Is the Notorious Conflict of the Oromo Polity, the ‘Ethiopian Democratization vs. Oromian Liberation,’ Irreconcilable?
By Fayyis Oromia*
I wanted to re-write this opinion because of the currently intensified anti-Woyane movement led by the Amhara bloc (“multinational organizations”). It raised an important question in the Oromo national liberation camp. Why couldn’t we, the Oromo national liberation forces, come to terms and cooperate in building at least an alliance based on common denominator of freedom (bilisummaa), which we can call Tumsa Bilisummaa Oromoo (TBO)/Alliance for Freedom of the Oromo (AFO)? Is it really because of the supposed ideological difference as indicated in the title of this opinion? Our common sense dictates that, if we want to prevent the reversal of the victories we achieved up to now, to keep the status quo and to move forwards, we have to come together and build a strong national liberation force. It is only in this way that we can defeat the currently ruling hegemonist Woyane and can hinder the possible coming of the backward-looking Amhara unitarists to power.
It is the fact on the ground that both our foes and our misguided friends still do intensify the instrumentalization of the minor ideological conflict we do have for their mission of dividing and weakening the Oromo national liberation camp. They continuously accuse certain part of the Oromo nationalists (the federalists) as being Ethiopianists (as if they are fighting only to democratize Ethiopia, but not to liberate Oromia). Is this true or is it only an allegation? Is it wrong if some Oromo nationalists do apply different rhetoric (if they are double-tongued) as they are sometimes accused to be? What is wrong if these forces of ours talk about Ethiopian democratization (genuine union/true federation) and about Oromian independence, both tactically and strategically, based on the political contexts and situations? Didn’t the Eritrean and South Sudan nationalists move the same way at different times before they could liberate their respective nations and bring them to the level of referendum on: independence vs. union?
To my information, there was a time when the Eritrean liberation forces talked about and almost agreed to settle for federation within the Ethiopian union, but the move had consequently failed because of the stubborn position of the Ethiopian government at that time – which refused to accept this option. South Sudan nationalists also used to talk about autonomy within a united Sudan, to just not lose the support of the Ethiopian government, which wanted Sudan not to be disintegrated. Simply put, the elites of these two nations did use different rhetoric during their struggles. What is wrong if the Oromo nationalists do the same? Why do our foes and our misguided friends blame these Oromo nationals as if they are deceitful? After all, who is an Ethiopianist Oromo in the true sense of the word? Does it include the federalists, who tactically talk about Oromian autonomy within the Ethiopian union as their goal? How can Oromo nationalists, who want to bring the nation to the status of exercising self-determination per referendum, be designated as Ethiopianists?
Specially at this moment, it seems that the Oromo are asking about the feasibility of our own movement for independence. Why did two of our neighbours, Eritrea and South Sudan, succeed, whereas our movement is still suffering from the ongoing disintegration and division of our national liberation camp? Is it because of only our mistakes or are there some other external factors, which have made the difference? Surely, there are many other factors, one of the major ones being the the support the two liberation movements of Eritrea and South Sudan had got from the Arab world (in case of Eritrea) and the Western world, in contrast to the support the Oromo movement is lacking. There is even a strong opposition from the Western world, which our Oromo national liberation movement faces. We all know how the Eritrean liberation movement had been supported by the Arabs, the Italians and by other Western regimes. They had also had a very secure sanctuary in the neighbouring countries like the Sudan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. We also know how South Sudan had been supported by the regimes of America, Britain and other Western countries. South Sudan liberation forces had also had a relatively secure sanctuary in Kenya, Uganda and Zaire. On the contrary, are not the Western forces the supporters of our Abyssinian colonizers, who are working continuously to divide and disintegrate the Oromo national liberation camp? Are not the Oromo national liberation forces denied any sort of sanctuary in the neighbouring countries?
Unfortunately, the Oromo national liberation movement, not only lacks such regional sanctuary and international support, but even both our neighbouring countries and the Western friends of Abyssinia do oppose the attempt of the Oromo to liberate from Abyssinian colonization. Specially, the Western world seems to have an opposite policy in comparison to the policy they had towards South Sudan. In the case of South Sudan, they supported the “Christian” south to be free from the influence of the Arabinized north, whereas in the case of Oromia they tend to support the domination by the Abyssinized (Christian) north on the mainly traditional south, including the Oromo. If they had had no such double standard as usual, they should have supported the national liberation movement of the Oromo from the domination of the Abyssinized north, just as they have done to protect the South Sudan from the Arabinized north.
