Oromia: The origin, the evolution, the meaning and the implementation of self-determination
By Leenjiso Horo* | June 2008
There has been confusion within certain sectors of the Oromo nationals as to the concept of the right of nations to self-determination. This confusion has led to the difference within the Oromo nationals, particularly since 2001. To be exact, the difference is on the principle of and the right to self-determination of colonial peoples, and the means of implementation of this right. First and foremost, one needs to understand the origin, the evolution, the meaning, and the implementation of the concept of the principle and the right of nations to self-determination.
SELF-DETERMINATION AS A POLITICAL PRINCIPLE
The concept evolved over two centuries ago. Its distant origin lies in the U.S. Declaration of Independence and in the French Universal Declaration of Man and of Citizens. Both declarations laid out the concept for the principle of self-determination. The U.S. Declaration of Independence of 1776 laid out the conceptual and basic philosophy of government, upon which modern concept of self-determination rests. It reads:
When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the Earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
In the same spirit, the French Universal Declaration of Man and of the Citizen of 1789 states, “Men are born and remain free and equal in rights;” and it further says, “The aim of all political association is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of Man. These rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression.” It was in this spirit that Abraham Lincoln stated: “No man is good enough to govern another man without that other’s consent.” It was these ideas that embedded in the two declarations that had enhanced the rise of popular national consciousness in Europe. In particular, the influence of the French Revolution was instrumental in rising nationalism against European empires of the time, such as the German, Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, and Russian empires. This rise of popular national consciousness and nationalism in turn promoted the concept of self-determination as a political principle, and fostered and encouraged national uprisings and armed resistance against these empires. With this, various national independence movements against these empires emerged in Europe. To contain these popular armed resistance, national uprisings, and hence the demand for independence, empires forged alliance one against the other. For example, the German, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires forged alliance against Russia, Britain and France which caused the World War I. However, it was only after the World War I that the right of national independence from the empires came to be known as the principle of national self-determination or the right of nations to self-determination.
Ever since, the political concept, goals, and principle of the right to self-determination remained a very powerful tool. American president Woodrow Wilson, in his support of the right to self-determination of the people under the occupation of German, Austria-Hungary, and Ottoman empires, put the phrase in this way, “No people must be forced under a sovereignty under which it does not wish to live.” His contemporary V. I. Lenin, the founder of modern Russia, further put a stamp on it by stating “the self-determination of nations means the political separation of these nations from alien national bodies, and the formation of an independent national state.” Lenin further argued that “self-determination cannot have any other meaning than political self-determination, state independence, and the formation of a national state.” As it is internationally recognized, the interpretation and, as it is conceptually understood, the fundamental principle and the core meaning of the right of nations to self-determination is the formation of a new state by the people under colonial or alien occupation or domination. Here, the central point is this: self-determination denotes the end of colonialism, the end of foreign or alien occupation, and the creation of a new state. And so, it has been interpreted as a right of colonized peoples to independence from a colonial rule.
After the World War I, the implementation of this principle of self-determination had become instrumental in the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian, German, Ottoman and Russian empires, and the concept set in motion for the disintegration of the British empire, the empire that earned the nickname, “the sun never sets on the British empire.” And yet, it, too, not lasted long. Indeed before long, the sun sat on that British Empire, too. The Austro-Hungarian empire was carved up into Austria, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. The German empire had lost its holdings of Estonia, Lithuania, Finland, Poland and etc.; the Ottoman Empire had lost Greece, the Middle East, Aden, North Africa, the Persian Gulf, the Caspian Sea and etc. Russia had lost Ukraine, Belarus, Armenia, Georgia and etc. Hence, from the remnants of these empires, new countries were created. Of these empires, none was democratized; none was maintained. Basically, after the World War I, self-determination rose to the greater prominence and wider recognition as a political-philosophical concept.
SELF-DETERMINATION AS A HUMAN RIGHTS PRINCIPLE
All in all, between the World Wars I and II, the right of nations to self-determination entirely remained as a political principle. With the formation of the UN in 1945, after the World War II, its Charter formally adopted the right to self-determination. The Charter states, “All people have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” Later, Article I of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) both adopted the same exact language and exact wordings of the self-determination as in the Charter of the United Nations. A century and half later, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the UN heavily drew upon the Universal Declaration of Man and of the Citizens. It stated in its preamble that it upholds the “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of the freedom, justice and peace in the world.” Its Article 1 states: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” With this, the principle of self-determination has become not only a political principle, but also a human rights principle. Once again in 1960s and 1970s, the right of nations to self-determination had become instrument of struggle in the hands of African and Asian nationalists in dismantling the British, French, Portuguese and Dutch empires in Africa and Asia. In 1989, it was again used in the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia.
