Vicious Turns In The Addis Ababa Versus Finfinnee Conflict

By Mekuria Bulcha, August 17, 2021

Hachalu Hundeessa

Source: Oromo Commentary

Introduction[1]

In the nineteenth century, the plains of Finfinnee constituted one of the destinations of the annual predatory expeditions of Sahle Sellassie, the king of Shawa. There were several reports written by European travelers, diplomats, and missionaries who described the predatory excursions conducted by Sahle Sellasie to loot cattle, capture children and women for domestic slavery, and the Red Sea slave market. A detailed report by the British envoy Captain W. Harris who followed Sahle Sellassie on one of his predatory expeditions in December 1843. Captain Harris gives a vivid description of how a single predatory expedition could over a day turn a panoramic scene he had witnessed from the top of the Entotto hills in the morning into an inferno of scores of burning villages by late afternoon and returns with thousands of heads of cattle and hundreds of women and children as captives.[2]

Sahle Sellasie could repeatedly raid but not able to occupy Finfinnee. Though equipped with firearms, his forces were not capable to defend themselves against the famous Oromo cavalry on a permanent basis. But Menelik was able to do what Sahle Sellasie failed to accomplish. He was not only able to raid the Oromo territories but also occupy them permanently.

This article discusses a historical trajectory of the numerous turns in the conflict over Finfinnee between Ethiopia’s ruling elites and the Oromo people dating back to 1887, the starting date of the construction of Addis Ababa by Menelik II. Putting the conflict in relation to the Ethiopian capital in a historical perspective, it explores the sociolinguistic and socioeconomic impacts which its foundation had on the indigenous Oromo communities of Finfinnee and examines the several turns which the conflict over the city took during the reign of the Ethiopian Peoples’ Democratic Revolutionary Front (EPDRF). The article describes, albeit in passing, the physical violence perpetrated by the TPLF regime against Oromo youth and discusses in detail the contents of hostile Amharic-speaking commentaries and narratives that will refute Oromo indigeneity and Finfinnee’s history and territorial identity and denies them the right to their capital city. The article examines the attempts that had been made to de-Oromize Finfinne/Addis Ababa and suggests an alternative bilingual model to bridge the existing linguistic and administrative fault lines. It underlines the fact that the recognition of Oromo sovereignty over their capital city and respect for their rights to use their language and exercise their culture is the only solution for the controversy over the city.

The Battle Over Finfinnee

Initially, the battle over Finfinnee between the rulers of Ethiopia and the Oromo people started when Menelik conquered the district in the late 1870s.  Menelik left his previous capital Ankober and established a camp on Mount Wachacha, west of Finfinnee in 1878-1879. In a couple of years, however, he moved to the nearby Entotto range overlooking the vast Finfinnee plains inhabited by the Galaan, Gulallee and Abichuu Oromo from the north in 1881. Entotto proved to be an unsuitable site for a capital and Menelik and his wife Taytu turned their eyes to the Finfinnee plains in the south. But since the Oromo were still in control of the plains, they had to stay on the mountain.

By the middle of the 1880s, the subjugation of the Oromo in the region was completed and Menelik and his wife Taytu descended from Entotto and visited Finfinnee.  Taytu built a house in 1886 above the hot springs (hora) of Finfinnee. The following year, she left Entotto and settled in her new house. The foundation of Addis Ababa was laid the same year and the imperial capital was then built on the ruins of Oromo villages and farms of the plains of Finfinnee. The celebration of Hora Finfinnee Annual Irreecha festival was banned following the completion of the imperial capital in Finfinnee (The cultural festival was revived after nearly one and half century on 6 October 2019).

Pankhurst wrote that “at that time, i. e. 1886-1887, the following portions of land were allocated at Finfini, in some cases to important personalities of state, in other cases, to groups of servants, or soldiers.” It is important to note here that among the 32 recipients of land from 1887-1891, 27 were important personalities of the state including Empress Taytu, nine Rases, seven Dajazmaches, three Fitauraris, and all of them had large retinues of servants often soldiers who were allocated land and settled in Finfinnee.[3] The allocation of land to these personalities and groups meant the eviction of thousands of Oromo households. Many of the uprooted Oromo households moved to the south and southwest within the Oromo territory. In short, the foundation of Addis Ababa in 1887 led to the political, socio-cultural, and linguistic de-Oromization of the area which has continued until now.

The Oromo reaction to the early phase of the de-Oromization of Finfinnee was expressed in a short poem titled “No more standing on Intottoo.”  Composed by an anonymous author probably a decade, or two after the occupation of the district by Menelik, the poem tersely depicted the loss of freedom and control over their economic resources as experienced by its inhabitants and describes the damages done to Oromo social and political life with the foundation of Addis Ababa.

Summarizing the political damage incurred by the Oromo following the conquest of Finfinnee and the reconstruction of Addis Ababa in 1887 by Menelik, the poet states in two concise, but effective lines as follow.

Tullu Daalatti irratti                           No more gathering on Daalattii,
Yaa’iin Gullallee hafee                     where the Gullallee assembly used to meet.

The Gulallee Gadaa assembly ceased to meet because Menelik camped on the very site where it convened traditionally for generations. The Gadaa (democratic) system itself was abolished and was replaced by an alien authoritarian regime. The poet, who obviously was a native of Finfinnee, narrates figuratively about Oromo social and economic activities that had vanished and the life that was silenced following Menelik’s occupation of his ancestors’ land.  He laments,

Gafarsatti dabrani                                 No more going beyond Gafarsaa,
qoraan cabsuun hin hafee                    to chop firewood.

