By Asafa Jalata, PhD*
Every society has its unique central organizing and ruling ideology and theoretical models in a given historical epoch that it uses as its lenses to look at and interpret the world and to survive freely, and advance its civilization or ways of life without disruption from within and without. Ideology plays many roles in a society, and its essential function is to define and promote the political, material and cultural interests of a group, a nation, a social class, a state or other entities. Before the Oromo were colonized, they had also their central organizing and ruling ideology and theoretical models that were embedded in the gadaa civilization that organized and guided them as a society socially, culturally, religiously, politically, militarily, and economically. I advance the idea that without retrieving and developing the best elements of this civilization, the Oromo cannot fully develop Oromummaa (national culture, identity, and ideology) as their organizing and central ideology and their theoretical models of liberation to empower themselves as a nation in the 21st century by recognizing and overcoming the devastating ideologies, behaviors, and theoretical models of their oppressors that have confused and disempowered them.
Despite the fact that Oromo nationalists are proud of their democratic tradition of the gadaa system and its egalitarian principles, they did not yet critically and adequately study, and ideologically and theoretically incorporate their best elements of this tradition to their nationalist narratives and practices. These nationalists have uncritically adapted the knowledge, theories, and ideologies that they have learned from colonial education and oppositional theories, such as Marxism, that do not neatly fit to the Oromo condition. I argue that the major reason why Oromo liberation organizations, particularly the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), could not yet develop a coherent ideology and organization emerge from the contradictions between the ideologies and theories that Oromo nationalists have borrowed, and the gadaa ideology and theory that the Oromo masses manifest in their daily lives. Without developing an Orommummaa ideology and a gadaa theoretical model that will appeal to the ordinary Oromo, it is very difficult to raise their political consciousness, organize them, and build a formidable organizational capacity that can challenge the Ethiopian colonial state that is supported by global imperialism and the imperial interstate system.
The Oromo national movement is engaged in the politics of liberation that is rooted on Oromo values, beliefs, ideas or ideologies that reflect the Oromo national identity and political interests. Oromummaa, as the Oromo national ideology, defines and promotes the Oromo political, material and cultural interests to develop an Oromo political community and transform it into a state through destroying all powers and ideologies, mainly Ethiopianism, that have been keeping the Oromo society under colonialism and political slavery by all possible ways. Ethiopianism has been imposed on the Oromo via physical coercion, including terrorism and mental genocide. All forms of domination, including colonial domination, cannot be practiced without imposing “a structure of meaning that [reflect] its leading beliefs, values, and ideas;” the process through which the dominated internalizes the ideology, worldview, culture, and mentality of the rulers as natural order is called ideological hegemony. In order to consolidate the Oromo national movement, it is necessary to recognize its ideological and theoretical inadequacies and overcome them. The triple ideological problems of the Oromo national movement are Ethiopianism, and the failed ideologies and theories of the East and the West in the Horn of Africa that have victimized the Oromo people.
The Inadequacy of Borrowed Ideologies and Theories
The Oromo national struggle is taking place when the modern world system is at a crossroads, and when the modernization perspective of the West and the so-called socialist/communist model of the East have drastically failed in the peripheral part of the world, such as Oromia, Ethiopia, and the Horn of Africa. On one hand, the modernization theory that has claimed that all societies would gradually develop by becoming “modern” under the leadership of powerful capitalist countries is proved to be false and a self-serving ideology of Western countries and their client states in the Rest of the world. On the other hand, the socialist perspective that has asserted that, since the capitalist world system has been reactionary and exploitative, and it should be overthrown by a revolutionary means under the leadership of the working class dictatorship, has become a version of the modernization model and ended up in failure in the peripheral part of the world.
As the policies of the West, particularly that of the US, have promoted colonialism, neocolonialism and dictatorship, and contributed to underdevelopment and gross human rights violations, the policies of the former Soviet Union and currently that of China have contributed to the same problems in the Ethiopian Empire. For the Oromo, both the capitalist and the socialist ideological and theoretical models, have contributed to their colonization, terrorization and impoverishment. Western countries, particularly England, France, Italy, and later the United States, and the so-called socialist countries, mainly the former Soviet Union and China, have supported the successive colonial governments of Ethiopia, and have immensely contributed to the dehumanization and the suffering of the Oromo and other colonized and oppressed peoples. So the question is: what has happened to the West’s proclaimed liberal democracy and the protection of human rights, and the East’s socialist principles that have claimed to eliminate injustices and exploitation under the dictatorship of the working class?
