A Struggle for the Right to Life A Fight for a Life worthy of Human Beings Despite stubborn and sustained resistance, the [Abyssinian] invasion [of the Oromo] was successful, because up to this point, the Oromo were not a united, unified nation. The fact of colonization continues, to this day, to be played down or denied—and this despite the fact that all the forms of loss of autonomy associated with colonization were present, in just the same way as if colonization by a European power had occurred (Christian Scherrer, in Scherrer & Bulcha, 2002: 27) Forty years after the publication of the political program of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), it may sound needless to raise the issues which the main title of this article suggests. One may also ask, “Don’t we know what the Oromo people are struggling against? Haven’t we been told what the OLF wants to achieve?” Indeed, much has been said about the objectives of the Oromo struggle. However, there are still reasons which compel me to revisit some of the issues which concern freedom, the core objective of the Oromo national struggle. Taking “the right to life and a life worthy of human beings” as overarching concepts, I will discuss briefly some of the fundamental human rights which the Oromo people have been denied under consecutive Ethiopian regimes. While the right to life is a natural right that belongs to all humans by birth, it is important to note from the beginning that the defining parameters of life worthy of human beings are set by international conventions such as the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and include, among others, the right to be treated with respect and dignity, the right to freedom of thought and expression, freedom of affiliation and association, the right to food and clean water, and the right to property. In other words, for a people to lead a life worthy of human beings, their political and civil liberties, as well as economic and social rights, must be respected. Regrettably, this is not always the case, particularly about the rights of indigenous peoples who are colonized or are annexed by other states and became stateless. Wherever the right to be treated with respect and dignity is denied, a life worthy of human beings is curtailed. Literature on the Oromo, which is either sympathetic towards or critical of their cause, say in general that the Oromo feel humiliated, unjustly treated, and immeasurably exploited. Oromo nationalists say that they had raised arms to liberate their people from Ethiopian colonialism after having exhausted all peaceful means, and could see no other way of redressing their grievances (see OLF, Political Program, 1976). Today, the Oromo claim for an independent state is being questioned by two different groups for different reasons. The first group constitutes the so-called Ethiopianist politicians and scholars who will play down the colonial nature of the Ethiopian state and trivialize Oromo grievances as “obsession with victimhood” in order to preserve the “territorial integrity” of the Ethiopian state. The second group is made up of leaders and members of Oromo political organizations who will persuade the Oromo to abandon the struggle for independence and seek a resolution for their political grievances within the framework of a “democratic” Ethiopian state. This article also provides a brief critique on these views.
A Struggle for the Right to Life
The right to life is a fundamental human right upheld by international conventions, and recognized in the constitutions of states. It was among the “inalienable rights” which were mentioned in the American Declaration of Independence in 1776. The 1948 United Nations Declaration of Human Rights also declares that “Every human being has the inherent right to life,” and that “The right shall be protected by law.” It says that “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his [her] life.” Expanding the concept to peoples, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights of 1987 (Article 20, 1&2) declared: “All peoples shall have the right to existence. They shall have the unquestionable and inalienable right of self-determination” (emphasis mine).The Charter also declares that “Colonized or oppressed peoples shall have the right to free themselves from the bonds of domination by resorting to any means recognized by the international community” That the Oromo are a colonized people is well known. Much has been said about that by many scholars and by the Oromo themselves. That the Oromo are oppressed is also indisputable. Decolonization is understood as a solution of Oromo oppression. However, it seems that the decolonization as a concept and in practice is understood among some Oromo political activists as democratization. But, the primary goal of decolonization is the attainment of sovereignty. For a colonized people sovereignty means the right to define itself asserting power over a bounded territory (abbaa biyyummaa in Oromo terminology) or a homeland that had been colonized or annexed by another state. Therefore, in practice or in theory, the decolonization of an empire is not the same thing as the “democratization” of its polity. In my view, the struggle for an independent sovereign Oromo state is entirely different from making negotiations for citizenship in an empire which is yet to be democratized. The outcomes will be significantly different concerning the promotion of justice as well as in terms of economic and socio-cultural development. I will return to these issues later. Now I will proceed to the question of Oromo right to life, the violations of that right by the Ethiopian ruling elites, and the relevance of a sovereign Oromo state for its protection. As a concept, the right to life is a moral issue pertaining to the belief that a human being has inherent rights not to be killed by another human being or put to death arbitrarily by a state. The right of all human beings to life is acknowledged in most philosophical treatises. There are many ways in which a people’s right to life can be violated by states: they can be killed arbitrarily as individuals or massacred collectively as a community or a nation. They can be denied the right to food and water and made to die of want. Some scholars call this genocide by attrition. As a consequence of Abyssinian colonization, and occupation of their country, the Oromo have been exposed to conditions similar to those mentioned above at one time or another during the last 130 years. As I have discussed at length in an article titled “Genocidal Violence in the Making of Nation and State in Ethiopia” (see African Sociological Review, Vol. 9(2), 2005), the situation of human rights in Ethiopia has been a depressing story, and the impunity with which human life has been destroyed by consecutive Ethiopian regimes is outrageous. It must be noted here that, for the various reasons I will raise in this article, the Oromo have, more than any other population group, been suffering from the atrocities of the Ethiopian regimes. Alluding to the hostile treatment of the Oromo people by generations of Abyssinian rulers and pointing out their denial of the right to life to the them, Jaarso Waaqo, whose allegorical oral poetry I have mentioned in PART 1 of this article series, said,
‘Come’ they called us. If we refused, we would be killed, if we came, we would be flogged. Was there really any hope of life for us?
In these lines, Jaarso (see “The Poetics of Nationalism” in Baxter et.al, Being and Becoming Oromo, 1996) alludes to the ease with which Ethiopian regimes have been denying the Oromo the right to life. He wonders if the life he and his countrymen have as Ethiopian subjects is worthy of human beings. Because he says
The mass killings of Oromo, was like the killing of flies and ticks
He was raised as a Boran Oromo who are one of Africa’s greatest cattle herders and the metaphors he uses reflect that social background. The rage he feels is apparent in his use of metaphors which parallels the killings of the Oromo with the killing of flies and ticks. For pastoralists, flies and ticks are nuisances and deserve destruction without thought or concern. For Jaarso, that is what the Abyssinian ruling elites, including the present ones, have been doing against the Oromo: killing them with utmost impunity. Jaarso’s observations remind me of Elias Canetti’s insightful accounts of impunity with which absolute power can be exercised. According to Canetti (see his Flight Crowds, 1973), the way a predator attacks and treats its victim reflects how dangerous the prey is and its capacity to retaliate and protect itself from the attack of a predator. He stated that if the predator has had a hard fight to overcome the prey, or was seriously threatened by it, or injured and enraged by it, he will want to make it pay for this and will press harder than is necessary. But, once the predator (Canetti means we humans also do that) is in total control of the situation, contempt of the prey will be stronger than the fear of it. The predator, says Canetti, sees the powerless victim as an “annoying” creature deserving no “respect”. That mixed feeling of contempt and fear described above is seen often in the Abyssinian ruling elites’ treatment of the Oromo since conquest. It is what Jaarso is hinting at in the lines I have quoted above. He indicates the manner in which the naftanya ruling elites started to treat the Oromo once they got the upper hand in the battlefields, with the help of European firearms. Since then the Oromo are either farii (‘cowardly’) or aramané (“merciless”) Galla, but not human subjects worthy of equal respect. When they show compliance, they are farii Galla and are to be despised, disrespected and exploited outrageously. When they resist, they are aramané Galla and are denied the right to life; they are destroyed without mercy. Regrettably, the present ruling elites are not free from the longstanding Abyssinian elites’ contempt for and fear of the Oromo. They started to show that mixed attitude as soon as they penetrated into the Oromo territory and attained the upper hand militarily. Following the OLF withdrawal from the Transitional Government in June 1992 they became increasingly audacious. This was reflected in the remarks which the late Prime Minister used to make about the OLF. Mr. Meles Zenawi loved to talk contemptuously about the OLF as a non-existent organization, but used also to depict it as a terrorist outfit which ironically comes out of “non-existence” in different shapes now and then, and becomes responsible for lack of peace in the country. By and large, any opposition or lack of compliance shown by members of the Oromo majority is met with accusations of involvement with the OLF. Members of legally registered Oromo opposition parties were painted by him with the same color. Consider, for example, what he said to Vicki Huddleston, the American Charge de Affairs in Addis Ababa, in November 2005 about the Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM) and the Oromo National Congress (ONC). He told her that the OFDM “like Sinn Fein, is the political front of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF),” and the Oromo National Congress (ONC) was also “closely associated with the illegal OLF” (Huddleston to A/S Frazer and Das Yamamoto. Subject: Ethiopia: Meles on Internal Situation, E.O.12958: DECL: 01/11/2005). What is unsaid but understood in Meles Zenawi’s communication with Miss Huddleston is that if OFDM is like Sinn Fein, the OLF is the like IRA—the Irish Republic Army. It is interesting to note here that, in the TPLF’s political lexicon, “terrorism” replaced “narrow nationalism” as a demonizing label for Oromo national struggle for justice and it became easier and acceptable after 9/11, to repress or destroy the Oromo as “terrorists” than “narrow nationalists.” However, the parties of Bulcha Demeksa and Merera Gudina are in coalition with conservative Ethiopian political parties which, like the TPLF, also see the OLF as enemy. The suggestion that OFDM was an Oromo Sinn Fein and the ONC is closely associated with the OLF is born out of distrust and anxiety. It has nothing to do with objective reality. Nevertheless, the contempt with which Oromo have been treated by the TPLF regime during the last two decades and the impunity of its security forces in violating the human dignity of those they detain and imprison, confirm Canetti’s depiction of the “successful” predator’s hateful and contempt-filled treatment of its victim. Alluding to the predator instinct in us humans, Canetti says that, having dehumanized those we overpower, we feel no moral remorse in destroying them. They mean nothing to us. Here destruction stands for both the physical and psychological wellbeing of the overpowered. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to say this is also how the Oromo have been treated by the Abyssinian ruling elites, including the present ones. The lines I have cited from Jaarso’s poem here, pertain not only to the impunity with which the rulers of the Ethiopian state have been killing the Oromo, but suggest also that it is naïve to expect justice from them. Jaarso says,
Even if they killed us, was there anyone who could stop them? If I were to accuse them, there they were in the office too. …
In other words, the killer and the judge are one and the same. In fact, there are many cases where prisoners who were freed by the law courts have been overruled by the police. As I will describe later, this was the case of Qamaria Haajii Shabbu who died in prison together with her baby in Robee town, in Bale, in March 1996. Writing about the human rights’ situation in apartheid South Africa, Steve Biko had stated that the black people “should not at any one stage be surprised at some atrocities committed by the government” (see his I Write What I like, (1976). For Biko this follows logically after the initial audacity of the white settlers, who in spite of their number became not only supreme masters by terrorizing the indigenous populations with brutal force, but also could install themselves as the perpetual rulers of the latter. Consequently, he said “anything else they do to the same black people becomes logical in terms of initial cruelty.” He concludes, “To expect justice from them at any stage is to be naïve.” By that he meant, one cannot beg for human rights or justice: one must struggle for it. Although Jaarso and Biko talked about situations which existed in two different countries and about oppressors from different racial and cultural backgrounds, their views are similar on this and on many other points. We must remember that, in our case, the initial cruelty of conquest and colonization of our country by the Abyssinians started with the genocidal killings of half of the Oromo population between the 1870s and 1900. The genocidal killings are on record. We are informed about the murderous campaigns of Emperor Yohannes IV (reigned 1872-1889) against the northern Oromo in the 1870s which had resulted in a bloodbath and the displacement of tens of thousands of men, women and children (see Asme’s (1901) book The History of the Oromo and the Kingdom of Shawa, translated and ed. by Bahru Tafla, 1987). We know that his vassal, Menelik, who as the King of Shawa (1868-1889), and later his successor on the imperial throne of Abyssinia-cum-Ethiopia (1889-1913) had conquered the Oromo country, extending the bloodbath further south. We know that Menelik and his generals such as Ras Darge, Dajazmach Wolde Gabriel and Ras Wolde Giyorgis had perpetrated genocide against those who resisted conquest and that his forces had committed the atrocious crime of mutilating thousands of Oromo men and women in order to coerce the rest to submit to his rule. However, the consolidation of colonial occupation by Menelik and his successors had neither put an end to Oromo resistance nor dispelled the Abyssinian fear of the Oromo, created by centuries of Oromo dominance in the battles fought between the two peoples between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. Consequently, any sign of Oromo resistance will bring back Abyssinian fear and provoke the killing of the Oromo. In fact the obnoxious tradition called Galla geday (Oromo-killer) had its origins in an environment filled with fear and hate. Margery Perham (see her The Government of Ethiopia, 1969) wrote that, for the Abyssinians, the Oromo were “heathens and enemies fit only for massacre or enslavement.” What she articulates here is both the Abyssinian elites’ opinion about, and actions against, the Oromo. To say the Oromo are “enemies fit for massacre” is to say “they don’t deserve the right to life”, and those who are “fit for enslavement” means those who do not deserve the rights and respect that belong to human beings. By and large, that is how the Abyssinian ruling elites have been treating the Oromo since conquest. Although his regime did not take Oromo lives on the same scale and with the same impunity as his predecessors or successors, one cannot say that the policy of Haile Selassie (reigned 1930-1974) towards the Oromo was benevolent. He chose cultural annihilation over physical mass destruction as a solution to “Oromo threat”. In an article which deals with colonialism and which was published as a chapter in The Oxford Handbook of Genocide Studies (2010), Dominik Schaller states correctly that “colonial mass- violence should not be reduced to physical killing alone,” because “the intended annihilation of a group’s culture and identity” by colonialists “constitute an act of genocide” or ethnocide, as anthropologists call “the practices of cultural destruction.” Ethnocide is genocide committed without bloodshed. It is an erasure of cultural identity. The policy which the Haile Selassie regime had adopted to deal with the Oromo “problem” was ethnocide. It suppressed the Oromo culture, banned the use of the Oromo language for teaching, preaching and administration, and imposed Abyssinian culture and the Amharic language on them. Historically, when the survival of a people is threatened, the normal reaction is self-defense. Raising arms in self-defense or waging political and cultural struggles has been the most frequent response when a people have been attacked or have been occupied and suppressed by others. This has also been the case with the Oromo. In the 1960s, the pan-Oromo Maccaa Tuulama Association (MTA) was formed just to resist, culturally and politically, the imperial regime’s policy of ethnocide. However, the MTA was suppressed and many of its leaders were imprisoned and killed. Consequently, the only choice the Oromo had was raising arms to reclaim their rights. Although the military regime, officially known as the Dergue in Amharic, which came to power in 1974 with the fall of Haile Selassie had promised to end the policy of ethnocide in its declaration of the so-called Program of the National Democratic Revolution (PNDR) in 1976, the suppression of Oromo culture and language did not cease. In fact, the Dergue accelerated, albeit covertly, the spread of the Amharic language among the non-Amhara peoples of Ethiopia through its literacy campaigns and other “development” programs such as the resettlement of Amharic-speaking groups in the south and southwest en masse. Although the demise of the old system had, without doubt, weakened the hold of the Ethiopian regime on the Oromo, it did not lead to respect for life. The killing of Oromos and others continued, and the agents of the Dergue conducted, among others, the so-called netsa ermijja–or instantaneous execution of suspects without any pretense at judicial procedures during the “Red Terror” of the mid-1970s. Oromo leaders such as General Taddese Birru, Qanyazmach Mekonnen Wasenu, Rev. Gudina Tumsaa and many other Oromo men and women became targets of the regime’s terror. Even Oromos who collaborated with and served the regime, such as Haile Fida, the Marxist scholar and the ideological mentor of its leaders, and General Demissie Bulto, a decorated commander of the Ethiopia armed forces, met death disrespectfully at the hands of the regime. Many Oromo men and women were imprisoned. It is true that the Dergue was hostile to all opposition groups from all ethnic groups including the Amhara. It did not differentiate “the right” from “the left” in terms of political ideology. It attacked the EDU (Ethiopian Democratic Union) and the EPRP (Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party) with equal ferocity. But, what made its hostility against the Oromo unique was the undeclared common front it had formed with the Ethiopianist organizations from the right and left against Oromo identity, labeling it unanimously as “narrow nationalism.” The Oromo were attacked from both the left and the right as the regime and the opposition targeted them from different directions, seeing them and the national identity they claim as anti-Ethiopian. That the Oromo were recognized officially as a nation in the PNDR mentioned above did not matter. The Dergue did not allow the collective expression of that identity by its bearers. Those who had expressed it openly were cruelly punished. What made the cruelty of the military regime different from that of its predecessor was the imprisonment of women for political reasons. Under the regime, Oromo women became among the first group of female political prisoners in Ethiopian history to be kept in jail for a long time. The fact that they were mothers of small children whose fathers were either killed, were in jail, or were involved in the struggle away from home did not matter to the regime. Among those who were imprisoned for a decade were Addis Alem Ganatii, Demekech Bekele, Kuwee (Martha) Kumsaa, Na’amat Isaa, Tsahai Tolasaa. Na’amt, who was imprisoned together with her husband Mulugeta Mosisa for ten years, was pregnant with their first child when the regime detained her. She gave birth to a son in prison and he spent the first nine and half years of his life behind bars. The environment had negative consequences on his health. Thus, the families of Oromo nationalists were punished collectively by the Dergue. The tradition of imprisoning mothers with small children is continuing under the present regime. Oromo women were imprisoned in the concentration camps which, as I will describe below, were set up in different parts of the Oromo country in 1992. In many cases, small children are deprived parental care as both parents are put in jail for years. This is, for example, the case of the children of Lalise Wadaajo, journalist and wife of exiled TV journalist Dhabessa Waakjira, himself a former detainee. Their two young children are deprived of parental care as Lalise was sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment in March 2010 and their father is in exile. As Paul Baxter, Jan Hultin and Alessandro Triulzi have stated in their introductory editorial chapter to the book Being and Becoming Oromo: Historical and Anthropological Enquiries (1996), any Oromo movement is seen as “doubly subversive because it stood for a different sort of moral order” and that was why the Dergue “used its cruellest and crudest forms of violence against signs of distinctive Oromo identity.” Thus, the Abyssinian ruling elites’ fear and contempt of the Oromo outlasted the revolution. Narrow nationalism replaced armané Gallaa as hate words against the Oromo. I want to make myself clear on what I mean by “hate words” in this connection. The Amhara do not hate the Oromo as human beings. They are disturbed by the social identity called Oromo. It threatens them. It is an identity they are reluctant to accept and accommodate. They do not want to allow it to flourish. Therefore, they will discourage its manifestation as much as possible. In the past, when they were in power the Amhara elites suppressed the expression of Oromo identity. Amhara school teachers forced Oromo children to change their names from Oromo names to Amharic ones. Those who ruled the empire imprisoned or killed those who persisted in the assertion of Oromo identity. Thus, the Haile Selassie regime killed leaders and members of the Maccaa Tuulama Association such as Haile Mariam Gamada, Mammo Mazamir and Dawit Abdi. The Dergue had imprisoned and killed many OLF members and leaders for the same reasons. As the reader might have noticed, even today, when an Oromo introduces himself or herself saying “My name is so and so and I am an Oromo”, the immediate reaction of the Amhara is generally “hullachinim Etiyopiawian nen” or “all of us are Ethiopians.” This, often, is a sign of the misrecognition of Oromo identity, because when a Gurage or a Tigrayan says I am a Gurage or Tigrayan there will be no reaction of that sort. There is no problem with being a Gurage or a Tigrayan. It is different with being Oromo. The problem is that the lack of respect for or recognition of Oromo self-definition does not stop at the level of individuals. It is even more pronounced at the national level, and makes the co-existence of the growing self-assertion of collective Oromo identity or nationalism and the dominant Abyssinian (Amhara and Tigrayan)-cum-Ethiopian nationalism within the framework of one state problematic. The Oromo, more than the other dominated peoples, are regarded as a threat to the dominant and privileged position of the culture and language of the ruling elites. For this and other reasons they have been targeted by the homogenizing policies of the Ethiopian regimes more than any other nationality in the country in the past. Indeed, the expression of collective Oromo identity is seen even by the present regime and the Amhara political elites as subversive to the Ethiopia nation state and identity than that of, for example, the Afar or the Sidama ethno-national identity. However, the manner, in which some of the leaders of some of the pro-Ethiopia Oromo political organizations have lately been presenting their “vision” of a democratic Ethiopian state, suggests an easy transition from the present situation. I will come back with comments on the “vision” of pro-Ethiopia Oromo political organizations particularly on that of the newly formed Oromo Democratic Front (ODF) later in this article. It suffices to point out here that the sense of reciprocal recognition among equals on which the basis for fraternal solidarity among citizens can be laid has been difficult to establish between the bearers of Oromo and Abyssinian the two national identities. The gulf between the colonizers and the colonized which had resulted from the conquest and annexation of the Oromo territory by the Abyssinian state at the turn of the nineteenth has not been bridged. By and large, the century old conflict is persisting. It has even become intense since the beginning of the 1990s as reflected in the policies and practices of the present regime and the Oromo response to them.