In the above poem, firewood is used figuratively. It is not just the activity of gathering firewood which had ceased, but the family fireplaces for which firewood was collected were also extinguished. Families who used to gather around those hearths and led happy family and community lives which the British diplomat Major Harris described in 1843 as the “beautifully secluded valley of Finfinni [Finfinnee]” with “cozy hamlets” were gone.[4] The communal life which resonated across “the thickly populated plains,”[5] was “the very picture of peace and plenty,”[6] and the life of the Oromo peasant who “pursued his peaceful occupation in the field” and whose “wife and children carolled blithely”[7] in his farmstead in the “smiling valleys of Finfinni” were visited by “the hand of wrath” and were either destroyed, or evicted and silenced.

Indeed, it was not just the family and communal life of the indigenous inhabitants of Finfinnee, which was debilitated by the conquest, but also the source of their livelihood. In fact, the focus of the short poem below concerns the consequences of the conquest on the livestock, the mainstay of the Oromo communities. It states,

Hurufa Bombi irratti,                          No more pasturing calves,
jabbilee yaasuun hafee                     on the meadows of Hurufa Bombi.
Finfinnee loon geessani,                   No more taking cattle to Finfinnee,
hora obaasuun hafee                        to water at the mineral springs.

 The people of Finfinnee had no calves to pasture on the meadows of Hurufa Bombi, not only because the conquerors have looted their cattle, but also evicted them from their land and homes.  Menelik followed the traditions of his predecessors – he did not pay his soldiers salary but, as Bulatovich noted, promised “a unique opportunity to win fame and get livestock and prisoners.”[8] Menelik himself took ten percent of the livestock and human captives taken in the raiding expeditions.[9]  However, to go back to the conquest of Finfinnee in the early 1880s, “The vast herds of cattle which grazed untended” which Harris wrote about were looted.  The poet summarizes the plunder of their herds and the economic misfortune which the conquest brought on the inhabitants of Finfinnee asserting,

Bara jarri dhufani                       The year the enemy came,
Loon keenyaas ni dhumani       our cattle were decimated.

It was not only the agriculturally rich district which was destroyed by “the hand of wrath,”[10] but also the natural environment was another negative dimension of the conquest of Finfinnee. The poet bemoans figuratively the destruction of what Major Harris called the “large share of natural beauty” which Finfinnee had by asserting,

Inxooxoo dhabatanii                           No more standing on Intottoo,
Caffee gad ilaalun haafe,                  to look on meadows below.

In 1843, Harris described the Finfinnee site “Meadows of the richest green turf, sparkling clear rivulets leaping down in sequestered cascades, with shady groves of the most magnificent juniper lining the slopes, and waving their moss-grown branches.”[11] Within a decade and half the magnificent junipers lining the slopes of the Entotto hills, the groves that lined the banks of the Gafarsaa, Qacanee, Qabanaa, Laga Xaafoo, etc. rivers, and the forests in the adjacent districts were gone. The conquest violated, not only human rights, but also the environment.

Writing about Finfinnee, the Catholic missionary Martial de Slaviac said, “One sees the prodigious sycamores able to shelter, under the pavilion of its foliage, more than a thousand persons.”[12] He adds, “Such was the former station of Mgr. Taurin at Finfinni, outskirts (sic.) of the capital, Addis Ababa, now in mourning for greenery.” He noted that ‘gigantic confers which, for four hundred years, prospered under the wing of the Oromo generations, [are] carbonized [burnt] and tumbled down, from 50 meters of height, like the steeples of a cathedral whose base had been sapped by a mine.”[13] Thus, the harmonious relationship between humans and nature which was maintained by Oromo laws and tradition, and was described appreciatingly by nineteenth century travelers such as C. W. Harris, the French brothers Antoine and Arnauld d’Abbadie, and the Dutch traveller J. Schuver, regarding Oromoland was violated.

Foreigners who visited Finfinnee a decade after its conquest wrote about the extensive deforestation that turned a large region around Menelik’s capital into barren tracts of land. A British traveler H. Vivian wrote in 1901 that while travelling to Addis Ababa, he could scarcely see a tree for a couple of days. He noted that “The Abyssinians are most improvident in the matter of wood, cutting down forests in a haphazard way and never troubling to replant.”[14] He stated that the “consequences of this are already felt at Addis Ababa; wood is now brought hither from a distance of sixteen miles.”[15] He concluded that “it is certain that in a very short space of time, Menelik will be obliged to shift his capital once more to the neighborhood of fresh woods,”[16] and he did.

Pressed by the problem of procuring firewood, Menelik started to build a new capital about forty kilometers at Ejeree to the west of Finfinnee. Empress Tayitu called the new town Addis Alem in 1900 (“New World”), another Amharic name instead of an existing Oromo name. However, persuaded by advisors and above all the belief that the newly introduced fast-growing eucalyptus tree will solve the wood problem, in 1902, he stopped the work on his new capital and decided to stay in Addis Ababa/Finfinnee. He embarked on the re-afforestation of the denuded plains and hills of Finfinnee with the eucalyptus tree “which now began to be extensively harvested”[17]and minimized the wood problem.

The eucalyptus trees may have solved the firewood problem of Addis Ababa residents, but led to the intensification of Oromo exploitation and exacerbation of their eviction from the vicinity of the city. Menelik, his officials, and dignitaries whom he had granted land used Oromo labor to plant eucalyptus trees on the land confiscated from them. As the city continued to expand, the eviction of the Oromo population continued, and Finfinnee’s socio-linguistic and cultural heritage were de-Oromized. The Oromo poet concluded,

Edda Mashashan dhufee                          Since Mashasha came,
Birmaadummaan hinhafee.                      freedom has vanished. 

The poet makes Mashasha the villain who caused Oromo loss of freedom. Normally, he is a hero for the Amhara. Mashasha Seyfu (mentioned in the verse cited above) was a Dajazmach and one of the grandsons of Sahle Sellassie. It was he who, on behalf of his cousin Menelik II, occupied the Oromo territory north of Finfinnee in the late 1870s. The destruction which he brought to Finfinnee brought more harm than the dozens of Sahle Sellasie’s (r. 1813-1847) predatory expeditions conducted by his grandfather in thirty years. Finfinnee was occupied permanently by outsiders and its traditions, its political and military institutions, its economy and natural environment were destroyed, or confiscated by the conquerors.  The rest of Oromoland was colonized, controlled, oppressed, and exploited for more than a century from Addis Ababa.

