Where is the Oromo Youth?

oromo youthBy Siiban Abbichuu

There is no doubt that young people today have heavier responsibilities in determining the fate of their societies. Especially in nations like the Oromo, that is still under tyranny, the role of youth is the most important. As it is very clear for most of us, nowadays the participation of the Oromo youth in areas of political leadership is not satisfactory. When I compare the activities of the Oromo youth in the 1960s-1970s with today, I feel worry. One may rightly ask : ‘What do you mean? Why feel worry? What about all the Oromo students protest across Ethiopian universities, collages and high schools? What about all the Fincila Diddaa Gabrummaa in Oromia?’ Why do you forget all the sacrifices paid by Oromo youth, especially, since the beginning of this millennium?’

Of course, these are important questions that should be raised here. And the answer is simply : ‘Yes of course, all the mentioned activities of the Oromo youth are as they are. History has been recording all the heroic role of the Oromo students of yesterday and today. The immense nationalism of the Qubee Generation is believed to be a guarantor for future self governing of the Oromo nation and as the same time it is a higher threat to the enemy.’ I do not want to discredit the role of the new young generation. I believe that the Oromo youth can be effectively mobilized in the right direction to take part in the struggle under a brilliant political leadership that will emerge from the youth themselves.   

My concern is not about being mobilized by some one. It is about empowering the youth to enable them mobilize the whole nation. Let me try to compare the matter with the truth of the old days. As most of my readers may know, the Oromo youth in the 60s-70s were united, self-organized, and self-mobilized. In other words, it can be said that they were SELF EMPOWERED. In fact, here, I don’t want to forget the movement under the Matcha-Tulama Self Help Association and the Bale Oromo Uprisings. However, the association was no longer operational. It was banned after few years of doing significant socio-political work. The Bale Oromo Uprisings under the heroic Oromo General, Waqo Gutu, also failed due to lack of modern organizational skills at that time. The students of that time did not have senior intellectuals to be looked at as role models in their political movement of building Oromo nationalism. There was no such career among the elders. We can say that the birth of modern Oromo nationalism was the Finfinnee (Addis Ababa) University, in 1960s-70s. Not only for Oromo, but also for those old politicians of TPLF and the ‘Ethiopians’ (Amharas), Finfinnee University was the birth place of modern politics at the same time. During the struggle against the feudal regime under the slogan of ‘Land to the Tillers’, the students movement was at its peak. 

In that historical movement, the role of Oromo students was also shining one. Young students of the time such as Baaroo Tumsaa, Magarsaa Barii, Lencho Lata, Haile Fida (from abroad) and many others were the rising stars in Oromo and Ethiopian politics. Especially Haile Fida and Baro Tumsa were the young icons not only in Oromo, but also in the whole Ethiopian politics. Baro Tumsa was the organizer of the historical mass movement under the slogan of ‘Land to the Tillers’ in 1965. He was also the founder of the organization Struggle of Ethiopian Oppressed Forces (ECHEHAT) in 1975. The other Oromo star Haile Fida was the founder of MEISON, the first opposition political organization in Ethiopia in the early of 1960s. MEISON was the organization that believes in self determination and genuine ethnic based federalism. Hayle was also the first Oromo intellectual who made meaningful research on the importance of Latin alphabet (QUBEE) to use in Afan Oromo. 

