Can Oromummaa and Ethiopianism be Reconciled?

By Asafa Jalata | January 14, 2012

This paper critically examines how the duality inherent in the concept of Ethiopianism shifts back and forth between claims of a “Semitic” identity when appealing to the White, Christian, racist/ethnocentric, occidental hegemonic power center and claims of an African identity when cultivating the support of sub-Saharan Africans and the African diaspora while, at the same time, ruthlessly suppressing or destroying the history and culture of non-Semitic Africans of the various colonized nations, such as Oromos. Successive Ethiopian state elites have used their Blackness to mobilize other Africans and the African diaspora for their political projects by confusing original Africa, Ethiopia, or the Black world with contemporary Ethiopia (former Abyssinia) and at the same time have allied with Euro-American powers and practiced racism, state terrorism, genocide, and continued subjugation on the indigenous Africans who are, today, struggling for self-determination and multinational democracy. Exposing the racist discourse of Ethiopianism and liberating the mentality of all Africans and the African diaspora from this “social cancer” must be one of the tasks of a critical paradigm of Oromummaa. Developing Oromummaa (Oromo culture, identity, and nationalism), the Oromo national movement engages in such a liberation project. Those intermediary Oromos who have been joining the Tigrayan or Amhara camps as collaborators have promoted Ethiopianism at the cost of Oromummaa. Those diaspora Oromo elites who are claiming to change the program of the Oromo Liberation Front are part and parcel of these subservient forces that have perpetuated Ethiopian colonialism and political slavery.

The critical and thorough examination of the essence and duality of Ethiopianism demonstrates the negative impact of this ideology on the processes of identity formation, state building, and development in the Ethiopian Empire. Ethiopians/Abyssinians or Habashas consider themselves Semitic and suppress their African-ness or Blackness by claiming their racial and cultural superiority to Blacks in general and the indigenous Africans they colonized in particular. Successive Ethiopian state elites have used the discourses of civilization, race, culture, and religion to justify and rationalize the colonization and dehumanization of the indigenous Africans, such as Agaos, Oromos, Ogaden-Somalis, Afars, Sidamas, and Walayitas, and have selectively utilized the politics of African-ness or Blackness without actually practicing this aspect of Ethiopianism. The duality of Ethiopianism and the politics of building contemporary Ethiopia as an empire on the foundation of racial/ethno-national hierarchy have prevented successive Ethiopian state elites from building a viable country. Consequently, Ethiopia has remained one of the most impoverished countries in the world and has become infamous for its recurrent famines and a series of internal and external wars and massive human rights violations.

Since ancient times, repeated episodes of migration from Arabia led to a series of conflicts revolving around issues of religion, identity, land, and power between various indigenous African population groups and the Africanized Arab descendants in the Horn of Africa. As indigenous Africans phenotypically and culturally impacted the Arab immigrants, the Africanized immigrants influenced the culture, religion, and identity of the original Africans through trade, colonial settlement, marriage, conflict, war, selective cultural borrowing, and cooperation. However, the descendants of these Africanized immigrants still control state power and refuse to treat those indigenous Africans they dominate, abuse, and exploit in the Horn of Africa as equal partners. It does not matter if the Ethiopian state is controlled by Amhara or Tigrayan elites since both of them are racists and colonialists. These elites have been using Oromo intermediaries, who lack real power and self-respect, to dominate, control, and exploit Oromo society for more than a century.

The modern ideology of the Ethiopian state evolved from what was once the Axumite kingdom of Abyssinia formed in the 1st century A.D. by the Africanized descendants of Arab settlers. The kingdom developed through commerce, migration, colonization, and the assimilation of some African and Arab cultural elements. The Axumite kingdom accepted Orthodox Christianity in the 4th century through the commercial relationship it developed with the Greco-Romans. The Muslim Arab immigrants who arrived after the rise of Islam in the 7th century spread this new religion in African coastal towns and subsequently challenged the Axumites. As Islamic influence increased, the commerce of the Axumite kingdom started to decline. However, the final deathblow was given to the deteriorating kingdom not by the Muslim Arabs, but by the indigenous Beja and Agao peoples who had been exterminated to some degree and enslaved by the Axumites. They revolted in the 10th century and occupied the northern trade routes to the Mediterranean world. In the mid-11th century, the previously colonized Agao people established a kingdom known as the Zagwe dynasty.

