killed and maimed hundreds if not thousands of Oromo people who resisted his expansion to the South, how Graziani killed thousands of residents of Finfinnee the night his entourage was attacked by patriots Abraham Deboch, Moges Asgedom, and Mekbib OIqaba – the mastermind and lead technician who prepared the explosives; how Mengistu waged a war of terror on Ethiopian civilians and wiped out a generation of the educated or how TPLF systematically killed hundreds of thousands of Oromo youth who were protesting against its policy.
- Life continues and we should live a peaceful life. We should not pass on to our children “historical evidences” to “win an argument” about who has done more harm to the other or which nation sacrificed more for Ethiopia. We cannot undo what is said or done or what is written or passed to us as oral history by our forefathers. Let each side continue believing in the version we wanted to believe in but let us agree on what should be the common good today. After all we are not responsible for our forefathers’ action or omission because criminal act is not to be inherited.
- While searching for a common ground for our discussion and possible agreement, and to help you out, so that you don’t unnecessarily bang your head against the wall and hurt yourself, for something you cannot change at all, let me share with you some facts which are now fait acompli and you can’t do much about it.
- Oromia is a reality and exists on the map and the world know her as such;
- Afaan Oromo with its Latin alphabet, qubee, is a reality and has been as such for the almost three decades and nothing on earth can change that;
- The Oromo people managed to overcome the century old divide-and-rule policy of the Amhara ruling system as well as the Jewish and Arab cultural imperialism and forged uncontested unity and understanding with each other without the slightest sign of division along region or religion.
- The self-consciousness of the Oromo people about its Oromoness, culture and language reached un-irreversible level to the extent that even the fascistic wrath of TPLF could not dent it.
- In our lifetime, me and you have seen and observed some facts, which are difficult to disagree about, (less controversial), but there are others which, although we witnessed as they happen, we may maintain different views about their nature, hence more controversial. So, let me suggest that we first deal with the less controversial ones and remove them out of our way so that we have enough space to wrestle with the more controversial ones. Here we go!
- You agree with me – that ALL human beings are migrants – therefore, the concept “indigenous” is a relative term. Whether we believe in evolution in which case, we all come from one cell of a bacteria, wherever that bacteria existed at that particular time, or creation, in which case we all come from Iraq – the paradise Eden between the rivers of Euphrates and Tigres, where apparently Adam and Eve lived! So, let us agree that no human being is indigenous to Ethiopia. We all came from somewhere although we may have arrived at different times. And that is now irrelevant. Today, we are all equal shareholders in this country – Ethiopia, and whether we like it or not, we are doomed to live together. The choice is ours – we can change the nature of this forced marriage into a love based one where we all can live in peace and harmony OR create a hell for ourselves and the future generation. In my view, we have no choice other than finding a way to understand each other and to find solution for our disagreements. And we are capable of finding that solution, if only there is a will. So to proceed with the suggestion that we should stay engaged and for the engagement to be effective, we have to stop this culture of talking to the deaf.
- You agree with me that none of us from this generation lived during the Oromo expansion to the North or Amhara expansion to the South, hence we are totally relying on what we read or heard, to justify our arguments about Ethiopia’s nations’ politics. We all have the right to believe in these “historical facts” or discard them totally. In any case, and as said above, whatever happened, no one holds the current generation accountable for the crimes committed by our forefathers. The only thing expected from this generation, direct or indirect beneficiaries of the Amhara ruling system is to simply admit that the wrongs were committed. That is it!
- None of us had chosen to be born to the nations where we happen to be born. In short, we did not earn it. Therefore it is rather childish to brag about being from this or that ethnic group. Nothing irritates me more than listening to people making statements such as የጠራሁ የቦጂ ልጅ：የጠራሁ ጎንደሬ: ጥርት ያልኩ ተጉለቴ, as if we fought hard to be born as such. I am proud not because I am an Oromo but because of what I contribute to the efforts of the Oromo people in their quest for democracy and freedom. Once we are born in certain community, it is very natural that we develop special affection and love to that community, life-style, culture and tradition and feel offended if “outsiders” try to undermine these values or hurt the people we by default born to. That is human nature. Had I been born in Debre Tabor or Mekele, I would have felt differently. Otherwise, I am just one human being on this planet, sharing the same root with the rest of seven billion human beings. No one is more human being than the other, hence, no one should be proud of being born to this or that nation, which is a pure coincidence.
