OROMO CONSENSUS: UNITY MAKES STRENGTH
8 April 2019
By Leenjiso Horo*
Let me begin with the oftentimes told old parable to illustrate the meaning of the Oromo consensus: unity makes strength. The parable runs like this. Once upon a time, there was an old man who was very ill and lay dying in his bed. He had four children who were always fighting among themselves. All were always hostile to each other, always in conflict with each other. The old man always worried about them. He wanted to teach them a lesson. One day, he asked all of them to come to him. When they came, the old man gave them a bundle of sticks and asked them, “can you break these sticks?” First, the first son tried to break it. He tried very hard and he couldn’t. Finally he gave up. Then, it was the second son’s turn. He too tried, and tried very hard and failed to break. He too gave up. Then, the third son and the last son tried in turn one after the another. All tried, and all could not break the bundle of sticks. Then, he gave one stick at a time to each of them and asked them again “can you break it?” Each of them broke it.
The old man smiled at his sons and said, “My children, do you understand what happened? It is always easy to break one stick. But, when sticks are bundled together, none of you could break the bundle. In the same vein, you four brothers should always stick together. Then, no one can hurt you. But, should you separate, any one is able to hurt you.” The four sons realized what their father was trying to teach them and reconciled, made peace among themselves, and forgo their hostility and learnt that unity is strength and that unity creates a potent force. From that day on, they never fought each other. They forged unity among themselves, lived together in peace, harmony and unity.
The Fall of Oromia in the 19th-Century
Now turning to the Oromo, for centuries before colonization, the Oromo nation was a powerful, highly respected, and feared independent nation in the Horn of Africa. But, by the turn of 19th century, many kingdoms were formed in various parts of Oromia. For instance, in the Gibe region of Oromia alone, five states; in Western Oromia, two states; and in Wallo, six states were formed. The rest of Oromia remained under the Gadaa system. Basically, Oromo fell under different loyalties. These weakened the democratic Gadaa system, its leadership, its institutions, and hence, the Oromo nation. On the one hand, these kingdoms fought among themselves, and between them and Gadaa institutions, on the other. Hence, there was no unity among them. Because of these, they were unable to mobilize their human, spiritual, and material resources to stop external invasions. While the Oromo were in the process of trying to put their house in order, the Abyssinians interrupted the process with the help of Oromo quislings (gantuus) and conquered them one by one. Not a single kingdom nor the remaining Gadaa leadership was able to individually withstand and defeat the invading Abyssinian force. And, hence, Oromia fell under the Abyssinian colonialism. The Oromo lack of unity became strength for the enemy. This must be our first lesson to learn.
However, the Oromo people never gave up the struggle to put their house in order. Since colonization, they struggled in various parts of Oromia. Among the many to be recalled are: the establishment of Western Oromia Federation and its application for recognition to the League of Nations through the British, the Raya-Azabo resistance, the Macca-Tuulama Self-Help Association, and the Baale resistance movement- these were among the many resistance movements. These resistances gave birth to the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), the pan-Oromo political organization, in 1973. This was the first rise of the Oromo people from their fall of the late 19th century. The Oromo people rallied around the OLF and made their clear determination to rid Oromia of Ethiopian colonialism, and to build a proud, dignified, free, independent, and sovereign Oromo nation and state. This is the Oromo consensus. With this, the Oromo struggle marched forward.