This dynasty lasted until 1270, when it was overthrown by one of the groups that descended from the remnants of the Axumites. These Axumite descendants developed a separate identity known as Amhara. The Amhara ethnonational group and another group known as Tigray are collectively called Habashas or Abyssinians. The Habashas developed a common religion, tradition, and set of customs, but each group maintained its own language. Although phenotypically and culturally Africanized, the Habashas have suppressed their Africanness or Blackness by linking themselves to the Middle East by considering themselves a Semitic people and claiming to be racially and culturally superior to indigenous Africans. In Abyssinia proper, using their state power, the Habashas imposed their Christian religion, their languages— Amharic and Tigragna—and their customs on the peoples that they colonized, resulting in Abyssinization, which can be described as the complete destruction of the identity of the colonized population groups by claiming racial and/or cultural superiority.

The colonization and destruction of various indigenous population groups, such as Qemant, Agao, and Gafat, in their homeland (later called Abyssinia), along with expropriation of their lands and other economic resources, the establishment of military colonies, the evangelization of the remnants of the colonized population groups, and their cultural assimilation were central to the continuous process of marginalization and Abyssinization. The modern Ethiopian state that emerged in the last decades of the 19th century through the alliance of Ethiopian colonialism and European imperialism has continued similar policies of colonization, genocide, and subjugation. How did Abyssinia gradually become Ethiopia? What role did European powers play in this name change? Although the historical meaning of Ethiopia is applicable to all Black peoples, its contemporary meaning applies mainly to Amharas and Tigrayans, who have successively dominated Ethiopian state power. The name Ethiopia originated with the Greek word Aethiopes. Classical Greek explorers and writers gave this name to the territories inhabited by Black peoples that they called burned-face peoples in Asia and Africa.

Therefore, ancient Ethiopia and the current Abyssinian Empire (contemporary Ethiopia) are not geographically coterminous, but the latter occupies a subset of the area of the former. Recognizing the political significance of the name Ethiopia and especially its Christian Biblical connections, Abyssinian leaders started to claim an Ethiopian identity and to argue that their territories once included all regions that classical geographers and historians described as Ethiopia. In actuality, the official adoption of the name Ethiopia for the Abyssinian Empire occurred in the early 1930s. In 1931, Haile Selassie officially changed the name Abyssinia to Ethiopia in the constitution. Today, few Africans and members of the African diaspora know the difference between ancient Ethiopia and contemporary Ethiopia (former Abyssinia). As we shall see below, successive Habasha state elites have used this historical ignorance, through the discourse of Ethiopianism, and mobilized Africans and the African diaspora for their racist projects of enslaving and colonizing various indigenous Africans, mainly Oromos, in the Horn of Africa. Most Africans and the African diaspora still subscribe to the ideology of Ethiopianism without critically understanding its duality and oppose the struggles of indigenous Africans in Ethiopia for self-determination and multinational democracy. Unfortunately, Oromo collaborators still accept Ethiopianism because of their ignorance or political opportunism.

The practice of creating and supporting a neocolonial state in accordance with the interests of the West started with the emergence of the modern Ethiopian state in Africa. The creation of the modern racialized Ethiopian state and the emergence of the Ethiopian Empire occurred within the expansion of the European-dominated capitalist world economy. Because of their Christian ideology and willingness to collaborate with European imperialist powers, such as Great Britain, France, and Italy, successive Habasha rulers gained access to European technology, weapons, administrative and military expertise, and other skills needed for the construction of a modern state. The Oromo population was reduced from about 10 to 5 million through war, slavery, massive killings, disease, and war-induced famine during the second half of the 19th century.

The modern Ethiopian state was the continuation of the previous Abyssinian racialized state, which committed genocide on indigenous peoples such as Qemant, Gafat, and Agao and asserted control over the remaining colonized peoples. Contemporary Ethiopia emerged as an empire by claiming the name of ancient and historic Ethiopia with the help of the West during the partition of Africa by European powers, and justified its genocide, enslavement, colonization, and the continued subjugation of Oromos and others through the discourse of race and religion.