SELF-DETERMINATION AS AN INTERNATIONAL LEGAL PRINCIPLE
As all international organizations, UNESCO also recognized the concept of right to self-determination in these words: “The principle and fundamental right to self-determination is firmly established in international law.” With this, the principle of self-determination has acquired a new dimension as an international legal principle.
Today, the international community has adopted the right to self-determination as a political, as an international legal and as a human rights principle. Recently in 2008, a population of 2 million, Kosovo used the political, international legal and human rights concepts of right of nations to self-determination in unilaterally declaring its independence from Serbia, without the consent of Serbia or the international body. It must be clearly understood, without a shadow of doubt, that the recognition of a state or states is not precondition for one to declare one’s state independence from alien occupation. Montevideo Convention (1933) stated that “the political existence of the state is independent of recognition by other states.” That means a new state can come into existence before it is being recognized. A recognition by other states simply means a willingness to deal with as an equal member of the international community. In other words, international relations always follow independence. Hence, since its formulation, the right to self-determination has become and remains a powerful instrument for both political, human rights and legal struggles against all forms of injustices.
EXTERNAL Vs. INTERNAL SELF-DETERMINATION
Between World War II and the Cold War, the prevailing view was that only colonized peoples and territories entitled to have the right to self-determination. However, since the end of the Cold War, a new condition has been created. To accommodate this new condition, another new meaning, a new tier was added to the traditional concept of self-determination. The reason given for the addition of the new meaning was that the plain meaning of self-determination, as it has been historically understood, does not address the problems of the indigenous minorities and other minority communities within states.
Hence, the contention has been self-determination, as historically constructed and practiced, is denied to peoples other than the entire colonial populations. The argument is that self-determination, as internationally accepted, only recognizes the right of peoples, nations under classic colonization and illegal military occupation, or recognizes the right of unjustly annexed nations or people to establish a fully independent territorial political unit without the consent of the colonizing state or without colonial constitutional authorization.
To extend the concept to cover indigenous minority nations, minority communities, national minorities, and minority nations within an empire, some international legal scholars and human rights activists divided the concept of self-determination into internal and external self-determination. The two concepts are still fundamentally different. But, it is these two concepts that some Oromo nationals, within the Oromo national struggle, have failed to grasp. And so, it is critical to note and understand the distinction between the two. The difference is: external self-determination is defined to mean self-determination from external occupying power. That is, the core meaning of external self-determination, or national self-determination, or self-determination as we know it, is the establishment of sovereignty, separate statehood, independent nation-state, and sovereign people. External self-determination, as properly known as self-determination, has its legal definition and implementation in the United Nations General Assembly. The United Nations, in the General Assembly Resolution 2625 (XXV), proclaimed “the establishment of a sovereign and independent state … freely determined by a people constitutes modes of implementing the right to self-determination by that people.” This article makes it clear that what is to be established is a sovereign and independent state. And the method of implementation is by free will of the people. And the implementers of the method are the people who raised the question. That means the colonized people have the right to establish a new, free and independent state with new political, economic, military and legal orders that are separate and distinct state from the colonizer state. Hence, self-determination is about territorial and political sovereignty. And so, it is the supreme inalienable natural right of every colonized nation and nationalities, to have their right, the right to full and complete independence. To this effect, the UN General Assembly Resolution 3034 (XXVII) reads, in part:
Reaffirms the inalienable right to self-determination and independence of all peoples under colonial … and other forms of alien domination and upholds the legitimacy of their struggle, in particular the struggle of national liberation movements.
Here, the purposes and principles of the Charter of the UN are to establish peace, stability, and security among the peoples of the world so as to avoid wars and conflicts. But, the colonized peoples do not stop fighting for their independence from the alien power only to please the colonial power and its supporters. The UN knows that, if people are occupied by alien forces, there will not be peace, stability and security. It is for this, the UN Resolutions 1514 (XV) and 2625 (XXV) calls for “a speedy and unconditional end of colonialism in all its forms.” The absence of this, would lead the world to wars, conflicts, instability and insecurity. Basically, the struggle for self-determination is a struggle for peace, security, and stability. So, the concept of the right of nations to self-determination suggests that this right is the right of the peoples or nations, not of state or government. That is the claimant of this right is the people or the nations. Hence, the national liberation struggle for the right of nations to self-determination against colonial occupation is legitimate and its action is justifiable. And, no one has the right to deny the colonized people this right of theirs, the right to self-determination.