Despite such lack of consistency in the policy of the Western world, no question that the Oromo nation is one of the biggest African nations – which should be liberated from any sort of colonization or domination. This nation has been under the colonial rule since the conference of the European colonialists in Berlin at the end of the nineteenth century, when they planned the Scramble for Africa. The Abyssinized king Minilik was treated by the European Christians benevolently to have his share of the colony and “to civilize as well as to Christianize” the Oromo and the other non-Christian nations in the southern part of the present Ethiopian empire. Since then, the Oromo and the other occupied nations in the region have been struggling for their national freedom. Particularly, the Oromo are now at the worst colonial situation; we are, not only occupied and oppressed, but also our colonizers are selling our land and our labour to international capitalists for the very dirty cheap price.
Being in such dire situation, Oromo nationalists still seem to enjoy a luxury of quarreling on minor issues like discussing on the conflict ‘Ethiopian democratization vs. Oromian national liberation,’ be it that we use both concepts as a means or as an end of our struggle. It is not surprising when we do observe Woyane cadres persuading us to dwell on such debates and discussions, for they know very well that it is a good way to hinder unity of Oromo national liberation forces from being realized. But interesting is also to observe few of our politicians making the same rhetoric by antagonizing the two concepts again and again. Some of them like to talk and write about this antagony; some of them want to make the conflict be seen as an irreconcilable, also at this first phase of the national liberation struggle. Considering the two phases of our struggle (the first freedom phase and the second referendum phase), we can see that the two concepts will be irreconcilable only during the second phase, in the time of the future voting on them. It seems that we have not yet come to our senses and look at the two concepts, as either a means or an end, that they are not contradictory, but complementary to each other at this moment of the first phase, until we come to the status of exercising our self-determination per referendum.
This difference of outlook regarding the Ethiopian democratization and the Oromian national liberation in the process of the Oromo national struggle had been there from the very beginning of our struggle. Some Oromo nationalists wanted to liberate Oromo from oppression within the Ethiopian context; the others wanted a separate and independent republic of Oromia. Regarding this outlook, it seems that we do now have three political movements in Oromo society:
- the movement of the pro-unity Oromo, who are interested in liberating the Oromo in a sense of democratizing the empire and achieving individual liberty for all citizens, including the Oromo people, disregarding the existence and the necessary emancipation of Oromia. They are not necessarily against the right of the Oromo people to self-determination through referendum, but their wish is to keep the territorial integrity of the empire intact and, if possible, foster a country led by the Oromo. This is the group whom I consider as classical Ethiopianists.
- the pro-federation Oromo, for whom national liberation can be the same as Oromian autonomy within the Ethiopian union (true killil-federation). I think we can designate this group as loyal to Oromia, thus they are not classical Ethiopianists, but they merely use the name Ethiopia for tactical reason as far as they are operating “legally” under the gunpoint of the Abyssinian colonizers or getting support from other non-Oromo forces.
- the pro-independence Oromo, who do believe in and advocate for Oromian independence. To my understanding, many members of the Oromo rebel organizations belong here, even though they may have different rhetoric based on the contexts and situations for tactical reasons. All Oromo nationalists in this group can be considered as Oromianists.
The common denominator for these three movements is freedom of the Oromo people or self-determination of the Oromo people per referendum. Any Oromo individual or group against this right to self-determination can be considered as part and parcel of our colonizers, who do deny us this right; they are simply collaborators. So, we need to differentiate Oromo politicians, who want to have liberated Oromo people within the Ethiopian context from the Abyssinian colonists and their collaborators, who want to oppose our right to self-determination with a pretext of unconditional Ethiopian unity, an euphemism to keep the system of colonization intact. Even Abyssinian forces can be divided into two, based on their position regarding our right to self-determination: Abyssinian democrats, who in principle accept and respect our right to self-determination; and Abyssinian colonialists, who do oppose our right with a pretext of unconditional Ethiopian unity.
So, our enemies are those, who are against our right to self-determination, whereas the above mentioned three Oromo movements and the Abyssinian democrats are not necessarily enemies to each other, as long as they want to liberate Oromo, i.e. as long as they want to bring the Oromo people to the level of exercising self-determination per referendum, making Oromo free from any external influence. After liberating Oromo and bringing us to the status of voting in referendum, be it they achieve that per ballot or by bullet/force, they can agitate for their preferred visions. That means, they can campaign respectively for only democratic Ethiopia, disregarding Oromia (the vision of the pro-unity Oromo); for the Oromian autonomy within the Ethiopian union (internal self-determination), which is the vision of Oromo federalists; and for the Oromian independence within the African union (external self-determination), which is the goal of the pro-independence Oromo. But now, all the three Oromo groups can and should work together in order to get rid of the occupying and oppressing forces of the colonizers. Here, we can also have the empowering alliance with the Abyssinian democrats, specially with the Amhara democrats, whereas I do advise for a caution in trying to work with Tigrean democrats. Such Tigreans may claim to oppose the present regime, but surely they can have a loyalty conflict, when it comes to the domination by their kins.
