On the Right to Self-Determination – Messay Kebede

August 19th, 2009 Print Print Email Email

This article is a public reaction to a long email letter sent to me by an Oromo interlocutor. The email states that unity between Amhara democratic forces and Oromo freedom fighters is necessary both to defeat the undemocratic Woyanne regime and initiate a promising future for Ethiopia. (more…)

This article is a public reaction to a long email letter sent to me by an Oromo interlocutor. The email states that unity between Amhara democratic forces and Oromo freedom fighters is necessary both to defeat the undemocratic Woyanne regime and initiate a promising future for Ethiopia. However, the letter blames the lack of unity on the resistance of Amhara democratic forces to concede the right to self-determination to the Oromo people. The imposition of an unconditional unity prevents the Oromo freedom fighters from effecting a serious move toward a rapprochement, while the refusal of some Oromo fighters to even give a chance to unity deeply upsets Amhara democratic forces. The letter suggests a middle ground based on a common goal, namely, a union of independent nations that recognizes the self-determination of each nation, and so provides the condition of a voluntary union. In other words, the pledge to give a chance to the integrity of Ethiopia should satisfy the Amhara democratic forces, just as the recognition of the right to self-determination should suit the Oromo by convincing them to enter into a free union with the Amhara and other peoples.

Though the author claims not to be a representative of the OLF, I am not convinced to what extent his views differ from the official position of the organization. Also, my purpose here is less to respond to my interlocutor than to propose some general reflections concerning the right to self-determination as a condition of union. Let me begin by what amazes most: the defenders of the right to self-determination have rejected everything of Stalin (Lenin and the Soviet Union), except his view of nations and nationalities. It is for me next to impossible to understand how scholars and politicians stop short of being critical of the Stalinist doctrine of self-determination even as they know that Stalin have been entirely wrong in everything. What are the chances for a doctrine whose inherent perversion led to such disastrous consequences to be right on the crucial issue of nation-building?

My contention is that, far from promoting free union, the right to self-determination actually blocks it. It is when union becomes unconditional that it forces peoples to find a form of accommodation that suits them all. Here is an illustrative analogy: if two competing individuals decide to build a house together, their cooperation makes sense if the house becomes their common interest, that is, if both intend to live in the same house. However, if one of the partners is at the same time building another house, whatever partnership they had becomes so suspicious that it comes to an end.

The right to self-determination cannot provide the common goal for a lasting union. Moreover, nobody is inclined to make serious concessions if the outcome is so precarious. It is when we decide to live in the same house, no matter what, that we would be inclined to better the house. While Stalin recognizes the right to secede, Rousseau maintains that a nation means an indivisible unity for only indivisibility creates a common goal. Obviously, a conditional unity is hardly able to produce a serious commitment to the idea of a lasting union.

The Stalinist approach has no historical foundation as nations did not emerge as a result of peoples exercising the right to self-determination. The politics of either lumping people together or splitting them apart according as they want or do not want to stay together is too artificial to be anything more than a manipulation of political elites. Instead, modern nations have come into being through inner movements smashing the oppressive structures of conquests and empires. With the exception of overseas colonial empires––whose difficulties to modernize relate to the absence of organized democratic movements in the pre-independence phase––the resolution to build a common house guaranteeing freedom and equality for all is the cornerstone of modern nation, not the right to secession.

Those who truly care about democracy and freedom must understand that the refusal of self-determination alone can bring about the changes that they hope. What the refusal means is that we make unity unconditional so that everything else becomes negotiable. But if the union is conditional, the blackmail of secession seriously jeopardizes the exercise of democratic rules. What is more, a union is formed without the equal alienation of rights since one of the partners reserves the right to secede. As Rousseau puts it, the condition of modern democracy is “the total alienation of each associate, together with all his rights, to the whole community; for, in the first place, as each gives himself absolutely, the conditions are the same for all; and, this being so, no one has any interest in making them burdensome to others” (The Social Contract).

It is clear that the act by which a people join a political union is also the act by which it ceases to consider itself as a nation. It becomes part of an organic whole and its distinctive characteristics, such as language, religion, customs, etc., become regional expressions of a larger union. How the specificities integrate into the union is negotiable, and various forms of arrangement can ensure their protection. By contrast, union defined as a collection of autonomous nations is a Stalinist aberration and a contradiction in terms. Let us listen to Stalin:

“The right of self-determination means that a nation may arrange its life in the way it wishes. It has the right to arrange its life on the basis of autonomy. It has the right to enter into federal relations with other nations. It has the right to complete secession. Nations are sovereign, and all nations have equal rights” (Marxism and the National Question). What Stalin says here applies to an entity like the United Nations rather than to real existing nations whose characteristic is precisely to be sovereign in an indivisible way.