- You agree with me that none of us were born hundred years ago, hence, we could not have witnessed the respective atrocities and cruelties one nation applied on the other one. That being the case, then, we should agree on concrete events and facts that happened during, let us say, the past sixty to eighty years, because it is very likely that me and you have witnessed them. There are numerous such living proofs that we, unless we are not honest to ourselves, witnessed and saw them happening with our own naked eyes. We lived it and experienced it. Let us forget about “historical facts” and produce our own respective live stories which are “living facts” and see whether the claim of the Oromos, for example, that the Amhara ruling system was oppressive, is a legitimate one or not.
- TPLF, whether we like it or not, will fall, like and other regime in history. What we do not know is when and how. Although the timing is important, the “how” part is something that should worry us all about because minority regimes like TPLF hardly go down alone in to sewerage of history. They either take too many people with them as they drown and/or leave behind a messed up country. The way I see it and judging from my experience in other countries, I am very much worried that TPLF is leading us to a civil war. That is my worry, which I believe, is your worry too!
- Some of the areas of your dissatisfaction, as I understand, are that, a) you are of the opinion that the nations and nationalities that comprise Ethiopia do live in peace and harmony because they have always been treated equal shareholders, b) you cannot entertain any nationalism other than Ethiopian nationalism, c) You are not happy with the Federal arrangement of Ethiopia, d) You hate that Oromos decided to use Latin alphabet, e) You declare that you are the uncontested vanguard of territorial integrity of Ethiopia
- Let us closely look at each one of your above five (selected) areas of disagreement and see if you really have a point here:
- Today, we live in a country called Ethiopia, in which we all claim to have equal share although she is not built upon the good will and consensus among her more than eighty nations and nationalities. To use the standard formula here – it was a forced marriage, which means, it is not built on love. But today, a century later, for example, Oromo children born to this forced marriage are grown-ups, and very much aware that their mother was forced into this marriage against her will. Subsequently, they demand not only their mother’s right to be treated as equal partner and that her rights are fully protected. They assert that they will accept ONLY a marriage based on love for themselves too. They have learned a lesson from the previous marriage where the mother was treated not as an equal partner so they demand a relationship which respects equality between partners. But if their demand is not fulfilled, they stand ready to assist their mother to file a divorce. So, we have no choice but to sit down and discuss a better way forward to re-design this relationship to be a favorable one to both sides. The other choice is to leave it “as is”, and expect a messy divorce. I am from the school of thought that believes in discussion and engagement even if we end up agreeing to disagree. So let me assume that we agree to continue the discussion.
- You are against any form of nationalism except Ethiopian nationalism. For you, any other nationalism, for example, Oromo nationalism is an aberration and detrimental to the existence of Ethiopia as a unitary state. I say, you are wrong because, Ethiopia is a multi-national state composed of more than eighty nations, hence it is very natural to become an Oromo nationalist, Amhara nationalist or Sidama nationalist. And that does not contradict Ethiopian nationalism because a person can be an Oromo nationalist at the same time an Ethiopian nationalist. It irritates you for example, when the Oromos declare that they are first an Oromo and then Ethiopian, but that is the way it should be. The same way it does not surprise you when you identify yourself as Ethiopian-American, African- American, Irish-American, Greek – American etc, you have to get used to such declarations as Oromo-Ethiopians, Hadiya Ethiopians, and Amhara Ethiopians etc. That is the very normal and as a matter of fact, people identify themselves ONLY in that order. And if I have to go further, I identify myself as a human being, an Oromo and Ethiopian and only in that order. Keep in mind, me and you can be naturalized and become American or Canadian but we can never ever change that we are Oromos or Amharas. That is innate, therefore, never changes. We are born as such and will die as such!
