Oromiya’s Maraamartoo Politics (an opinion piece)
By Getahun Benti, PhD, Muddee 29, 2018
As kids, we used to play by spinning ourselves on our body mass while standing or rolling over on the ground several times. The result was loss of consciousness and inability to maintain balance, and a powerful feeling that everything was “moving” around. Some could even experience violent stomach upset and headache. This situation is called “maraamartoo.”
For three decades, and more so in the last four years, Oromiya’s politics has been in a state of maraamartoo caused externally by a brutal and unforgiving enemy and internally by fatally divided Oromo politicians. Both exposed the Oromo to ruthless occupation, domination and exploitation. Their humanity has been degraded and their very survival as a nation has been threatened. With a besieged mentality, and understandably as a minority regime, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) made a determined effort to annihilate the Oromo people. In the last four years the Oromo have been phenomenally united under Qeerroo leadership and staged a fierce but costly resistance to TPLF onslaught. Alarmed by this extraordinary Oromo unity, advocates of Amhara domination (particularly in the diaspora and at home, and non-Amhara politicians like Berhanu Nega) have begun to wage a relentless war, especially through their outlet, ESAT, on the Oromo people. While the TPLF appear to have retreated, Amhara extremists are still conducting a persistent campaign to destroy Oromiya as a state and the Oromo as a nation. They saw Oromo unity as the greatest threat to the Ethiopian empire and to their hegemony. They were not even persuaded by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s pledges to make peace between Ethiopians and save the empire their forefathers created. The prime minister’s apparent reluctance to tackle Oromo questions boosted the morale of Amhara extremists. Surrounded by mortal enemies (TPLF and Amhara extremists) coupled with the indifference of the federal government and its resort to force instead of dialogue, and with the unfortunate conflict between the two major Oromo political groups, the politics of Oromiya got into a maraanmartoo syndrome.
To his credit, the prime minister opened the political space and tolerated freedom of expression. He also developed a rapprochement with exiled political groups. Most importantly, he negotiated with the OLF and paved the way for its return to the country. The OLF agreed to participate in the peaceful political transition under Abiy’s leadership. Soon, however, relations between them have turned bitter with mutual incriminations for violating agreements that were not yet made public. On their part, the Oromo people have started to question the sincerity of both the OLF and ODP to honor the agreements. What is quite evident is that the OLF has dropped its maximum program of promoting the secession of Oromiya from Ethiopia while the ODP has not shown any sign of dropping TPLF’s maximum program of destroying the OLF and Oromiya. Sadly, the ODP has embarked on suppressing the Oromo in ways very similar to that of the TPLF. The creation of command posts and summary killings in many parts of Oromiya continue unabated.
The worst thing that could happen to the Oromo people is a civil war in Oromiya. Unfortunately, we see clear signs of impending civil war where the two Oromo parties, knowingly or unknowingly, are engaged in acts of mutual destruction. There are two fundamental reasons for this. The first is the inherent contradiction between the political agendas of the ODP and the OLF. From their actions and political rhetoric, it is clear that the ODP saw the Oromo movement for freedom and equality as a threat to the Ethiopian empire of which they are apparently in charge currently. As such Lammaa’s slogan of “addiction to Ethiopianism” and Abiy’s rhetoric that “when we are alive we are Ethiopians, when we die we become Ethiopia” is to assure the anti-Oromo elements that the reform they are conducting will protect their interests. For the OLF Oromummaa, which is secondary for the ODP, is the core of their political agenda and appealed to all walks of life. The 6 million people who attended the welcoming rally of the OLF was a clear reception of the message than an appreciation of the individual leaders. This means that the political philosophies of the two parties are inherently antagonistic. To make matters worse, there are elements inside ODP who are engaged in intensive revenge politics. They include members of individual Oromo “parties” who joined ODP because they were unable to win the heart and mind of the Oromo people. They were former members of the OLF and joining the ODP provided them a unique opportunity to punish their former organization. As such, they have staged a relentless campaign against the OLF to prove their loyalty to ODP. In other words, they are using the heavy hand of the ODP to settle old scores with the OLF. Compared to the OLF, they do not have strong support from the people and, to overcome that, they have been persistently portraying inconsistent political behaviors, and have developed a great urge to divide and betray.