What this shows is that political unity among democratic forces has become impossible in Ethiopia because we find ourselves in an ideological muddle inherited from the Soviet Union. No more than Stalin could the Woyanne regime preserve the unity of Ethiopia without the creation of a party based on the rigid and oppressive principle of democratic centralism. The result is a tyrannical government that keeps peoples together by force after telling them that they are indeed nations and nationalities. On the other hand, opposition forces cannot unite because they are faced with the impossible dilemma of uniting elites who claim to represent nations.

It is high time that we understand that the political failure of opposition forces emerge from the fact that they want to solve a problem that is made unsolvable. The divagations of a deranged man (Stalin) on the right to self-determination has put Ethiopia in a political impasse, which if left as is, will lead to a breakup with disastrous consequences for the whole region. The best alternative is to renew the commitment to unconditional unity, thereby creating the conditions of a satisfactory solution for all. If the union is abiding, then serious talks can start on how to build the common house.

That is why I was more than happy to read in the recently released political program of the organization known as Medrek a strong reaffirmation of unity. The program plainly states that members of the organization believe that any challenges to the unity of Ethiopia must be dealt with on the basis of unity and democratic progress, and not through recourse to secession (page 22). This rebuttal of article 39 of the Ethiopian Constitution allowing the right to self-determination, including the right to secession, became necessary as a condition of unity among opposition forces.

The rebuttal is indeed a great step forward, even though it is not bold enough to reject the usage of the terms “nations” and “nationalities.” This lack of boldness exposes the program to the charge of being contradictory, since the term “nation” implies, by definition, the right to self-determination. I recommend the term “ethnic groups,” with the understanding that the Amhara and the Tigreans are no less ethnic groups than the Oromo, the Gurage, the Somali, etc. In so doing, we define Ethiopia as a multicultural nation rather than as a multinational state, a feature that requires a federal arrangement with large autonomy and self-rule. In this way, we avoid the present impasse without, however, sacrificing those rights necessary to realize the full equality of Ethiopia’s ethnic groups.

1. Why was/is it easy for Meles regime to rule over Ethiopia?

  1. Abichu
    | #1

    Dear Dr. Mesay:

    I do appreciate your effort if only it contributes toward the healing of the pain of our people and country. Your comments rather seems to come from the failed policies of the past. I am sure you are aware of the fact that Minelik and Hailesillassie flowed what you just suggested on the basis of the advice they recived from the French. One nation Ethiopia, One religion Orthodox Christians and One Language Amharic. The French adviced them on the basis of their theory of direct rule of their colonial empire. Although most of the people who adopted the French advice were Oromo themslves it ended up making the majority of Oromo object of subjugation since the Oromos abandoned their culture and language in favor of creating a country for all. Now you know very well the Tigres and Amharas live together only in Oromo Land in peace. The tragedy is the two groups are so evil and so vicious they build their own ethnic group than building Ethiopia so many Oromos laboured to build and died to defend it.

    That project is a failed project for many Oromos including me whose grandfather was one of the Heros of Battle of Adawa and the Liberation of Ethiopia from the Italian rule.

    If my memory serves me well, you yourself is an Oromo or half Oromo. I think you are related to the Ras Gobana the founder of Modern Ethiopia although none of the so called “Ethiopians” from Ahmahar and Tigray recognise him as such, Or the Oromos from other part of Oromia since they see him as treator?

    Now, You should be ashemed yourself and your work when a Racist Apartheid Regime of Tigre Liberation Front is dismissing Oromo students from AAU where you taught in the past simply because of their Ethnic Origin. I have n’t seen you protesting such racist and criminal act by the Tigre Racist regime. We may blame Derge or the Emperor for many thing but not for Apartheid and Racisim.

    Just look arround in the Country, we all now call Ethiopia. The Military is filled with Racist and Apartheid Regime OF Tigre Liberation Front. The Economy is fully in the hand of the Racist regime. Education is shaped along the Bantustan South Africa. Yet you are wasting our time and peoples time writing ingnorant articles like this by copying from long dead thinkers whose theory served the West well and enslaved Africans. You should be ashamed yourself. Tell Ethiopians how to fight the Apartheid regime the TPLF is building Ethiopia.

    I am still among those who believe we can have a country we all could call home not prison. I still believe if we build institutions not Tigre or Amhara ego, or for that matter Oromo ego and establish rule of law, representative government and respect for human rights—- we could build a country that will last for generations.

    But the tragedy is that someone like you who have time to think and come up with workable system or idea is generating hate and division. Why on Earth do you think an Oromo should live under Amhara or Tigre rule? Why do you think respect for human rights including self governance by the mostly diverse Ethnic group in Ethiopia is such a bad idea? You like to qoute dead people from the West to substantiate your thoughts. I don’t blame you for that. We all do. We are all schooled by the West.

