The Case for a National Council of Oromia
In the past, on another platform (at OSA Conference, July 2016, Washington DC), I put forward three scenarios for the escalating Oromo civil resistance to bring about a systemic change, and not just a reform:
a) If it obtains a degree of support from the federal armed forces, or at least win their benevolent neutrality,
b) If the political alliances which supported the status quo governance will gradually wane, and
c) If a national consensus and urgent pronouncement of unconditional unity and convention will be reached among the divided Oromo political organizations and, as a result, IF the national liberation struggle will take a new momentum under a strong leadership and headed toward a clear direction.
It is this last scenario (c) after two years that still resonates most and necessitates an immediate action for the Oromo people to call upon the divided Oromo political parties and to give a party (or parties) a legitimacy based on commitment to the people’s rightful concern or that it suffers a legitimacy deficitif it will not put the people’s demand first (though it is not an easy task to determine “Who are the People?”).
Founding a National Council of Oromia
This section considers the founding of a National Council of Oromia as a first step toward transforming the Oromo national liberation struggle into a more dynamic, inclusive, and better organized active political force based in Oromia. This urgent need for an inclusive national dialogue among Oromo political organizations and the general public is compelling at least for two reasons. First, our struggle for democratic rights has been slowed down by the Ethiopian regime which seeks to assert and maintain its power indefinitely using reforms and cosmetic changes, when the use of lethal forces rather heartens the people and fuels the grievance. Second, while the Oromo national struggle has been intensified, instead of reorganizing themselves, cooperating and forming organizational alliance, Oromo political elites are caught up in dilemma about crusading for “Ethiopian-ness” on one hand and “Oromoness” on the other. This conundrum has been overextended, hindered the struggle and reduced it to clashes of interest over power. Consequently, the struggle suffered major setbacks such as the lack of ideological clarity, purpose, commitment, and organizational discipline, i.e., transparency and dynamism, among others.
Hence, there are two purposes to tackle here. First, it is to sketch a Roadmap and increase awareness within areas that are regarded as important to revitalize the Oromo national liberation struggle. Second, it is hoped to encourage at the grassroots level dialogue and collaboration in the Oromo general public, between individuals, and political organizations that have showed no need or commitment at this historical juncture to solve practical problems, to identify and put first what the Oromo people want, not just what political elites want, and to accomplish tasks collaboratively.
The call for founding a National Council of Oromia and opening a national dialogue is imperative to set a Roadmap for Oromo liberation struggle, to reach a national consensus on the Roadmap and discharge a Union Accord or Convention, and implement it. The problem is crucial because our voices are divided. A house divided against itself cannot stand a turbulent wind. It is anarchic tendency, leadership machismo, and chauvinism to stick to power and maintain own legacy over the liberation of one’s people instead of protecting and transforming the institution once founded with discipline, commitment, and purpose to serve, and lead with audacity. The problem is equally urgent because as we all know Oromia is still bleeding and people are removed from their home. In order to be heard, the Oromo are dying while they are seeking freedom and the right to life.
Hence, I think there is no any better time than the present for the Oromo to work together toward ideological clarity and organizational transparency, dynamism, and unity around a common goal, kaawo, to plan to reach a national consensus, and, so doing, to emerge as a nation. I strongly believe that it is an honorable and serious position to take, which should have been taken long before now, but, partly because of our insensitivity to the dire situation our people suffer, and partly because of the scandalous manipulation of our elites and our potential strategic allies by the Ethiopian regime, to our shame we didn’t take a serious action to unite, to defend our people and save our cause from stagnation. Nationalism can easily degenerate into chauvinism where political elites resist against dynamism and refuse to change and to involve the youth in leadership. Being youth by itself is problematic in Africa and Oromia/Ethiopia is no exception.
Being Youth in Oromo Context
The marginalization of youth has become a world-wide concern. In his analysis of the prospect of youth in Africa, Jon Abbink portrays the bleak picture of the debilitating situation of African youth by the following examples: fierce competition for limited resources, decline in their well-being and social advancement, exclusion from political arena, marginalization in national state policies, increasing mass unemployment, health problems, crisis within the family due to poverty, and a lack of education and skills (Abbink 2005:1). To escape out of this dreadful situation which denied them “intentionality of action and agency” and “constructive social incentives,” Abbink adds, “African youths are over-represented in armed rebel or insurgent movements. There is no prospect that this situation will change for the better in the near future” (p1). I hasten to agree here that the situation of Oromo youth is no exception; it necessitates taking some significant and holistic remedial action. To do so, we need a comprehensive planning. The lack of “constructive social incentives” in the society, to enable them live an orderly life, to grow and develop, made African youth look elsewhere for survival and opportunities. Perhaps David Shinn’s “exit generation” best describes the situation of our educated younger generation who “seek greater opportunity elsewhere, especially in North America, Europe, Australia, and even wealthier African countries and Gulf States” (Shinn, 2003:21).
