By Oromsis Adula*
I read the piece about OLF that appeared on EthioMedia by certain Jigga Wakko, a temptingly Oromo sounding name even if misspelled. I am also aware of the exchange between Shiferew Abebe and Dumessaa Diimmaa that prompted Mr. Wakko to pen his grossly uninformed charges against OLF.
In this short piece, I will comment on the stark differences that exist between reality as we know and the presumed irrelevance of OLF in Ethiopian politics. It should be clear from the outset that I am not here to defend OLF or its political objectives. But simply, to challenge the notion that OLF as a political force in Ethiopia is dead or irrelevant.
OLF in Mr. Wakko’s own admission was born in response to a “national and cultural repression and oppression in Ethiopia put forward, as a matter of policy, by the various monarchial rulers of the country.” As such, indeed a culmination of grievances gave birth to a unified front to fight against the systematic repression and marginalization of Oromo people. To this date, OLF remains not only an overtly popular vanguard organization for the Oromo people, but also a reason why Ethiopian prisons speak Afan Oromo.
I do not know what planet Mr. Wakko is from. But I am mystified that there is a sane being that doesn’t recognize the unyielding and unanimous support of the OLF in and outside the country. Even with the drawbacks in recent years and the inability to deliver militarily, it is not an exaggeration to say OLF enjoys an overwhelming support than any organization in Ethiopia. This can minimally be evidenced by the number of Oromos suffering in Ethiopian prisons (a minimum of twenty thousand, at last count, according to former President Dr Negasso Gidada), the unlawful death and life sentences handed down on Oromo nationals by TPLF’s kangaroo court (year after year unabated) and the continued onslaught against Oromo intellectuals including those serving with the repressive regime with high level defections from time to time. And when they defect where do they go to? They join OLF. These include senior military officers, high ranking government officials, and what not. Oromos in their thousands have been and continue to be arrested even for remote connections with OLF. The detentions are all for no other apparent reason than the regime’s paranoia about OLF and the fact that the Oromo, from all walks of life, consider OLF the only legitimate organization that fights for its rights. A case in point, the autocrat Prime Minister, not too long ago, said, at one of his Gimgama’s, “…if you scratch an Oromo, chances are that you will get an OLF.” That phenomenon is even more real outside the country where people are free to articulate their views and beliefs. At the bare minimum, the exodus that began in 1990s and continuing has forced some 100,000 Oromos out of the country. I can, without a shadow of doubt, argue that 99% of that supports one or another faction of the OLF. So it is not only baseless but also grossly uninformed to say “today OLF does not have the slightest credibility to convince an Oromo or of any other nationality of its role in Ethiopian politics.” As a matter of fact, OLF doesn’t need political indoctrination to convince a single Oromo, rather a well targeted bullet that can wound the enemy and usher an era of justice for the repressed Oromo peasants.
Here we observe a long standing falsification of basic facts. For starters, Ethiopian history is full of malicious contradictions. But even the ardent of church historians admit that the Oromo doesn’t share common cultural and social roots with everyone in Ethiopia. Furthermore, it is not the OLF that isolated and marginalized the Oromo but a systematic divide and rule policy of Ethiopian tyrants dating back to Menelik II. Finally, as I have stated previously, OLF is not some shadowy fringe group advocating a sinister objective, functioning only as a “cultural association”, rather a popular front struggling for the just cause of Oromo people in Ethiopia.
If we are talking about the same history, it is also not true that all nations and nationalities in every corner of the country faced similar “ethnic, cultural and social oppression, segregation and/or alienation” as the Oromo. Needless to retell a long history haunted by the cruelest forms of injustices ever inflicted upon humans, I would stay corrected if Mr. Wakko can indeed educate me on similar repressions as the cutting of limbs, sex organs and breasts of the Oromos at Anole, elsewhere in the country.
Mr. Wakko’s lack of information on the modern Ethiopian politics is indeed laughable. First, he asserts that “no any other nationality, big or small, proposed secession or independent statehood except OLF as a way out from its multifaceted problems.” He then goes on to say, “ninety percent of the Oromo people, for that matter, do not subscribe to the agenda of secession.” True, we all have forgotten that TPLF was once a secessionist organization. But I would like to update Mr. Wakko on the prominent presence of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and the Sidama Liberation Front (SLF), just to name two most prominent organizations that subscribe to similar agendas as OLF, maybe even more pronounced.
