Guarding Oromo national interests: Potential dangers

Guarding Oromo national interests: Potential dangers in the transition phase

This article was first presented at OSA annual conference on August 05, 2018 by Lammi Begna. is republishing this article as the facts on the ground in the Ethiopian empire & political process currently unfolding in the country are similar to what had been pin pointed by Lammi Begna then.

By Lammi Begna | May 10, 2020


In the toughest and complicated national struggle for liberation for the last half a century, it is undeniable that Oromo achieved some meaningful victory on one hand and also faced failure to reach the core goal of the struggle on the other hand as regime changes in Ethiopian political history. The questions of Nations and Nationalities provoked into discussion in 1960s and land ownership engulfed both in rural and urban areas helped to overthrow the absolutist monarch before it was hijacked by the military Junta. History had it that Oromo students and nationalist elites had played the central role in galvanizing the people for land ownership and other popular demands. With the “Land to the Tiller” proclamation of 1975, the Derg tried to solve land questions but ruined the Questions of Nations and Nationalities as the military Junta liquidated other progressive forces of the time, mainly Oromo forces to monopolize the power and establish a Leninist Vanguard Party. Dergue’s liquidation attempt ended in civil war that lasted for seventeen years and ended in session of Eritrea from Ethiopian Empire, whilst TPLF and OLF with other weak parties formed TGE to draft law with the aim of transforming the country from totalitarian regime to democracy.

The 1991 TGE era was full of hope that would have guaranteed greater democracy for the Ethiopian people in general and Oromo people in particular. OLF and EPRDF agreed to adopt a ‘national charter’ to set forth an interim government until new constitution was adopted and national election was held. But EPRDF’s unwillingness to work with genuine Oromo organization and OLF’s refusal to submit to EPRDF desire complicated the process and all ended up in military confrontation when OLF declared its withdrawal from TGE in June 1992. OLF’s decision to leave TGE remained to be a subject of tremendous debate some suggesting it as ‘immature’ action that led to the second ‘missed opportunity,’ but OLF leaders of the time argues otherwise. OLF high profile leader, Nadhii Gammada on his interview with Reuters on June 24, 1992 said that OLF was forced out of the TGE as EPRDF violated against the National Charter.

However, within only eight-month scarce time, the installment of Afaan Oromo as an official working language in Oromia, awakening and rallying millions of Oromos for their righteous cause and creating Oromia with its own known boundary and other partial socio-cultural answers can be seen as an Oromo political success come after Dergue was overthrown. With ‘OLF effect’ still there, the 1995 constitutions also opened a new directions and recognized nations and nationalities right to self-determination up to secession, building a political community founded on the rule of law and capable of ensuring a lasting peace, guaranteeing a democratic order, and advancement of economic and social development. But TPLF irresponsibly captured both the constitutions and its executive structure to create its own 2 version of hegemony leading the country from hope to desperation. As Meles strengthened his kleptocratic autocracy, the continued Oromo national demand was threatened as ‘illegal’ and even terrorism. OLF, a genuine Oromo vangaurd liberation organization was designated as terrorist, a politically motivated move to silence Oromo from demanding national questions under the umbrela of their organization. But the TPLF conspiracy against OLF never abated the Oromo from the struggle. As TPLF imposed more and more restrictions on the political and social life our people, the struggle to freedom and security was intensified.

The longstanding cumulative Oromo struggle against political marginalization, economic exploitations, and human rights abuse, social and cultural injustice have finally seemed to be succeeded as the unprecedented Qeerroo led Oromo revolution opened new political landscape in contemporary Ethiopian politics. Now, TPLF has neither meaningful symbolic gesture nor practical influence in Ethiopian politics; but EPRDF as an organization has pervasive power to deal as reactionary force. With TPLF’s tactical retreat or safe-exit yet to be documented, OPDO – the once satellite party created for the purpose of counteracting the pressure from OLF – has occupied the highest power echelon in EPRDF calling themselves as a ‘reform agent.’