The Oromo case demonstrates that the idea that the West would advance capitalist development, liberal democracy, and human freedoms and rights in the Rest of the world is intended to hide the crimes committed against humanity in different corners of the world by states and transnational corporations. In the capitalist civilization, dominant ethno-nations, classes, corporations, institutions, and powerful individuals who have controlled state power for the last five hundred years have created and maintained two sides of the same world: One version of this world is “heavenly” or paradise, and the other one is “hellish” or torturous. The process in the capitalist world system, that has created and maintained the wealthier and healthier societies, and is metaphorically called above heavenly, has also produced the impoverished and suffering societies both in the West and the Rest through various forms of violence and continued subjugation. The conditions of indigenous Americans, Australians, Oromo, Palestinians, and others demonstrate this reality.
Out of about 7 billion world population, more than “three billion people live on less than two dollars a day … Eight hundred and forty million people in the world don’t have enough to eat. Ten million children die every year from easily preventable diseases. AIDS is killing three million people a year and is still spreading. One billion people in the world lack access to clean water; two billion lack access to sanitation. One billion adults are illiterate. About a quarter of the children in the poor countries do not finish primary school.” Most of these impoverished and suffering peoples are the descendants of colonial subjects. Those rich and powerful classes, and well-to-do ethno-nations ignore the devastating consequences of absolute poverty and associated violence on the indigenous and stateless people in the world. The Oromo, as one of the colonized and stateless peoples, are the most impoverished, uneducated, and suffering colonial subjects.
In the capitalist world system, the processes of societal destruction and construction have occurred and maintained through various forms of violence and other mechanisms. The ways of the colonial state formations and the destruction of indigenous peoples have simultaneously occurred. Despite the fact that those who have created and maintained this kind of unjust world have claimed to promote justice, democracy, security, fairness, the rule of law, equality, fraternity, and human rights, the processes that we have mentioned above have continued. Religious ideologies, such as Christianity and Islam, and the political ideologies of democracy and socialism could not help in overcoming human greediness and ethno-national/racial, class and gender hierarchies and oppression that have been established and maintained through various forms of violence, including terrorism and genocide. In fact, these ideologies are sometimes used to hide terrorism, genocide and gross human rights violation. Most people, including the Oromo, still cling to these failed ideologies and theories because “every individual is … in a two-fold sense predetermined by the fact of growing up in a society: on the one hand he [or she] finds a ready-made situation and on the other he [or she] in that situation performed patterns of thought and of conduct.” By using the ideologies and theories of the oppressors, however, human groups cannot bring about a fundamental social transformation to change their deplorable conditions.
What is disappointing about humanity is that one time the so-called revolutionaries and progressive forces that engaged in promoting the ideology of revolution as an emancipatory project had changed their minds after they captured state power in the former Soviet Union, China, and other the so-called socialist countries and started to develop state capitalism to accumulate more capital/wealth at any cost. These countries implemented their ideological and economic policies through all forms of violence, including terror, torture, and genocide, as imperialist countries have done. As the system of the West, the so-called socialist system has combined dictatorship, all forms of violence and repression, and gross human rights violations and has drastically failed to implement what it promised. As powerful capitalist countries and their collaborators have practically opposed liberal democracy in poor countries, the so-called socialist countries have worked against democracy, equality, and social justice. Without an egalitarian democracy and popular participation of ordinary people, a society cannot build a better society. Knowingly or unknowingly, most Oromo nationalists are influenced either by the failed ideologies of liberal democracy or by the aborted ideology of socialism. Above all, the Oromo national movement is going on when the capitalist world system is facing deep crises because of its ideological and cultural crises, when the models or perspectives of capitalism and socialism have failed in the peripheral part of the world, when religious fundamentalism, in the form of Christianity or Islam, is flourishing, and when the future of this world system is not clear. All these factors raise fundamental ideological and theoretical challenges to the Oromo national struggle.
