There is no better time to act than now
Liberating Oromiya: If not now, when? If not us, who?
By Leenjiso Horo
Much has been talked; much has been discussed about independence. In the struggle against colonial occupation, the terms independence and liberation are used interchangeably. And so is, here too. Independence cannot come in itself, or by itself or by begging for it, or by penning ones hopes on some external intermediaries or mediators. And it is neither a gift from the Heavenly Kingdom, nor it is a gift by the goodwill of the worldly kingdoms or rulers. Independence is a fruit of bitter struggle. Long ago, the Oromo nationalists understood this to be a self-evident truth that the independence of Oromiya rests on their shoulder, on their willingness and capacity to fight a bitter fight. With this understanding, four decades ago in 1970s, these nationalists echoing a philosophical version of, a 12th century moral philosopher, Rabbi Hillel’s words, asked themselves two fundamental questions- liberating Oromiya: If no now, when? If not us, who?
As we shall see, the answers given to these questions would become critical as to what followed next. They said, the time to liberate Oromiya is now and to achieve it they took the responsibility upon themselves. So to take action, they understood the need for the unity of nationalists, the need for revolutionary organization, and a need for clear political line, a clear objective, political nationalism, and national consciousness as the key elements.
Political nationalism is the necessary and indispensable element in the national liberation struggle. And so, they united. They organized the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). Then they adopted a political program of struggle. The political program states in clearly sweeping, precise, and unequivocal terms that Oromiya is a colony. That being a colony, it is entitled to be free and independent from the colonial occupation. Having established the OLF and its political program, they commenced the national liberation struggle for independence. In this national struggle, they shed their blood in the name of independence of Oromiya, in the name of the Oromo people, and in the name of one-country, one-people, and one-opportunity. Above all, they made a commitment not to stop short upon their path, the path of national liberation struggle, before they achieve the ultimate historic goal of independence of Oromiya, and before having completed, realized and fulfilled the historic mission they have embarked upon. They embarked on that mission with determination, passion, reason, and courage and with the commitment to the ideas and ideals of the Oromo people. That mission being, the establishment of a complete and sovereign independent Oromiya, a free state of Oromiya unfettered by influence of any external entity or power or internal or external interest groups. Those were nationalists who never bent to any pressure group, internal or external. Indeed, they were and are the Oromo nationalists of the greatest minds and the noblest hearts. In their bitter struggle, in their sacrifices and in their blood, a New Oromiya has already been born. Hence, New Oromiya is the fruit of the sacrifice of those heroes and heroines. Their heroic nature of struggle today became part of Oromo national self-image that justified the revolutionary means of struggle by which independence of Oromiya will surely be achieved and maintained. With this, a new era begun.
As has been pointed out in the preceding paragraph, the Oromo nationalists fought for the independence of Oromiya. In that war of liberation many were wounded, many were maimed, many were disabled, and many were died and many are still in the fields fighting. In their struggle, though New Oromiya was born, it is not yet grown to its fullest and hence, the work is unfinished. It is for us the living, this current generation, to take up the unfinished works that begun by our nationalists and brings it to its final conclusion, to the independence of Oromiya. In that fight, in that struggle, and in that sacrifice, those Oromo nationalists set in motion a ringing bell of liberation of Oromiya. And ever since, that bell of liberation is ringing itself the voice of liberation from the villages, valleys, mountains, and plains of Oromiya. It is ringing itself from cities and town in Oromiya; it is ringing the voice of independence from the prison cell and concentration camps of the empire. It is up to us all, the Oromo nationals, to hear and respond to it. Indeed, it is our time to carry on the torch of independence to every village and valleys of Oromiya.
n 1998, to undercut the struggle for independence of Oromiya a crisis was created. This crisis emerged as a result of certain Oromo nationals’ failure of will to continue the national struggle or their unwillingness to travel a difficult road. That is to mean, some Oromo individuals both inside and outside the OLF, those who tired of struggle, those who worn out, those who became stagnant, disheartened, and discouraged and those who have paid scant attention to the wishes, aspirations, and the demand of the Oromo people for independence reversed their political attitude towards the independence of Oromiya and instead opted for democratization of Ethiopia through negotiations using mediators, or intermediaries as a means in their attempt to reconcile with the Ethiopian empire rulers. To achieve the reconciliation, the groups distorted, perverted, and finally abandoned the authentic meaning of the term liberation. The term liberation was interpreted as a struggle for democracy. And hence, these individuals resorted to the politics campaign of empire democratization. These were and are the groups who close their eyes to the living history, to the facts, to the ideas and ideals of the Oromo people. And these individuals believe that independence of Oromiya can be argued away or washed away by substituting for it, Ethiopian democratization. In fact, they substituted democratization of Ethiopian empire, in the place of independence of Oromiya.
