My perception of and reflection on the “Oromo uprising” By Achamyeleh Tamiru.
I. A reality check
1. A substantial number of OLF inclined Oromos today do not consider themselves as an Ethiopian. OLF supremacists, whom we patronize today, have successfully decoupled a substantial number of Oromos from the rest of Ethiopia. These decoupled Oromos and other Ethiopians, for all practical purpose, are on completely different pages. We do not understand each other anymore. We have no common language or concept of a country. It is no more possible to reason with OLF inclined Oromos (because they do not consider themselves Ethiopian anymore).
You cannot question the rationality of the so-called “Oromo question”. If you do, you are an enemy. We may occupy the same space but we do not live in the same dimension. That was what Eritreans did for decades before they openly said they are not Ethiopians anymore. Many of them lived a double life; few remained Ethiopian until the very end gave in. Even fewer choose to have nothing to do with Eritrean nationalism to the end. And we had no clue (or pretended) about the transformation that was taking place. We choose to patronize. The entire Eritreans people who lived better life compared to the majority of Ethiopians left us long before they throw us out from the territory they claimed as their own. Did it benefit them? No. I don’t think they thought about it that far. In the same manner, OLF inclined Oromos have left Ethiopia for some time now. And they just want to throw out the rest of Ethiopians from “their land” exactly as Eritreans did. It is only a natural progression. The slogan
2. Whether it is right or wrong, Weyyane’s constitution awards Oromos most of the fertile land and resources of Ethiopia with an option to opt out from the union. Since with the success of a quarter of a century social engineering experiment, OLF inclined Oromos have already left Ethiopia as indicated above. The rest of us who live in “Oromia” are at best irritants at worst invaders and are there illegally. This was the promise OLF inclined Oromos have been living for more than two decades. And they feel they have no need to be Ethiopian. If I have all of the above, I would do the same too. And this present unrest is the wish of OLF inclined Oromos to realize that promise. It is not about the farmers in Burayu who do not exist any more, democracy, freedom, or equality for Ethiopians at large.
3. I have clearly stated before that I have no objection as far as the Addis Master plan is concerned. I support it. But I DON’T support its implementation until before the land policy is changed. As I said, the only viable and permanent solution to save the farmers from displacement and lose of their land is to privatize the land; land should be a private property. Once land is privatized, all iniquities will be rectified; there will no be evacuation of farmers. But the perceived expansion (in reality it is not even an expansion; it is an economic integration that could happen with any foreign country) of Addis Ababa with majority of none Oromo residents is tantamount to invasion of once country for the significant number of OLF inclined Oromos. They did not protest when Woyane is about to give Ethiopian land to Sudan nor when OPDO officials’ literality sell Oromo farmers land in Nathret, Jima and other town in what is called the state of Oromia. They did not come out in mass when we loss our sea outlet either. Because they are convinced that these things have nothing to do with them.
4. As we recall, many unity advocate Oromo politicians and personalities are already abandoning that camp and warming up to the Oromo supremacists. Mr. Bekele Gerba and people like Bulcha Demeksa an early example that saw the inevitable power shift and positioned themselves accordingly even though they are not only an Oromo elite but also part of the very selected Ethiopian elite society. As recently as last month the young politician Yonatan Teresa Regassa of Semayawi party (who changed his middle name from Tesfaye to Teresa) and Tegaye Ararsa are finding out that the Unity camp is not where one can be confidently build once future. I don’t blame them. All this is happening because the rest of Ethiopians are not making any claim of their own and to tell you the truth because of people like you and me. We all want a united Ethiopia where all it’s citizens are free and equal because it is the only condition peace can prevail in the region. As long as ethnic based political discourse is the main driving force, there will be endless conflict that will weaken us all, to become a pry to all kinds of unruly characters within and without the Ethiopian border. The current ongoing protest in Ethiopia is about land. It is about “Oromo land”. We know that because they said so. We know that because all other conditions were there before the protest begun and did not raise so much anger. By the way, even by the standard of Weyyane’s constitution, the notion of “Oromo land” or the slogan of “Oromia belongs to the Oromo” does not hold water. Because, article 40 sub article 3 of the constitution says the following: “The right to own rural and urban land as well as natural resources belongs only to the state and the people. Land is an inalienable common property of the nations, nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia”.