    But why you fail to write about what we could take from our own Gada System. Why don’t write what aspect of it could BE used to transition US into Modern Democratic system. you will serve Ethiopians well if you write what is good and helpful or shut yourself up and stop spreading lies and hate among our people. I am sorry for my strong words. But I did so because I still think you have something to contribute in your short life LEFT.

  2. Guest
    | #2

    It is doubtful how much OLF represents the real political interest of the Oromo people. Considering the long time the organisation has been in struggle and the size of the Oromo people which it purport to stand for, it is safe to assume that OLF has sprout in to being only to serve the tactical needs of the then EPLF. The leaders are too absorbed in their own imaginarly world that they can’t think of anything except a free great Oromia earning big names in history as the first president, prime ministers, … etc. of the new Oromia. It is very doubtful whether the freedom and peaceful existence of the Oromo people in a democracti state is their very agenda. I don’t think they ever have sat down and thought over concerning their new Oromia’s, which didn’t have any pre-exisitence. How big is the geographical extent of Oromia? When is the time for adjoining nations and nationalities to recognize Oromia and the legitimate boundary (100years, 200years, 500years)? How is the land taken from other people by the ferocious Oromo fighters to be considered? The status quo can not be taken for granted as many things are going to change for good once Oromia becomes a new nation.

    In general, I don’t think OLF really represents the interest of the majority of the Oromo people. The organisation appears to be alive only by the vociferous Oromo elites who make every effort to thrive on radical hate-politics. It is time to come out of the daydream and listen and understand what the real interest of the Oromo people. It is an insult for the great people of Oromo to be identified with such lame and ineffectual bunch of losers.

  3. Yeqoraw Kassa
    | #3

    The right of self -determination applies to those who were under european colonialism. Ethiopians should only support a democratic unitary strate. OLF should give up the non-sense issue of self determinatoin. Oromos could lead Ethiopia to be a democratic country or at least aunited country like Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, where one tribal group dominates the nation of Zimbawe and this same trbal stands for the unity of Zimbawe. OLF should change it’s name to an ethiopia organization and it’s aim should be for the equality of all ethnic groups in Ethiopia. Amhara democratic forces should not give up fighting for ONE Ethiopia. No negotiation on the unity of Ethiopia.

  4. girma
    | #4

    From whence has there been a unity between the Amharas and Ormos?

  5. tigi
    | #5

    The only way we can free and unify Ethiopia is through the colaboration of oromo and amhara.if we take the population only they comprise of almost 75% of the whole population.that is why the TPLF/WOYANE working day and night to creat problem between amhara and oromo.

  6. Samaat
    | #6

    What your interlocutor saying is exactly what Woyane’s constitution says. He is got the same stand as Woyane. He may have a problem with Woyane in not correctly implementing their policy, but, as far as I can see he is more closer to Woyane than the opposition.
    This is not name calling either. It is just stating the facts as you just wrongly though, stated the fact that you think his stand is closer to OLF(anyone of them) and your are not convinced about hs ‘denial of being part of that movement.
    I don’t think your time and effort is spent here wisely.

  7. LAMU
    | #7

    Unconditional “unity of Ethiopia”, what is in it for the majority oromos?

    We know, what had transpired in past! Let me get it right, we build nice home called ETHIOPIA for those who gave us names such as Galas, Gebars, Qottus, chisegnas, Niggers of in their own words Barias. Wow! all these beautiful names for free? just to build your version of a house called ETHIOPIA?

    Is it possible?

    If there are Oromos responding to this Great doctor, please explain it to me! Where is the beef?

    Where is the renagotitiations? WHERE ARE TREATIES to how we never give each other a black eyes? or so? Just go ahead and build a house and call it Ethiopia, the bow down we you see us? WHEW? I’m sweating so much profeousely! wait a munute.

    Oromos are the most exploited, abused, robbed, lynched,raped, looted, displaced citizen of this house we love to call Ethiopia. To erect its pilars many gave their lives combating outsede enemies, such as Aba Nefso. Many many .. But at last we take orders from the same abusers is unacceptable justures, becarefull.


  8. guest
    | #8

    There has never been an oromo state in the past in Ethiopia nor has there been an amhara or tigray state. It was a mere an evil invention of foreign powers that got full support from the evil personalities of TPLF members. As a result, we are having the now newely created states within the boundaries of Ethiopia for the last 18 years. It is better to dream for a better future Ethiopia where we live together harmoniously. Obviously, we are witnessing the devils’ experiments in the past 17 years to dismantle Ethiopia have been confronted by Ethiopians. And, the enemy is frustrated every where. The devil will ultimately disappear. Ethiopians will share the same history and destiny as they did in the past. There is no other way!

