Sunday, May 28, 2006

What we want will make what they want impossible.

What they want has already kept us from what we want for several generations. Under the existing circumstances in Ethiopia, any form of alliance with Abyssinians is impossible because of irreconcilable contradiction in our interests. H. Q. Loltu

Opinion: On March 17, 2001, a seminar was organized by the OLF group in the Washington, D.C. area titled, “A Seminar on Causes and Solutions: for “The Political, Economic and Human Rights Problems Facing the Oromo People within Regional and Global Context.” Naturally, people went to the seminar expecting that they would be discussing the alliance of Oromo forces. They never expected that the focus would be alliance with Ethiopian forces. But it was.

If I am not mistaken, the issues on the program were divided into morning and afternoon presentations. The morning was devoted to defining or explaining the problems that the Oromo face, and the audience was explicitly told that the solution was to be discussed at the end of the program. People were expecting to hear a serious presentation of solution strategies for the very real problems now confronting the Oromo. That is not what they got. The speakers endorsed the idea of an alliance with Amhara in order to remove Prime Minister Meles Zenawi from power.

Several questions were raised at the meeting, the most central being, “How could alliance with the Amhara be a solution, isn’t it a combination of Amhara and Tigray that make up one colonialism?” The approach of the speakers can be summed up as, “Well, now they are enemies, so the enemy of my enemy is my friend, hence the Amharas are our friends.” One speaker said that we Oromo have a common enemy with the Amhara - the Tigray regime. All forces who are oppressed by Woyane (Tigray) have a common cause and thus have the basis for an alliance against Woyane. It slowly began to dawn on most of the people in the room that the OLF group actually believes that alliance with the Ethiopians (Amharas) against the Woyane government is the solution they are seeking to the problems facing the Oromo. No other solution was presented at that meeting.

Another question that came was, “Would you not think that before you put the effort into working with and allying with the Ethiopians, you should consolidate your Oromo forces?” The intriguing answer came back, “Had Menilik waited until he consolidated the Abyssinian forces before he went to conquer the South, he may never have accomplished a united Abyssinia. But by conquering the South, he got the other Abyssinians to rally behind him. Conquest of the South gave him the base to consolidate Abyssinia.

What does that mean? I asked myself when I heard it. The only conclusion I could reach regarding his meaning was that the OLF does not have to wait for the consolidation of the other 0romo forces before taking action. By conquering the Ethiopian state power it can rally the Oromo forces just like Menilik rallied the Abyssinian forces. There seems to be no other conclusion to draw, especially in light of the remarks of the other speakers that day. According to my information, one invited speaker responded to a direct question by saying that anyone carrying an Ethiopian passport is an Ethiopian. He called all Oromo in this country Ethiopians. Another invited speaker indicated that anything is better than what exists now, even to have an Oromo in state power would be better than what we have - it would save Oromo lives. (Would it really?)

All right, the issue of alliance has been brought out into the open and debate has been invited. It is time for us to look very hard at this matter. Is it possible to make an alliance with Abyssinian forces that will get Oromo closer to the objective of liberation? If so, when should such an alliance be made? This is something that the Oromo need to be extremely clear about now. It appears that we have not reached the level of political clarity as a nation that we need to endorse one move over the other. Actually, I welcome an open debate on this point. I offer my opinions as a contribution to a dialogue that is long overdue.

There is no doubt in my mind that Abyssinians would benefit greatly by an alliance with Oromo. It would assist them to gain power over the Ethiopian state. However, our first concern is, or at least it should be, what would the Oromo people as a whole get out of such an arrangement?

The question of alliance is a fundamental question. It lies at the heart, of political tactics and strategy because it is intimately connected with the question of political objectives. If you know precisely what you want, then you have clear criteria or either forming or rejecting any alliance that might get that goal achieved. If you know what you want and why, then you can see how another force can assist you to get it. That same kind of clarity enables you to steer nimbly through any diplomatic challenge or negotiation that is required. Without the strategy that is born of political clarity, the processes of alliance, negotiation, and diplomacy can go wildly, destructively astray.

What exactly is alliance? Although it is crucial to success in politics, alliance is not something mysterious. It is the coordination of the efforts of two or more participants to get a job done. The process affects all of us in our everyday lives. Even at the personal level, we must create alliances with other people in order to accomplish anything that we cannot do alone. Not surprisingly, then, there are many different forms of alliance - - personal or group, such as team, clan, family, nation, state, business, etc. Marriage is an alliance. The United Nations is an alliance. Alliance is simply the coming together of forces to accomplish a specific shared objective. It is whom you choose to work with to get where you want to go.