The De-Oromization Of Finfinnee

In most societies, personal and placenames are linguistic symbols. Therefore, a personal name often indicates the ethnolinguistic identity of its bearer. Toponyms often index the histories of territories. Therefore, names matter. No wonder that the question of name is part of the contention over Finfinnee. De-Oromization of indigenous places has been an instrument for changing territorial identity.  What is interesting to note here is that, in the drive to blur territorial identities and substituting Amharic names for Oromo place names to foster an “Ethiopian” territorial identity has been part of the policy of assimilation and Amharization.

The conquerors also went on to change the identity of Finfinnee and renamed it Addis Ababa. The Oromo language was kept away from the city center, not by force, but a sort of linguistic apartheid. During the heydays of the imperial regime, one of the ethnic slurs used as a weapon de-Oromize Finfinnee culturally and linguistically was, “Gallinyaa [Oromo language] na gaari Piyaassaa aygebam (Oromo language and a horse drawn cart have no place in the Piazza.”)[18]  The Piyaassaa (Piazza) was Addis Ababa’s fashionable city center in the imperial past. Thus, the Oromo were made to see themselves as strangers in their own country and were forced to stop using Afaan Oromoo in conversations in the city center.

Pointing out the Amharization of modern urban spaces of the Ethiopian state, Towers stated that “Oromo, or more specifically, certain features of Oromo being – language, names, culture, and religion – were specifically and systematically excluded.”[19]  It is important to note that toponyms store knowledge about the place. When a conqueror changes place names, it is designed to delete the memories they carry and replace them by the memory carried by the language of the conqueror.  

Place names often refer to an indigenous population’s ancestry. In Finfinnee, Galaan, Abichuu, Gulallee, etc. are names of Oromo ancestors, traceable back to the twelfth century. They are also place names and locations of the political, cultural, and social institutions, belief systems and values which characterize the way of life inherited by their descendants. As noted above, Tulluu Daalatti was the location of the gadaa assemblies, and Hora Finfinnee was the site of Irreecha festival. They were places linked to the Oromo gadaa political culture and the Irreecha festivals which were practiced and passed from generation to generation in the past in Finfinnee. They were disrupted by Menelik’s conquest of Finfinnee in the early 1880s.

To deny the Oromo the right to land, the imperial Ethiopian regime has “Amharized” Oromo place names such as Bishoftu, Adama, Ciroo etc. to Amharic names such as Debre Zeit, Nazret, and Asbe Tafari. However, as expected, of all places Finfinnee was affected most by the policy of Amharization. Almost all pre-conquest Oromo place names in the area were changed to Amharic ones. Among dozens of the Oromo place names which were erased and replaced by Amharic ones are Tullu Dalattii which is Arat Kilo (አራት ኪሎ) today, Caffee Araaraa which is called Sidist Kilo (ስድስት ኪሎ), Hurufa Boombii which is Jan Meda (ጃን ሜዳ), and Horaa which is Filwoha (ፍልውሃ). Other Oromo place names such as Caffee MuudaaSulula Garbi and Adaami were given religious Christian names such as Lidata (ልደታ), Tekla Haymanot (ተ/ሀይማኖት) and Rufael (ሩፋኤል).

 The Demise Of The Imperial Regime

Following the demise of the imperial regime in 1974, the military regime/Dergue which usurped political power proclaimed land reform in 1975, transferring both urban and rural land in the country from private to state ownership. The Oromo succeeded in reclaiming some Oromo place names such as Bishoftu, Adama, and Ciroo. However, unlike the Oromo towns mentioned above, the Oromo nation has not succeeded in re-claiming the pre-conquest place names in Finfinnee.[20]

The military regime created a new set of rural and urban associations called kebeles which collected rents and taxes from the peopleIn the urban areas, it collected land and house rents from urban dwellers and business owners, previously collected by landlords. The revolution swept away the monarchy and feudal landholding system, but not autocracy, social injustice, cultural, linguistic, and political suppression. Seeking change, the Oromo and several other nations and nationalities of the defunct empire formed national liberation fronts and fought the military regime.

The nationalization of land and concentration of power in the hands of an authoritarian military regime did not make the farmer owner of his land or stop the appropriation of his produce. As in the past, the use of violence guaranteed the appropriation of the peasant households’ produce. The appropriated resources were invested in the instruments of violence. Unable to meet the extractive demands of the regime, tens of thousands of farmers fled to the neighboring countries or joined the liberation fronts.[21]  The imported arsenals of massive modern firearms did not help the rogue regime from being overthrown in 1991.

A coalition of liberation forces dominated by the Tigrayan Liberation Fronts (TPLF), which had not only the largest fighting force, but also had the assistance of the West, particularly the US government, formed a transitional government in July 1991. The leader of the TPLF, Mr. Meles Zenawi, was made the head of the Ethiopian state. After consolidating his political power and asserting his position as prime minister of Ethiopia, Meles assumed an autocratic posture which was not different from that of his predecessors and ruled the country with an iron hand for twenty-one years until his death in 2012.