Violations of the Oromo Right to Life since 1991
The present Ethiopian regime has been lauded during the last two decades by foreign observers for achievements in terms of socio-political and economic development. Its former prime minister, the late Mr. Meles Zenawi, was praised particularly by politicians from the West as a progressive leader who had promoted peace in the Horn of Africa. These views are not shared by the oppressed peoples in Ethiopia, including the Oromo. By and large, the views are contradicted by scholarly reports and facts on the ground. Reports from regional and international human rights organizations such as the Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa, genocide Watch, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch also negate the rosy picture of Ethiopia’s socio-political development drawn by pro-regime sources. The following are some of the facts which are overlooked by those who present the yearnings of the leaders of the TPLF regime as an African success story. To start with, for many years Ethiopia has been among the ten top countries which Genocide Watch has considered as “genocide risk” states. Countries which belong to the top ten on the list are those that have already reached Stage 7 of the 8 Stages. According to the director of Genocide Watch, Professor Gregory Stanton, Stage 7 means that mass massacres are already taking place. The Genocide Watch report (Genocide Warning – Ethiopia, January, 2012) points out the victims of genocidal massacres in Ethiopia are today the Anuak, Ogadeni, Oromo, and the peoples of the Omo River Valley and the killers are the Ethiopian military forces. Speaking to an Inter Press Service (IPS) correspondent in 1995 about the atrocities committed by the present regime against the Oromo, Susan Pollock, a British nurse and human rights activist who had conducted an extensive survey in Ethiopia in 1996 said, “In a Sense their [Oromo] suffering is nothing new but this time they are suffering in a way they have never suffered before” (see IPS, Ethiopia-Refugees: Unwanted Abroad, Under Threat At Home”, 10 April 1996). Indeed, as I will show in this article, the violence of the present Tigrayan regime against the Oromo has been more atrocious than the Dergue. By and large, concentration camps, mass massacres, rape, and forced migration have been the experience of large sections of the Oromo population during the last two decades. As I will discuss later, the agents of the TPLF regime have also been harassing and assassinating Oromo refugees in Kenya and Somalia making the Horn of Africa a vast killing field of the Oromo. In his book The Roots of Evil: The Origins of Genocide and other Group Violence, Ervin Staub has argued that the genocidal situation seldom comes out of nothing or from nowhere: it is an outcome of a continuum of escalating destruction of human lives consisting of and constituted by gross violations of human rights, the deterioration of economic conditions for the majority of the population, and mass repressions which culminate in wholesale killings of populations. As “experts” of repressive measures, the leaders of the TPLF regime have, since they came to power, adopted an amalgam of policies and practices to repress the Oromo and other peoples in Ethiopia in the following manner. First, they started to suppress the Oromo on an extensive scale in 1992 when they built numerous official and unofficial detention centers as well as Nazi style concentration camps where tens of thousands of have been herded, tortured, killed or made to “disappear” without trial. This has been in use, by and large, during the last two decades. Secondly, adopting the old repressive methods of the military dictators of Latin American countries such as General Pinochet of Chile and General Efrain Rios Montt of Guatemala, the regime has been murdering its political opponents. Thirdly, to control the Oromo the regime has combined the kebele system of the Dergue with its own system known gott and garee. In its well-researched document, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) writes that gott and garee system—a subsystem of the kebele, which is being used only in Oromia are “reportedly modeled on rural administrative structures that were put in place in rural Tigray by the TPLF during the war against the Dergue.” (HRW Report, Suppressing Dissent: Human Rights Abuses and Political Repression in Ethiopia’s Oromia Region, Vol. 17 (7A), 2005). However, as it is used now in Oromia, its surveillance technics are modeled more on the Stasi, the secret police of the former German Democratic Republic (DDR) communist regime, than on any other known system. In his book The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police, John Koehler (1999) wrote that at its peak, the Stasi employed 850,000 full time officers for domestic political surveillance and monitored one-third of the East German population. We do not know how many agents are employed by the TPLF regime to monitor the Oromo population of over 30 million, but the gott and garre system, which is said to deploy an agent for every five Oromo household and controls every Oromo, must have more agents than the Stasi ever had. Fourthly, the regime’s “villagization” policy, which is being used at present to control indigenous peoples in Gambella, Benishangul and in the Lower Omo Valley, whose farmlands and pastures are sold or leased to local and international commercial farmers and land grabbers combines elements of the so-called villagization system of the Dergue and the ideology that underpinned the establishment of Indian reservations in the US in the past Starting with “concentration camps,” in the following pages I will discuss the consequences of the policies and cruel practices of present Ethiopian regime in terms of the violations of the Oromo people’s rights to life and the degrading effects they have had on Oromo humanity. Concentration camps The TPLF-dominated regime added concentration camps to the repressive measures used traditionally by the Ethiopian regimes against the Oromo. It has established numerous prison camps all over Oromia and tens of thousands of Oromos have been detained in these since 1992. Notwithstanding a century of colonial rule, the magnitude of the mass imprisonment perpetrated against the Oromo by the TPLF regime was not experienced by them or the other oppressed peoples in the past. Although the large concentration camps such as Dhidheessa (often spelt Didessa) and Hurso are closed, there are dozens of smaller official and unofficial prison camps where numerous Oromo political prisoners are kept in conditions that are described as horrible by former inmates and external observers. In a report which was based on an extensive research Amnesty International (Ethiopia – Acountability past and present: Human rights in transition, April 1995) concluded that there “were two systems for holding government opponents: the official police and prison system and a closed system run by the security service or the military.” Although violations of human rights occur in both, prisoners are at a greater risk in the closed system. The numerous secret prisons and detention-centers in the country are administered under the closed system, while the open and closed systems operated and continue to operate in the bigger concentration camps such as the Dhidheessa. Although the concentration camps of the 1990s were said to have been established for the imprisonment of OLF fighters, the reports indicated that the majority of the detainees were women and children. That was the case of the Dhidheessa concentration camp in Wallaga, which contained 12 to 15 thousand detainees, and was the largest prison camps in the country during the 1990s. The demographic composition of the prisoners contradicted the TPLF-led regime’s propaganda that the detainees were OLF combatants. An interview with a former prisoner (see Ta’era & Schmitt “An EPRDF Prison from inside”, Oromo Commentary 4(1), 1994) indicated that less than 25 per cent of the prisoners in the Dhidheessa Concentration Camp were OLF fighters and that a large proportion of the civilians were “youngsters between ten and fifteen years old: some are even younger than ten. They were put in the Dhidheessa prison after the clash between EPRDF and OLF suspected as members of the OLF.” Among the prisoners were mothers of small children. According to the informant, one of these mothers was Zawditu from Wallo in the north who was imprisoned with her baby. Zawditu had nothing to do with the OLF activities. According to the informant her child cried most of the time because of hunger, and that Zawditu had no food or milk to give her child “except her tears.” Presumably the child did not survive the horrible conditions in the concentration camp. Even thousands of healthy men and women who were taken to the camp did not survive. It seems that the demography of other concentration camps was similar to that at Dhidheessa. For example, it was pointed out by Rainer Eppelmann of the Human Rights’ Committee in the German Parliament, that there were many women and children in the Hurso Camp which he and Dr. Winkelmann, the German Ambassador in Ethiopia, had visited in December 1992 (see his interview with the Ethiopian Herald, 25 December 1992). He said that there was a severe lack of medical care in the camp and that the “wounded did not receive surgical treatment or bullets removed from their bodies.” He also pointed out that the prisoners even lacked cups for drinking water. As noted above, the concentration camps were created as Oromo detention centers like the Nazi concentration camps were for the Jews. However, occasionally there were even non-Oromos in such camps because they spoke the Oromo language. This was witnessed by Magarsaa Dame who was imprisoned in Dhidheessa for some months in 1994 and 1995 accused of training the OLF militia. He told the Amharic weekly Urjii in March 1995 that the TPLF arrests anyone from the street and accuses him or her of being an OLF member and exterminates him or her. Giving an example he said, “For instance, one of his prison mates in Dhidheessa Dr. Aizo Angelo “spoke Oromo language, but was from Walayita and belonged to the Walayita ethnic group.” Magarasaa told Urjii that Dr. Aizo and two other prisoners were taken out of the camp and killed by a TPLF killing squad in a bush 50 km east of Naqamtee on March 18 1995. He was also taken along to be killed with them, but, as I will explain later, was able to escape death and tell the story of what he had witnessed. Thus, the Dhidheessa concentration camp, among others, served as a place where political detainees were tortured, screened, taken away and killed. The informant said “Only a person who experienced personally what is going on in these so-called re-education camps and survived it can tell what it means.” Megressaa told the Urjii journalist mentioned above that “In all the prisons I was [Fitche, Holeta, Zeway, Sanqallee, and Dhidheessa], I saw many people, mostly Oromos, who were tortured.” He mentioned that there are three or four prison quarters in every concentration camp. Some of them are secret quarters that are accessible only to TPLF prison guards, torturers and killing squads. Magarsaa was kept in a secret quarter, and says, “Even the OPDO members who make up part of the EPRDF militia were not allowed to see us.” These sections are concealed from foreign visitors including those from the Red Cross. As the secret quarters are in separate settings “No one would suspect that prisoners would be kept there. Whereas the other prisoners were allowed to go out twice a day, we were allowed only once.” According to the other former Dhidheessa prisoner (see Schmitt & Taera, “An EPRDF Prison Camp from Inside”, Oromo Commentary IV (1), 1994), the secret quarter is called Korea Safer (“Korea Quarter”). Here “The prisoners are not allowed to go out for toilet; they do not get water to drink or are allowed to wash themselves and clothing.” They were locked up in a crowded narrow space “with almost no possibility to move.” Since the conditions were extremely unsanitary the prisoners were infested with lice and suffered from diarrheal diseases such as typhoid fever. The Dhidheessa Concentration Camp was not the only place where evil and death had triumphed over the sense of morality and human life in Oromia during the last two decades. It was estimated that a total of about 3,000 people died from malaria, malnutrition and diarrhea diseases in the four major prison camps of Dhidheessa, Agarfa, Hurso, and Bilate between 1992 and 1994 (see Pollock, 1996). According to the UK based Oromo Support Group (OSG) source, about 1,500 prisoners were said to have died because of contagious diseases and food poisoning in 1994 and 1995 in Hurso alone (OSG, Report 48, 2012). These estimates do not include those who were taken out and killed or died under torture in the camps. Reports on the smaller prison camps also indicate very high death rates. For example two former detainees at Hamaresa military camp, in eastern Hararge, reported that 74 (12.4 per cent) of about 300 “OLF fighters” who were detained there died “during an eleven month period in 1998-1999. Six died in one night alone” (OSG Report 48, 2012). Torture, starvation, contagious disease and lack of medical treatment took their toll. The Oromo have been massacred even outside the concentration camps. The TPLF forces have killed them in large numbers on many occasions and in different places. One such massacre was committed in the Weter area, in Hararge in June 1992. At that time over a thousand demonstrators were killed when the TPLF armed forces opened fire on thousands Oromos on two consecutive occasions (Source: personal communication with Aslii Oromoo, 20 May 2013). TPLF killing-fields: open “graveyards” of Oromo martyrs Under the TPLF-led regime many places and sites in Oromia have become killing fields. Those who had been killed were Oromo from of both sexes and all age groups; their killers are the TPLF forces who have been occupying the Oromo territory since 1991. Interviews made by the Voice of America (VOA) Afaan Oromoo program on February 21 2007 with Oromos whose families have experienced the cruelty of the present ruling elites, witnessed the existence of smaller and unknown prison camps in Oromia. The VOA had broadcast the interviews as a documentary titled “Gaara Suufii–The Killing Hill/Field”, in Afaan Oromoo with an English translation. The respondents described how, in early 2007, the TPLF-led regime had murdered many Oromos in the bushes of Gaara Suufii. Two of the cases covered in the documentary were a 14-year old school girl Ayisha Ali and a 72-year old farmer Ahmed Mohammed Kuree. The heart-wrenching stories about their fates were told by Shamsi Musa, the mother of Ayisha Ali, and Kadija Usman, the widow of Mohammed Kuree. I will start with the story of Kadija Usman, who said to the VOA correspondent, “My husband Ahmed Mohammed Kuree was a farmer. Farming is all he knew. The tax man took him away to “China [Prison] Camp” … He was told he was going to pay his taxes. . …. After they took him….we searched for him for three weeks to no avail. After three weeks and having heard a rumor we went to Gaara Suufii. After two days of searching we found his prayer beads, his cloth and a single piece of his bone which the hyenas left behind after devouring the rest of his body and we took those items home. What is more, after we got home, they [agents of the regime] condemned us for going to Gaara Suufii and for mourning.” Kadijja told the VOA that for fear of repercussions, she did not conduct the customary burial and that even the Islamic prayer for the dead was not recited for her husband. It should be noted here that mourning for those who were killed by agents of the regime was banned under both the TPLF-led regime and the Dergue. The Dergue interpreted mourning for its victims not just as grief over the loss of beloved ones but as “anti-revolutionary” or an expression of resistance to the enforcement of what it called ‘revolutionary’ justice. The TPLF regime saw it as an exposure of its criminal deeds to the public. Both punished those who mourned. To go back to Kadija’s story, when asked how she found out that her husband was taken to Gaara Suufi, she said: “A meeting was called which some of our people attended. Our people enquired about my husband at the meeting. At that point they said to his sister (my sister in law): Your brother has died. …. give up the search for your brother.” She went home in tears.” It was also then that Kadija knew about the killing fields of Gaara Suufii and went there to search for her late husband’s remains. Killing fields but no graves: “You are to be devoured by wild beasts” The mother of the fourteen years old Ayisha Ali, Mrs. Shamsi Musa, was a single mother when her daughter was snatched from her side at night and murdered by the agents of the Ethiopian regime. She described the events leading up to her daughter’s murder to VOA as follows: the security agent was armed. “He arrived at 3 a.m. He woke her up from where she was sleeping and ordered her to get on the motor-bike he came on. Ayisha had a wound on her behind which she told him about. He said “forget your wound. You are to be devoured by wild beasts” and ordered the teenager to follow him. She followed him with only her skirt on her back. That was how he took my daughter away from me. Because he is [from] the government, we assumed he was taking her to a prison. I had always assumed she was detained and searched for her in detention camps for two weeks.” But, like the search other numerous Oromos who had been kidnaped by regime agents since 1992, the search for Ayisha did not result in finding her alive. As the regime’s agent who dragged her out of her bed into the dark night said to her, she was murdered soon after her arrest, and her body was thrown into the bush. There, she was devoured by hyenas. Ayisha’s mother, Shamsi Musa, told the VOA it was when she heard the rumor about Ahmed Mohammed Kuree that she went also to Gaara Suufii in search of her daughter’s remains. She said: “There we found her skirt, sweater, under wears and her hair, braided and red [dyed] as it was when she was taken away. That was all we found of my daughter’s remains.” And that was the fate of a fourteen-year old girl and her hapless mother. Regrettably, there are thousands of Oromo mothers, out there in the vast Oromo country, who are battling in silence with agonizing feelings of grief similar to that experienced by Ayisha’s mother. Mrs. Shamsi Musa told the VOA: “Besides my daughter’s we found many human remains.” Without doubt those were the remains of some of the “disappeared” sons and daughters, or fathers and mothers, whose families have been waiting with the hope of seeing them alive. The horrible stories told by Kadija Usman and Shamsi Musa, were corroborated by other residents of Mi’esso. Abdulhakim Mohammed, a former prisoner, told VOA that in the two months of December 2006 and January 2007, hundreds of Oromos from the towns of Culloo, Ciroo, Baddeessaa, Habroo and Mi’esso have been herded to a concentration camp known as “China Camp”. Abdulhakim said, “After detaining them there, they took over twenty of them to Gaara Suufii in the middle of the night and shot them there.” He gave the VOA the names of thirteen of the victims including the districts and villages they were taken from. Among the names he mentioned were Ahmed Mohammad Kuree, who is mentioned above, and Kedir Aliyyuu, who was a grade eight student, also from Mi’essoo. An elderly man who was also a prisoner in the “China Camp” for two and a half months (he wanted to be anonymous for fear of retaliation by the regime) also described the horrible human rights abuses at the camp in the following words: “There is always torture in that place. People are beaten day and night.” He gave the names of torturers and interrogators at the prison. He said the interrogators took the prisoners away at night between midnight and 4 a.m. He adds that many of those who were taken away never came back. He mentioned that there were camp inmates who were persecuted not because of any crime they had committed, but under the pretext of their family members joining groups that oppose the regime. The torturers “ask about the OLF army that prisoners are alleged to have been feeding. Women and the elderly are subjected to the same treatment.” Speaking about the origins of his prison mates, the anonymous informant said that, “People are brought there from as far away places as Adaama and Dheeraa” towns in central Oromia and that communication between prisoners is not allowed. He adds that the atrocious abuses of human rights in the camp are not known to human rights’ advocates. Neither the Red Cross nor their relatives were allowed to visit the prisoners. One of the many ways that is used by the TPLF regime to conceal its crimes is to arrest its victims out of public sight, including their neighbors, late at night. The victims are taken to locations far away from home, imprisoned often in non-official jails, and are kept incommunicado with the outside world including their families. They are transferred frequently from one prison to another to prevent them from establishing durable contacts with other prisoners. Many detainees are killed and their bodies are dumped in the wilderness for the wild beasts to feed on. The killings occurs also late at night. In Cambodia, Bosnia and elsewhere where evil had triumphed, the killing-fields were also sites of mass graves. In Oromia the TPLF killing squads do not bother to dig graves and bury their victims. As we have seen with the case of Ayisha Ali and other Oromos who were killed at Gaara Suufii in 2007, they leave the job of “burying” to the hyenas and Nature. Mass graves can be opened and investigated; the remains of corpses devoured by hyenas and vultures, if at all accessible, are not useful in making conclusive investigations. The soil “assimilates” readily or more quickly the skeletons of numerous murdered Oromos that are scattered in the bushes than those buried in graves. That is how the victims of the TPLF regime are made to “disappear.” However, bodies left in the bushes late at night are not always consumed by wild beasts and disappear at once. There are cases where the hyenas have left half-eaten human bodies that were recognized by people. This was the case of Suleman Ahmed and Bayan Ibrahim who were accused of supporting the OLF, taken from their homes in Baddano, tortured, killed and left in the bushes in 1996. Their bodies were partly eaten by hyenas and were found by shepherds (see Sherrer & Bulcha, War against the Oromo and Mass Exodus from Ethiopia, 2002: 83). There are also cases where bodies were found by farmers before the hyenas came over them. This was the case with 27 persons whose bodies were found at three sites near Babbo Gambel in west Wallaga on April 28, 1995 by farmers who had heard the sound of guns on April 27 and went to the place. Only three of the 27 men, Henock Yonatan Isaac, Mesfin Dagafa and Tsegaye Nagaraa were identified. The first two were known to the people in the area. It was reported that they were taken from a military camp in Najjoo on April 6, 1995, three weeks before the shooting. The rest were brought from elsewhere and killed there. Needless to say they belong to “disappeared” category of TPLF regime’s victims. Sue Pollock (1996) writes that the “Farmers reported that the bodies to the local administration in Jaarso, who made no investigation into the killing.” Making investigations of that sort is beyond the power of the local administration, and we also know that such cases are seldom investigated at any level. If at all, those who are in charge of an investigation are the perpetrators of the outrageous crime themselves. Jaarso Waaqo, the Oromo oral poet mentioned above, was pointing out just this when he chanted:
Even if they killed us, was there anyone who could stop them? If I were to accuse them, there they were in the office too.
Indeed, the rule of law does not exist in the country. Regrettably, justice for those who are oppressed in Ethiopia is absent not only at the country level. Although the crimes of the Ethiopian regime against humanity are well known through the numerous reports of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other organizations, the international political organizations such as the UN, the African Union and the European Union seem to listen only to what the Ethiopian regime says—the lies it tells about the victims of its crimes. However, there are Oromos who, with the hope of getting the attention of the international community, will keep on telling the truth about the crimes which the Ethiopian regime is committing against their people, because, for them, to be silent is to “commit sin”. This was the case, for example, of a former prisoner and survivor of the TPLF regime’s killing-squad who, taking a great risk, told a journalist the following story in Finfinnee (Addis Ababa) in March 1995. A story told by a survivor from the TPLF killing-field Unlike the Dergue which announced the murderous actions over the mass-media triumphantly whenever it killed its opponents, the TPLF-led regime never boasted about its “victories” over “the enemies of its revolution”. It did not display the corpse of Oromo youngsters such as the 14-year old Ayisha Ali as the Dergue did with the victims of its terror. Far from informing the public about actions they take against their opponents, it seems that they do not even tell those they will kill the truth while taking them to shooting grounds. In their “professional” jargon, “you will be released means you will be killed.” This was the experience of Magarsaa Dame, mentioned above, who was told on March 10, 1995 that he will be released. The next day he and three of his prison mates, Shimalis Taye, Tamrat Adugna and Dr. Aizo Angelo, were loaded on a military vehicle which was supposed to take them to Naqamtee town. But they were taken to a place near the town of Sire about 50 km east of Naqamtee and were made to spend the night in a bush. The next day the prisoners were driven to a secluded place in a forest between Sire and Anno towns, were ordered to step out of the car and then blindfolded. Magarsaa said “My three prison-mates were then killed on the spot, but because I could see what they were doing through the blindfold I jumped into a ravine behind my back.” He skulked through the bushes into the town of Anno. After entering Anno he told a few residents (he mentions one of them by name) to collect the bodies of his prison-mates. Asked if he could tell him what he had suffered in prison, Magarsaa told the Urjii journalist that “In Sanqalle prison camp, they pounded my testicles with sticks. A TPLF militia named Asmelash Berhe did so saying that Oromo testicles produced Oromos and would eradicate the Oromo ‘race’.” The cruel method was used not only to cause severe pain, but also to terrorize him and turn him into a submissive creature. However, after he escaped from his executioners he took the great risk of travelling directly to Finfinnee to “tell the people what I have witnessed, because to be silent over what I have seen is for me like committing sin” (emphasis mine). Speaking about his health and his plans, he said to the journalist “I am now healing [from the torture wounds] and on the way home. But I am not sure if I can make it. They can kidnap me on the way. They have secret abductors. That I have to tell you.” However, instead of succumbing to fear he took the risk to speak out about the atrocities he had witnessed. Thus the disappearances and murder of Oromos such as the 72 years old Mohammed Kuree and the fourteen-year old school girl, Ayisha Ali, mentioned above were not rare incidents but part of systematic acts of terror conducted by the present regime during the last two decades to control the Oromo. The number of men and women who were recorded, with names and often also pictures, as victims of extra-judicial killings and “disappearance” induced by the present Ethiopian regime by the OSG is over 5,000 (Trueman to Bulcha, 2012-12-03 by mail). The figure indicates only known cases and may have not covered all victims: the reported cases are a fraction of the extra-judicial killings and “disappearances”. In her video documentary Ethiopia: the Night of the Hyena which depicts the atrocities which are being committed against the Oromo by the TPLF-led regime, Sue Pollock says that lack of adequate information from most of the districts in the Oromia Regional State where most of the incidents take place makes it difficult to record violations. However, she gives a long list of the names of Oromo men and women who had “disappeared”. The tricks of blaming victims’ families and confiscate their property What makes the TPLF-led regime’s crime against the Oromo different from that of its predecessors is the manner with which the regime’s agents try to shroud it. The TPLF security arrest people late at night to avoid observation by the public. The arrested are put in concentration camps located far away from their hometowns or villages in order to prevent family visits. Many of the prisoners are moved constantly from one prison camp to another presumably in order to conceal their whereabouts from their families. Magarsaa Dame who is mentioned above had been in five prisons between 1992 and 1995 when he was taken out the Dhidheessa concentration camp to be executed; Aslii Oromoo passed through six jails during the seventeen years of her imprisonment (personal communication, 20 May 2013). Sue Pollock (1996) wrote that visitors to the Zeway prison “are warned not to ask about the whereabouts of friends and relatives. Those who have been persistent have been imprisoned themselves.” As indicated above, prisoners are taken out late at night and murdered in places that are far away from the concentration camps. This seems to be the way the TPLF will conceal it crimes from the public. Jamal Yusuf from Dire Dawa who was in the Hurso concentration camp for one and half years and managed and flee to Djibouti in 1995, told researchers that “the camp authorities made sure the executions took place without witnesses.” He said “individual prisoners ‘disappeared’ after they had been fetched for interrogation” and that the other prisoners knew that “they had been killed” (see Bruna Fossatti, Lydia Namarra & Peter Niggli, The New Rulers of Ethiopia and the Persecution of the Oromo: Reports from the Oromo Refugees in Djibouti, 1996) The wickedest conduct of the regime is, however, the preposterous “searches” for persons it had already kidnapped and imprisoned or killed. Often the regime denies any knowledge about whereabouts of those its agents kidnap, imprison, torture and kill. It harasses the families of its victims in order to silence them or erase the traces of the crime it commits. The following is a story of one of the families against whom such a crime was committed. Hamdia Mohammed, from Hararge, was a grade 9 school student and was helping to run the family shop when she was detained in 2006. Her father, Mohammed Abdulahi, was a driver who co-owned a vehicle. He was arrested many times and detained mostly in Gaara Mullataa. He “disappeared” in 2004. Her elder brother, Afandi Mohammed, worked as a chauffeur. He was arrested and “disappeared” in October 2005. The family lost the driving business. Hamdia’s mother tried to trace Afandi, became disturbed and had a stroke. Hamdia and her 25 year old brother, Ramadan, ran the shop. However, the security men kept coming to the shop, harassing her and asking the whereabouts of her father and brother Afandi. She kept telling them “You are the ones who took them.” At 8.00 p.m. one night in October 2006, two soldiers came through the back door of the shop. They accused her mother of “being the wife of OLF.” The men took Hamdia and Ramadan to Misrak Iz (Eastern Command) military camp in Harar. She was tortured; her head was forced into a barrel of water containing chemicals which burnt her eyes and face so that she was temporarily blinded. She was repeatedly asked “Where is your father? Where have you hidden his documents?” The interrogators tried to intimidate Hamida and get the non-existing documents saying “Your brother has told us everything.” She was also told that her brother, Ramadan, had died in prison. They had killed him. Hamdia told Dr. Trevor Trueman “I was a girl when I was detained, but they raped me, two or three of them mostly, every night for the first week and then every week or two. Three women were kept in my small cell. All of them were raped. I heard others crying out but I don’t know the numbers.” The other women noticed Hamdia was pregnant because she was vomiting. She was given an injection and tablets in the camp clinic and had a miscarriage. The rape stopped for two months and then resumed “one or two people every week.” Once when she resisted, she was beaten and exposed to the midday sun for an hour or so as punishment. As the beatings and gang rape did not give results, and the interrogators were unable to justify why they were torturing her, they eventually told Hamida “We will release you if you work for the government.” She agreed to do so, “because all of my family had been killed anyway.” But, as soon as she was released she fled in April 2007 via Moyale to Nairobi, from where UNHCR took her to Dadaab refugee camp (all emphases mine). In the past, the Ethiopian regimes have used scorched-earth policy of burning villages and mass killings to punish communities that are suspected of giving support to rebel movements. This was particularly the case under the Dergue. The collective punishment of the TPLF regime is focused on the less visible social unit, the family. As we have seen in the cases described above, the entirely family is affected whenever its member opposes the regime or is suspected of supporting those who oppose it. The collective punishment of the present regime is inflicted on several generations in the family. For example Dilgaasa, a 76-years old man from Wallaga, told Amnesty International in 1995 that he was imprisoned by the regime accused of being a sympathizers of the OLF. Because of that the TPLF soldiers shot and killed his son in cold blood in April 1993 and imprisoned and tortured his 16-year-old grandson. They also detained his daughter-in-law who was forced to leave her two month-old child in the care of neighbors. They confiscated his house. At the time of the interview Dilgaasa lived with relatives in Finfinnee (Addis Ababa). He explained that his son, grandson and daughter-in-law were not members or supporters of the OLF. Rape – A Crime against Human Dignity One of the crimes that people avoid talking about is rape. It is tabooed: therefore, we do not hear about it when it is committed against women and their community even on a large scale. As part of violent group conflicts, rape has been part of a process whereby killing the men and raping the women was a method for the annihilation of one group by another. In genocidal killings, the act of raping and denying women and members of their families the right to live often go hand in hand. The most shocking example is the atrocity known as the “Rape of Warsaw” committed by Nazi thugs in 1944 to punish an uprising in Warsaw against German occupation. In that incident, Polack women, including those who were wounded and sick and were in hospital beds, were raped and massacred together with tens of thousands of men and children in the city. Rape is also used to revenge and humiliate opponents and terrorize others. When rape is used for that purpose, it is often meant to cause the feelings of shame and humiliation not only for its victim, but for her family. In Bosnia, rape was used by Serbian forces to take revenge against the Bosniaks. As I will describe below, one of the crimes that has been committed against the human dignity of the Oromo at large has been rape. As noted above, the school girl Hamida was gang-raped by security guards in one of the TPLF unofficial prisons in Oromia. The purpose of the TPLF soldiers’ rape of female Oromo prisoners seems to be not only to take revenge against individuals but also to terrorize and prevent the people from joining or supporting political organizations such as the OLF which oppose the regime. Hinting at what this type of rape entails, Jaarso Waaqo asked the question:
They beat the husband and rape the wife, do you think there are any of our wives left?