As the call for more reform still resonating in EPRDF, OPDO is tasked with three major responsibilities: responding properly to Oromo national demand, saving and unifying the already succumbing and fragile EPRDF and transforming the country from autocracy to democratic order where rule of law govern the people. Given their low political integrity, lack of genuine commitment to solve their political dispute with OLF and others, the Amharas and Tigires strengthening themselves toward safeguarding their interests, such national responsibility would be too heavy for OPDO to manage properly. What is to be done then? How we, as a united nation, work to consolidate an ‘Oromo successes’ at this crucial time? How can we deliver without compromising on basic Oromo National Interest (ONI)? In this highly remarkable time in Oromo history, the Qeerroos, who spearheaded the revolution, wanted to be sure that this time shouldn’t be remembered in history as another round of “Missed opportunity.” This revolution has created an opportunity for aspirations of Oromo for freedom, self-government, justice, human right respect, and equality to access and opportunity to be met; and it should be advantaged so that our people could emancipate from subjugations, exploitations, repressions and poverty.

With the fast changing political and social landscape in Oromia and in the broader regions of Ethiopia, optimism toward freedom, justice and democratic order is getting momentum paving the way toward the bright future. However, taking lessons from our past repeatedly missed opportunity, there also exists potentially looming dangers or pitfalls – both within and without – that might have serious consequences to the Oromo political and social life. These pitfalls, if 3 not challenged and managed wisely, not only lead us to the wrong path but also jeopardize our Grand National interests. The existing and emerging pitfalls can be categorized as our internal weaknesses, National scramble for Oromiya, regional political challenges and global impact for security, stability and economic interrelations.

In a contemporary Oromo Political and social life three parameters should be considered to discuss about Oromo National Interests: Freedom, Security and prosperity of our nation. These three parameters, whether we are in a voluntary federation or in an independent republic, should be the minimum or non-negotiable conditions that an Oromo must rally behind.

Before I come to the idea of potential pitfalls let me assert and give general comprehensions on scale and depth of our National Interests. As a political society emerging to be the formidable forces that can influence both the domestic and regional socio-cultural and politico-economy, we need to have defined National Interests that must be promoted and safeguarded simultaneously. Based on our mission of liberating ourselves from years of repressions and building a free, secure and prosperous nation in horn of Africa it is important to rank our national interests in three categories: Vital, Extremely important and important. Accordingly:

Vital Oromo National Interests are conditions, if compromised, tolerated or negotiated, would imperil and prejudice our abilities to safeguard and enhance our collective aspirations to be free, secure and prosperous nation. This includes Oromummaa – the master ideology of the Oromo national movement; Oromiyaa – a promised land Oromo have severely fought for to be free from both Abysinian and TPLF war of aggressions; and inalienable right to selfdetermination the fundamental objectives of Oromo liberation movement. Oromummaa (according to Professor Asaffa Jallata’s explanation) is an ideology that helps us to develop “a victorious consciousness” to equip us with the knowledge of liberation.

Extremely Important Oromo National Interest is conditions, if compromised or negotiated, would severely prejudice but not strictly imperil our abilities to safeguard and enhance our collective aspirations to be free, secure and prosperous nation. Here the case of creating an independent republic of Oromia should be taken into considerations. If the dream of equality to access and opportunity became reality, peace and security of our people is guaranteed, political domination of one over the other and economic exploitations of the mass by few and the privileged come to an end, and our people opted freely to be parts Ethiopia, the case of Oromia republic would be negotiable; that means Oromo can form union with other nations on the basis of equality, respect for mutual interests and the principle of voluntary associations. But, mechanisms of safeguarding our interest in the federation at the risk of an independent Oromia should be designed properly. One among those mechanisms is envisioning how to control the central political and economic power. This can be possible by: 1) making Oromia more autonomous in administration and build strong political, economic, intelligence and academic institutions that would act as strong base or deep state to force the central government comply with our basic interests; 2) holding central political power to play decision making role that would fit both the capacity and demands of our people; and 3) dominating the regional political power to safeguard the peace, security, stability and prosperity of people in the federation as well as neighboring countries so that other strategic partners would cooperate with us to safeguard bilateral interests.