Little has been said about the role of Oromo youth in leadership, in resistance against injustices, and challenges they face in their practical life as refugees, victims of marginalization, political exclusion and constant persecutions directed at them by the state structured violence—coercive devices such as police, court, security, and media. Our youth are historical agents of change. Their role in peaceful social change is decisive as in leadership. Our youth can be a creative force and a dynamic source of innovations. Throughout history, they initiated and catalyzed important changes in political systems and power-sharing dynamics. As they suffered multiple forms of discrimination, prospects and opportunities, disillusioned with political leadership and political institutions, excluded from political and decision-making processes the Oromo youth joined in and intensified the mass-based Qeerroo-led resistance, which spread like a wildfire throughout Oromia and ignited other protests in Ethiopia, and consequently, they brought about a government change and other reforms. Thus, the youth became “ungovernable” and remained politically active through the “political movement” (the protest), instead of, I believe, engaging with and in political parties.
A few generations ago, our youth grew up and lived, relatively speaking, in a more integrated society which is now internally divided along political parties into disordered wholes. Poverty and destitution, violence, migration, disease, unemployment, displacement and the breakdown of the family are some of the heart ranching experiences that drive the Oromo youth (Qeerroo & Qarree) to join #Oromoprotest. We all have a calling in our time. Sometimes our calling is closer than we think: now we have a calling to save our society from a systemic disorder and fragility by saving the young generation and calling upon our political elites to put OROMIA FIRST! It has become our responsibility now more than ever to transform the mass movement into a more systematic movement under organized leadership than a chaotic ordinary “ungovernability”.
The “Ungovernability” Thesis
The ungovernability thesis presupposes a condition of institutional insufficiency, a potential of political crisis, and subsequent institutional change. Over the last few years, we observed a political crisis in Ethiopia, a wider gap between a “tolerable”/“adequate” and “insufficient” levels of capacity of the regime to control and govern the situation in Oromia, which indicates successful ungovernability (Scott, 2009). The state was chronically paralyzed in its ability not only to provide basic services but also to resolve major conflicts through adequate and tolerable institutional means. Subsequently, as we all know, the state actors themselves came to admit that a condition of defective state capacity was present and that it had to be healed through institutional reform, which actually necessitates systemic changes.
Three problems are at stake related to “ungovernability” thesis. First, the diagnosis of ungovernability is often linked to seeking a remedial response by the dictatorial regime, by any means possible, including lethal force. Failure to do so leads the regime to risk the demolition of authority. Second, in spite of its remedial action, including reform or subduing the protest by lethal force, the public grievance will rise and distrust will increase. Third, if the ultimate goal of resistance is a subsequent institutional change through “ungovernability,” what next? A mere public mob, a disorganized mass movement by itself, will not guarantee a long-lasting peace and democratic rights. So, what happens to the cone, when the cheese is gone? That is, what happens when the government changes and the oppressive system remains in power? The question remains, what happens in the absence of a well-organized institution on the ground, primarily to protect the people, and, to keep the liberation struggle on the right track? Or, should we risk our people to suffer an indefinite and unbearable disintegration and institutional dysfunctions?
The ultimate goal of emancipatory resistance is not just “ungovernability” and reform in the status quo.An emancipatory resistance serves two purposes. First, for the oppressed it is a means to permit the sense of freedom from all that is dehumanizing force and freedom to exercise full democratic rights as self by overcoming fear and liquidating the internalized oppression, i.e. decolonizing the self, as a prelude to complete liberation and self-recovery (Memmi, 1961/1991). Second, it would serve to awaken the attitudes of the oppressor to the reality of the inherent brutality they impose on the oppressed, the concept which Frantz Fanon developed in his idea of “violence as purgatory”.