The 1991 London Conference
Photo: Members of the Foreign Office of the OLF at the 1991 London Conference
The second fall was at the London Peace Conference. Others may disagree with me. But, it is a plain fact. The London Peace Conference was a failure for the Oromo cause. It was not peace for the Oromo, but it was a sellout of their cause. The London Peace Conference sow a seed of difference that later, after a period of dormancy, slowly germinated and grew to a full conflict in 2001, and beyond. The reason is simple to understand. In 1991, a group of members of the Foreign Office of the OLF stationed in the Sudan – headed by the then Deputy Secretary-General of the OLF – secretly traveled to London for negotiation without the consultation and authorization by the general leadership of the OLF. This means, the OLF Central Committee and its Executive Committee did not designate this group as a delegate to the Conference with the consent and instruction as to what was to be negotiated and what was not to be negotiated. Hence, the group lacked legal authority and legitimacy to negotiate. This gave birth to a seed of split of 2001. The conference participants were TPLF, EPLF, and a faction of a leadership of the OLF. At the Conference, the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) negotiated for independence; the TPLF negotiated to occupy the remaining part of the empire, including Oromia and to make its army, the Tigrean People Liberation Army (TPLA), to be the army of the empire. Having secured this, TPLF controlled the key institutions, including the Army, police, and security. At the conference, the then members of the OLF and the now “Oromo Dialogue Forum/Waltajjii Marii Oromoo” abandoned the struggle for independence of Oromia and settled to “make” Oromo “citizens” of the empire. With these, at the London Peace Conference, it agreed to the encampment of Oromo Liberation Army (OLA). It was on these conditions and this agreement, the foreign army, the TPLF, was allowed to enter Oromia for the first time in Oromo history by the Oromo group and then allowed to control Finfinnee, the heart of Oromia, our capital. With this, Oromia and the Oromo people fell under the control of the TPLF’s army, police, security, and spies. Using this opportunity, it created a rubber-stamp parliament, a body full of spies. Having secured these, TPLF demanded that it deserved all resources of the empire as a fruit of its “victory” to be channeled to Tigray for its development. In order to accomplish this immoral goal, it used its power, laws, and forces to kill, imprison, torture, and maim innocent people in the empire. And so, the Oromo and other colonized nations’ resources are being channeled to Tigray for its development and the rest is history.
However, the Oromo people rejected the London Peace Conference and its outcome, and with it, the TPLF. The Oromo people rose in unity again and declared the struggle for independence of Oromia. They embraced the OLF, supported the demarcation of boundaries of Oromia and implemented the Qubee Alphabet without delay. This was the second rise of the Oromo people.
Furthermore, after the London conference, five Oromo political organizations entered Finfinnee. Most of them sought favor from TPLF, and each became anti-OLF. This was their major political failure. They failed to stand together against the TPLF, and failed to clearly state that the Oromo struggle was for the total independence of Oromia. The TPLF saw this weakness within Oromo political organizations. Then, it turned against them all and crushed them, one by one. The remaining left their own capital leaving it to TPLF. This was the third fall. The OLF Congress of 1998 was its rise again. OLF regrouped its forces and commenced the struggle.
The Split of OLF in 2001
Three years after the National Congress of 1998, the OLF split in 2001. “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” Abraham Lincoln famously said. That’s what the OLF was in 2001, a house deeply divided against itself. That split was a fall. The Abyssinian political elites and their Oromo political cohorts believed that it was the end of the OLF and the Oromo struggle. Many danced to this in the belief that those who wanted to maintain the Ethiopian empire prevailed. Some said, the OLF was dead. With this, they believed that the Oromo struggle was also dead. As a result, pseudo-nationalist individuals in the Diaspora abandoned the OLF and joined Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO) in the name of “investors”. They praised the TPLF regime. They engaged in a propaganda war against the Oromo struggle and the OLF by giving interviews with the Abyssinian mass media – stating, ” We came back home because we are changed; the world has changed; Ethiopia has changed; geo-politics has changed; the Oromo society has changed; the Oromo is liberated.” In this way, they joined the enemy camp. Again, the Oromo nationalists’ weakness became the TPLF strength. There is no other way to tell it.
But, the Oromo nationalists are wise. They are nationalists of lofty ideals and vision. Within ten years of the split, a house, that was so deeply divided, had healed itself, and that the political center, that once seemed unable to hold in any shape, reasserted itself and the OLF unity and reconciliation formalized. This is a great success. Despite this, there are still Oromo nationals who want to talk about past failures only. They failed to understand the Oromo consensus: unity and reconciliation make strength. They failed to understand that we cannot keep on talking about yesterday. Yesterday is past; we cannot change it. What happened yesterday has happened. It is now history. We can only learn from what had happened yesterday so as not to repeat the mistakes of yesterday. Now, our job is to concentrate on today’s work. Our focus is today. Today is our day. We can grab it; we can seize it; and we can use it. Hence, our job is only to explain the past, focus on the present, and chart the path into the future. The unity and reconciliation just made between the OLF Transitional Authority and the OLF Shanee Gumii is that change. I believe the other nationalists will follow. Tomorrow is a new day. We aspire to reach it. It is within our grasp, if we are united and struggled in unison. If we are united, the victory, i.e. the independence of Oromia, is within our reach in a short time.
