The OSA: An Institution of Knowledge, Freedom and Democracy
By Umee Edatoo
September 1, 2018 (Ayyaantuu) — Oromo public intellectuals in the diaspora and a few friends and supporters of the Oromo first established the Oromo Studies Association (OSA) in the mid-1980s to engage in the struggle for knowledge and democracy. These scholars realized the impossibility of liberating the Oromo nation from colonialism and imperialism without developing liberation knowledge, which is necessary to restore indigenous Oromo civilization, culture, history, and humanity. A few elements of the founding members of the association were schooled in the Macha-Tulama Association and other Oromo movements in Oromia and later in the unions of Oromo students in North America and Europe. The commitment and accumulated experiences of OSA’s founders and members have made OSA one of the finest and durable Oromo institutions despite the fact that it was born and raised in a foreign land. Although it has faced some difficulties in its journey, the institution has proved itself to be a democratic intellectual institution for more than three decades. Many critics of OSA assert that it has a long way to go to fully disseminate the liberation knowledge it has been producing in the diaspora to the Oromo people in Oromia and beyond. With the new changing political conditions in Oromia and Ethiopia, OSA must be ready to establish itself in Oromo society and to engage in nation building strategies, plans and practices in the areas of politics, education, the economy, health, and other areas.
The organic intellectuals of OSA have identified and criticized the major deficiencies of “Ethiopian studies” that have mainly focused on the Amhara and Tigray ethnonational groups and their rulers, culture, and history by ignoring or suppressing the history of the Oromo people and that of other colonized peoples. Gradually, these scholars have pushed Ethiopian and Ethiopianist scholars to recognize some positive cultural achievements of the Oromo people. Furthermore, the critical scholarship of Oromo studies has immensely contributed to the mental liberation of Oromo students and other sectors of Oromo society by reproducing and disseminating Oromo cultural and historical knowledge, which was buried or erased by Amhara-Tigrayan educational, religious and government institutions for more than a century. It has also replaced colonial history with a history of liberation by refuting historical myths that had been produced and reproduced to justify Abyssinian/Ethiopian colonialism and cultural superiority. Without any doubt, OSA has built liberation and democratic knowledge by promoting the democratic tradition of gadaa/siiqqee democracy. In addition to putting Oromo scholarship on the global map by publishing scholarly articles in The Journal of Oromo Studies, OSA scholars have published in regional and international reputed journals. These scholars have published path-breaking books on Oromo and Africana studies too.
The annual and mid-year conferences of OSA have for more than three decades brought together representative sectors of Oromo society from Oromia, Europe, and North America to share their painful experiences as a people and to seek a durable solution for Oromia and its people. The meetings have been held in various locations like Washington, D.C., Seattle, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Toronto, Oslo, and London. By bringing together various representative Oromo sectors from all over Oromia and from different parts of the world, OSA has also developed Oromummaa or Oromo nationalism based on Oromo cultural and religious diversity. Rich historical and diverse cultural experiences from Oromia and different parts of the world have laid the foundation and future direction of OSA. Consequently, the association reflects the Oromo peoplehood/nationhood in a global context.
OSA as a successful national and international institution has become victorious by discrediting the intellectual models and theories that have characterized indigenous peoples like the Oromo as primitive or backward. By implicitly or explicitly engaging in critical comparative cultural and historical studies, critical OSA scholars have demonstrated to the Oromo society and to the world that the Oromo people, who created the gadaa/siqqee system 4000 years ago were not primitive, but had in fact excelled in establishing an egalitarian political system, which peoples around the world are struggling to achieve in this historical period. These scholars have appreciated the Oromo democratic tradition in scholarship and politics after practicing and learning from the failure of cut and paste approaches of the traditional Marxist model and the model of liberal democracy, which have promoted “violent development” in the peripheral world such as Oromia.
With the current qeerroo/qarree-led political changes in Oromia and Ethiopia, OSA is going to face a monumental challenge in intellectually mapping a way by practically and organically linking itself to the Oromo society and its political and civil organizations in Oromia and beyond. So, OSA leaders and members must start to openly deliberate on how they can go forward to be more productive and effective.
New changes are emerging during the tenure of Kulani Jalata, J.D. Kulani is the first woman and the youngest president of OSA, and she was born after the creation of the association. She has attended almost all OSA meetings with her parents from her birth until today. It is a unique and historical moment for Kulani to be president of the association at this time. Many are advocating that all concerned Oromos must rally behind Kulani to support the holding of the mid-year or annual conference in Oromia and to explore the possibility of building a branch of the association in Oromia.
The reformist government of President Lemma Megerssa should be encouraged to provide logistical and material support for organizing the OSA conference in Oromia. If the OSA conference ends up taking place in Oromia, this will be a victory for all Oromo regardless of their political orientations. Furthermore, OSA intellectuals from the diaspora can build partnerships with scholars in universities and teachers across Oromia to engage in collaborative seminars, workshops, and conferences. These practices can help in promoting the exchange of knowledge and experiences between the diaspora scholars and the scholars in Oromia. Through the partnerships they establish, the two groups can also engage in research activities and collaboratively publish their scholarly papers in regional and international journals.
The challenge of empowering the Oromo nation to defend itself from the forces that are undermining Oromo cultural and political achievements requires fully mobilizing all Oromo civic, academic and political organizations and their human and intellectual resources. OSA, along with other Oromo institutions, needs to play an important role in providing clarity and solutions during this transition period and in restoring gadaa democracy in order to build a democratic state for all citizens. Above all, OSA scholars with their counterparts in Oromia should engage in practical research projects for developing policies in the areas of culture, the economy, education, health, politics, military, and diplomacy. They also need to train and mentor young Oromo scholars to engage in scientific research and to formulate policies, which will enhance the development and welfare of Oromo society and other societies. Finally, OSA leaders and members should celebrate the political victory that the qeerroo/qarree-led struggle has achieved with their brothers and sisters in Oromia and with other peoples who joined this glorious movement. Also, they must be ready to transform this political victory into projects of establishing an egalitarian multinational democracy and nation building with all progressive social, cultural and political forces.