The Future Demands More Than Just a Motto: Oromo Youth in Diaspora

By Oromsis Adula

Every so often, I hear Oromo political and community leaders say “the youth are our future”. Recently, I am also hearing criticism from community members about lack of involvement from Oromo Youth in Diaspora in the struggle. These are both valid yet arguable points. In this post, I will try to look at the challenges of Oromo Youth in Diaspora and point to what the future really demands.

Every society defines youth based on cultural, social, and other factors. But the most common demographic definition of youth is “young people between 15-25 years of age”. According to Oromo Gadaa system, people in this age cohort are allowed to hunt, travel long distances, and start assuming responsibilities. Gadaa is a bygone phenomenon that we all wish to revive.

For now, we all have to find our ways in this much more globalized space. Globalization offers a lot of opportunities and poses greater challenges for young people. For instance, today young people who live in developed nations can easily keep up with their peers in many corners of Oromia by using social media and other communication methods. Mobile phones are easily accessible in most towns around Oromia.

For the purpose of this article, Oromo youth in Diaspora includes :  thousands of young Oromos that are languishing in refugee camps in neighboring countries of East Africa, those already resettled to the Americas, Western Europe, Scandinavian countries, Australia, etc and perhaps the fastest growing group of Oromo youth – those born in countries where Oromo refugees/immigrants are resettled.

While those who are still in refugee camps waiting to be resettled or others with even unforeseen circumstances are living under dire situations; others who are born or resettled in western countries are finding individual success in their lives. In most cases, those already in the West are the beneficiaries of all the opportunities that are afforded to citizens of those nations. There are greater prospects of putting those opportunities to better use for our nation’s future.

Generally, the Oromo youth in Diaspora are less opinionated and free of the internal political bickering. Recently that trend is shifting. Some political organizations are recruiting young people to their party ranks. I think that is a good sign but it comes with greater risks. For years, to avoid the internal backbiting and the disenfranchisement that many believe had plagued our struggle, Oromo youth remained non-partisan and independent.

Loudly maintaining that “We Are the Future of Oromia,” we see our youth devoted to cultural and awareness raising efforts in their community. The youth have also succeeded in bringing Oromos together on several such occasions. Despite the skepticism, Oromo youth have also taken part in fundraising events to financially support our struggle. The majority of people that attend OLF parties every summary are the youth. Besides, some young Oromos among us have also formally joined political organizations to sustain the struggle through individual contributions. These are all positive efforts that should be applauded. I am personally impressed by the dedication of our youth in Diaspora given the challenges. From Toronto to Minneapolis, Denver to Tennessee, ATL to DC, Norway to England, Australia to Germany, Nairobi to Johannesburg, I see/hear our youth doing things that we all should be proud of.

But I am sick of hearing our leader’s utter empty motto that “the youth are our future”. In reality, it is always assumed that the youth don’t have a say but should follow on the footsteps of their fathers. To me, if that is the path we are ought to take, I think the future doesn’t hold much in the store for us. But if the youth are given the opportunity to air their views and concerns, maybe together we can craft a better future. Even if the youth are not educated on many of the turns and twists that our struggle has taken for over three decades, they have a clear consensus about the future. The future depends on what we do today as Oromos. We should also create peer-learning opportunities for the youth to cultivate a sense of pride and help those born outside of Oromia overcome the forces of assimilation and acculturation. It should also be understood by all Oromo political and community leaders that our youth face multi-layered challenges.

For those who were resettled at an older age, the age based western education doesn’t offer them a lot of options. They spend years in ESL classes learning English. Others get frustrated with the system and accept low paying jobs and ultimately end up leading a life similar to what they had left behind. They remain marginalized and disadvantaged by circumstances they don’t have control over.

Those whose parents emigrated when they were young often succeed with fewer troubles. But sometimes they get caught up in renegotiating their identities and trying to fit into new culture/society. They face challenges of peer pressure, cultural differences and the urge to try new things that could potentially turn their life around (in a bad way). With lack of guidance and active parental involvement, they also face challenges of not fitting into the larger Oromo community itself. Some forgot how to speak Afan Oromo or their parents didn’t teach them. They are foreign to the culture and end up not fitting into both worlds. However, the overwhelming majority of our youth has succeeded in negotiating or alternating those identities.

Above, I tried to paint the challenges and opportunities at our disposal in a casual order. I hope that this will provoke a debate among the youth and our leaders – that is my only intention. Finally, here are some possible solutions to prepare the Oromo youth in Diaspora as “future heirs” of Oromia. First, it is arguable if Diaspora communities can ever be the future of any nation. History also suggests otherwise.  Maybe it is more realistic to say our youth are the future of Oromo community organizations. But reading from the enthusiasm and dedication of Oromo youth in Diaspora, I think there are potential strengths that we can tap into. But it must be understood that it takes a village to prepare the youth for the challenges of tomorrow.

1: Supporting the youth in their initiatives will make them endure the challenges. For instance, Oromo youth around the world are making use of technologies and creative innovations to raise awareness about the plight of Oromo people. It is enough to mention OZ Up and similar groups using YouTube, Facebook, and other social networking sites to educate and motivate their peers. Those sentiments and creative efforts must be replicated and sustained.

2: Oromo parents should send their children to youth associations in their community. By being part of the youth organization, your child can meet and connect with others of similar background. They can learn more about their culture, share information about schools and benefit from volunteer opportunities available through the youth organizations. It will also be an opportunity for them to get out of their box and discuss/debate with people of their age which will expand their worldview.

3: To the Oromo Youth I say, we belong to a generation that is relatively advantaged. Our fathers didn’t enjoy many of the lavish opportunities at our disposal. Only few and affluent managed to graduate from High School. Even then many of them ended up being persecuted, bought out or murdered in cold blood because of their Oromoness. They paved the way for us and left the world without even seeing the fruits of our struggle. Their blood and bones grew to give us fruits such as Qubee and cultural renaissance which now seems unstoppable. It is also because of the immense sacrifices that we made that today we live freely in western countries. We are harvesting the fruits of the struggle started by many only known to God or gone unacknowledged. That is why we must keep the candle burning.

But I hate to also inform you that we are the heirs of decades of leadership failures. A failure that has weakened the threads that holds our community together. To be young in Oromo Diaspora means learning to live with the shame of 30 million strong people who failed to liberate one village. Not just living with that disappointing fact but also attempting to find ways to be a voice for the voiceless Oromos still kept in dark prison cells in Oromia. If our tie-wearing grown-up political leaders can excuse me, I would like to suggest to the youth to start challenging the keepers of the status quo.

4: The keepers of the status quo would like to suggest every so often that your voice don’t count. And you are must join them for you to contribute to the struggle. But we know too well that it is difficult if not impossible to change things by working with them. The best way forward to better future is a clear departure from that failed culture and by coming together to bring end to the assault on our unity and Oromoness. If we fail to take bold steps and say enough is enough; I fear we are going to end up just like the generation that preceded us characterized by egocentrism, mistrust, rumor mongering and clique formations. It is now or never that we can say in union; enough to the false songs of unity, halfhearted prayers and lies.

“Dhiigafi Dafqa Ofiitin Yo hin Dhaabne Utubaa
Horoo/Dambii ta’a hin seene Propogaanda-an Soba!”
Roughly Translated From A Poem By Laurete Tsegaye Gerbremedhin.



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