The Challenges of Building Oromo National Institutions: A Sociological View

Asafa Jalata, Ph.D.

Oromo Abba Gadaa leaders call for withdrawal of federal army from Oromia and release of political prisoners. September 2, 2016

Like any nation, the Oromo nation must rebuild its independent national institutions and organizations for regaining its freedom and sovereignty and for solving its complex and interwoven sociocultural and politico-economic problems. First, this paper generally develops the conceptual, practical and theoretical understanding of social institutions at micro and macro levels in a sociological perspective. Second, it explains how Ethiopian colonialism has stunted the development of Oromo social and political institutions at national level since the last decades of the 19th century, and how this condition has negatively affected the Oromo society in building its national institutions and organizations. Third, the piece identifies and explores the major political obstacles that have confronted the Oromo society in restoring and building its national institutions in Oromia in general and in the diaspora in particular. Finally, based on the historical experiences of the Jewish and Palestinian peoples, the paper recommends some practical steps that the Oromo in the diaspora and in Oromia should take to build their national institutions and organizations in order to capture state power by overcoming their political challenges to regain their freedom and sovereignty in the 21st century.

The Conceptual, Practical and Theoretical Understanding of Institutions

The complexity and diversity of social institutions make their conceptual, practical, and theoretical understanding cumbersome for social scientists and others. Although the social scientists did not yet establish a consensus definition for a typical social institution (Hechter 1990: 13), there are empirical and theoretical deliberations on the concepts and theories that are helpful in comprehending social institutions. Sometimes, the term institution can be referred to the ideal types such as the family or religion or the polity or the economy. Other times, it can be referred to the laws, norms or informal rules in society. People also use the concept of institution to refer to particular organizations such as Howard University or CNN. Since an institution is a complex interaction among social, cultural, political, economic and organizational factors in society (Aoki 2005), it cannot be defined and theorized with precision. Therefore, a clear understanding of social institutions and their consistent changes require knowing the difference between institutions and organizations and their roles and interactions. Institutions are “the rules of the game,” and organizations are the players or the agents in society (North 1995: 15). In other words, social “institutions are the constraints that human beings impose on human interaction. They consist of formal rules (constitutions, statute law, common law, and regulations) and informal constraints (conventions, norms, and self-enforced codes of conduct) and their enforcement characteristics. These constraints define (together with the standard constraints of economics) the opportunity set in the economy” (North 1995: 15)

Social institutions produce and maintain “some regularity in collective behavior” in a society in order to influence individuals to behave similarly in the same social condition (Hechter 1990: 14). There are two theoretical assumptions about the emergence and maintenance of social institutions: One of the assumptions is the invisible-hand approach, and the other one is the solidarity perspective. The first one considers “the emergence of institutions as a spontaneous by-product of the voluntary actions of self-interested individuals who share no common ends or values” ((Hechter 1990: 14)).  According to this perspective, institutions are self-regulating entities because they have self-enforcing equilibriums, and they do not need another enforcement agency. This assumption is based on evolutionary theories: “Evolutionary theories generally rely on one of the mechanisms originally formulated by classical theory: spontaneous emergence, market-coordinated exchange, or social selection” (Knight and Sened 1995: 2-3). “From the solidarity perspective, institutions persist not because they constitute self-enforcing equilibriums, but they are supported by consciously-designed controls” (Hechter 1990: 14-15.) Social institutions enable a society to solve their collective problems by establishing collectivity and solidarity among groups of individuals: “Social institutions provide groups of individuals with the means of resolving collective action problems and provide benefits for collective activity. On these accounts, institutional maintenance and stability are primarily explained by the capacity of institutions to produce collective goods or benefits for social groups …” (Knight and Sened 1995: 2)