The engineers of the capitalist world system have used modernization theory, Christian absolutism, and the claim of Euro-American racial or cultural superiority to explain and justify the capitalist civilization that they have constructed and maintained on the destruction of world indigenous peoples. The liberation and development of indigenous peoples like the Oromo is impossible under these conditions because “development requires the removal of major sources of unfreedom: poverty as well as tyranny, poor economic opportunities as well as systematic social deprivation, neglect of public facilities as well as intolerance of or over activity of repressive states. Despite unprecedented increases in over all opulence, the contemporary world denies elementary freedom to vast numbers—perhaps even the majority—of people.” The Oromo, who enjoyed an egalitarian democracy, although not perfect, prior to their colonization, have been denied all forms of freedom by successive Ethiopian colonial governments and their global supporters. Unfortunately, the harsh socio-economic and political conditions are also making the Oromo the targets of Christian and Islamic fundamentalists. Consequently, currently there are Oromo who are abandoning their culture and nationalism, and imitate Franji or Arab fundamentalists by claiming religious commitment and focusing on the life after death.
Above all, the modern capitalist system is changing very fast and drastically; existing national and international institutions, such as states, international organizations, and transnational corporations are incapable of adequately dealing with the emerging cultural, political, ecological, economic and technological challenges. Those who are immensely benefiting from the current system are trying to maintain status quo by using all forms of violence, including terrorism, and those who want reform or change are engaging in all forms of resistances and different forms of social movements that deal with issues of ethno-national/racial problems as well as environmental and human rights issues. At the same time, religious fundamentalists, mainly Christian and Islamic fundamentalists, try to pull back the wheel of history to return societies to what they call “golden eras.” However, since most people know about such golden eras, some fanatics and true believers buy their narratives.
The fast changes that are taking place currently include developments in communications and information technologies that collapse space and time, changes in military technology and the nature of warfare, changes in political and economic structures, processes of environmental degradation and the possible depletion of natural resources, unbalanced imperial interstate relations, and the declining of the legitimacy of national and supranational governance, the emergence of national and global forces as anti-systemic movements, and the failure or inadequacy of some peripheral states because of their lack of domestic legitimacy and external interventions. Similarly, the Oromo national movement is confronted with global ideological and religious crises, and, consequently, Oromo political and intellectual leaders and organizations lack an ideological roadmap and a coherent theoretical model. The attempts of Oromo nationalists and leaders to uncritically borrow certain ideologies and theoretical models from the West and other societies without knowing the social and cultural history, worldview, philosophy, and political thought of their people have created a very dangerous situation for the survival and liberation of the nation in the twenty first century.
The Need for Ideological and theoretical Clarity
In their history, the Oromo have lived under two forms of socio-political orders: The first one was sovereign, democratic, more or less peaceful and secure, although not perfect. The Oromo liberation ideology and theoretical model must emerge from these socio-cultural and historical foundations. Before they were colonized during the last decades of the nineteenth century, the Oromo were governed by an egalitarian democratic order called the gadaa system that encapsulated all aspects of Oromo cultural, political, military, social, and economic, religious, and philosophical perspectives. The second one has been a colonial order characterized by terror, physical and mental genocide, political slavery, illiteracy, and impoverishment.
By committing “the genocide of the mind,” the intellectual perspectives of the colonialists and imperialists have misled Oromo intellectuals and nationalists to ignore their indigenous socio-cultural foundations and borrow and the theoretical and ideological models of the East or the West that do not have relevance for the Oromo situation. Since the Oromo people have not been represented in academic, media, and government institutions, their voices have been muzzled and hidden and most people, including Oromo students, are still misinformed and know little about the Oromo and their institutions. Explaining the similar conditions of indigenous Americans, MariJo Moore argues, the colonialists and their descendants have committed “genocide of the mind” on the surviving indigenous Americans “to destroy and/or misrepresent the histories, futures, languages, and traditional thoughts of Native peoples.” Similarly, the Habasha colonialists not only occupied the Oromo country, but they have also controlled the Oromo mind and framed they way Oromo think, act, and behave. Consequently, some Oromo still identify themselves with Ethiopians knowingly or unknowingly, and work against the Oromo national interest ideologically, politically, militarily, and culturally.