Politically speaking, forming alliances is one of the most basic political operations. Once a group fixes its objectives and sets a plan of action, it must begin to form alliances to implement the plan. The kind of alliances one builds reveals a great deal about priorities and goals. As you begin to proceed, your alliances make up the set of connections on which your political tactics and strategy are erected. The forming of alliance is as basic to political destiny as the formation of molecules is to the building of the structures of matter. Some of these structures are stable and some are unstable. The alliances we make as persons and as nations indicate our values and the scope of our vision. We should think of our alliances as the basis upon which our Oromo universe is being constructed. And in a very real sense, the neighborhood of the Horn of Africa will be heavily influenced by whatever alliances the Oromos choose to make and build upon because we are such a central player on that turf.

How do the Oromo people decide who to form a relationship with? What alliance is good? What alliance is bad? How do we judge?

Is getting Meles out of office enough of an objective for the Oromo right now that the OLF group, apart from the other Oromos, should cling to the Amhara Abyssinians who oppose the Woyane at this point? Should one Oromo group move ahead to form an alliance with Abyssinians hoping that the Oromo will later thank them for it? Not at all, In fact, such a move would undermine the overall Oromo objective and harm the OLF itself.

Let us look carefully at the issue of alliance as it applies to Ethiopia. To do so, we must examine again the forces or the actors that are involved in the conflict there and examine their relationships. In Ethiopia, there are several distinct groups that relate to each other based upon many cross-cutting factors. But all these factors are not equal. Underlying them all is the irreducible historical fact of conquest. This is where our attention must be focused. The conquest divided and reorganized the peoples of the region into a new arrangement that had not existed previously. That division was fixed in place by a systematically installed structure of colonization. Ethiopia as a political unit was built and is still maintained upon that fact.

The divide that was created by the act of conquest affects the possibilities and effects of alliances formed today. Entire nations fall on one side or the other of that divide. As peoples they are either beneficiaries or victims of that arrangement. They are either on the credit or the debit side of the balance sheet. The structure called Ethiopia was built for the specific purpose of preserving that divide, keeping that balance sheet stable, holding that relationship in place.

The Abyssinian nations who participated in the conquest, Amhara and Tigray, are positioned on the credit side of the equation and have benefited from the structure of Ethiopian colonialism since its inception. So far, it is the objective of all Abyssinian parties to preserve Ethiopia as an empire and to continue to reap the benefits accruing to them from their position within it. The conquered nations, who experienced great losses at the time that they were conquered, were forcibly placed on the debit side of the balance sheet of colonialism. It is the unpaid, exploited resources and labor of the nations on the debit side of this balance sheet that keeps the empire running. Until the conquered nations who remain on the debit side join together with each other to redraw the equation and rewrite the very central relationships reflected in that balance sheet, the benefits will keep flowing toward the Abyssinians and away from the conquered nations. Of course the Abyssinians are happy with their position on the receiving end. They may express dissatisfaction with the amount of benefit they receive, but under no circumstances do they want to rip up the balance sheet. On the other side of the divide, several nations were brought together by means of conquest. These are the Oromo, Sidama, Gambella, Somali, Afar, Gurage, etc. They share a common position in relation to the conquerors; they are now trapped on the debit side of the divide. But the conquered nations of Ethiopia have a powerful common interest and common cause: to eliminate the colonial balance sheet entirely.

This view may seem reductionist. It is. It is reductionist in the same way that a chemical formula is reductionist. It is basic. It is a law, a circumstance of the Horn that cannot be ignored or wished away. Forgetting colonialism is like forgetting the basic laws of political chemistry; you will get burned. But the simple-underlying, act of colonialism is forgotten by the most unlikely people. It is forgotten, for example, any one who suggests that an alliance between one Oromo force and any Abyssinian force could eliminate the divide between them.

In Ethiopia to say that the Amhara and the Oromo will make an alliance would mean that some remarkable reversal had taken place, either that Ethiopia had recognized the independence and freedom of the Oromo people, or that the Oromo had accepted the overlordship of Ethiopia. What has been implied in the March 17 meeting is that one of these conditions had occurred to make alliance possible. They never told us what had changed, but I know that the Amhara have not recognized a free Oromia.