Evolutionary theories claim that social forces including population, production, reproduction, regulation, and distribution have pushed individuals and collective actors to organize certain ways to satisfy their needs; these forces led to the development of core human institutions such as economy, kinship, religion, polity, law, and education (Turner 2003). Jonathan H. Turner (2003: 2) asserts that “social institutions … as those population-wide structures and associated cultural (symbolic) systems that humans create and use to adjust to the exigencies of their environment. Without institutions, humans do not survive, and societies do not exist.” Social “institutions are generated, sustained, and changed by population, production, reproduction, regulation, and distribution. Each of these forces constitutes a basic contingency of human existence, pushing individual and collective actors to build particular kinds of social structures and cultural systems” (Turner 2003: 7). Production involves resources from the environment that are needed to sustain life. The activities of the economy develop from these resources and depend on technology, physical capital or the implements, human capital or the knowledge and skill, property, and entrepreneurship or the mechanisms for organizing technology, physical capital, human capital, and property system (Turner 2003: 7).

Social institutions play central roles in the processes of socioeconomic reproduction, socialization, preservation or change of social order, transmission of culture, and personality development. In satisfying human needs, social institutions create and maintain social solidary and cohesion among members of a society to facilitate collective action. Human beings need to reproduce themselves by producing material goods and services through their institutional frameworks. All institutions produce and preserve social norms by transmitting them to members of a given society. This is called the process of socialization. Every society establishes its norm as a property of its social system at micro and macro levels to differentiate proper or correct behaviors and actions from improper or incorrect behaviors and actions by rewarding the former ones and punishing the latter ones (Coleman 1990: 37). “The concept of a norm at a macro-social level, governing the behavior of individuals at a micro-social level, provides a convenient device for explaining individual behavior, taking a social system as a given” (Coleman 1990: 36). As James S. Coleman (1990: 35) notes, “the emergence of norms can be accounted for by two simple principles. The first of these concerns the condition in which a demand for effective norms will arise; the second concerns the conditions under which the demand will be satisfied. Both sets of conditions may be described as a social structural.”

Social norms and state institutions, such as the military, assist to maintain a social order or a social system. “Conceptualizing social institutions as one of multiple possible stable cultural equilibrium allows a straightforward explanation of their properties. The evolution of institutions is partly driven by both the deliberate and intuitive decisions of individuals and collectivities. The innate components of human psychology coevolved in response to a culturally evolved, institutional environment” (Boyd and Richerson 2008: 305). Institutions “have the capacity to change the world [positively or negatively] … [and] they are … our best instrument for changing the world” (Soltan 1998: 49). As the case of the Oromo demonstrates below, colonial institutions negatively change the colonized people by imposing violence such as terrorism and genocide to exploit their economic and labor resources. It is important to realize that the colonized people need their autonomous or independent institutions to solve their external imposed and internally generated problems. Whether collective behavior or norm is produced spontaneously or designed consciously or by both, all societies need their independent institutions to collectively solve their problems.

The theory of new institutionalism correctly advocates the integration of evolutionary theories and rational choice theory in explaining the roles of institutions and organizations. New institutionalists assert that “institutions must be grounded in the social fabric and thus that rational choice by individuals must be combined with historical and cultural variables” (Soltan, Uslaner and Haufler 1998: 3). It is necessary to clearly comprehend the differences between the institutions of the colonizers and the colonized. In the capitalist world system, the capitalist elites and their supporters “have … perceived the game as one where the highest rewards accrued to military conquest, exploitation (such as enslavement [and colonization]), formation of monopolies, and so forth; in consequence, the kinds of skills and knowledge invested in have been aimed at furthering such policies” (North 1995:19). As I demonstrate below, Ethiopian colonialism and its institutions have destroyed and/or suppressed Oromo national institutions in order to make the Oromo society powerless and exploit its economic and human resources.

The Impact of Ethiopian Colonialism on Oromo Institutions

The Oromo who survived from initial colonial terrorism and genocide and who used to enjoy an egalitarian democracy known as the gadaa/siiqqee system were forced to live an impoverished life under political repression. Alexander Bulatovich (2000: 68) explains about the gadaa administration, and how it was destroyed by Ethiopian colonialism: “The peaceful free way of life, which could have become the ideal for philosophers and writers of the eighteenth century, if they had known it, was completely changed. Their peaceful way of life [was] broken; freedom [was] lost; and the independent, freedom loving [Oromo] find themselves under the severe authority of the Abyssinian conquerors.” Furthermore, the other political system that was suppressed and coopted to the Ethiopian colonial system was called the mooti system (Jalata 2005 [1993]: 26-36). The mooti system emerged in a few branches of the Oromo, and it was hierarchical and the opposite of Oromo democracy.