Contemporary Ethiopia, the West, and the Discourse of Race

Denying the reality that contemporary Abyssinia/Ethiopia was the product of neocolonialism, invented by the alliance of Ethiopian colonialism and European imperialism, the West praises Abyssinia (later Ethiopia) as the country that was never colonized in Africa. The idea that Ethiopia was not colonized laid the cornerstone for the ideology of “Greater Ethiopia.” The ideology of “Greater Ethiopia” claims that Ethiopia was not colonized like other parts of Africa because of Habasha bravery and patriotism that made this empire unique in Africa. The Ethiopian historical discourse claims that Ethiopian boundaries are sacred since they were established 3,000 years ago. Furthermore, it is asserted that Abyssinian “society represented an advanced level of social and economic organization” that enabled it to defend itself from European colonialism by eliminating slavery and protecting “all the peoples of greater Ethiopia from falling prey to European imperialism” and that Ethiopia played a significant civilizing mission by colonizing and dominating Oromos and other nations who were backward, pagan, destructive, and inferior.

The Western foreign policy experts not only provided technology and expertise in different fields, they played a critical role in formulating and promoting racist mythologies to justify the colonization and continued subjugation of the colonized subjects. For instance, the notion of claiming Abyssinia/Ethiopia as an ancient kingdom was originally suggested by an Italian expert in 1891. Francisco Crispi instructed an Italian agent in Finfinnee to inform Menelik that the European powers were establishing their boundaries in Africa and that the emperor should, with Italian assistance, circulate a letter defining his borders in order to guarantee the integrity of his empire. Crispi further suggested that in the letter, Menelik ought to point out that Ethiopia was an ancient Kingdom, which had been recognized as independent by the Christian states of Europe. The racist idea that Habashas were different from other Africans lay at the core of the European justification for empowering them to colonize and rule Oromia and other nations.

These racist mythologies of “Greater Ethiopia” also helped the Haile Selassie government gain admission into the League of Nations in 1924. As a result, Ethiopia began to enjoy more recognition in Europe and North America. The ideology of Greater Ethiopia, that has been accepted and developed by European and American policy elites and their successive governments, has been the bedrock of racism on which Ethiopia was built and still maintained. In the 1930s when Haile Selassie went to Europe and became the darling of the Western media, the ideology of “Greater Ethiopia” was refined and celebrated in Europe, America, and Ethiopia. He was also glorified for his devotion to modernization. The Ethiopian Empire that was created with the alliance of European imperialist powers and Habasha warlords has maintained itself through an alliance with successive imperial superpowers, namely, Great Britain, the former Soviet Union, and the United States, that have provided protection to successive Ethiopian state elites and their governments. Presently China supports the Tigrayan state elites that are engaging in dominating and destroying Oromia and its people.

After colonizing the Oromo and other nations with the help of European technology and expertise, Abyssinian colonial settlers in Oromia and other regions justified their colonial domination with racist discourse. With the establishment of their colonial authority in the colonized regions, Habasha settlers “assumed that their own innate superiority over the local residents accounted for this accomplishment.” These essential components of racist discourse of Greater Ethiopia have remained intact. “Socialist” and then “democratic” discourse has been introduced by successive Habasha state elites and accepted by their Euro-American supporters without changing the colonizing and racist structure of Ethiopian society. Ethiopian racism and White racism have conveniently intermarried in the U.S. policy formulation and implementation in Ethiopia. The U.S. policy toward Ethiopia builds upon the European policy established before the United States became involved.

The combined views about Oromos and others and the racist assumptions of U.S. foreign policy elites effectively mobilize the U.S. State Department against the indigenous Africans. The U.S. government supports the Ethiopian authoritarian-terrorist regime that is characterized by extreme militarization and repression; tight control of information and resources in the form of foreign aid, domestic financial resources, and political appointments; and direct ownership and control of all aspects of state power, including security and military institutions, judiciary and other political bodies, and financial institutions. Similarly, emerging countries like China and India support the Tigrayan government of Meles Zenawi and promote its policies. Because of its racist policies, the Ethiopian state has different policies within Abyssinia proper, the homeland of Amhara-Tigray, and the colonized regions such as Oromia.

Ethiopianism has been effectively used to hide the crimes against humanity that the Ethiopian state engages in today. The Ethiopian state has acted in an authoritarian manner toward Amhara and Tigray ethno-nations from which it emerged and in a terrorist fashion toward racialized peoples, such as Oromos, Afars, Sidamas, Ogaden-Somalis, and others, that it suppresses and exploits. Therefore, I have characterized this state as an authoritarian-terrorist regime. The Ethiopia state is owned by Tigray-Amhara elites who control all aspects of state power and use state terrorism to maintain their power and privilege.