And hence, no one has the right to tell the Oromo people what forms of struggle they may conduct. Indeed, the living history totally debunks and invalidates the fallacious concept of democratization of a colonial empire, the concept to which some of our fellow Oromo are converted to. And, no history has ever vindicated such concept of empire democratization. History teaches that neither the empires, such as the Mongol, Roman, and Persian, were democratized, nor the empires before and after them had been, and so the Ethiopian empire cannot be the first. Hence, empire democratization is a totally ahistorical concept. And, there is virtually no evidence in the historical record to support democratization of an empire. The Ethiopian empire has been and still is a prison-house of nations, as all empires before it, and hence, the struggle of those nations, including the Oromo’s struggle, is to determine their own destiny, their own fate. Hence, when we say self-determination, we mean the end of Ethiopian colonialism and the creation of a new Oromiyaa State. To this effect, our proclaimed goal of self-determination is clear; it is the independence of Oromiyaa, the formation of a free and sovereign Oromo state. It is for this reason that our struggle is in an unstoppable drive to liberation, despite all obstacles posed by some Oromo capitulationists and their foreign supporters.
Conversely, internal self-determination, though it is not accepted as an international legal concept, has been defined to mean “participatory democracy” or it is defined as the right of indigenous peoples and minority communities and etc. to exercise their own cultural, linguistic, religious, or territorial political autonomy in the matters of internal or local affairs to them, within the boundaries of existing state. In other words, as a people they have collective group right, the right to form their own autonomous status, in the matters of internal or local affairs. It is a struggle to get representation within an existing state. In this concept, monetary policy, defense, educational system, the maintenance of national frontiers, foreign affairs, commerce, financial institutions, money and banking and etc. remain in the domain of the national government. Hence, the implementation of internal self-determination does not change the form, the style and the status of the existing state. That is, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the existing state remains unchanged. This means any problem that may arise within a state, except in the case of genocide or ethnic cleansing, falls within the domestic legal domain of that state, not of the international domain. Hence, internal self-determination is conceptualized as the next best alternative to independence to be able to accommodate separate identities of population groups that present in a state.
The Oromo turncoats (gantuus) and their naïve followers have proselytized themselves to this later concept. Indeed, in this case, the Ethiopian empire remains as such. Ironically enough, it is to this concept of internal self-determination that Shanee (aka the Asmara group) has attracted to, so turned to, and embraced it. And hence, Shanee has compromised on the Oromo right to self-determination, the independence of Oromiyaa, as all those Goobanists before it. So it must be clear to all that, when Shanee talks about self-determination, it is about internal self-determination. Its purposes are to guard the Ethiopian empire. To achieve this intended goal, our “high priests” (Shanee and its associates) have been attempting to evangelize the Oromo to this concept of internal self-determination. This is the choice of those persons of split loyalty and multiple identities. Internal self-determination is tantamount to the question of democracy within the boundaries of the existing state. It is from this, the phrase “democratization of Ethiopia” was born. Since then, this phrase has become the rallying cry of pro-Ethiopian empire factions of the Oromo decent.
UNDERSTANDING DEMOCRACY AND SELF-DETERMINATION
Understanding the difference between the concepts of democracy and self-determination is important. Conflating the two concepts together is problematical and that leads to bafflement and confusion. Some Oromo nationals have already become victims of this. To begin with, self-determination, as historically defined, does not oppose democracy. That is, though democracy and self-determination are not conceptually the same, they are not exclusive to each other. It is for this, John Stuart Mill recognized that democracy can function only where the nationalist principle that every nation ought to have its own state is realized. The implication of this is that there cannot be democracy in an empire, where nations and peoples are forced to live together. In order not to fall into the conceptual trap, one should distinguish between the concept of democracy and self-determination. Since 2001, some Oromo elements, who chose to follow a political line of democratization of Ethiopia, have been trying to twist, bastardize and distort the two concepts in order to fuse the two together as one and the same, so as to confuse and mislead the public.