The rhetorical question is not far-fetched. It alludes to what is happening against the Oromo community. Thousands of Oromo women were raped during the last twenty years, some of them in the presence of their family members. This was what had happened to Ahesha Moa Ukash and her husband Siraj Ahmed Ali whose story I will present in a moment. Jaarso speaks in collective terms when he asks rhetorically “do you think there are any of our wives left?” He means that one should take politically motivated beatings and serial gang-rapes not as the problem of individual victims, but see it as the beating of all Oromo men and the rape of all of their wives. He saw the rape of Oromo women as a collective punishment of the Oromo nation. The gang-rapes seem to be a revenge on the OLF: most of the raped women were accused of being members of the OLF or its supporters. The rest were detained and raped because they were wives, sisters or daughters of the members or supporter of the organization. They symbolized the OLF in the eyes of the rapists—the agents of the regime. Rape, revenge and repression The gang-rapes are carried out to revenge for Oromo refusal to accept the TPLF rule. In general, the TPLF security men seem to see, in the defenselessness of the women whose arms they bind and rape in prison cells or violate at gun point at home in the presence of their husbands and children, is both the OLF and the Oromo people who have refused to accept them. The case of Ahesha Moa Ukash and her husband, Siraj Ahmed Ali mentioned above shows how the supporters of the OLF and their families are being humiliated outrageously and punished severely by the Ethiopian regime. Ahesha and Siraj were from Daro Labu village in Eastern Hararge and were married in April 1995. Ahesha’s father was imprisoned for seven months in 1993, accused of hiding firearms for the OLF. Both Ahesha and Siraj were not only the supporters of the OLF, but also were, in 1991-1992, representatives of women’s and youth associations in their district respectively. Therefore, they were closely watched by the agents of the TPLF regime. After their marriage in 1995, the couple’s house was searched numerous times, always after midnight. Ahesha told the late Lydia Namarraa “In February 1998 they [the police] came one night and they knocked on the door; my husband opened the door. They just rushed into our house around 3:00 a.m. One group took him to another room. The other group took me to another room, five of them. I was four months pregnant. All of them raped me in turn. I could hear my husband yelling and crying. I gained consciousness about five o’clock. I couldn’t move; I went to the room where my husband was. He was lying on the floor, covered by a sheet. His mouth was full of cloth. I uncovered his body. He was burnt by a hot iron” (Sherrer & Bulcha, 2002). He was dead. Ahesha said when her neighbors came to find out what had happened after the TPLF security had left, she became numb and could not talk or cry. The regime had killed her older brother seven months earlier and now her husband is their victim. The rape and the tragedy became too much for Ayisha. She miscarried. In March, Ahesha’s other brother was an employee of the humanitarian organization Care was arrested in Finfinnee. Then she was approached by two TPLF security men in civilian clothes who said to her that she was talking too much and that “If you don’t stop saying the government killed your husband, and if you tell anyone that we came, you are dead.” Ahesha’s relatives were worried about her life and took her to Finfinnee by night. They couldn’t send her to Djibouti because its authorities were deporting refugees back to Ethiopia at that time. From Finfinnee she fled to Kenya. She learned in exile that seven members of her family, including her father, were arrested and that their property was confiscated. Another rape victim, Abiiba Ali, 27, from Wachile, Borana in southern Oromia told Dr. Trevor Trueman that she was a housewife and a small trader of clothes, matches, sugar and other small items. Her husband was a supporter of the OLF but not a member. He was arrested in 2004 and taken to Harero town and then “disappeared”. Seven days after his arrest, eight uniformed soldiers came to her house demanding to see OLF documents. They took her to the bush with her one year old twin boys. From 8.00 p.m. to 12.00 midnight, the soldiers gang-raped her in front of her sons and left her there. She was unable to walk back to her house and was found by neighbors 9.00 a.m. next morning in the bush. Since that time she has frequency of urination−about every 10 minutes. Back at her village, soldiers told village elders that she should not leave her compound or speak to anyone. Soldiers took all of her possessions and the money that they could find. She had hidden some money and took this, travelling with cattle traders on a four day walk to Moyale on the Kenyan border. She paid an agent to take her over the border. She then got a lift in a truck with goats and cattle to Nairobi. In Kenya Abiiba lived in Kariobangi for two years, working as a cook in a hotel, and registered with UNHCR. However, her refugee life was not secure. Therefore, she was taken by UNHCR to Kakuma refugee camp in February 2008. She has not been called for status determination interview still in 2010 when Dr. Trevor Trueman interviewed her. She told him that “Life is a bit easier here. The main problem now is loss of hope (emphasis mine). I’m a single mother without refugee status. People consider you a prostitute, as a single mother. I don’t want to think of my present or past life. I get flashbacks. I have to keep busy.” The destruction of one’s family life and the compulsion of urinating every few minutes induced by a traumatizing gang rape is not something one can get over easily, if at all. Biiftu (30) told Trevor Trueman in November 2011 in Djibouti that she was detained in Dire Dawa police station in eastern Oromia, together with her sister-in-law, in 2005. Her brother was on the local election board for the May 2005 elections. Just after the elections, he was accused of vote-rigging in favor of the opposition and disappeared. Biiftu, her mother and her brother’s wife were taken from their home by five policemen and put in a cell at Dire Dawa police station with three other women. They were all beaten with sticks on the first day. She was gang-raped serially by the policemen for 20 days. Her tormentors told Biiftu “We will do this every day until you bring your brother.” Her sister-in-law was also raped in another room. As soon as she was released after almost a month in detention, Biiftu travelled to Djibouti with nomads. She walked seven days to reach Djibouti city. She has not seen her sister-in-law since their release. Because of the gang rape, Biiftu developed a uterine infection and is now infertile. Thus, the women in the extended family are imprisoned, beaten and gang raped and forced to go into exile because the regime had suspected one of its members of vote-rigging. There are also those who were tortured and raped and died in prison, but whose stories we may never come to know. Some even died in prison with their children. The outrageous treatment of Qamaria Haaji Shabbu, who died with her child in prison in Roobe town, Bale in 1996 (see Urjii, Finfinnee, May 14 & 21, 1996) is a case in point here. Qamaria was married in 1995 to Saani Abdalla, a local businessman who was suspected by the TPLF security agents of supporting the OLF. Harassed and threatened, Saani fled to save his life leaving his young wife, who was pregnant with their first child, behind. The new home and life the young couple had just started to build for themselves was destroyed forever. Soon after after Saani fled, Qamaria was dragged from her home without any warrant from a law court and was thrown into prison by the TPLF military. Her case was brought before the court, and the judge, seeing no reason for detention, ordered the prison authorities to set her free immediately. But the local regime cadres over-ruled the court decision and threw her back into prison where she was kept for four and half months, and subjected to torture. Her “crime” was marriage to Saani Abdalla and the possession of a basket with the OLF flag waved into it. Apparently induced by torture, she gave birth prematurely to a son who survived for only for a few hours. Her health deteriorated after that, but the TPLF prison officials did not allow her to get proper medication. Qamaria died alone in prison on March 24, 1996. She was in her late teens. Although it was not reported, it is most likely that Qamaria, like most of the other detained Oromo women, was also raped. It is possible to say that Oromo women are among groups who have been the most vulnerable to sexual violence in Ethiopia during the last two decades. It is no news that the Oromo are politically repressed more than any other population group in Ethiopia. Consequently, the number of Oromo women who have been imprisoned, tortured and raped is large. Interviews carried out by Dr. Trevor Trueman in November and December 2011 in Djibouti and Somaliland among a small sample of 43 randomly selected refugees from Ethiopia showed that 23 (17 men and 6 women) were former detainees. “All of the 17 male former detainees reported being tortured, in almost all their places of detention. Four of the six female former detainees reported being tortured.” In other words, 91 per cent of the 23 former detainees were tortured (OSG, Report 48, May, 2012). What is equally shocking is the routine rape of female detainees. The survey shows that of the six female respondents who were prisoners, four reported that they were raped in detention. Only one reported not being raped. The interview with the sixth respondent (in Hargheisa) was interrupted because of security concerns. Another report which was based on interviews conducted in 1998 among Oromo refugees in Kenya and Sudan by the late Lydia Namara and Tarfa Dibaba and Professor Christian Scherrer (see Scherrer & Bulcha 2002) confirms the appalling situation reported by OSG. Although the respondents were not asked about rape, many of them mentioned spontaneously that they were raped or that they have seen other women being raped in the TPLF-run prisons in Oromia. It seems that gang-rape is a “method” routinely used to torture Oromo women the TPLF agents see as enemies. Taking into account the taboo about rape, the number of women who are willing to reveal that they were its victims is astounding. My interpretation of this brave behavior is this: they are breaking taboos not to ask for sympathy but to remind us not to let the rapists continue with their abhorrent crime against other women, whether they are Oromo or not. They are claiming justice for every woman who has suffered and is suffering sexual assault in Ethiopia. Most of the former female Oromo detainees and prisoners, who were asked about their experience by different researchers and in different places, report that they were gang-raped repeatedly. Rape was used to torture and obtain confessions from them or just to humiliate them. In general, the TPLF regime, it seems, is not satisfied by taking the life of an Oromo political opponent. It destroys his family and confiscates their property. Its security men detain and rape his wife, daughter(s) and sister(s), and kill or force them into exile. The horrific crimes committed against the five young Oromo women mentioned reflect this reality. They have not harmed anyone or committed any crime. Hamida’s, Ahesha’s, Abiiba’s, Biiftu and Qamaria’s crime was being wives, and in Biiftu’s case sister, of men who were suspected of being supporters or members of the OLF. For that they were subjected to the traumatizing experiences of imprisonment, serial gang rapes, torture, humiliation, the loss of family and impairment of health. Because of her gang rapes, Ahesha miscarried. Abiiba incurred urinary complications. Biiftu suffered infection and became infertile. Qamaria and her child died in prison. Deprived of their families, their property and their health, and unable to lead life worthy of human dignity in their country, the four women were forced to make the desperate choice of flight to foreign countries. Similar harms have been inflicted on tens of thousands of Oromo women and their families during the last two decades. To summarize, the imprisonment, rape and murder conducted by the TPLF is systematic and less visible than the scorched-earth strategy of the Dergue. The killing is scattered all over the Oromo country. Small concentration camps like the “China Camp” and killing fields like Gaara Suufii have existed all over Oromia during the last two decades, and nobody knows how many Oromo men, women and children have been arrested, imprisoned or killed by the TPLF forces. During the dark days of the Red Terror, the Dargue charged the family of a murdered son or daughter the cost of the bullet it had used to kill him or her. In comparison, the TPLF-regime has made murdering the Oromo a profitable undertaking; the property of the victim’s family is confiscated. Remarkably, most of the affected families in both the rural areas seem to be better off than the rest of the people in terms of wealth and education: they belong to the category of petty bourgeoisie against whom the TPLF had declared war in its Hizbaawi Adeera manifesto of 1996. ==================================================================== The article will continue with a second section next week ==================================================================== *Dr. Mekuria Bulcha is a Professor Emiritus of Sociology at the School of Sustainable Development of Society and Technology at Mälardalen University, Sweden. He is an author of widely read books and articles. His new book, Contours of the Emergent and Ancient Oromo Nation, is published by CASAS (Centre for Advanced Studies of African Society), Cape Town, South Africa, in 2011. He was also the founder and publisher of The Oromo Commentary (1990-1999). He is an active member of the OLF and has served in the different branches of the national movement since the 1970s.
By Mekuria Bulcha | November 9, 2012
Culture as a Weapon in the Fight for an Independent Oromia
In the three debate articles I have published on this subject in the course of this year, I have argued that history and the current situation speak for Oromo independence assessing the so-called declaration made by a group that split from the OLF positing that the objective of the Oromo Liberation to form an independent state of Oromia is “dropped” in favor of a “new democratic federal republic of Ethiopia”. In the second article I made a call for a declaration of our preferences and for an articulation of a common vision, and above all, a conviction that speaks for the sovereign state which our people deserve and are aspiring for. In the third article I have provided a critical analysis of the arguments being made by other observers against the formation of an independent Oromo state.
In this article I will present the arguments which in my view express the Oromo claim for sovereignty, that is to say an independent state of Oromia. The article starts with the fundamental issue of peoples’ right to seek independence from a colonial rule and discusses at length issues such as the right to life, the right to life worthy of human beings, and the right to a life free from fear instigated by the state and its agents, which precipitate in general the Oromo quest for sovereignty. At the core of the argument is the conviction that (a) freedom is an inherent human right which no one has the right to deny any people and (b) that the Oromo, who, given the bitter experience of not only a century-long colonial oppression but also of the brazen betrayals of their trust by Abyssinian ruling elites many times in the past, have no choice but draw on their rich human and material resources, restore their freedom, and establish their own sovereign state. In addition (c) the article will answer the question why havingtheir own sovereign state is crucial for the Oromo people in achieving social, cultural and economic development.
The article has four parts including this one. In this one I will show that the on-going Oromo struggle is not only about freedom but also about survival as a people and culture. I will describe and analyse the role of culture in the struggle including the way the Oromo rejection of Ethiopiyawinet (Ethiopian identity) is expressed culturally. The important but unacknowledged role which Oromo music, art, literature and culture are playing in promoting Oromummaa (Oromo identity) is highlighted. It argues that art, music and culture in general have increasingly become the most potent weapons in the Oromo struggle for nationhood and statehood. The article demonstrates that the most passionate theme with which Oromo writers, poets, artists and other agents of Oromo culture are engaged today is bilisummaa—independence. In addition, the article exposes the futility of the TPLF regime’s effort to kill Oromo nationalism by imprisoning, torturing and assassinating Oromo artists. Furthermore, it criticizes the pro-Ethiopia Oromo politicians who are busy trying to shelter our nation under the shade of a non-existing democratic state of Ethiopia, instead of paying attention to the aspiration of our people, which the works of our artists and other Oromo cultural activities express.
The other three parts of this article will be forthcoming consecutively during the coming six weeks.
A Word on Freedom and Sovereignty
Freedom, or bilisummaa in the Oromo language, is a subject which has preoccupied the Oromo since their land was conquered at the end of the nineteenth century. This is particularly the case of the last forty years during which the Oromo people have been conducting intensive political and protracted armed struggle for national liberation. Thousands of Oromos have died fighting for liberation during the last four decades. Tens of thousands of Oromos were also jailed, tortured and marked with traumas that will follow them for the rest of their lives. Tens of thousands of them are in Ethiopian jails even now.
The Oromo struggle for freedom is being fought not only with firearms but also with other means. Thus, Oromo scholars, artists and politicians have produced all kinds of literature concerning the quest for freedom. During the last two decades the “war with words” has taken the upper hand over armed struggle, and the words of Oromo scholars, poets and artist are playing a decisive today. In fact, Oromo poets and artists have, during the last few years, taken the frontline and are becoming the leading figures and spokespersons of their people’s national quest for sovereignty. Even here, the struggle is not without its casualties; many Oromo poets, journalists and artists have been imprisoned, tortured and murdered by the present regime. The list of artists and poets who were imprisoned, tortured, killed or made to “disappear” or were forced into exile during the last twenty years is long too enumerate here.
In this article it suffices to focus on the contribution of some of the artists and writers. I will start with the contribution of Jaarso Waaqo who was one of the well-known Oromo poets and martyrs of the struggle. What makes Jaarso Waaqo an interesting case is his background and speed with which his message could spread among the Oromo. Jaarso had never gone to school. He composed political poetry which he recorded on cassettes. The cassettes became very popular and were spread in Oromo communities both in Oromia and Kenya in the early 1990s. Jaarso grew up in the Borana region of southern Oromia in the town of Moyale on the Kenyan border. His poetry became an effective means for uniting and mobilizing the different Oromo communities for the struggle led by the OLF which Jaarso joined in 1991. The poems expressed feelings of rage against Oromo oppression under the regimes of Haile Selassie and Mengistu Hailemariam, and indeed the harassment suffered by them under the present EPRDF regime. Above all the poems advocated unity which Jaarso believed was the only remedy for the harms being inflicted on the Oromo under Ethiopian domination.
The following quotation is from “The Poetics of Nationalism” which is a collection of poems by Jaarso Waaqo translated to English by Abdullahi Shongolo and published as an article in Being and Becoming Oromo (eds. Baxter, et al 1996). Jaarso writes:
“Come”, they called us. If we refused, we would be killed, if we came, we would be flogged. Was there really any hope of life for us? ……..
There is no idling away, but to direct your thoughts to liberate yourselves Now patience is no longer tolerable, it’s time to find an end to servitude, . ……
Let us unite our strength, our Great God is there for us, our Great God is there for us.
As indicated in the quotation, Jaarso tells his countrymen to unite and get rid servitude. He believes that God is on their side.
Needless to say Oromo poets and artists are not alone in the world in expressing the popular feeling of this sort against foreign domination. Be it against domestic oppressors, or alien rulers, popular struggles have almost always had their artists and poets who express the feelings of the masses. For example compare the content of the following excerpt from a poem by the Hungarian author, Sándor Petöfi, with the feelings expressed in Jaarso Waaqo’s piece cited above. Petöfi wrote,
Rise up, Magyar, the country calls, It’s ‘now or never’ what fate befalls… Shall we live as slaves or free men? That’s the question – choose your ‘Amen’! God of Hungarians, we swear unto Thee We swear unto Thee – that slaves we shall no longer be! ….
Petöfi was one of the greatest Hungarian nineteenth-century authors. Many of his revolutionary works reflected the Hungarian desire for freedom from the Austrian Empire. His poems in particular symbolized the passion of the Hungarian people for independence during the revolutionary uprising of the 1840s. One of his poems, Talpra Magyar (“Rise, Hungarian”), from which I took the excerpt cited above, was written on the eve of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848 and became the national anthem of Hungary after independence. It is interesting to see that passion for freedom expressed in Petöfi’s poem is almost replicated in Jaarso Waaqo’s poem. Obviously, life in nineteenth century Hungary and twenty-first century Oromia are worlds apart. However, in spite of the great differences between the two poets, their aspirations for sovereignty are similar. Although I cannot go into details here, even the degree of oppression to which the two artists were exposed differed much. It seems that the Habsburg dynasty who ruled the Austrian Empire were far more humane in the treatment of their subjects than the Abyssinian rulers of the Ethiopian empire state have ever been to theirs. However, the yearnings of the two poets were similar. Both Jaarso Waaqo and Sándor Petöf equate lack of sovereignty with slavery. With both poets, a life worthy of human beings is at the heart of their quest. It is not just individual rights which they claimed but national sovereignty, which is the right of a nation to assert power over its territory. We know from history that foreign rule is seen nowhere as legitimate: it stirs collective aspirations for sovereignty wherever it occurs. The Habsburgs ruled an empire and were considered foreigners in Hungary and in other states which became independent when the Austrian Empire disintegrated. The one specific thing Oromo poets, dead and alive, have in common with Hungarian poets like Sándor Petöfi, is the quest for national sovereignty. Freedom from colonial oppression in all its visible and invisible dimensions has been the burning issue that underpinned the struggle of the Oromo for independence.
Conditions that instigate sovereignty claims
There are at least three major political and historical conditions which have instigated demands for secession or independence of territories from states or empires and have set off the creation of new sovereign states in the aftermath of World War II. The first condition concerns conquest, annexation and colonization of territories by states or empires in the past. Thus the European colonial conquest in Africa in the nineteenth century and in Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean before that led to the creation of numerous new states in the aftermath of World War II. The indigenous populations who lost their inherent rights of self-government as the result of colonization were empowered by an international convention underlined in the Declaration on Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples (Resolution 1514 (XV) adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 1960. Many countries which were European colonies in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean and the Pacific region became sovereign states after the UN had adopted the declaration.
The second conditionthat justifies the creation of a new state is a prolonged conflict leading to massive violation of human rights involving a state and a nation or an indigenous group with a specific homeland or territory. There is a tacit agreement among scholars, human rights activists and international statesmen that the creation of new sovereign states would be justified where such a situation obtains and when no solution is in sight. The creation of new states during the Balkan crisis of the 1990s, particularly those of Bosnia and Kosovo, can be cited as an example here.
The third circumstance which leads to the creation of a new state occurs where inhabitants of a sub-state or territory show the desire to secede from a state or an empire of which they have been a part for a long time and build their own state. This has happened many times in the past and is still today in progress in some parts of the world. A history of conquest, annexation and mistreatment is often in the background even here. This was for example the case of the Ukrainians, the Georgians, the peoples of Baltic States and others who seceded from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (in effect from the Russian empire) in the 1990s. However, the immediate reason that stirred the desire for secession differs from case to case. Although parts of the Ukraine was under Russian rule for over 300 years, its separation from Russia, after such a long period of co-existence was motivated to a large extent by sovereignty which Ukrainian politicians and intellectuals had strived to achieve for a long time. National sovereignty and national identity are the two reasons given by the peoples of Baltic States. The separation of former Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993 occurred because the Slovak nationalist demanded their own sovereign state. The fact that Slovakia was less developed and less prosperous than the Czech region did not prevent them from making such a decision. The decision was not opposed by the Czechs.
Today there are a number of nations around the world that are aspiring to build their own sovereign states using both violent and non-violent methods. To mention some of them, Scotland’s quest for an independent state, dissolving a three centuries long union with England, is instigated by Scottish aspiration to live under the umbrella of their state. The Scots will use the ballot box to achieve their goal. So will the Catalans who are conducting a political struggle to separate from Spain of which their territory was a part since for a long time. The French-speaking Quebecois who wish to secede from the rest of Canada will also use the ballot box. Today the Kurds are waging an armed struggle against Turkey to establish their own state of Kurdistan rejecting the identity which the Turkish state will impose on them.
The Oromo experience
Ethiopian Colonialism, and the atrocious violation of their human rights which is the legacy of a colonial conquest, are the main grievances that stir thestruggle of the Oromo people for an independent state today. The Oromo have been waging a sustained political and protracted armed struggle to build their independent state since the early 1970s. By and large, they have rejected Ethiopiyawinet or Ethiopian identity which the Ethiopian rulers have been trying to impose on them. To understand the Oromo claim to an independent state it is necessary to put it in a historical context. I will not go into the debate in any detail here. I will start this discussion by briefly pointing out the link between the Oromo claim to sovereignty and the conquest and colonization of their country by the Abyssinians in the nineteenth century. I will point out the fact that the application of the term “colonialism” to the Abyssinian conquest and annexation of the Oromo country is controversial particularly among the Ethiopian ruling elites. What is controversial is the nature of the conquest: whether it was colonial or not. What is relevant to our discussion here is when and why the controversy arose.
Behind the denial of Ethiopian colonialism
That the Oromo were conquered by the Abyssinians is a fact which nobody denies. That the time of the said conquest coincided with the European scramble for Africa is also not contested. The Ethiopian ruling elites started to deny the colonial origins of the Ethiopian Empire because following the end of World War II, to be called colonialist became not only unfashionable but even a violation of the spirit of the UN Charter of 1945. It meant giving up a colonial possession when freedom was claimed by those who were colonized. Therefore, the Ethiopian ruling elites were quick to start denying the colonial nature of their late nineteenth century conquest of the south once the question of colonial territories came up on the agenda of the UN. In fact, Haile Selassie was worried about the Oromo who were demanding independence from Abyssinia (that was what Ethiopia was called in mass-media and diplomatic documents) before the UN Charter was declared.