 The TPLF Regime Comes To Finfinnee With A New Plan

The second round of serious conflicts over Finfinnee was ignited in 2003 when the TPLF-led regime decided to change the seat of Oromia’s government from Finfinnee to Adaamaa, about 100 km southeast of the capital. Led by the Maccaa Tuulamaa Association (MTA) and university students from all over Oromia, the Oromo opposed the decision.  In a speech he made at a demonstration staged to oppose the removal of Oromia’s capital from Finfinnee to Adaamaa, Bekele Nadhi, the late Secretary General of the Maccaa Tuulamaa Association said that:

The decision that Finfinnee [the Oromo name for Addis Ababa] is no more the Oromo capital is wrong. The Oromo claim over Finfinnee is historical and legal. Therefore, we demand that the decision be revoked. Until the decision is revoked, we will continue with our protest. If our protests do not change the situation, we will continue with the next phase of our struggle.[22]

The TPLF’s decision was seen by the Oromo as a continuation of the policies of previous Ethiopian regimes and a blatant violation of their historical and constitutional rights to their city and territory. Article 6 of the Constitution of the State of Oromia of 1995 stipulates that Finfinnee is the Capital City of the Regional State of Oromia. Consequently, the Macca Tuulama Association (MTA) made a call in a press release it issued on 30 November 2003 to the Oromo people to resist the eviction. The response was quick and massive, particularly in the case of secondary school and university students who participated actively in the protests. The conflict was extended into 2004.

The response of the regime was drastic in its detention of over 7000 of the demonstrators.[23]  When high school students staged demonstrations demanding the release of their compatriots, 11 of them were gunned down by security agents. Over 350 Oromo students were expelled from Addis Ababa University (AAU) alone.[24] The civil rights movement, MTA, was also banned and its leaders were arrested and sentenced for many years of jail time. The Oromo protests were suppressed, but the hostility between the students and the TPLF was not totally silenced.

Meles Zenawi Changed His Mind

Following the 2005 elections in which the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) lost its seats and ‘mandate’ to govern the capital city to the opposition, however, the late PM of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi, made a tactical turn and withdrew the decision to change Finfinnee’s status as the capital city of Oromia. The government of Oromia returned to its legitimate capital city. That, however, did not solve the dispute between the TPLF regime and the Oromo people over Finfinnee. The return of Oromia’s government to Finfinnee in 2005 did not resolve the question of Oromo sovereignty over their capital city.  The ban placed on the MTA association remained in place and its confiscated properties have not been restored.

Soon after the return of the government seat of Oromia to Finfinnee, the TPLF regime started to evict Oromos from their ancestral homesteads in Finfinnee and its surrounding areas in the name of development. It was reported by former EPRDF cadre and official in the Meles government, Mr. Ermias Legesse, that about 30,000 Oromo households were evicted between 2005 and 2014. He was a participant in the official meetings that made the decisions that led to Oromo eviction from their ancestral land. The official explanation for the eviction of Oromo households was to open space for the expanding city of Addis Ababa, but it turned to be a land grab that facilitated as an illegal source for the accumulation of vast wealth for the TPLF leaders and their supporters.

 The Addis Ababa Master Plan (AAMP) – The De-Oromization Of Finfinnee Continues

Ironically, the first round of land grab under the EPRDF that displaced about thirty thousand Oromo households from Finfinnee between 2005 and 2014 was not reported by the media. The land confiscated from the Oromo households did, neither satisfied Addis Ababa’s need of space for expansion, nor satiated TPLF leaders’ greed for illicit income from illegal trade in urban land. In 2014, the regime came up with yet, the so-called the Integrated Addis Ababa Master Plan (Master Plan hereafter) requiring 1.1 million hectares of land that would displace hundreds of thousands of Oromo households.

The Oromo saw the Master Plan as a scheme designed to de-Oromize Finfinnee and the adjacent districts culturally and linguistically. Consequently, the controversy over Finfinnee took the second and most decisive turn.  As soon as the information about the Master Plan reached the public sphere, the Oromo youth took the lead in carrying out a measure I had suggested a decade earlier, opposing the transfer of Oromia’s capital city from Finfinnee to Adama.[25] They conducted Oromia-wide peaceful protests to stop the Master Plan, mammoth scheme, which if implemented, could evict millions of Oromos. As expected, the youth were faced by physical violence from EPRDF regime.

What was not expected and surprised many Oromos was the discursive violence from a global Amharic-speaking social media. Ironically, it was not the physical atrocity perpetrated on the Oromo youth by the TPLF-led regime, but the massive Oromo self-defense which provoked their virulent discourse.

While the physical violence used by the TPLF-led regime killed and maimed thousands of Oromo youth who opposed the Master Plan, the Amharic-speaking political elites in the opposition used verbal violence to misrepresent and silence the voice of Oromo resistance to the Master Plan. What surprised many observers most was the commentators’ representation of Oromo resistance to evictions from their land by the TPLF regime as an illegal and unacceptable Oromo claim to the land and their alleging the Oromo as opposing urbanization and modernization. The commentators tacitly fomented the violence perpetrated by the special security branch called Agazi and the regular federal police forces against the Oromo youth who resisted the Master Plan as illegitimate. Ignoring the eviction of thousands of Oromo households from their ancestral homesteads (qeyee), many of the commentators condemned the Oromo youth protest to the Master Plan as an expression of “tribalism” and “racism.” Ironically, the protest was represented by many of the Amharic-speaking commentators, not as a collective act conducted in self-defense, or legitimate Oromo rights, but as an illegal act that was aimed at harming others and should be condemned.

For example, I have examined more than half a dozen commentaries which the Amhara scholar Professor Getachew Haile wrote between 2015 and 2018 demonizing the Oromo youth who participated in protests conducted against implementation of the Addis Ababa Master Plan. Although it is estimated that over five thousand of the Oromo youth were gunned down or beaten to death in the streets all over Oromia by the federal police and Agazi forces in three years, not a single word in his commentaries reflect sympathy for the victims, or even mention the atrocities perpetrated against them by the security forces of the TPLF-led regime. Apparently, what disgusted him most was the inability of the TPLF to suppress the Oromo resistance to the Master Plan rather than the atrocities they were committing.