  9. Bekele
    | #9

    Dr. Messay,

    You did not have to invent your “interlocutor” to jump to a discussion about self detrmination. You have not been in a position of any Oromo to understand what it means to be an Oromo in an Amhara-dominated poltical, social and economic life. Many of us who have been lucky enough to go to school through a relentless efforts of our parents have learned the hard way an oromo can never feel at home in that country. We have come a long way my friend. We have totally rejected to receive advice from Amhara intellectuals as we have matured enough to follow our own. We do not ask for your permission for any action that we are about to take. It has been a while since the train left a station, but sure enough it will reach its destination.

    Thank you, but no thank you.

    | #10

    BELAYE. PhD, S.E.,P.E.

    Messay Kebede is Associate Professor of Philosophy: I know you very well from my school days and working as an assistant professor in AAU. I have respect for you as an individual. But your Marxists theory is outdated and of no use. Even though I am a respected structural engineer with no back ground in philosophy, as an Amhara, I wish and work for a good relation between the Oromos and the Amharas. I like to work for a perfect relation among those of other nations and nationalities. Your way of approaching things is so xenophobic, racist, extremist, and chauvinist. Whether you like it or not the Oromos or the Ogadains will be independent one day. That happened in other countries and will happen in Ethiopia. It is time to find a common ground. That is the civilized and modern way of thinking. The Oromo, who sent you an email, is just an individual asking for dialog. Period. You were the one spreading hatred against Eritreans and Somalis during the Derg area. Are you the one who can give permission for Oromos to leave the union?? HHHHHHH the so called professor. Messay!!! Grow up the old professor.

  11. Anonymous
    | #11

    I felt that some commentaries on Dr.Mesay’s article should be ashamed of themselves, undemocratic and infantile mob – like notions. Why don’t we focus on ideas rather than individual identity or vomiting our mind made greviences? Thank you Dr. Mesay. There are few people abroad calling themselves Oromo, never felt a pain of Oromo, simple power mongers. Their politics and knowledge for Oromos never surpassed an illusory slogan,no vission,no program for Oromos and Oromia, but only empty slogans for 30 years., Shame up on you !!
    If Oromo people given chance to freely vote , you yourself know what will happen. I am always thinking my brothers living in USA and Europe, most democratic nations, more than a decade, but thinking barbariously.

    Shame !

  12. mateos
    | #12

    I strongly believe in one Ethiopia with diverse and mutual respect for all, HOWEVER, the aiga jungle constitution, the aiga jungle democracy, the aiga jungle nation-nationalities, the aiga jungle Ethiopianess, the aiga jungle election, and so on are designed to make the state of Tigry as one and the rest of Ethiopia to be in shumbles. The main beneficiaries of all of the aiga jungle hooplas are, 1- the weyane mafia family, 2- their masters, and 3- the donor countries representatives who are milking their own country to save, “THE STARVED CHILDREN OF ETHIOPIA”

  13. Melese
    | #13

    Good job Dr.Messay,whether we like or not we can not deny the relationship bn Amahara and Ormoo is strong and attached , related…no one can separate,individuals the so called phd holder like Beleay Belew are nothing,he can not discuss the ideas little minds discuss people,rubish he can not discuss events ideas,nothing is proposed…better to shut up Mr.Belay

  14. Bekele
    | #14

    To #11,

    The concept of self determination is a difficult concept for members of a dominant culture that have been benefited a lot from the status quo. The idea of self determination is rooted in the understanding that groups (ethnic, religious or class or otherwise) have to have a constitutional right to redress that grievance in a manner that suits that group. In this case the Oromo people have the right to detrmine their future through the right for self determination. Amharas have no right to dictate that out come since they have been the beneficiary of the system that allowed the dominance of Amhara. That is precisely why we say that Messay does not have the moral high to judge on this.

    On many occasions he has been blaming the student movement of the 1960′s and 1970′s for the collapse of the imperial feudal system. Having lived in those eras and as a son of a farmer from the south, it is mond boggling to see such people to still try play a role in the current Ethiopian politics.

  15. Mamo
    | #15

    I am not understanding how these two groups work together. Amhera people killing and torching oromo people for long time and even today. The heart of oromo people bleeding by the action of Amhera people. The only thing that solution to these two groups, Amhera people need to apologies oromo people for any actions they took on oromo people for more than centires. Amhera people need to apologies to oromo people infront of God to buid up Ethiopia or new ethiopia.

  16. Ogina
    | #16

    Dr. Mesay,
    thanks for the reply to my opinion! I can see that you do prefer Ethiopian unity as a precondition for the possible alliance to be forged between Amhara democratic forces and Oromo freedom fighters. Ok! Oromos do accept your precondition, only if you also accept their precondition aka making Afaan Oromo the only working language of the federation instead of Amharinya. In the common hause you suggested, the language to be spoken must be only Afaan Oromo.