Misunderstanding on the issue of alliance should have taught the Oromo people a powerful lesson. When the Oromo attempted an alliance with the Tigray Abyssinians in 199 1-2, it led to a ruinous result for us. This lesson should have been unforgettable. At the time, the Tigray appeared to be an improvement over the Amhara. Tigray had suffered under the Derg government. Tigray had obtained support form the United States. Tigray promised a democracy and national autonomy for Oromia. Tigray said all the right things.

Tigray betrayed alI those promises absolutely, irredeemably and predictably, (if one looks at their interests rather than ours). The Oromo are suffering pitiably under a Tigray brand of tyranny so bad that it even makes Amhara rule look good to the colonized people.

What have the Oromo learned from this miserable experience under Tigray overlordship? At the very least, we should have learned what makes a good or bad alliance. At the least if we can learn that lesson from the anguish of the past ten years, then perhaps the suffering of so many was not completely in vain. But people seem to have forgotten this supposedly unforgettable lesson! There are still Oromo who are crying over their lost Charter, their lost opportunity. Oromo cherished that we could accomplish our goals with allies who also wanted the Derg regime out of power. We did not acknowledge that the Tigray themselves were threatened by our goals. Our alliance with them was based on our illusion and self-deception. We must get over it and acknowledge that all the disappointment outrage and destruction could happen again if we again miscalculate and again try to pursue our dreams with other partners who do not share those dreams. The Amhara not only fail to share our dreams, it is worse than that. Our interests and theirs are irreconcilable. They cannot accomplish their dreams if we accomplish ours. And they know where their self-interest lies. They are not stupid.

Let us not forget that inside the Ethiopian empire is a two­legged beast that stalks the Horn of Africa. Both legs are attached to a single body, Abyssinia. One leg is Tigray. The other is Amhara. As with any other beast, it has to move forward by taking one step, using one leg, at a time.

The Abyssinians, both Tigray and Amhara, have fashioned their society on the assumption that Oromo and other colonial riches will be transferred to the rest of the empire. Parties formed in Abyssinia will not jeopardize that system unless they are forced to do so. They have not now created any other way to thrive except to live off of the product of the Oromo land and labor. Until they do, we have no basis for an alliance with them as a nation.

Individual Oromos may choose to move into an Abyssinian camp in order to pursue some personal goal, but in doing so, they do not represent or further the interest of the Oromo people. Individuals can be short-sighted, misguided and impatient. They want to prevail. They need a shortcut to power. Some may even think that they can somehow outsmart the opposition, but they cannot. An individual may think that he is an Oromo force. Gobana did. Nagaso did. But in the final analysis, they do not embody any national interest. They are revealed to be opportunists who sadly become agents of the opposition’s design and destructive power. It is understandable that individuals would want to jump over or ignore the colonial divide in Ethiopia.

All the parties in Ethiopia find themselves in an historical situation that was put in place before they arrived. They ignore it at their peril, as the Oromo did in 1991. It is as if Menilik planted land mines that will explode in the face of anyone who steps on them. It is not possible for any person or group to cross that terrain or conduct activity there without carefully considering the existence of these land mines! Only the coordinated and painstaking efforts of every party in the colonized camp can dismantle colonialism and change the historic relationships. Then other issues concerning Oromo and Abyssinian interests can be addressed, one by one.

It is not inconceivable that an Amhara party could someday be formed based upon the assumption that the Amhara would be satisfied to take Abyssinia’s territory, call it Ethiopia, and then recognize Oromia and the other colonies in their own right, reorganizing all relationships to acknowledge that new reality. Such a party has not been formed yet or even proposed by a single Amhara know of. But the Oromo have not yet united in such a way to force the Amharas or any Abyssinians to see the wisdom and long-term advantage for themselves of such a position, either. If such a party forms, then the steps for alliance could be outlined according to the interests of both parties.

Think of it like this: If I have to go four steps to reach my goal, and I realize that I need both strategic and tactical allies to get there, I must realize that there are other travelers going in the same direction and must be careful in choosing those who will travel the distance with me. A strategic ally would be someone who has the same long-term goal requiring four steps. A tactical ally is someone who shares just one of those steps with me. To start my journey, I first need to look for someone who will take the full four steps with me. Then, someone who will take three steps, then two steps and finally one step. If I first ally with somebody who has to go only one step to reach his final goal, what possible reason would he have to go three more steps with me once he is satisfied? HE WILL NOT. This is an especially critical question in the case of someone like the Abyssinian who realizes, when he allies with me for one step, that each of those three steps of mine takes him further away from his original goal. Worse than that, if my next three goals undermine and remove his goal from his reach, he can never be expected to travel with me or allow me to travel further, if it is in his power to stop me.