In a commentary published in the Ethiopian Media Forum, on 26 February 2016, during the time when the protest against the Master Plan was very tense, the professor I have mentioned above wrote that the Oromo youths (qeerroo) were “killing people and burning churches like their forefathers.”[26] He claimed that in the past Oromo ancestors “had killed the indigenous people of Ethiopia and occupied the fertile lands.”  Likewise, the present Oromo generation “when they see some non-Oromo-speaking Amhara families in their neighborhood they kill them, saying long live Wayane.”[27] Surprisingly, while making this false accusation against the Oromo youth who were opposing the implementation of the Master Plan, Professor Getachew did not provide the names, or locations of churches he posits were burnt and the names of Amhara families who were killed by qeerroo, or their Oromo ancestors. Needless to point out here, that it is embarrassing to hear an accusation made by a notable member of Amhara intelligentsia demonizing the entire Oromo nation without any evidence.

While accusing the Oromo youth falsely as troublemakers, the Amharic-speaking commentators have generally been silent over atrocities committed by the TPLF regime against them.  Their silence implicitly suggests that the Oromo have no reason to complain about eviction by the Master Plan as if the source of their livelihood does not matter. In fact, the Oromo youth are depicted as opponents of diversity, globalization, urbanization and multiculturalism, and are driven by “narrow ethnocentric worldviews of tribal elites.[28] Insider reports confirm that the expansion of Addis Ababa under the TPLF regime between 2005 and 2014 had evicted tens of thousands of Oromo men, women and children from their homes and farms and turned them into homeless destitute.[29] But the protests of the Oromo qeerroo (youth) against the eviction were seen as obstacle to “the natural expansion of the city of Addis Ababa.”[30]

It is not difficult to imagine that the Oromo regard the commentators’ insensitivity and total lack of solidarity with the targeted victims of the Master Plan as alarming. Given what had happened to those who were evicted before 2014, to call a mega project that was intended to occupy 1.1 million hectares of land and evict hundreds of thousands of Oromo households a “natural expansion of Addis Ababa” is gross disregard for human rights in general and Oromo humanity. For those who entertain such a view, the problem was not Oromo eviction from their districts for the expansion of Addis Ababa, but the Oromo resistance to the Master Plan.

In general, many of the commentaries were written as the TPLF regime intensified its crackdown on the ongoing peaceful countrywide Oromo resistance to the implementation of the Master Plan between the beginning of 2016 and the middle 2018. Oddly, no sign of solidarity with the Oromo youth, or families who were dying while resisting eviction by the TPLF regime was reflected in the commentaries.

The silence of the commentaries on the TPLF atrocities is a disturbing story for many Oromos, reflecting the commentators’ lack of sense of solidarity with and sympathy for the Oromo youth who were being killed while defending human rights. The silence spoke loudly as a tacit agreement to the implementation of the Master Plan regardless of its social costs – the eviction of hundreds of thousands of Oromo households – aborted by Oromo youths.

If implemented, the Master Plan would destroy Oromia as a territorial entity. Oromo artists, poets, and political commentators described the Master Plan as a scheme that would cut apart and “kill” Oromia. Territorially, the project would cut out the Tuulama highlands which constitute the heartland of the Oromo territory. It would de-Oromize Oromia’s core, undermine, and paralyze its cultural and linguistic development.

As I have pointed out elsewhere,[31] the mammoth Master Plan was, indeed, a dagger pointed at the “heart” of Oromia figuratively expressed. The uprising which was triggered by the scheme among the Oromo at home and in the diaspora concerned, not only with the survival of Oromia as a contiguous geographical entity, but also the survival of the Oromo as a nation. It is no wonder that the Oromo youths were ready to make sacrifices and oppose the implementation of the project. The Master Plan constituted an attack on their identity and their future. Therefore, they were acting ignoring the atrocities of the Agazi security forces and the danger it meant to their lives. As has been expressed eloquently in poems, songs, and articles produced by Oromos at home and in the diaspora, the Oromo could not afford to let the TPLF regime to implement its anti-Oromo project. Oromo artist and media outlets, particularly Oromia Media Network (OMN), bolstered the sense of unity and sacrifice for a common goal. Music became an instrument with which Oromo sense of nationhood is manifested and strengthened.  The entire Oromo nation rose in unison and could conduct protest demonstrations simultaneously in scores of cities, towns, and townships on a single day.

To put the matter analogically, the Master Plan put the Oromo nation in the situation of a person whose life is threatened by an assailant pointing a knife at his throat. For the person to be paralyzed by fear may mean an immediate death. He must defeat fear and fight back for survival. For oppressed people, defeating fear is a crucial initial step to liberate themselves. Indeed, whether fought by an individual, or a community, self-defense will cost. The Oromo youths paid dearly to defeat the implementation of the Mater Plan. They made the dagger meant to divide Oromia into two parts an ineffective weapon. To achieve that victory, over five thousand Oromo youths laid down their lives. Tens of thousands of young men and women were put in prison and tortured. Thousands of young girls were raped. Many came out of prison maimed and decapacitated physically and psychologically. The Oromo people incurred a heavy loss to stop eviction from their land and protect their rights over Finfinnee.

 Virulent Amharic Words Supplement Police Brutalities

Many of the commentaries on Oromo resistance against the Master Plan mentioned above were not based on evidence, but a mixture of emotionally driven and basically false statements that are meant to vilify Oromo political activism. As the hope that the Master Plan would de-Oromize Finfinnee and the surrounding townships and villages was frustrated with time and the Oromo resistance became stronger, the Amharic-speaking commentaries turned into open vilifications of Oromo youth, characterizing them as “extremists” (ጺንፈኞች), “racists” (ዘረኞች), “mindless hordes” (መንጋ).  Intentional distortion of the purpose of Oromo political activism and accusation of Oromo political activists as extremists and racists is, not only a heinous disinformation about the Oromo people, but also a wrong method to force them to give up the demand for the recognition of their collective rights and identity and support Ethiopian “unity”.[32]

The problem with the debate on the Oromo in general, and on Finfinnee, in particular, is that the audience has no chance to ask the commentators for evidence, or even care to verify the accusations against the Oromo people. This is the case with the streams of false information spread by Amharic-speaking media outlets such as the Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT).  It seems that many of the viewers, or readers do not even bother to know the truth, but also take the accusations as facts, and then regard the Oromo people as unwelcome intruders and killers. That is a serious mistake and a dangerous position to take as it only makes the city a dangerous place and the Amhara-Oromo co-existence difficult.

