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Oromia-Ethiopia: Contending Nationalisms – Interview with Prof. Asafa Jalata on His New Book and More

Posted: Adoolessa/July 27, 2010 · Finfinne Tribune | Gadaa.com | Comments (5)

Dr. Asafa Jalata, Professor of Sociology and Global Studies, and the Interim Chair of the Africana Studies Program at the University of Tennessee, has been one of the most prominent scholars in Oromo studies ever since its advent in the 1980’s. Oromo studies is an interdisciplinary academic area devoted to the study of the history, language, culture, religion and politics of the Oromo nation in the Horn of Africa as well as the Diaspora.

Dr. Asafa Jalata 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.

Gadaa.com is honored to interview Dr. Asafa Jalata about his new book, “Contending Nationalisms of Oromia and Ethiopia: Struggling for Statehood, Sovereignty, and Multinational Democracy,” and the current state of the Oromo nation with topics covering “Ethiopianism as oppressor nationalism,” the roles of Oromo in ending the Ethiopian political slavery, the economic violence unleashed on Oromia (including the appalling land grabs), the human rights violations against the Oromo people, the significance of an AFD-like alliance, and the reconciliation efforts and future of the Oromo national political leadership.

Gadaa.com: Tell us what your new book, “Contending Nationalisms of Oromia and Ethiopia: Struggling for Statehood, Sovereignty, and Multinational Democracy,” covers at this critical time in the Horn of Africa.

Prof. Asafa Jalata: My latest book deals with the issues of contending nationalisms of Oromia and Ethiopia, and considers Ethiopian nationalism as state or oppressor nationalism and Oromo nationalism as oppressed nationalism. It also demonstrates how oppressor Ethiopian nationalism rationalizes and justifies the hierarchical organization of various peoples or ethnonations, and how oppressed Oromo nationalism provides for the Oromo nation an ideology or a vision and a program for seeking self-determination and sovereignty by radically transforming the Ethiopian colonial state and its racist political structures and by promoting a multinational democracy.

Furthermore, it examines how the Ethiopian colonial state has denied structural assimilation (accesses to valued resources) and political and citizenship rights to the Oromo based on the ideology of Ethiopianism (chauvinism and racism) and other factors and contributed to the development of the collective political consciousness of Oromummaa (Oromo culture, identity, and nationalism).

Ethiopian nationalism of the Amhara and Tigrayan peoples has been used in creating and maintaining the Ethiopian Empire and in keeping the Oromo and others as colonial subjects. Oromummaa emerged and developed to challenge the Ethiopian state and change the subordinate position of the Oromo nation. As a cultural and nationalist ideology, Oromummaa promotes the principles of national self-determination and multinational democracy and fights against the Ethiopian colonial state. The case of the Oromo national struggle demonstrates how the dominated peoples have struggled against the states that have suppressed cultural diversity and intensified oppression and exploitation in the name of common citizenship and cultural universalism.

Although this book focuses on the contending nationalisms of Oromia and Ethiopia, it briefly introduces other cases to provide a comparative and global perspective. Since studies of nationalism are complicated by competing ideologies and interpretations, this work goes beyond the artificial boundaries of the social sciences and intellectual paradigms by employing interdisciplinary, multidimensional, and historical and comparative methods, and critical approaches that include political economy, multiculturalism, and critical theoretical and historical methodology.

This book is in eight chapters. Chapter I analyzes the features and problems of ethnonationalism in the global context. It explains how the existing bodies of theories and literature on ethnonationalism mainly reflect the views and interests of the colonizing/oppressing ethnonations and their states at the cost of the dominated ethnonations. The chapter demonstrates the inadequacy of information, knowledge, and theory in the study of nationalism by questioning the validity of the global “moderninzing” projects of modernization theorists and some Marxists, and by addressing the question of ethnonationalism from the perspective of the colonized/ dominated peoples.

Chapter II explores the impact of the racist ideology of Ethiopianism that claims to promote black freedom theoretically while racializing the Ethiopian state practically through external dependency and domestic terrorism on the Oromo and other dominated peoples. It specifically explains how, through the processes of Abyssiniznization/Ethiopianization and Christianization, successive Ethiopian state elites have racialized their own identity and those of the indigenous Africans they have colonized and dominated. The chapter also explains how the Oromo are challenging Ethiopianism through developing Oromummaa (culture, nationalism, and vision) to liberate the mentality of all Africans, the African Diaspora, and others from racism and to achieve for the Oromo and others national self-determination and multinational democracy.

Chapter III critically explores four interrelated issues: first, it focuses on the emergence of the Abyssinian/Ethiopian state and Amhara-Tigray colonialism, and explains how the convergence of identity, ideology, religion, and political power created the political culture of authoritarianism in the “traditional” Amhara-Tigray society and shaped the essence and characteristics of this state. Second, it explains how the Euro-American intervention on the side of Amhara-Tigray successive state elites, by ignoring the life and liberty of the populace, has distorted the nature of the Ethiopian state and made it an illegitimate state. Third, it explains the essence and consequences of the Contending Nationalisms of Oromia and Ethiopian policies and practices of political authoritarianism in Abyssinia proper and state terrorism in the colonized parts of the Ethiopian Empire.

Finally, it explores why the Ethiopian state has lacked internal political legitimacy, and how its policies and practices of political authoritarianism and state terrorism have undermined the processes of peace and development, and proposes some pragmatic policies to boldly confront and solve these complex and difficult political problems.