Important Oromo National Interests are conditions, if compromised, would have major negative consequences to safeguard and enhance our collective aspirations to be free, secure and prosperous nation. The issues of democracy, human rights, social and cultural justice, language and equality to access and opportunity are some among many others that should seriously be observed in safeguarding Oromiya National Interests.

Potential Pitfalls that Jeopardize Oromo National Interests

Although the subject of potential threats to Oromo politics remains debatable, I concentrate on four major potential threats that direct the Oromos on the wrong way and finally derail our hopes to be free, secure and prosperous nation. These four dangers are domestic colonial ideology that still blatantly determines the character of Ethiopian politics; i.e. Ethiopianism, and our internal problem that poses dangers of division among our elite politicians and the general people; i.e. Clan-ism and religion fundamentalism; and an attempt to maintain political support or increase political influence by disregarding the principle of Oromo political movement; i.e. opportunism. For many reasons, it remained to be taboo to frankly speak about our politics that is tending toward clan or religion line to garner support posing the danger of division among our people. But at this critical time when Qeerroo struggle united our people at grassroot level, it is important to bring the issue to be the subject of debate and criticism.

Observing political parties organized themselves from only one zone or one religion it is morally unacceptable to deny the existence of clanism or relioginalism in our politics and its negative consequences unless we recognize and fight against it before things reach the point of “no return.”

Ethiopianism: is a colonial and racist ideology that has been used to undermine the questions of oppressed nations and nationalities in Ethiopia. It emboldened black on black racism suppressing the culture, language, religion and ways of life of the nations whose Ethiopia as an empire state was imposed on. During the feudal Monarch and socialist regime, it helped the Habesha hardliners to attack the people who demand the fundamental national question under the derogatory words such as ‘narrow nationalists’ and ‘state destructors.’ Under this colonial ideology, an Oromo denied what belongs to him: language, culture, history, and every possession including his family name. Ethiopianism or ‘Ethiopiawinet’ as a discourse was used to be a source of pride for children of oppressors and remained to be an insult for the children of the oppressed – specially for Oromo, other Cushitic, Omotic and Nilotic speaking people who were forced into the empire under the barrel of gun. Oromo refused to embrace Ethiopianism because the shared heritages and unique connections we have had with colonial promoters was not only of oppressors-oppressed relations but also the ideology was found to be the threat to Oromo democratic Values of the Gadaa system.

Ethiopianism was considered as an oppressive ideology since the late 19th century and continued differently to be so for the last twenty-eight years even tough nation and nationalities rhetoric gained momentum in EPRDF political doctrine. The new Federal arrangement denied Ethiopianism an access to be the dominant and governing ideology.

However, following Ethio-Eritrean war the EPRDF tried the revisionist Ethiopianism paradigm and fully embrace it to consolidate support in 2005 national election. On the other hand, the remnants of exiled Habesha hardliners continued to embrace Ethiopianism to garner support from ‘unity’ advocators. The search for support from these groups was recently replicated by an OPDO reformist functions who openly denounced Oromo Nationalism to promote their newly sarcastic political motto: the Medemer. This motto is helping an OPDO reformist groups to deal into political marriage with Habesha hardliners from both at home and exile. The common denominator that brought them together is Ethiopianism envisioned not the new which all nations voluntarily recognized but the old, the oppressive, that were used to be glorious for oppressors and hell for the oppressed.

This is very dangerous because; 1) it aims at eliminating or imposing restrictions on Oromuma and 2) it denies the nations a chance to voluntarily association in the new and democratic Ethiopia. Imposing

Ethiopianism on Oromo at the expense of Oromuma invites danger on our National Interests. As John F. Kennedy once said: we cannot negotiate with people who say what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is negotiable.

Oromo Internal Problems: Despite its success in weakening the TPLF Kleptocratic regime, the Oromo struggle are apparently facing several and acute internal challenges.