In abandoning the OLF’s principle of self-reliance, these individuals bowed to foreign influence and drifted away from the original political program of the OLF. They worshipped alien powers instead of the Oromo people. They bent to some domestic and foreign interest groups. Bending to internal or external interest group makes one a political impotent and to surrender ones right of national self-defense. Consequently, these individuals created a political cleavage within the members and hence a crisis. The crisis led to split. The crisis was intended to make the Oromo national movement politically and militarily impotent and to make it economically crippled. In the front rank of creating this crisis were some former high officials of the OLF and their consociates, out side of the OLF. Subsequently, the organization split on political lines in the year 2001. While one group followed the political line of the democratization of Ethiopia, the other followed the original political line of the OLF: the independence of Oromiya, the political line with which it began the struggle.
In the diaspora, at the time of intense political heat within the OLF, from 2001 to 2007, on the issue of political difference, some Oromo nationals adopted an attitude of neutrality. They fail to join the national political debate. Instead, they erected for themselves walls of indifference, apathy, inaction and with these they built barricades of silence. Now, this silence has become an epidemic. In this debate, some Oromo nationals supported independence of Oromiya and some supported the democratization of Ethiopia. And among the rest, some fall in-betweens. Some lost the clue as to what was going on. So, they simply went on their daily routine of life. And some still indecisively vacillated between supporting independence of Oromiya and preaching a gospel of Ethiopian empire democratization.
Moreover, still some joined the camp of OPDO and engaged in robbery, raping, stealing, and plunging the Oromo lands. These are a separate tier within the Asmara group (Here the Asmara group denotes both Shanee Gumi and the splinter from it) and outside it. They are diaspora based new recruits, the propaganda armies and cadres of Wayanee. These individuals have special character. That is during Emperor Haile Sillassie’s era, they supported his regime; as soon as his regime fell and Darg seized power, they shifted their support to Darg’s regime. And in 1991 as the OLF entered Finfinnee, they thought the OLF would seize power and so they shifted their support to the OLF. In fact, they joined it and supported it. As the OLF did not consolidate its power or did not seize power, their hopes, their dreams, and their plans to use the OLF for their personal benefits was dashed. Then they turned their faces to Wayyanee regime and now courting it for benefit. To secure this benefit, they have become a propaganda cadres of OPDO and hence of Wayanee. They have already begun disseminating information to the diasporas Oromo nationals as to how Wayanee is "developing" Oromiya. In appreciation of OPDO, they are exalting it to a great height. These individuals are those who have been wedded to the politics of empire democratization more than regular Shanee Gumii members. Though the empire democratization itself is a wishful thinking, the idea, however, has worked its way into their bones. Because of this, these individuals not only won’t hear about the struggle for independence of Oromiya but they can’t hear it. They not only won’t listen to the voice of liberation of Oromiya but they can’t listen to it. And, they not only won’t see a Newly born Oromiya but they can’t see it. All in all, it is clear which option these individuals have taken. These are individuals who have been blinded by self-interest. Their choice is whoever benefits them; whoever is in power in the empire. At this time, their choice is colonial regime. That is, the Wayyanee regime. Indeed, self-interest is their flagpole. This neutrality was seen by the Asmara group as a sign of support and as an encouragement for its political line. And this encouraged it to abandon the struggle for independence of Oromiya. And hence it went in forming alliance with the very organizations we have been seeking independence from. All these factors, taken together, contributed to the weakness of the Oromo national struggle. Our division and our weakness gave Wayyanee regime an opportunity to rob Oromiya resources and control Oromiya. Hence, our weakness has become Wayyane’s strength. Think as to where our struggle would have been by this time, had there not been the crisis, the split, and the divisions.