The question is as to why all these failures. The reasons are myriad. Of these, one stands out. I will put it this way. Answering this question is not a new pursuit – nor has the pursuit been without debate and controversy. It is known to all. Here is it. Like all colonial empires before it, the Abyssinian colonial empire had campaigned to cut off Oromo children from their own history, language, culture values and beliefs. To accomplish this, the successive Abyssinian regimes imposed Abyssinian language, history, customs, tradition, culture and the way of thought on the colonized peoples. After years of colonial occupation, most of the children of the colonized Oromo adopted the colonial culture, values, and ideas. As a result, they lost their cultural identity even though they may speak Oromo language, sing Oromo song, and dance to Oromo music. Consequently, they have become Abyssinians in taste and attitudes, and they are Abyssinianized in political views, beliefs, opinions and values. In this way, the Abyssinian colonial rulers through their educational system manufactured and made Oromo elites to serve the empire. These elites have became colonial messengers, the prison guards, and the defenders and gatekeepers of the colonial empire. It is these elites who penetrated the Oromo struggle and weakened it. Hence, in the Oromo struggle, as the struggle became weak, these elites drawn into doubt and then from doubt to despair and finally turned common opportunists. They have become the hesitant elites who do not have the confidence to overcome difficulties and to advance their own people’s struggle. It is these elites who have been initiating their own steps with the greatest caution and prefer either to standstill and watch their people’s struggle from a distance as silent spectators or prefer to retreat back to political jargon of the Ethiopian empire “federalization” rather than to take risk in advancing the national struggle for the independence of Oromia. It is these sections of elites that remain the worshipers of the Ethiopian empire. On the one hand, they are admirers of the Oromo past, and on the other, they are pessimists about the Oromo future and the future of Oromia. Hence, their vision is directed backwards. Most of these elites are the Dergue-era generation, those who grew up singing the slogans “Ethiopia First” and “Ethiopia or Death,” among many slogans. Ironically, today, it is these same Oromo elites who are calling the Oromo slogans of national struggle, such as “Victory to the Oromo people!,” Oromia Shall Be Free!,” and “Revolutionaries Die, Revolution Continues!,” as “dhaadannoo hoffaa fi goggogaa” which literally means in English: meaningless, hollow, and empty and dogmatic slogans. This generation is a fading-away generation. Its wishful political line of defending the unity of the Ethiopian colonial empire in the name of “federalization” cannot compete with the passion of the rising Qubee generation and their struggle for the independence of Oromia.
It is this group of Oromo nationals who have become instrumental in the campaign for the “federalization” of the Ethiopian empire, “democratization” of the Ethiopian empire and making the Oromo people “citizens” of the empire. Recently, this group has openly declared to replace the Oromo struggle for the independence of Oromia by the struggle for the “citizenship” of the Oromo people in the Ethiopian empire. What this means is “Abyssinianization” or equivalently, “Ethiopianization” of the Oromo people. It is primarily this group that became instrumental in the splitting of the OLF in 2001. And, it is this same group which created “Jijjiiramaa” in 2008. Then, it was this same group that split Jijjiiramaa into sub-groups. Having achieved these, finally, it formed the “Oromo Dialogue Forum/Waltajjii Marii Oromoo.” Its members are the formerly “purged members of the OLF and those members who lost hope in the struggle and left the organization in despair” (former Deputy Secretary of the OLF Obbo Leencoo Lata’s interview with Ms. Adanech Fessehaye on VOA Amharic language, aired on July 28, 2012). Those who left the organization in despair are the common opportunists. Its goal is and has always been to preserve the status-quo, the colonial empire. Ironically, it is the “Oromo Dialogue Forum that wrote a letter of condolence to the family and friends of the late fascist PM Meles Zenawi, wishing him to rest in peace” (August 22, 2012). Such a statement can only be made for a person of like-minded or taste or opinion or inclination. It is an expression of friendly fellow feelings; a statement of grief. Wishing “to lay rest in peace,” a man who slaughtered thousands of innocent Oromo nationals: men, women, and children, old, and young; a man, who incarcerated, tortured, and maimed hundreds of thousands of Oromo nationals in the concentration camps that he built throughout the empire, is beyond reason. Such action is morally, ethically, and politically wrong and unacceptable by any self-respecting human being.