For the pro-unity Oromo democrats, ‘Ethiopian democratization’ is both a means and an end to realize their vision; whereas for the pro-federation Oromo, it is more a means to their end for they seem to use their explicit objective (Oromian autonomy) as a prelude for the bigger goal (Oromian independence). Despite the fact that democracy under Woyane’s rule is practically impossible, these two Oromo groups just try to instrumentalize the democratization process in order to put pressure on the Tigrean rulers. But, pro-independence Oromo’s explicit goal is crystal clear, even though it seems there is a division on the route (the strategy) they try to take to reach at the goal. This taking different routes is the main area of discord between the different factions of our rebelling national liberation fronts. The difference is not necessarily based on the conflict, ‘Ethiopian democratization vs. Oromian national liberation,’ but on the variety of rhetoric they do use at different times for tactical reasons.
Thus, the difference between Oromo federalists, who are usually painted as “Ethiopianists” by their rivals, and those which are considered as Oromianists, is not as such the matter of being Ethiopianist or Oromianist as our foes and our misguided friends try to convince us. The difference here is that of the evolutionary approach of some nationalists (including their acceptance of Oromian autonomy within the Ethiopian union as a prelude to Oromian independence) and the revolutionary way of the others in trying to achieve the same goal of Oromian national liberation (tendency to advocate independence without a necessary prelude of autonomy within the union). That is why, calling any of such federalists as Ethiopianists is morally and truly wrong. They only differ in a strategy they have chosen towards the same goal. This makes us to hope that all will join certain possible unity of Oromo freedom fighters in due time for the national liberation of Oromia, so that, at the end of the day, we will only have one strong and efficient alliance, which can lead us to the promised land. I don’t see any reason why this artificial difference of goal between the Oromo national liberation forces can be the cause of division. Not only the pro-independence Oromo, but also all the other groups, i.e. the anti-independence and the Oromo who now want to stay neutral till the day of the referendum can now agree on the common purpose of freedom of the Oromo (to liberate the Oromo and bring the nation to the level of referendum).
To fulfill this purpose, I still believe that we have to forge, not only unity of the Oromo national liberation forces, but also an all-inclusive alliance, in order to get rid of the currently ruling fascists and racists. Of course, the alliance can happen only with the national liberation forces of other oppressed nations and with the Amhara democrats, not with the Amhara colonialists, who still salivate to replace the Tigrean colonialists and bring back their own colonial rule. Let’s think at the following metaphor, which I repeatedly used to describe our national liberation journey: we all are now living in Djibouti (under slavery); both the Amhara people and the Oromo people, including all the other minority nationalities are suffering under Woyane’s tyranny. The national liberation journey from Djibouti to Diredawa (to freedom from the fascist Woyane) is the common route for both the Amhara democratic forces and the Oromo national liberation fronts. So, there is nothing which can hinder the alliance of these forces from happening at the moment. The smart politicians from both the Amhara democratic bloc and the Oromo national liberation camp should support such an alliance to get rid of the slavery under the Tigrean colonialists and fascists.
After arriving at Diredawa, the member organizations of the alliance can have either a polity consensus or a public referendum in order to live together in Diredawa (the Ethiopian union with Oromian autonomy). If they may not agree on such consensus or referendum, any move to Adama (Oromian independence = getting rid of Ethiopia) and a further move to Finfinne (a union of independent nations) requires that the Oromo forces be stronger, to be in a position to either compel or convince the Amhara elites. Such same move to the other direction, i.e. to Debremariqos (geography based federation = getting rid of Oromia) and a further move to Bahirdar (a unitary Ethiopia = even getting rid of federation) needs that the Amhara forces be stronger, so that they can either compel or convince the Oromo elites. But, sure is that choosing the alternative of living under the ongoing slavery in Djibouti for both big nations (for the Amhara and the Oromo) is foolishness par excellence. Only the fools of both nations or the smarts of the ruling Woyane fascists do want to keep this status quo by opposing an all-inclusive alliance and by sabotaging the possible unity in respective camps (by sabotaging the respective unity in both the Amhara bloc and the Oromo camp). As far as Oromo nation is concerned, we need the alliance with the Amhara bloc to move to Diredawa; and we should have the unity of the Oromo national liberation forces to be stronger and move further to Adama as well as to Finfinne.