Even most Oromo nationalists did not yet achieve total mental liberation by overcoming the devastating effects of the genocide of the mind that Ethiopian colonialism and its supporter, global imperialism, have imposed on them. After studying many forms of civilizations, I have reached to the conclusion that Oromummaa that is based on the best elements of the gadaa civilization, worldview, egalitarian democracy, and justice for all can help Oromo nationalists to overcome the ideological and theoretical confusions that attempt to hijack or abort the Oromo struggle for liberation, sovereignty, peace, and security. Since there are many external and internal forces that directly or indirectly stifling the development of Orommummaa through undermining the restoration of gadaa, what should the genuine Oromo nationalists do?
Practicing Gadaa and Developing Oromummaa, and the Theory of Liberation
Gadaa is the central source of Oromo politics, philosophy, wisdom, worldview, moral values, ethics, laws, and customs from which Oromummaa emerges and develops as the intellectual, ideological, and theoretical powerhouse of the Oromo nation. Since Oromo nationalism is not yet fully grounded in gadaa, it is corrupted by alien ideologies and theories that contradict the Oromo fundamental values and democratic principles. Because of such corruption and the lack of a clear ideological and theoretical approach, the Oromo national movement is currently stifled and misused by misguided Oromo and other forces that are against the Oromo national interest. Therefore, I am more convinced that Oromo nationalists, who are determined to advance the Oromo liberation and emancipation, must return to the source of the gadaa civilization that still survives in the minds and hearts of the ordinary Oromo. As Amilcar Cabral notes, “the question of a ‘return to the source’ or of a ‘cultural renaissance’ doe not arise and could not arise for the masses of these people, for it they who are the repository of the culture and at the same time the only social sector who can preserve and build it up and make history.”
Since the Oromo society has been the repository of gadaa principles and practices, between 1991 and 1992, when the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) appeared on the Ethiopian political platform by joining the Tigrayan-led Ethiopian Transitional Government, hearing about democracy and gadaa and seeing Odaa on the OLF flag, the majority of the Oromo supported this organization claiming kaayyoon deebitee (our freedom returned). Unfortunately, the OLF had no adequate strategies and tactics, and organizational capacity to use gadaa principles and practices in organizing and empowering the Oromo people to struggle for their liberation and emancipation as a nation. Using these weaknesses as a political opportunity and realizing and fearing the Oromo political potential, with the support of Eritrea and the West, particularly the US, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and its surrogate organizations attacked the OLF and diminished its capacity, humiliated the Oromo people, postponed the Oromo liberation and emancipation, and continued Ethiopian colonialism under the Tigrayan leadership.
Although a lot of progress has been made in developing Oromummaa, now the Oromo national movement must focus on the mental liberation of the Oromo people to fundamentally break the colonization of their minds and enable the entire society to own and engage in their own liberation and emancipation project rather than being passive observers and reluctant supporters. This is only possible by fully developing Oromummaa by restoring gadaa, building civic organizations, and improving Oromo political culture. Oromummaa is above the individual, regional and religious identities; it is the foundation of Oromo survival, and without it, the Oromo cannot practice their culture and religions freely and promote their national interests. Based on the accumulated past traditions, knowledge, and wisdom, Oromummaa also introduces an ideological and theoretical innovation and facilitates the emergence and development of new cultural elements. As Gramsci explains, “Creating a new culture does not only mean one’s own individual ‘original’ discoveries. It also … means the diffusion in a critical form of truths already discovered … and even making them the basis of vital action, an element of coordination and intellectual and moral order.”