We Oromo have been through this scenario before. When the Abyssinians’ primary enemy is only our tactical enemy, as was the case with the Tigray, how could our alliance with them succeed for us? There is no question that it succeeded for them. We now face a similar situation. Why would we ally with the Amhara? We would be putting them in control in Ethiopia and by so doing empowering them to oppose us. Their full objective is reached when they get there. They do not need to go any further with us and they will not. My point is this: why would the Amhara move to dismantle the very thing that they are fighting to control? THEY WILL NOT. What the Oromo want is antithetical to the health of the Ethiopian state. No Ethiopian is an appropriate ally for the Oromo at this stage. They are not confused on this point. We thought we could fool the Tigrav into actually implementing the democracy they promised or that we could rely on the United States to assure that they would implement it. They were clear on the point. We did not tactically outsmart anybody. What makes us think that we could now fool the Amhara into helping us get what we want? If you think that these people do not know exactly where and why they need us and where and why they will abandon us, think again.

This is what is meant by an irreconcilable contradiction. What we want will make what they want impossible. What they want has already kept us from what we want for several generations. Under the existing circumstances in Ethiopia, any form of alliance with Abyssinians is impossible because of irreconcilable contradiction in our interests.

What should we do then? How should we proceed? First, we have to find those who will make the entire journey with us, all four steps, starting with the Oromo. That is we have to clearly say to ourselves as 0romo what we want. We have to bring the Oromo together into a solid unity of purpose and build our strategy around that. That process has already started last year with the calling of a United Liberation Forces of Oromiya, to which all Oromo organizations are signatories, including the OLF. Then we have to join with the colonized peoples of the Horn region who also lost their culture, their homes, their resources and the means to control their lives at the same time we did. We have a common enemy: the Ethiopian empire. These peoples will make three steps with us. Right now the conquered people share our condition inside Ethiopia; they could not express themselves. They are ashamed to say that they are Ethiopian, yet they are also ashamed to assert who they are. They also need to create a basis on which they can speak. Allies that will take at least two steps with us are probably any group that has been colonized or worked to undo the damage of colonialism on the world stage. Lastly, there may be some Abyssinians who would be ready to recognize us for who we are and would ally with us at the last step.

In the year 2001, however, the Amhara do not look like good candidates for alliance with Oromo. Now is not the time. Ask yourself this: if the Amhara make an alliance with us, who are they allying with -- fellow Ethiopians or Oromo forces? How do they see us? They see us as Ethiopians. They happily refer to themselves as Ethiopians. Why? Ethiopia provides everything for them from the minimum to the maximum. The government uses the resources of the empire to provide them development, protection, and visibility. It has become their national culture. Even their beggars can identify with that.

Some Oromo may be interested in the departure of Meles Zenawi. We should not be. A new leader among the Ethiopians does not help us because it will not change what needs to be changed. To us it does not matter whether it is Meles Zenawi, Mengistu Haile Mariam, or Nagaso Gidada who is in power in Ethiopia, running the system that destroys us. It is the Ethiopian empire that we must dismantle. We must change the system itself. Liberation is about more than choosing which master shall rule over us.

As things stand now, the Amharas aspire to depose the Woyane in order to control an Ethiopia where the Oromo position is unchanged. Even since I started writing this piece, a group led by Tewolde Wolde Mariam, President of Tigray and Siye Abraha, former Minster of Defense, has split from the Meles faction within the EPRDF. The assumption in all corners is that the Amharas will ally with Tewolde’s Faction. Why do people assume that? It is no secret that the Amharas want to keep the empire intact at any cost. They still strongly support the indivisibility of Ethiopian unity. Officially, like Siye and Tewolde, Amharas are complaining that they cannot tolerate the thought that Meles let Eritrea go and then negotiated unsatisfactory terms of peace after a war in which he was too soft.

Let me tell you the Abyssinians’ secret. They are not really arguing over Eritrea and their past mistakes. Talking about “the Eritrean problem” is merely an indirect way of referring to the Oromo threat to the empire and how to deal with it without coming right out and giving visibility to the Oromo by mentioning us by name. It is a code for arguing over the colonies, primarily Oromia.