Even though the trend of the Oromo nationalism among Oromo students at that time had a little bit ideological differences, over all, the beginning was smart. It was historic time because of many victories recorded by those youth: The Oromo nationals from West to East, North to South as well as Central were able to introduce themselves to each other that they are ONE NATION. They heard the sweet dialects of their common language, Afan Oromo, for the first time. They addressed each other that their people are under tyranny and they need to be free by any mechanism. Thus, those youth embarked on the struggle against tyranny through establishing political organizations with few fellow non-Oromo politicians. Organizations like, All Ethiopian Socialist Movement [MEISON], Ethiopian National Liberation Front [ENLF], Struggle of Ethiopian Oppressed Forces [ECHEHAT] and finally, the Oromo Liberation Front [OLF] were emerged by the Oromo youth of that time. Although the former three organizations had not played meaningful roles through peaceful struggle under the dictatorial regime, they paid unforgettable sacrifices to address the true cause of the struggle of Oromo nation as well as other oppressed peoples. Those brave Oromo youth were historical concretes to convince every body that Oromo intellectuals are not ‘narrow politicians’ by nature, as many anti-Oromo forces try to criticize today. Those brilliant Oromo youth endeavoured to look for solution under the name ‘Ethiopia’, but in vain. It was after demolition and ban of those three organizations that the OLF decided to strengthen it self and being engaged in the armed struggle under the bold name OROMO. All these are historical roles of the youth of the 60s-70s.

Advantages of Now Days for the Youth

As the time between now and then is too long, the youth of the past time and the present day have some differences. Today they are so many advantages for the youth as the technology growing faster and access of social infrastructures increasing. Let me mention few:

1. The number of Oromo students in higher educational level in the past time was very limited. May be there were few hundreds. Today there are hundreds of thousands of Oromo students in higher educational level and graduate civil servants. No lack of educated man power today when compared with yesterday.

2. There were no different kinds of fast means of communication during that time. Thus, it was too difficult to contact people from around the country as fast as possible. Today there are fast communication technologies such as email, online chats, mobile phone and SMS.

3. Awareness of nationalism in the Oromo society was very limited in the past time. Oromo nationals who could introduce themselves that they are OROMO, were very few. The rest were express themselves using the regional names given to them by the oppressors, not the original name, Oromo. Some others even tell the religion they belong to as ethnic identity, i.e. instead of saying ‘I am an Oromo’, they said ‘I am a Muslim’ ‘I am a Christian’. How ever, today every Oromo national be it in urban or rural areas, can simply express his/herself as an Oromo. That means, now it is not as difficult as those old days to agitate the Oromo people to fight for their rights.

4. In 1960s-70s there was no Oromo community in diaspora. Today there are thousands of diaspora Oromo nationals in different corners of the world. Exchange of ideas, financial supports and addressing the Oromo cause to the international community by means of demonstrations, writing letters and petitions are advantages of these days.

5. In that time the international community had not been addressed the Oromo question. Most of them had no idea even what the name ‘Oromo’ does mean. Today the world, especially the Westerns at least simply understand who Oromo is and what the cause of its struggle.

In addition to these, the new generation is lucky for two big reasons:

First, the youth are not beginning the struggle from zero point. There are some victories that have been gained by our elders. The question is now, how to pursue the way that already paved by our hero elders. It is the question of how to terminate the already started struggle.

Second, the five point advantages mentioned above would strengthen and sharpen the role of this generation. For example, the report of student protests of Finfinnee University in the beginning of 1970s might took many days to be heard in Jimma or Diredawa. But today such news can simply be reported live to the whole world using the modern technologies. The young generation should be able to use these advantages meaningfully. The five point advantages of our time must be means of acceleration the journey of the struggle.

Generally speaking, I can say that carrying out the Oromo political struggle in today’s world is not as difficult as the old days, because of the above mentioned advantages. How ever, unfortunately, our goal is still not reached. There is lack of best efficiency among our elites. So, what is the solution for this problem? Let me try to state some ‘change agents’ to overcome the lack of efficiency.  

1. The Youth must take the Responsibility

As I stated in the first and second paragraphs of this piece, even today our youth are the main actors in the struggle of the Oromo nation against tyranny. How ever, participating in the struggle in certain number is still not enough. To be succeeded, more activities needed. The youth also must be able to call on for struggle, not to be called on only to participate. That means, they ought to take-over almost all the responsibilities of the struggle. Since they have better chance to aware the meaning and need of Oromo nationalism just starting form their child hood, (as most of them are Qubee Generation), they must be ready to take-over the burden of the struggle that their elders should transfer to them. The youth must be able to responsibly determine means of the struggle that match this era and attract the attention of the international community, including making the vision clear. The main thing that damaging the Oromo struggle now is the separation of the diaspora-based armed and homeland based peaceful struggles. In other words, the problem is lack of coalition b/n the ‘banned’ OLF and the ‘legal’ Oromo parties that work under the constitution of the regime. This separation must come to an end. I hope the potential power, the youth, can do it by any means!