The impending conflict between the ODP and the OLF has created a lot of joy in the camp of actual enemies, the TPLF and Amhara extremists. Both see the OLF as a mortal enemy bent on destroying the empire they have been dearly cherishing. For the TPLF, the ODP is protecting the constitution that it created to ensure its hegemony. For the extremist Amhara, the ODP is defending the empire they created from alleged Oromo secessionists. For the Oromo, the ODP has yet to unequivocally address the questions that thousands of Qeerroos and Oromo of all walks of life died for. Unfortunately, given its resort to force, the hope that the ODP will address the multitude of Oromo problems is fading away. Incarcerations and killings continue unabated. While the Somali Liyu Police resumed its attack, a new and deadly war front has opened in western Oromiya.
TPLF and Amhara extremists are refereeing the battle game between the two Oromo brothers while the ODP is playing into their hands. In these typical Abyssinian political machination, the Oromo and the OLF are the victims. The Qeerroo, who sacrificed dearly to make the change a reality, are now watching the drama to determine their next move. The whole situation has turned Oromo politics into a turbulent maraamarto. This time, the maraamarto can turn the entire region into a fireball if the actual enemies do not stop refereeing the battle between Oromo political groups and if the ODP does not adequately address the quest of the Oromo for equality and freedom. The last thing the ODP can do is turning this conflict into an Oromo civil war. They can hit the OLF but not its backbone, the Oromo people. The ODP knows where the heart of the Oromo is. They have seen the 6 million Oromo who welcomed the OLF in Finfinnee, and they understand where the 36 million others who could not make it to Finfinnee stand.
On the other hand, Obbo Dawd has to carefully think on how to manage his movement. Now, he is in Finfinnee not in Asmara or in the forests of Gidaamii, Gawo Qeebbee, Gursum or Gaara Mullataa. His status has changed from a leader in the jungles to a leader in Oromiya’s capital. He and his team have to communicate their ideas and policies diplomatically. Avoid inflammatory rhetoric. Similarly, ODP and its leaders have to learn lessons from preceding regimes, especially the TPLF. The TPLF has used every weapon in its arsenal to destroy the Oromo. Intimidating (like TPLF) the Oromo with the use of force would alienate the people, particularly the Qeerroo. If force were to decide the struggle between EPRDF member parties, team Lammaa would have been decimated a long time ago. How would the same weapons that could not save the TPLF assure victory for ODP? The Oromo people and the Qeerroo, even as they knew what the prime minister was up to, apparently “declared” a period of respite to give him the benefit of the doubt. But he utterly failed the test. The approaching election and the possibility that the OLF would rout out ODP with defeat in Oromiya has made the latter nervous. Consequently, it is determined to take every measure to cripple the OLF.
What the Oromo want are genuine talks between the two Oromo parties that will sincerely address the demands of the Oromo for freedom and equality. Short of this, the Oromo led by the Qeerroo will likely take full control of the destiny of their country into their hands. Exhausting their patience and stretching them to the breaking point could force the Oromo to opt for the ultimate and final solution to their problem. This could be achieved in two ways. The first one is to assert their constitutional rights and invoke Article 39. The second is liberating Oromiya by force through a full-blown revolt. (Jawar Mohammad is right that Oromiya was almost liberated days before Abiy’s ascension to power. But his ascension diluted a movement that gained unprecedented momentum with tangible results just on the corner.) There is still time for a peaceful resolution. But both parties have to be sincere to their words. Especially, the ODP has to categorically assure the OLF that it would respect agreements that they have reached. OLF leaders have never forgotten what happened to them in 1992. Apparently, from the rhetoric of ODP leaders, it is possible that it could happen again to the OLF. Obbo Lammaa and Prime Minister Abiy have to stop listening to the diaspora and extremist Amhara and start listening to their own people. They do not have to destroy their own people to rescue an empire that put them in this situation in first place. History and the Oromo people will never forgive them if they do not stop the maraamarto, start talking to the OLF and find a lasting solution to the Oromo question. Prime Minister Abiy and President Lammaa have listened to the most anti-Oromo media, Ethsat, and to several Amhara extremists who seek the suppression of Oromo national aspirations. The question to them is: why have you not listened to Oromo elders such as Abiyu Galata, Tilahun Gamta, Ibsaa Gutama, Ahmed Hussen and Oromo intellectuals such as Mohammad Hassen, Asafa Jalata, Mekuria Bulcha and several others? Why are you reluctant to unban the Maccaa Tuulama Self-Help Association? Most of all, when will you listen to the Oromo, your own people? Please, make sure that the solution to Oromo problem is political, not force and the ball is in the prime minister’s court. The cure for the maraamartoo is in his hand and history will hold him accountable for his action or inaction.