To be on the safe side, first and foremost, one should understand that democracy means a system of government or rule of the people. Abraham Lincoln defined it as a government of the people, for the people, by the people. Therefore, the struggle for democracy should be understood as a struggle for the government or rule of the people, by the people, and for the people within a nation state. Its functions are the guarantee of rights and freedom of speech, of press, of religion, of assembly, of association, and of organization among others. It is a system of rule of the law, whereby equality before the law is respected. And, it is a system by which people choose and replace the government through fair and free election, by one-man one-vote. In this way, the majority vote decides the outcome of an election. It is for this; democracy is said to be the rule of majority, whereby the rights of minority are guaranteed, respected and protected. This is not new to the Oromo society, for democracy is built in the Oromo culture, in their cultural habits and in their ways of life. The Gadaa system of governance was based on this culture of Oromo, the culture of justice, tolerance, cooperation, understanding, and compromise. But, this is not the type of tolerance, cooperation and compromise that the capitulationists (galtuus) have been engaged in since the war of conquest of Oromiyaa and ever since. A nation under colonial occupation, as that of the Oromo, fights for the life of the nation and to reclaim its lost national sovereignty. Under this condition, it is not the Oromo way to tolerate, to cooperate and to compromise with the occupiers of Oromiyaa, and its supporters or its alliance. Therefore, one should not fall into the pit-hole of the capitulationists’ or gantuus’ interpretation of the right of nations to self-determination.
With the colonization of Oromiyaa, the Abyssinian rulers replaced the Oromo democracy with the Abyssinian authoritarian rule. It is for this, the struggle for the right to self-determination of the Oromo is not only the struggle for independence, but it is also the struggle for reclaiming of our democracy. So, democracy cannot be given to a society as manna from the sky by a heavenly or earthly kingdom or by a benevolent self-appointed leader or dictator. But, it is internal to a society; it grows, develops, and flourishes through history within the culture of a society. On the contrary, a mimic of democratization based on foreign models to be enforced on a society amounts to failure; it does not work. Suffice to say, democracy cannot be imported or exported, or it cannot be imposed by external force upon a society. If one seeks it from outside to be imposed on a society by the help of external powers that democracy will perish. History has proven, time and time again, this to be true both in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
By and large, the struggle for democracy is within the existing sovereign nation-state, not empire. History teaches that empires are born by wars, grow by wars, and rise by wars, and maintained by force, by terror and by repression. As they are born by wars, so they die by wars; as they grow, so they stagnate; as they rise, so they decline; and as they stand tall, and so they finally fall. These are the laws, the rules and fates that governed all empires so far known to man. Hence, empires have never known to stand tall for all times. It is not, as some turncoat (gantuu) elements want us believe, that the failure of the empires to be democratized is because the system excludes the participation of the majority. On the contrary, empires failed to be democratized because of their innate formations, their characters and their natures. Empires are not meant to be democratized, but to be dismantled and dissolved.
Hence, Ethiopia is an empire; and it cannot be democratized. To this effect, the Oromo’s struggle is not for the democratization of Ethiopia, as some Oromo turncoats wish us to believe. In other words, the struggle for the right to self-determination is not conditional on the absence of democracy, or on the grievances of injustice as a result of national oppression, subjugation, and exploitation, though they contribute to the struggle, but it is a struggle of the people for polity, for politically independent separate sovereign state. It is, therefore, neither a struggle for fair and free elections, nor a struggle for freedom of speech, nor a struggle for equality, nor for freedom of assembly or association in an empire, as Oromo capitulationist elements want us to believe. Here, we must be reminding ourselves, the struggle for self-determination is not the same as the struggle for a mere democracy alone. In the case of colonized people, the struggle for self-determination is part and parcel of the struggle for independence as well as for reclaiming their lost democracy, their system of government, the rule of people. However, the struggle for democracy is not, by any means, to be translated to imply as a struggle to establish sovereign and independent state.
As aforementioned, the Shanee group (the splinter faction from the OLF) has recently turned to the re-defined version of right to self-determination, which is the internal self-determination or sometimes referred to as internal decolonization, as it turned to the appeal of settler colonialism. The purpose has been to confuse the people. The given reason is: the world has changed, and that change made the traditional concept of right to self-determination dead, obsolete, archaic, and so not applicable. In the understanding and in the interpretation of this group, the concept of self-determination, as historically defined and understood, has outlived its useful days and has lost its relevance in the international community. And so, it has turned to, accepted and owned a new concept of internal self-determination, for the purpose of serving its political end goal and its foreign supporters. Nowadays, such phrase has become tools for opportunists to rationalize their failures as success. Again, phrases, such as self-determination, Ethiopian democratization, free and fair election, have become rhetorical veils of the group to mask its unrestrained pursuit of its narrow self-interest in its scramble to capture foreign financial handouts. In this, Shanee interpreted the right of the Oromo to self-determination in terms of internal self-determination – meaning democracy in Ethiopia. As mentioned above, internal self-determination means the collective rights of national groups within a given state. And, the people have to remain within the national boundaries of the specific existing state.