- The Oromos, at least I can speak for myself, have been fighting for a new democratic Ethiopia which could be a reality only under Federal arrangement. When it seized power in 1991, TPLF did not have a choice but to implement a Federal arrangement and the insertion of Article 39 in the constitution was a prerequisite. To keep Ethiopia intact, it simply did not have a choice at that time. Here you are condemning TPLF for this type of state arrangement, which in your opinion, ruined the unitary nature of the State of Ethiopia. You further argue that federalism brought division along ethnic lines and subsequently put Ethiopia’s existence in danger. Me too, I condemn TPLF regarding Article 39, but not because of its insertion in the Constitution but for not properly implementing it and for reducing the letter and spirit of the Article into ethnic federalism, which only fulfills TPLF’s desire to divide and rule. But the principle itself, Federalism, is what we are fighting for and what future Ethiopia should look like. Above all, we see Article 39 as a guarantee for Ethiopia’s nations and nationalities to remain together in one state. Just consider it analogical to an article in a family law that stipulates the rights to divorce, which is not meant to encourage divorce but to give a guarantee for the partners to dissolve the union if they fail to accommodate each other. In other words, it is a union of the equals and the free.
- You are not happy with our decision to use Latin alphabet in qubee to develop our language and culture. This irritated you so much to the extent that even a sacred institution, the Orthodox Church got involved itself in joining the condemning crowd. As far as we Oromos are concerned we just did what we always wanted to do – to identify a suitable alphabet from the pool of the less than 20 world languages with their own scripts and adopt it to develop our language. Our action was very similar to the way you borrowed the Sabean alphabet and adopted it to suit your language – Amharic. And, we as a nation has full right to choose what is good for us because we are the only one who knows what is good for us. You did not ask for our consent or discussed with us when you borrowed the Sabena alphabet, and of course, it is not our business to comment either even if we were asked to. It is your language and only you know what is the most suitable for you. For almost a century, we tried to use your borrowed Sabean alphabets to develop afaan Oromo but we found it unfit, subsequent to which our enlightened intellectuals adopted qubee, which, after almost three decades now, we found it is the most suitable for us. And if one day, we find the Latin alphabet is less useful, and we find a better one, we can still borrow another alphabet of our choice without seeking anybody’s consent! In your view, the use of “foreign” alphabet is a show of disregard to Amharic and Ethiopia’s unity but we say, Amharic is yours’ and not ours, but Ethiopia belongs to us all. The fact that we use Latin alphabet has nothing to do with Ethiopian unity or otherwise, and as a matter of fact, the father of qubee, Haile Fida, died fighting for democratic Ethiopia and not for her dismemberment. Just fort your information: Switzerland has four official languages – all equal – and the nation’s unity is never threatened.Qubee, as a matter of fact, is greatly contributing to the unity among Ethiopians because the end-users, Oromos, for the first time in their modern history felt that they are equal. They don’t feel helpless anymore when appearing in courts or other public places because they can communicate their feelings and thoughts directly in their mother tongue. They can go to church and listen to the preacher, they can read and sing psalms and feel closer to God than they used to be when the church, especially the Orthodox Church was using Geez or Amharic languages as the only languages to be used at churches. You may not like it but the young and enlightened group of the Orthodoxy, ማህበረ ቅዱሳን have taken a bold initiative to translate ዉዳሴ ማርያም：ፍካረ የሱስ：ገድለ ጊዮርጊስ into afaan Oromo using qubee and for the first time, Oromo church goers are able to read these scripts in their own language. This is a great victory for the Orthodox Church, even though you are totally against it. Oromo history, art and literature is blossoming like never before and our students have no barrier whatsoever at schools or to join national universities. Again, this is all irreversible fact and suggesting otherwise is a non-starter. In my view, you are, and you should be proud of your language – Amharic, because it is yours and your identity, but I am only proud of mastering it. But afaan Oromo, is different – it is my language, my identity and I am proud of it, although I am not mastering it to the level I master your language – Amharic! Now, bring in your complaint and substantiate your argument that our use of qubee in Latin caused a damage to you, to the Amhara people or to Ethiopia.
- You declare yourself the vanguard of Ethiopian unity and a standard setter for other Ethiopian nations and nationalities behavior. But we say, NO, you are not a standard setter but just one of her children, with the right to equal share – no more no less. As far as the Oromos are concerned, we feel that we are actually the ones who should worry more about her unity because modern Ethiopia, south of Finfinnee is built solely by Oromos. The Abyssinians indeed have to be proud of building and keeping Abyssinia (Northern Ethiopia) together but when it comes to modern Ethiopia, especially south of Finfinnee, we Oromos are proud to declare to you and to the whole world that it is built on the bones and with the blood of our Oromo supreme military commanders and foot soldiers, as well as gallant and naturally talented diplomat regional kings and chiefs. Yes, it is true that your forefathers came to Oromia at a later stage to harvest the fruits which was sawn by these Oromos. Of course, your forefathers did not only consume someone else’s fruits but settled there to uproot the host population from their lands and made them ገባር. Heinous crime to say the least!