The Duality of Ethiopianism

Ethiopian elites boast that their country, Ethiopia, was not colonized like that of other Africans. They are unable to recognize the fact that the Ethiopian Empire has been an indirect colony of Euro-America since its inception. Despite the fact that Habasha elites claim that Ethiopia has been the defender of African freedom in public, they never hesitate to express their disdain for formerly enslaved or directly colonized Africans in private among themselves. Habasha elites have claimed that they have a superior religion and civilization, and even sometimes have expressed that they are not Black and see formerly enslaved or colonized Africans as baryas (slaves). Furthermore, they have degraded the humanity and culture of the indigenous Africans they have colonized and dominated. The Habashas have traditionally looked upon the dark skinned people as inferiors and given them the name of “Shankalla” . . . . The Black Americans were known as Negro [sic], which in Ethiopia was associated with slavery. Hence to the Ethiopians the Afro-Americans were Shankalla.”

Habashas see themselves as a Semitic people who are racially and culturally superior to other Africans and the African diaspora. Imitating their white masters, Menelik and his followers saw themselves as white gods who were sent to “civilize” Oromos and other indigenous Africans via slavery and colonialism. Ethiopian colonizers started to dehumanize Oromos by changing their name to Galla. As the names of various African peoples who were enslaved and brought to America were changed to Negro, and as the names of various peoples in America were changed to Indian with their colonization and destruction, Oromos were given the name Galla. These names were invented in the process of removing these peoples from their respective cultural and historical roots and making them the target of destruction, enslavement, colonialism, and continued subjugation. The appellation Galla was given to Oromos as a name of contempt and derogation. It has characterized them as slave, pagan, uncivilized or barbaric, inferior, and ignorant. This name was invented to destroy Oromoness and to devalue Oromo culture, history, and tradition. In Abyssinia proper, Galla and barya have been used interchangeably. Galla is the name of racist ridicule in academia and popular discourse.

Habashas have effectively used the discourse of cultural racism in destroying or suppressing other peoples. Cultural racism can be defined as the conscious or subconscious conviction of the politically dominant population group that imposes its cultural patterns and practices through its social institutions in an attempt to destroy or suppress the cultural patterns and practices of the colonized and dominated population. Cultural racism and its contradictions may result in the extermination or/and continued subjugation of the dominated population group. Racism does not necessarily manifest itself by the discourse of biological difference. Usually it combines the discourses of biological and cultural differences to justify unequal treatment of different population groups. The extermination of Jews by Germans, the continued subjugation of Palestinians by the Jews, the ethnic cleansing of Bosnians by Serbians, the destruction of Tutsis by Hutus, and suppression of Hutus by Tutsis are examples of extreme forms of cultural racism.

The discourses of race and racism emerged with the development of the racialized capitalist world system via racial slavery and European colonialism. The processes of expropriation, slavery, and colonialism resulted in the hierarchical organization of world populations through the creation of an elaborate discourse of racism to maintain the system. Let me provide a pragmatic definition of racism. As the meaning of race is complex, so is that of racism. Racism is a discourse and a practice in which a racial/ethno-national project (i.e., slavery, genocide, colonialism, continued subjugation) is politically, culturally, and “scientifically” constructed by dominating elites in the capitalist world system to justify and naturalize racial/ethno-national inequality in which those at the top of social hierarchy oppress and exploit those below them by claiming biological and/or cultural superiority. Simply put, racism is an expression of institutionalized patterns of colonizing structural power and social control.

Race and racism are socially, politically, and culturally constructed to maintain the identities and privileges of the dominant population groups and their power through policy formulation and implementation. They are sociopolitical constructs because all human groups are biologically and genetically more alike than different. “Geneticists have shown that 85 per cent of all genetic variation is between individuals within the same local population. A further 8 per cent is between local populations or groups within what is considered to be a major race. Just 7 per cent of genetic variation is between major races.” Despite the fact that all human groups originally evolved in Africa and migrated to different parts of the world, Europeans and Ethiopians have been victimizing indigenous Africans by inventing nonexistent “races” and the discourse of racism. Just as Eurocentric scholars have intellectually separated the original Black civilization of Kemet (Egypt) and Kush or Nubia and then linked them to the Middle East to prove the racist notion of superiority of non-Blacks to Blacks, Ethiopian elites and some Ethiopianists have tried to prove the racial and civilization superiority of Amharas and Tigrayans by Semitizing and linking them to the Middle East and Europe.