The recently announced memorandum of unity and reconciliation of the OLF Transitional Authority and OLF Shanee Gumii is a new rise. This unity is what the Oromo people and nationals have been calling for. It is wisdom of the leadership and the members to listen to the demand of their people. Here, a lesson to be learned is this. Our values are enshrined in the Gadaa democratic socio-political system. These democratic institutions powerfully formed the Oromo values and character. So, we have our shared values. We may roll this way. We may roll that way. We may drift this away. We may drift that way. But, our values hold us together. Our values unite us. Our values pull us together. Our values are who we are, who we want to be and what we want for Oromo generations to come. Indeed, Orommummaa (Oromoness), safuu (ethics), Kaayyoo, love for freedom, liberty, independence, magnanimity, hospitality, fairness, and tolerance are our values. It is for these we rise again. We must remember, we may fall, but we do not remain there. We rise again and keep on going towards our goal. This epitomizes Oromo greatness, their wisdom, their glory, and their strength lie, not in never falling, but in their rising every time they fall. This is the Oromo character. These are the Oromo values. The OLF leadership took a great stride in going the Oromo traditional way and their way of political conflict resolution without allowing a third party or outsider between them. The dispute within the OLF is a family affair, and it was a political internal conflict; it is not a social conflict. Therefore, the method of resolution of political conflict has its own arts and its own genius from that of social conflict. They are different. As a political family the OLF does not need or does not allow the third party to involve in its internal political affairs. Hence, it does not see the involvement of the outsider (the third-party intervention) as the answer to its internal problem. This is in the Oromo tradition and culture. It is not weakness, but consciousness of superior strength on part of both leadership to resolve internal conflict in this manner. This is the Oromo wisdom, and so it prevailed. As a family, they alone sat down together and hammered out their differences and resolved the long-standing issues, and came out in unity and reconciliation. This is quintessentially the Oromo way. Hence, the Oromo Consensus: unity makes strength should be understood to mean reconciliation, unity, peace, strength, and independence.
Despite this unity and reconciliation, there are opponents and cynics, who are scratching their heads to oppose this reconciliation and unity. These are selfish individuals who see the struggle from their own personal interest rather than from the interest of the Oromo people and their cause. These are individuals who like to see “federalization” of Ethiopian empire rather than independence of Oromia, though there was no federalized empire in history. To this effect, they prefer to use euphemisms like “marii Oromoo,” “Oromo dialogue,” “federalization,” “democratization,” and “citizenship” as code words for weakening the unity of the Oromo nationalists and dismantling the struggle for the independence of Oromia. They see the Oromo struggle through the lenses of these code words of empire maintenance rather than through the lenses of independence of Oromia. For this, their propagandistic rhetoric of “Oromo dialogue/marii Oromoo,” or “democratization” of the Ethiopian empire will not die down and their shouting for “federalization” of the empire will not suddenly go mute. These shouting heads will not stop shouting to “make” the Oromo people “citizens” of the empire. These shouting heads failed to understand or grasp that the root cause of the Oromo struggle is colonialism. The Oromo are the colonized people; Oromia is a colonized country. The Oromo struggle is for the independence of Oromia and its people from the empire, not for the “citizenship” or “democratization” or “federalization” of the empire. It is only the unity of nationalists and their struggle in unison, raising high the slogans of the fallen heroes and heroines in this struggle, that can make this rhetoric to die down, stop their shouting, and indeed render their shouting impotent so as to go mute.
In the end, as it is shown in the above pages, the Oromo consensus: unity makes strength is more powerful than divisive ideas. It is more powerful than betrayal. Unity and strength make independence of Oromia feasible. The Oromo consensus is independence. For this, it must be understood by all, and must be accepted by all that, at this historic junction of the Oromo consensus: unity makes strength, it is practically impossible to reverse the aspiration and determination of the Oromo people and their nationalists to fight for and die for the independence of Oromia.
Oromia Shall Be Free!
* Leenjiso Horo can be reached at email@example.com