Liberation Struggle: Progresses and Problems
In the history of African liberation struggles against oppressive regimes or colonialists, the transition from liberation to government is not an easy task. This is true to the Tigrayan TPLF, the Eritrean EPLF, the South Sudanese SPLA, and even to the South African ANC, Christopher Clapham maintains, “one of the world’s best known and most admired liberation movements” (Clapham 2012:1). The challenges and criticism that ANC faced in its centennial year over its quality of governance is a typical example of difficulty faced during a transition from liberation to government in Africa, which led to the need for an international dialogue (the Brenthurst Discussion) of leading struggle veterans, policy makers and experts held in October 2012, in South Africa (p4). In one instance, the South African ANC policy, among other several goals it pursued, has been the Black Economic Empowerment (BEE), which “benefited mainly politically-connected individuals rather than the mass of the previously disadvantaged” and the “corporate sector continues to be dominated—managed and owned—by the minority whites” (Tangri and Southall, 2008: 699). What is more, leaders of liberation struggle are committed to the rightness of the cause and the entitlement and responsibility to continue to exercise the power; they consider power as “the culmination of a lifetime mission,” not as a result of a popular vote (p6). Clapham adds, “it is very hard indeed for them to recognize that anyone else could have any equivalent right to rule” (p6). Today’s divided champions of the liberation struggle, no doubt, will result in an undemocratic, corrupt and insecure governance, to say the least, wrecked by strife and rivalry.
Historically, in the Oromo context, the acts of liberation struggle and resistance conducted in distinct separations from a broad mass movement faced serious setbacks. The hopes of those who thought, through sporadic acts of non-violent resistance alone, to set off “only ungovernability now” would be sufficient have proved to be unjustified. Without a strong leadership and clearly set goals, the revolts which broke out at different times in isolated parts of Oromia met with very harsh repressions and were thus crushed but survived repeated stresses to result in major reforms.
Oromia at a Crossroads
Our political leaders, Janus-like, look in two directions: in and out. Like the Salale elder said, eight years ago, Mana hin jirru, ala hin jirru, that is, we are not here, nor there. We have been told Ethiopia is at a crossroads of democratization or disintegration. And today Oromia is at a crossroads of Oromia-nessand Ethiopian-ness, the problem which has been disregarded by Oromo political leaders and scholars, as by the general public. As we have been divided along these ideological fault-lines for over the last two decades, we couldn’t act like a “self” to actualize the long-awaited liberation and “self-determination,” and to emerge as a nation. Instead, Oromia is now a much reduced place where there is rampant poverty, and social and economic disintegration, and the Oromo enjoy a problematic status, to say the least. Let us not forget that until we encountered a social formation branded by chiefdoms, kingdoms, state, and a leadership of hierarchical behavior, we lived and practiced an egalitarian behavior in a society of autonomous communities who appeared to live in harmony as essentially political equals under the principles of the gadaa system. It is this egalitarian behavior to this day that disapproves an authoritative, a bossy-type top-down leadership. To avoid institutional containment, stagnation of our liberation struggle, and the predictable transitional difficulties, we need to establish and practice conventions of peaceful political interaction capable of serving a purpose and surviving the demise of the movement itself.
At the moment, it seems, two sets of forces are in conflict in our “Self”. The first force tends to hinge us to the disempowering past, in the firm grip of malfunctioning and failing state in the name of “Unity in Diversity” and secure territorial integrity (Ethiopian–ness). It regresses backward out of fear, fear of independence, freedom, and separateness, and fear of the Unknown. From a folklorist point of view, this defeatist tendency of a backsliding Self reminds us of Aesop’s fable, “The Fox and the Grapes” in which a hungry fox tries to eat grapes from a hanging vine but cannot reach them. And rather than to admit defeat, the fox states that the grapes are undesirable, hence “sour grapes”. To this first set of our Self, “freedom” has become like the unreachable “sour grape” for our political leaders!
To the contrary, the second set of force propels us forward toward wholeness and uniqueness of Self, i.e., Oromummaa (Oromoness). It thrusts us in the direction of confidence in the face of an unbearable agony and confusion about the interface between the phases of the ongoing national liberation struggle, namely, the phases of freedom from and freedom to. On one hand, in the process of freedom from, the Oromo are not only struggling to escape from the totalitarian “state” but also diverting from the very “state form” itself (“a nation without state”) in the absence of dynamic leadership. On the other, in the process of freedom to, our people are engaged in an UNLIKELY odyssey in search for “self- determination”—“unlikely” because of the absence of a clear kaawoo, i.e., a comprehensive normative vision called ideology based on Oromummaa (Oromoness), and a unifying political program to adhere to. To tackle the challenge, we need some anchoring principles, overarching conventions that are constituted newly by involving young leadership or one that is inherited, contested, and reinvented over time.
A Way Forward: The Roadmap
Purposes of founding a National Council of Oromia include:
- To reach a national consensus through inclusive dialogue
Through inclusive national dialogue, ideas can be shared, perspectives can be challenged, and differences can be argued and tolerated and, ultimately, reason/justice will prevail, and attempts can be made to persuade others the logic of one’s arguments through accountable talks.