Successive Ethiopian state elites use the African and Semitic discourses both regionally and globally. Globally, they use the Semitic discourse and the discourse of Christianity to mobilize assistance from Europe, North America, and the Middle East. On the other hand, they use their Blackness to mobilize other Africans, the African diaspora, and Black U.S. policy elites against Oromos and other colonized peoples. Several times, Ethiopian state elites have attempted and used the influence of the African diaspora for their political and economic interests, particularly in the United States, by capitalizing on the emotion they have for the name Ethiopia. By confusing original Ethiopia (the Black world) with contemporary Ethiopia (former Abyssinia), Habasha elites have misled some historically naive people in Africa, Europe, North America, and the world.

Because of this historical misinformation, Africans who were colonized or enslaved by Europeans, except those who were enslaved and colonized by contemporary Ethiopians, wrongly considered contemporary Ethiopia (former Abyssinia) as an island of Black freedom because it was able to maintain formal political power, albeit with the help of Euro-American powers. Most Blacks “knew very little about the social and political conditions of Ethiopia. What they wrote or said about Ethiopia was at best a manifestation of their emotional state.” Other Africans are unaware that Ethiopia’s political power came from allying with the colonizing European powers.

By using the discredited racist categorization of human groups, such as Semitic, Hamitic, Negroid, and Cushitic, Habashas have a stratified hierarchy in which they place Oromos between themselves and the people that they wrongly call Shankillas—people they consider Negroid. Despite the fact that Habashas are Black, they consider themselves Semitic to associate with the Middle East and dissociate from Africa, whose peoples they consider both racially and culturally inferior. For instance, when the Nigerian Daily Times interviewed Haile Selassie, the emperor of Ethiopia, in the 1930s, about Ethiopian racial identity, he said “that Ethiopians were not, and did not regard themselves as Negroes, as they were a Hamito-Semitic people.” Because the concept of race is a sociopolitical construct, it is essential to critically understand the historical context in which Ethiopian racism is produced and reproduced to denigrate the colonized peoples to deny them access to Ethiopian state power and economic resources.

In Ethiopian discourse, racial distinctions have been invented and manipulated to perpetuate the political objective of Habasha domination of the colonized population groups. Habasha elites recognize the importance of racial distinctions in linking themselves to the Middle East, Europe, and North America to mobilize support for their political projects. Jews, Arabs, Europeans, and Americans see Habashas as closer to themselves than the peoples whom they consider “real Black.” Also the West, particularly the United States, places Habashas on “an intermediate position between whites and blacks” and considers them closer to “the European race” or members of “the great Caucasian family.” There were Europeans who considered Habashas as a very intelligent people because of their racial affinity with the “Caucasian race.” There were also those who saw Habashas as “dark-skinned white people” and “racial and cultural middleman” between Black Africa on one side and Europe and the Middle East on the other side. One German scholar admired the intelligence of Habashas and noted that he never saw such mental capability among Negroes, Arabs, Egyptians, and Nubians.

These racist discourses go unchallenged in academic and popular discourse because they help reproduce Ethiopianism and colonial state power. U.S. foreign policy elites, diplomats, and other officials recognize and defend such “racial pretension of Ethiopia’s ruling class.” Racist Euro-American scholars use these kinds of discourses to show the significance of Whiteness and denigrate the value of Blackness in human civilization. Despite the fact that their skin color is Black, Ethiopian state elites joined their racist White counterparts to devalue the humanity of Black people. One would expect that African American policy elites in the U.S. State Department and the U.S. black president would think differently from and genuinely promote social justice and democracy in Africa. But African American policy elites, because of their distorted historical knowledge, and/or because of their class interests, have accepted the ideological discourse on Ethiopia that presented this empire as the home of Black freedom when all Blacks were under Euro-American colonialism and slavery and endorsed the racist U.S. policy toward Ethiopia and Oromia.

In Ethiopian academic studies, Oromos were depicted as “crueler scourges” and “barbarian hordes who brought darkness and ignorance in the train”; they were also depicted as evil, ignorant, order-less, destructive, infiltrators, and invasive. In addition, Oromos were seen as “a decadent race” that was “less advanced” because of their racial and cultural inferiority. Therefore, their colonization and enslavement by the alliance of Ethiopians and Europeans were seen as a civilizing mission. Because in modernist thinking, historical development is linear and society develops from a primitive or backward to a civilized or advanced stage, Oromos, who have been seen as primitive people, are also considered as part of a collection of tribes or a single tribe or a “cluster” of diverse groups that cannot develop any nationalist political consciousness except tribalism. Racist and modernist scholars have also denied the existence of a unified Oromo identity and argued that Oromos cannot achieve statehood because they are geographically scattered and lack cultural substance. Generally speaking, both Ethiopian elites and their Euro-American counterparts have built Ethiopianism as a racial project at the cost of indigenous Africans, such as Oromos. Furthermore, Oromo collaborators including those who are claiming to change the program of liberation to subordination have become instruments of these ideologies.

