By Oromsis Adula*
It was our distinct pleasure to live broadcast the 2010 Oromo Studies Association (OSA) Mid-Year Conference to our readers around the world. We hope that due to our little contribution those who were unable to physically attend the conference got a glimpse of the ideas presented at the conference.
The OSA conference, despite its low turnout, has brought forth some important ideas that were previously raised at Oromo American Citizen Council (OACC) Conference. The OACC conference sought to bring Oromo political leaders together and ask for a critical examination on the direction Oromo struggle ought to take. The OSA Conference, in its first session, focused on the role religions embraced by Oromo people can play in forging unity and uplifting Oromummaa. The OACC gathering helped identify Oromo Unity as the corner stone for strengthening the Oromo political camp. OSA’s conference was an attempt on how to forge the much needed unity. Albeit not purposely, in this sense, the OSA conference can be seen as a follow up to the ongoing discussions raised at OACC.
In the first session, Rev. Dr. Gemechu Olana, a renowned Pastor of the Oromo Church-Los Angeles, presented a well researched and critical assessment of the Role of Oromo Evangelical Churches towards uplifting Oromumma and Oromo Unity. That was followed by Obboo Lammi Shuna’s passionate appeal to revisit the Oromo Gadaa tradition of conflict resolution and reconciliation. Obbo Lami repeatedly stressed that the Oromo traditional religion – Waaqefannaa – and the teachings of Gadaa leaders, the likes of Abba Liban Dabasa Guyo, revolves around what he referred to as Ookko Shanan – the five pillars of Oromummaa: Language, Culture, History, Religion and teaching about individual’s rightful place in the society. Obbo Lammi also called on Oromos to seek out the ascribed Gadaa ways of living and communal harmony arguing that the current crisis is in part the result of our departure from that tradition. Dr. Abdulsamad Mohammed, on his brief presentation talked about the role of religion in rallying people for causes such as ours and argued that a well coordinated struggle is the only means out of the quagmire.
Mrs. Tsehay Wodajo began the second session by addressing the role of family, acculturation and how to negotiate bicultural identities. She also talked about REAL-Resources for the Enrichment of African Lives, an organization she helped found. According to her, “REAL is a non-profit organization that was formed to educate and empower African people living in the United States and in their native countries to lead productive and fulfilling lives.”
That was followed by Mr. Jawar Mohammed’s vibrant presentation on the Strategic Dimension of Oromo Struggle (see Jawar’s PPT slides). Assessing the Oromo struggle and the reasons that forced the Oromo to revolt against repression and forced occupation in the first place, Jawar made a well thought case for the need for paradigm shift towards adapting strategies and tactics that are compatible to what the struggle demands today. Noting limited benefits achievable under independent Oromia platform, Jawar called on the Oromo people to work for a truly democratic Ethiopian state. He stated that “the Oromo has the capability and responsibility to liberate and democratize the entire Horn of Africa region.”
As can be expected, Jawar’s presentation has raised many questions and drew praises from the audience. Some of the questions focused on Jawar’s involvement in the Diaspora Youth Movement. Responding to a question as to why the public should rally behind his ideas given his unanticipated departure from International Oromo Youth Association (IOYA), Jawar stated that he left the organization among other things due to time constraints while studying abroad, the progression of his ideas and apologized for not submitting an official resignation letter. We would like to note here that Qeerransoo Biyya’s assertion on this point is erroneous and misleading because the question rose from the audience didn’t specifically ask about the resignation. Furhermore, Jawar’s presentation was well received and the audience praised him for taking a courageous decision to publicly advocate his ideas. His analytical and well reasoned arguments were touted as exemplary for the youth.
The last session dealt with Ethiopia’s upcoming parliamentary election and the scramble for land grab in Ethiopia. Dr. Daniel Ayana talked about what constitutes Ethiopia from a historical standpoint and stressed the need to support the Oromo opposition in the country. He also urged Oromo political elites to work side by side instead of wasting valuable resources on internal bickering. Dr Haile Hirpha the current president of OSA was the last speaker of the day. He highlighted OSA’s initiatives under his leadership and future plans. Among the activities that OSA undertook this year, Dr Haile talked about OSA’s appeal letter to donor governments and human rights groups on the forced displacement of Oromos in the name of investment.
One notable complaint against OSA came from an active volunteer at OSA conferences and a member of Oromia Youth Association who challenged the association’s decision to not hold its annual conference in the same city as the annual Oromo Sports Federation in North America’s Soccer Tournament as an indication of the lack of concern for involvement by our youth. Dr Haile for his part responded to the complaint citing conflicts of interest and asserted that there is an ongoing discussion in which the youth will be included.