Those who wrote negative commentaries about the Oromo protests did not look at, or had ignored the slogans carried by those who participated in the rallies against the Master Plan across Oromia. Otherwise, they could have avoided the malicious propositions they have been making about the protests and the Oromo youths. One of the Oromo slogans which were used everywhere was, “Finfinneen handhuura Oromiyaati! Oromian biyya keenya! Biyya keenya dhiifnee eessa deemna!?” (“Finfinnee is Oromia’s center! Finfinnee is ours! Oromia is our homeland! Where else shall we go, leaving our homeland?!”).  The Oromo youth were opposing the eviction of Oromo households from Finfinnee. Nowhere in Oromia have the demonstrators been heard saying we will evict non-Oromos from any city, town, or village in Oromia. As far as I know, Oromo political organizations have never proposed that property ownership and citizenship should be determined by ethnicity, or language in OromiaHowever, the commentators were bent on misinterpreting, and dismissing the Oromo protests as expressions of extremism and racism using misleading discourse and vulgar language instead of dialogical and logical arguments, advocating peaceful co-existence in the same city as equals.

 Orchestrated Hate Speeches

Those who follow the media will remember that accepting Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s invitation to exiled political organizations to return home, the leaders, and members of Arbanyoch-Ginbot7 party returned to Finfinnee (Addis Ababa) on 9 September 2018 and were received by tens of thousands of Addis Ababa’s inhabitants with fanfare. No one had opposed the rally organized for their reception. The case was different when a faction of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) returned to Finfinnee a week later. Misled by commentators, an organized Amharic-speaking youth groups attempted to prevent the Oromos from entering the city to participate in a rally organized to welcome the OLF members and leaders. Many Oromos were stoned or stabbed to death and many more were wounded by opponents of the rally. As the Oromo youth retaliated, casualties were also incurred by the opponents of the Oromo rally.

The rally also reflected the inevitability of change in Oromia and Ethiopia. However, the attack on Oromos and Oromo institutions indicated that there are elements among the Amhara community who are not prepared to accept change.  It is important to note that the hostilities were expressed, not only against the OLF as a movement, but also against institutions which bear Oromo names and individuals who spoke the Oromo language, but had less to do with the OLF. Although violence against Oromos and Oromo institutions may have not been coordinated by a political party, or organization, I do not think that the action took place spontaneously. I believe that it was the result of a reckless rhetoric which media outlets such ESAT have been using to demonize the OLF for a long time to deny the Oromo people the right to homeland and language.

The TPLF-led physical violence against the Oromo people abated in 2018 with the defeat and retreat of the TPLF leaders to Mekele. As reflected in social media, however, the verbal violence of Amharic-speaking commentators has continued with an unprecedented intensity, taking the most dangerous tone. The revival of the imperial past is being propagated, often explicitly by many Amhara and Amharized politicians, political activists, and political parties who demand the revocation of Article 39 of the Ethiopian constitution. Indeed, to strive for the revival of the imperial past is to ignore the feeling of those who have suffered the violations of people’s rights under Abyssinian political and cultural domination over the last 150 years.

Article 39 was decreed to satisfy demands made by those whose rights to language, culture, and self-rule have been violated in the past. It was accepted to avoid the alternative. That alternative was violent dissolution the state, a fate which many empires that had appeared and disappeared in the past in many parts of the world had met.  It is important to note here that the provocative commentators and media outlets who spread lies to vilify the Oromo day and night are preparing the ground for a violent disintegration of the Ethiopian state.

During the last three or four years, the vilification of Oromo political activism as racism is promoted by journalists and political activists who use media outlets such as the Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT). The hostility has intensified since September 2018. Here, I am not pointing fingers at journalists, in general; I am talking about those whose “sacred” mission is apparently vilification of Oromo youths, Oromo politicians, and scholars. I have watched several programs on ESAT which entertain guests who demonize Oromo political activism as an act of “racism” and fascism”.[33] I will take a couple of “expert” contributions broadcast by ESAT during the last three years to illustrate my point.

The first was organized by a program called Awde Filsifna and was transmitted on 29 September 2018.[34] The ESAT journalist had two scholars with PhD degrees as her guests and the theme for discussion was “The Value of Truth in Our Community”. The guests started their discussion with an account on the value which truth has in Ethiopian society. After a while, the focus of the discussion shifted to the controversy over Finfinnee/Addis Ababa. Scholarship and truth disappeared instantly as the discussion turned into an illogical, hateful, and condescending gibberish.

Dr.  Abraham Alemu who was one of the guests wove a groundless narrative to dismiss the Oromo claims concerning Finfinnee. He stated that there were very few Oromos, if any, on the site when Menelik built his capital city.  He argued that while Addis Ababa is more “than 150, or 180 years” old, Oromia or Finfinnee is only 25 years old. However, the fact that Oromia’s borders were marked 25 years does not mean Biyya Oromoo did not exist, or Finfinnee was not inhabited by Oromos in the past. Nevertheless, like many of the Amharic-speaking commentators, Dr. Abraham described the impossibility of Oromo claims to Finfinnee. As I have mentioned in my article “Addis Ababa were Built on Oromo Land” published in this issue of Oromo Commentary, scoffing at the Oromo  claim of indigeneity in Finfinnee, he stated that “some Oromo tribes might have driven their cattle across the district once upon a time, but that does not give them any right to it” (“ከእለታት አንድ ቀን የሆኑ የኦሮሞ ጎሳዎች ከብቶቻቸዉን በዚያ መሬት ነድተዉ አልፈዋልና በዚያ ምክንያት መሬቱ የኦሮሞ ነዉ ማለት ጨርሶ ተቀባይነት የለዉም”.)[35] Moreover, suggesting implicitly that the Oromo were too “backward” to be associated with a city like Addis Ababa, he argued that the Oromo did not have the culture and resources to build a city.

