Finfinnee was the seat of a local Oromo leader, Tufa Muna, before Emperor Menilek II of Ethiopia conquered the region and turned it into a garrison in 1887. Menilek removed the Oromo from their land and erected his palace on the site of Tufa Muna’s seat. The city emerged as one of a series of garrison towns that Menilek created in Oromiya. Conducive location, closeness to the resources of the conquered regions in the south and to Menilek’s powerbase in the north facilitated the rapid growth of Finfinnee as the capital of the new empire. Finfinnee is located in the center of Oromiya but, ironically, it grew at the expense of the Oromo people. Oromiya’s resources guaranteed its continuous economic growth and existence while space for its physical expansion and for the settlement of northerners was created through removal and eviction of the Oromo from their ancestral lands. In a broader historical perspective, Menilek’s destruction of Tufa Muna’s seat and creation of a new town on its site resembles sixteenth and nineteenth century European colonialism. In the former case, particularly in Latin America, the Spanish destroyed pre-existing Native American towns and built new ones on their site in the image of towns in Spain. During the nineteenth century colonialism, Europeans created new towns–for example, Salisbury in Zimbabwe (renamed Harare after independence) in Zimbabwe and Nairobi in Kenya. But, in most cases, instead of completely destroying preexisting towns, they used them as centers of control and domination. While the destruction of Tufa Muna’s site and building of a new town on its place resembles Spanish colonialism, Minelik’s use of pre-existing towns in other parts of Oromiya and the creation of several new towns resembled nineteenth century colonialism. Menilek’s conquest and occupation of Oromiya was contemporaneous to European colonialism. In both cases, the growth of towns was made possible by removal of indigenous people and settlement of people from the colonizing countries, hence settler colonialism.
Similar to colonial towns in Africa, Finfinnee became an imperial capital from where successive regimes coordinated their political control and exploitation of the Oromo. For the Ethiopians and the Oromo, Finfinnee represented different things. For the Ethiopians, it symbolized the ultimate height of their power, “unification” and creation of an empire. For the Oromo, Finfinnee became a cancerous dent to their social, economic, political and cultural fabric. As such, it symbolized oppression, domination, dispossession and an assault on their national identity. Being in Finfinnee, the conquerors virtually destroyed the livelihoods of the Oromo who were removed to make a space for the conquerors. The imperial state created a new social and cultural setting that accommodated the northerners and alienated the Oromo. This alienation of the Oromo that began with Menilek in 1887 earnestly continued to the present.
The new demographics and cultural landscape in Finfinnee (as in many other towns of Oromiya) and the political domination and economic exploitation imposed by successive imperial regimes denied the Oromo an urban space where they could develop their economy, and nurture their culture, social life and traditions. Moreover, they lost an urban space to cultivate their creativity, to innovate, a place where they could deposit their technological and cultural achievements and advance their own civilization, so that successive generations could build upon what they inherited from their predecessors. The targeting of the Gada system, an indigenous democratic and socio-political institution, renowned and admired globally and now recognized by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity, was a deliberate act by the conquerors to weaken and destroy the foundations of Oromo civilization. The changing of place name from Finfinnee to Addis Ababa also epitomized the destruction of Oromo Culture.
Growing as a bastion of the identity of the conquerors, the establishment of the imperial capital at Finfinnee caused two fundamental damages to the Oromo. First, it is a reason for the surrounding people’s loss of their ancestral land, destruction of their very livelihood and loosening of their collective existence as a cohesive community. Second, it set out to destroy the identity of the Oromo who moved to the town from different regions of Oromiya. They were put under a systematic pressure to acquiesce to the culture of the conquerors–Orthodox Christianity, the Amharic language and adopting Amharic names, among others–if they were to survive under of the dominant ethnic group. In this way, Oromos living in Finfinnee came under direct Ethiopian assault on their identity.
