The Oromo Identity, a Major Welding Mechanism of National Unity
By Rundassa Eshete Chairman of the US-based Oromian National Academy.
Following the collapse of the Oromian state, a large colonization effort was undertaken by Abyssinian settlers starting by 1860. This caused a fight for national identity, and down to our times, Oromia continues being a fertile ground for the Oromo struggle of National Identity. In this confrontation, the Oromos fight to retain their linguistic and cultural integrity, whereas the Amhara-Tigre Abyssinian settler groups are determined to assimilate the Oromo Nation into the mainstream Abyssinian religious beliefs and cultural values.
In this paper, I will examine the continuous effort of the Tigre-Amhara governments, and the use of various ideologies in order to support the assimilation efforts carried out against the Oromian for more than 150 years. In addition, I will also briefly assess the tactics pursued and the techniques used by the successive Abyssinian rulers before the current Tigre government that aimed at destroying the Oromian identity and outmaneuvering the Oromo effort to reassess the Oromo identity.
The Oromo Renaissance effort evolved around three axes, namely reclamation of the Oromo lost land (confiscated by the settlers), persistence on freely practicing Waqeffannaa, the traditional Oromo religion, unobstructed and unrestrained, and re-establishment of the Oromo traditional socio-behavioural and socio-political system. The latter, known in Afaan Oromo (language) as Gadaa, had been used, prior to the Abyssinian invasions, by the Oromos in order to deal with governmental matters as well.
Abyssinian Totalitarian Tactics of Forced Oromo Assimilation
One of the means used by the Abyssinians to destroy the Oromian identity was pure and simple Genocide, a cynical and merciless effort to reduce the number of Oromo population. To accomplish this task, the Abyssinians repeatedly perpetrated abhorrent massive massacres. To name but a few, Calanqo and Anole are toponymics turned to havoc memory that still haunts the young Oromo generations of the 21st century.
In this regard, it noteworthy to recall Menelik’s inhuman practice, namely the biological warfare that has stuck in the collective Oromo memory as " Fantaataa", an Amharic word signifying the extermination of no less than 5 million Oromos.
Fantataa alone reduced Oromia’s population from ten to five million. Following the Amhara invasions that ended up in the colonization of Oromia, the Abyssinians started building their Monophysitic Christian churches throughout Oromia, while massively changing Oromo toponymics by renaming them in Amharic. Oromo personal names were forcefully changed to Amharic personal names as well. Young kids, forced to join the Abyssinian educational apparatus, were required to rename themselves in Amharic. The same was dictatorially applied to Oromians who applied for professional occupation in the administration.
Most importantly, the Abyssinian government coined the term "Galla" which is absolutely derogatory and discriminating, equivalent to "nigger" or "pagan". All the Oromians, who refused to join the Monophysitic Christian church, were called like this, and in the long term the entire Oromo Nation was conditioned to this terminology.
Thus, the Abyssinians became not only the masters in Oromia but also the Galla-makers. Still unsatisfied, the ruling Abyssinian elites continued dehumanizing the Oromo Nation, as people deprived of culture and civilization; this was done intentionally in order to limit the creative potential of the Oromo consciousness.
As time went on, systems changed in Abyssinia from feudal system to semi-capitalist system and then to third world communist dictatorship. However, the Oromo identity assimilation tactics employed by the Abyssinians went through a complex process of deception, refashioning, and reconsideration; they progressively evolved around the following pillars: massive Abyssinian colonization (through waves of Amhara new-settlers), and deceitful localization of the Communist practice of collectivization (sovkhoz). In Amhara-ruled Abyssinia, Sovkhoz meant simply taking away the land from the indigenous Oromo owners and offering it to those the Communist rulers called as ‘oppressed’, namely the Amharas and the Tigrians.
In addition to the advantage of expropriating the Oromians from their lands through the trickery of the Communist Ideology, the Abyssinians benefited from the collectivization (sovkhoz) project in another way; they managed to efficiently control the indigenous Oromo population, by providing the Abyssinian settlers with guns and training them thereon.