There are three distinguished acute internal challenges that would invite failure to Oromo political and social movements. These challenges are: Diverging political views, Clanism and opportunism.

1. Diverging Political Views: Three diverging political views have established themselves in Oromo national struggle. They are the liberation, the federalist and the centrist view. The centrist view is neither liberation nor federalist.

Accordingly, OLF, OFC and OPDO have established themselves as holding liberation, Federalist and Centrist views respectively, while the remaining several Oromo parties belongs to at least in one of the three views. Even though all views have common intersection on the objective of self-determination, the absence of solid organizational agreements on how to promote or entertain the competing ideas has created ‘an Oromo dilemma.’ It invites division on which way to follow – toward ensuring an independent Oromia or volunteering association in the federation. There is also some degree of variation on the fundamental and core principles, objectives and goals of the struggle between several Oromo political parties. Those variations in views have negative impact not only in giving solid leadership under one strong vanguard party but also in uniting Oromo struggle camp. Division in view brings division in goal; hence it ends in a house divided that doesn’t stand together. Hence, to avoid the danger of more division both in objective and goals, the Oromo political views must gain momentum toward converging lines, toward solid leadership and strong unity.

2. Clan-ism: clan based political movement hasn’t been the character Oromo politics were blamed for. Oromo Political movement has used to be pure of clanism and secularism. But the tendency of garnering support from certain clan or religion in connection to belief or birth place of the leaders are increasing in its scope in the unfolding Oromo political organizations and individual activists.

The emerging tendency of clanism in Oromo politics has two behaviors: grouping within the same organization to compete for position or influence an idea – factionalism, and splitting from one organization to create another that would better fulfill their ambitions – spin-offs. Grouping within organization or splitting from it and then garnering support not based on basic principle or idea but on merits of birth place and beliefs invites more division within the struggle. The end result is more functionalism and weak leadership that hugely benefit the enemy. Factionalism and clan or religion loyalty are anti-Oromumma, they are anti-unity and any effort that doesn’t tackle this issue is doomed to failure.

Clan loyalty and grouping into small, weak and fragile forces has disintegrated one of Africa’s homogeneous nations – Somalia. Politicians or group leaders in Somalia used clan loyalty as a source of strategy to win prestige in promoting their political aim. They thought it as a force in the land to be reckoned with. But the fact become otherwise. They ended not only in fragile state but their mosques both at home and exile was divided and segregated. Oromo should take lessons from what happened to Somalis and avoid clan, region or religion-based support to win prestige and fame in politics.

3. Opportunism: Even though there are different interpretations for opportunist, what has been emerging in Oromo politics is the tendency of making political capital out of situations with the main aim being that of gaining more influence or support instead of truly winning the people over principled political positions or improving their political understanding. The opportunisms we are witnessing nowadays in our politics are the practice of abandoning or compromising on the fundamental principles of our objectives to be free, secure and prosperous nation. Such opportunism, whether they are played by individuals or groups will bring a “short term gain” form them but it will be a “long term pain” for our people. Added to the rapid flow of information and the raising individual’s ambitions to garner benefit from social market, the effect of opportunism will remain to be challenging.

From historical perspective, it was opportunist leaders that have brought the worst misery – war, poverty, human rights violations, social injustice, and cultural abuse – to our people for no reasons but to occupy and long last in power. The bad things of all opportunists are that they all end in dictatorship. Mengistu Hailemariam who butchered one of the best ever generations and Meles Zenawi who made himself a formidable dictator after consolidating power by alienating others were the few among many others opportunists who hold absolute power after slowly reigning through opportunism. Even though it seems that the old one has gone never to return, we must remember that the new one has not yet arrived. Those past opportunist tyrants have ruled us with an iron fists, attempting to annihilate their political rivals, freedom fighters, human rights advocates and oppressing our people in a grab for absolute power. It is impossible to know what will be made out of Abiy, but if the people who have struggled for freedom, social justice and human rights respect failed to protect its revolutionary gain at any cost necessary, the new man who hold the power key will most likely converted himself to dictator in order to stay on power for so long.