- To bring to a round table issues of legitimacy and legitimacy deficit
Hypothetically, if a political front, organization or party fails to defend its political program and policies, if it claims to represent the people but has no voice of the people at the general assembly, araddaa nagaa, i.e., a delegate known and recognized as such by the general public, the party, organization, or front suffers a legitimacy deficit.
And the National Council will deliberate on the matter and determine the fate of the polity in question, and to facilitate for the transition from “Liberation” to “Government”. Now it is time to focus on creating a platform for an inclusive and democratic dialogue at grassroots level and to open venue toward a National Debate around the future of Oromo and Oromia in the absence of organized leadership but, instead, multiple political programs and ideologies are mushrooming.
- To open venue for exercising a democratic politics of representation
Representation here is assigning meaning to events, situations, social practices, objects, and thoughts as preferable, appropriate, and correct among competing groups. That is, through accountable talks practicing the politics of representation is competing over meaning among groups peacefully and democratically. Despite differences of perspectives (political, ideological) held by the parties involved, it is hoped that the mode of politics of representation can lead to achievement of the culture of peace through open dialogue (a responsible talks).
- To help emerge the mechanisms of consensus-building and deadlock-breaking
- To instill ideas for convening the First National Dialogue Conference:
- To chart a Roadmap for the struggle, i.e., to develop a framework and steps of the Roadmap for Oromo national struggle which will include:
-opening a framework for Political Dialogue
-ratifying the Framework
-organizing meetings and/or conferences to be held periodically to advance the objective of the Council (NCO) by zones, districts, and kebeles in Oromia, and in states, regions and localities in the Diaspora to discuss the Roadmap with fair representations from all parts
-implementing the Union Accord (Convention) as planned
In sum, in this task of involving the people actively in decision-making processes about what directly affects their lives and the environment in which they live, it should be noted that the participation of the young people in formal institutional political activities must be taken into consideration. This measure will democratize the representativeness of the political system and minimizes the disenfranchisement of young people, where the political culture of the country disregards the eligibility of the youth (Qeerroo & Qarree) to have voice in the national parliamentary system.
It was not the purpose of this paper to focus on what documented events or aspects of his life as a leader in the EPRDF laid the ground for PM Dr. Abiy Ahmed and set his supporters to forge facts into fancies of the neo-official-nationalism (Ethiopianism) inscribed in “Medemer”. Rather, the purpose of the paper has been to assess the historical and contemporary factors that led to mythologizing a personality cult as a requisite characteristic of myth-making around PM Dr. Abiy, another subject of the “Great Man Theory” after the late Meles Zenawi (Assefa T. Dibaba, 2013), and a hero who is promising to fulfill this mythic vision of “Medemer,” an ideological creed for the neo-official nationalism (Ethiopianism). I argued that “Medemer” is an integrationist attitude counter to the reality on the ground—the historical and contemporary factors that prompted diversity, ethnicity, and nationalism, instead of the historically repressive and territorially motivated “unity” in spite of “diversity”.
I stressed that, at the moment, to advance the Oromia First! Trend, at least two missions matter most to us. First, the urgent necessity for our people, a significant number of whom have been expelled from their ancestral home, is to put pressure on our political leaders to engage in an open dialogue and to work together to reach a National Consensus, which does not necessarily mean to reject diverse political views. Second, to found a National Council of Oromia, which leads toward a peaceful transition from liberation struggle to a democratic government. This level of Oromo nationalism (the OROMIA FIRST! Trend) is what one can have mixed feelings about at present but it is the major goal of the National Council of Oromia (NCO) to pave venue toward this edge of our Nationalism— according to the National Consensus to be reached at eventually: to build an independent state of Democratic Republic of Oromia or a free state in a democratized federated Ethiopia.
Before I go, I should make these two final cases. First, to my readings, so far, there has been NO single linguistic or historical evidence to argue FOR the “OUTSIDE AFRICA” “ORIGIN THEORY,” at least, of the Oromo (of the Cushitic stock), as there is plenty of such evidences for Abyssinians (of the Semitic stock). However, my purpose has not been to consider the “ORIGIN” of this culture or that ethnicity but to highlight the “BEGINNING”. Second, by the Oromo principle of the-seven-generations (akaakilee-abaabilee-torba), any decision a generation makes will have a lasting consequence on seven generations to come. So, the question is simple: should we stand united and change our fate or leave the debts past overdue by seven generations to come?
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Assefa Tefera Dibaba is a PhD in Folklore & Anthroplogy from Indiana University, United States. He is a poet, educator, and researcher.