Other practices involved the following:
- Forced learning of the Amharic by the Oromo members of the sovkhoz collectivity,
- Further expansion of the Abyssinian Monophysitic religion through continued erection of Abyssinian churches in every sovkhoz, and diffusion of the Monophysitic Christian Abyssinian belief and norms among indigenous Oromos
- Control of the physiological and emotional landcape of every village member
- Expansion of further mistrust among the sovkhoz collectivity members and the Oromo family members who were sovkhoz members as well, through use of the then appealing theory of socialist revolution as a tool to "shape Oromos’ minds to what ever direction they desired". In the meantime, all those who expressed concerns and reserves with respect to the immorality of the attempt, namely the forced assimilation of the Oromo Nation into the Abyssinian identity, were immediately arrested and subsequently executed – through extrajudicial procedures.
However, the Abyssinian rulers failed to understand the heart bit of the Oromo Nation who never accepted neither slavery nor assimilation. The Abyssinians, like any other occupying force, failed to admit that it has been impossible to make obedient slaves out of nations who, prior to the Abyssinian invasion, enjoyed freedom and independence, having their own culture and civilization, socio-behavioural and socio-political systems, religion and Weltanschauung. As a result, all the Abyssinian rulers refused to come to terms with the intellectual peculiarities of the various conquered nations, continuing their discriminatory attitude of stigmatizing the Oromo Nation.
Current tribal ruler Meles Zenawi’s practicesThe Tigre ethnic group leader Meles Zenawi who came to power in 1991 did not learn much either. Though he had been critical of his predecessors, when he was an ethnic opposition leader, it didn’t take him long time he started the repetition of discriminatory stereotypes with respect to the Oromos, such as the theory that the Oromos are narrow-minded nationalist people.
Zenawi maintained the statu quo, and tried to implant new cultural patterns and assumptions in the average mind of the Oromo people through use of modern capitalism in an effort to effectively disorient them from the National Independence Struggle. In an effort to exploit the capitalist system’s capacity to work at the subconscious level, he tried to place wealth, prosperity and individual satisfaction at the epicenter of the average Oromo’s concern.
Acting on this background, Melese Zenawi gave land to Oromos, because of the back thought that the concept of investment and investor would entice the entire nation to an individualistic way thinking and belief. How did Meles Zenawi draw this conclusion?
Well, he first convinced himself that down to earth reality is not an issue; he assumed that Oromos’ opinions, values, judgments, and opposition do not deserve any consideration; actually, if he does consider these facts or realities, there will be no more ‘Ethiopia’ to be ruled, no power to be exercised and no capital to be accumulated.
By doing so, Meles Zenawi kept the assimilation process started by his predecessors alive and fully functioning; simply the means changed, and the assimilation process evolves around the following axes: drugs, prostitution, and individualism. In this way, highly imaginative expectations of personal enrichment and prosperity are used by the state in order to go ahead with the ages old project of destruction of the Oromo National Identity. This is the point that dictator Zenawi failed to understand as regards his erroneous assumption that he could be able to assimilate the Oromo Nation and amalgamate it within the Abyssinian identity through misuse of the ideals of capitalism. In reality, what becomes very clear here is the fact that this fantasy world, which Mr. Zenawi is trying to create, is his own mere act of naming himself the ruler and the ruled.
If that had not been the case, Meles Zenawi would have never tried to convince the Oromo Nation to approach the current situation through an individualist standpoint rather than as a nation, especially when he has been ruling Oromia with the help of the Tigreans and the Amharas.
Furthermore, it is clear that the individuals are simple agents of societal groups who take responsibility for the rebuilding of the social and moral infrastructure of a nation. It is hypocritical for the Abyssinian ruling classes to assume that individual rights are incompatible with an act of social participation, only when it comes to the Oromos.
In addition, the thoughts and the attitudes of the individuals emanate out of their social, behavioural and cultural backgrounds; consequently, it is not a smart idea to try to destroy the Oromo identity by keeping individual Oromos in isolation when continuing at the same time to use the OPDO as political alibi for the killings of Oromo students, and to jail those who question the Abyssinian superiority over the Oromos. Simply, preventing the Oromos from being organized as a national group would mean that no one could have any parents, cousins, friends, personal heroes, or even neighbors! Yet, as indication of an existing policy of two measures and two weights, this happens at a time the Abyssinians are ruling the country as an ethnic group, not as individuals, and their attitudes, and approaches are influenced by their ethnocentric views.