The frightening behavior of most opportunists is that they never hesitate to compromise on the fundamental and core principles of the struggle or reverse the goal of the movement to their personal advantages. They even surrender when they found it necessary risking the short and long-term interests of the public. This invites danger to the outcome of Oromo struggle jeopardizing our national interests. Hence, it so important to safeguard the struggle and its outcome never to fell into the hands of opportunists.

4. Global and Regional Impact: The fact that Oromo is advancing both domestic and regional sphere of influence put all global, regional and domestic forces in cautions.

Oromos vast resource mainly land, mines and other economic resource will remain to be the center challenges. The fight for political, economic power and other access and opportunity will be a subject of continued domestic conflict of interests. The need forcultural and social hegemony from the centrist force, and the reaction for equality and social justice from others will challenge an Oromo influence. From the nature of Ethiopian politics and culture of repression, Oromo will likely form strong friendship with most Cushitic, Nilotic and Omotic speaking people and build bilateral relations based on safeguarding the mutual interests with Semitic speaking people of the centrist force.

Oromo have been the subject of longstanding suspicion from the regional forces; partly as a result of continued accusation from the Ethiopian regime rulers and partly because of their existence in several neighboring countries such as Kenya and Somalia. The longstanding dispute over farm and grazing land across the border, religion interactions and social and cultural conflicts made Oromo to be feared than hoped in the regional politics. With several conflicts of interests will likely intensify, the regional forces will not be expected to welcome the influence of Oromo. It is so important to compromise on issues that will not cost our vital interests to maintain normalcy with regional forces.

From global point of view, China has been one of the strongest allies of TPLF for the last 27 years. Their relations weren’t only limited to safeguarding their economic interests but TPLF went further step in introducing China version of “Developmental State” and “democratic centralism” in their political philosophy. This create trust between TPLFand China giving the later an opportunity to involve in the economy of the country without limitation. Oromo needs to deal with China on issues of safeguarding bilateral interests without posing significant danger to its influences. On the other hand, it wasn’t democracy but security issues of the horn that strengthened the relations between TPLF and USA. TPLF has been serving as the proxy agent of the USA in fighting against religious radicalism and dealing with the horn’s security complex. Ensuring peace and stability of the region will be the complex project and the heavy burden Oromo must deal with in order to get the full support from the USA. Apart from the two superpowers, Middle-east interest in investment has direct impact on Oromo influences. Building trust among global forces is vital to safeguard our fundamental interests.

Conclusion and Recommendation

Oromo have now become a formidable force to reckon with, it is so important to design new paradigm to transform this force into real power. The Qeerroo led Oromo revolution has successfully changed the Oromo and broader Ethiopian social and political landscape. The struggle has progressed itself from defense to offense phase and now reached transition phase.

Contrary to the fact, transition phase offers many stakeholder, friends and foes of the struggle, to advance and safeguards their interests. These unlimited conflicts of interests usually open opportunity for hypocrite opportunists to hijack and abort the revolution. Therefore, it is so important to sort out the potential looming dangers that would lead an Oromo on the wrong way.

The scale and depth of Oromo National Interests need to be sorted out both in liberation and federalist view. The three ranks of ONI explained in this paper should be capitalized and modified into core principle that should be safeguarded by any means necessary.

Oromo political success should not be limited to kneeling down TPLF autocratic regime, but the repressive rule must be replaced by democratic system that safeguards freedom, security and prosperity of our people. Greater democracy and freedom should be the end goal of the revolution. This golden aim will be achieved by avoiding the potential pitfalls tried to be discussed in this paper.

Transition phase usually is full of chaos and conspiracy. Many revolutions across the world become the victims of internal and external conspiracies and ended in failure. The combinations of solid political leadership and active political community helps every revolution to progress to its end goal by avoiding acute potential dangers and conspiracies. The most challenging of all potential dangers are those which emerge from within, that emanates from our internal weaknesses. As Abraham Lincoln once said: “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedom, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” That also holds true for our revolution.

Lammi Begna

August 5, 2018

Norway, Oslo

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