By Dhuguma Waaqoo
Ethiopia came into being as a dependent colonial empire at the end of the 19th century. Abyssinia’s neighboring nations including Oromia, Sidama, Wolaita, Somalia, and many more were annexed through a bloody war. Ethiopia, after about 150 of being, has not accorded the Oromo their due place and status in the country.
As a result of this epic failure, “the problem of the Oromo people has been a major and central one in the Ethiopian Empire ever since it was created. … Oromo was denied any official status and it was not permissible to publish, preach, teach, or broadcast in [Afaan] Oromo.”
Furthermore, they forced the Oromo “to relinquish their land and to pay tribute to the conquerors ... The conquerors created hegemonic structures through which they would perpetuate their cultural, economic, and political domination.”
Successive Ethiopian governments did not exert any meaningful effort to truly incorporate the Oromo and the other subjugated nations. On the contrary, they have been going to great lengths to defame, suppress, and consider the Oromo a mortal enemy. In short, Ethiopia has developed a phobia of the Oromo.
What are the reasons behind this enmity? What is the basis for this phobia? A thorough investigation of this matte might unearth several reasons. In this article, however, we are going to consider only a few important issues.
Ethiopia: myth vs. reality
Ethiopia is a construct–albeit a careful construct—based on legends. Abyssinia leaders using government apparatus and the church have advanced a legendary image of a “strong” country with 3000 years of history.
In reality, the Ethiopia we know is created at the end of the 19th century. It is a product of bloody wars of annexation as the power balance shifted due to access to modern weaponry by the Abyssinian leaders. The country created through wars of annexations later adopted the name Ethiopia in about 1945.
There is no Ethiopian identity separate from the identities of the constituent nations. Ethiopia consists of more than 80 Nations and Nationalities. These nations and nationalities have their distinct culture, language, and way of life.
Despite the legend that Ethiopia is a Christian island in an Islamic sea, all major religions are observed in Ethiopia. Unfortunately, successive Ethiopian governments have pushed Amhara identity, culture, and language as an Ethiopian identity, culture, and language, respectively.
Abyssinians have an unhealthy estimation of themselves. They think the non-Semitic people in Ethiopia and the black race are inferior to them. As a result, they dehumanize the rest of black Africa. They use the demeaning term “baria” (“slave”) to refer to dark-skinned African brothers and sisters. Abyssinians use the same term to refer to African-Americans in the US.
Fear of democracy
Successive Ethiopian governments and their supporters are afraid of the implications of genuine majoritarian democracy. Thus, they agonize over what they might lose rather than celebrating what they could benefit from living in harmony as equals in a free and just society.
Fear of retributions
The Ethiopian government and its supporters have a baseless fear of retribution by the Oromo and other peoples of the Greater South. They fear retributions because of the atrocities they committed against historically marginalized people. Imperial Ethiopia had indeed imprisoned, tortured, maimed, and killed students, professionals, and intellectuals for a century and a half.
Ethiopia’s fear of retributions and categorical persecutions is irrational and unfounded. The Oromo are peace-loving and peaceable people. It is only in Oromia where people from all nations, nationalities, and peoples in Ethiopia live in harmony. As a testimony, the Oromo protected and secured the person and properties of members of other nations and nationalities during the 2015-2018, Oromo Qeerroo Protest. Oromo Qeerroo and the Oromo public mounted a matured, goal-oriented struggle against tyranny while protecting members of other peoples who live in Oromia.
Sustaining the status quo
It is no longer possible to sustain the status quo for several reasons.
First, ubiquitous mobile devices are now within reach of most people everywhere, even in remote areas of the world. The relatively easy accessibility of the devices coupled with the ease of accessing social media sites such as Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram has enabled citizens’ journalism. As a result, no government has a monopoly on news and information sharing.
Second, through protracted struggle over the last fifty years, Oromia has emerged as a cohesive nation. The Oromo people are unified, from north to south, from west to east, and from center to the peripheries.
Third, for the first time since losing their independence, the Oromo have a well-trained, organized, and well-disciplined army–the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA). The OLA is a formidable freedom fighter force. The OLA has tens of thousands of fighters. It fights for the freedom and security of Oromia. It also respects the rights of people from other nations and nationalities to live and work in peace.
Having a formidable fighting force is important to achieve much-sought peace. Despotic and autocratic governments submit only to power. Unfortunately, the world also respects and negotiates only with those who flex fighting power.
An all-inclusive dialogue
The Ethiopian government has refused repeated calls for an all-inclusive dialogue. Autocrats submit to negotiations only when they are desperate. When the window for peaceful resolution draws near closure and the noose gets tighter around their neck, they start to scramble for a peaceful means.
At the present, Ethiopia’s tyrannical leaders are desperate as the country is on the brink of a chaotic collapse. They have a very slim window to accept peaceful means to alleviate the looming crisis. This author’s sincere belief that they come to their senses.
A negotiated political settlement is the only way to avoid the impending crisis with far reaching consequences. It is getting too late for the leaders, for the country, and perhaps for the international community as well. An all-inclusive negotiated political settlement is a must even if disintegration may not be avoided. Disintegration or not the nations and nationalities in the current day Ethiopia should talk to each other and live in peace as neighbors.
In the absence of a negotiated political resolution, violence becomes the only viable option. As famously stated by John F. Kennedy, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”