There are several events which had caused Haile Selassie’s worries and which are on record as such. I will mention here the two most important ones. On the eve of the 1936 Italian invasion of Ethiopia, the Western Oromo Confederation was established under the leadership of Habte Mariam Kumsa, a member of the Bakare royal family and governor of Wallaga, sought recognition unsuccessfully from the League of Nations. Five years later, following the collapse of Italian occupation in 1941, the Oromo petitioned the British who were involved in driving the Italians out of Northeast Africa, to form their own independent state. Although the Oromo demand was supported by British officers who were assigned to Abyssinia, the British government reinstated Haile Selassie on his throne in 1941 and the Oromo came under the Abyssinian-cum-Ethiopian colonial rule once again. Alerted by these Oromo demands, the Abyssinian ruling elites started to raise their tone of denial as soon as the de-colonization of Africa started in the late 1950s. Emperor Haile Selassie championed the formation of the Organization of African Unity and his well-orchestrated anti-colonialist politics played also an important role in hiding the colonial history of his empire. However, the denial efforts did not silence the Oromo and the other colonized peoples. They continued with their struggles against Ethiopian colonial occupation.
The Abyssinian-cum-Ethiopian colonization of the south, which was a tabooed subject for political or academic discourse, was raised first by the Ethiopian Student Movement of the 1960s. One of the events which brought up the “colonial question” for student debate was the Bale Oromo uprising of the 1960s. Since then it has been discussed widely. However, the debate did not go beyond a few slogans about the history of colonialism which were tossed back and forth to prove or disprove the colonial nature of Abyssinia’s participation in the scramble for Africa. But, today any objective historian who has an adequate knowledge of Ethiopian history and an adequate grasp of the history of colonialism at large cannot deny the colonial nature of the Abyssinian conquest of what is today southern Ethiopia.
To underscore the relevance of colonial argument in the ongoing Oromo claim for independence, I willhighlight a few important points to show that the Oromo situation under Abyssinian rule is similar to the situations of other African peoples when they were under European colonialism.
In the first edition of her book The Government of Ethiopia (1948, reprinted1969), Margery Perham wrote “The provisions in the United Nations Charter for the direction of international interests upon all ‘backward’ people who have been annexed to empires of foreign rulers, which have been willingly accepted by Great Britain, would seem to apply with complete propriety to regions and people conquered by Menelik.” Perham was referring to the UN Charter of 1945 of which Ethiopia (which was at that time known as Abyssinia) was a signatory. Chapter XI (Article 73) of the Charter requires that countries owning or administering colonies “to take due account of the political aspirations of the peoples, and to assist them in the progressive development of their free political institutions.” That is to say the Oromo and the other peoples who have been annexed to the Abyssinian Empire created by Menelik have as much right to realize their political aspirations as other African peoples who were colonized by European powers at the same time.
As indicated above, Perham wrote her book before the colonial nature of the Ethiopian Empire became controversial. Although she mentions the UN Charter, it does not mean she was an anti-colonial agitator. She was suggesting that if Great Britain can do that regarding its colonies, Ethiopia can do the same. It is important to note that Perham did not seecolonialism negatively. She entertained the view that colonialism, including its Abyssinian version, was progressive. Although she was critical about the excesses of Abyssinian colonialism, she admired Emperor Haile Selassie’s effort to spread the Amharic language and assimilate the Oromo into the Abyssinian Christian culture. As her use of the phrase “backward people” indicates, in her opinion, the colonizers were “civilized” and will “civilize” the colonized.
Perham was not alone in holding the view described above. In fact, in those days, owners of colonies, including the Ethiopian ruling elites, were not only very proud of their status as conquerors and colony owners, but saw themselves also as benefactors of the colonized peoples. They saw themselves as moral superiors with the right to rule and “guide” the “natives”. In his book Ethiopia: Power and Protest (1996) the historian Gebru Tareke, himself from the colonizing north wrote, “Exhibiting different manners and habits, the new rulers were not without pretentions to a ‘civilizing mission.’ They tried much like the European colonizers of their times, to justify the exploitability of the conquered peoples by stressing the historical inevitability and moral validity of occupation.” One can say, they were basking in the glory which the colonial powers of the day were enjoying. Abyssinia was the only African power in the colonialist club.
As the Swedish historian Norberg stated, Menelik was not only able to demonstrate to the European powers that he was also ‘a legitimate colonial power’ in the scramble for territories, but also behaved as an owner of colonies. It is important to recollect here that Menelik entered the race for colonies as an Italian proxy and broke with them after he became emperor of Ethiopia with the death of Yohannes IV in 1889. It was then that Menelik sent his famous circular letter of 1891 declaring that he too was “a legitimate colonial power”. At that point Menelik was strong enough to revoke the Treaty of Wuchale defying the Italians, who ironically were sending arms to him even after he revoked the treaty, hoping that he will remain loyal to them and help them build their colonial empire in the Horn of Africa. Finally, however, the revocation of the treaty led to the battle of Adwa and the defeat of the Italian forces.
The Distortions about Adwa
The victory at Adwa is taken for victory over European colonialism and imperialism. That a black African force had defeated a white European army at Adwa in 1896 is beyond doubt. But the representation of Adwa as an anti-colonial war and the victory as African victory over colonialism is an atrocious distortion. Menelik relinquished the role he was playing as an Italian proxy at the battle of Adwa and became a member of the colonialist club in his own right. Colonialism lost color there and then. One can be white, brown or black and own a colony if one can fight for it. The European mass media of the time reported that fact. The Spectator of 27 February 1897 for example reflected the British view of the matter stating that, although Menelik, his queen, and his generals care little for human life “this native dynasty of dark men”,nominally Christian is “orderly enough to be received into intercourse with Europe.” The European colonial powers recognized ‘the dynasty of dark men’ as their junior partner in the scramble for colonies.
Back from Adwa, Menelik continued his competition with the British for territories in the south and southwest. It is interesting to note here that now he not only got rid of the status of proxy in the white men’s competition for colonies in Africa, but he could even employ white men as his proxy in the expansion of his colonial domains. Thus, in a letter he wrote on the 7th of June 1897 he told the Russian adventurer Count Leontiev “…by this letter I inform you that it is my wish to appoint you forever over the land on the limit of which you open. So as to pay for your losses we will give you as much as five years gratis; but after that, if in the land you have opened be found any gold, silver, ivory or coffee ….so shall you pay your tribute. This land on the limit that I give will be on the south side of Ethiopia” (cited in Greenfield and Hassan, “Interpretation of Oromo Nationality”, Horn of Africa, Vol. 3(3), 1981). Count Leontiev and his men became Menelik’s proxy, albeit their investment in the conquest of the Baro River valley in the southwest did bring them much profit. Thus, Menelik could compete with Europeans in the business of empire-building in the continent, particularly after his victory over the Italians at the battle of Adwa.
The whole story about the battle of Adwa is not written yet. The circumstances under which the peoples of the south such as the Oromo, who were conquered in the 1880s and the Walaita who were conquered by Menelik two years before the battle of Adwa, participated in the war are not mentioned. Did they march north to fight against Italian colonialism voluntarily? What had happened to them after the war is never raised in the story. Were they rewarded for their contributions in the victory over the Italians? I will not delve into details, but the answer to both questions is ‘NO’! They were captives who were forced to march north and become cannon-fodder. The “reward” for their participation was the confiscation of land and slavery which characterized Abyssinian colonialism. Thus the Oromos and the Walaita who participated in the battle of Adwa did not win any victory over colonialism for themselves. They helped a black colonialist power in the scramble for colonies with white colonialists. They were the target and victims of the competition which Menelik won. That is why I call the simplification of Menelik’s engagement in the battle of Adwa as an anti-colonial drive, and his victory as African victory over colonialism an atrocious distortion. Simply, it is not true.
The war was between two colonizing powers over colonies in the Horn of Africa, the Italians and the Abyssinians, whose leader Menelik, as mentioned above, ironically was armed and entered the race for colonies as a proxy of the former. That the distortion is sold by the Abyssinians to the rest of the world should not mean the Oromo people should accept the colonial situation as a historical accident and call ourselves Ethiopians. The fact that Menelik had outsmarted the Italians, or that the rest of Africa has taken pride in the victory at Adwa as their victory over colonialism and racism should not mean we should repress or forget the memories of the genocides committed against the conquered peoples such as Oromo, the Kaficho and Gimira. Since I have dealt with the subject at length in, “Genocidal Violence in the Making of Nation and State in Ethiopia” (African Sociological Review Vol. 9(2), 2005)I will not go into that here. It suffices to note that, as participants in the scramble for colonies, the crimes against humanity which the Abyssinian had committed does not weigh less, if not more, than the crimes committed by the Belgians in the Congo and by the Germans in Namibia. In short, what the victory at Adwa led to was the recognition of Abyssinia as “a legitimate colonial power”, to use Norgberg’s articulation, and not the protection of Africans against colonial genocide. Both Britain and France negotiated and signed agreements that delineated colonial borders with Abyssinia.
Although the colonial makeup of the Ethiopian empire was proved beyond doubt there are politicians who think that it is possible to deprive the Oromo and the other conquered peoples of the right to self-determination by keeping on denying the fact. They believe their obstinate denial of Ethiopian colonialism will render the Oromo demand for an independent state meaningless. They will reduce the Oromo national demand for freedom to what they call the “demand of a few power-hungry Oromo elites” ignoring the experience and grievances of the Oromo and other colonized peoples at large. However, this did not give the expected result of weakening Oromo feeling about their national identity or their claim to national sovereignty.
Since the Oromo opinion and experience of the Ethiopian conquest is well covered in oral traditions, in songs, travelers’ notes, and in numerous other documents, I will not go into details. Here, it suffices to note that, for the vast majority of the Oromo people, Ethiopia is not only a colonial construction built through conquest, but that it is also being experienced as such. The Amhara have a saying: yewaggaa biresa, yeteweggaa ayrasaam (“he who inflicts harms may forget, but he who is hurt never will”). The saying applies to the Oromo who share collective memories which were passed down from past generations who had experienced the conquest.
In addition, the memories of conquest are being reinforced by the atrocities of the present regime. Oromia is still a killing field for forces of the Ethiopian regime. Thousands of Oromos are still being killed every year by Ethiopian security forces of the present regime. This is no news. Oromo property rights are not respected. It suffices to mention here that millions of Oromos are displaced from their farm and pasturelands which are leased or sold to local and foreign contractors by the present regime. Although their ancestors were dispossessedof their land at the end of the nineteenth that did not lead to their displacement from their homes and communities; they stayed as gabbars (serfs) of the landlords who owned their lands. They stayed at home. Those whose land is being confiscated today are uprooted and displaced. The loss they incurred is not only economic but also social.
Colonialism has no color or nationality; therefore English, French or Abyssinian colonialism is colonialism. The colonial makeup of the Ethiopian state is captured best by the Swiss conflict researcher Christian Scherrer of the Hiroshima Peace Institute, who noted that, ‘European and Abyssinian colonialism occurred simultaneously, pursued similar interests, albeit from differing socio-economic bases, and this was reinforced by comparable colonial ideologies of the idea of empire and notion of “civilizing mission” and the exploitation of the subjugated peoples.’ The Oromo quest for independence is informed by that history and more. Ethiopia was a colonial empire not only in its origin but also in conduct. It is from this colonial structure and conduct that the Oromo people will free themselves.
To sum up,although Menelik had used Oromo resources to win the battle Adwa, he confiscated their land and enslaved the Oromo, although Oromo farmers have been feeding the country while their families were made to starve; while their Oromo coffee and gold have been earning hardy currency for the Ethiopia sate during the last 130 years, the Oromo have been sinking into abysmal poverty continuously; although Oromo athletes have, since Abebe Bikila won the first Ethiopian Olympic gold medal in Rome in 1960, been winning nearly all of the medals Ethiopia had earned in Olympic Games and other international tournaments, Oromo identity has been denigrated and the people have been disrespected.
The question is, will it be surprising if the Oromo people feel that the Ethiopian state is as colonial and hostile to them as it was to their ancestors? Is it surprising that the perpetual atrocity, of which the violation of human rights against them by the present regime is a continuation, deepening the cleavage between the Oromo people and the Ethiopian state? Is it surprising if the Oromo feel that they are treated not as respected citizens but as denigrated subjects of the Ethiopian state and reject Ethiopian identity? Is it not human, and shouldn’t it be legitimate, tostruggle for an independent Oromo state as the other African peoples who, rejecting the colonial identities imposed on them by Europeans, struggled and established their independent states during the last fifty years?
Oromo Rejection of Ethiopian Identity
The depth of the cleavage between the Oromo people and the state of Ethiopia is clearly reflected in Oromo music, Oromo literature and the revival of Oromo cultural traditions. It is said that ‘nations are felt and lived communities whose members share a homeland and a culture.’ Its culture, language and territory make a nation distinct. Colonialism will not only dispossess a people of its homeland and control its resources, but will also destroy its culture and language. It will erase what makes the colonized people different and unique. It will make them forget their past and their history, and gradually that they are a people. The result of such a policy is known among scholars as ethnocide: killing a nation without committing genocide or its physical destruction.
Success in the use the Qubee: Oromo Literacy Strengthens Oromo National Identity
Because they had aimed at the destruction of the Oromo language, the Ethiopian regimes did not see any purpose or logic to adopt the Geez characters called fidel in Amharicto Oromo sounds. Literacy in the Oromo language was banned by law. Since they were forbidden to read and write in their own language, the Oromo did not try to adopt the fidel to the sounds of their mother tongue. That does not mean they did not try to write in their language in one way or another. But they were persecuted when they tried. I will come back to the opposition the Oromo had encountered as they tried to write their language in the 1970s and 1980s and present obstacles to the development of Oromo literature at present at home in Part 3 of this article. Here it suffices to point out the evolution of the qubee which came not only to revolutionize Oromo literacy but alsoconstituted an important symbol which added a new dimension to the politics of identity.
The events that led to the development of Oromo literacy are well known to most of us who have been following the development of the Oromo struggle during the last forty years: the Oromo had to take up arms and defend their rights among which the right to use their language without interference from the Ethiopian regime was one. They were able to develop Oromo literacy as guerrilla fighters in the bushes inside the country, and as refugees abroad. For that they used an alphabet created by the Oromo themselves based on the Latin alphabet. The decision was inscribed in the Political Program of the OLF of 1974 (see English version amended in 1976) which under Article VI (section C no. 5) declared to “adopt the Latin alphabet for the Oromo language”. The adopted alphabet came to be known as “qubee”.
Few people outside the members of the front believed in the practicality of the project for more than a decade. In fact, before 1991, those who came across or heard about materials which the Oromo produced using the qubee alphabet were amused by the audacity of those who were developing Oromo literacy using the Latin alphabet in the bushes and in exile dismissing it with derogatory remarks. It is true that, the task which the Oromo nationalists had undertaken to achieve under very difficult circumstances without material assistance from an organization or a government was a very challenging. Above all, the possibility of bringing the qubee home to the people also seemed non-existent. The Oromo were under the control of a regime which commanded the largest military force in sub-Saharan Africa. That, together with the overwhelming firepower it had built up, made its grip on the country to look unshakable. Therefore, it was not surprising that the Oromo nationalists’ dream was a cause for the skeptical mirth of spectators. However, the lighthearted sarcasm of the Amhara elites about the qubee and the grip of the military regime on the country were short lived.
The result of the struggle over Oromo literacy became what both friends and enemies never imagined. The Ethiopian ruling elites, particularly the Amhara, who hitherto had dominated the political and cultural life of Ethiopia, did not think this could happen. What happened did not transpire even in their worst nightmares. The appearance of signs in qubee characters on official buildings, public institutions and the premises of private business was shocking, particularly to those who thought that the fidel, which, after the Crown and Orthodox Christianity was the most important symbol of Ethiopian nation, could never be challenged or that the Oromo or any of the subject peoples could use another alphabet and develop literature in their language at such a speed as the Oromo did in 1991 and 1992.
The “shock” which the Amhara elites felt was depicted by Ben Barber (1994) who wrote that before 1991 “fidel, Amharic’s unique alphabet, graced official signs around the country. But because the Oromo who have now started to use their language preferred “to express their language in Latin characters”, the fidel is disappearing from the Oromo country. He wrote that, to the Amhara “the rejection of the Amharic culture by the Oromos, and the disappearance of thousands of Amharic signs from Oromo lands, and their replacement with Oromo language written in Latin script have been deep and shocking blows.” Indeed they were. They never thought that Oromo literacy could revive and spread with the uncontrollable speed which it had registered in 1991-1992, or that an Ethiopian regime would allow the Oromo to use an alphabet other than the Geez characters to transcribe their language.
As many of us may remember, the initial surprise felt by the Amhara elites was followed by frantic activities opposing the use of the Oromo language and the demonization of the qubee alphabet. This was particularly the case of the Orthodox clergy whose struggle against the Oromo alphabet was expressed in grotesque and senseless actions. They labeled the qubee “the devil’s script” (see Thomas Zittelmann’s article: ‘The return of the Devil’s tongue: Polemics about the choice of the Roman alphabet for the Oromo Language’, Oromo Commentary vol. 4(2), 1994). They refused a Christian burial to a young girl who was involved in a literacy campaign using the qubee in Caancoo, a town about 40 kilometers north of Finfinnee (Addis Ababa).
Another incident in which the clergy were involved took place during the timket (Amharic for epiphany) festival of the Ethiopian Orthodox of 1992. In such celebrations the Orthodox clergy, followed by their congregations carry the tabot (a tablet that symbolizes the Ark of the Covenant) of their various churches out for a day. On one of the timket festivals, the Orthodox clergy of a certain St. Mikael Church in central Oromia tried to involve divine powers in their war against the qubee alphabet: they told their congregation, of whom the majority were Oromo, that there was a divine curse against the Oromo alphabet and that their tabot was refusing to return to its place in the church unless the “devil’s” alphabet (qubee) is removed from the country. The Oromo majority who were participating in the timket festival did not believe what they were being told was the “wish” of St. Mikael, but a hoax invented by the clergy to turn them against qubee. They went home leaving the clergy and the tabot behind. Shocked by the action of the people, which was clearly in favor of the Latin alphabet, the clergy carried back the tabot to its church.
There were even those who thought Oromo parents would reject not only the qubee script but also education for their children in afaan Oromoo because of social mobility for their children: the argument was that Amharic allowed for social mobility whereas the Oromo language did not. Naturally, the Oromo people welcomed literacy in their language with great happiness.Barber had interviewed an Oromo farmer in a village on the outskirts of Finfinnee (Addis Ababa) about the change from Amharic to afaan Oromoo who told him when asked his views: “Who hates his own?’ said one farmer with a smile creasing his worn face. ‘We love it. We have begun to practice our culture: what we forgot and what was repressed. The farmer told Barber: “Now three of my children are in school and learn in Oromo.” These words express both a sense of liberation from an imposed oppressive sociolinguistic situation and the pride which this Oromo peasant felt in his language. The rhetorical question ‘Who hates his own?’ expresses also a rejection of the dishonour which, hitherto, was attached to afaan Oromo and its speakers.
Like the farmer mentioned here, the enthusiasm which the Oromo have shown for education and public administration in their language was enormous. They discovered a new glory in the print elevation of the language they had humbly spoken at home. As millions of other Oromo who like this farmer welcomed Oromo literacy with jubilation, the nationwide support to Oromo nationalism became obvious immediately. A phenomenal increase of enrolment of schoolchildren throughout Oromia within a few years proved the readiness which the Oromo parents had to accept the qubee alphabet and their children’s education in their own language. The cynicism directed against the qubee alphabet was silenced once for all.
Thus, the assertion of Oromo national identity was strengthened by the unexpected “arrival” of the qubee characters in the capital city in 1991 followed by the subsequent nationwide use of afaan Oromoo as the medium of education, administration and law throughout Oromia.As the sociologist Lorraine Towers has stated in her doctoral dissertation the qubee, in providing an instrumental means to modern communication, has itself become highly symbolic of the legitimacy and authority of afaan Oromoo in the modern learning environment. Towers rightly notes also that together with the odaa tree, the qubee became a “resonant symbol of the Oromo polity asserting the unity of all Oromo” and that it is “a printed alphabet that is as much a celebration of Oromo cultures, traditions, and identities, and an assertion of their place in the world of modern literacy and learning.” The symbolic significance of the alphabet was marked in many Oromo poems and artists who write and praising its role in bringing afaan Oromoo out of illiteracy. It would be strange if they didn’t, because the implementation of Oromo writing in qubee was an act that epitomized the resurrection of Oromo language from “a century of colonial neglect.”
The territorial demarcation of Oromo territory, with Oromia as its name, even concretized the image of their homeland in the minds of the Oromo. Like the qubee, the name Oromia also became controversial. For a long time its use as the name of the Oromo region was avoided by the Ethiopian mass media and most Amhara elites. Instead, they used Kilil Arat (Region Four) a term which was given to the region by the TPLF government. However the name which, as will be discussed in a while, was already known to millions of Oromos through the songs of Oromo artists and radio stations based abroad, it was popularized quickly by Oromo mass media which started to flourish and by artists and writers who began to sing and publish in Oromia immediately after the fall of the military regime in 1991.
To sum up the discussion in this section, based on the experience gained in the implementation of the qubee script, there are a number of important observations that can be made about the Oromo struggle. The first is that perseverance has its rewards. The OLF started implementing the idea of using the qubee in Oromo writing under very difficult circumstances but could achieve its goal. The dedication and determination of its members was rewarded. The second observation concerns organization and leadership. The quick implementation of Oromo literacy in 1991-92 showed the Oromo thirst for freedom. The voluntary participation of teachers in the preparation of text books from scratch in every subject within a short time for millions of schoolchildren showed their dedication to the cause of freedom. The implementation of afaan Oromoo as a medium education in all schools throughout Oromia within a year was a remarkable achievement. It proved that the Oromo people are capable of achieving any collective goal including the establishment their own sovereign stateif they are properly organized and led.
Music, Poetry and the Oromo Rejection of Ethiopiyawinet
Oromo songs, both traditional and modern, are part of the Oromo oral tradition. Oromo artists are story-tellers. They sing about past events and heroes. They narrate myths often relating them to the present situation. Oromo heroes are recalled when the security of the group or nation is threatened by outsiders. Stories about historical events are narrated to emulate victories or avoid mistakes. The genre called geerarsaadeals particularly with such narratives.
The contribution of art, music and culture to the development of Oromo political consciousness is not properly recognized yet. That the work of the artists has been crucial in the cultural and political awakening of the Oromo people is beyond doubt. It has revived and enriched the Oromo culture and contributed immensely to the development of Oromo nationalism. The Oromo are fighting now, not with firearms, but with culture. The cultural battle waged by Oromo artists, as I will show later, has its casualties. However, the regime in power in Finfinnee (Addis Ababa) cannot outgun them as it did against the OLF in the confrontations of the early 1990s. The cultural ammunition is inexhaustible. It is not imported; it is homemade.
By and large, there has been an upsurge of cultural expressions since the mid-1970s. In June 1976, notwithstanding the opposition from members of the government, groups of young men and women from all over the Oromo country converged in Finfinnee (Addis Ababa) and staged a two day-cultural show at the Ethiopian National Theatre. In many ways, the show revealed the strength of Oromo collective memory and the emotions which it could arouse. The suppressed feelings which the event brought out was a great surprise for many observers, particularly for the military junta, who, took measures to punish the actors and suppress Oromo nationalism to which the event gave an expression. However, the other side of this development became an enhanced rejection of Ethiopiyawinet, albeit this is not always expressed in words.
During the last forty years, numerous songs that glorify the Oromo struggle for liberation have been written and sung by artists. These songs do not mention Ethiopia and when they do mention it, it is to condemn its regimes. They depict the life they wish for their people and express the hope the artists see in the future of their homeland. The poets and the artists glorify the beauty of their motherland and admire the bounty of her natural resources. They convey a great sense of pride inOromummaa—an identity of which the Oromo were made to be ashamed under Ethiopian rule. Ethiopiyawinet—Ethiopian identity— is a subject which Oromo music does not raise at all. Thus, reading Oromo literature or listening to Oromo music I haven’t come across a narrative or heard a song in afaan Oromoo that praises Ethiopia as “my fatherland” or “motherland”. But there is a long list of songs and poems condemning the deprivations which the Oromo people are experiencing as colonial subjects of Ethiopia’s Abyssinian ruling elites. Colonialism degrades, and it is not surprising that Oromo artists will not glorify Ethiopia. I have not come across a work of an African poet or artist that glorifies British, French or Portuguese colonialism. For Oromo artists, to praise Ethiopia is to accept humiliation, degrade Oromummaa and confess surrender.
Today, the Oromo claim to an independent Oromo state is expressed through the works of artists who have become the spokespersons of the Oromo nation. The artists have access to the Oromo masses listening to them and have a greater influence on Oromo political preferences than any group of activists. Therefore, I will discuss briefly the role of music and art in the Oromo struggle for liberation and their rejection of Ethiopian identity in this section of the article.