The Impact of Ethiopianism on Oromos

The popular discourse on Oromos is full of racist prejudices and stereotypes. When Habashas want to make a point of the alleged inferiority of Oromos on the racial/ethno-national hierarchy, or to deny them their humanity, they debase an Oromo and her or his nationality by asking, “sawu nawu Galla?” (Is he or she a human being or a Galla?) This query shows that Habashas consider Oromos as inferior human beings. Even Orthodox Christianity is used to promote racism in Ethiopia. For instance, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church publication denounced sexual relations between Habashas and Oromos by saying that Jesus would punish those who had sexual intercourse with “the cursed, the dumb, the Moslems, the Galla, the Shankilla, the Falasha, the horse, the donkey, the camel and all those who committed sodomy.” This religious tract was written in Geez (an old Abyssinian language) and translated into Amharic in 1968. While its original date of writing and authorship are unknown, the piece has been popular and widely recited by literate Habashas.

Oromos, Ethiopian Jews, Muslims, and various peoples were categorized with beasts, such as horses, donkeys, and camels. The implicit intention of the Orthodox Church was to draw a racial/ethno-national boundary between Habashas and non-Habashas to maintain the racial/ethno-national purity of the former. Habasha stereotypes depict Oromos as a dirty people: the expression “Galla na sagara eyadare yigamal” compares Oromos to feces and claims that Oromos continue to stink like feces with passing days. This expression warns that the closer you get to Oromos, the more you find how dirty they are. This racial insult is used to create tension between Oromos and Habashas. Another expression depicts Oromos as a rotten people (“timbi or bisbis Galla”). Yet another expression explains that Oromos cannot be clean even if they wash themselves again and again: “Galla na Shinfila ayitaram,” which literally means, “Even if you wash their stomach lining, a Galla will never come clean.”

Oromos have been depicted as barbarians and backward people in popular discourse. A Habasha expression claims that Oromos’ attempt to be civilized cannot be successful because Oromos are predestined to fail in civilization projects. The saying “Galla sisaltin bacharaqa jantila yizo yizoral” attempts to show that even if he or she is civilized, an Oromo does not know the true essence of civility. Literally this saying translates, “When an Oromo is civilized he/she stretches his/her umbrella in the moonlight and walks around so that he/she can be seen by others.” Simply put, because Oromos are stupid, they do not know how to behave in a civilized way. The expression “Ye Galla chawa, ye gomen choma yelewum” depicts Oromos as a society that does not have respected and notable individuals. The literal translation of this expression reads, “As there is no fat in vegetables or greens, there is no a gentlemen in the Galla community.” Generally, Oromos have been targeted by Habasha expressions and are seen by Habsashas as a useless people who do not deserve respect.

Oromos have been insulted for even trying to assimilate to Ethiopian culture by speaking an Ethiopian language. Habasha have expressed their anger toward Oromos who have mispronounced Amharic words by saying that “Afun yalfata Galla; tabitaba Galla” (an Oromo is someone who cannot express himself/herself clearly). To psychologically demoralize Oromos, the Habasha discourse also depicts Oromos as a cowardly person that cannot resist domination; the saying “and Amhara matto Galla yinadal” clearly shows the essence of this discourse. Literally it translates, “One Amhara can force one hundred Oromos into submission or subordination.” However, historical evidence indicates that until they allied with Europeans and obtained modern weapons, Habashas saw Oromo fighters as their nightmare.

Even a poor Habasha or a leper claims that he or she is better than a Galla; the expressions “Even if I am poor, I am not a Galla,” and “Even if I am a leper, I am not a Galla” clearly show how most Habashas, including the sick and the poor, claim racial/ethno-national superiority. Generally speaking, Habashas have “looked upon and treated the indigenous people as backward, heathen, filthy, deceitful, lazy, and even stupid—stereotypes that European colonialists commonly ascribed their African subjects.” Furthermore, Habasha social institutions, such as family, school, media, government, and religion, reproduce and perpetuate these racist prejudices and stereotypes within Ethiopian society. The prejudices and stereotypes consciously or unconsciously have influenced Ethiopians and Ethiopian studies.