Ever since the conquest, the Oromo have resisted encroachment on their land and identity in different forms. But pan-Oromo resistance began to take shape particularly in the second half of the twentieth century. Ironically, the very Finfinnee that was a reason for the eviction of millions of Oromos and loss of identity became a gathering place for Oromo resistance. First, since the 1950s, Finfinnee became a meeting place for Oromo university students coming from different regions of Oromiya. These students shared information and discussed the political, social, cultural and economic challenges that their people were facing as a result of Ethiopian rule. Second, an all-inclusive (army, police, students, civil servants, teachers, ordinary people) Oromo movement under the name Matcha Tulama Self-Help Association was created and truly became a symbol of modern Oromo resistance around which Oromo nationalism began to galvanize. Because it became the genuine voice of the Oromo, the government of Emperor Haile Sellassie implicated the movement with false accusations and outlawed it. Many of its leading members were arrested – some of them were given life sentences while others were executed. What is quite interesting and historical about the Matcha Tulama is that members of smaller non-Oromo ethnic groups joined the movement for they saw in the movement a common ground, cause and hope to liberate themselves from similar oppressions imposed on them by the conquerors. Third, in the 1970s, the Oromo Liberation Front was created in Finfinnee to lead the Oromo people’s struggle. Fourth, the TPLF’s attempt to remove the seat of the Oromo Regional State from Finfinnee to Adama in 2004 ignited the memory of the displacement when Finfinnee was established a century earlier and triggered strong Oromo resistance against the decision. Due to the resistance, the decision was reversed in 2005. Finally, in 2014, in the name of integrated master plan for Finfinnee and the surrounding towns of Oromiya, the TPLF projected a large-scale grabbing of the ancestral farmlands of hundreds of thousands of Oromo living in the vicinity of the city. Resistance to this latest TPLF scheme became the rallying point for the current Oromo national movement. For all these major movements and several other pan-Oromo activities, Finfinnee provided a platform and a place to meet.
Under the TPLF (1991-present) regime, the degree of oppression and suffering of the Oromo reached a new level of brutality. Political persecution and dispossession of the Oromo reached untold proportions. The TPLF used Finfinnee as a weapon to control the Oromo. It decreed in the national constitution that the Oromo are entitled to special interests in the town; but it remained a lip service and the Oromo did not get any benefit from the capital in the last twenty five years. They recognized Finfinnee as capital of the State of Oromiya; but the TPLF kicked the government of Oromiya out of Finfinnee to Adama. When the Matcha Tulama Self-Help Association and university students protested, TPLF response was uncompromising. The association was banned and Oromo students were expelled from universities in mass, close to 400 of them from Addis Ababa University alone. To appease the Oromo after its electoral loss in 2005, the TPLF reversed its decision and allowed the return of Oromiya’s capital to Finfinnee. But interestingly, the Matcha Tulama was not unbanned and the expelled university students were not allowed back. Most of them were exiled and joined the rank and file of Oromo asylum-seekers. Even, being in Finfinnee the state of Oromiya had no influence on the city. Continued TPLF government intransigence posed serious threat to the very existence of the Oromo more than ever and the current mass uprising in Oromia is a result of frustration, deprivation and accumulated grievance for quarter a century. TPLF’s reckless acts and disregards for the Oromo resulted in thousands of deaths, hundreds of thousands of arrests and exiles since this regime came to power in 1991.
In 2014, at a meeting of Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO) cadres in Adama, TPLF officials announced the “Addis Ababa and Oromia Special Zones Integrated Development Master Plan.” Although some OPDO members opposed the plan, one TPLF official made an intimidating comment, saying “whether they like it or not, the implementation of the plan and the integration of the two entities is inevitable.” This was, in fact, an amplification of the position of TPLF high-ranking official, Abay Tsehaye, whose party was the preparer and ultimate beneficiary of the plan. In reality, the so-called integrated master plan was the latest TPLF assault to consolidate its control of the Oromo. The plan gives the TPLF a legal excuse to force a massive eviction of the Oromo from their land in the name of development. The Master Plan, symbolizing the TPLF contempt for the Oromo, their utter arrogance and ploy for the systematic dispossession and deprivation of the Oromo have galvanized massive protests since April 2015. Oromo students from grade level to university are joined by the Oromo from all walks of life. The Oromo protests have now crippled the TPLF regime and forced the government to declare a state of emergency.
Suffering under a brutal military rule comparable to Nazi-occupied Europe during the Second World War, like any other people subjected to similar conditions, the Oromo are fighting back for a full control over their destiny, their land, and their resources. They want to nurture their identity with all its attributes. However, as far as their towns are under the control of outsiders who are opposed to their fundamental rights, the Oromo cannot fulfill their aspirations. Their right to Finfinnee is part of fulfilling those aspirations. If adversaries use it as a center to destroy the Oromo as a people, the Oromo only have two options. The first is to give up and decease as a people or allow their own extinction. The second is to fight back and survive. The Oromo chose the second option and that is why Finfinnee has currently become the battleground.