One of the earliest freedom songs written after the 1976 episode in Finfinnee was a poem written and sung by Tahir Umar, who was an Oromo refugee in Djibouti in 1981. In it Tahir expresses his aspirations for freedom and the natural beauty of his homeland. Like Jaarso’s poem mentioned above, Tahir’s song was communicated to his audience orally: it was chanted and recorded on audiotape and spread to an Oromo audience within and outside the Horn of Africa.
What makes Tahir’s contribution remarkable is his panoramic description of the entire Oromo country taking his audience from one region to the other, leading them from one big river to the next one and looking across the horizons from different mountain tops that majestically dot the beautiful homeland of his nation. That homeland is Oromia, not Ethiopia. The chanting was done by a group of refugees: the title—Yaa Rabbi nu bilisoms! Biyya keenyatti nagaan nu galchi (“O God, lead us to freedom! Take us home to our country in peace”)—constitute a chorus and was repeated by a group after each stanza or section of the poem is sung by the leading singer. The song was a history text, a lecture in geography, a narrative about life in exile; it is everything about the Oromo but not about Ethiopians.
Tahir is not the first or the only artist to express the agony of his beautiful homeland under Ethiopian occupation. Bilisummaa (freedom) has been the main theme of many Oromo songs since the 1970s, and hundreds of lyrics were sung also by veteran Oromo artists such as Ali Birraa, Elfinesh Qanno and Nuho Gobaana, giving vivid insights into Oromo culture and history. In my view, this is very important because the unwillingness of the artists to include Ethiopia in their narratives and songs indicates a lack of emotional attachment to the name and what it stands for. The omission is a sign of a strong rejection. All the beautiful places and great mountains and rivers are in Oromia, be it in Tahir’s mind or the minds of other Oromo artists. Ethiopia is an imposed name a political “reality” that can change. It is Oromia to which the refugees who chant Tahir’s poem will return.
That territory is vital in the definition of nationhood is widely acknowledged by scholars. For many Oromo artists, mixing up Ethiopia with Oromia or vice-versa will amount to distorting Oromo national identity. By separating the two, they are defining the nationhood of their people and, of course, their identity. Oromia is not in Ethiopia, but the Ethiopians had conquered Oromia. For example, when they were singing “O God, lead us to freedom! Take us home to our country in peace”, Tahir and his fellow refugees were thinking about Oromia, not Ethiopia which they associate with the Abyssinian empire. Thus, Ethiopia is not the name of their country. It is the name of an empire from which they are struggling to free themselves. They did not entertain the idea of being Ethiopians. They are free now and will return as freemen and women to a free homeland called Oromia, not to Ethiopia. “Oromia shall be free!” was the most popular slogan printed on T-shirts worn and souvenirs produced and distributed by Oromos abroad in the late 1970s and 1980s. The feeling is not unique to Oromo refugees. It is shared by refugees who flee from foreign domination everywhere.
Writing about the West Saharan refugees who lived in camps in Algeria in the 1980s, Jon Lee Anderson in his book Guerrillas: Journey in the Insurgent World (1992) wrote “These Saharawis are no ordinary refugees, but believers in a dream fostered by the Polisario Front. Anderson writes that “The dream is to see their homeland become in reality what they have already declared it to be: the ‘Saharan Arab Democratic Republic’, their own state flag, national anthem, prime minister, Cabinet, and most important of all, citizens: themselves, the Saharawi people.” Needless to stress here that this is also more or less the feelings that Tahir and his fellow Oromo refugees were expressing when they sang “Yaa Rabbi nu bilisoomsi, nagaan biyya keenyatti nu galchii!” in the 1980s.
The geography of Oromia which was described in Tahir’s 1981 song has been elaborated in many different ways by other artists whose music was heard by millions of Oromos since then. His rejection of Ethiopia as the name of his homeland was strengthened by other artists such as Ali Birraa who sang Anis biyyan qabaa (“I have a country too”), Nuho Gobaana’s Yaa biyya too (“My country”), and most recently by the contributions of Hailu Kitaabaa who sings Nu biyyi keenya Oromia, essatti beekna Itiopiya (“Our country is Oromia, we do not know Ethiopia”), as well as Hacaaluu Hundeessaa’s Oromiyaa tiyyaa (“My Oromiya”), Dawite Makonnen’s Oromiyaans biyyaa (“Oromia is also a country”). All these artists and their songs depict Oromia as a colonized and occupied country, and talk about the Oromo people as a stateless nation in need of their own state. They call for the liberation of their people and country. Their authentic messages reach millions of Oromos almost every day. I see their messages areauthentic and clear, because they express what they see and feel, which is also what the Oromo masses who are listening to their music see and feel.
Tahir, and many of the Oromo refugees mentioned above, might have returned home after 1991 to stay or just for a visit, but most of them did not go back as Ethiopians but as liberated Oromos, and for them the family home they returned to is not in Ethiopia but in Oromia, even if the latter is not yet a free country. It is interesting to note that this feeling is even shared by millions of Oromos at home who have silently rejected Ethiopiyawinet without walking away from the state that will impose it on them. This silent rejection is a perplexing problem not only to the Ethiopian ruling elites, but also to the pro-Ethiopia Oromo political organizations. The explanation for the OPDO’s failure to attract Oromo support during the last two decades is not only its junior partnership in the TPLF dominated EPRDF party and government, but also because of the Ethiopiyawinet which underline its position on the question of Oromo independence.
What is said above explains partly even the failure of the independent Oromo political parties which took part in the parliamentary elections.Although there is no study on the subject as far as I know, I do not think EPRDF repression and fraud alone are the explanations for the failure of both the Oromo Federalist Democratic Party and the Oromo People’s Congress to win even a single seat in the federal parliament during the elections of 2010. It seems that their partnership in the coalition called Medrek had its share in their loss of the seats they had during the previous session. Their association with the centrist parties that constitute the Madrek coalition seems to have disappointed their constituency.
During the last two decades Oromo music has developed into a literature of combat reaching every corner of their homeland and Oromo diaspora communities around the world, calling on Oromos to fight for existence as a nation. Oromo music shows one of the characteristics which Fanon has ascribed to a literature of combat. A literature of combat according to him “moulds the national consciousness, giving it form and contours and flinging open before it new and boundless horizons”
The creation of modern combat literature which had contributed in building up Oromo national consciousness started with songs from the 1976 show in Finfinnee of which was Elifnesh Qannoo’s Geerarsa was one. Several of the bands which participated in the show even toured the different Oromo regions at that time. The 1980s passed without such events. The 1990s saw the explosion of Oromo music. Ebbisa Adunya’s ABO (“OLF”) and ABO jabeessa (“Build up the OLF”) from the 1990s, Dirribee Gadaa’s Geerarsa (a patriotic song), Hirphaa Ganfuree who sings Ka’i lammi koo (“Rise up my people”) and Dawite Makonnen’s Oromiyaanis biyya are some of the examples. These patriotic songs are commentaries on the state of the Oromo struggle putting it in a historical perspective. While the focus of Ebbisa’s and that of his female counterpart Dirribee’s songs is the shame of bowing to oppression and is a call on the Oromo to struggle for freedom, Hirphaa Ganfuree and Dawite Makonnen persuade the Oromo not to give up the struggle because of difficult times such as the present one when it is opposed not only by external forces but is also betrayed from inside. These artists are opposed to both cowardice, and indeed political opportunism, a behaviorwhich is not rare among Oromo politicians.
Many of the Oromo combat songs will awaken the collective memory of the Oromo people. There are also those which call upon them to restore the gadaa, the ancient democratic political and socio-cultural system. It is important to note here that none of the Oromo songs or artists is against any group or people. They express Oromo protest against injustice. They call upon the Oromo people to combat the atrocity imposed and perpetuated by a colonial and build a free state of their own. Their opposition to Ethiopian oppression is not to build a state exclusively for Oromos or where Oromos are the only citizens. They express an aspiration for an Oromo state which can defend the rights of its citizens including non-Oromos. They express what Fanon called “a will to liberty” and not a hate toward other human beings. Hence, that they reject Ethiopiawnet, or being Ethiopians, does not mean that they hate those who are Ethiopians. The songs express Oromo nationalist feelings and nationalism which aspire to emancipate the Oromo and do not aim to oppress or hate others. What the artists say to their people and others who can listen to their music is simple. They say, “We Oromos must be the masters of our destiny.” They say, “We should not allow others make or unmake us, be it our neighbors or the big powers.” Their sole demand is respect for their human rights as individuals and a nation; that is also what Oromo nationalism is all about.
It seems that most of the Ethiopian political elites are aware of the Oromo attitude concerning Ethiopian identity and know Oromo claim to nationhood and statehood. However, their reaction to Oromo nationalism has varied according to the resources they commanded in terms of political power. We can categorize them into camps today: the Tigrayan regime and the Amhara political groups in opposition.
The TPLF, the party dominating the present regime, started undermining Oromo nationalism when it formed the Oromo Peoples Democratic Organization in 1990 to oppose the OLF. Although the TPLF formed a coalition government with the OLF in 1991, it resorted to the use of violence against members and supporters within a few months after it had consolidated it power. Its actions revealed that the coalition was entered to buy time to establish itself in Finfinnee and consolidate its dictatorship over Ethiopia. It declared war on Oromo nationalism. As noted by many commentators, the TPLF published an article in its organ Hizbawi Adera (Vol. 7(4) 1997) declaring war on Oromo ‘educated elites and capitalist class’ labeling them Ethiopia’s worst enemies. Since then thousands of Oromos have been killed, kidnaped and made to “disappear” and tens of thousands are rounded up and thrown into some of the filthiest prisons on earth. The declaration has resulted in the crackdown on Oromo university- and secondary school students which led to the imprisonment and death of many young men and women and the suppression of the Macca-Tulamaa Association. It also led to the extra-judicial killings, and the disappearances of tens of thousands of Oromos.
As part of the war against Oromo nationalists, the regime’s security forces have, during the last two decades, staged dozens of cross-border raids into the neighboring countries of Kenya and Somalia and hunted down, kidnaped or killed thousands of Oromos including many Kenyan citizens.
It is quite clear that Oromo music and art opposed to the undemocratic rule of the present regime. Oromo culture in itself is opposed to undemocratic political culture. Besides the concern for their own rights and the welfare of their people, the Oromo poets and artists also express that culture. Therefore they have been a category targeted by the TPLF regime as its worst enemy from the beginning.
The list of Oromo artists who were imprisoned and tortured, kidnapped and killed or made to “disappear” since 1992 is long. It suffices to mention the names of some artists who were brutally murdered or are kidnapped and made to “disappear” during the last two decades. Among male Oromo artist who were assassinated were Ebbisa Adunyaa, a gifted guitarist and vocalist who was gunned down together with his friend Tana Wayessaa in his home in Finfinnee in August 1996, Usmayyoo Muusa who died from damages he had incurred in an Ethiopia prison cell where he was kept in isolation and tortured for eight years, Bonsiso Caalaa and Himee Yusuf who were murdered in 1996 and 1997 respectively. Among female vocalists one can mention Kulani Boruu, Sabbontuu Barentu and Ayyaantu Borana. The three young artists were murdered in 1997. Among those who were kidnapped and “disappeared” in 1996-7 were Jireenya Ayyaana, Daraartu Boona, Adem Waaqee and the poet Fufaa Dhuguma (see Oromo Support Group’s occasional reports and the reports of Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch for the list of the numerous Oromo artists who were killed, made to disappear or have been jailed during the last two decades).
Torture survivors have witnessed the horrible treatment of prisoners in Ethiopian jails and concentration camps. As the brutal mental and physical torture, to which artists such as Usmayyoo Muusa and Kadir Martuu were exposed, shows the human rights abuses perpetrated in the Ethiopian security prisons against Oromos, particularly to those who are popular among their people are horrifying (Ayyaantu, March, 6, 2012). Ethiopia has notorious name for being one the countries that imprison most journalists in the world. What is not known is that there is no country on earth that has killed or imprisoned so many artists as Ethiopia is doing under the present regime.
It is not surprising that our artists became one of the most affected groups. As articulated aptly by the young scholar Kulani Jalata, in a paper she presented at the 2009 Annual Oromo Studies Conference at the Georgia State University in Atlanta, “Oromo artists have creatively developed revolutionary Oromo music to further advance and disseminate Oromummaa—the manifestation of Oromo identity, culture and nationalism.” In the process many of them have sacrificed their lives.
Many of the Oromo artists who were released from Ethiopian prisons during the last two decades are in exile today sacrificing their family lives and in many cases even their careers. As mentioned above, the intention of Ethiopian regime is to deprive the Oromo nation of its talented members including artists. However, the imprisonment and assassination of artists during the last twenty years did not arrest the growth of Oromo arts and music. Martyred artists, cultural workers, and writers are replaced by new ones. There is no doubt that the reviving Oromo culture will sustain the development of Oromo nationalism. It is a culture of over thirty million people. It is deeply rooted in their history.
Those who belong to the opposition, particularly the Amhara political elites, are not less hostile to Oromo nationalism than the ruling Tigrayan elites. They lack power to take physical action against Oromo nationalists and are therefore limited to verbaldemonization of the OLF. The most reactionary elements amongst them represent the OLF as an organization created to commit genocide on the Amhara people. However, the majority seem to entertain the hope that the Oromo will soon change their minds and become “loyal” Ethiopian citizens. The illogical belief that the international community is opposed to Oromo independence is another factor that keeps their misconceived hope alive.
Even recent activities by pro-Oromo political organizations seem to have strengthened their hope to come back to power in Finfinnee. For example, the jubilation of the Amhara political groups and media commentators when a section within the Jijjirama group declared their vision of “New Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia” in January this year reflected such a hope. The politics of the recently formed group called Oromo Dialogue Forum (ODF), which also posits that the Oromo claim for an independent Oromo state is outdated and should be dropped, seems to have a similar effect.
However, the changing character of the Oromo national struggle for liberation contradicts the beliefs of the Tigrayan regime and the hopes of the political parties in opposition as well as illusions of the pro-Ethiopia Oromo political groups. Today the Oromo people’s struggle for a sovereign state is driven and sustained not only by organized groups or political organizations as such, but to a great extent also by Oromo culture, which in reality is organizing and unifying the Oromo masses into a self-conscious nation.
Culture Takes the Lead in the Fight for Oromo Freedom
Frantz Fanon, in a speech which was titled “Reciprocal Bases of National Culture and the Fight for Freedom” and which he gave at the Congress of Black Writers in 1959, emphasized that “It is the fight for national existence which sets culture moving and opens to it the doors of creation. Later it is the nation which will ensure the conditions and framework necessary to culture.” The two co-exist.
The reciprocal nature of cultural and political nationalisms is well known. That the suppression of the Ethiopian state and the hostility of its agents and institutions against the Oromo culture and language have been directed against Oromo nationalism is quite evident. Thus, since a nation and its culture intermesh, the destruction of a culture and language is a destruction of their bearers or ethnocide as mentioned above. The attempts made by the Ethiopian state to destroy the Oromo culture and language did not achieve the envisaged result. The Oromo people have resisted ethnocide and their culture is resurrecting with an insuppressible force now. Although the OLF under whose banner the Oromo people have reasserted their identity and struggled for national sovereignty has been weakened by internal conflicts, its objective of re-establishing an independent Oromo state is not abandoned. The idea has become successively deep-rooted and well anchored in popular consciousness, because the Oromo masses have become its custodians with determination. The idea of national sovereignty is firmly established in their collective consciousness. It is a legitimate claim that won’t be abandoned.
The observation made by the Scottish theorist Tom Nairn in his book The Break-up of Britain (1972) about the elites of the colonized periphery is applicable to the Oromo. He wrote that the elites of the colonies “had no guns, no wealth, no technology and no skills to match those of the imperialists. But they did have one asset.” That one asset, he asserted, ispeople which “proved a potent weapon.” The elites, he said, mobilized ‘the people’ and “invited them into history, writing the invitation card in their own language and culture, and channeling their ‘mass sentiments’ into national resistance movement.” That was what had happened in Oromia in 1991-92. As I have indicated in my previous article, the Oromo people accepted instantly the “invitation card” which was written in afaan Oromoo, andhavemade gradually the formation of an independent republic of Oromia, their own objective. Today, they are channeling their sentiments in a national resistance armed with a common culture.
The role of culture in this national resistance is reflected among other things in the annual celebration of the colourful irreecha (often also spelt irreessa) Thanksgiving festivals on the shores of Lake Harsadee 50 km south of Finfinnee (Addis Ababa). In the past, irreecha festivals involved the participation of just regional groups. Today the participation has increased to the national level and the number of people, who gather from near and far to participate in the irreecha ceremony held at this site on the last Sunday of September or the first Sunday of November every year, runs into hundreds of thousands. Participation in the festivities of irreecha is open to all, irrespective of religious beliefs and ethnic background. The ceremony involves not only the spiritual activity reflected in prayers for nagaa, peace and fertility, but also the performance of socio-cultural activities such as eebba—blessing and araara –human reconciliation with Waaqa, and reconciliation between those who are in conflict, are blended
The spontaneity with which this and other Oromo cultural traditions have come back to life during the last two decades tells a story which the Ethiopian ruling elites did not expect. The policy of Oromo assimilation into Amhara culture and language is defeated and the majority of the Oromo people feel a sense of cultural identity different from that which the Ethiopian ruling elites tried to impose on them. The ongoing Oromo cultural revival has become a means for both the expression of Oromo unity and the national claim for sovereignty.
Normally, the irreecha is a non-political festival. However, the million irreecha gathering held on the shores of Lake Harsadee (Horaa) in recent years has reflected even a sense of political consciousness that pervades the huge festival. The rich symbolic resources of the Oromo gadaa culture that are borne by the multitude painted on their clothes and tattooed on their bodies, as well as the banners and cultural artifacts they carry marching together in a total harmony that is difficult to expect from such a crowd, reveal the pride which participants have in their culture and identity. The collective memories of the nation are reflected in the words and manner of the young artist Galaanee Bulbulaa who sings Irreecha irreefanaa (“We Shall Celebrate Thanksgiving”).
The symbolic significance of Galaanee’s song is strong. What makes it strong is the authenticity reflected in the way it is communicated to the audience by the young singer and the connection it suggests between the social and the natural environment. Galaanee’s captivating youthful innocence and her spontaneous effortless performance reflect an inborn sense of being one with the social and natural environment around her. The way she touches the water with the green grass in her hand, stretches her hand both to the sky (God) together with the beautiful natural scene across the lake constitute a strong representation of the world view of the Oromo people as reflected in the traditional Oromo religion—that we are at peace not only with God, but with nature, and with ourselves. But at the same time Galaanee’s song express a predicament that the Oromo people should overcome: to recover a “lost” culture. She sings Kottaa ni hirreefannaa, aadaa bade deeffannaa (Come let us celebrate “Thanksgiving, let us revive our lost culture”). In general, the words and gestures of the youthful artist do not call the audience for a combat; after all irreecha stands for thanks giving and not conflict. However, they awaken what the British cultural theorist Raymond Williams called “structures of feeling.” The Oromo say kan gara kee keessa jiru garaa koo keesas jira to mean the same thing. The structures of feeling (or kan garaa kessa jiru…) express both feelings and thoughts that are collectively felt and shared, and that in the case of dominated nations like the Oromo make claim for cultural or political rights. Structures of feeling are expressed in public speeches, in songs, different forms of literature, and indeed in collective actions such as demonstrations. At the irreecha festival all of these forms of expressions were present.
The presence of the aged, both men and women who attired in traditional costumes, and carrying ritual sticks—bokkuu and siiqqee—the symbols of power and justice of the gadaa system decorated the march which reflected the authentic Oromo tradition. This authenticity is articulated not only in the words spoken by the elders and sung by the artists but also expressed in the peacefulness of the gathering of millions of people. Oromo nationalism is reviving and thriving in the fertile soil of rich symbolic cultural resources that have come to the open since the 1990s. The array of national symbols such as the odaa tree which decorate the costumes worn by men, women and children, the siiqqee, the bokkuu and other pre-colonial pan-Oromo symbols carried by men and women at the festival represent and reinforce the pride of the nation and unite the multitude gathered for the festival through a common imagery of shared memories, myths and values—in other words the shared structures of feeling.
Writing about the West Saharan struggle against the Moroccan state, Anderson stated: “The Saharawis consider themselves to be the citizens of a sovereign nation, and in many ways they are just that. After all, perceived reality is its own reality.” He notes that “the Saharawis have adopted the trappings of national sovereignty (my emphasis) in the form of an emblematic series of martyrs, slogans, and symbols that express their revolutionary and ethnic identity. Andersons states that “The most potent of these symbols is the national flag, a red star and crescent moon superimposed on three horizontal bars of black, white, and green, running into a red triangle.” He adds, “Like a designer label, ‘RASD,’ the Spanish acronym for the state, is stamped on women’s saris, written in large letters on walls, and even woven into woolen rugs”. The Saharawis were doing this in exile. The Oromo are doing the same both in exile and at home today.
The political significance of irreecha festival
Normally, the irreecha festivals are organized as cultural activities and not a political gathering. Today, what is very significant about the festival is that hundreds of thousands (millions according to the information given by participants) men and women are gathered in Bishoftu from all over in Oromo to uphold a culture that was denigrated, despised and suppressed for about a century, wearing its most potent symbols that are common to all Oromo. The way this annual pan-Oromo festival attracts and gathers participants suggests to us the way the ancient jila pilgrimage to Abba Muuda which was undertaken by thousands of representatives from the different gadaa federations had occurred. The effects of the current festival in Bishoftu and gathering at the muuda sites are similar.
The jila pilgrimage was religious and political undertaking at the same time. Those who travelled on foot for months every eighth year to the muuda shrines, from regions which are far apart, were drawn together by a myth of origin from one ancestor, Orma. This was reinforced by a common language, a common religion through a strong attachment to their Abba Muuda, and a common system of law, a shared attitude toward the natural world as well as their democratic character gave the Oromo the sense of a single people. The muuda institution maintained the unity of the Oromo nation until it was banned in 1900 by Emperor Menelik. Although the purpose of the march to Lake Harsadee in Bishoftu today is not exactly the same with those which stimulated the pilgrimage to the muuda shrines in the past, the effects are the same. Like the jila gatherings at muuda shrine, the irreecha festivals establish a sense of belonging to a single nation among the different branches of the Oromo nation. The awareness created by the irreecha festival is even stronger for the following reasons: it is annual and it is covered by the mass media which takes the festival home to millions of Oromos who do not participant physically. In a way they also participate in the events. The imagination of their national community is more vivid and concrete than it had ever been in the past.
The festival refutes many of the distortions spread by Ethiopianists who, as I have discussed in my latest book, The Contours of the Ancient and Emergent Oromo Nation (Bulcha, 2011), posit that the Oromo “have never had a sense of collective identity based on popular memory” and that they do not have a collective consciousness “rooted in myths and symbols.” It refutes the contention that the present Oromo struggle for an independent state has no popular support and that Oromo nationalism is a project of the intelligentsia and will not attract the ordinary Oromos. It counters the argument which says the Oromo did not possess a sense of belonging to a single societal community shared important past experience and a common historic destiny. The extraordinary enthusiasm with which irreecha and other Oromo cultural traditions are being celebrated by the Oromo masses shows not only the vibrancy of Oromummaa, but also that the Oromo are a people who have a tradition that is capable of bringing together millions of people in one place to practice a pan-Oromo culture with such unbelievable peace and harmony.
The irreechaa festival reflected that the majority of the Oromo people feel a sense of cultural identity different from that which the Abyssinians have tried to impose on them for more than a century. The spontaneity with which Oromo cultural traditions are coming back to life and are colorfully celebrated as soon as the century-old suppression lifted tells a story that contradicts the programs of pro-Ethiopia Oromo political organizations. For example, one of the striking things about the irreecha festival is that no one was carrying an Ethiopian symbol in the crowd while Oromo symbols abound. That shows the rejection of Ethiopiawinet. It is possible to say that the sentiments of the crowd at the festival represent the sentiment of the Oromo nation.
The intriguing question which pro-Ethiopia Oromo political organizations or groups such as the Oromo Dialogue Forum (ODF) seem to have overlooked is whether it is possible for the Oromo people to drop the symbols of their nation and take up the symbols of the Ethiopian state, say the flag, or at least combine the two and make them part of the Oromo national identity or not. Even if they will accept the combination, when and how can we arrange a condition that will convince our people to accept the suggestion? If they do not accept the combination, should we get rid of Oromo nationalism or Ethiopian nationalism? How? Or can two mutually antagonistic nationalisms bereconciled and survive in one state together? Or are the Oromo people being invited to engage in a conflict, the end of which is uncertain? These are intriguing questions which the pro-Ethiopia Oromo groups in general seem not to have thought about or have chosen to ignore.