Ethiopians, and particularly those Ethiopian scholars and Ethiopianists who have been influenced by these racist assumptions, have never respected Oromo culture and have opposed the Oromo struggle for self-determination, social justice, democracy, and human rights under a variety of different pretexts. Some assert that because Oromos are dispersed among other peoples, the question of national self-determination is not applicable to their cause. Others argue that the assimilation of Oromos to Habashas both biologically and culturally prevent them from having a cultural identity that enables them to have national self-determination. Furthermore, because Oromos are considered “invaders” of Ethiopia, some Ethiopian elites argue that Oromos do not deserve self-determination because the region that they call Oromia does not belong to them. This assertion implicitly suggests that Oromos must accept their subjugation and second-class citizenship, or they must leave Ethiopia before they will be totally annihilated for continuing to demand self-determination and democracy.

The political agenda of the destruction of Oromo society is not a new phenomenon. The West has been supporting this political agenda. And now China, India and Arab countries support Ethiopianism and Tigrayan colonial policies. The massive killing of Oromos by Amhara-Tigrayans was never condemned as genocide. Just as genocide committed by Menelik and his followers escaped world condemnation, so is the ethno-national cleansing that is systematically committed by the Meles regime. Currently Ethiopianism hides the true nature of the Tigrayan-led minority regime in Ethiopia. Supported by the West, mainly the United States, and using political violence, this regime has dominated and controlled the Oromo people and others, denying them freedom of expression, association, or organization, as well as access to the media and related forms of communication and information networks.

The Meles regime has used various techniques of violence to terrorize Oromos who are engaged in the struggle for liberation and democracy. Just as successive Amhara-dominated regimes engaged in terrorism and genocide and exploited the resources of Oromos, Afars, Ogaden Somalis, Sidamas, and others, the Tigrayan-dominated regime is engaged in similar practices to suppress the national movements of these indigenous peoples in order to maintain a racial/ethno-national hierarchy and to continue subjugation. With the intensification of the national movements of these subjugated nations, the regime has been engaged in massive human rights violations, terrorism, and hidden genocide.

While engaging in state terrorism in the form of war, torture, rape, and hidden genocide to control the Oromo people and others and to loot their economic resources, Tigrayan state elites claim that they are promoting democracy, federalism, and national self-determination. These elites use Ethiopianism to claim the unity of the colonizer and the colonized population groups in the Ethiopian Empire while committing such serious crimes against humanity. For example, in 2003 and 2004, the Meles regime commited genocide against the Annuak people of Gambella. It is no wonder that all colonized population groups in Ethiopia reject the ideology of Ethiopianism. In particular, Oromos have developed Oromummaa (Oromo-centric worldview, culture, and nationalism) to oppose Ethiopianism and to dismantle the racial/ethno-national hierarchy and Ethiopian settler colonialism and its institutions. Oromo nationalists must fight and discredit those who have betrayed Oromummaa and the Oromo national interest by joining the Ethiopianist camp.

Oromummaa and Critical Afrocentricity

Oromummaa, as an aspect of Afrocentric worldview, builds on the best elements of Oromo culture and traditions and endorses an indigenous Oromo democracy known as the gadaa system. As an Afrocentric worldview that sees an African culture as the center of African life and the African diaspora, Oromummaa bases its vision on Oromo popular democracy, an institution that existed before American democracy. Before their colonization, Oromos used the gadaa system of government to organize and order their society around political, economic, social, cultural, and religious institutions. Gadaa democracy included the principles of checks and balances (through periodic succession of every 8 years), division of power (among executive, legislative, and judicial branches), balanced opposition (among five parties), and power sharing between higher and lower administrative organs to prevent power from falling into the hands of despots. Other principles of the system included balanced representation of all Oromo branches, lineages, regions, and confederacies; accountability of leaders; and the settlement of disputes through reconciliation and the respect for basic rights and liberties.