- I hope, we covered the few areas of our common concern, some controversial, some not. Because “me” and “you” are unable to reach an agreement on these issues, let us agree to bring our case for judgment by a court whose decision will be binding. Please keep in mind: the objective is not to identify the culprit and to condemn, but to establish the root cause of our prevailing problem, which by itself, is fifty percent of the solution. (in real world, however, and as we speak, my fellow Oromos, in the absence of any other means to achieve their goals of freedom and equality of the Oromo people, are engaged in different forms of struggle – armed, peaceful and civil disobedience – against the current regime and left-overs from the previous system). But, I wanted to explore this avenue and see if me and you can agree not only on what had happened but also on what should be done in the future. I still hope there is a room for discussion.
- Let me now bring my case where, in my view, there is an established fact that the Amhara ruling system violated my fundamental human rights and the rights of my people. I could bring dozens of cases where violations were observed, but let me present only three (3) this time. If need be, I can come back with more at later stage. Please remember, we agreed to present violations which we directly witnessed in our life time and NO reference to “historical facts” written or oral, because we failed to convince each other. As I am the one using this platform now, let me be the first to file my case, and you will bring your counter-argument next time, as a defendant. You are not obliged to bring one, if you don’t have, but you must be gentleman enough to acknowledge my facts so that we can close the case. If however, after analyzing my facts, you still find that they either never happened, or exaggerated or misrepresented, and you prove to me the contrary that Oromos oppressed and violated your rights and the rights of the Amhara people in the past fifty or sixty years, I promise to rest my case and forever. Please remember that, a) we are talking about the Amhara ruling system and NOT Amhara people; and b) we are talking about violations of human rights of Oromos by the Amhara ruling system. People are confusing living standards of individuals for example that there were poorer Amharas than some of the Oromos, which is absolutely true but that has nothing to do with equal enjoyment of fundamental human rights as an individual or a group.
- Here are the tangible adversarial acts – Human Rights violations and crimes that are committed against me and the Oromos by the Amhara ruling system that I have witnessed:
- Land ownership: Oromos’ land were misappropriated and given to Amhara individuals, called አገር አቅኚ ፣ አርበኛ፡ or አገረ ገዢ who came to Oromia and forced the Oromos to become landless and turned to ገባር. The damage is immeasurable – psychological damage when you lose your own private property to someone simply because that someone is supported by the ruling system; the inability to support one’s own family because the means of production (land) is taken away; inability to send children to school because of lack of means etc. But there has never been a case, in my view, not even one, where an Oromo settler, went to the North and dispossessed an Amhara from his land and made him – ገባር. Imagine the magnitude of the damage it had on Oromos taking into consideration that, land was the only means of production in Agrarian Ethiopia in general and in Oromia in particular where more than 95% of the population were peasants, and of course landless as a result. Abyssinians, in the North, maintained their right to their ancestral land (ሲሶ) and were never uprooted and became ገባር.
- Freedom to use one’s own language: The Amhara ruling system introduced a law which forbids the use of Afaan Oromo in all public offices (courts and police, schools and hospitals etc). Because Amharic is declared as the only official language of the nation, illiterate Oromos were put in a very disadvantaged position compared to ethnic Amharas who had the luxury of using their mother tongue at all places. As students, we were penalized for speaking afaan Oromo in school compounds, despite the fact that our knowledge of Amharic was close to nil.All Ethiopian media outlets – audio-visual, or printed, were never allowed to use Afaan Oromo. No TV or radio programs were transmitted in Afaan Oromo until 1974, when Derg, for the first time in Ethiopian history allowed Ethiopian radio to transmit in afaan Oromo for 30 minutes in the evenings. Before that, as a school boy, I remember gluing ourselves to a daily half-an-hour afaan Oromo program transmission for Mogadishu radio. Imagine, as citizens of this country, the authorities deprived us the right to listen to national programs in our languages and forced us to listen to a neighboring country’s program. Imagine the opposite – the authorities allow ONLY afaan Oromo program in radio and TV programs and the Abyssinians are forced to listen to Amharic songs or daily news through radio Yemen or Qatar. How would you feel about it?