I will come back to the politics of pro-Ethiopia Oromo political organizations in one of the forthcoming parts of this article. Here it suffices to say that the politics of these groups, particularly that of the ODF, seems to have overlooked the development I have described in this article concerning the role of Oromo culture, literature and music in shaping Oromo attitude to Ethiopiawinet. Preoccupied by the effect globalization may have on our struggle, the members of the ODF seem to have been less concerned about developments internal to the society.
The Oromo feelings for the revival of their culture have surfaced on several occasions in the past. Here, the cultural show of 1976 at the National Theatre in Finfinnee (Addis Ababa) and the attempt made to revive the gadaa tradition can be mentioned. Those expressions of Oromo culture, which had surfaced in the aftermath of the 1974 Ethiopian revolution, were suppressed immediately by the Ethiopian military regime. The present cultural development has proved insuppressible. However, it wouldn’t be surprising if the present regime will attempt to ban the irreecha festival next year. However, that cannot stop the course of Oromo nationalism. The component parts of Oromo culture are many and the spectrum of Oromo cultural activities is broad.The suppression one of its parts is not going to stop the other from functioning as instruments of the national struggle.
As I have argued above regarding developments regarding Oromo literature, arts and music, the Oromo people have adopted the program of bilisummaa and are geared psychologically for independence. Hence, It is unlikely that they will submit to those who will force or advise them to abandon the objective of the OLF. Colonial denigration, exploitation, poverty and endemic famine is driving the majority of our people progressively, albeit imperceptibly, to an open conflict. The recent development in literacy, electronic mass media and music have made more compact and easy to organize. The vigor reflected in the cultural sector and among the post-1991 qubee generation indicates the situation has become more conducive for the Oromo national struggle for independence than it has ever been.
To summarize the main points covered so far in this article, irrespective of what one chooses to call the genesis of the Ethiopian Empire and state in tandem of the Scramble of Africa, Oromo rejection of the imposed identity of Ethiopiyawnet—Ethiopian-ness is a reality.
The struggle led by the OLF was neither organized for the only reasoning of removing Colonel Mengistu Hailemariam from power in the 1970s nor was it fought to overthrow his successor, the late Meles Zenawi, during the last twenty years. It is to achieve freedom, not in a piecemeal manner envisaged by pro-Ethiopia Oromo politicians and the external forces will advise Oromo politicians often patronizingly, but to demolish the shackles of colonialism once for all through total liberation and achieve the rights which are proclaimed in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.
The politics of pro-Ethiopia Oromo political organizations is in conflict with this national objective. In essence it invites the Oromo people to engage in a never-ending struggle with Ethiopian nationalism. Ethiopian nationalism is not going to give up and dissipate because the Oromo want democratize Ethiopia; nor will Oromo nationalism disappear. The Oromo struggle is a product of anti-colonial grievances. It aims to build a sovereign state that respects and protects the security of its citizens. It has produced thousands of heroes and heroines who died while fighting for that objective. Tens of thousands of men and women have been imprisoned and tortured for years by Ethiopian regimes. Thousands of Oromo women have been raped. Those who have been kidnapped and assassinated or made to “disappear” during the last two decades are counted in thousands. As Marina and David Ottaway (1978) have stated in their book Ethiopia: Empire in Revolution, the Oromo “never derived any advantage from being Ethiopian subjects.” They have incurred a traumatizing loss which can be repaired fully only in an independent Oromo state and under a democratically elected Oromo government.
Mekuria Bulcha, PhD, is a Professor of Sociology and an author of widely read books and articles. His new book, Contours of the Emergent and Ancient Oromo Nation, is published by CASAS (Centre for Advanced Studies of African Society), Cape Town, South Africa, in 2011. He was also the founder and publisher of The Oromo Commentary (1990-1999). He is an active member of the OLF and has served in the different branches of the national movement since the 1970s. Dr. Mekuria Bulcha can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Related Mekuria’s works:
- Unity to Attain the ‘the Blessings and Security of Self-government’
- A Quest for a Clear Vision for the Future of Oromia: Declaring our Preferences
- History and the Current Situation Speak for Oromo Independence
- New Book – Contours of the Emergent & Ancient Oromo Nation: Dillemmas in the Ethiopian Politics of State and Nation-Building
- “Ummata Suudaan kibbaa caalaa warraa barate qabna”
September 9, 2012 at 5:53 pm · Gadaa.com
By Leenjiso Horo* | August 2012
Introductory Remark: Recently, the Oromo splinter group from Shanee Gumii-OLF, a group known as the “Oromo Group 7,” which removed itself from the Oromo national liberation struggle to join Ginbot-7 in order to establish the “New Federal Republic of Ehtiopia,” announced a political program of a nonviolent struggle as a substitute for an armed struggle. In the following sections, attempts are made to make distinctions between a nonviolent struggle and an armed struggle. Whether conditions conducive for a nonviolent form of struggle in the Ethiopian empire exist or not are explored. From the outset, however, it can be stated that a nonviolent struggle cannot succeed against a vicious and cruel enemy that is armed to the teeth, and is ready, willing, and able to freely exercise violence against the people. The TPLF is such a regime. This is very clear. Hence, it is impossible to take on a nonviolent form of struggle against the TPLF regime, a violent extremist regime that has turned the institutions of the empire: the army, the police, the state security, the judiciary, the private and civil institutions – against the population. In this case, I would argue that only an armed struggle is a viable option.
Nonviolence as a form of struggle In order to wage a nonviolent struggle, first and foremost, the cause must be a just one. And nonviolence as a method of struggle aims to establish a moral superiority of the protesters over the oppressive regime, and superiority of the issue, for which they advocate, over the regime’s policy. In the nonviolent struggle, the important instrument to be utilized is civil disobedience, noncooperation, non-collaboration with the regime. For this, the way to go is breaking unjust laws openly and nonviolently. Along with this, a nonviolent struggle demands from its leaders a commitment to the cause and willingness to die if it comes to this point. In a nonviolent struggle, readiness to face police abuses and arrests, and patience to sit indefinitely in jail come with territory. In addition, a support of large mass of people is crucial for an effective nonviolent struggle. That is, a large number of dedicated followers are essential for success. In order to wear down the regime, the key to a nonviolent struggle is to have persistence, patience, and dedication of millions of protesters across the country. In this condition, no regime can afford to keep hundreds of thousands of protesters in jail. Along with this, it requires economic boycotts of businesses, strikes, and refusal to pay taxes. The regime imprisons protesters, but long prison terms handed out to the protesters result in a paralyzing effect that cripples the economy of the regime in power.
It must be clear, however, that a nonviolent resistance only works under favorable conditions. If the condition is favorable, a nonviolent struggle is a powerful force. In the following examples, the successes of past nonviolent struggles were results of specific favorable conditions, and commitment to the goals and persistence on the part of leaders and followers. The failures could be attributed to the absence of such favorable conditions, and absence of commitment to goals and persistence. Mahatma Gandhi successfully utilized a nonviolent resistance against the British colonial rule of India during the Indian struggle for independence under favorable conditions. And, so did Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the civil rights movement. Except for the two aforementioned widely known accomplishments, nonviolent struggles were not always successful. History bears witness that a nonviolent struggle does not work in every situation. For instance, nonviolent movements in Burma in 1988, at Tiananmen Square in China in 1989, in Ethiopia in 2005, and in Iran in 2009 led to massive violent crackdowns by the respective governments, and they were followed by horrific political repression and persecutions. In addition, it is important to remember the violent massacre of students in a nonviolent demonstration by the Ethiopian imperial regime in 1969, and the violent political repression known as the Red Terror of the military regime in 1977 to 1978, and the violent massacre of innocent, unarmed men, women, and children in nonviolent peaceful demonstrations in town of Watar in Hararge in 1992, in Gambella in 2003, and in Sidama at Loqee in 2009 by the Meles Zenawi regime of Ethiopia.
Following is a partial list of favorable conditions under which a nonviolent method of struggle may be utilized and may have a chance to succeed:
The state in which the struggle is waged should be democratic, and the society should have democratic culture and tradition; A common goal that the nonviolent resisters would like to achieve; Existence of a large middle-class; A high percentage of educated citizenry as a total of the population; High percent of urbanization; Existence of free press, freedom of speech and other civil liberties; Free media and unfettered access to global internet; and Freedom of association and assembly.
These conditions do not exist in the Ethiopian empire. Hence, it is impossible to enter into contest with the brutal regime in the form of a nonviolent resistance.
First and foremost, the Ethiopian empire state is controlled by a one-man and a one-party regime. TPLF, in and by itself is a party, a regime, a government, a defense and a police force, a security apparatus, a prosecutor, and a judiciary and a legislative, all in one. At the same time, it is a violently repressive dictatorial regime. Being such a regime, it does not tolerate any form of independent political or non-political dissent. It has abolished free press, free media, and freedom of speech and assembly. It jams radios and blocks access to the global internet. Along with these, it censors media, detains journalists, and criminalizes freedom of association and assembly. It treats as a crime all free information and free debate of ideas, unless the information and ideas are in its favor. So, a person can face life imprisonment or death for the views he/she has, expresses or the words he/she speaks or writes.
Furthermore, the Ethiopian empire is a colonial empire, which conquered, annexed, and colonized many nations and nationalities. For these reasons, it is oftentimes referred to as a prison-house of nations and nationalities. The colonized peoples’ aspirations are to exit from the empire to their freedom and liberation, while the colonizing people want to hold the empire together. And hence, there is no common goal to be pursued together. In addition to this, Ethiopia does not have strong institutions of civil society to inform, educate, mobilize, and organize the population. For all these, a nonviolent form of struggle has no base as a method of struggle in Ethiopia even to begin.
In addition to what has been said, for a nonviolent form of struggle to be successful, there should be a large middle-class, high percent of literacy in the population, and urbanization. In the Ethiopian empire, of the population of 90 million, only 17% is urbanized and 83% is rural. In what is now known as the “Arab Spring” countries, the degree of urbanization of the population is very high in comparison to the Ethiopian empire. For instance, the urban population in Tunisia is 67% of the total population; in Egypt 43.4%; in Libya 78%; in Syria 56%. From the point of view of the urban population alone, there is no room for a nonviolent form of struggle in Ethiopian. Again, Arabs are united for a common goal to overthrow the dictators. In the Ethiopian empire, there is no common goal between the colonized people, who want to exit from the colonial system, and the colonizing people, who want to maintain their colonies. Again, among other things, there should also be a democratic culture and tradition of the colonizer society. This means the members of the colonizer nation have to support the struggle of the colonized people. Once again, all these are absent in Ethiopia proper. In the absence of these conditions, the dream for a nonviolent form of struggle against a police state and a militarized empire is futile and tantamount to committing suicide. Hence, in the Ethiopian empire, only an armed struggle is appropriate and a viable form of struggle. Even Mahatma Gandhi, a person who brought India’s independence through a nonviolent struggle supported an armed struggle in the absence of favorable condition. Here are his words:
I do believe that where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence. … I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honour than that she would, in a cowardly manner, become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonour.
Further, Gandhi had to say this in regard to submission to enemy: “Though violence is not lawful, when it is offered in self-defence or for the defence of the defenceless, it is an act of bravery far better than cowardly submission. The latter [submission] befits neither man nor woman. Under violence, there are many stages and varieties of bravery. Every man must judge this for himself. No other person can or has the right.”
Moreover, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a prominent leader of a nonviolent movement in the United States of America, also supported the armed liberation struggles in Africa and Asia. Here are his words: “These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression … The shirtless and barefoot people of the world are rising up as ever before … We, in the West, must support these revolutions.”
Now, this introduces us to the recent announcement of a nonviolent form of struggle by a group of Oromo that split from Shanee Gumii-OLF in order to join Ginbot-7. A year ago, this group was marching alongside Oromo. Today, it is marching with Abyssinians against Oromo and their struggle. Its declaration of non-violent struggle reads: “It is high time for us to follow the inspirations and learn from the experiences of successful non-violent transformations, and use them as a catalyst to do away with injustice that is rampant over Ethiopia.”
Well, this group seems to have forgotten that the Oromo people, since their conquest, have tried time and again to peacefully resolve the conflict between the Oromiya and Ethiopia. Looking back from 1997 to 1960s, we may put to rest this argument of peaceful nonviolence struggle, for all time. In 1960s Macca-Tuulama Self-Help Association, a non-profit and nonviolent organization was established to assist the neglected Oromo population in developmental, social, economic, health, and educational services, and to educate them in political awareness. However, the Ethiopian regime banned the Association simply because it wanted to deny these services to the Oromo people. Again, the participation of the Oromo political organizations in the Transitional Charter in 1991 was nonviolent in nature and in scope. The purpose was to peacefully resolve the long-standing political conflict between Oromiya and Ethiopia. The Abyssinians, however, turned their back on the peaceful resolution of the conflict and resorted to violence. Furthermore, it is to be remembered that the 1993 Paris Peace Conference, the 1994 Peace Talks Initiative by the former U.S. President Jimmy Carter at the Carter Center in Atlanta, the 1995 Peace Talks under the auspices of a U.S. Congressional Task Force on Ethiopia headed by Congressman Harry Johnson in Washington, DC, and the 1997 Peace Talks in Germany sponsored by NGOs were all for the peaceful resolution of the conflict. They all failed because the Meles Zenawi regime rejected them all. It is, therefore, clear that the road to a peaceful conflict resolution in the empire is blocked, and has become ineffective and worthless. Despite all these facts, still there are Oromo nationals who are calling for a nonviolent means of struggle.
Evidently, the group seems to have forgotten all these peaceful nonviolent attempts. Instead, it stuck to vaguely learned ideas from Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As it is pointed out above, Gandhi used resistance against colonial rule through massive civil disobedience, and Dr. King also used peaceful means against racial segregation in the American experience. In both cases, conditions were favorable for nonviolent movements. In the case of India, the British public opinion supported the independence of India. In the United States, in the civil rights case, the majority of the American public, not only supported the Civil Rights Movement, but also joined it in the protests in millions.
On the contrary, in the Ethiopian empire, neither the Abyssinian people nor the Abyssinian political elites, and nor their political organizations support the independence of Oromiya. Let alone to support its independence, they have been fighting even the principle of the right of nations to self-determination with force and ferocity. They denounce whoever speaks of freedom as narrow nationalists (“tabaab bihirtanya”), and repudiate the political principle of the right of nations to self-determination as an instrument for dismembering the Ethiopian empire state. Without the recognition of the right of nations and nationalities to self-determination, the Abyssinian elites have failed to see any meaningful resolution which would be the only way they live with Oromo and others in peace and democracy. The Abyssinian people, their political elites and their Oromo agents and lackeys fail to understand that democratization of Ethiopia and the formation of Republic of Ethiopia can only be established, first and foremost, with the dismantling of the Ethiopian empire and with the formation of free, independent, sovereign states out of the ashes of the empire. It is the free, independent, and sovereign states that can establish a democratic and republican form of state in accordance with a freely expressed will of the independent peoples of respective states, including the Abyssinians. This is what the political program of the OLF calls a voluntary new arrangement. It is only sovereign, free and independent states that can unite on a voluntary and democratic basis if they wish to live together. The denunciations of nationalists as “narrow nationalists” may be emotionally satisfying to them, but it does not help them to maintain the colonial empire. That is, they oppose the right of the Oromo people to determine their own destiny, to freely decide who they are, and who and what they wish to be. But, the Oromo struggle can be truly expressed in the words of the U.S. Declaration of Independence of 1776 which reads:
“When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which 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.”
It is the colonial political system that binds the Oromo people with the Ethiopian empire state. Our struggle is to dissolve the colonial political order that connect the colonizer with the colonized people. It is inherently the right of colonized people to disconnect the treads of the colonial relationship. This is the struggle for justice, peace, freedom and democracy against the Abyssinian corrosive colonial political order. It is a struggle for the complete independence of Oromiya. The Abyssinian political elites, however, see this as a “doom and gloom,” and as a crushing of their dream to hold their empire together.
Amhara political elites’ new campaign against the OLF and the Oromo people Recently, the Amhara political elites, in coordination with Tigrayan regime, have launched their heinous political attacks against the OLF and the Oromo nation. TPLF’s terrorist regime has already listed the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) as a “terrorist” organization. The whole Oromo people are now categorized as terrorists in their country, on their soil by a terrorist regime that crossed the border into our country. Now, it is joined by the Amhara political elites with new campaign slogans. The recently circulating videos on the Internet are calling for and advocating for the repeat of Menelik II’s genocide on the Oromo people as at Aannolee, Calanqoo and other places in Oromiya. The lyric poem, put on the Website of Tensa’e Ethiopia in December 2011 by an Abyssinian lyricist, agitates for the extermination, annihilations and persecution of the Oromo people. The lyricist chants her/his lyric in Amharic in these words: “Yala engna maan alle le agar guday; ennigabalen eyyeshallalni zerafi qorraaxu Galla Geday.” This roughly means: Without us, who is there for the affairs of the country; we will go home with great happiness, proudly boasting and chanting the brave determined
Galla killers. Galla is a derogatory name the Abyssinian elites use to insult or disparage the Oromo people. In the lyrics, the Abyssinians express the inner deep hatred they have for the Oromo people. It is an agitation of political campaign of genocide. This is the tip of the iceberg, but suffice to call to mind the genocide Abyssinians perpetrated against the Oromo during their conquest and colonization of the Oromo land. They slaughtered over five million Oromos; they mutilated Oromo children’s hands, Oromo women’s breasts and gouged out the eyes of thousands of men, women and children of Oromiya. Then, they ensured the obliteration of freedom, liberty, independence, and subjection and colonization of the remaining population.
In following this up, now they have a launched malicious propaganda campaign against the OLF, which they want to eliminate, calling it a “genocidal hate group.” They manufactured a false propaganda of a “Looming OLF Genocide.” Such is in the Abyssinian political culture to fantasize and make up stories in order to destroy our organization, and with it, our people. This is not new to the Oromo people. It has been with us since the conquest and colonization of Oromiya. Such crimes against the Oromo people have been ceaselessly reverberating over a century and still continuing. This campaign is a re-echoing of its old method in preparation for the next wave of genocide against the Oromo people. In this case, the Abyssinian elites are in the mode of preparing political atmosphere for new crimes and acts of genocide. This is a method that the successive Abyssinian rulers have been using to “legally” murder Oromo peasants in the rural areas, and professionals, students and workers in the cities and towns. It is based on the same made up stories that today concentration camps are filled with Oromo nationals: young and old. It is under such lies and made up stories that hundreds of thousands of Oromo nationals across Oromiya are arrested, tortured and sent to jails, and of these, some are sentenced to life imprisonment, and others sentenced to death. The same method was used in the public hanging of Captain Mamo Mezemir, an Oromo nationalist, by Emperor Hiale Selassie’s regime producing a false witness against him, and the poisoning of Haile Mariam Gammada in the prison, and so many before and after that. Again, lest we forget the assassination of General Taddassa Birru; and the murder of Dr. Haile Fida, the founder of Qubee – the Oromo Latin alphabet and an Oromo nationalist, in the prison cell by the Dergue regime; the assassination of Abdullahi Yusuf, an Oromo nationalist, and many more Oromo peasants, workers, intellectuals, and students. Today, under TPLF, it is worse. TPLF is waging a total war; a war of destruction and annihilation of the Oromo population in the style of Menelik II, but far bypassed. Since its accession to power, it has been striking terror throughout the occupied Oromiya. Ever since, it has been terrorizing our people, burning down their crops and slaughtering their livestock, and razing their villages to the ground. Indeed, we are watching its ugly assault upon our people and country. History lives with us. It reminds us the genocide and the atrocities committed against our people.
Moreover, among their outrageous propaganda is a statement that declares, “Oromo children are being brainwashed to have an annihilation of Amharas as their greatest desire.” Their shameless propaganda goes on to say, this is “Recorded from the Oromo Genocidal Forum of Feb. 2012.” And they collectively ascribed to “We are providing advance warning of potentially genocidal conflict instigated by the OLF leadership.” The question should be asked, why the Amhara elites choose to go this road or choose to engage in such false, fabricated and heinous campaign against the OLF? Why shed false tears? If one thinks about it, the answer is obvious. The reason is the OLF is the first political organization that appeared on the political stage with a clear political agenda for the Oromo nation. Hence, one can say, it is the first political institution since the colonization of Oromiya a century ago.
Abyssinian political elites have learned from their European patronages, sponsors and advisors that to control the colonized nation, first and foremost, that nation’s basic foundations of life have to be attacked and destroyed in part, or in whole. The basic foundation of a nation includes, among others, its leadership, its political and social institutions, its intellectual history, its culture, its language, its religion, its economic life, national character, national feelings, national spirit, liberty and freedom, and dignity. All colonizers throughout history, without exception, attacked and dismantled the colonized nations’ leadership, political and social institutions, their religions, and etc. Such attacks have been what the successive Abyssinian colonialist regimes have done and still doing to the Oromo nation. They dismantled the Oromo national leadership, political and social institutions, the Oormo religion, among others. The purpose was, and still is, to deprive the Oromo nation a national leadership. Without national leadership, to undertake a war of national liberation struggle is impossible. The Abyssinian elites understood this well. It is for this reason that successive Ethiopian empire rulers systematically deprived the Oromo people from developing or having their own national leadership and that the Oromo people lived over a century without a national leadership. For the first time, the OLF filled this vacuum, and Abyssinian political elites felt threatened. It is because of this, these elites now started a new campaign with fabricated dramas full of fictions and complete lies against the Oromo nation all over again. This time, their target is to destroy the OLF. It is a campaign of depriving the Oromo people leadership.
The Amhara political elites are not only antagonistic to the OLF, but also antagonistic to the political principle of the right of nations to self-determination. However, they have forgotten that history has shown time and again that self-determination breaks up colonial states and empires resulting in free, sovereign and independent states. For instance, the British Empire, the Ottoman empire, the Russian empire, the Persian Empire, the Roman Empire and etc. were all dismantled by struggle of the conquered and occupied peoples. This means self-determination is a politics of negation and affirmation at the same time. That is, it dismantles colonial occupation, which is a negation of colonial empires, and re-establishes independent state of a colonized territory, which is an affirmation of an independent state. The Ethiopian empire state is not immune to this political process. The amount of hatred, denunciations, and maliciously false accusation that run: “OLF is a genocidal hate group” neither help their cause nor change this fact. Hence, this is a clear evidence that there is a great gulf between the Oromo people and Abyssinian political elites. Because of this, there is absolutely no basis for cooperation between the two.
Moreover, Gandhi and King led the nonviolent resistance, not from the exile, but by being physically inside the country leading the nonviolent protesters. The call for nonviolence from an exile group known as the “Jijjiirama group,” also referred to as Group-7, without being in the country for that group’s leadership to lead it, is absurd. One needs to set an example by being in the country and start a nonviolent struggle. It is important to establish one’s credibility by living the example.
Armed Struggle as the Only Viable Form of Struggle History of national liberation struggle is the struggle of establishment of justice against injustice. It is a history of struggle for freedom against colonialism and colonial subjugation. Most importantly, a nation under colonial occupation has no alternative other than to fight for its freedom and liberation. Such a fight is a fight for survival as a nation, as a people, as a community and as individuals. It is a struggle for peace, justice, and stability for ourselves, for the region, and for the world. Here, it must be clear to all that the Oromo struggle does not target specific people, nations, nationalities, communities, persons, or a person. Its target is the system of colonial occupation and its instruments of war: the army, the police, security apparatus, bureaucracy, its webs of spies, and the death squad. Colonial occupation is unjust; alien rule is unjust; it is evil. It has to be fought out. It is for this reason that the Oromo people have been and are fighting since their occupation. In concurrence with this just cause, the UN General Assembly Resolution 2649 (XXV) Article (1) states that it: “Affirms the legitimacy of the struggle of people under colonial and alien domination recognized as being entitled to the right of self-determination to restore to themselves that right by any means at their disposal,” and also in Resolution 3070 (XXVIII) Article (2) states GA [General Assembly] “Also affirms the legitimacy of the peoples’ struggle for liberation from colonial and foreign domination and alien subjugation by all available means, including armed struggle.”
Another example of such support is a resolution adopted in 1964 by the Conference of Jurists of Afro-Asian Countries in Conakry which states that: “… all struggles undertaken by the peoples for the national independence or for the restitution of the territories or occupied parts thereof, including armed struggle, are entirely legal.”
Similarly, the Conference of Non-Aligned States in 1964 in Cairo recognized the resort to arms by colonized peoples against colonial occupation. It was stated that: “The process of liberation is irresistible and irreversible. Colonized peoples may legitimately resort to arms to secure the full exercise of their right to self-determination and independence if Colonial Powers persist in opposing their natural aspirations.”
