The Summer That Has Been: Recap of Summer Oromo Events in North America
By Oromsis Adula*
Oromo Convention in North America
A little over a year ago, I wrote a brief article inquiring from the OSFNA where we were headed. At that time, the issues were much more trivial and had to do for the most part with OSFNA’s financial troubles. In that piece and another that sought to ask all Oromos the same question, I attempted to point at the need to strengthen and nurture civic organizations such as OSFNA in order to keep the morale of the people intact.
However unfestive the parties may have been or unmemorable the 2009 OSFNA experience was the events took place as planned. This year, the summer 2010 “Oromo Convention”, as the event is sometimes called, came at the time when the political schism was winding down or not so apparent. Seattle was also a favorable and relatively diverse state. Many OSFNA goers including those in Western Canada had the chance to make the most anticipated summer gateway. A big shout out to Diree Dhawaa of Minnesota for making history winning championship back to back and bringing the trophy home – to keep. Join OSFNA on FaceBook and “yes we can! build a better community” – together.
This piece seeks to shed some light on ‘reported’ discontents with this year’s events and serve as a call on Oromo organizations to thoroughly think and rethink when scheduling their summer events. I will also touch upon some remarkable reports from Seattle. This year, OSA, OLF-ShG and IOYA have uncharacteristically excluded themselves from the grand event and chose to hold their gatherings at different venues.
Oromo Studies Association (OSA)
Founded in 1996, OSA is the only Oromo scholarly organization. Since its inception, OSA held its annual conferences at the same venue as the Oromo convention with the exception of two or three years. This year, OSA decided to hold its conference in Washington DC as most Oromos headed westward. Pressed at the mid-year gathering in Minneapolis, OSA officials promised to provide an explanation as to why the conference was held separate from other Oromo gatherings. No word has yet come from the association. It is simply irresponsible for OSA leadership to abandon the general Oromo populace and hold its meeting in another city widely populated by non-Oromos.
It was a marvelous contribution on the part of OSA members and guests to spend a generous amount of time doing research on Oromo affairs and be given a platform to share their findings. However, it defeats the purpose if the audience is made up of presenters and moderators alone. Yes I am aware of the community members that came to OSA conference. Seen the live-cast for what was possible. But continuing along the paths of yesteryears where elites congregate to impress each other with their research skills will only continue making OSA an out of touch and out of mainstream organization. It also saddens me that the many great topics put forward in this year’s conference might fall short of usable. I hope that OSA will make the papers presented at the conference available via its website for general public.
Gadaa.com’s relentless effort to live broadcast the event was shaded by poor video and audio quality. Going forward, OSA has a work to do to wisely tap into a pull of resources among its intellectually diverse members to do a better job at utilizing the technology. I also wish to extend my appeal to OSA leadership to continue to seek ways to engage young scholars and also make the organization a more mainstream one. Reaching out to young scholars and bringing back the efforts seen at the 2007 OSA conference, when a youth panel was set, will make a future transition much easier. Furthermore, it would be imperative if OSA can transform itself into an organization that has a thing of action. All kinds of projects including but not limited to coordinating study abroad programs and visitation to colleges in Oromia for Oromo students abroad can easily be undertaken. That I think would minimize the gap of understanding between young Oromos at home and abroad creating a chain between two increasingly significant but divergent groups.
Oromo Liberation Front (OLF)
The OLF has seen numerous splits in recent years including the most bleeding one in 2008. Since then a cloud of confusion hovers over the Oromo Diaspora communities. In the months leading up to the summer conventions, there was a talk of merger between the three factions of OLF. Many hoped and still continue to hope, our leaders would finally see to it that united we stand, divided we fall. But one of the group, the Asmara based ShG-OLF decided to hold its gathering in Minneapolis. That many say signifies a walk away from its openly declared call for unity and raises many eyebrows about the group’s real intentions as they continue to make headlines about forming or wanting to form alliances with non-Oromo groups.
Financial stakes are as real as America’s economic crunch. The fractures that have been brought upon QBO by our leaders make the stakes even higher. But the cause for which these groups claim to struggle is larger and holier than fund-raising ventures. I do not see any other venue more fitting than the Oromo summer convention to reach-out to the disgruntled souls of Oromos from all walks of life. That is where strategy and leadership meet. It demands the ability to rally a mass hungry for change behind a grand cause for justice and equality.
In another note, the OLF faction commonly known as “the change group” held its annual conference in Seattle. A friend who attended the public meeting, and the opening and closing night’s parties reports a huge turnout, mainly of young people, and a successful gathering. The other faction known as QC usually holds low-key annual meetings in Minnesota. No word from the group this year. I hope that the merger talk will finally commence and go through as anticipated. I predict the 2011 summer convention, which by the way will take place in Minnesota, to be different and the OLF merger would a projectile force.