In reviving the best Oromo cultural elements and diffusing “a critical form of truths already discovered,” Oromo nationalist intellectuals have a central role; such committed scholars must unearth the Oromo past and provide a critical theoretical guidance for the development of Oromummaa. Again Gramsci asserts that “one could only have cultural stability and an organic quality of thought if there had existed the same unity between the intellectuals and the simple as there should be between theory and practice. That is, if the intellectuals had been organically the intellectuals of those masses, and if they had worked out and made coherent the principles and the problems raised by the masses in their practical activity, thus constituting a cultural and social bloc.” Recognizing the role of committed intellectuals at this time of tribulation in the Oromo national struggle, some Oromo nationalists demand that the Oromo Studies Association should find a solution by participating in the struggle.
Despite the fact that the Oromo recognize the values of competence, intelligence, hard work, moral authority, patriotism, bravery, self-sacrifice, respect for the rule of law, and achievements because of their gadaa tradition, in the contemporary Oromo society these qualities are dwindling. History demonstrates that all gadaa leaders emerged based on these values and other criteria, and these values and other criteria are also very important for now and the future. Unfortunately, many or some of these qualities are missing in most Oromo intellectual and political leaders today. These Oromo leaders are challenged to maintain organic unity with fellow Oromo to further flourish Oromummaa through developing political consciousness, coherent ideology and theory, and worldview. It is very clear that Oromo intellectuals and political leaders have been pulled away from their people by the colonization of their minds, and they lack knowledge, experience, wisdom, and expertize of organizing their people.
In order to develop their Oromummaa and develop their knowledge and skills for establishing organic unity with their society, Oromo intellectual and political leaders and other activists should overcome their internalization of victimization, alienation, arrogance, individualism, and appreciate and promote team or collective work by replacing the knowledge for domination and self-aggrandizement by the knowledge for liberation and emancipation, which is congruent with gadaa values and principles. The restoration of such values and principles for liberation and emancipation in movements are the product of “heroic courage and contributions of thousands of largely unsung heroes and heroines.” We know a few names of those leaders who ignited the fire of Oromummaa by sacrificing their precious lives, but we do not know the names of thousands Oromo nationalists who have been killed or assassinated, tortured, punished by life imprisonments, crippled or blinded, and raped by the enemies of the Oromo people.
In Oromia, the main roadblock for restoring gadaa and developing Oromummaa is the Ethiopian colonial government that has imposed political slavery on the Oromo by denying them the freedom of organization and association for more than a century. But, the Ethiopian government did not or does not have absolute power to prevent the Oromo people from organizing themselves because Oromo nationalists could create the Macha Tulama Self-Association in the early 1960s openly and the Oromo Liberation Front in the early 1970s clandestinely. Hence, the Oromo have the power to organize civic and political organizations in Oromia clandestinel, despite the brutality of the Ethiopian political system, and in the Diaspora openly and intensify the Oromo national struggle. So why don’t the Oromo have effective civic institutions and political organizations both at home and in the Diaspora today?
Lack of Effective Civic Institutions and Political Organizations
We need to critically and thoroughly answer the question asked above to adequately know why the Oromo lack today effective civic institutions and organizations. Four issues are identified and explained below in answering this question. First, Oromo nationalists have made a serious mistake to focus on politics without recognizing the importance of civic institutional building and for subordinating civic culture to that of politics. Consequently, when the politics went wrong after the early 1990s, there were no strong independent civic institutions that could have challenged the Oromo political leadership and forced them to make a transparent and accountable national decision. Without a strong civic national association or civic organization, Oromo nationalists did not have a platform for national debate and discussion to build national consensus. Based on their narrow perspectives, different Oromo groups started to take different ineffective actions. Under these conditions, it was easy for the Oromo political leadership and the enemies to divide, weaken and disorganize Oromo communities for different objectives.
Second, since Oromummaa, as a national culture, nationalism, and an ideology, has not yet fully developed, some of the Oromo have been easily manipulated by regional or clan or religious propaganda of power hunger Oromo individuals and the enemies. The Oromo political and intellectual leadership has ideologically, theoretically, and organizationally spontaneity and incoherence because it lacked political maturity and experience. Under these conditions, competing Oromo ideological narratives that are anarchist, contradictory, and problematic stifled the development of the Oromo national movement. Third, every society is organized and functions around its dominant preferred self-image, which is determined by its dominant forces; this self-image unites a people or a nation as an identifiable entity.
