The ‘new’ OLF program: much ado about nothing

by Jawar Mohammed | Jan 5, 2012

(Opride) – Earlier this week, one of the several OLF factions announced that it had adapted a new political program that apparently drops the ‘secessionist’ agenda. This announcement was preceded and followed by hyped fanfare by Ginbot 7 and its affiliates.

The news had excited a segment of Ethiopia’s political community long haunted by the prospect of an independent Oromia state and those democracy activists who wish to see cooperation among the opposition forces. Unfortunately, even for a casual observer of Ethiopian politics, the content of the new program does not show any substantive change nor the serious reflection the issue demands. What’s more, the exciting narrative employed to sell the supposed change to the public is at best disingenuous, misleading and distracting in the long run.

What’s new in the brief and poorly articulated announcement?

The press release announcing the new program reveals the superficial nature of the said change in policy. The closest inference to the much-celebrated “change of heart” reads, “The new OLF political program will accept the new federal democratic republic of Ethiopia”. There are two serious flaws here.

First, federalism, even if more of a facade, is now a two-decade-old experiment in Ethiopia; hence, it’s not clear what this ‘new federalism’ entails. Second, this is hardly a change, as OLF not only accepted federalism during the 1991 transition but was also its leading architect. To ‘accept’ federalism, a system it helped create 20 years ago, is at best disingenuous. Paradoxically, it is Ginbot 7 and affiliates, who are adamantly opposed to federalism, that need to accept it — not the other way around.

On dropping the secessionist bombshell

The buzz on both ends of the political divide about OLF dropping ‘secessionism’ and embracing ‘Ethiopianism’ is equally misleading. The Oromo movement, particularly one led by the OLF, had never foreclosed on the possibility of resolving the Oromo question within the existing Ethiopian state structure. The OLF program, through all of its amendments from the time of founding to now, left the door open for both options: reforming Ethiopia and establishing an independent Oromia.

The organization of late relies on the vague notion of ‘self-determination’, especially in its diplomatic outreach, for keeping these two options open. The much-celebrated new program invokes the same vague declaration asserting that, “the OLF will respect and honor all decisions the Ethiopian peoples will make using their right of self-determination.”

Beneath the fanfare, this is yet another word game in the never-ending drama of Ethiopian politics where politicians conceal their real objectives behind loose words. Amhara parties espouse unity while covering up their quest to regain dominance, Oromos use self-determination to appease and confuse their internal and external audience, while Tigreans proclaim democracy and federalism to camouflage their monopoly.

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