CONTENDING NATIONALISMS OF OROMIA AND ETHIOPIA:
Struggling for Statehood, Sovereignty, & Multinational Democracy, by Asafa Jalata.
(Global Academic Publishing, Binghamton University, $34.95) 229 pages.
Review by Qeerransoo Biyyaa*
If you are interested in issues of self-determination and multinational democracy, security, and development in the Eastern Africa, and have been puzzled by why decades of experimentations and foreign aid poured into the region in these areas yielded anything but desired outcomes, a new academic book by one of the foremost authorities in the region can help you understand the underlying causes.
If you are also more specifically interested in Oromo and Ethiopian studies, Eastern African and African studies, and studies of nationalisms and racism, this book has answers for you as to why democracy, self-determination, stability, development and peace have not been achieved in Eastern Africa.
Or if you have been reading books on Oromia, Ethiopia, and Eastern Africa that address the symptoms, but not the causes of the socio-economic problems in the region, this book will change the way you have so far perceived the region, the major issues, and players.
If you have also pondered an alternative social system to the existing exploitative and oppressive political and economic system and flawed world orders that prevail, the book envisions indigenous Oromo democratic principles that can be adapted to formulate a new global economic and political system.
Using interdisciplinary and critical social-scientific approaches the author analyzes and demonstrates issues of contending nationalisms of Oromia and Ethiopia. Jalata considers Ethiopian nationalism or the nationalism of the minority Abyssinian ethno-national groups of Tigre and Amhara, who have been in control of state power since the last quarter of the nineteenth century, as state and oppressor nationalism, whereas he considers the nationalism of Oromo people and other peoples—colonized and oppressed majority—as oppressed nationalism. Asafa Jalata is Professor of Sociology, Global Studies, and Interim chair of Africana Studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. As a leading scholar on the politics and society of Northeast Africa and a forefront scholar and world-known expert on Oromo Studies, Jalata has a well established reputation and credential in authoring the book under review.
The new book elucidates the reasons for the confrontation between the nationalisms of the dominant Ethiopian elites and that of the colonized peoples such as the Oromo people. Jalata meticulously and powerfully examines contentious and original notions such as whether there can be racism between people of the same color and why Ethiopia failed to transform itself from an archaic empire to a sustainable country.
Since Jalata is a specialist in the field of sociology, his methodological and theoretical approaches to this book and issues he identifies and analyses are enriched by his background and set apart from books written on politics and societies in East Africa by other writers from the perspectives of other disciplines in the humanities and the social sciences.
Furthermore, the work further benefits from nearly a decade of rigorous research and Asafa Jalata’s impeccable and through scholarship. Unlike many books written by intransigent local and foreign scholars co-opted into the Ethiopian hegemony that defend and justify the de facto prevailing minority political power, this book is not self-serving and myopic. It courageously addresses the volatile and explosive issues head-on in order to seek a better system of governance that suits everyone.
In my view, the author has successfully, albeit passionately, achieved his goals of analyzing and demonstrating the contending nationalisms of Oromia and Ethiopia. Jalata characterizes Ethiopian nationalism as negative nationalism which oppresses the majority in the south, while at the same time globally projecting the Ethiopian state as democratic and representative of all groups to the outside world.
The end notes, bibliography and index are of excellent quality and indicative of rigorous scholarship.
He refutes the widely held views by Ethiopianist scholars, Ethiopian authorities and Western donor nations that take Ethiopia as a single sovereign entity just like many other lawfully constituted and stable countries of our globe without understanding that “Ethiopia” and “Ethiopianism” represent Amhara-Tigray ideologies and interests. Since early 1930s, the country officially changed its name from Abyssinia (two Tiray and Amhara provinces in the north) to Ethiopia, while the power and resources in the empire remained under the control of the Amhara-Tigre elites at the expense of the colonized nations.
The perception of “Ethiopia” as one sovereign entity by misled Africans, Europeans, North Americans and Asians has successfully eclipsed the way the empire has been viewed. The author argues that there is racism between peoples of the same color—the rulers and the oppressed. He backs up that argument by factual evidence and critical arguments.
Jalata argues in detail how socialism and capitalism as global economic and social orders have failed to serve the interests of East Africans and popular pro-social justice and democracy movements, including that of the Oromo people. He makes an original case that the leaderships of the Oromo national movement must adopt Gadaa System, an ancient indigenous African political system in use for millennia by the Oromo society.
The philosophy that Asafa Jalata draws as one of his important strategic solutions to mitigate contending nationalisms that are setting Ethiopia and East Africa on fire is for peoples to form alliances with consent as the means towards facilitating national self-determination and multinational democracy.
For the global audience, it is worthwhile to examine the ideas the author advances about the quintessentiality of replacing the prevailing flawed capitalist and socialist socio-economic orders with principles in the Gadaa Sytem. There are democratic aspects of Gadaa that can be universalized and integrated into our world’s global system.
There is an appealing human interest story in Contending Nationalism of Oromia and Ethiopia as Jalata acknowledges that he drew foundational inspirations from his wife, son, and daughter for his intellectual work and political activism. In this book, however, his intellectual work outweighs his political activism as he spares not even the weaknesses of the Oromo national movement that he has known closely. It is a must read book by those who are interested in human liberation, social justice, human rights, democracy, sustainable development, and global peace and harmony.
CONTENDING NATIONALISMS OF OROMIA AND ETHIOPIA: Struggling for Statehood, Sovereignty & Multinational Democracy, by Asafa Jalta. ©2010. ISBN 978-1-58684-280-2 (soft cover). Published by Global Academic Publishing, Binghamton University, Sate University of New York, Binghamton, New York, USA 13902. 229 pages, including introduction, endnotes, bibliography and index, with three maps. Price: USD $34.95 as listed on www.amazon.com as well on the publisher’s website http://academicpublishing.binghamton.edu.
You can order the book from www.amazon.com or the publisher’s website online.
If there is any fault with this essential addition to the body of knowledge on politics and societies in Oromia, Ethiopia and Eastern Africa, it is the high price, something common to books published for university level readership. There is so much to be learned from Jalata’s latest book that libraries in East Africa and North America should buy copies for their users. Individuals can also come together, buy a copy of the book and share it. Asafa Jalta’s book is not just a book of symptoms of the problems of contemporary contending nationalisms of Oromia and Ethiopia in East Africa, but it addresses their root causes unswervingly.
* The Reviewer, Qeerransoo Biyyaa, can be reached at email@example.com.