Chapter IV examines the essence and characteristics of cities and urban centers in Oromia and the major consequences of the centralization and concentration of Amhara-Tigray political power in multinational Ethiopia. It also explores the features of Oromian urban communities, the process of urban underdevelopment, and the effects of political repression and state terrorism on the Oromo.

Chapter V explores why Ethiopia as an empire is on the verge of collapse because of the competing nationalisms of Oromia and Ethiopia. It explains the essence of Oromo nationalism by focusing on the relationship between Ethiopia and global powers to situate the Oromo question in the global context. The chapter also explains how the Tigrayan-led Ethiopia currently practices state terrorism and gross human rights violations to control the Oromo and Oromia and transfer their resources to Tigrayans and their supporters while claiming the promotion of democracy.

Chapter VI identifies and discusses the processes through which the oppressed nationalisms and social justice movements of the Oromo in Ethiopia, African Americans in the U.S., and Southern and Western Sudanese in Sudan emerged and developed, and the successes and failures of these movements in a global and comparative perspective. It focuses on and explains how the racialized capitalist world system and its political structures facilitated the creation of the states of the U.S., Ethiopia, and Sudan, and legalized racial/ethnonational hierarchies, colonialism, oppression, exploitation, and continued subjugation. Furthermore, it explores comparatively the processes of developments, objectives, and outcomes of these movements.

Chapter VII explores the development of the problem of Oromo national political leadership, institutions and organizations in their historical and contemporary context. It focuses on examining the dialectical interplay between Ethiopian colonial structures and the human agency of the Oromo people in developing Oromummaa and fighting against the racist ideology of Ethiopianism. The final chapter first explores the process of state formation in historic Oromia to identify the essence and characteristics of gadaa (Oromo democracy) and the moottii (kingdom) systems. Second, it focuses on explaining the impacts of global imperialism, Ethiopian colonialism, and the role of the Oromo clientele class on the process of state formation in Oromia. Third, the chapter demonstrates the immediate challenges to the recreation of an Oromia state whose sovereignty is shared with other peoples that accept the principles of national self-determination, the rule of law, and multinational democracy. Fourth, it demonstrates why, in Oromia and beyond, the refining and adapting of certain gadaa principles to the processes of state formation and building are necessary for the construction of a democratic government.

This chapter also illustrates the urgency of developing an Oromian national assembly, a national Gumii Oromiyaa, patterned after the Gumii Gayyo (multitudes of national assemblies) in southern Oromia so as to transform the unwritten Oromo constitutional order into a written one. The purpose is to revitalize the Oromo national movement with the goals of defeating Ethiopian colonialism and the Oromo clientele class, and forming the democratic state to achieve national sovereignty, security, and sustainable socioeconomic development in Oromia and beyond.

Interview Continues to the Next Page

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  1. Biya Oromo

    Jul 27, 10 at 8:09 pm

    great interview – specially the part that says, “As a cultural and nationalist ideology, Oromummaa promotes the principles of national self-determination and multinational democracy and fights against the Ethiopian colonial state.”

    – This approach in Oromummaa both as a tool of self-determination and multinational democracy really signifying a breakthrough approach in Oromo politics. What this really means in other words is when Oromo enters alliance with others, it’s not for the sake of being “Ethiopianized”, but to expand/export Oromo values of democracy (gadaa) in the form of Oromummaa.

    This back to the basics, back to the traditional approach is really a timely call. That’s what our forefathers did when they embraced new communities that were non-Oromo – they embraced them with the gudifecha institution and welcomed them as Oromos, no instituted coercion was ever put on other communities to make them Oromos; however, Ethiopianism will evaporate from the colonized peoples had it not been for the state-sponsored coercion (making Amharic official language, controlling resource by Abyssinia, suppression of other nationalisms, and so on). Dr. Mohammed Hassen Ali has a great book on how Oromo ruled the mid-centuries in the Horn of Africa if one is interested in the history of the gadaa approach in expanding interests (read, The Oromo of Ethiopia)

    Let’s go back to the basics. Let us view Oromummaa, not only as a tool of political salvation for the Oromo (i.e. self-determination), but also for the peoples of the entire Horn of Africa (i.e. multinational democracy). Isn’t that what Americans and Europeans have been doing when they expanded their interests – i.e. exported their value system.

    Professor Asafa Jalata, great work!

  2. qero

    Jul 28, 10 at 4:00 am



    It is wonderful interview,thank you Prof. Asafa Jalata. Gadaa.com thank you so much for delivering this great interview. Greatly appreciated!!!!

    I want to ask, where can we get the models developed by Hilemariam Gemeda,Baro Tumesa …?? Can Prof. make some conferences on this models once in a while? As teaching the model and producing teachers of the model is very important in delivering it to oromo people.

    thank you so much once again,


  3. Wake Oda

    Aug 4, 10 at 6:28 am

    I do not want to steal your time; please tell me where can I buy this book in Germany? Thank You. Fayaa ta’a.

  4. toola Bori

    Aug 4, 10 at 3:51 pm

    You can buy via Amazon.com.

  5. qero

    Aug 5, 10 at 1:01 am

    Hi Wake Oda,

    you can order the book on http://www.amazon.com or http//academicpublishing.binghamton,edu and ISBN#978-1-58684-280-2(soft cover) i got this information from the book review section of gadaa.com.

    enjoy the reading,