- Denial of equal access to academic institutions including universities: in theory ALL Ethiopians had access to universities provided that they fulfill the requirement, one of it being, good grade in Amharic. Oromos, regardless of how much they score in the other subjects, and with the exception of those who live in cities and towns, could not join the universities because, hardly any Oromo, especially those from rural areas, could secure good grade in Amharic language in the university entrance exam. As a result, quite a number of genius Oromo students were denied access to the university, de facto, denied equal share in the nation’s labor market at a higher level.Let me just give you one example, from my own experience: I was in grade eleven at one of the high schools in Finfinnee, sitting for a final exam in Amharic. The exam had two parts, one carried 70% and the second part, ድርሰት carried 30%. The first part was kind of a gamble, as it was multiple choice, fill in the blanks etc, so I was expecting to get a pass mark. The second part, the ድርሰት with a title “መጥኔ አዲስ አበባ” was where I hit the rock simply because I did not know what the damn word “መጥኔ” meant. Worried about losing 30% of the marks, which practically meant I wouldn’t get the pass mark, I pleaded to teacher ግዛው (we used to call him ባና) to at least tell me what “መጥኔ” was all about. He answered – “እሱንማ ተነገርሁህ አንተ ምኑን ጻፍከው”. I could not write a line, hence lost the 30% of the total grade and obviously failed the exam. The good thing was that I had good grades in all the other subjects which helped me to lift my overall average, hence passed to grade 12th. But imagine, had it been “ሳፉኬ ፊንፊኔ” instead of “መጥኔ አዲስ አበባ”, I would have at least got a passing grade. That is how we were tortured, my dear, and imagine if this happens to you or your children. “መጥኔ” remains as the most hated word in my Amharic vocabulary!
- Now my dear friend, the ball is in your court. Bring your cases where in the past sixty to eighty years, an Oromo ruling system violated your rights – you as a person or as a group. Like I did, just pick up randomly, a maximum of three adversarial facts that, either the Oromo nation imposed on you and the Amhara people OR the damages inflicted upon you and the Amhara nation because the Oromos demanded their freedom.
- While waiting for you to submit your case, and just using this opportunity, I want to say the following: because you already anointed yourself as the vanguard and standard setter of Ethiopia’s unity and territorial integrity, you assume that you love this country more than the others do. But in my view, your love for Ethiopia and her territorial integrity is so suffocating and it may even lead to her death. Leave her alone, let her breath on her own. She is not in danger and her life is not under threat. Even if you, the Abyssinians and others decide to abandon her and opt to build your separate houses, her trusted children, the Oromos, will remain by her side, working hard to improve her design, look, and image. From the way I see it, you love Ethiopia as long as you are in a driving seat but the moment the validity of your driving license or your driving skills are put under question, you are threatening to leave her. It is your right to secede from us and create an Abyssinian Republic, but please stop claiming that you are the vanguard of Ethiopian unity. If, however, and for whatever reason you opt to secede, rest assured that we will never be on your way. መንገዱን ጨርቅ ያርግላችሁ ነው የምንለው:: It is your fundamental right to determine your destiny as a nation, although, life could be better for both of us if we jointly re-design Ethiopia and make her a democratic, all-inclusive republic.
- So my dear friend, take it easy, sit back and breathe deep. Let us focus on identifying the common denominators where we can both agree to remove the clouds that is disturbing our views, and work together towards building a truly democratic all-inclusive Ethiopia, home to all of us, assuming that you are not planning to leave her. For that to happen, of course, we have to be honest and open-minded. We have no other choice. The nation is in danger and our people, both in Oromia and Amhara regions are sacrificing their dear lives for nothing other than demanding their freedom. But me and you, sitting in our respective comfortable corners, are bogged in splitting hairs as to who did what to whom and when, as if these have bearings on what is happening in Ethiopia now.
As I said above, even if we identify the “wrong-doer”, it won’t provide us with the tools we need to remove TPLF regime from power which is the nightmare for all of us. So, if you really love Ethiopia, not the land itself but the people who constitute her, you have to accept the fact that you are just as Ethiopian as anyone else – no more no less! Only that way we can act together but it should be NOW or never!
January 10, 2017
January 22, 2017