    Will you stay to be pro Ethiopian unity and anti ethnicity, even if Amharinya will be demoted to only local language of Amhara region and if Afaan Oromo be promoted to be the only working language of the Ethiopian federation? I am sure you will not! In case you will stay to be pro Ethiopianity and Unity as you seem to believe now, let’s then try this NEW version of Ethiopianity with Afaan Oromo. Other wise, enjoy the following:

    “After observing the imposition of Amharinya at the cost of Afaan Oromo in the past one century, I just couldn’t help, but think about the main mistake Ob (Aste) Minilik Caala (”our colonizer”), Ob Qusee Dinagde, Ob. Gobena Daacee etc Oromos did. The only mistake they did was making Amharinya the national language of the empire they did build. Being Oromos, if they could have managed to make Afaan Oromo the national language of Ethiopian empire, now we Oromos were not the ones to fight for self-determination. The whole Finfinne and other “modern” peoples in the empire would have spoken Afaan Oromo, the whole diaspora Ethiopians now would have spoken Afaan Oromo, even all would have claimed to be Ethiopian which is equivalent to be Oromo, not Amhara as it is now.

    At present, for Amharas to come to their sense and comprehend why we did say so, let’s look at the following fact in short. Almost 99.9% Amharas now a days think they are pro Ethiopianity and anti “Ethnicity” and with that they do think that they do have moral upper hand. For them to develop an other view, let’s demote Amharinya to local language of only Amhara region and promote Afaan Oromo to federal language. Till now, just based on the fact that Amharinya being federal language, they used to cry about Ethiopianity, which in essence meanse actually Amharanet for they know how amharanization is still going on. When we change the role of the two languages, I am sure Oromos will start to sing about Ethiopianity which will be equivalent to Oromummaa and of course they will denounce “Ethnicity”. Then Amharas will start to defend them selves from oromonization and will denoune Ethiopianity with only Afaan Oromo as federal language and they will be automatically pro “Ethnicity”. So we can see how simple it is to be moralisit without understanding the mechanism behind all what we do believe.”

  17. Hana
    | #17

    I hope he die.
    I prey to god that he die soon

    Meles went to Brussels for stroke treatment
    19 August 2009 –[Audio] Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia’s brutal dictator, who is battling stroke, travelled to Brussels last week for serious medical treatment, Ginbot 7 radio reports.

    Citing reliable sources from the Minilik palace, the radio reported that Meles Zenawi has travelled to Belgium with 10 of his bodyguards. According to the sources, Meles was travelling to Brussels before the alleged coup attempt. The internal power rivalry and the ever-growing public discontent as a result of economic depression has been some of the causes of Zenawi’s stroke.

    Meles has been receiving medical treatment in Dubai, but now he is seriously ill and had to travel to Brussels for high-tech medication.

  18. Guest
    | #18

    I read the writing of the interlocuter, it is the same immature Oromo nationalist who always cry out independence. He even attempted to tell Amharas what they should do; if Amharas want unity then Amharaigna should be a regional language and Oromiffa should be national language. But why? Who gave the Oromos the right to dictate how things should be? Why is it that the so called Oromo nationalist always see that it is only in the Amharas interest to see the greater Ethiopia? and, as if only the Amharas are desperate for this?

    The simple reason is that most of them are shallow and short sighted. They even never thought about the practicalities of independence and separation. Most of them are touting independence not only because of cultural domination and oppression but also because they always imagine their big Oromia rich in resources, becoming the richest people in Ethiopia, etc. I have a proposition for the Oromo nationalists, you can go to hell if you like. But, go back to Bale where you forefather come from, leave all the land that has been snatched by your ferocious forefathers from other peoples of Ethiopia. Go back in time and understand your origin and your rightful territory. You are not going to enjoy the big territory and resource unless you are willing to remain as Ethiopians. Go to Meda Welabu, where you orginated from. We know that 75% of today Oromia belongs to other people, the Hadiyas, Amharas, Guraghes, Somalis, and others. First agree to give up these territories, then you can go to hell.

  19. ሙሉ
    | #19

    ” To Ogina” በዚህ ስም የሚታወቀው አማራ ነኝ ባይ በጥባጭ ሰውዬ ካለጥላቻ በስተቀር አእምሮው ምንም ነገር አያመነጭም :: ከቃላቶችህ በመነሳት ማንነትህን መገመት ቀላል ነው :: ጊዜው ሳይሄድብህ ከእንቅልፍህ ነቅተህ እንደሰው ማሰብ ብትጀምር ያዋጣሃል :: አስተሳሰብህ ጠቃሚ ነው የሚትል ከሆነ ደግሞ ለልጆችህ አስተምራቸው :: እንዳንተ ያሉት ዘረኞችና ሸፋፋ አመለካከት ያላቸው “ከንቱ ባለራእዮች” በኢትዮጵያ ውስጥ ከንግዲህ ቦታ አይኖራቸውም ::

  20. Messay
    | #20

    To Ogina

    Dear Fayyis:

    Thank you for the reply. Here are my comments

    1. Have you thought for one moment that Amharinya and Afaan Oromo could become both working languages of the federation? Why not? This is what an unconditional commitment to unity would suggest.