Oromo Youth Leadership Conference (OYLC)
OYLC is a youth conference, the only of its kind, organized by the International Oromo Youth Association (IOYA). IOYA is the byproduct of the first OYLC conference in 2006. As is with all Oromo organizations nowadays, IOYA had fallen short of realizing its promising and humble beginning. Some of the shortcomings were caused some say by recent developments in Oromo polity, the diversion of views among its [former] leaders, lack of commitment and an unfocused agenda.
In the last few years, IOYA leaders have been trying to redefine the core objectives of the organization and find its place within the realm of Oromo social order. Still, the issue of fluid membership base and the notion that IOYA is an umbrella organization for all Oromo youth organizations around the world remain in my view as a deterrent to sustaining some of its initiatives.
The youth, whether we like it or not, hold the key to the future of Oromo Diaspora for whatever it will become. A quick glance over the preset conference agenda lends reasons to hope that the seminar yields great potentials for upcoming young leaders who are attending the three day conference in Minnesota. The attendants are expected to navigate through the challenges facing Oromo Diaspora communities, explore the multifaceted problems of Oromo people in Oromia and ultimately wrap-up the conference with a lesson on how to maintain a successful organization.
Once again, prophetic ideas similar to what OSA had put forth. But I feel that holding such a conference at same venue where more young people will have a chance to attend will leave a lasting and much wider mark for the future. But that also requires bringing back the IOYA spirit that was once the talk of the town. For starters, reaching out to more young people and being able to effectively sell the idea that “we are the future of Oromo community and maybe Oromia” will help.
I do not frequent religious conferences. Much less ones organized by Tawfiq Islamic Center and the different denominations of Christianity that the Oromo people subscribe to such as the Oromo 7th-Day Adventist and Oromo Evangelical Churches conferences. But for what I have gathered from my acquaintances and friends, these are usually by far the most enlightening and useful Oromo conferences. That is primarily because they devote much of the conferencing to teaching their respective congregation to do good — for themselves, for their community, their country and humanity in general. Choosing similar venues as other Oromo conferences will help in spreading that message to a much wider domain of the community and also nurture a sense of belonging and togetherness.
Oromo people embrace different religions and are known for a century of tolerant coexistence. Religion plays no role in Oromo politics as people of different faiths work together in harmony. However, the dynamism of views and the degree of what is these days called extremism seems to be changing, both among Muslims and Christians. This is true for non-Oromo groups as well.
A reader forwards an interesting document that was making rounds at the soccer field in Seattle. There is no indication that the authors of the said document are by any means associated with one or another group. In fact, the document states, “some of us here in this [Seattle] community felt that it’s necessary to warn our people.” For the most part, the document seeks to warn young people not to indulge into unreligious acts. There is no problem there. With disease and crime on the rise among minority groups in America that is essentially a community service. However, the danger is in the concluding lines of the document and according to our informant in the audio messages that was also circulated at that the soccer fields.
First it is erroneous to conclude that all those who participate in these events will delay or leave As-salah, engage in zina, drink alcohol, waste money, listen to music, hug women and embrace tribalism. Furthermore, I think it is also gravely erroneous to lament the Oromo Soccer Tournament as a corruption thus urging all Muslims to turn their back and never attend such events. For instance, I heard reports of Muslim youth wearing or selling a t-shirt to raise fund to build a mosque in Minnesota. If the messengers of the unrepresentative dogma were so concerned, they could have used the venue to reach out to those young souls and teach them to be good Muslims. It is simply a farce to write-off such a premier social event as a corrupt gathering where people engage in bad behaviors. I hope that the messengers will come forward and reiterate their position. Otherwise I fear that this is an unconstructive path to religious wholesomeness.
Run 4 Oromia (RFO)
The Run 4 Oromia race, organized annually by generous contribution from Oliqaa foundation, is a tradition that began in 2007 to “represent and promote the Oromo culture, value friendship, education, create opportunities for the future and honor the greatest Oromo athletes of all time.” For the first two consecutive years, RFO was something of an epic event. However, in the last two years both attendance by local community members and advertising sunk exponentially. For instance, the first two years, RFO officials distributed free bumper stickers at Oromo events and posters were up at grocery stories way ahead of the race.
The first year, we went driving around town to spot a city bus with massive Run for Oromia ad and we managed to track down two. At the lake, enthusiastic spectators from the local community were observed dancing to and singing traditional Oromo tunes as the runners made rounds. Those were the days. By contrast, this year, it won’t be an exaggeration to say that 90% of Oromos in Minnesota didn’t know the occurrence of such event until after the event. Even the tiny portion of those who knew about plans for such event heard it over a mass calling ads that went out couple of days before the race. To be fair, flyers were posted on websites that cater to the Oromo people. But it is difficult to judge how many people check those things. As Siiban Abbichuu put it eloquently, it is sickening to see ten Oromos show up for a race so called “Run for Oromia” in a state that bolsters some 20K Oromos. Advertising and partnering with local youth and community organizations, non-Oromo groups that promote similar causes and east African organizations in the area can make the event worthy of the effort. Otherwise, it serves no purpose except that it had taken place. Not to mention its inability to attract media coverage.