Open Letter to Mr. Isayas Afewarki
President of Eritrea
March 31, 2020
We, the concerned Oromo groups, are deeply worried by your interview on February 7, 2020 on the Eritrean Television. We know that you were against the idea of the Ethiopian federal arrangement from the beginning. We have been following also the various statements and press releases you have been making over the years regarding the issue.
Needless to state here that we have been disappointed and outraged by your statements about our people’s right to self-determination for the following reasons: first, it reflects lack of respect for our people’s rights to make their own decisions. Secondly, our people have been waging a struggle for self-determination as the Eritrean people were doing under your leadership. The Oromo, like Eritreans were under foreign occupation. The Oromo have struggled to get rid of Abyssinian colonialism. Therefore, it is highly ironic to criticize as you did in your speech, the Oromo and others who demand self-determination while Eritrea had struggled for the right to secede from Ethiopia and attained it under your leadership.
Most of us have sympathized with the legitimate cause of Eritrean people’s struggle for independence. Naturally, we also expected your sympathy and support for the cause of our struggle and aspirations which are as legitimate as that of the Eritreans. Regrettably, that has not been the case as reflected in your recent comments on federalism in Ethiopia.
Any social scientist or historian who truly knows Ethiopian history and politics would support the demand of the Oromo and other peoples in Ethiopia for self-determination while rejecting multi-national federalism. Consequently, we do not understand how you can advise the “Ethiopians to follow the best path for nation building” as you said in your speech, while denouncing the present Ethiopian federal system and rejecting the idea of the right to self-determination provided by the Ethiopian constitution.
The fundamental rights which the Oromo have been demanding and were endorsed by the 1991 Transitional Charter (TC) in your presence in Finfinnee in July 1991 are universal. The national liberation fronts that, including the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), established the Transitional Government of Ethiopia (TGE), accepted the Charter as a last resort to avoid a chaotic disintegration of Ethiopia and create conditions for an orderly transition to a future which will be determined by the people themselves. Whether one may like it or not, the provisions of the Charter were endorsed by Article 39 of the 1995 Ethiopian Constitution which defines Ethiopia is as a multinational federal state.
You may remember that the adoption of federalism was not a choice for Ethiopia in 1991; it was a must. Although federalism did not function as envisaged, the Transitional Charter and Article 39 of the 1995 Ethiopian Constitution have, without doubt, saved Ethiopia from disintegration so far. Any effort to rescind Article 39 will, by definition, “remove” the glue that kept the fissiparous polity together during the last 29 years.
Based on what is said above, we strongly believe that the only means to solve the present crisis is not the rejection, but an unreserved implementation of Article 39 and acknowledgement of the injustices committed by the Abyssinian ruling elite in the making of the current Ethiopian state.. The logical peaceful alternative is independence or secession. The right of self-determination up to secession is not an outdated idea or illegitimate demand as you may believe but a valid universal principle even today.
That secession and creation of a new state is justified where a prolonged conflict leading to massive violations of human rights involving a nation or an indigenous group with a specific homeland or territory occurs. In recent decades, this was reflected in the creation of new states in the Balkans and the Horn of Africa since the 1990s–Eritrean independence in 1993, East Timor’s from Indonesia in 2005 and the separation of South Sudan from Sudan in 2011. The role of both internal legal and moral pressure on the Serbian, Indonesian and North Sudan governments in effecting the liberation of many of these states was significant.
As we have witnessed in the case of the Ukrainians, the Georgians, and the peoples of the Baltic States, as well as the rest of the 18 states which, since 1990, have seceded from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), the creation of a new state occurs when and where the inhabitants of a sub-state or territory show the desire to secede from a state or an empire of which they have been a part. The immediate impetus that stirred the desire for secession can differ from case to case, but the principle is the same. For example, Ukraine’s separation from Russia, after co-existence for over 300 years, was motivated to a large extent by a desire to exercise sovereignty as a nation. National sovereignty and national identity were the two reasons given by the peoples of the Baltic States for their exit from the USSR. The division of former Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993 occurred because Slovak nationalists demanded their own sovereign state, and the Czechs did not oppose their decision.
You very well know that self-determination including secession of a people is a universal principle because it is a natural and legitimate right that will be here always. As the cases of the claim being made by the Scots, Catalans and Quebecoise show, it is a living, universal, legitimate and democratic right as it was 30 years ago when Eritrea got its independence from Ethiopia or the 1960s when most African countries achieved their independence and you decided to organize the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front.
Although your country was colonized by Italy in the late 1890 and lived under Italian rule for fifty years, the Eritrean majority had not only a cultural and religious affinity but also shared history with the Habesha in Tigray and Amhara. Eritrea became independent when the Italians were defeated and went home. We know that Eritrea’s federal arrangement with Ethiopia did not work, and when Emperor Haile Selassie annexed your country in 1961 and your people were not happy under the rule of the Amhara elite, you fought bravely for thirty years and attained independence in 1991. We congratulated you and the Eritrean peoples for prevailing over the might of the Ethiopian army and the opportunistic behavior of the realpolitik of powerful nations who dominate world politics. We were also happy because we reckoned that Oromo families are not only relieved from handing over their sons and daughters to a military Junta that used them as cannon fodder, but also their meagre resources which were robbed from them and wasted on an unfair and unwinnable war while they were starving.
Unfortunately, for the Oromo, our colonizers stayed. Shell Andersen who reviewed Alexander Bulatovich’s book Ethiopia through Russian Eyes: Country in Transition 1896-1898, states, “The Berlin Conference of 1884 was the crux of the infamous ‘Scramble for Africa’, whereby assorted colonial powers carved the continent up amongst themselves. Among the Europeans there was one sole African scrambler; Menelik II, the king of Shoa in the highlands of Ethiopia. Within little more than half a century the European colonial powers had all given up their African empires — but the highland Ethiopians had not. The area that Ras Wolda Giyorgis, with Bulatovich’s help, conquered became an integral part of the Ethiopian Empire, and remains part of Ethiopia today.” Unlike your country, ours is still colonized; and you insist we should not even have a federal arrangement, let alone independence, to enjoy some of the basic rights that are due to all nations who have distinct territories, cultures, languages and histories. We disagree with you.
The fact that the Abyssinians have conquered our homeland, stayed in Oromia and seek to dominate its politics and control its resources indefinitely does not make us more Ethiopian than were the majority of Eritreans who share common history, religion, culture and language with their kinfolks south of the Takeze River. You have gained independence. It is your legitimate right. Our point is that the Oromo’s demand for self-determination is also a legitimate right under the conditions our people live today as yours 30 years ago. Therefore, we ask you respectfully to refrain from negative interference in our nation’s struggle for justice.
Concerned Oromo group