The Oromo Struggle in Ethiopia: causes of the conundrum and towards a covenant

By Firew Kebede Tiba, PhD

July 30, 2012 (Opride) – This Op-Ed is an outgrowth of my brief response, on a social media, to Magarsa Muhktar’s “Ethiopia’s Beleaguered Opposition: Fighting Goliath”, which appeared on on 28 July 2012. Magarsa makes an apt observation of the state of resistance to political repression.

I salute Magarsa for his thoughtful opinion and for kick-starting this very important discussion. The tenet of this opinion is to add to this discussion by highlighting the causes of the conundrum and to put forward a concrete suggestion on how to forge alliance or at least understanding between Oromo groups. Other oppositions representing different interests could replicate the same.

One might ask, why Oromos while Magarsa’s opinion is about Ethiopia’s beleaguered opposition? This is for the simple reason that one cannot generalise about the whole without understanding the state of its discrete parts, in particular when that part happens to be a critical piece in the jigsaw puzzle. It is imperative that no democratic Ethiopia could ever be built without the full participation of Oromos. Needless to say, had Oromo political parties been strong enough and played their leadership role in the opposition camp, TPLF’s dictatorship would not have lasted this long.

In saying this, I am not discounting the priceless sacrifices being paid by Oromos back home and the ongoing many-pronged struggle being mounted from villages in Oromia, the Oromo region, to every corner of the globe where Oromos are dispersed. The big question, however, is how to make the sacrifices yield a dividend – and consolidate the gains that have been made thus far. The gains, such as, Afaan Oromo, Oromiya’s autonomy and cultural revival, are not up for negotiation.

Once bitten, twice shy. This is the cause of the conundrum among Oromos. In the previous two revolutions 1974 and 1991, Oromos were active participants in many different forms. Long before that Oromo armies were the mainstay at the Battle of Adwa regardless of being annexed into the empire only decades or so before. Other key contributions include: the uprising of Raya Azebo Oromos in Tigray (1928-30), whose resistance inspired Kedemay Weyane, the forebear of the current TPLF (Woyane) movement; the Oromo patriots who played an important role in defeating the occupying Italian Army.

In the lead up to the 1974 revolution, the role of the Bale peasants (1964-70) has its own special place in the overthrow of the feudal system. Also think of MEISON, Macha Tulama Association, OLF and others in 1974 who played significant role in the overthrow of the feudal regime. Oromos played a role in EPRP and other national parties. Oromos have never sat on the fence or shied away from participation, since their annexation, in all major events that threatened the life of the country and in weaving the Ethiopian tapestry together.

However, although “land to the tiller” immensely empowered the Oromo peasantry hitherto reduced to serfdom, some of the underlying Oromo questions remained unaddressed. At the same time, I would be remiss in my duty if I do not recognise the role of progressive non-Oromos in the emancipation of Oromos and other ethnicities from serfdom and cultural subjugation. To name but one, Walelign Mekonnen who for the first time publicly shattered the myth of One Ethiopia built around one culture; one religion and one way of life.

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