In my lifetime, I have witnessed numerous political and other elections around the world. From sham political elections in most developing regions (especially in Africa) to the election of Barack Obama to the highest office on the planet, the world has seen post election violence, riots, joyous celebrations, festivities and the demonstration of the power of people.
I have no doubt that Ethiopia tops the list of countries with no democratic election in its history. In other words, there is no record that shows a peaceful transfer of power from one regime to another in Ethiopian history.
Having conquered and subdued indigenous nations in the south, Abyssinian settler colonialists barred traditional practices of governance including the Gadaa system widely practiced among Oromos.
From time immemorial, Oromo people practiced a democratic and egalitarian institution called Gadaa. Every eight years, Oromos elect a new Abbaa Gadaa through highly democratic and transparent process. Although Gadaa is no longer practiced in most parts of Oromia, it continues to influence Oromo people’s life, thinking and values. The election of new Borana Abba Gadaa last week indicates the fact that Borana remains one of the few areas where Gadaa is still fully practiced. In light of recent discussions on the inaccurate Associated Press report on the election of Guyo Goba (the newly elected Abbaa Gadaa Borana), I wanted to shade some light on elections among Oromo Diaspora communities. More specifically, I want to talk about last week’s aborted Oromo Community of Minnesota (OCM hereafter) Board of Directors election. Most Oromo elites in Diaspora are educated at Ethiopian schools and are therefore by and large enslaved by Ethiopian school of thought. Among them, Oromo political leaders long opted out of Gadaa system of governance (which they so often praise). Sadly enough, our community leaders are following similar paths.
Oromo Community of Minnesota
Perhaps, OCM is the largest Oromo community organization outside Oromia. To its credit OCM has done great things to raise awareness about the plight of Oromo people in Minnesota and around the world. OCM leaders (both past & present) and members deserve great tribute among other things for making the purchase of our new community center possible. Thanks to the hard work and immense contribution of all those who are involved; today we have a place to call “Mana Oromoo or Waldaa Hawaasa Oromoo”.
OCM is governed by Board of Directors (BOD hereafter) elected by the General Assembly every two years. The Board is comprised of the President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer, Property Manager, Elder’s Affairs, Auditor, Women and Youth Affairs and Public Relations. Contrary to popular belief and unfounded allegations, OCM Directors are unpaid volunteers who often work double shift.
In 21st century America, oddly enough it has been the tradition of OCM to elect its Board of Directors through nomination process. Typically, no one runs for office. Once the outgoing Directors announce the election date, the general assembly (community members who come to the meeting) will meet and first listen to a budget report. After the often long budget report by the treasurer is completed – – – the immediate chairman asks the assembly to nominate individuals to serve on BOD. Whoever gets the most votes becomes the New President.
There might be a general reluctance for individuals to come forward and run for office given that this is no easy task. However, whether the person runs for the office (with debate, election campaigns etc) or nominated by the assembly, he/she is going to be the President. But it seems that this traditional and backward election process has become the brand of OCM. Up until last year’s election, no one except those who categorically denounce OCM as OLF powerhouse seemed to care because the then President was widely popular. And the OLF MN chapter was more or less under one camp.
There have always been underground political campaigns to tilt the balance of power towards one or another region. But for so long the balance was kept by nominating at least one person from each region of Oromia. Last year due to heavy turn out by people of one or two regions, the balance seems to have been upset. It shouldn’t have mattered where a person was born if the election process was not so sloppy. Since last year’s election, there were endless rumors to go around how certain “group” took over OCM. The current BOD failed to take that into account and came to March 7, 2009’s election without much preparation.
Logistic and Procedural Issues
There were apparent logistic and procedural issues that could have changed the outcome of that meeting. First, the BOD should have known better that there will be yet another big turnout. The changes in the dynamics of OLF MN chapter were sufficient clues to prepare for the worst. There was no way in hell that small hall could have accommodated “the general assembly” meeting. Furthermore; the BOD should have known better to write up or translate their so called “OCM Facility Leasing Policy” or the by-law into Afan Oromo. Who knows the composition of its general assembly better than the BOD? Besides, given last year’s experience the board could have done a better job of planning and moved accordingly with time management.
Politicization of Community Election
OCM is a non-profit and non-partisan community organization. A person with a right and civil mind would imagine leaving the political differences hat at the door while at OCM or when serving on OCM board. But the contrary happens among Oromos. To make matters worse perhaps juxtaposing their hidden political agendas with that of OCM, the outgoing BOD showed an apparent procedural disagreement. The behind scenes campaigns to tip back the upset balance of power with other minorities support and/or to use the majority role to keep the current balance of power should have been enough. It was the most reprehensible and dishonorable behavior that I have ever observed.
The General Assembly
“If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall in the ditch” goes a famous proverb. This is not to insult my own people but as much as I was appalled by the ill preparation of outgoing OCM board, many were disgusted by the emotional behaviors of those who were in attendance. Procedural disagreement is one thing. Lack of appropriate conduct and respect for self and others is beyond idiocy. There were some groups intentionally trying to disrupt and hijack the process while others were honestly and desperately trying to articulate their discontent. Anyways, at this most childish old peoples meeting that I have ever been to, I sat quietly at the corner saying to myself and my colleagues “kuni Gadaadha moo Gudiidha?” May Waaqa save us from becoming blind followers!
In closing, the election was postponed until further notice. I hope that the outgoing OCM board will look more into the procedural issues that came up, agree among themselves, reform the election process and call on members to run for the office, address the issue of language, and allow members enough time to review the policy. If the issue of “regional” representation is proving to be the underlying difference a quota system can be developed. Otherwise, the future of OCM and Oromo Diaspora needs urgent deliberation.