The ideological self-image on which all Oromo agree is Oromo democracy, known as gadaa, and Afaan Oromoo (the Oromo language) that must be recognized and celebrated in the national ideology of Oromummaa. Ideology mainly works in two ways: social cement and social control. As social cement, ideology is the social force that binds society together by providing a framework in which social action can happen; as social control, ideology has a more direct and coercive effects on social actors by focusing on policing the social structure of a society. Consequently, the development of national Oromummaa facilitates the consolidation of the Oromo unity and stops those forces that undermine this unity from within and without. National ideology, such as Oromummaa, “is a process which links socio-economic reality to individual consciousness. It establishes a conceptual framework, which results in specific uses of mental concepts, and gives rises to our ideas of ourselves. In other words, the structure of our thinking about the social world, about ourselves and about our role within that world, is related by ideology ultimately to socio-economic conditions.”
The Oromo nationalist ideology and national culture cannot be built on simple emotions without the restoration of the best elements of the Oromo traditions, such as the gadaa, and its democratic principles and the rule of law. The borrowed ideologies of modernization and Marxism could not effectively help in organizing the Oromo society. Third, Oromo intellectuals and politicians are not entirely modernists or Marxists, and do not know and practice their own democratic tradition. If Oromo intellectuals and politicians want to promote the Oromo national interest, they do not have choice except becoming organic intellectuals who know their own traditions and develop them intelligently, and borrow other models that may help in facilitating the liberation and emancipation of the Oromo society.
Fourth, existing Oromo institutions, such as Churches and Mosques, are not Oromo-centric, and they focus on the life after death as well as on the culture, ideology, and values of the West and the Middle East, respectively. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther Kink criticized this position by combining the social and otherworldly gospel in leading the Civil Rights Movement, and by expressing that the church has an obligation to deal with moral and ethical issues in society as “the voice of moral and spiritual authority on earth” and as “the guardian of the moral and spiritual life in the community.” He seriously criticized the white church for ignoring its social mission and supporting American apartheid, colonialism, the racial caste system, and the underdevelopment of Black America. Like Martin Luther King, Jr., the Reverend Gudina Tumsa, without fear of death, stood up against Ethiopian colonialism and dictatorship without hiding under the ideology of Christian fundamentalism. The Ethiopian military regime imprisoned and killed him. At this movement, the Oromo do not have other Gudina Tumsa’s.
As Martin Luther King did, Malcolm X developed the revolutionary Black nationalism and challenged the white establishment in the US by mobilizing the African American material, intellectual and ideological resources, and tried to develop a new direction for the African American struggle. His Islam religion did not prevent him from fighting for the liberation of his people. He insisted that African Americans should rethink about their past experience by recognizing the importance of history and criticism, and by overcoming “the confusion and inaction which resulted from the internalization of the racist ruling class’s view of the world.” The Oromo had also revolutionary religious Muslim scholars, such as Sheik Bakari Saphalo, who died in a refugee camp in Somalia, and Dr. Sheik Muhammad Rashad Abdulle, who recently passed away.
Such Oromo nationalist religious scholars are almost absent in Oromo society today. Both Christian and Islam fundamentalists misdirect young Oromo men and women by focusing on the other world or life after death at the cost of ignoring the Oromo national struggle. In reality, all European Christians and almost all Muslims have their own countries that they rarely share with co-religionist refugees. If Christian and Islamic fundamentalists believe in what they teach, they should have struggled against their own governments and their geopolitical boundaries to open them for other peoples. So why do they teach and mislead innocent Oromo with something they do not believe in it? What are the factors that pacified and disorganized the Oromo?
Public Passivism and Disorganization
We know that the Oromo were effectively organized in all aspects of life and maintained their sovereignty, security, and peace for many centuries until they were colonized. So what factors have prevented them to repeat this history? There are many fundamental reasons for this, but the main reason is the lack of national civic institutions, and an effective political organization or organizations that can raise their political consciousness or Oromummaa and organize them to fight for their liberation and emancipation. Without effective national civic institutions, political organizations, and an effective military establishment, a society cannot defend itself from those who are organized and ready to attack, terrorize, and kill to expropriate their resources.
