By Tesfaye Kebede*
Blogger Derese Getachew wrote an article titled “An Oromo Obama: The Audacity to Reinvent Ethiopia,” on the newly opened website, Addis Neger Online. In this article, the writer claims that the Oromo Nationalist camp’s decolonization project in Ethiopia is “self-defeating,” thus this camp should instead work to democratize Ethiopia. It is very encouraging that the writer dared to discuss one of the most contentious issues gripping the Ethiopian empire since the reconfiguration of Ethiopia some seven scores of years ago. More discussions on the topic of “decolonization” and “democratization” will be given below and, at the same time, efforts will be made to point out where Mr. Getachew’s train of thought may have derailed in the above article.
“Decolonization Vs. Democratization”, OR “Decolonization and Democratization”
While discussing decolonization, and even liberation, as a process, the writer seems to suggest that decolonization is equivalent to disintegration. Therefore, the writer says, the Oromo nation, as the largest nation in Ethiopia, should not advocate for the decolonization (i.e. disintegration) of Ethiopia, but for the democratization of Ethiopia.
Decolonization is the process of getting rid of a system of domination in order to effect the right to self-determination of a people; in most cases, but not all, such a process results in a sovereign state. Other possibilities include federal and confederal arrangements, which ensure self-rule in conflicted territories. Therefore, it is important to distinguish the process of “decolonization” from one of the possible end results of decolonization, namely becoming a sovereign state.
Furthermore, in Mr. Getachew’s article “decolonization” and “democratization” are presented as two competing forces such that one of them has to disappear into oblivion in order for the other to be realized in Ethiopia. For instance, the writer says:
“In spite of [emphasis added] taking up this leading role to the democratization of greater Ethiopia, however, much of the discourse within Oromo nationalism is framed on the project of ‘decolonization’.”
However, the notion that “decolonization” and “democratization” are two opposing forces is wrong. “Decolonization” and “democratization” come one after the other, in that distinct order. Actually, what the writer is advocating – i.e. democratizing the greater Ethiopia – will not be fully realized before the decolonization process takes place in the greater Ethiopia, including Oromia. Failure to do so leads to the disintegration of Ethiopia.
To elaborate the above point, let’s take the writer’s own examples: Blacks in U.S.A. and South Africa. Mr. Getachew states:
“Imagine being in the position of leaders like Nelson Mandela, having the support of the black majority, but advancing a cause of liberation from South Africa. Wouldn’t that sound bizarre and, honestly, self defeating?”
It is not clear which Nelson Mandela and which South Africa are being discussed by Mr. Getachew. He conveniently dropped the liberation struggle of Mr. Mandela’s ANC against Apartheid. Did Mr. Mandela advocate for the democratization of South Africa while keeping the Apartheid repressive system? South Africa went through a decolonization process in which the Apartheid system was dismantled by the cooperation of both non-Whites and Whites alike. Mr. Getachew, the dismantling of the Apartheid system in South Africa was a must for the birth of a democratic South Africa. The dismantling of the Apartheid system was decolonization. Forging a strong future for South Africa was also accomplished through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, where injustices of the past came out into the open and were resolved accordingly.
Mr. Getachew, what you are actually asking is that Mr. Mandela should have become a president of an Apartheid South Africa (as opposed to a democratic South Africa), if you continue to advocate for the democratization of the Ethiopian empire before its decolonization.
Let’s come to the example about Blacks in U.S.A. Again, Mr. Getachew overlooks one historical event in the struggle of Black America for dignity and equal rights – the emancipation of Blacks from slavery in 1863 through the Emancipation Proclamation, which are two executive orders by President Abraham Lincoln. Slavery’s demise was a must for the Civil Rights Movement to even exist and become successful. In Mr. Obama’s own words, “As an African American, I will never forget that I would not be here today without the steady pursuit of a more perfect union in my country.” That steady pursuit for a more perfect union includes the emancipation and civil rights projects in America.
It would have been “bizarre” (to use your own word) if Mr. Mandela had become a president of an Apartheid South Africa; similarly, it would have been “bizarre” if an “unemancipated” Mr. Obama had become a president of U.S.A.
Therefore, the system of domination that has been instituted in Ethiopia since the late 19th century must be removed (i.e. decolonization must take place; emancipation must take place) to make Ethiopia an acceptable union – in order for an Oromo “Obama” to reinvent Ethiopia. The question should be are you ready to decolonize Ethiopia in order to democratize it?
To restate your quote from MLK as a conclusion: “the cause for liberty and equality should redeem the oppressor as much as it emancipates the oppressed!”
* Tesfaye Kebede can be reached at TesfayeKebedeLives@gmail.com