On Saturday, December 18, 2010, the Oromo Community of Minnesota (OCM) held its general assembly meeting in Minneapolis. The attendees represented diverse groups, including elders and youth, male and female alike.
Mr. Tashite Wako, a current board member, called the meeting to order with the elders’ blessings, which was followed by a welcoming and introduction of the agenda by Mr. Amano Dube, current board chairman.
The purpose of the meeting was twofold: to ratify a new set of bylaws with amendments recommended by the Board of Directors, and to select an election committee that will present 13 candidates to the General Assembly for election. The election committee was to be tasked with recruiting seven candidates and the General Assembly would nominate the remaining six. Of the thirteen, the nine with the most votes will form the next Board of Directors.
Mr. Wako proceeded to give an overall report on OCM’s services and financial standing. According to the report, in 2009 alone over 500 people visited OCM for refugee social services and assistance with employment. The social services provided range from support letters and referrals to housing and immigration assistance.
Currently, OCM has roughly a $200,000 capital budget and over $700,000 in total assets including its facility and a van. Wako also introduced some of OCM’s future projects as outlined by the current board. These projects include building a parking lot that holds up to 26 cars, providing accommodation for disabled persons at the facility, and creating a property management team to manage the facility.
Subsequently, the bylaws with the suggested amendments, both in English and Afaan Oromo, were distributed to the members. The bylaws were presented and moderated by Mr. Dube, a process that took up a majority of the four-hour meeting. Among the recommended amendments were redefining the purpose of OCM, the membership and the procedures for electing the Board of Directors. Dube went through, line by line, a total of 23 articles. The assembly had the opportunity to ask questions, give opinions, suggestions, and debate over some of the contentious points before approval. The general assembly was satisfied with the bylaws and the outgoing board promised to make all suggested changes before the bylaws become effective.
Changes regarding the recruitment of diverse candidates to the board, the selection committee and the election process were the most debated parts of the bylaws. Some attendees argued that diversity in the American context does not apply to Oromos. Since neither the Board of Directors nor the election committee can dictate how the general assembly votes, it would be difficult to apply such a law. Thus, selection should always be based on merit.
The current board maintains that, just like any other cultural group, Oromo people have sub-cultural identity markers: male and female, young and old, level of education, and even geographical distinctions. Though the board can and will not dictate the will of the general assembly, it is encouraged for voters to take diversity into account at the booths.
Despite the low turnout, active youth and members came out for this historical event. It was heartening to witness a civil, constructive and healthy debate on issues. Concerned individuals raised their concerns about some points they thought should or should not be in the bylaws. The event concluded with approval of the bylaws after the recommended changes.
Past and current OCM leaders should be applauded for elevating the Oromo Community from
a) A whopping debt of $6,000 to more than $700,000 in total asset and capital.
b) Volunteer-based positions to a strong staff of five full- and part-time employees.
The current Board of Directors should be congratulated for their dedication to save our community from the political maelstrom (hurricane) of 2008. They have managed to transcend internal differences that could have negatively impacted the entire community and have brought us this far. They have become good examples for generations to come. Their exemplary leadership is a testament to the fact that even with political differences, it is possible to work together for the betterment of the larger community.