Almost all the Oromo love gadaa because it empowered the Oromo nation to have political freedom and their country. In the early 1990s, most Oromo believed that the OLF would repeat this reality because it restored some gadaa symbols and declared about democracy, the sacred principle of the Oromo nation. After bringing hope to the Oromo people between 1991 and 1992, the OLF was attacked and weakened by the TPLF, Eritrean and Western powers because it could not build an organizational capacity – both politically and militarily. Furthermore, because of the ideological and political immaturity of the Oromo political elites and the absence of the national leadership that could build the OLF through dialogue and national consensus, the organization, that the Oromo people thought as the rebirth of gadaa, was partitioned and owned by self-proclaimed leaders who started to see themselves as organizations. In addition, several elites started to create their mini-organizations to seek political power rather than empowering the Oromo people.
All of these political factions have brought disgrace to themselves and to the Oromo nation. When thousands of Oromo openly joined the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO) of the TPLF without any fear and shame, most of the Oromo have become passive and demobilized. Consequently, the TPLF has engaged in terrorism, genocide, and expropriation of Oromo lands and other resources. One would expect that Oromo nationalists would recognize these dangers, and work in collective to overcome their conflicts and divisions through national dialogue and consensus based on the Oromo democratic traditions and revolutionary commitment. So what should the Oromo nationalists do now to overcome public passivism and institutional and organizational ineffectiveness in the Oromo society?
Overcoming Public Passivism and Institutional and Organizational Ineffectiveness
The raising of Oromummaa consciousness and formulating the theory of liberation to build of institutional and organizational capacity, and to empower the Oromo nation require some committed, determined and hardworking activists who are ready to sacrifice their intellectual and material resources and when it is necessary. Such activists must engage in study and recognize in rebuilding Oromo national civic institutions and political organizations based on the rule of law and gadaa principles.
I believe that we must reinvent the Macha Tulama Association and the OLF based on gadaa principles, and we cannot afford to be divided into different small political organizations that follow different political trajectories. Above all, all Oromo nationalists, who left the OLF and formed other organizations, should engage in an open national dialogue and consensus building to resolve existing political contradictions and try to reinvent the OLF based on the principles of gadaa and Oromummaa. Furthermore, Oromo communities should build independent associations in the Diaspora and in Oromia that will be linked to national institutions and organizations without being subordinated. The Oromo must avoid subordinating their associations to political organizations to avoid past mistakes. For example, the OLF misused the political goodwill of the Union of Oromo Students in North America in the 1990s because its members agreed to be its mass association. When the OLF opened its office in Washington, DC, it started to discredit and disorganize the union. Independent associations and civic institutions can stop political organizations from making serious strategic and tactical blunders. If the Oromo had strong associations and institutions, they could have prevented the Oromo national movement, particularly the OLF, from making tragic mistakes in the 1990s and later.
Discussion and Conclusion
History demonstrates that the survival of a people depends on their collective consciousness, organization, and the capacity to militarily defend themselves from their common enemies that would like to subjugate them or commit genocide on them to expropriate their homeland and other resources. Consequently, the survival and liberation of the Oromo mainly depend on the capacity to fully develop Oromummaa that is enshrined in gadaa principles to restore their accumulated historical and cultural knowledge for developing strategies and tactics, and for liberating Oromia. In other words, the Oromo must fully develop Oromummaa as their national ideology and power in order to have economic, military, and organizational resources that are required for empowering the nation and restoring the Oromo state.
In order to defeat Ethiopianism and its colonial structures and determine their national destiny, the Oromo must first develop Oromummaa as their national ideological power. According to Mostafa Rejai, ideology covers five dimensions, namely the cognitive, the affective, the evaluative, the programmatic, and the social base. Oromummaa as the cognitive dimension helps in understanding the social and political conditions of the Oromo; as a national ideology “it appeals to sentiments and strives to elicit an emotional response from its followers … ‘what gives ideology its force is its passion … in fact, the most important, latent, function of ideology is to tap emotion.” Ideology justifies or denounces an existing social and political order; in its attempt to advance an alternative order, it “is designed to … transform an existing social and political order, it attempts to evoke a sense of rage, injustice, and moral protest against its counterparts.”