According to the advocates of this concept, Shanee included, the collective rights of the Oromo people are to be determined within the Ethiopian colonial empire. This is what the slogan, “democratization of Ethiopia” is all about. That right to internal self-determination refers to cultural, linguistic, identity, and to political (as to free speech, right to vote, right to elect and to be elected), and to local legislative and local administrative bodies. In general, it refers to the right to local autonomous status, but its concept and implementation do not refer to sovereignty and to free and independent Oromiyaa state. In Shanee’s political view, internal self-determination is applicable and fits the Oromo struggle, while external self-determination or self-determination, as traditionally defined to mean sovereignty, separate statehood and independent nationstate, does not.
Its argument is that European colonialism was an external colonialism to Africa and Asia, whereby the colonizers came across the ocean, from far distant lands. Ethiopian colonialism, the group believes, is settler colonialism, and so it does not fit the concept and character of European colonialism. Hence, in Shanee’s political lingua, Abyssinians are the settler colonizers while Oromo is internally colonized people. On the basis of this, it rejected the Oromo’s quest for independence. Shanee sought a solution for the Oromo quest within the framework of the democratization of the Ethiopian empire. Such is tantamount to make Oromiyaa an integral part of Ethiopia, and that it means Ethiopia has sovereignty over Oromiyaa. This is Shanee’s and its associates’ rejection of independence of Oromiyaa. One should understand that colonialism is an international phenomenon. Oromiyaa is a colonized country. As such, it is an occupied territory without the consent of its people.
To this effect, the Hague Convention of 1907 states, “the occupying power does not, through occupation, gain sovereignty over the occupied territory.” Hence, it is clear that Ethiopia does not have sovereignty over Oromiyaa. Again, M. Van Walt Van Praag of the Peace Action Council’s words, “a state that oppresses, destroys or unduly exploits a people or community instead of protecting it or representing its interest has no legitimate right to invoke the principle of territorial integrity against that people or community.” Indeed, Ethiopia is a colonialist state. Being a colonialist state, the Ethiopian state does not represent the interest of the colonized Oromo people. Its purpose is and has been for the exploitation of the Oromo people and their resources. Over a century down to date, the successive imperial rulers have been slaughtering the Oromo people. The collective interest and aspiration of the Oromo people is and has been the independence of Oromiyaa. The Ethiopian state does not represent the Oromo interest, their hopes, and their aspirations. And so, the solution to the Oromo question does not rest within the domain of the colonizer, the Ethiopian empire, but it rests within the jurisdiction of the international community. Again, colonialism is not about skin color or about the distance as the closeness or nearness from where the colonizer comes. In colonial case, a call for self-determination is a call for right to sovereignty. The right to sovereignty means among other things, the right to one’s territorial integrity, the right to noninterference in the internal affairs of ones state, and the right to promulgate, adjudicate, and enforce ones legal rules and laws within ones territory. It is the right to make defensive war and also it entails the power to make treaties, alliances, and trade agreements with other states. In this case, the United Nations Millennium Declaration (2000) “upholds the right to self-determination of peoples which remain under colonial domination and foreign occupation.” While outside of colonial case, self-determination is turned into a principle of human rights within the territory of each state.
Strangely enough, from the coined twin concepts of internal self-determination and settler colonization, Shanee came up with a solution to the colonial question. The solution it came up with is the colonial question can be solved within the colonial empire. For the how question, Shanee’s response is through democratization of the empire. The proponents of empire democratization are those persons who joined the OLF during Darg era and later deserted the OLF, and those Darg’s party members and its cadres who joined the OLF after the fall of the Darg. These are the political chameleons that can change their skin color and their political views at any convince to them.
Oromiyaa shall be free!
* Leenjiso Horo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
- The U.S. Declaration of Independence of 1776
- The French Universal Declaration of Man and of Citizens
- Article I of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
- Preamble and Article I of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations (1948)
- The Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States (1933)
- The United Nations’ General Assembly Resolution 2625 (XXV)
- The United Nations’ General Assembly Resolution 3034 (XXVII)
- The United Nations’ General Assembly Resolution 1514 (XV)
- The Hague Convention of 1907
- The United Nations’ Millennium Declaration