In this struggle, the legitimate aspiration of the Oromo people is for freedom, liberty and to achieve their fundamental right, the right to national self-determination. The right to national self-determination of a colonial people simply means the right to national independence. It is a political self-determination, state independence and the formation of a national state. To this end, the Oromo people have inherently an inalienable right; a natural right, a right to fight to defend themselves. Our struggle is a defensive one. It is a struggle for independence from the Abyssinian colonial occupation. Being a colonized people, it is our right to fight; it is our duty to dismantle the colonial occupation.
In order to hinder this, the TPLF regime has been engaged in aggression against the Oromo people to suppress their legitimate aspiration, their right to independence. In its aggression against this right, TPLF has been and is wantonly killing hundreds of thousands of innocent Oromo nationals. Hundreds of thousands have disappeared in its custody, and many more thousands women have been raped. Thousands of more men, women, elders, and youths have been arrested, tortured, maimed and handicapped. Moreover, hundreds of thousands more nationals have been crossing the borders into exile and in search of safety to escape from the TPLF’s atrocities. Hundreds of thousands of Oromo men and women with their children are stranded in Yemen, Kenya, Somaliland, Djibouti, and the Sudan. They are in dreadful situation. The Tigrian colonialist minority junta in power has close ties with the authorities of the countries in the area, and because of this, these authorities have failed to protect the refugees. Consequently, the Oromo refugees in Yemen, Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya, and the Sudan are deprived of their human rights and subjected to violence, intimidation, abuse, and harassment by the authorities of these respective countries in coalescence with TPLF regime. In this case, unparalleled crimes are committed against Oromo refugees. Particularly in Yemen, the Oromo refugees are deprived of water, food, sanitation, and shelter. They are thrown out into the deadly heat wave. As a result, pregnant women, children, infants, elders, and the sick and the weak are dying of dehydration. The sick ones are deprived of medical attention and treatments. The physically able men and women are put in the jails. Under these conditions, in Yemen, the Oromo refugees are in a frightening situation fraught with extreme danger. Yemen has become the most insecure and outright danger to the Oromo refugees. The Oromo refugees have lost minimum physical safety, security, and human rights protection. And millions are internally displaced. Oromo youths have been and are expelled from elementary and high schools, colleges, and universities. There are endless flagrant violations of basic human rights under this violent regime of TPLF. It is a bloody, tyrannical regime that has been drowning thousands of innocent nationals in rivers of blood. Conspicuously, Oromiya is drenched in blood, and so our people have faced the most cruel, inhumane, and vicious enemy they have never seen before.
In the shadow of state security, political dissidents, journalists, teachers, students, professionals, intellectuals, civil society leaders, artists, and musicians are falsely accused as subversives, and brutally repressed and dragged into jails, tortured, and murdered. And it has been and is mercilessly slaying innocent peasants in the rural areas in the empire. It is a regime that has built more prisons in the empire than any of its predecessors in history. Not only this, it is the first regime in the history of the Ethiopian empire that has built secret prison cells all over the country – where prisoners are secretly taken, and tortured and killed. In this way, many have simply vanished. Indeed, this regime has fettered public voices and opinions in fear: fear of going to jail, fear of being tortured, fear of being killed, fear of being kidnapped from their work places, from their farms, from the market, and from the streets, and fear of the Federal and local police knocking on their doors. In this way, the voice of the people is silenced. And it is now very dangerous to utter even a word to criticize its rules and its policies. Expressing the cruelty of such a regime, the U.S. Supreme Justice Hugo L. Black has to say this:
“Since the beginning of history there have been governments that have engaged in practices against the people so bad, so cruel, so unjust and so destructive of the individual dignity of men and women that the right of ‘revolution’ was all the people had left to free themselves … I venture the suggestion that there are countless multitudes in this country, and all over the world, who would join [the] belief in the right of the people to resist by force tyrannical governments like those.”
It is because of such successive abusive Ethiopian regimes that the Oromo people raised arms to defend themselves. This defensive struggle continues until the colonial occupation of Oromiya ends. In our struggle, we use every means available to us to fight the enemy until our goal is attained. To hold the empire together, the regime has been using a military means. As all colonized peoples before us defended themselves, we too are defending ourselves and our country against the Abyssinian colonial occupation. Since the conquest, we have been facing unparalleled subjugation, political and economic exploitation, dehumanization, and mass extermination. Of all Abyssinian colonial regimes, the TPLF occupying regime is the most cruel, the most violent and barbaric savage regime than all its predecessors. Hence, by any objective standard, this regime has tortured, killed, displaced, terrorized, and robbed the population of the empire than any of its predecessors since the formation of the empire. So, our people have been facing such a regime since 1991. It is the cruelest regime ever to appear in the history of the Ethiopian colonial empire. Consequently, we are left with no choice other than to militarily resist this conquering, occupying, colonizing , and exploiting regime. Ours is a defensive war; it is a reaction to the colonial occupation. To this end, to defend ourselves from being annihilated, we have taken up arms and engaged in a war of national liberation. This war of national liberation is a political, diplomatic, and armed struggle being waged by the Oromo people and their nationalists against the colonial occupation to regain our legitimate right of self-determination/independence.
Furthermore, TPLF regime has impoverished our people, and it is devastating Oromiya, its land, its soils, and its natural wonders. It has poisoned, and lay waste our lakes, rivers, forests, and wildlife. It is robbing us of our farmlands, our mines, our forests, our coffee, and our raw materials. It has engaged in a massive exploitation of natural wealth and resources of the occupied lands. It has engaged in a full-fledged ‘marketization’ of Oromiya and mutilation of Oromoland. Land sale and lease to the global commercial land-grabbers to benefit itself and its cronies is at its height by forcing out communities from their villages and farmers from their farmlands. It is and has been using the instruments of the state machinery in enriching itself and its Oromo collaborators, its cronies, and other associates, while at the same time, it ditched and plunged the whole population into abject poverty and exposed to starvation and famine. In the empire, today hunger has grown fast in rural villages, in the cities, and in towns as the Tigrean elites enrich themselves at the expense of Oromos and other nations and nationalities in the empire. It has monopolized the import and export of trade and local factories and industries. And, it is stealthily siphoning billions of dollars from the empire state treasury to its foreign bank accounts and financial centers. To this effect, Global Financial Integrity (GFI) has reported this: “Ethiopia , which has a per-capita GDP of just US$365, lost US$11.7 billion to illicit financial outflows between 2000 and 2009. More worrying is that the study shows Ethiopia’s losses due to illicit capital flows are on the rise …”
In this way, it has resorted to the robbery of the treasury of the empire. In the empire’s history, no regimes or rulers have ever engaged in such a colossal robbery and thievery of the wealth of the peoples in the empire. Oromiya is the land of plenty, and yet its people are reduced by the colonial regime to poverty and suffering. Oromiya’s coffee alone constitutes 65% of the empire’s foreign exchange earnings. And yet, nothing goes back to Oromiya for the benefit of its people. Our people are deprived of their own means of subsistence: land, the natural wealth and the resources. In this way, TPLF’s regime has reduced our people to the state of extreme poverty. This regime is an embodiment of violence and greed. Since its occupation of the political space in the empire, it has been undertaking waves of political violence and murder in Oromiya. This is a regime that lies to people, cheats them, and steals from them. It surrendered the control of our natural resources over to foreign countries and to global multinational commercial land grabbers without ensuring the Oromo are the primary beneficiary.
It is worthwhile to remind oneself Prince Milan Obrenovich of Serbia’s statement of declaration of war of independence against the Ottoman empire in this term, “Nations cannot attain true freedom until they have purchased it by their own exertions, and, if necessary, by their blood.” This statement was true then, and it is true now. It was true for Serbia then in their fight against the Ottoman empire, and it is true now for the Oromo people in their fight against the Ethiopian colonial empire. Ours is a noble struggle against colonialism, opportunism, revisionism, and capitulationism for the triumph of peace, freedom, liberty, national political independence, national sovereignty and democracy. It is, therefore, clear that the Oromo people have no other option, but to fight, the fight which will end the colonial occupation. For this, it must be crystal clear to all that the independence of Oromiya can only be realized on battlefields in Oromiya. Our struggle may be long, but the outcome is certain.
From all the foregoing, it is clear that there are no conducive conditions for a nonviolent form of struggle against a vicious and cruel regime that is armed to the teeth and is ready, willing, and able to freely exercise its violence against the people without limit or restraint. The TPLF is such a regime. Violence is in its nature and character. As described above, its violence is, not only against humans, but also against nature itself. Its policy is a policy of arbitrary arrest, kidnap, jail, torture, maim, kill and burn. As such, it does not understand a nonviolent form of struggle other than force. It only understands the language of force and action. Peaceful means of conflict resolution between Oromiya and Ethiopia is already exhausted. For this reason, the armed struggle is the only viable form of struggle to liberate the colonized peoples from such a violent colonial regime. Hence, nationalists must be conscious, united, organized, and armed with all possible available means as well as with correct political line of liberation. Along with this, the Oromo national liberation organization needs one leadership, one military plan and command, and one political line – the total independence of Oromiya. These should be based on organizational vision, organizational goal/kaayyoo, and organizational power. Without vision, hopes fade away; that is, hopes of swift victory over the enemy fades. With the fades of hopes, attitudes of nationals shift from opposing the enemy to collaborating with it. This gives rise to political revisionism. As hopes fade away and attitudes shift, organizational focus changes and organizational goal is abandoned. The abandonment of organizational goal weakens the organization. As an organization is weakened, split begins. The split gives the opportunity to opportunists and capitulationists to invade the organization. It is this that has given rise to the political line of revisionists, reformists, and of nonviolence.
The recent formation of Oromo counter-revolutionary group in the name of the “Oromo Dialogue Forum/Waltajjii Marii Oromoo” is a revisionist movement. It is organized as a counterweight to the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). Its purpose is to re-define and reverse the goal of the Political Program of the OLF and the Oromo struggle. And it has done that. Now, it is holding meetings by crisscrossing the continents from Europe, North America to Africa seeking public acceptance, recognition and endorsement for its revisionist political line in the name of dialogue/marii. Revisionism is a policy of acceptance of the political line of the conqueror of one’s territory. It is to remove the liberation struggle from its proper context and focus one’s attention toward the ‘democratization of empire,’ the ‘nonviolent’ form of struggle and etc. For instance, on Oromo question, the ‘Oromo Dialogue Forum’ and B/G Kemal Gelchu’s group (aka Oromo Group 7) have proven themselves to be accommodationists of the political policy of Abyssinians, and hence they are apologists for the Ethiopian empire regime and its institutions. And these revisionist movements are collectively known as the “Oromo Dialogue Forum/Waltajjii Marii Oromoo.” A revisionist movement gives birth to a capitulationist movement. Its political outlook is born out of absence of vision, lack of focus, lack of commitment, resolve and determination to carry out the national liberation struggle. Its purpose of formation is to undercut the struggle for the independence of Oromiya, and to reduce the OLF into a mere appendage of the colonial regime. Before its appearance as “Jijjiirama,” it was an organization – an organization within an organization. Here, like a spider sitting in the middle of its web, the representatives of the Jijjiirama group, the now “Oromo Dialogue Forum,” had been sitting in the middle of their webs scheming divisive political lines to split the members of the OLF on regional, local and village levels, in order to advance the political line of democratization of Ethiopian empire.
As every Oromo may know by now, the First Secretary General of OLF, the Deputy S/G, the Head of Foreign Representatives, the Spokespersons, and the Heads of Foreign Mission and others known personalities who held high posts in the organization during 1991 and, thereafter, all have abandoned the Oromo national liberation struggle for independence in favor of resuscitating the dying empire by democratizing it. In the history of national liberation struggle so far known, no top leadership of liberation front ever deserted in mass their organization, national Kaayyoo, and the cause of their people in order to reconcile with the enemy of their country as those who established the ‘Oromo Dialogue Forum/Waltajjii Marii Oromoo.’ Again, in the history of the national liberation struggle, no respected national organization (other than “Oromo Dialogue Forum”) has ever offered condolences, compassion, and sympathy to the family and relatives of a passed away fascist, a fascist who committed crimes against humanity and slaughtered innocent men, women, and children. The late Meles Zenawi was a man who turned Oromiya into a death camp, whereby Oromo nationals: men, women, and children have been slaughtered. The scale of crimes of genocide committed by his regime on the Oromo and other peoples are unparalleled in the history of the Ethiopian empire. To issue condolence at the passing away of such a person is politically ill-conceived, illogical, and irrational; ethically misguided, villainy, and repulsive, as it is morally wrong and improper. In short, the statement of condolence means a compromise of one’s political, moral, and ethical foundations. The group’s infamous statement of condolences reads as, “We, members of the Oromo Dialogue Forum (ODF), would like to extend our condolences to the family and relatives of the late Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi.” Such is the first known case in the history of national liberation struggles. This is statement of an absolute disgrace. It symbolizes a break of faith in the national liberation struggle. It is intended to belittle our people and nationalists. I wonder as to what this group would tell those Oromo nationals whom Meles Zenawi and his regime tortured and murdered, those nationals who are not with us today. What this group would tell those nationals who have been languishing in the prison cells and in various concentration camps that Meles Zenawi built? Its statement of condolence is tantamount to endorsing of what the illegal, illegitimate, and criminal head of the colonial regime, PM Meles Zenawi, had done. This is a betrayal. It is a betrayal of those Oromo nationalists, those nationalists who fought, those who are still fighting, and those who have died fighting for the liberation of Oromiya. Ask yourself the questions as to: should the Jewish nationals extend expression of condolences to the family and relatives of Hitler, a man who exterminated six million Jews? Again, should the Oromo nationals and people extend condolence to the family and relatives of Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia, a man who annihilated over five million Oromo or for that matter to the family and relatives of Gobana Daaccee, a man who was instrumental in the annihilation of his own people and colonization of his own country? Certainly not. Neither the Jewish people nor the Oromo people extended condolences to the slaughters of their respective populations. The Jewish people, the Jewish state, and Jewish organizations are still condemning Hitler for the crimes against humanity and genocide. The Oromo people and their organizations too have been and still are condemning Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia for the crimes of genocide he committed on the Oromo people. Here a question can be asked as to why the members of the “Oromo Dialogue Forum/Waltajjii Marii Oromoo” choose to extend their condolences at the death of PM Meles Zenawi, the murderer of our people, the despoiler of our country and a man who committed crimes against humanity. This is ahistorical. Nothing like this has ever happened in the history of human society.
As Oromo nationals, what will outrage you, if you are not outraged by this? You should be outraged. This is the core of the question. It is these groups that formed Jijjiirama. As later Jijjirama faced endless factions, splits, and eventual death, it is re-named as the ‘Oromo Dialogue Forum.’ Suffice to say, these individuals used the positions entrusted to them to undermine the health of the organization, the struggle, the cause, and the unity of the members. The OLF trusted and employed such individuals in so high posts to advance its political goal/Kaayyoo. Its Kaayyoo being the Oromo national independence, restoration of Oromiya state, sovereignty, and democracy. But these individuals have failed to honor and to uphold the trust and responsibilities placed upon them. Instead, they became disloyal and betrayed the organization, its vision, and its political goal. It is from these posts that these individuals have become the chief architects and propagandists of the capitulation movements, of which the ‘Oromo Dialogue Forum’ is its central pillar. The ‘Oromo Dialogue Forum’ has become the epicenter of the political ideology of the revisionist movement in today’s Oromo national liberation struggle. Having re-named Jijjiirama as the “Oromo Dialogue Form,” the group is now busy weaving a new web of intrigues and disinformation to create more confusion to mislead Oromo nationals in order to undermine the Oromo resistance against Abyssinian colonialism. Such an attempt to undermine the Oromo national liberation struggle is politically ill-conceived, ethically misguided, as it is morally repellent. It is time for the Oromo people and nationalists to defang, sterilize, and expurgate revisionist movement’s ideology and political propaganda of “empire democratization.”
Moreover, the ‘Forum’ is composed of heterogeneous elements with divergent political aims and interests whose aims and interests are contrary to the Oromo national aims, goals and interests. Some of its members are pro TPLF, some are pro xenophobic right-wing Amhara, some are pro neo-liberal-wing of Amhara, others are simply lovers of the name Ethiopia, and still others are just ego ridden individuals. Simply said, it is important to note that this capitulationist movement is composed of former members and cadre of the Dergue regime. And they played a very important role for the Dergue Military regime serving as the intellectuals and political cadres. With the fall of the military regime/Dergue, some of its members joined OPDO, as foot soldiers of colonial occupation. Being members of the OPDO, they served the colonial occupation very well. Some of them were trained by the TPLF to infiltrate the OLF, and others were trained and sent across the borders and overseas. These groups claimed being “refugees.” “Refugee” status was used as a veil to disguise their political identities so as to infiltrate Oromo organizations, communities, and et cetera. It is these groups that infiltrated the OLF and Oromo mass organizations in the diaspora. It is this group that formed the “Jijjiirama” and now the ‘Forum.’ Now, the remaining of these individuals, who had been embedded within the ABO-Shanee, have recently started swinging over to the “Oromo Dialogue Forum.” It is a gigantic political mistake and fraud, and a moral failure to believe that this group is genuine group and so represents Oromo interests. Each group is in alliance with the various elements of representatives of the dying empire. Each group wants to dismantle the OLF as a liberation front. Each has been advancing its own political agendas. Each has been advocating for the unity of the empire, the democratization of the empire, which is impossible, and federalization of colonial territories with the colonizer country rather than joining the Oromo national struggle for independence. In the end, with the struggle of the Oromo people and their nationalists against it, this revisionist movement will fall like rubble, torn apart, razed, carted away and thrown into the dustbin of history.
Warning against forming an alliance or a unity with an enemy, the Oromos caution us in this term: “Bishaan darbuu gaye nama hinnyaatin.” Roughly translated in English as, a man should not be drown by a flood of water or by a body of moving water that is about to pass. The meaning of the phrase is, be careful of the final moment of a passing of a dangerous thing. Because, it takes one away along with itself. Ethiopia is a dangerous empire, an empire in the process of about to pass or about to cease to exist. This means whoever makes alliance with the forces of empire holders in the name of its “democratization” will eventually go down with the empire into the dustbin of history. History will condemn such persons. As you probably already know, among the most notorious traitors condemned by history for their collaboration or alliance with the enemy of their respective countries and peoples were Gobana Daccee of Oromiya, Vidkun Quisling of Norway, Philippe Petain of France, Benedict Arnold of America, and Wang Jingwei of China, among others. In the eyes of the world and of their respective peoples, all were traitors and still considered as such. All of them collaborated with the colonizers, invaders, and occupiers of their respective countries. All of them aided and abetted the enemy in the occupation of their respective countries, and in the slaughter of millions of their fellow countrymen, women, and children. For this, all of them have been and still are condemned as the enemy of freedom, justice and independence by history and by their respective peoples. This is a lesson to be learned by those Oromo nationals who are courting Abyssinian political elites, their organizations, and their colonial regime in order to form a political partnership against the struggle for independence of Oromiya.
Never in the history of national liberation struggles has there ever been any advocacy for a coalition or an alliance, or a unity between a colonized and a colonizing empire for the purpose of democratizing the later. That is before the “Oromo Group 7″ and the “Oromo Dialogue Forum.” Oromo Dialogue Forum’s political goal is to create conditions for the Oromo people to permanently fall into the clutches of a new Tigran colonialist regime, the TPLF. Its members have long ago infiltrated the OLF, the other Oromo political organizations, the Oromo communities, including cyber-spaces, among others. It is a revisionist group that revised, re-interpreted, and distorted the OLF political program, the meaning of the right of self-determination, the meaning of liberation, the meaning of national liberation struggle, and hence, of the Oromo struggle for independence. Quite for sometime, its members have been falsely preaching the purpose of the Oromo struggle as, not for political independence, but as a struggle to improve the Oromo people’s cultural, political, social, and economic rights within the existing Ethiopian colonial empire. Through such revision and distortion of the goal of Oromo struggle, the group has been able to influence certain section of Oromo nationals in the Diaspora. But most of its convertees do not understand the meanings that the revisionist movement attached to the Oromo political goal. These convertees lack to understand the genesis of the cause of the Oromo struggle as well as the purpose and the meaning of the Oromo struggle. And so they misappropriated the meanings and become tools in spreading this disinformation as constructed by the capitulationst movement. For example, Jijjiirama, long before its split from ABO-Shanee, and since it re-named itself as the “Oromo Dialogue Forum,” has been preaching “nonviolence,” “negotiation,” and “democratization of Ethiopia,” and now “democratization of the Horn of Africa,” instead of joining the political, diplomatic, and armed struggle of its people for liberation. In conjunction to these, now it is looking for sponsorship to sponsor it in order to reconcile it with the Abyssinian regime and with other Abyssinian political elements. In this way, it is playing a chess game for a political power sharing with the colonial regime of the empire. As always, it has kept on begging for “inclusiveness” in the governance of the empire. For this, it presented the Oromo people as Ethiopians and as Ethiopian nationality. Hence, in its condolence statement it has failed to mention the name Oromo nation. Again, along with this, the “Oromo Dialogue Forum” has failed to or purposefully avoided to speak to and of the collective and individual sufferings of the Oromo people under Meles Zenawi’s illegal, illegitimate, and criminal regime. This is a political campaign of “Ethiopianization” of the peoples in the Ethiopian empire. For this, it has set itself in opposition to the core meaning of the idea of what the Oromo nationalists are fighting for – independence of Oromiya. Now, more than ever before, it is crystal clear that there are two groups in the Oromo national liberation struggle. Hence, it is easy to tell which group represents Abyssinian colonialist and its interests, and which one represents the Oromo people and their interests.
On one side stands the OLF, representing the interests and aspiration of the Oromo nation for the independence of Oromiya. On the other side stands the ‘Oromo Dialogue Forum’ and the ‘Oromo Group 7′ – collaborating with the Abyssinian colonialists to maintain the Ethiopian colonial Empire, and for its “democratization” and “federalization.” The “Oromo Dialogue Forum” even went further in preaching its interest to be the “democratization of the Horn of Africa.” Better put, the ‘Oromo Dialogue Forum’ and the ‘Oromo Group 7′ have become “Trojan horses” in the Oromo nationalist camp. It is these “Trojan horses” that have weakened nationalists. This weakness of nationalists encouraged and gave TPLF’s regime a free hand to kill the Oromo people, a free hand to robe their wealth, and a free hand to lease and sell their lands. Indeed, because of the revisionists, the enemy has got an opportunity to control Oromiya, the land of our birth, and the ground of our common belongings. It is time to abandon the politics of revisionism, reformism, and pacifism. Hence, the current political gospel of peaceful road to change TPLF’s violent regime with nonviolent means, is simply a dream, a utopia. It would simply mean sinking into extreme opportunism, revisionism, and renouncing armed national liberation struggle. It is a politics of appeasement. Pacifism is enemy appeasement. The pacifists show contempt for the call of an armed resistance against the colonial occupation. Pacifists always stick within the discourse of nonviolence or peaceful means of resolving colonial political conflict. It is wrong to appease the enemy that commits injustice on the people and on the country. It is wrong to appease a cruel colonialist regime. The Oromo struggle is not for the appeasement of the colonial regime. Its purpose is to dismantle the colonial regime, and with it, to break or to unchain the chains that for over a century have fettered our people to the injustices.
Here, one has to recall the injustices and crimes committed against the Oromo people beginning with the conquest. That is, one has to recall the massive extermination and mutilation of limbs of men, women, and children of the Oromo people in the 1880s. For instance, in the conquest of Arsii, King Menelik II of Abyssinia, in addition to his superior military firepower, extensively used smallpox as a biological warfare agent against Arsii Oromo. It was said that more than military firepower, it was the use of smallpox, as a biological warfare agent, that devastated the Arsii Oromo population. The introduction of smallpox as a biological warfare agent was an unknown type of warfare to the people. It was said that it killed the population like flies. With the introduction of smallpox, as instrument of war or as instrument of conquest, King Menelik II of Abyssinia decimated the Arsii Oromo population almost to the point of near extinction. The memory of the method of conquest, the destruction, and the crime that accompanied it, and the appearance, the behavior and the nature of the conqueror, King Menelik II of Abyssinia and his collaborationist Oromo group in that conquest, are still fresh in the minds and bones of the people in the region. This is a living history. This history of war has been passed down by words of mouth from every family to their children, from elders and oral historians to generations after generations: that the Arsii Oromo population fell in masses to their death like dead leaves from trees. It was under this condition, the then Abbaa Duulaa Roba Bultum of Arsii Oromo region temporarily suspended his resistance against Menelik II in order to save his people from annihilation, and to buy time to regroup, to reorganize, and to rearm his fighting force so as to re-start the war of resistance. In this case, his often quoted statement reads, in part: “We have to count upon ourselves … The hour has not come, but it will come; perhaps, our children will see the departure of the oppressor.” Now, the hour has come. Now, this is our moment; this is our time and so this is the hour to unite, to organize, to arm ourselves and to fight, to repossess the freedom, justice, liberty, dignity, and the independence that our people have lost a century ago. We owe this to our people, to our country, to ourselves, to this generation and to the next generation yet unborn.