By being stronger and moving to Adama, we can surely make the colonial Abyssinian rulers sing like Al-Bashir, who said: “the ball is in your (in South Sudan’s) court and the decision is yours. If you say unity, welcome; if you also say secession, you are also welcome; and I would like to say: welcome to a new brotherly state. The preferred choice for us is unity, but in the end we will respect the choice of the southern citizens; one would be sad that Sudan has split but also pleased because we witnessed peace.” To come to this level and compel the Abyssinian colonizers to sing like this, the Oromo people have to now concentrate on the burning issue of the national liberation struggle, i.e. on fighting for freedom from the fascists by any means possible, for which both the unity and the alliance are mandatory. I hope that at least Abyssinian democrats will be ready to say: “the preferred choice for us is unity, but at the end, we will accept and respect the choice of Oromian citizens,” unless otherwise their version of democracy excludes the right of big nations, like the Oromo, to self-determination. Of course, we don’t expect such reaction from the Abyssinian colonialists or from the colonial-minded elites.
The way forward from the status quo is thus firstly empowering our Oromo camp, which comprises all the three groups of movements (the pro-independence, the pro-federation and the pro-unity). Now, in the first phase of our national liberation struggle, they all can fight together against the colonialists, and then after the national liberation, in the second phase, they can agitate for their respective vision in order to win in the possible public referendum. That is why the conflict, ‘Ethiopian democratization vs. Oromian national liberation’ at the first phase is not as such irreconcilable. We do surely have irreconcilable conflict with our colonizers and with their collaborators, who are against our right to self-determination, but not with pro-unity Oromo, not with pro-federation Oromo or not even with Amhara democrats. Let alone the mentioned different Oromo forces, even other organizations, including the currently oppressed Amhara democratic forces, which do accept and respect our right to self-determination, are welcome to foster alliance with us to compel the Woyane fascists to leave power in Finfinne palace.
The difference between Oromo nationalists, who do oppose the alliance with Amhara forces and those who do support the alliance, is because of the tendency of those who oppose the alliance to concentrate only on the Amhara colonizers’ rejection of our right to self-determination, whereas those who support the alliance do look at the chance of the alliance with the Amhara democrats’ support of our right. But, both the anti-alliance Oromo nationalists and the pro-alliance Oromo nationalists should try to make a consensus and have the same and similar stand, i.e. they have to say ‘no’ to the alliance with the colonial forces, but say ‘yes’ to the one with the democratic forces. That means, we have to be able to discern between the two Amhara forces (between the colonizers and the democrats), instead of quarreling on this issue of opposing or supporting the alliance with the Amhara forces.
I think the future decolonized and democratized Oromia, with its tradition of Gadaa democracy, will be the center of an emission for a radiation of the bright light of democracy in the future United States of Africa (USA) based on the mere fact that Finfinne will be the seat of the upcoming Union Government of Africa (UGA). On the contrary, any attempt of keeping this great nation of Africa under Abyssinian occupation and oppression will continue to be a curse for the Horn region in particular, and for the African continent in general. That is why I want to encourage all Oromo national liberation movements (the pro-independence, the pro-federation and the pro-unity) to work together now, in order to liberate the Oromo nation from the occupying forces and bring the nation to the state of exercising self-determination per referendum, which can result into one of the three goals of the three movements: to the democratic Ethiopia devoid of Oromia as the pro-unity Oromo wish, to the federated and democratic Ethiopia with Oromian autonomy as the pro-federation Oromo want, and to an independent democratic republic of Oromia as the pro-independence Oromo envision. But, when I see the tendency of the Oromo community now, I am almost certain that the majority of the Oromo people will vote for Oromian independence.
That is why, I do see no reason for these Oromo groups to attack each other at this first phase of our struggle – where we need, not only the alliance/unity of the Oromo forces, but also seek the alliance with other forces. Let those Oromo groups, which believe in the unity, forge it; let those, which think the alliance is advantageous, also do it; and let those, which oppose either of the two or reject both of them, also move forward against the colonizers without antagonizing the other Oromo national liberation forces, but by organizing a supportive tandem activity against our archenemy, i.e. against the Abyssinian colonizers. We need to see the fact that, until we come to the level of exercising our self-determination per referendum, both concepts (Ethiopian democratization and Oromian national liberation), as a means and/or as an end, are not irreconcilable and contradictory to each other as our foes want to convince us, but they are complementary to each other. There is nothing wrong if our national liberation forces talk about the two concepts for tactical reason under different contexts and situations. The two concepts are irreconcilable only in the second phase, i.e. during the referendum, where we have to vote on them, but not now, when we are fighting for our freedom. May our Waaqa/Rabbi help us to understand this fact that the conflict is reconcilable in the first national liberation phase, but not to believe the fancy, that it is irreconcilable also in this phase, the fiction, which is created and transmitted by our foes just to divide and rule us. May He help all the Oromo national liberation forces to foster at least the beneficial Alliance for Freedom of the Oromo (AFO)/Tumsa Bilisummaa Oromo (TBO) in order to make the Oromo camp forceful and competent to deal with the current challenges.
* Fayyis Oromia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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