In other words, this policy aims at first separating individual rights from collective group rights, and second introducing partials concepts and practices of justice whereby self-sufficiency of a man alone is the main principle for an Oromian, but group justice is a principle for the ruling Abyssinian-Tigrean in Oromia.
Basically, what Meles Zenawi is currently doing and what the all-Amhara party leaders wish to do in Oromia is an effort of keeping the Tigrean / Amhara dominance in both material and theoretical terms by virtue of the ‘right of conquest’ that the Tigreans /Amharas established long ago.
By doing so, Meles Zenawi and the Amhara leaders unilaterally assume a theoretical precedent, i.e. the appropriation of the right to define exclusively the meaning of colonization. Like this, the human experience, knowledge, truth, and the predominance of the Abyssinian colonization in Oromia mean that the majority of the country is reduced to Mr. Zenawi’s living room.
Dictators require strong control over the people they colonize because they expect to survive. However, organizing persons against other persons through the division of a small town population into 30 houses hold boundaries as a means of control is unique. The Gestapo had tremendous powers of search and seizure within Germany, and later throughout the occupied territories of other nations but never did Gestapo reach the level of organizing people at a 30-house hold level just for the sake of the most adequate control. It is true that Gestapo and the TPLF share one common practice that is eliminating their enemies through use of torture, killing, or imprisoning.
Nevertheless, with the advent of Oromo consciousness, the Oromo people are ready to get engaged purposefully and resolutely in the search for their true identity and nationhood, and define by themselves their own political identity in the Horn of Africa region. Hence, they are currently interrogating cultural symbols, re-examining History and re-configuring intellectual models of emulation. In a profound sense, the process of identity definition and formation is linked to the re-instatement of past Oromo values, socio-political systems and Oromo civilization. Oromos’ objective for the re-constitution of their identity becomes therefore an act of liberation, and this consists in the greatest concern and the utmost fear of the colonizing Abyssinian elites. However, for the Oromos, the National Identity can be used as a major welding mechanism of their unity and as an instrument for achieving social, economic and political ends, while carving a separate place for Oromos in this world.
Kinship and common origin are always crucial to the genesis of every nationalism. Though subject to alteration and development, these components form the web of the collective myth and the memories from which national identity is built over the centuries. There are nations who have undergone the harsh reality of colonialism, and yet were able to keep their distinctive ethnic and cultural patterns inherited from earlier eras. In this way, they were able to finally form their own free country. As a matter of fact, the crime perpetuated against the Oromo people by the Tigre-Amhara colonizing elites should not deter the Oromos from fighting hard to liberate their country, Oromia, and enjoy freedom.
Today, when nations around the world are determined to markedly present their identity and cultural particularity, the re-constitution of the Oromo identity and the emergence of Oromia are the objectives of the entire Oromo Nation.
The liberation of Oromia will provide the Oromians with an immense psychological and mental satisfaction that will also play a unifying role while enabling the Oromians to create their own space in which they will be able to present their narratives to the rest of the world. This demands absolute concentration on the Oromo theoretical foundations and behavioural principles that earned the Oromos an enviable reputation among the nations of this world; this concentration is the only way to build an Oromo identity and a free state.
On the other hand, the re-constitution of the Oromo identity will ensure for the Oromos the possibility to avoid eventual negative aspects of the globalization, and the ability to approach and interact with other independent nations. The project of searching for one’s national identity and fighting for national independence demands of us to go beyond the simple removal of the negative references to the Oromo Nation by Tigre-Amhara Abyssinian elites. At the same time, it will help us go beyond the Christian – Islamic predicament. It requires a thorough process of unmasking oneself from borrowed names, religion, tradition, Abyssinio-centric tendencies, and this is especially valid for those inclined to ‘‘neutral’’ and/or ‘‘universal’’ thinking. For sure then, the Oromos will be able to complete the unfinished business of cultural reclamation and psychological rehabilitation, and to form their own free government.