Recently some former officials of the OLF that met in Washington, DC, are deafening us with a cry of neutrality. In that meeting, they declared themselves as neutrals on the issue of independence of Oromiya versus democratization of Ethiopia. Neutrality! Neutrality since when? What is neutrality? Neutrality should be understood as a new political attitude and value that springs from opportunism marred with paradox, skepticism, uncertainty, doubt, and ambiguity. Most of these individuals spent their years with the OLF as members and officials. During those years, they advocated for the independence of Oromiya. They traveled across the world to attend various local, regional, and international conferences and forums telling them that Oromiya is colony and that the OLF’s struggle is to establish its independent statehood. In those travels they also met ambassadors, Ministers, prime Ministers, and Head of States and governments telling same the same message; the same story. In addition, they also inspired so many Oromo youths and sent those youths to the war front to fight and die for the liberation of Oromiya. And they went to war. They fought in that war. And they died for Oromiya in that war. However, later these officials abandoned that position, the position of struggle for independence of Oromiya, and settled for Ethiopian democratization. However, the empire democratization did not go well for them as they anticipated it. So now they resorted to the position of political neutrality, again a new change in political position. This claim of the neutrality sounds odd to the many ears that hear it. It is an irony. It is inconceivable. And indeed, it is incomprehensible to understand their constant political fluctuations, and their political positional changes, shifts, and drifts. Hence their claim is disingenuous, dishonest, and preposterous. The fact is that they are not neutral and never have been neutral, but they are and have been a partisan. As a matter of fact, it is they who had brought divisions within nationalists, particularity within the OLF in 2001, and recently, in 2008, within Shanee Gumi itself. This is incontrovertible fact. And now they are singing a neutrality song. Here neutrality song is simply a new springboard, a new twist to attract new victims again.
Now their political enthusiasm for Ethiopian democratization is on the ebb. It has already began dying fast, and fading away, after the demise of CUD (Coalition for Unity and Democracy) and hence of the AFD (Alliance for Freedom and Democracy), their main alliance. Instead of accepting making mistake in embracing empire democratization, they resorted to call themselves neutrals. It is better to be honest and step forward for discussion without disclaiming the political line they championed, up held, cherished, and elevated for the last ten years. Here one can only say that it is time for the empire democratization groups, to step back and re-evaluate, re-examine, and rethink their political line and position, as empire cannot be democratized. In fact, empire is inherently cannot be democratized and hence unsustainable. Indeed, it is time for all groups that go with the name of OLF to come together and hammer out their differences. This takes a politically clear-sighted leadership as well as politically clear-sighted, well-informed, and knowledgeable members.
Furthermore, another problem to the Oromo struggle is the OPDO ("Oromo people’s Democratic Organization"). It is an organization created by TPLF. Hence, attention must be drawn to OPDO, to the nature and purpose of its creation. Its members were the members of the Darg’s Armed forces that were captured in the conflicts in Eritrea and Tigray. Having captured, the captives were politically humiliated, stigmatized, brainwashed, and disoriented by the TPLF. In 1989, after the OLF rejected to form a united front with the TPLF, TPLF organized these captured Oromo nationals and gave it the name OPDO. Since then, it has been financed, and led by its captor. Ever since, it remained a colonial pawn; a colonial foot soldier. Hence OPDO does not have stamina to fight against its former captor. The purpose of its creation was to help the TPLF (Tigrean People’s Liberation Front) in embezzling, stealing, and robbing, and plunging of the Oromo resources. Not only these, OPDO also provides coverage for brute reality of Tigrean regime’s atrocities, repressions, terror and murder, jailing and expunging of Oromo nationals by the name of "Regional government of Oromiya". As a result, it does not have confidence on itself, on the Oromo people, and Oromo nationalists. And so, it lacks resolve, determination, and courage to fight. Consequently, it is the living dead organization. That is, it is not dead, or alive. In other words, it is a zombie organization, an organization that is neither dead, nor alive. It is a sterile organization.