Here, there are two fundamental truths which Dr. Abraham had overlooked. To start with, he ignored the fact that none of the nations and nationalities of Ethiopia can claim an urban culture historically, except for the Adare of Harar. If the Amhara could build a city, there is no reason why the Oromo cannot do the same. The second truth he was denying is the fact that Finfinnee was and still is being built, by and large, with resources obtained from Oromo and other nationalities in the south. Be it timber, or stones which were and are used to build homes, offices and shops in Addis Ababa were and are harvested or quarried primarily in Oromia. In general, the commentator ignored the fact the livelihood of Finfinnee residents is dependent on food produced by Oromo farmers as well. Firewood as fuel and electric power depend on Oromia’s forests and rivers. In short, it is a travesty of sanity to posit the Oromo do not have resources to build a city.

The other ESAT guest on the same program, Dr. Tedla Woldeyohannes, commented about the danger Ethiopia is facing, inter alia, from the Oromo qeerroo who he labelled as a “mindless mob.” It is important to note here that the self-discipline and sense of fairness exhibited by the Oromo people toward all non-Oromos amid the TPLF violence which took the lives of over 5,000 Oromo youth was extraordinary. Their conduct deserves admiration and their peaceful struggle against the murderous Agazi should not be distorted as an action of a “mindless horde” by hatemongers.

The guest of the third show was a medical doctor called Zelalem Gizaw. He gave an interview on ESAT’s Yetsehafian Demitsoch (Voices of Authors) Show on 27 September 2018.[36] He was invited to discuss the content of an article he wrote on what he called “Oromo Fundamentalism.”[37] In the article, he labels Oromo political organizations as terrorist outfits that are comparable to the criminal organization called the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in the US. What Oromo people have always been demanding was freedom from oppression, respect for their language, culture, and the recognition of their identity. Obviously, this has nothing to do with racial hatred that defines the ideology of the KKK.  In fact, Dr. Gizaw’s KKK analogy is the definition of his attitude against the Oromo. In his article, he calls on non-Oromos “to organize in a structured fashion and chase out the Oromo fanatics first from Addis Ababa, then from the whole of Ethiopia.”[38]

Although the statements about Oromo political activism are baseless and the call for the ethnic cleansing from Addis Ababa which Dr. Zelalem Gizaw was making were outrageous, the ESAT journalist had never objected his views during the entire show. In fact, she had repeated and sung his ignoble proposal of genocide on the Oromo without any qualm. With open hostility toward the Oromo people, and disgraceful lack of knowledge of the Oromo and Ethiopian history, the journalist had broadcasted her guest’s unabashed hatred against the Oromo.

Many of the commentators mentioned in this article are engaged in sinister verbal violence against the Oromo. A sinister verbal violence which had started in tandem with the outbreak of the Oromo resistance to the implementation of the Addis Ababa Master Plan in 2015 was intensified following the return of Oromo political organizations to Finfinnee in September 2018. It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that no people or community has been exposed to concerted insult and demonization in modern times more than the Oromo nation has been and is experiencing during the last two years. The verbal violence against the Oromo has similarities with the sinister hate which the abolition of slavery had aroused in the late 19th century against African Americans among white former slaveowners of the US south. African Americans were accused falsely and lynched by White racists openly in public.  The purpose was to deny the freedom they had won after 400 years of bondage and to ‘keep them in their place’, which means in slavery. Abyssinian elites tend to think that the vilification of Oromo political activists and scholars, combined with distortion of Ethiopian and Oromo history will discourage and make them to give up the claim of their historical, constitutional, and God-given natural rights over Finfinnee.  Historical records show that what often happens is the opposite. Unless restrained now, I think the ongoing concerted “verbal lynching” of the Oromo people by Amharic-speaking elites and media would backfire and become a recipe for the violent disintegration of Ethiopia.