    2. It is not up to us to decide this issue of language. Since we are speaking of a democratic state, then we should say that the people (majority) should decide. Are you sure that the majority of the Ethiopian people would vote for Afaana Oromo? You see: you are not thinking in terms of unity. Moreover, you want to impose Afaana Oromo on other ethnic groups without even consulting them.

    3. Your position shows that the so-called unsolvable conflict between Amhara and Oromo boils down to the question of language. And this has to do with resentment about Menilik’s conquest. While I understand the resentment, I know also that you can get over it without breaking up the country. Most of the existing modern states have been the result of one group conquering other groups. The destruction of the structures of conquest has created modern democratic states.
    4. All this tells me that Oromo fighters are actually taking as a model the Amhara ruling class that they used to condemn. The conditions that they present for them to agree to be part of Ethiopia are clearly saying that Oromo hegemony must be accepted. The fate of Ethiopia does not lie in replacing one hegemonic group by another. That is why we are all against the Woyanne regime. We must think democratically.

  21. Ogina
    | #21

    Dear Mesay,
    if you are the true Prof. Mesay, thanks for the discussion. Just to reply to your opinion in short:

    - I just asked you to accept Afaan Oromo as the only federal language to neutralize the attempt of you and that of most Amhara elites talking about Ethiopian unity with Amharinya as the only working language of the federation and of course with that making amharanization process as some thing normal.

    - to ask the public to decide on the type of language to be used as federal language, we first need to ask the public what type of sovereignity they want to build: YES to Union or NO to Union? Why doesn’t your democracy include this?

    - the resentment against Minilik is fact, but not only that unfortunately you and almost all Amhara elites want to perpetuate the same policy of Minilik with a pretext of Ethiopian Unity.

    - I am not actually for Oromo hegemony, but just to show you people how the reverse of your effort can be painfull to you, I just said: if you want Ethiopian unity (one common hause) then see also what it looks like to be under Oromo domination replacing your domination.

    In general, why do you and other Amhara elites talk and preach democracy, but you do exclude the right of the public to decide on its destiny per referendum aka self-determination? If you must think democratically, then think that there is no half-backed democracy!!

  22. thinkthank
    | #22

    To make long story short;as an OROMO person,this article is not persuasive or convincive how this thinking deliver the interest of oromo poeple.Therefore,we need to find a common ground were we can agree and disagree on and make change.

  23. Guest
    | #23


    Amharas do not care any more than Oromos for Ethiopia. Why don’t you Oromos first give back the land raided from other people by your forefathers? Look the extensive area occupied by Oromo invaders, don’t you think it is really big? First, let us agree on where is the real Oromia, because it hasn’t existed historically as unified and sovereign nation. As long as, we go back in history and agree on the real Oromia, then I don’t think you Oromo nationalists also would continue the indepednce cry!! Don’t you think so. You Oromo nationalists have also taken for granted the status quo, which has been established by invasion and barbarism 500 years ago. The status quo is accepted by other Ethiopians only because Oromos are considered as Ethiopians. Don’t be naive, as soon as Oromia gets independence and separated, then there are many people who will raise their justified claims, and Oromia will be a war zone. Be practical, dispassionate, and rational when you do your arguments.

  24. Messay
    | #24

    To Ogina
    You keep telling me that if Afaan Oromo had become the national language instead of Amharic, the Amhara would have resented this domination and supported self-determination. Allow me to disagree strongly, for there are other possibilities.

    1. If Ethiopia, unified under an Oromo ruling elite, had become democratic and prosperous, a perfect assimilation would have taken place. This has happened elsewhere: the French, English, Italian, German, etc., languages were at first languages of specific tribes that conquered and absorbed other tribes to form modern nations. This didn’t happen in Ethiopia because the ruling class of the dominant ethnic group failed to modernize the country, mainly because it treated other groups as second-class citizens, including the Oromo.

    2. Assuming that the Oromo ruling elite treated the Amhara as second-class citizens, then the most reasonable path would have been to fight for the democratization of Ethiopia. I don’t need self-determination up to secession to do that, especially if I claim to represent the largest ethnic group. Of course, my struggle would have taken an ethnic content: I would require equal treatment politically and culturally, but the final outcome would be the full democratization of Ethiopia–– in conjunction with other democratic forces––as a multicultural nation.