The Oromo nationalists must avoid this fate of the OPDO. It is time for all Oromo political organizations to avoid being a worn out political force; being a sterile force, and being stagnant organization. In order to avoid this, Oromo nationals have to develop political nationalism and national consciousness. Both of these develop slowly and unevenly among social groupings in a society and among regions of a country. The reasons for their slow and uneven development, among others, are absence of mass education; absence of printed materials such as books and Newspapers, and absence of electronic media such as phone, radio, television, Internet; absence of modern social, civic, and political institutions; absence of inter and intra regional commerce or trade; lack of mobility within and among regions and uneven exposure to outside world. It is because of this slow and uneven development in national consciousness, diversities develop among social groupings and among regions. It must be understood that no one can automatically acquire political nationalism and national consciousness by being simply a member of a nation or by being simply born to a nation or simply by being a member of an organization. Today it is because of lack of political nationalism and national consciousness that many provincial and local based rigid organizations have been mushrooming. A political organization to be a viable organization and to be embraced by the Oromo people needs a mix of ideology and national consciousness supported by populism, reinforced by history and operates in the intellectual environments. Hence it is impossible to break down the walls of indifference, silence, apathy, and inaction without national consciousness. Again, it should be added that it is only with political nationalism and national consciousness that one can cast off living under the shadow of localist attitude and refrain oneself from breeding and sowing discontent, discord, and friction within Oromo nationals. In the national struggle, a clear political line must be drawn, promoted, and strictly followed. Splittist sentiments, tendencies, statements, advocacy, and ideas should be combated and repudiated so as to clarify questions of wrong and right to straighten out distorted facts and distorted historical truth by hostile or opportunist elements both at home and abroad to safeguard national unity. For instance, a claim that Oromo "peacefully and voluntarily united with Ethiopia" was such distortion of facts and misleading statement of the historical truth. Such claim must be repudiated. All in all, patriotism and unity must be promoted against cowardice and splitism.
Finally, a few last words remain to be said. That is, we have seen the achievement of the Oromo nationalists. And we have seen their strength. We have seen the weakness, the problems, and the failures of Oromo nationals. And we have seen the betrayals made by some Oromo nationals. We have seen some Oromo nationals have taken wrong routes in anticipation of arriving at a right destination. That right destination being the independence of Oromiya. But a wrong routes and a wrong tactics all put one on a wrong journey, in a wrong direction and that journey take one to a wrong destination. Such wrong routes, in a wrong directions and such a wrong tactics are campaign for empire democratization, politics of neutrality, acceptance of empire constitution, abandonment of armed struggle, bowing to foreign influence, making alliance with colonial organizations, and among the many others. In taking this tactics, Shanee has engaged in an unprecedented and an unhistorical political twist, a twist never done before by any national liberation movement in history. All in all, these actions of Shanee would mean betrayal of the Oromo people, their wishes and aspirations, and that would constitute the abandonment of struggle for independence of Oromiya.
Hence despite Asmara group’s misguided, simplistic, obsolete, and dangerous political line that harm Oromiya and its people, and despite its lack of courage and determination to take difficult road in the struggle, we believe, as all of us Shanee too loves Oromiya; as all of us, it wants to change the status of Oromiya. As all of us, it wants independent and sovereign Oromiya; as all of us, it wants to end Ethiopian occupation of Oromiya, and as all of us, it too wants the unity of Oromo nationalists. And as all of us, it too wants freedom, respect and dignity for our people. OPDO too wants the same, as all of us, despite its lack of stamina and lack of courage to fight its captor. That is, we all are seeking the same goal. So it is time to come together and begin the journey together in the struggle for independence of Oromiya. And hence, let us be the advocates, let us be the voices, and let us be the fighters in unity for the liberation of Oromiya and its people. Let us build an invincible force of liberation of Oromiya.
We have learned from history that in unity the nationalists in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, South America, Central America, and Caribbean Islands were able to get their respective country’s independence. If those nationalists were able to make what was wrong, a right and so were able to get their respective country’s independence, why not us? For us too, now is the time to act. For us too, now is the time to face challenge. And for us too, now is the time to face fighting. There is no better time to act than now. Let us be not a generation that ends in failure in actual political practice of liberating Oromiya. If you believe in the independence of Oromiya, you never give up, you never quit. Our struggle is near the finish line, we just need to make a little push. Do not quit. Do not look back. Look ahead and march forward in unity. In this spirit, we must ask ourselves the old questions anew again, liberating Oromiya: If not now, when? If not us, who?