2. The Older should raise the Younger Seedlings

It is well known that most of our political leaders are over 60 years old now. In fact this truth is not only for Oromo, but also for all Ethiopian politicians. The older leaders are emerged from the 1960s-70s movements and they are still giving leadership. These old men are nationalists those were born in the Cold War era. Thus, they might have still Marxist-Leninist tendency in some degrees. In this case, the TPLF regime is now busy to raise young politicians who are going to take over its dictatorial regime as it is, in the next five years. The so called ‘Revolutionary Democracy’ is the main lesson in youth training for Wayyanes. Here I have some questions regarding our elder politicians, especially the OLF leaders. What are they doing at this juncture? Don’t they want potential youth politicians to take over the burden of the leadership? Do they want to give leadership till the end of their life? Are they ‘power’ ambitious? What is the gap between the old leadership and the youth? What is our true ideology today? What kind of democracy do we pursue? When the Marxist-Leninist Wayane discovers a fake ideology (the so called ‘Revolutionary Democracy’) as a means to stay in power, what do we are thinking about ourselves? Is the ideological differences b/n the two (Marxist-Leninist oriented old and Democratic oriented youth) are irreconcilable in Oromo politics? Why do the youth (including those elected as CC members) leave the struggle, after working very short time in OLF? Have the youth luck of commitment to push the struggle? Is the struggle of the Oromo for self determination boring?…. I think these are very important questions that need answers. All those whom the questions concern to should speak out here. 

3. ‘All that Glitters is not Gold’

Our elder politicians have paid many sacrifices to enable the struggle reach this stage. They lived not for themselves but for the need of their people. They have historical role in bringing the Oromo people to the brighter today. So they deserve great respect. However, as they have honourable identities that we proud of, they have also a little bit weaknesses. Regionalism is one of the problems that emerged with our elders. The youth should ruthlessly be able to bring this shameful tendency to an end. The era of regionalism should be come to an end through radical change by the youth. All political characteristics of the elders need not pass on to young generation. Negative and positive aspects should be carefully identified. All that glitters is not gold. The youth should take over the golden identities of their elders and burn out the useless and harmful ones. It is time to say no! for regionalism viruses. The youth need not choose the either side of QC, Shanee or Jijjiirama. They must work hard to melt all these factions together.

4. The Need for Youth Political Icons

In every political struggle there is a need for icon leaders. In 1960s-70s, youth like Hayle Fida, and Baro Tumsa were political icons among the Oromo as well as Ethiopian political societies. Obbo Lencho Lata was/is the political icon of Oromo politics until recent times. Who is the youth icon today?? Who is Lencho Senior today? Who is Hayle Fida of these days? Who is our Baro Tumsa now? I can’t see the boldest name among our elites, particularly in youth. How ever I believe that youth like Jawar Siraj Mohammed, might be a hope in the future. Certainly, Jawar is a rising star Oromo young man of this time. Every body should say him ‘Guddadhu Jawaaroo!’ But such activities should not be limited in the diaspora. I need to see more Jawars in our homeland youth. 

There is some thing that should be taken in to account when we talk about the need for icons. To rise as an icon means is not to engage in negative competitions. The youth should compete with their praised roles in the quest for freedom and democracy. It is the people that judge who is better than who, or who is the best than all. The Oromo struggle for freedom and democracy needs an Oromo Mandela, Gandhi, ML King or Obama! 

The author can be reached at abbichuuu@gmail.com

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