Genocidal Conquest, Plunder of Resources and Dehumanization of the Oromo in Ethiopia
By Prof. Mohamed Hasasan*
To cite this article: Mohammed Hassen (2021): Genocidal Conquest, Plunder of Resources
and Dehumanization of the Oromo in Ethiopia, Journal of Genocide Research, DOI:
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/14623528.2021.1992925
Ernest Gellner aptly described Ethiopia as “a prison-house of nations if ever there was one.”75 In that prison-house of nations the Oromo language was banned from being used for radio broadcasting and publishing up to 1974. Up to 1991, it was neither permissible to teach nor to produce literature in the Oromo language, and nor was it possible to use it in legal forums. “In court or before an official an Oromo had to speak Amharic or use an interpreter. Even a case between two Oromos, before an Oromo-speaking magistrate, had to be heard in Amharic.”76 Even today, Oromo Orthodox Church clergy are not permitted to preach in their language. Oromo Orthodox Christians are denied the right for learning and understanding their religion in their language.
From the time of its creation during the 1880s and 1890s and up to 1991, the Ethiopian state never recognized the identities, languages, and cultures of most of its peoples, including the Oromo. The identity of the Amhara national group, their language,
culture, religion and way of life were projected as pan-Ethiopian identity. It was only after the establishment of federal system in Ethiopia in 1992, that the Oromo were able to administer themselves in Oromia, and for the first time to write and develop literature in their own language.
At stake in the current genocidal war in Tigray, Oromia and other parts of Ethiopia is the existence of the federal system, and the threat that the Oromo will lose their democratic rights if it is dismantled. The Oromo fear that their language will be banned from being used for teaching, governmental services, and publishing in their country.
The history of the Oromo reveals the meaning of Ethiopian imperial-nationalism and warns against its revival: “It remains the belief of the Amhara elites that to be an Ethiopian one has to cease to be an Oromo. The two things were/are seen as incompatible.”77
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74 Bulcha, “The Making of the Oromo Diaspora,” 192.
75 Ernest Gellner, Nations and Nationalism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991), 85.
76 Paul Baxter, “Ethiopia’s Unacknowledged Problem: The Oromo,” African Affairs 77 (1978): 288.
77 Mekuria Bulcha, “The Language Policies of Ethiopian Regimes and the History of Written Afaan Oromo: 1844–1994,”
Journal of Oromo Studies 2, nos. 1–2 (1994): 101.
*Mohammed Hassen joined Department of History at Georgia State University in January 1992 and
retired in 2017. His research interest is in Ethiopian history, with special focus on Oromo history, the
area in which he has published extensively.