Similarly, Oromumma as the embodiment of the gadaa democratic principles exposes the crimes of Ethiopianism, and promotes freedom and justice. The programmatic dimension of ideology “focuses on how each ideology strives to translate values into active commitments. Each ideology sets forth … a hierarchy of values and objectives, and each sometimes includes statements of priorities identifying immediate, intermediate, and ultimate goals.” In the same fashion, Oromummaa provides a plan of action in implementing Oromo democratic values and revolutionary commitments in the Oromo national movement. As every ideology has its social-base dimension to have mass appeal, Oromummaa has the Oromo national base that it mobilizes for action. The transformation of Oromo resistance struggles to form the Macha Tulama Self Association in the early 1960s and the OLF in the early 1970s, and the objective of the Oromo struggle for liberation and emancipation are still correct objectives that have yielded some results for the Oromo nation. The central objective of the Oromo struggle has been the empowering of the Oromo people to determine their destiny by having their political power that reflect and practice gadaa principles.
The attempt to delegitimize the objective of the Oromo liberation from without and within in the names of the pseudo objectives of democracy, citizenship, and federation violates the vision of Oromummaa that is engrained in the gadaa philosophy, values, and practices. The Oromo do not request democracy, self-determination, and sovereignty from the Ethiopian colonial state since they can only achieve them through fully developing Oromummaa and building the national organizational capacity based on the best elements of their traditions. Borrowing ideologies without clearly developing Oromummaa and formulating a theory of liberation based on the Oromo democratic tradition, the Oromo national movement cannot overcome its current ideological crises and political paralysis. Oromummaa celebrates the Oromo collective self-interest that is built on the foundation of Oromo social and political institutions. When we do not understand that the individual and the collective self-interests of the Oromo are interconnected, we ignore to engage in civic engagement for public or greater good of the Oromo society assuming that we can achieve our individual-interests. When an Oromo takes this position, he or she develops an essentially destructive ideology and develops a rapacious and predatory interest at the cost of other Oromo. Civic engagement helps in going beyond a narrow circle and transcending the private by engaging with a wider Oromo public for the Oromo national interest. It refers to “people’s connections with the life of their communities” through building trust among diverse individuals by overcoming their suspicions and isolations. “Trustworthiness lubricates social life. Frequent interaction among a diverse set of people tends to produce a norm of generalized reciprocity. Civic engagement and social capital entail mutual obligation and responsibility of action.”
Increased trust, social contact and interaction further develop and widen “our awareness of the many ways in which we are linked” and increase “tolerance and empathy.” Just mere connections are not enough for building trust, but there must be the capacity for civic engagement through participation in giving speeches, running meetings, managing disagreements, and bearing administrative responsibilities. The connections based in trust involve friendship, respect, truth, charity, humanity, liberty, patriotism, benevolence, brotherly and sisterly love, justice, and fairness. Political activism and civic engagement plays two essential roles in society: First, they help identify and overcome weaknesses of social institutions and social interaction. Second, they empower citizens by overcoming a failure of institutions. They must be practiced on a common denominator.
Civic engagement and the development of Oromummaa are interconnected. Oromummaa must be built on a common ground since the Oromo people are a diverse and a multi-religious society. “The more enduring and the more basic the common ground, the more substantial the connection; the more we identify with what is, or is felt to be, essential in the other, the more meaningful we experience our connection to be. When this more essential identification develops, then we no longer relate as strangers. We feel secure in the connection with the other and less alone in a world of people who are essentially different from us. While the Oromo are fully developing Oromummaa, engaging in civic action, and building institutions, they can build alliance with other colonized and oppressed peoples who are struggling for national liberation. Finally, the Oromo should realize that in addition to having developing their central ideology of Oromummaa and building organizational capacity “Victory has often come to the side of the actor with the deepest commitment to a cause and the greatest capacity to withstand exceedingly high costs for lengthy periods.”
* Dr. Asafa Jalata, Professor of Sociology, Global Studies, and Africana Studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has authored and/or edited eight books, published several referred articles, and contributed chapters to quite a few books on issues related to the Oromo people and Oromia.