By Ibrahim A Elemo (M.D, MPH)*
I need to inform my readers that I decided to write this article following an incident that happened on May 14, 2011. The very ugly story that came out of Moyale was about to culminate in a catastrophic inter-ethnic conflict between the Borana Oromo and the Burji tribe in Northern Kenya.1,2,3 The Borana Oromo and the Burji people have lived side by side in peace and shared resources across common borders for centuries. The Burji people are one of the Cushitic speaking minority groups in South Ethiopia6 who have an excellent symbiotic relationship with Borana and peaceful co-existence in an area where there had been perennial conflicts for decades between rival ethnic groups over scare resources, man-made disasters and politically instigated inter-ethnic tensions.
The Borana Oromo like all other Oromo societies have a culture of tolerating differences, appreciating diversity and gradually assimilating peoples of various creeds4. To my knowledge there is one big precondition: Respecting and abiding by Aadaa-Seera Borana (the customs and laws governing the Borana people). After someone has been accepted formally into the Borana society, no reference is made to his creed whatsoever following incidents or quarrels that are perceived to emanate from personal conflicts. People are judged by their deeds, obligations and duties they should discharge as community members.
The Burji people are among the minority ethnic groups who sympathize with the Oromo over many issues and that has been the basis for the peaceful co-existence in a very turbulent region under the incumbent Ethiopian regime that has seen inter-ethnic conflicts cooked between almost all tribal groups. The Borana Oromo’s hospitality led the Burji people to migrate and inhabit certain areas all over the Borana country in South Ethiopia and North Kenya. They are either settled agrarians or urban-dwellers engaged in businesses, unlike the Borana people who are predominantly pastoralists or agro-pastoralists. It is apparent that almost all Burji people who migrated to Borana country eventually end up speaking Afaan Oromo and having strong political affiliations with the Borana people, especially in Kenya, although there are talks of the Burji recently shifting affiliations and forming alliance with the Rendille and Gabra tribes (Regabu) in some constituencies3.
The Burji in South Ethiopia are probably the first among southern nationalities who successfully defeated a TPLF/EPRDF engineered and sponsored party during the first parliamentary and district wide elections in Ethiopia. For that the Burji were collectively punished and their educated elites persecuted. I personally know some educated Burji elites who were persecuted and imprisoned under the current TPLF regime for officially endorsing OLF or sympathizing with the Oromo cause and speaking against the injustices perpetrated on ethnic Oromo subjects. The bed-rock of the Borana-Burji alliance and mutual co-existence is further enhanced and strengthened by such experiences. It is obvious that there are elements and interest groups who have the desire to dismantle such foundations and create a dysfunctional and dependent society that always look up to the government to solve its problems. There are also naïve and immature politicians and frustrated elites who knowingly or unknowingly contribute to the build up of inter-ethnic tensions and mistrust after unfortunate, or possibly well orchestrated heinous crimes against human subjects in the area.
Read the full Article in MS-Word (The Case of Hawo Godana)
* Ibrahim A. Elemo is a Medical Doctor and a Professor at the Harry Truman College and NWIHT in Chicago, USA. Dr. Elemo authored a book titled “HIV/AIDS, Gender and RH Promotion: The Role of Traditional Institutions Among the Borana Oromo.” He’s the recipient of the 2005 Ethiopian Medical Association’s Award for the Best Scientific Paper of the Year.