    3. Now ask yourself (critically) why you need the right to self-determination. If you dig deep enough, you will find a political reason that has to do with the ambition of the Western educated Oromo elite. By emphasizing cultural distinction, namely, language particularity, the elite wants to become the exclusive representative of the Oromo people. As a result, you cannot represent or speak in the name of the Oromo people if you are not an Oromo. I obtain this exclusiveness by defending the right to self-determination, that is, by defining Oromia as a dominated nation. This was done through the ideology of the colonial conquest of the Oromo by the Amhara. In other words, the defense of the right to self-determination is how the Oromo elite establishes a reserve power-base.

    4. The power-base is further strengthened through the defense of Oromo culture and language at the exclusion of other cultures. So that, xenophobic feelings are progressively instilled among the Oromo people, the outcome of which can only be confrontation. Cultural distinction is not used to enrich a national identity formed in concert with other ethnic groups; rather, it is used for secessionist purpose that would finally establish the lasting and exclusive rule of the Oromo elite over Oromia. If you don’t trust me, reflect on what happened in Eritrea.

  25. A. Techane
    | #25

    Messay’s initial reaction was full of contradictions and fallacies. He confuses ‘nations’ in the sense of ‘country’ with ‘nations’ in the sense of ethnic groups. In France, where Rossueau supplied some of the guidance on ‘nation building’, there was virtually no plurality of ethnic groups vying for power. Rousseau could therefore not have come up with any theory of unification of ethnic groups but that of ‘unconditional’ association of the largely Gaulic nation! In Russia, the condition was different.

    Stalin’s theory and of many others who followed him, in time as well as spiritually, had to grapple with the condition where a plurality of ethnic groups sought to erect a democratic alternative to autocracy. According to Messay’s revision of history and recant of his past, the contest was always about who opted for unity and who did not. That is absolute nonsense. The basis for the reorganisation of the ex-autocratic state surely had to be its democratisation. This in turn implied letting the constituent people decide which way to proceed. Finland became independent of Russia in that manner. Soviet Russia was formed of alliances of willing peoples.

    Now,in Messay’s archaic proposal of ‘unconditional unity’ as the foundation for Ethiopia’s future, he is merely reverting to the age-old top-down ordering of the state. That has not escaped many on this network who, instead of criticsing his weakness of argument, trashed his record etc. The fact of the matter is that in a truly democratic state the people decide every which aspect of their lives. ‘Thinking democratically’, in the words of the venerated professor, in this case means letting the people decide. That does not of course mean that the people will have only one option, as the OLF arrogantly peddles to this day and the EPLF imposed on the hapless Eritreans, to wit: secession. The people of Quebec have voted repeatedly but the outcome has not been produced/prejudged by any notion of ‘unconditional unity’.

    Messay’s muddle (shared by many, I admit) is a recipe for reenactment of further conflicts and wars and the dismembering of our beloved country.

  26. Ogina
    | #26

    Dr Messay,
    yes I do argue that the main conflict factor is language! If you disagree, then let’s try it practically: just let’s demote Amharinya to only Amhara region and promote Afaan Oromo to the language of the federation! I assure you as an Oromo, we will accept the unconditional unity you do demand and we will denounce “ethnicity” as well the right of nations to self-detrmination! I hope you will be ready to influence all your relatives to learn Afaan Oromo with out any objection. Then we Oromos would be very happy if Amharas prefer not to fight for self-determination, but for democracy, unity, justice, equality, peace and prosperity.

    Looking back to the history and trying to judge the status quo, we all do have our own interpretation. I do just register your view about the past Amhara-Oromo relation and about the current Oromo elites. I prefer to look in to the future and ask the question: what options do we have if we want to live together?
    - Unconditional Ethiopian Unity with Amharinya as the only federal language as it is now
    - Unconditional Ethiopian Unity with Afaan Oromo and Amharinya as federal languages
    - Unconditional Ethiopian Unity with English as the only common federal language; Amharinya for Amhara region and Afaan Oromo for Oromia state
    - Unconditional Ethiopian Unity with Afaan Oromo as the only federal language, Amharinya being demoted to local Amara region
    - Union of free nations in the region called Ethiopia based on self-determination of each antion in the empire.

    As I understood, you seem to prefer the second option. You also see that the first option is the failed project. I did suggest the fifth option in my opinion I posed to you, but if Amharas reject self determination of nations and persist to have unconditional Ethiopian Unity, then let them test the fourth option so that they can understand what it meanse to be called Ethiopian, which is in reality Oromian in contrast to the status quo Amharian! If you do reject the fourth option, then I expect from you as an educated gentle man to have an empathy for Oromo elites rejecting the first option, instead of villifying them as exclusionists. Why should Oromo elites be exclusionist by demanding this, whereas you look at Amhara elites as inclusive by just propagating the first option? If we want to avoid all these problems, then let’s opt for the third option which is the most pragmatic choice in the already globalized world.

  27. Gadle Giorgis Balcha
    | #27

    Almost all the world has now accepted English to be its lingua franca. Why do we not use English, Amharic and Oromifa as the official languages of Ethiopia and forget about self determination?