On the whole, as it is noted in the preceding pages, in the Ethiopian empire state, there is no basis for a conflict resolution through nonviolent means. In this regard, Mahatma Gandhi, the proponent of nonviolence, has to says this: “To take the name of non-violence when there is a sword in your heart is not only hypocritical and dishonest but cowardly.” Hence, for a colonized people to take colonial sword out of their hearts is not through nonviolence, but through political and armed struggle. Simply put, the only road to the liberation of Oromiya and an end to colonial occupation, exploitation, and oppression of the Oromo people is by an armed liberation struggle. This is a clear option. For this, an armed struggle remains the only viable option in the struggle for independence. Hence, in the national liberation struggle you do not ask for independence, you demand it; you grab and take it; you capture it; you do not beg for it, you seize it. For this, the use of force against enemy’s force is the only way out.
Oromiya Shall Be Free!
* Leenjiso Horo can be reached at email@example.com
September 10, 2012 at 10:06 pm · Gadaa.com
In this section, I will attempt to give a summary of the Gadaa System as revised by Makoo Bilii about five hundred years ago.
GADAA SYSTEM: SUMMARY
Gadaa is an Oromo social, political and economic order. It is a symbol of Oromo unity, and love among the Oromos. It is a democratic system of government that symbolizes Oromo civilization. Gadaa governs the beliefs of the Oromos. It controls the religion (Qaalluu) institution, too.
THE FIVE GADAA PARTIES
The Oromo people grouped themselves into five parties. These parties are: Roobalee, Duuloo, Birmajii, Michillee and Horata. They are named after a phenomenon or whatever occurred during the governance of one particular party. For example, Roobalee was named after rain. The fact that it rained heavily is indicated by the phrase “the Roobalee and its bountiful rain” (Yaa Roobalee ya roobashii). Duuloo was named after preparation for war. The fact that the Oromos prepared a big war is indicated by the phrase “Duuloo and the preparation of war” (Duuloo qophessa duulaa). Birmajii was named after happy festival and dance. The Oromos had happy time and phrased this as “Birmajii and its happy dances” (Ya Birmajii ya sirbashii). Michillee was named after war victory. Oromos had great victory over their enemy and showed this by the phrase “Michillee the best friend of war” (Ya Michillee nichuu duulaa). Horata is remembered and was named after years of excellent cattle breeding. These good years were phrased as “Horata and the feeling” (Ya Horata maal godhataa). The names of the five Gadaa parties are indicated in the below figure as supplementary to the above description.
Each party takes power from one another after every eight years. Nevertheless, the Gadaa parties overlap with each other for four years before transfer of power. Hence, new comers are in office alone only for the last four years of their term. The outgoing party stays with the incoming party for the first four years, as an advisor. However, the advisors have no power of decision-making whatsoever. The same tempo cycle repeats itself whenever a new party takes over after every eight years. From the above statements, it is understandable that one party stays in office for a total of twelve years. This is to say that a party stays in office for eight years with power, and for additional four years without power as an advisor.
At the same time, as one Gadaa party leaves office, the peoples’ militias are promoted to the next Gadaa grade. This action automatically eliminates the power of the outgoing party. Thanks to the formula of Makoo Bili, there is no possibility of coup d’etat.
COORAA AND HOBOO
Each and every party has its own sub-division. These sub-divisions are limited to two only. These sub-divisions are called Cooraa and Hoboo (C’ooraa fi Hoboo). This is so formulated in order to prevent a party in power from abusing its office. Makoo Bili, the founder of the Gadaa democracy, created a surprisingly effective system of checks and balances. Every Oromo is born either Cooraa or Hoboo. For example, if the father is born Cooraa, his children are designated as Hoboo. The system stipulates that Cooraa supports Cooraa while Hoboo supports Hoboo. This means if a father, who is in power is Cooraa, even his children, who are bound to be Hoboo’s, cannot defend him if and when he abuses his power. By the same logic, the grandchildren of the father, who is Cooraa, also become Cooraa. This means whatever support he can hardly get could come from his grandchildren, a very rare case because of the age difference. As members of a party, say, Horata party, Cooraa and Hoboo watch each other so carefully that corruption is unthinkable. When it comes to Oromo national interests, Cooraa and Hoboo oppose each other even in private. Also, a Cooraa discuses openly and frankly very intimate matters only with a Cooraa. So does Hoboo with Hoboo.
Naturally, offenders who are in power are punished. If the individual in power misbehaves in spite of all the error preventive methods, an impeachment system has been devised. The Abbaa Gadaa is told to surrender his power temporarily to the people. This is symbolic, just to rather shame that person, not to harm him. The Oromos have a strong belief that no one is above the law, which they had agreed upon unanimously and adopted. That same person is installed to power again after he apologizes to his people.
A period of eight years is called the Buttaa. Four Buttaa’s are considered as one generation (Jirenyaa). This is a total of thirty-two years as compared to the European generation, which is thirty years. Buttaa is considered as one quarter of one generation (Jirenyaa), which means that a generation (Jirenyaa) is calculated as four Buttaa’s multiplied by eight years (4x which comes to 32 years.) Buttaa is also the proceeding or the ceremony, which takes place before the candidate takes power as Abbaa Gadaa. The proceeding may last as long as two years. It is also part of the evaluation and observation period to test if that individual candidate can assume this great responsibility as a leader. Abbaa Gadaa is highly regarded as an honest man in the community, reliable as a leader and a shield for Oromiyaa and the Oromos. It is the result of forty years of hard work. He then is declared Abbaa Gadaa.
Foollee: The new Abbaa Gadaa prepares plenty of food to feed the people who pass by to congratulate him. There is no invitation sent out. They must come in groups, not less than twenty at a time. The greater the number in one group, the better it is for the host. In such circumstances, he has to slaughter a bull, and the chances of wastage becomes minimum. Those who do not visit him and eat are considered as non-voters. All his former girlfriends (sanyoo) must bring food to support him in feeding the influx of people. All his relatives and close friends bring as much food as they possibly can, because failure to feed his guests may make his people unhappy. Remember that the new Abbaa Gadaa may wish to go to the top position. The groups must sing (Foollee dhitu), and dance until they sweat. The songs and dances are specially designated to the Gadaa only. The songs start with “the year of Gadaa is a year of prosperity” (Yaa Foollee or yaa sayyoo, baraa Gadaa barakataa), and the five Gadaa parties are mentioned as stated above.
The reader has to know that every Oromo cannot be lucky to go through the Buttaa ceremony at age close to forty. I have witnessed those who had gone through the process at age ten or seventy. This happens depending on the age difference between the father and the son. The Buttaa ceremony puts a fixed forty years gap between father and son. By this definition, we understand that the individuals who will be lucky to assume power as Abbaa Gadaa’s are those who are born after the father had gone through the process of Buttaa ceremony because by the time they get to their turn, they are still below the age of forty. Those who are born long before the father had gone through Buttaa will have no chance of taking office as leaders, but will be serving as the Gadamojjii’s. These will be advisory, ceremonial and blessing duties.
ELECTION OF LEADERS (HAYYUU)
There are plenty of elders who qualify for the position of leadership. The criteria (Madaala) for electing few of them to the top positions are as follows: The candidate must be freedom-lover caring for his people (Kawoo). He must be a man who is very healthy (Fayyaa). The Oromos firmly believe that he who does not enjoy health can not be effective on job. He has to be a well-to-do man (Dureessa). He must be a brave man (Jagnnaa). The position of the Abbaa Duula requires a vigorous physical and bravery checks, too.
THE AGE-GRADES AND FAMILY VALUES
Birth to 8yrs, Child, loved and cared for well. (Da’imua or Hijoolee)
8yrs to 16yrs, Young Boy, helps on farm and learns about life. (Dabballee)
16yrs to 24yrs, Grown-up, trainee, mostly defense. (Ittimukkoo)
24yrs to 32yrs, Man, militia, completes military service. (Foollee, Loltuu)
32yrs to 40yrs, Candidate, respected family man. (Raahu, Buttaa)
40yrs to 48yrs, Leader, at different levels. (Luba, Abbaa Gadaa, Hayyuu)
48yrs to 56yrs, Adviser to active party for four years. (Lubaa)
56yrs to 64yrs, Retired, blessing and peace making everywhere. (Gadaamojjii)
Summary or description of the above age-grades and family value is as follows. A child has to enjoy life up to the age of eight years. He will be fed well and is allowed to play as he or she pleases. For the next eight consecutive years, as a young boy, he is taught what life is all about. Boys begin to assist in looking after calves first, and gradually go on to look after cattle, while girls begin to help their mothers. They also learn history of their ancestors. At the completion of age sixteen, the boy has to go through a military training. Such training includes: horse riding and maneuvering on horseback. Spears are thrown at a running (rotating) object called the Giingo. This is a round (circular) object, which when thrown, rotates like a powered wheel. This is a typical representation of a fast-moving enemy. A surprise attack in the night is also taught. This kind of attack is called the (Bulguu or Gaaddu) attack. An equivalent word for this expression is an invisible attack. This form of attack is usually done during the night. Other training is given to prepare these 16-year-old youth for the next step of Gadaa life. At the age of twenty-four, they are considered grown-ups and are automatically promoted to the standing peoples’ army or militiamen. They come out of this military service at the age of thirty-two. Up to age forty, they become leadership recruits or candidates. This is the period of Buttaa in progress. It is a very happy and enjoyable age group. They gain high respect from their community members. They feel so proud that they have completed their military service. Their title is “candidate or recruit for leadership” (Qondalaa, Raaba or Buttaa.) This is a time of devotion to look after their families and children. They exercise gentleness and humbleness. They have to show some capacity of leadership quality to both their families and their community. By carefully going through these, they proceed to the leadership ceremony called Buttaa that takes place at age forty. From age forty to age forty-eight, they become leaders in the Gadaa system. For the few top positions called Hayyuu, they have to go through thorough investigations as stated under the title “election criterion.” At age fifty-six, they become advisers to the party in power. At age fifty-six, they will assume their permanent position called the gadaamojjii. Their duties include: blessing and peace-making among communities or individuals who might be in feud.
Certain age groups qualify for military service, while congruently others qualify for leadership. Both groups stay in service for eight years only. They go out of service at the same instant when Abbaa Gadaa leaves office. Therefore, the possibility of staying in office forcefully is absolutely nil. The next step of service is more exciting to life than the preceding one. Their respective service positions are also automatically occupied by the following age groups. They are all organized in a chain system. There is no way that the flow could be disrupted. Disrupting any one of the steps will jeopardize the entire system. It is a well formulated mechanism that gives no one a chance to try to hold on to power or usurp power without the will of the people.
Oromos are not violent because they are born and grown up in Safuu. Comparison of Gadaa to the democracy of the developed nations suggests that Gadaa is self-controlled while the modern democracy controls the people through the police. Gadaa achieves this through developing and evaluating the individuals at a regular interval of eight years. Most African leaders fight over power today because they are not exposed to Safuu. Makoo Bilii did not have a chance to teach even his neighbors the concept of Safuu, let alone to distant African countries.
The Gadaa had been in use as an Oromo democratic ruling system long before Makoo Bilii had revised it. The Gadaa System that I have elaborated above is the revised version by Makoo Bilii. Makoo Bilii prescribed the separation of the rule of Gadaa and the function of religion. However, he made it known that Gadaa itself was derived from the law of Waaqa (God). This is true if we look into the function of “Safuu” under its title on the upcoming pages.
STANDING (EXECUTIVE) COMMITTEE (SALGAN YAA’I BOORANA)
The standing committee, the supreme council or the”politburo” members are nine. This group that is named after Boorana is the final decision-maker for the Oromo democratic government. Unless the congress that assembles once every eight years changes the decision of the Salgan Yaa’i Boorana, no other body can challenge the decision and power of this group. The Salgan Yaa’i Boorana will be released only after a new Gadaa party takes over power at the end of one Buttaa. This group of nine is elected among the already elected Hayyuu’s. Complaints against this group is never heard in Oromo oral history. The Oromo people show great love for even the name “Salgan Yaa’i Boorana.” This group is mandated to amend the Law (Seeraa), if necessary. Salgan Yaa’i Boorana is the only authorized supreme body to give the final interpretation of the Oromo Constitution. Therefore, the Oromo people place this elected group next to God (Waaqa). This group is highly regarded, and a prayer at formal meetings starts with the name “Salgan Yaa’i Boorana.” The assembly of the Salgan Yaa’i Boorana is conducted at the Odaa center only, which is believed to be Odaa Nabee, located in the center of Oromiyaa.
ODAA AND BOKKU
Odaa is a highly respected place where the Oromo basic laws (Seera) are passed. All locally amended laws go to the Odaa for final approval and distribution. The Odaa is somewhat similar to the American Senate, the upper branch of Congress. However, when Gadaa was revised some five hundred years ago, the Oromos did not enjoy the modern buildings of today. The congress of the Oromos during those years took place under a big oak tree in the open-air. The species of this oak tree is called Odaa. Oromos enjoy coming together in the open-air even today. The absence of bad weather makes it so pleasant to hold meetings in the open-air under the shade of the Odaa tree. The Bokku’s are very similar to the Odaa’s. The main difference is that Odaa is used at the national level while the Bokku is used at the regional level. The participants of the Odaa assembly are representatives of all Oromo regions, while that of the Bokku are from one region only.
Bokku has two meanings. As stated above, it is the assembly place for the decentralized constituency for local parliamentarians composed of several Abbaa Gadaa’s. Second, it signifies and symbolizes governance and power. This symbol (Bokku) is made out of an olive tree. Its use is mostly symbolic, and it is carried by the defense minister (Abbaa Duula) at war fronts. It is also widely used by the Administrator (Abbaa Bokku) as a symbol of power. Sometimes, the Bokku and Kalachaa could be used together. Kalachaa serves the same way as the Christian cross. It is carried by the Qaalluu’s.
LOCATION OF THE ODAA’S AND BOKKU’S
There are six Odaa locations in Oromiyaa. They are Odaa Bisil in Maccaa, Odaa Bultum in Bartuuma, Odaa Nabee in Tuulama, Odaa Garres in Boorana, Odaa Makoodi in Walloo, and Odaa Rooba in Arsii. The locations of these Odaa’s suggest that there were six administrative regions in Oromiyaa, prior to the occupation by the Abyssinians, a little over one-hundred years ago. However, the occupation force could not remove the Odaa locations from their existing places, nor from the minds and hearts of the Oromos.
All regions of Oromiyaa ought to have sub-offices of the Odaa’s called Bokku. I have been able to trace three Bokku locations in Macca, namely, Bokku Bulluq, Bokku Cittuu and Bokku Wee. However, the search for more locations will continue, particularly for the other five regions. Among the above three Bokku locations in Maccaa, Bokku Xulee and Bokku Cittuu are celebrated yearly in October and December respectively.
Caffee is an open-air administrative and adjudication place. The word Caffee is equivalent to the word ‘office’ and/or ‘court.’ It is a place where day to day administration and adjudication activities take place relevant to the people’s request. Unless there are cases, there is no need for the people in the Gadaa to come to this place. All kinds of laws are enforced at Caffee. All problems that occur during the implementation of the Gadaa law shall be referred back to the Bokku and, if need be, to the Odaa – depending on how important they are. If new cases appear and if the Salgan Yaa’i Booran cannot handle, such cases may take as long as eight years, or shorter depending on how long the next Buttaa is away from the time of submission. Those who are eligible to sit at the Caffee and serve the law of Gadaa are those who had been qualified by going through the Gadaa age-grades.
In the Gadaa system, a single person cannot assume responsibility. This is an important principle that every Oromo must keep in mind. All important decisions that affect the people are made by committees (koree), the composition of which had been fixed. Thus, there are 3-man defense or administrative committee, 5-man judiciary committee, and a 9-man supreme council. The total number of members in each committee is associated with something that helps one to easily remember this important fact. For instance, three is associated with sunsumaa, three stones used for supporting cooking utensils. The three stones that made up or constitute sunsumaa are placed in a circular area in a triangle form at equal distance from each other. Three signifies the three Abbaa Duula’s (the three top military leaders) and Abbaa Caffee (the three top administrators). In addition, sunsumaa is also associated with quality, just like it is hard to overturn an object that has a triangular base, it is also difficult or impossible to beat military/administrative decisions made by three leaders. This way, each Gadaa committee is associated with one of the 10 numbers. Starting with 10, each number is counted aloud in reverse order. Each number and whatever it signifies is learnt by heart by every Oromo child and is recited in a reverse order as follows:
TEN (Kurnen kurnii Waaqayo) Above all, ten for God
NINE (Salgan Yaa’i Boorana) Nine for the Supreme council
EIGHT (Saddeettan dhalaa neencaa) Eight to signify a lioness’ gestation period.
SEVEN (Torban nannoo Dilbataa) Seven signifies the cycle of Sunday
SIX (J’ahan jabbii yarxaa) is assigned to calves, signifying where they graze.
FIVE (Shanan quba harkare) Five fingers to signify the five-man judiciary committee.
FOUR (Afran muchaa sarryaa) To signify the four teats on an udder of a cow.
THREE (Sadan sunsumanii) 3 stones used as a stove signifying defense/administration.
TWO (Lamaan mucha re’ee) To signify two teats on the udder of the she-goats
ONE (Tokkeen tokkittumaa) one is almost nothing – signifying inefficiency.
Observe that all even numbers are automatically omitted from being used in the Gadaa system because nature had already assigned them for various other functions as indicated above. These even numbers are also divisible by 2, i.e. with no remainder signifying ease and absence of challenge.
The odd numbers, except one (1), are significant in this system. The Oromos say, “mukti tokkoo hin aaraa moo hin boba’a” which means one single piece of wood can not burn and give out smoke at the same time. In short, one is ineffective which concludes that ‘one (1)’ cannot be assigned to duty that involves high responsibility even though it is an odd number. This elimination method leaves us with odd numbers 9, 7, 5, 3. The larger the number, the better it is to cover all Oromo regions for the purpose of political representation. Therefore, “nine” (9) is chosen as the maximum number of Oromo council of representatives called Salgan Yaa’i Boorana.
“Seven” (7) is considered as a day of rest even though Oromos conduct important meetings after six hard working days. On the seventh day of the week, called Dilbataa, all regular meetings are held. The seventh day is also spent mostly by playing a game called “Saddeeqaa” for those who have no meeting agenda. Others prefer friendly discussions among themselves. The Saddeeqaa game is somewhat similar to the chase-game. It is a game that helps one to think where to start and where to end.
“Five” (5) is the number of judges with similar functions as American jurors. Five is chosen, as our ancestors told us, on the basis of the ability of our fingers that coordinate with each other effectively. Consequently, the number of judges is fixed to tie. The numbers of elders composed of Abaa Gadaa’s in this manner is called “Shanachaa.” One can simply consider this word shanachaa a single judge in spite of five people in the composition. The plaintiff and the defendant may not agree to the compassion of the jurors. However, both have no right to change the quantity.
The last, but not least, is the number “three (3)” that was assigned to the number of Abbaa Duula’s (Defense leaders) and Abbaa Caffee’s (Administrators). The concentration is on the Duula (War) which has to be as rigid as the base of a triangle called Sunsumaa. These are three round stones used to support cooking pots or pans. The three stones are placed in a circular position at an interval of 120 degrees apart. Oromos understand how hard it is to overturn an object having triangular base and, therefore, concluded that war should be directed by three men.
ABBAA ALANGAA (Judiciary)
Abbaa Alangaa is one of the Abbaa Gadaa’s who is responsible for the judiciary. He uses a whip (Alangaa) as a symbol of law enforcement. It is made of Hippopotamus skin (Roobi). Alangaa is used in the same way a gavel is used today at courts and meetings. With the wooden hammer, one bangs the table. On the contrary, the Oromos whip the ground, the only available surface at hand. Once the ground is lashed with this Alangaa, the chance of reversing the case is impossible. There should be five Abbaa Gadaa’s in one court that forms a team normally addressed as (Shaneel Shanachaa). Among these five, one is referred to as the speaker (Arrab coolleessaa or Abbaa Alangaa). In simple terms, Abbaa Alangaa is head of the judiciary. Abbaa Alangaa can be considered as one who is responsible to reinforce the law, too. It is some what equivalent to the Attorney-General of this modern age.
Duulaa is a defense mechanism organized at a higher level than the Caffee. War in the Oromo society is a very serious business. Therefore, Duulaa (defense) is attached to the Salgan Yaa’i Boorana. The nine members of the supreme council have to agree and dispatch orders if the fatherland needs to be defended. However, the detail work and the leadership of the war will be the business of the Abbaa Duulaa’s. Again a single person is never allowed to declare war. As the expression “Waraanii Sadii” (war is led best by three people) attests, war is led by at least three persons called Abbaa Duulaa’s. However, war is declared by nine people. These are Abbaa Gadaa’s who are member of the Salgan Yaa’i Boorana.
In the process of law making (Seraa Tumaa), all eligible Oromo people must participate. All those present can air their views freely, regarding a topic under discussion. The law includes: civil, criminal and all other social customs. Example: the rules of marriage (Seeraa Fuudha). After an intensive discussion, a final summary is presented by the Chairman, (Abbaa Bokku). He then will ask a final question like “any addition to or deletion from the statement given.” There is no room for majority vote. A single objection leads to adjournment without decision. When unanimity is achieved, the chairman (Abbaa Bokku) strikes the ground with a whip (Alangaa) in his hand, and the bill under discussion becomes the law.
As a high moral principle that enhances the implementation of the law (Seeraa), Safuu:
– Maintains coexistence and harmony among all people; – Maintains coexistence and harmony between humans and animal; – Maintains a good relationship between God and man; – Maintains a good relationship between the old and the young; – Maintains a proper relationship between the poor and the rich; – Is a sign of love and peace among the Oromos; – It is a sign of peaceful life; – It insures that an approach by a stranger is safe.
Safuu is implanted into the brain of Oromos from childhood. During the steps of the “age grades,” all Oromos are given the chance to learn to live the right way. Therefore, Oromos refrain from killing, stealing, lying and are not viololent. Their names tells it all. Typical Oromo names indicate prosperity, growth, love and peace, i.e. Hortuu, Gabbattaa, Jaalataa and Nagaasee, respectively. This culture is near fading away today owing to the influence of the Abyssinians’ culture that was forced upon the Oromos for the last 120 years.
CIVIL CODE OF THE GADAA SYSTEM:
In the Gadaa system, lending money to be paid back with interest is illegal. Whatever one borrows, one returns the original capital only. However, borrowing cattle, which is called (dabarsaa), is handled differently. One may borrow a milk cow from a well-to-do family, but such a person is not allowed to sell or transfer the cow to others. The borrower can keep the milk cow or oxen borrowed as long as he wants. However, he may return part or wholly if and only if he is able to purchase more cows by using the labor of the borrowed cattle. He does this only on his good gesture and free will to gain good reputation. There is no law or exercised culture that may force him to return the cattle to the original owner. It is only his conscience that may motivate him to pay his liability to the owner with thanks. One may borrow grain for consumption, while one is equally producing as the lender. If such is the case, the borrower must return to the lender the amount he borrowed in same kind at the next harvest time. Failure to do so will restrict the borrower from further allowance from his customer and from his community as well.
All Oromos are not expected to remember the Gadaa laws (Seera) in detail. There were ways of keeping the Seera at a central place. It is like printing the law and keeping it in a safe place. Very unfortunately, the Orornos did not have their own script during those years. Therefore, they devised a way of preserving their law. They chose individuals who had a great capacity to memorize such laws. They named such individuals “Saphaloo.” Saphaloo’s are intelligent persons who interpret the Seera. They should be individuals with great memory and understanding. The Saphaloo’s do not retire. They remain as the Seera’s encyclopedia. The government of Oromo, groups or individuals had to refer to the Saphaloo’s to retrieve what had been passed by the Gadaa assembly at the great Odaa. The Saphaloo’s had to remember all amendments made at the end of every Buttaa.
IN MEMORY OF MAKOO BILI AND HIS WORK
Makoo Bili and his work are loved and admired by all Oromos. His memory will reside in the heart of all Oromos for ever. In order to signify the work of Makoo Bili, and express the love and respect the Oromos have for him, the Oromos sing every year the following song designated to him many years ago.
“HO YAA MAKOO YAA MAKOOLEE’WO MAKOO ALBEEN DHIBI BAYEE SEERA SODAAF MALEE LOLLI GAYEE!”
It means: Oh, Makoo, my Makoo! Makoo, hundreds of swords are ready (for battle/combat), however, we are waiting only for fear of law, otherwise we are ready for battle!