The imposition of the Ethiopian colonial system and the emergence of the Oromo collaborative class had denied the Oromo the opportunity of building their national institutions. Consequently, the Oromo have been facing monumental external and internal challenges in rebuilding their national institutions that could have helped them in establishing the rules of the game, and in building strong national organizations that could have effectively organized and mobilized them to successfully carry out the national projects of liberation and development. As I explained elsewhere, the Ethiopian colonial state gradually established settler colonialism and developed five major types of colonial institutions, namely, slavery, the colonial landholding system, the nafxanya-gabbar system (semi-slavery), the Oromo collaborative class, and garrison and non-garrison cities (Jalata 2005). These colonial institutions were created to effectively dominate and control the Oromo and their country in order to intensify the exploitation of their economic and human resources. The colonial state had partitioned the Oromo society physically and mentally, and the Oromo national movement did not yet destroy the foundations of these divisions. These divisions have undermined safuu (Oromo moral and ethical order) and the rules of the game that they used to have. Consequently, some Oromo individuals and groups have become the agents of the colonial system to benefit themselves and their colonial masters. That is why today millions of Oromos are members of the so-called Oromo People’s Democratic Organization, a puppet organization and work as colonial agents for the Tigrayan-led Ethiopian colonial state and involve in terrorizing, killing, imprisoning, torturing and suppressing the Oromo society. The majority of Oromos who joined TPLF after it reached Finfinnee is economic as the regime controls all sectors and to get job or any government service one has to be a card holding member of its satellite organizations formed to help the colonial force to get foothold in Oromia and facilitate the transfer of wealth-a common character of colonial forces.

The Ethiopian colonial has used brute force and developed elaborated mechanisms to prevent the Oromo people from rebuilding their independent national institutions, organizations and leadership (Jalata 2007: 33). Understanding the key roles of leaders in building institutions and organizing people, the colonial system has eliminated intelligent and farsighted leaders and assimilated the others through religion, education, and political marriage (Dugassa 2012: 145-160). Oromo institutions, except families or extended families, kinships or lineages, have been destroyed or suppressed since the imposition of Ethiopia colonialism in the last decades of the 19th century. Institutions can be imposed by powerful forces on conquered populations or can be created voluntarily by individuals who have roughly equal power (Hechter 1990: 15). The suppression of Waaqeffannaa, an indigenous Oromo religion, and the imposition of the imperial religions of Christianity and Islam have also undermined the development of Oromo national norms and values. In addition to brutal force, the absence of Oromo national norms has made most Oromo to focus on their kinships or lineages or localities and fail to understand the importance of building national organizations and institutions; that is why most Oromos in the diaspora are organized in kinship-based and local self-help or religious-based associations to help one another during death or wedding or other specific activities and less organized in national organizations. This reality is currently demonstrated by the existence of more than one hundred kinship-based and local self-associations in North America. Consequently, some Oromos are more familiar with their personal and relational selves than they are with their Oromo collective self, because their level of Oromummaa is rudimentary. Oromo individuals have intimate relations with their family members, friends, and local communities. These interpersonal and close relations foster helping, nurturing, and caring relationships. Without developing these micro-relationships into the macro-relationship of Oromummaa through national institutions, the building of Oromo national organizational capacity is illusive. Organizing Oromos requires learning about the multiplicity and flexibility of Oromo identities and fashioning from them a collective identity that encompasses the vast majority of the Oromo populace.