The writer in his dire attempt to convince a reader dives into the tried and failed argument of approximating the Oromo struggle, and that of the OLF, with ethnic hatred. Neither the OLF nor the Oromo is bent on hating other ethnic groups. The struggle is for justice and against a repressive state. From time immemorial, the people of Ethiopia, including the Oromo, led a peaceful coexistence often sharing and caring for one another. Only few bad apples among the bunch are bent on spreading hate and bigotry to create division among the people – a proven tactic employed by TPLF. The Oromo for once are known for their tolerant culture of Guddifannaa and Hammachisaa where even prisoners of war are taken in as equals – that of course is beyond what Mr. Wakko’s memory chip can handle. Does Mr. Wako also know that there were several Amharas who rose to positions of authority, including brigade commanders, and a handful southerners became members of the Central Committee?
The most bizare of Mr Wakko’s diatribe pertains to his assertion that OLF hates Birtukan Midhaksa because her mother is Tigre. From my research the founders of OLF included in its top leadership persons whose mothers or fathers were not Oromo, a handful with Amhara/Tigrean wives. This simply shows how far Mr. Wakko is ignorant about OLF and the Oromo struggle.
Mr. Wakko’s assertion that OLF is an organization “of considerable existence but without any noticeable achievements of either political or military significance” is testament to his cant. Even at its worst, not for subjective reasons but due to failure to deliver militarily, the name OLF conjures a thought that evokes a deep emotional connection with Oromo from all walks of life. I would pass by reminding the writer that the gains made in terms of making Afan Oromo the language of instruction, the current Ethiopian constitution as inapplicable as it is, and the creation of Oromian regional state are all attributed to few of the noticeable achievements of the OLF. It is also thanks to OLF that no Oromo today has to change his name to pass as something he is not.
It is even more deceptive that Mr. Wakko “have never heard a single international media mentioning” the name OLF “in [the organizations] nearly 50 years of existence.” No need to belabor listing here major reports by BBC, CNN, Aljazeera, VOA, and NTV alike, I would like to ask the writer to do a simple Google search next time. Also, OLF has been in existence only since 1973 that is just 37 years. OLF has, at different times, including participation in the transitional charter, have attempted to forge an alliance on equal terms with other willing organizations. The latest attempt was AFD in 2006. Contrary to Mr. Wakko’s claim that “OLF has never had a single honest regard, except contempt and disrespect, for Ethiopian political parties”, most Ethiopian politicians have, until very recently, written OLF off as a secessionist and hate mongering front, a baseless presumption at best. This does not mean OLF did not try to forge working relations with other oganizations. In fact according to my research OLF maintained contact, even if kept secret for obvious reasons, even with the most chauvinist personalities and groups.
Given the current predicament, where the Oromo opposition in the country is weak and doesn’t have a popular support as OLF; where Oromo communities in the Diaspora have separate businesses, churches, mosques, soccer tournaments, study associations, youth and student organizations, OLF remains the only entity or perhaps the last string that is viable enough to represent Oromo among the Ethiopian opposition, one that the Oromo public can entrust with such reasonable representation. Lessons of 1990s abound and TPLF determination to hold on to the power by all means, OLF remains the only force to reckon with as a viable alternative to the ethnically fragmented politics of Ethiopia.
My belief is that the emancipation of the Oromo, their being in charge of their destiny, does not necessarily be at the expense of other groups. OLF’s call for devolution of power, an accountable local government, term limits for politicians, individual freedom, Gada democracy, peaceful resolution of conflict, and the like resonate very well among members of other ethnic groups.
Lastly, it is true that a large majority of Oromos do support OLF. This does not mean they are not critical of it. Many are indeed mystified how OLF failed to become a viable military force given its huge support base. They are not also critical of its failure to put its house in order by unifying its factions and wings so as to wage a successful liberation struggle.
Ethiopia needs to chart a new course. Defaming each other is not going to get anybody anywhere. To go forward we need to listen to all voices, especially those who do not agree with, and do so intently. In today’s Ethiopia no opposition or resistance group is relevant on the ground. The electoral opposition is all but vanquished. The opposition outside the country is fragmented beyond recognition. This has given TPLF/EPRDF, which is ruining the country and impoverishing the people, a field day. Under these circumstances we need to rethink our basic assumptions, which is the true beginning of wisdom. We need to bury the hatchet on old hatreds and misunderstanings, which feed on ignorance and a culture of taking ones narrow perespective as the only and the ultimate, infallible and universal truth.
*Oromsis Adula is the Editor -In-Chief of Opride.com, a multimedia weblog that aggregates Oromo, Ethiopian and Horn of African news. Oromsis writes regular news commentaries and Op-Eds on current issues that affect the Oromo people.