Endnotes

[1] A version of this Paper was presented at the 33rd Annual OSA Conference at Rift Valley University, held on 26-28 July 2019 in Finfinnee, Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.
[2] C. W. Harris, The Highlands of Æthiopia. 3 volumes (London: Longmans, 1944), Vol. 2: 185-198.
[3] Pankhurst, R. in his State and Land in Ethiopian History, Institute of Ethiopian Studies and the Faculty of Law, Addis Ababa, 1966: 149.  See also Naigzy Gebremedhin, “Approaches to the Housing Problems of Addis Ababa” (Thesis, Master of City Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology), 1967: 88,
[4] Harris, Highlands, Vol..2, 189-192.
[5] Harris, Highlands, Vol 2, 190.
[6] Harris, Highlands, Vol 2, 189.
[7] Harris, Highlands, Vol 2, 190.
[8] A. Bulatovich, Ethiopia Through Russian Eyes: A Country in Transition, 1896-1898; translated and edited by Richard Seltzer (Lawrenceville, N.J: The Red Sea Press, 2000).
[9] C. Prouty, Empress Taytu and Menelik II: Ethiopia 1883-1910 (Trenton, N.J.: The Red Sea Press, Trenton, 1986), 206. As a relative and one of Menelik’s most trusted generals, Ras Tasamma, confided in 1899 to a French military delegation to Ethiopia, “Up to now I have made war to kill pillage and collect beasts [livestock] and slaves. Now, His Majesty Menelik wants no more of this kind of aggression.” The Ras was not telling his guests the truth. Pillage of the conquered territories continued until the Italian occupation of 1936.
[10] Harris, Vol. 2, 192.
[11] Harris, Vol. 2, 192.
[12] M. De Salviac, An Ancient People … The Oromo: Great African Nation; translated from French by Ayalew Kanno (East Lancing, Mich.: Ayalew Kanno, 2005), 120.
[13] Ibid., 120
[14] Cited in R. Pankhurst, State and Land in Ethiopian History (Addis Ababa: Institute of Ethiopian Studies and the Faculty of Law, 1966), 150, 152.
[15] Pankhurst, ibid. p. 152.
[16] Pankhurst, ibid.
[17] Pankhurst, ibid. p. 153.
[18] Towers, L. “Formal Schooling, Identity and Resistance in Ethiopia.” Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (University of Sydney), 2009:175.
[19] Towers, L. “Formal Schooling,” ibid.
[20] One gets the feeling that Minneapolis in the US has preserved more American Indian place names than Addis Ababa has done with Oromo names.
[21] See Mekuria Bulcha, Flight & Integration: Causes of Flight from Ethiopia and Problems of Integration in the Sudan, Nordic Africa Institute, Uppsala, 1988, for a detailed description of the consequences of the draconian policy.
[22] Mekuria Bulcha, “Struggle over Finfinnee is Struggle for Oromia” translated from Afaan Oromoo by the author. Gadaa.com (April 2014, published May 2014) [online resource] http://gadaa.com/oduu/25546/2014/05/26/struggle-over-finfinnee-is-struggle-for-oromia/ (accessed January 20, 2020).
[23] Among those who were killed were Kabbada Badhasaa, Morkataa Edosaa, Gaddiisaa Hirphaasaa, Jagama Badhanee.
[24] “Suppressing Dissent: Human Rights Abuses and Political Repression in Ethiopia’s Oromia Region.” Human Rights Watch (HRW), 2005 [online resource] https://www.hrw.org/report/2005/05/09/suppressing-dissent/human-rights-abuses-and-political-repression-ethiopias-oromia (accessed January 20, 2020).
[25] Mekuria Bulcha, “Greater Addis Ababa in the Making: Stop them or Keep Quiet and Perish” (December 2003) Voice Finfinne [online resource] http://www.voicefinfinne.org/English/History/MB.html (accessed January 20, 2020).
[26] Getachew Haile, “የ1884 ዓመተ እግዚእ የበርሊን ኮንፈረንስ እና የ1882 ዓመተ ምሕረት የዲማ ኮንፈረንስ ተመሳሳይነት” (“Similarities between the 1884 Berlin Conference and 1882 Dima Conference”), Ethiopian Media Forum, 26 February 2016.
[27] Ibid.
[28] Teshome M. Borago, “Is Ethiopia still a Rwanda in slow motion?” Ethiomedia, 9 October 2017.
[29] This insider information is reported in Ermias Legesse’s book Ye-Meles Trufaat (The Legacy of Meles). Ermias Legesse was a cadre of the EPRDF and held official post in Meles Zenawi’s government and had participated in urban affairs concerning Finfinnee/Addis Ababa.
[30] Teshome M. Borago. Ibid.
[31]Bulcha, M. “From a Student Movement to a National Revolution: A Struggle with an Independent Oromo State in Sight. The first version was presented at the Oromo Studies Association (OSA) 2016 Mid-Year Conference, London School of Economics on April 2 – 3, 2016. This version is prepared for the website Oromia Today on request.
[32] ”አዲስ አበባን የግሉ ሊያደርግ የሚሰራ የፖለቲካ ቡድን የትም አይደርስም፤ ዶ/ር ሲሳይ መንግስቴ በአ.አ.ዩ የፌዴራሊዝምና የሰብዓዊ መብቶች መምህር, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CgKJ6RlyElA
[33] The ESAT’s ESAT Daily and lately its outgrowth “Ethio 360” with Ermias Legesse in the forefront who has been using these terms to vilify the Oromo movement for fundamental human rights. The concerted vilification of the Oromo people on these media outlets cannot be covered in this short paper. The question it raises is serious and legal and not political or sociological. The case should be dealt with in the court of law.
[34] Dr. Tedla Woldeyohannes and Dr. Abraham Alemu, “Awde Filsifna”, ESAT 29 September 2018 [online resource]  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mH08A8D7bq0
[35] Alemu, A. & Tadla Woldeyes. On “The value of truth in our community”, ESAT Awde Filsfina. 29 September 2018,  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mH08A8D7bq0
[36]Zelalem Gizaw, “Oromo Fundamentalism” ESAT, September 27, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69DffsANJkE&t=2537s.  (accessed on June 27, 2019)
[37] Zelalem Gizaw, “Oromo Fundamentalism”, Dire Tribune, 26 September 2018.
[38] Zelalem Gizaw, ibid.

Mekuria Bulcha, PhD, Professor Emeritus. PhD in Sociology from Uppsala University in
1988; Taught Sociology at Uppsala and Mälardalen Universities in Sweden and is author of
widely read books on Oromo and Ethiopian political history including Dilemmas in the Ethiopian
Politics of State and Nation-Building, CASAS, Cape Town, SA, 2011, Revised edition 2016. Founder
and Editor of the Oromo Commentary

1 Comment

  1. The more things change, the more they remain the same. The single most enduring thing thus far is the savage nature of the so Abyssinian rulers past and present. It suffice to site the parallels between the Captain Harris reports of the early 19th century atrocities committed on the Sahle Sellassie on Oromos of Entotto Hills and the atrocities committed on the Mai Kadra by the expansionist regime of Amhara state. When TPLF/EPRDF had a chance to dismantle the Ethiopian Empire, they chose to make cosmetic change and sought to rule over the empire. What a deadly mistake, now more than any body the innocent people of Tigray are paying the price. look:- even the media centers such as Walta information center, established by TPLF/EPRDF is now working against the people of Tigray just like ETV was serving the Derg regime. Therefore, the only solution to every single citizen of that country to live in peace is to do away with that Empire or at least to completely overhaul of the Amhara center Ethiopian Empire. That empire is no ones friend, including the people of Amhara if such people exist.

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