Lets face it. After the fall of TPLF, which we all want (that for all practical purposes can be next month or next week), the probability that Ethiopia will exist is getting close to nil. That is because there is no counter balance for the pressure the Oromo nationalists are putting up. In fact, I would dare to say as of today the existence of Ethiopia as a country is much more appealing to TPLF than the Oromo nationalists. Something that people do not want to contemplate is that if this unrest if succeeds in driving TPLF out of power, it will be the end of Ethiopia. TPLF made sure that Ethiopia would not exist after it. I doubt very much Oromos will win either. There will not be any winner. And the only way to avoid this calamity (if it is not too late already) is by facing the truth. Not by hiding behind nice words and patronizing.
As there were Eritreans who foresaw the danger of succession there is Tigreans who know TPLF is working against the interest of Tigreans. And the most enlightened Oromos know ethnic politics and breaking up of Ethiopia is a dead end road for all of us. These are the people who shoulder most of the burden. I know many Eritreans who were estranged from their community because they would not fallow the craze of Eritrean nationalism. I know an old Eritrean man who did not want to have anything to do with two of his children because they decided not to be Ethiopian. The irony of it is Meles Zenawi shipped him to Eritrea because he did not like his “eye color”. One of the children, a daughter who become super Eritrean overnight and went to Eritrea at the wake of their victory slipped back to Ethiopia and to day she tries to live her life masking her Eritrean identity as much as possible. Of course as true Ethiopian every one in the neighborhood knows that yet pretends not to know allowing her to be part of the community. (At this point I am questioning the wisdom of not reminding her). Her father cried himself to death in Asmara for loosing Ethiopia. For me this are the people I need to fight for as long as there is a drop of strength in me.
II. What is the “take home” lesson we have to learn from the past few weeks?
What needs more analysis is the bigger picture. Why is it that Ethiopia has the largest number of liberation movements in the world? Why is it that we remain stuck in this archaic ideology when the world and Africa have already moved away from this and are on another level? We are not a country with the largest number of ethnic groups nor do we have the most oppressed or loudest ethnic groups anywhere.
Curiously, we are a nation with ethnic groups that are more linked and integrated by blood, history and culture than any country in Africa. Why are we then obsessed with secession and ethnic federation? Nations are built on a history of conquest and rivalry. Today’s powerful countries are the outcomes of such history. But they are beyond it now. They are not stuck in time. Or have we slept 3000 years oblivion of what is around us? Strangely, it is those who know this history that promote secession and ethnic federation. There is no country in the world where ethnic federation is implemented where it is tried it has failed. This subject needs a little deeper study since it has to do with the contemporary history of Ethiopia particularly with the birth of Ethiopian student movement. For me, the Ethiopian student’s movement was a movement used as a Trojan horse to justify the secession of Eritrea. The naive student movement was used, manipulated and eventually made it possible for Eritrea to secede. It did not stop there but the same people who used the fake Leninist slogan of up to including secession, inscribed it in “our” constitution so that we continue fighting each other; as manifested in the Oromo movement of the last few weeks and that of the Ogaden that has been there for years.
Eritrea is in trouble and most regret their decision. Have we learned lessons? Of course NOT! Ethiopian politicians never learn from experience; they want to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. For every ruler, Ethiopia’s history begins in earnest the day he assumes power. But in the midst of all this there are those with sanity and wisdom.
We can win only if we work hard against all odds to make sanity and reason prevail. Our people need leaders. All the struggles we have had in the past have not been used to good terms because we lack leadership. Our people should follow honest leaders. We have to work hard to get those leaders. It might not be an easy task but can be done because there are no options. There are two hopes I can see out there. One is professor Birhanu Nega’s route. His decision to join his forces on the ground has exhilarated many Ethiopians who believe that Weyyane is the scourge of mankind. The struggle under his leadership should be supported by all peace loving Ethiopians. The second hope is the “slight shift” by few nocturnal ethno-centric forces from their long hold extreme left position to the center of the left. This group includes all those racial forces that are now atoning their “sins”. To be more explicit, it seems to me that unlike fanatic Oromo nationalists, few Ethiopianist Oromo intellectuals have learned more (and hence get convinced) that (or know eventually that) it is not feasible to have independent Oromia. I think they have learned that the case of the state of Oromia is quite different from the case of Eritrea. Eritrea had a history without Ethiopia, though short. It had a recognized defined boundary. With Oromia it is NOT! Nonetheless, since they are not the majority to win the minds of secessionist nationalist lords, the eminent disaster that I have explained can’t be thwarted because we have few Rigid Ethio-centric views among the Oromo intellectuals. Even though I believe that it is not the shortage of characters with good causes that is useful to thwart the eminent danger, but lets not forget, eminent danger also lies in the villain individual characters and the consequences of their choices and actions in a situation divulged disingenuously to hoodwinked actualities.
