Don’t defend the indefeasible: Dr. Abiy demonized and rebuked Oromo Nationalism: A reply to Maganasa Oda

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Don’t defend the indefeasible: Dr. Abiy demonized and rebuked Oromo Nationalism: A reply to Maganasa Oda

April 29, 2018

(Lemma Dessie, From Addis Ababa)


When I started reading the article written by Maganasa Oda, titled “Don’t make a Mountain out of a Molehill: The Prime Minister did not rebuke Oromo Nationalism”, it initially seemed good to me. But then I noticed that the writer has attempted to explain the prime minister’s intentions, rather than base his argument on what was actually said. Questions arise: Can the intention of the prime minster be contrary to what he clearly said? Did the prime minister make any distinction between bad and good nationalism in general? Did he make any attempt to define Oromo nationalism except the fact that he labeled it as ‘village politics’?

Before delving into the issue, it is important to ask: Does the Prime Minister deserve this ‘all-out war’ just because of that incident? Is it right to completely tarnish all his qualities and promises just because of that incident? In my opinion, that is not a fair and balanced approach. Having said that, what the prime minister has said and what his supporters are saying should not be left unchallenged.

The writer asked five questions regarding Oromo Nationalism:

  1. “Was it not the case that some Oromo nationalists were claiming to be superior over their own Oromo brothers from a different region?
  2. Was it not the case that we used to label people who want to work with others, especially with the Amhara people for common good, anti-Oromo? Case in point Dr. Marara Gudina in 2005.
  3. Was it not the case that if someone’s mother or father was not an Oromo, we used to sideline that person?
  4. Was it not the case that if someone is not fluent in Afaan Oromoo, that person was not considered proper Oromo?
  5. Fast forward, just two months ago, didn’t some of us write and disseminate rumors that Abiy’s mom is not an Oromo, his wife is From Tigray and his kids speak Tigrigna at home and because of this Abiy does not represent Oromo interests?”

To be fair, those five problems are accurate. I am not arguing with those. However, the writer has deliberately picked issues that are not within the mainstream of Oromo nationalism. Mainstream Oromo nationalism is about unity, love, equality, and self-determination of the people. By citing fringes in society, the writer has tried to justify the prime minister’s careless words. What makes it worse is to think that the prime minister has taken that particular element in society to demonize Oromo nationalism. You cannot take an exception as a general example and then use it as the basis for refuting a general principle. The principle in this context is: Oromo nationalism is in no way based on claiming the superiority of Oromo nation over the others or about prioritizing one particular village. Both today and in history, Oromo nationalism has always been inclusive in its nature.

Having listened to the speech of the prime minister myself, I struggle to connect with what the author has written. I found no indication that the prime minister was referring to a certain group or groups in Oromo nationalism. He said: “Due to Oromo nationalism, the big Oromo nation has become a small one.  Due to Oromo nationalism, an Oromo nation that can think for the country and Africa has retreated to a village.” That was what he said. Yes, he also said that “Ethiopianism, Oromumma, and Amhara must exist side by side; one should not grow at the expense of the other. There should not be a zero-sum game.”  This second message is true; yet you cannot base your entire argument on this separate point to defend the indefensible.

I can understand why some Oromos are furious about this. The prime minister used Oromo nationalism as a scarecrow. He used Oromo nationalism as a punching bag. He used it to appease some who despise group rights and ethnic federalism itself. But group rights are fundamentally related to the cause of Oromo nationalism. Make no mistake, those who believe in group rights do not hate others; nor does it mean that they do not believe in individuals rights. They just believe that the rights of a group should be protected just as much as individual rights. They believe in cultural rights; they believe in social rights; they believe in the self-determination of a group. If the prime minister was actually suggesting ‘believing in group rights is a bad idea’, as an Oromo, I would gladly take my “village politics” as a badge of honor.

Oromos have never stopped caring about others in the country. Oromo nationalists always think about the country, the region and Africa. Oromo nationalists are proud of their identity and their contribution. They always say that Gadaa is an African democracy. Oromo nationalists always say that self-determination, self-governance, democracy for the Oromo people is critical for peace, security, and prosperity, not only for the Oromo people, but also for others in Ethiopia and the region.

Oromo, in its very culture, has laws and rules for all living things. They have laws for trees, for camels, for dogs, for cows, for all things on the earth. “Earth is symbolized as fertility that bears water, pasture, and others. It is also seen as the home of different creatures. Hence, it is symbolized as a mother too. Based upon the will of God earth provides her resources for all creatures. Laws concerned for earth resources are called as Seera lafaa in Gadaa System.” Oromo is known for ‘Guddifcha’, and ‘Mogassa.’ These two principles have been key in relation to Oromo’s interaction with others and also among Oromos. Oromo nationalism has come from this historical and cultural context. Thus, it cannot be an exclusivist nationalism.

Let me conclude by saying this: Simply put, the prime minister’s speech is indefensible. It could be that he expressed himself inaccurately, but it could also be true that this really is his view of Oromo nationalism.  The only way we can know is if he steps forward to explain his words – or apologize for them. Any attempt to cover over this gross mistake is an insult to those who died fighting injustice. It is an insult to those who have become disabled while fighting the structural injustice that has been in place for decades. It is an insult to those families and friends who are grieving the loss of their loved ones. Remember, Oromo nationalists said no to the narrative that ‘reduced Oromos to an object of history.’ Oromo nationalists stood up against those who portrayed the Oromo people as “people with neither history nor civilization.” That is the Oromo nationalist that the prime minister has belittled.



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