Currently, the Oromo national movement attempts to retrieve popular Oromo democracy. The aspiration to restore this form of popular democracy is similar to the idea of developing Afrocentric awareness in the African and African diaspora communities. Those who endorse and glorify Ethiopianism are undermining this Afrocentric awareness to enjoy power and material benefits at the cost of various African population groups particularly Oromos. Hence progressive Habashas, ordinary Amharas and Tigrayans, other Africans, and the African diaspora must recognize the negative consequences of Ethiopianism and support the struggles for self-determination, multinational democracy, and development in Oromia, Ethiopia, and beyond. The Oromo national movement is revolutionary, progressive anti-colonial, antiracist, and pan-Africanist. Oromummaa or Oromo nationalism is not against any people, but against the Ethiopian colonial system and its oppressive and repressive institutions and all forms of injustice.

Without recognizing the centrality of Africa for humanity in general and the significance of indigenous African cultures in particular, we cannot develop “a victorious consciousness” that equips us with the knowledge of liberation. This knowledge of liberation must be a critical Afrocentric one that “places the African person at the center of analysis” by making “the African person subject, and not object, of study.” Similarly, Oromummaa as an intellectual and ideological vision places the Oromo man and woman at the center of analysis and at the same time goes beyond Oromo society and aspires to develop global Oromummaa by contributing to the solidarity of all oppressed peoples and promoting the struggle for self-determination and multinational democracy. Oromummaa is a complex and dynamic national and global project. As a national project and the central ideology of the Oromo national movement, Oromummaa enables Oromos to retrieve Oromo-centric political strategies and tactics that can mobilize the nation for collective action empowering the people for liberation.

As a global project, Oromummaa requires that the Oromo national movement be inclusive of all persons, operating in a democratic fashion. This global Oromummaa enables the Oromo people to form alliances with all political forces and social movements that accept the principles of national self-determination and multinational democracy in the promotion of a global humanity that is free of all forms oppression and exploitation. In other words, global Oromummaa is based on the principles of mutual solidarity, social justice, and popular democracy. Oromummaa, as an element of culture, nationalism, and vision, has the power to serve as a manifestation of the collective identity of the Oromo national movement. The foundation of Oromummaa must be built on over-arching principles that are embedded within Oromo traditions and culture and, at the same time, have universal relevance for all oppressed peoples. The main foundations of Oromummaa are individual and collective freedom, justice, popular democracy, and human liberation, all of which are built on the concept of saffu (moral and ethical order) and are enshrined in gadaa principles.

Although Oromummaa emerges from the Oromo cultural and historical foundations, it goes beyond culture and history in providing a liberative narrative for the future of the Oromo nation as well as the future of other oppressed peoples, particularly those who suffer under the Ethiopian Empire. As a critical element of Afrocentricity, Oromummaa challenges Ethiopianism and the idea of glorifying African monarchies or chiefs or warlords who collaborated with European slavers and colonizers and destroyed Africa by participating in the slave trade and the project of colonization. It also exposes the crimes of Tigray-Amhara elites that are engaging in the suppression of the Oromo national movement led by the Oromo Liberation Front. Oromummaa as an aspect of Afrocentricity also challenges those African scholars who degrade African democratic traditions just as their Euro-American counterparts devalue the Oromo democratic system and consider indigenous Africans such as Oromos primitive and “stateless” before and after their colonization.

Learning about Oromo society—with its complex democratic laws, an elaborate legislative tradition, and well-developed methods of dispute settlement—and the Oromo national struggle can present a new perspective for Africana studies and politics. Africans and the African diaspora and other oppressed peoples can ally with one another on global level by exchanging political and cultural experiences and re-creating the ideology of pan-Africanism from “below” and global mutual solidarity based on the principles of popular democracy and egalitarian world order. While developing national and global Oromummaa and intensifying the Oromo national struggle, Oromo nationalists must defeat those Oromos who accept Ethiopianism and collaborate with Ethiopian colonialists that attempt to perpetuate the continued subjugation of the Oromo nation. At the same time, the Oromo national struggle must develop political strategies that will enable the Oromo nation to establish Oromia’s sovereignty and ally with oppressed nations and groups that reject the ideology of Ethiopianism and accept the principles of national self-determination and multinational democracy. Those opportunist and mercenary Oromos who oppose the Oromo struggle for national self-determination and attempt to replace Oromummaa with the racist ideology of Ethiopianism are going to join the dustbin of history as their predecessors.

 

Dr. Asafa Jalata (ajalata@utk.edu) is a Professor of Sociology, Global Studies, and Africana Studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He has published and edited eight books and authored sixty refereed articles in regional and international journals and several book chapters.