By Hashim Adam*
In this article, besides introducing the idea of creating an Oromo-American Caucus, I will attempt to answer the following questions: Where are Oromo-Americans in this country’s political process? How influential are they? Is there any potential for Oromo-Americans to influence local and national politics in the near future? In the long run, can Oromo-Americans influence U.S. foreign policy towards Ethiopia? How can Oromo-Americans benefit from participating in American politics?
In the last two decades, countries like Australia, Canada, England, and the United States have seen a large influx of Oromo immigrants prompted by the growing repression in Ethiopia. The end of the 1990’s marked the largest resettlement and relocation of Oromos to those countries. Today, many are proud naturalized American, Australian, Canadian, etc citizens. And their children, some born and raised outside of Oromia, are first generation citizens.
Despite forced displacement and successfully establishing their “new home”, Oromos remain profoundly connected to their African roots and sometimes seem to be indifferent to the economic, social, and political affairs of their adopted countries. But as citizens, the constitutions of these countries grant them the same rights and privileges afforded to natives. However, due to the fact that many Oromos still have a yearning desire to see “their homeland” liberated and are often committed to advocacy on behalf of those still facing harsh repression, arguably Oromos have somewhat neglected their citizenship duties.
It is imperative that Oromos actively engage in the economic, social, and political affairs of their host countries. Especially in places like Minnesota, where an estimated thirty thousand Oromos live, the need for political participation remains critical. Oromo Minnesotans can set a good precedent for Oromos and other communities around the world. In democracies where every vote matters, civic engagement and political participation are effective ways to influence policy decisions.
Like any other group of U.S. citizens, Oromo-Americans need to practice their civic duties and to do so; they must get involved in social, economic and political debates. One of the most practical ways to get involved is by exercising their voting rights. When a single vote can make all the difference, an organized voters group provides a bargaining chip.
In their native homeland, Oromos were deprived of such rights for centuries. Even in sham elections, people were told which way to vote and many avoided voting in protest. The Gadaa system, an Oromo democratic socio-political institution, was repressed by successive Ethiopian regimes.
In the United States and many other democratic countries, leaders are elected by the people. Candidates run for political office promising their constituents a host of policy intiatives. Political campaigns and extended media coverage are often grilling – making the contest a well fought out one. Once elected, representatives’ vote on or sponsor bills that could affect the economic, social and political lives of their constituents and also on a foreign policy that can have a much wider global impact.
The reality now is that very few Oromo-Americans vote, and among the voters, few make informed choices that affect them and those on whose behalf they advocate. The time has come now; the conditions have invited us, for the Oromo-Americans, to take a very important first step. Concerned Oromo-Americans and friends of Oromo are being alerted by situations that have been affecting us here and Oromos in other parts of the world. These individuals have taken the initiative to form a goal-oriented Oromo-American Caucus under the leadership of the International Oromo Youth Association.
The objectives of the Oromo-Americans Caucus are but not limited to;
- Advocating for advancement of Oromo issues in American politics.
- Integrating the traditional Oromo Gadaa system of government with mainstream American politics.
- Organizing and mobilizing Oromo-Americans to get involved in issues that affect them, their community, and their fellow citizens.
- Practicing their basic rights as a group of citizens who share common goals.
- Recruiting and preparing Oromo-American representatives at the local and national level.
IOYA realizes the urgency of establishing an Oromo-American Caucus in Minnesota. Of an estimated 30,000 Oromos at least one-third are believed to American citizens and two thirds of the remaining residents are green card holders who could potentially become citizens in the upcoming few years.
Most of the issues that affect Oromo-Americans are similar to ones that affect other Americans on a daily basis. However, there are a number of issues that are unique to Oromo-Americans. The formation of an Oromo-American Caucus therefore will enable a focus on those issues of special interest besides promoting the involvement of Oromo-Americans in the political process.
Education, healthcare, immigration, employment, and human rights are some of the issues that are of paramount importance to Oromos. Yet, Oromos have not been effective in addressing these issues because their main focus so far has been addressing the situation of those left behind in Oromia.
As citizens, we can vote, practice our freedom of speech, religion etc, and as residents, we can petition the government. The freedom and the rights we have been here are the ones we have been crying for in Oromia. Yet, we have not fully utilized these rights. Hence, it is important that we appreciate and employ the rights we have here in this democratic society.
There are a sizable number of self-motivated Oromos who are active in community organizing and political campaigns. These individuals could be instrumental in raising awareness about the plight of Oromo people. But they do not have the power (in terms of number) to influence political decision. There is a great demand for more citizens to come together and work on common goals.
How influential are Oromo-Americans now? Is there any potential for Oromo- Americans to influence local and national politics in the near future? At this time, Oromo-Americans are not influential in American politics. They are caught up thinking about the problems that drove them away from East Africa, and have forgotten or are overwhelmed with the problems that their families and friends come across if not on daily basis, very often. However, in the next five years, there is a possibility that the number of Oromo-Americans in Minnesota will almost triple. We should therefore realize that Oromos can be influential in shaping local as well as national economic, social and political debates as their number and active participation increases.
The question that may follow is in the long-run, can Oromo-Americans influence U.S. foreign policy towards an autocratic country like Ethiopia? How can the Oromo-Americans benefit from participating in American politics?
All the local and national laws of the U.S. are answers to citizens’ questions and historical experiences. For example, racial integration in American school system, women’s rights, voting rights, freedom of assembly, etc were all fought for by organized and concerned citizens who came before us. Oromo-Americans and other new Americans are beneficiaries of those struggles by women, civil rights leaders and other activists. With the number we have, especially in Minnesota, Oromos can, in the long run, have an influential role in the U.S. domestic and foreign policy.
It becomes our obligation to press local and national candidates to work with Oromo-Americans in order for them to get our votes. We cannot afford to exclude and marginalize ourselves from mainstream communities and the political discourse in this country. Every issue that affects the mainstream community affects Oromo-Americans. Therefore, our involvement in American politics is very crucial. It is a high time for Oromo-Americans to engage themselves with political activities that benefits them in the states and can also have an effect on their families back home (Oromia).
Finally, I would like to invite all concerned citizens and residents of the great state of Minnesota to an event organized by Oromo Minnesotan’s on October 16, 2010 at University of Minnesota Wiley Hall. For more information about that event, please contact DFL Coordinated Field Organizer Anja Kresojevic at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This event is OPEN to EVERY OROMO … not just American citizens. The actions of Senators, Representatives, members of School Boards and other political officials in MINNESOTA affects us ALL. Come and make sure you’re in the know.
Please join us for an informational evening regarding the November 2nd election and how it will impact you … Immigration, Jobs, Education, Health Care, and much more.
~ Congressman Keith Ellison
~ Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller
~ State Representative Phyllis Khan
The evening will also include Oromo traditional dances, poetry and more …
Location: University of Minnesota
Willey Hall (room 175)
Date: October 16, 2010
Time: 4:30 pm– 7:30 pm
*Hashim Adam is the President of International Oromo Youth Association, former President of Oromia Student Union and a recent graduate from University of Minnesota.