But I believe that there is a better way forward without civil war. While I’m writing this, I sense that there is a far more serious danger lurking than what we see on the surface reminding the tone and form of the recent past protest. I have had this fear in the past too. By the way, I have written a couple of pieces on the same subject in Amharic. I also feel that extremists who are planning to put their agenda in the forefront have diluted the genuine start of Oromo students protest. I feel that it is in the making. I do not doubt it, though I do not have concrete evidence except the malicious deception fanatic speeches by the jihadist/separationist thugs.
I have read books on extremism (such as “Strength in What Remains” book by Tracy kidder, a story of a in search of a new life after surviving a civil war and genocide in Rwanda) and based on what has happened in other places the conditions for such things to happen seem to be fertile in Ethiopia too. So we have to be cautious if we don’t want to play with fire. Once that lawlessness is unleashed there is no way back. We will be like Syria, with a complex conflict of ethnicity, religion and politics and foreign agenda leading to a proxy war. That is why we have to work hard to discuss on what could possibly unite us and remind the leaders what could lie ahead of we don’t.That there is no winner as long as we are divided. We will drain each other only to become a pry to outside forces. It is important to let the Oromo people and the Oromo nationalists that they would never achieve their dream. The fact of the matter is that the unitary state created by our fathers was the natural equilibrium that our society can achieve and the only thing we can add to it is improve it by building democratic and free society. The problem most people are afraid to state the truth.
As I write this, I also feel that the issues I raised and the solutions I suggested above may never be taken as a serious remedy. Different people will have different opinion on why we find ourselves in this predicament. And just as well. Because we may need to raise the questions all the time so that we learn from history but we do not need to answer them fully. We can explore history and debate about it but what the future should look like is being answered as we speak.
Kinijit and the Oromo protest as powerful as they were failed miserably. These are events we can work with to analyze the root cause of the problem in our society. These are our own designs and our failures. So we can have a better insight to the problem. Civilizations and Societies reach their peaks and decline. Probably that is what is happening to us. The geopolitics and proximity to a hostile Arab world play a role. I often ask myself how Eritreans could make such stupid mistake and work against their own interest? Either I have to believe that I am mistaken or accept that an entire society can go banana. Since I know I am right (since there is no convincing argument otherwise at least for me) I have to believe that an entire population can go crazy. The Eritrean “liberators” succeeded to do that by cutting off Eritreans from the rest of Ethiopians through different mechanisms.
And today Oromo nationalists are doing the same thing. As I said above, they have cut off much of the Oromo population and are building psychological, linguistic and physical walls. True OLF and OPDO could not do that without the help of TPLF and EPLF.
Few things that I learned in the last couple of weeks;
1. Ethiopia as a country (prior to TPLF and probably Dergue), which is product of the natural evolution of the society and its interactions with all of the elements in the region, geography, resources, climate, etc., haven’t taken its lesson yet.
2. What we see today, the “destruction” that is being caused by the liberation forces, is an anomaly in the larger context. The same thing has happened in and around Zemene Mesafint. Clearly we did not take lesson from that history.
3. The same natural forces that brought Ethiopia together after almost 3000 years of civil war will bring Ethiopia back to where it was at Meniliks time or latter years. Until that equilibrium reestablished turmoil will ensue.
Probably the time span and the manner by which Ethiopia and probably the entire region will come together will not be the same but at some point as long as there are living and breathing people it will happen. The difference now is that information flows relatively freely and people will have better opportunity to get informed and make choices which should make the job of unity forces easier. A choice, whatever it is, made by an informed people would always lead to that equilibrium. I took a broad time span deliberating with myself and I come to the conclusion that things always have natural pattern. If you could not see the pattern in certain time frame, then you have to widen the scope and from that understanding you can refocus you attention to the time in question. So, the win-win solution is to push a common cause that takes us to the thriving frontier of the natural equilibrium. This is not even enough to stay at the optimum. The ever-lasting solution is to make the natural equilibrium a permanent steady state by building democratic and free society.