    Cosmopolitan Finfine or Addis Ababa or New Flower is the capital of both Ethiopia and the new United States of Africa where all African languages are spoken. So, we mmy not have to worry about the Amhara-Oromo ethnicity any more.

  28. Guest
    | #28


    You seems to set the stage for the ‘new Ethiopia’ as defined by Woyane. TPLF after controlling the power has been doing everything to make its cronies and supporters the master of Ethiopian politics and Ethiopian economy. Now that they think enough has been done, the next stage is to unleash the likes of you who speak in the name of others to the next task. Fanning hatred against Amharas, bedevilling them and jeopardise their life as Ethiopian citizens. The Woyanes have been thinking all along that the Amhara people are their main rivals who will stand in their selfish pursuit of looting the country. They have been doing anti-Amhara campaign that amount to genocidal crime. Now woyanes are co-opting members of other ethinic groups to do the last and most dangerous task of humilating Amharas and if possible committing genocidal crime. That is exactly what you are doing. Making unqualified, emotional, and narrow-minded accusations against all Amharas that invites horrible ethnic clash.

  29. Lewux
    | #29

    let’s put in priority the options you listed:

    1st- Union of Independent Nations based on self-determination, having their own languages in their respective national areas and using English as international communication language

    2nd- Unity with Afaan Oromo as federal language

    3rd- Unity with English as federal language

    4th- Unity with Afaan Oromo and Amharinya as federal languages and

    5th- Unity with Amharinya as federal language (the satus quo which should be changed by any meanse as far as Oromos are concerned)

  30. Ogina
    | #30

    How to make Amhara elites accept and respect “ethnic” fedralism!

    It is clear that only Amhara elites and few amharanized elites from other nations are against “ethnic” federalism. Genuine “ethnic” federalism is the compromise solution for all nations in the region to live together achieving both national independence and regional integration. The position of Amhara elites regarding the federalism made them to be not suitable to cooperate with the elites of other nations against TPLF regime. Amhara elites do prefer unconditional Ethiopian unity rather than the federalism as a precondition for the possible alliance to be forged between Amhara democratic forces and Oromo freedom fighters. Oromos tend to accept this precondition, only if Amhara elites also accept Oromos’ precondition aka making Afaan Oromo the only working language of the federation instead of Amharinya. In a common hause aka NEW Ethiopia they suggest to build, the working language must be only Afaan Oromo. Will they then stay to be pro Ethiopian unity and anti ethnicity, even if Amharinya will be demoted to only local language of Amhara region and if Afaan Oromo will be promoted to be the only working language of the Ethiopian federation? I am sure they will not! In case they will stay to be pro ethiopianity and pro unity as they seem to believe now, let’s then try this NEW version of ethiopianity with Afaan Oromo instead of with Amharinya.
    Read more:http://www.ethioplanet.com/medrek

  31. Guest
    | #31

    There should be only one Federal language in Ethiopia, and the most appropriate language, in terms of number of users and having its own alphabet and other historical reasons, is Amharic. I don’t see why we need to go an extra mile and promote a regional language to a Federal langauge. You seem to exaggerate the language issue, what matters most is freedom and good governance . Some of you relate language status with inferiority and superiority. You seem awkwardly very passionate about this. There is no way that millions of people get in to language schools (which do not exist) and learn Oromifa to satisfy the demand of some maniacs. You are just playing childish game. Some things have been moulded historically in a certain way and they will remain so as long as no body is going to be harmed. I can see that you are very exited as if you found a new discovery – a brilliant challenge to the Amara chauvinists – which overrides their reason and make them a looser. That is why you are repeatedly proposing an impractical solution.

  32. Messay
    | #32

    To Ogina:
    Our exchange is obviously going nowhere. You don’t think about unity; you don’t seem to want unity. What you want is retaliation, and you think unity in terms of retaliation. Because the Amhara imposed their language, you say that you accept unity provided you impose your language. This is a revengeful thinking and shows clearly that the Oromo elite looks like or imitates the former Amhara ruling elite. Unfortunately, this position will either perpetuate the Woyanne regime or lead to a bloody confrontation in the whole region that will benefit nobody.

  33. Ogina
    | #33

    Dr. Messay,
    if you have read carefully and exactly, that is not what I want. What I want is simply put: union based on self-determination. I brought the language issue, just to show why Amharas are against self-determination and to persuade them to accept and respect it. For that matter, we need the reverse. It is just to make them comprehend what it looks like to have Ethiopian unity with only Afaan Oromo as a national language. Hopefully you have grasped it. Otherwise I just posted to you a short opinion comparing your and my position in relation to reviving AFD! Don’t stop to talk to people who even seem not to accept the Unity you want. Thanks!!

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