Ask yourselves, why is it that the TPLF split now on the Eritrean case? Why do we accept that? It is not the Eritrean case which causes their problem. Eritrea is a dead issue for them. It is the prospect of the Oromo coming together that poses the most danger to the Tigray. The Tigray know this, even if the Oromo do not know it themselves. The logical application of a so-called “Eritrean formula” is to Oromia and the colonies. This is how the entire debate should be interpreted.

Tewolde Wolde Mariam’s and Siye Abraha’s group has raised the issue of how to maintain power. After the coming together of the Oromo forces last summer, Tewolde’s group argued, Use force to squash every possible independent group!” Meles Zenawi responded, “Yes, we have to maintain power, but do it by holding the OPDOs closer to our hearts; it is a tactical means of keeping them under us!” Back and forth they go.

In the middle of this debate, Meles resorted to calling the Tewoldef /Siye group “Bonapartists..” Why? Because they want to bring all necessary force to put every part of the empire - in fact, the entire Horn of Africa with Somalia and Kenya included - under their control. During the French Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte wanted to use force to put everything and everybody under his control. He wanted to conquer the whole of Europe to put it all under him. Meles is challenging the others’ plan by raising the issue of Bonapartism” Believe me, the dead issue of the Eritrean case did not raise its head now. Even if it had, they would not risk all to deal with it in this fashion. No, they are at each other’s throats over the question, How do we deal with the Oromos. They all want to take the mind of the people away from the Oromo issue. The Oromo became a problem to them about six or seven months ago, and they have been taking desperate measures, moving the Oromia capital, eliminating the writing of qubee, burning down the forests of Oromia, reacting harshly to the defection of OPDOs and to the protests of the Oromo university students, arresting the visible moderate Oromo leaders, etc. Now the policy issue comes head on.

Meles wanted to keep the PDOs next to him because they brought him to power. He has squeezed through a questionable vote on his position or the time being. On the other hand, Tewolde and Siye argue that Tigray made a mistake with Eritrea, they should have kept the empire intact at any cost by smashing Eritrea and now they find any proposal for autonomy for the PDOs intolerable When Meles took the issue to the PDOs, they voted with him.

All of these events have occurred after the March 17 meeting where the OLF presented its solution and laid the issue of alliance with Abyssinians on the table. Testing the alliance of forces in the Horn, the TPLF Marxists split, with Meles taking the PDOs on the one hand, and on the other hand, Tewolde[Siye taking the indivisibility group. Siye’s group and the Amhara can form a united front against Meles. They form a natural alliance with each other because they share a common desire to keep the Ethiopian empire intact.

The Oromo of the OPDO are waffling. Reports are that they voted first with one faction, then with the other. Which is worse - the Tigray regime of Meles, which was so bad that the caused the OLF speakers on March 17 to declare Amharas their a in e common cause of bringing down that Meles regime, OR the Amharas and their new friends among the Siye group who want Meles out because he has been too weak on the issue of “Eritrea?” Where does the OLF stand now? Would they be with Meles, with Tewolde/Siye, or with the opposition forces? In this situation what is the meaning of all the unity federation, and confederation with Abyssinian forces that we have been talking about?

By deductive reasoning - based on their March 17 statements regarding alliance with the enemy of their enemy Meles - the OLF would ally with Tewolde and Siye. But this cannot be right. Is it possible to oppose Meles in alliance with the Abyssinian opposition group who champion indivisibility of Ethiopian unity, adding Siye to the coalition against Meles? Or is there a possibility that Amhara can work with an Oromo group and Siye together? To what end? What is the common ground here? Let me say this. Watching this whole scenario unfold, I think that if Siye Abraha had prevailed in the early days of the TPLF, with his heavy-handed use of coercion, the Oromo forces themselves and their military would have become strong in this intervening decade, rather than weakened with years of not knowing where to go or how to play the Abyssinian political game. But that is just one man’s opinion, mine.

It should be clear to us this week, even if it was not so clear last week, or ten years ago, that at this point it is out of the question for Oromo to form an alliance with any other national forces except those of Oromo and other conquered people. A fruitful practical alliance is only possible when the participants have a shared purpose, which they can state in no uncertain terms.

So, the first priority and central focus of Oromo seeking liberation is to bring Oromo together. Rather than turning people’s attention toward an alliance with Abyssinians, the OLF would do better to spend its energies building a strong alliance of Oromo organizations in the fashion that they have already generated, along with the other signatories of the United Liberation Forces of Oromiya. Once the Oromo base is truly consolidated, the sky is the limit.

By H. Q. Loltu
P.O. Box 10192 Rockville,
MD 20849 U.S.A


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