By Malkaa Guutuu*
Dear Obbo Mallasaa:
We have never met. I have no reasons to suspect that you even know I exist. So, let me introduce myself. My name is Malkaa Guutuu. I consider myself liberal on many issues: I don’t subscribe to the concept of race at all (there is only the human race), hold no ill-will or hatred towards any ethnic group. I am also an Oromo nationalist: My sacrosanct position is that we the Oromo people must exercise our right to self-determination, the only desirable outcome of which is a verdict in favor of self-rule. Even so, I believe that the association of free nations in the Horn of Africa in some form will be beneficial to all. After all, we have more in common than separates us.
I am writing you this letter and others to follow for the following main reason: I am deeply worried about your current policies, particularly in your dealings with Ilmaan Oromo. In the past, I reasoned that it would take some time to sort things out, thus I gave you some benefit of the doubt. Since you inherited an empire in deep structural problems decades in the making, I did not expect a quick turn-around. Unfortunately, my rationalization has run its course, and I am afraid you are at best a master at playing short term games – just another conventional African politician.
It is impossible to deny the bravery it took for you and your comrades to take up arms against one of the most fearsome armies Africa has ever seen. Whether your motivations were pure or not, the fact that you abandoned a promise of a relatively comfortable life in Finfinnee and chose the hills of Tigray with uncertain future speaks volumes about your character as a young man. Although at times you give the impression that the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front alone paid the price, it is not debatable that the organization under your leadership played an oversized role in bringing the brutal Dergue regime to its knees. You are even entitled to claim partial credit for the marginal socio-economic improvements the country is currently experiencing.
Alas! Your deceitfulness and despotism have come to dominate any positive attributes you might have had, or may still possess. You have turned an uglier corner in the months and years leading up to the most recent national “election” in which your party won 99.6% of the seats for the rubber stamp parliament you oversee. Flagrantly, you have intensified your naked policies of terrorizing (arresting, torturing and killing) independent-minded Oromos. Even those Oromos who are willing to auction off their Aayyoos to the highest bidder are not safe anymore. I realize that the Oromo Liberation Front is your worst nightmare and you might feel that it is lurking in every Oromo you can’t control. As best I can tell, the brave and honorable Oromo sons and daughters are currently engaged in a protracted struggle against your army across dachii Oromia.
To add insult to injury, you are giving away arable Oromo lands to wannabe power players of the 21st century at alarming speed. Can you see the fire in the eyes of the people your policies are marginalizing? On the contrary, watch the reckless glee of the beneficiaries of your largesse. These so-called “investors” can hardly hide their contempt for the people your draconian policies are driving into misery. Must I inform you that we Oromos have deep and unshakable attachments to biyya abbaa keenyaa (our fatherland)? What are you thinking?
Certain possibilities come to mind. It is likely that you think it is easy to continue to divide Oromos along region and religion. You have been using the playbook perfected by your predecessors on how to divide, weaken and exploit Oromos. Surely, the playbook has worked thus far like a Swiss clock; it has enabled you to maintain power for over two decades now. Since some elements within the Oromo community are incapable of seeing the forest from the trees, and are still holding high the banner of region or religion, I understand it is tempting to just upgrade the manual for a new age and continue to play the same old game of divide and rule. I wish to inform you, however, that that era is soon coming to an end: there is a silent majority of us whose burning passion is Oromummaa, more than any particular religious view or place of birth. If we happen to disagree openly and vociferously concerning matters pertaining to our nation, it is because of the democratic tradition embedded in our culture. Do not mistake our natural inclination, national character if you will, to disagree openly with one another when we must, for lack of unity of purpose. You can’t continue to exploit our diversity indefinitely. Forces beyond your control have been set in motion and we are slowly but surely coming together as a nation.
The other possible thinking guiding your contemptible actions might be that you can deliver economically and continue to govern by brute force, although you pretend to hold elections every few years, because some of your financiers urge you to do so. Judging by your most recent public pronouncements, it sounds as if you have bought into unconventional theories re: Democracy and Development. It appears that you hold the view that democracy is a luxury only a few can afford. Thus, you may wish to replicate in Ethiopia certain rare historical precedents, such as the experiences of South-Korea, which became a “Tiger” under the iron fist of a dictator.
I hope you refrain from drawing the wrong historical lessons from these uncommon experiences, as that would be tantamount to comparing apples and oranges. I should not have to inform you that Korea is a fairly homogeneous society, where order and hierarchy are valued highly. The peoples in Ethiopia you are currently lording over are different communities cobbled together by force relatively recently. Speaking as an Oromo, if not for all Oromos, I don’t think we appreciate your dictatorship, however benevolent you may think it is. If your policies are guided by these unconventional theories and rare historical experiences, I am afraid your highly-paid advisors and tutors of international acclaim might have forgotten to tell you the whole story. Joe and Jeff will not be around to whisper in your ears about how great you are, when the consequences of your despotic actions will inevitably come back to haunt you.
There are also some evidences suggesting that you are trying to play Oromos against other nationalities in the horn, in the hope that that will buy you crucial time. I wish to caution you that this is a dangerous game that will bring ruin to millions and you will eventually be held responsible for it. For obvious reasons, Oromia has been home to millions of non-Oromos (Amharas, Tigres, Somali’s, Gurage’s etc.). In most cases, these communities have intermarried and co-existed in good times and bad. I don’t see any reason why that should change in the future. Non-Oromos have indeed nothing to be afraid of the just Oromo cause, but you seem to want to use it as a wedge between the communities. Regrettably, some Oromos and non-Oromos have turned against each other with your henchmen instigating inter-group conflicts when they deem fit and playing the role of a referee at other times. This is a dangerous game with far reaching and ugly consequences. If you are betting the farm on this strategy, you are as reckless as they come.
Whatever guides your ill advised policies, they are just that. For the sake of everyone involved, reverse course. The road you have chosen is fraught with dangers. Oromos are never going to accept anything short of being masters of their destiny and land. The Rubicon was crossed in the early 1990’s, just as you were making yourself comfortable in your new abode in Finfinnee. We Oromos value and cherish nagaa in everything we do: we wish to live in peace and harmony with our neighborsand God’s creation in general. However, I don’t need to remind you that we are not shy about defending ourselves when provoked. We are not too hasty, but we don’t take too kindly to being pushed around. If you think about this for more than thirty seconds, I’m sure you will come to the only right conclusion and create a political space for the true representatives of the Oromo nation as well as other nations and nationalities in Ethiopia. In my next letter, I will try to outline in some detail why I think this is the only smart option for the country and you.
* The author, Malkaa Guutuu can be reached at <firstname.lastname@example.org> for comments.