Having such small self-help associations could have been beneficial had they helped in building Oromo national institutions and organizations. These problems are more complicated by the fragmentation Oromo political and civic organizations. A few Oromo nationalist elements in the diaspora have tried to create and build national civic institutions and political organizations. For instance, in North America these elements created the Union of Oromo in North America, the Oromo Studies Association, and Oromo communities in various cities that have kept the spirit of Oromo nationalism. However, these associations and organizations did not yet coalescence into formidable national institutions because they have been easily influenced by parochial norms and enemy infiltration. In Oromia, the attempt by a few Oromo nationalists to build an Oromo polity since the 1960s has faced difficult situations because of the brutality of Ethiopian colonialism that has killed or imprisoned farsighted leaders and denied the Oromo freedom of political organization or association and expression. The political opportunism or naivety of some Oromo political elites has also contributed to the political fragmentation and disempowerment of Oromo society.

However, recently the condition in Oromia has been fundamentally changing. The accumulated grievances, the recent intensification of land grabbing policies, particularly the so-called Integrated Addis Ababa Master Plan, and the development of the political consciousness of the Oromo people starting from the national struggle of the 1960s have resulted in the Oromia-wide peaceful protest movement started in 2015. The Oromo protest movement that erupted in Ginchi, near Ambo, on November 12, 2015 shortly covered all Oromia like wild fire. The Oromo elementary and secondary school students in this small town ignited the peaceful protests because of the privatization and confiscation of a small soccer field and selling of the nearby Chilimoo forest to be cleared and deforested. Supporting the peaceful protests of these students, the entire Oromo from all walks of life joined the peaceful protests all over Oromia by opposing the so-called Integrated Addis Ababa Master Plan. For the first time the revolutionary flame of Oromummaa (Oromo nationalism) has tied all Oromo branches together to take a coordinated action to defend their national interest. The so-called master plan was intended to expand Finfinnee (Addis Ababa) to 1.5 million hectares of surrounding Oromo lands by evicting Oromo farmers and by destroying Oromo identity, culture and history (Thomson and López 2015) and by replacing them by Tigrayans and their collaborators. The Oromo have interpreted this policy as the replication of the policy of the Amhara-led government that uprooted and destroyed the Oromo in Finfinnee and replaced them by Amhara colonial settlers and their collaborators during the formation and development of Addis Ababa as the capital city of the Ethiopian Empire.

Through the accumulated experiences of the past twenty-six years, the Oromo people have realized that the Tigrayan colonial elites with the help of their Oromo collaborators have been expropriating Oromo lands and other resources and transferring to themselves and their domestic and global supporters. In these processes, the Oromo people have become alien in their own country, and Oromia has been owned by Tigrayans. Consequently, the Oromo are impoverished and lost hope. Educated and evicted Oromos have become jobless while most Tigrayans and their collaborators are dominating and controlling the political economy of Oromia and Ethiopia. Furthermore, the Tigrayan colonial elites have been intensifying famine in Oromia and other regions by expropriating and transferring the land and other resources of the Oromo and that of others to themselves and their collaborators and global supporters. At the same time, the Oromo national struggle that developed in the 1960s has been penetrating the psyche of the Oromo people. This struggle has been revitalizing the Oromo national culture, history and identity. As a result, Oromo nationalism or national Oromummaa has blossomed and become a revolutionary flame. It is believed that underground activist networks known as Qeerroo (youth) organized the Oromo community. The Qeerroo, also called the Qubee generation, first emerged in 1991 with the participation of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) in the transitional government of Ethiopia.

In 1992 the Tigrayan-led minority regime pushed the OLF out of government and the activist networks of Qeerroo gradually blossomed as a form of Oromummaa or Oromo nationalism. Today the Qeerroo are made up of Oromo youth and other nationalist elements. These are predominantly students from elementary school to university, organizing collective action through social media networks and personal relations. It is not clear what kind of relationship exists between the group and the OLF. But the Qeerroo clearly articulates that the OLF should replace the Tigrayan-led regime and recognize the Front as the origin of Oromo nationalism although there are opposition groups who deny the existence of strong relationship between the Qeerroo and the OLF. The government reaction to the Qeerroo has been violent and suppressive. Despite Oromia being the largest regional state in Ethiopia,[1] it has been under martial law[2] since the protests began. The government has been able to use this law to detain thousands of Oromos, holding them in prisons and concentration camps. [3] Security structures called tokkoo-shane (one-to-five), garee and gott have also been implemented.[4] Their responsibilities include spying, identifying, exposing, imprisoning, torturing and killing Oromos who are not interested in serving the regime. There have also been deaths and reports of thousands of Oromos who have been maimed as a result of torture, beatings or during the suppression of protests.[5] For example, during the Oromia-wide day of peaceful protest on July 6, 2016 the regime’s army known as Agazi massacred nearly 100 Oromos.[6] According to Amnesty International, 400 Oromos were killed before July 6.[7] But in reality nobody knows exactly how many Oromos were victims of violence and imprisonment.

The Tigrayan state elites and their Oromo collaborators who used to think that the Oromo people were collections of “tribes” who could be used as raw materials and firewood could not understand the essence of the ongoing Oromo movement. They still believe that by beating, torturing, castrating, decapitating, raping, and murdering Oromo students, farmers, educators, and merchants can stop the Oromo struggle for statehood, sovereignty and egalitarian democracy.[8] Nevertheless, the Oromo protest movement has opened a new chapter in the history of Oromia and Ethiopia. This history is written by Oromo blood, and the relationship between the Oromo and their colonizers has been changed forever. The final chapter of this history is not yet written. Many things have changed as the result of the Oromo protest movement. The cost the Oromo have paid in lives and suffering is very high. Within five months more than 500 Oromo including school children, pregnant women, and elderly people were massacred, and tens of thousands of Oromo were imprisoned, kicked, beaten, tortured, and decapitated.[9] In fact, at this time, we do not have enough data on the killings, imprisonments, and other crimes against the Oromo. Despite all these tragedies, the Oromo people have restored their national pride, patriotism, and bravery that they enjoyed prior to mid-19th century. The protests gained further traction as the state’s reaction became violent. For example, in early October millions of Oromo gathered at Hora Arsadii, south east of Finfinnee, for “Irreechaa” – the Oromo national holiday of thanksgiving. The Tigrayan-led government’s army killed more than 700 Oromos and injured or/an imprisoned thousands.[10]

This was sparked by peaceful, anti-government chants by young Oromos.[11] After the massacre, Oromo protesters burned property and both locally and internationally owned businesses that had been built on the land seized from the Oromo by Tigrayans and business elites.[12] As the Oromo protest movement intensified, the Amhara, Konso and Gedeo joined the protest movement. The Ethiopian government’s response was to declare the state of emergency.[13] Set to six months, and later extended by three months, its aim is to curb the growing anti-government protest movement. The current state of emergency is the last attempt by the Tigrayan-led government to stop the Oromo protests and to stay in power. The government is therefore using this situation to gain total control over information,[14] using heavy force and denying the freedom of organization and association. As a result, the regions of Oromia, Amhara, Konso, and Gedeo have become conflict zones[15] with the regime indiscriminately imprisoning, looting and killing protesters.[16] According to the state of emergency rules, Oromos, Amharas and Konsos have restricted access to media. They are not allowed to listen to radio stations, such as the Voice of Oromo Liberation Radio, or to watch media channels, like the Oromia Media and Network and Oromia News Network. Ethiopian soldiers are enforcing these rules and have been seizing or vandalizing satellite dishes citizens.  The emergency rules also prevent citizens from associating with political organizations that the regime has branded as “terrorist”. One of these is the Oromo Liberation Front, which was established in 1973 by Oromo nationalists to promote self-determination.

For several years the Oromia region has been under a crackdown enforced by special police groups and the army known as “Agazi”.[17] After the protest movement started, according to rights organizations, more than 2 000 Oromos were killed in eleven months.[18] Several thousand more have been imprisoned, tortured, blinded and raped. To hide its crimes from the international community, the regime has blocked the Internet and collected phones from thousands of Oromos.[19] Until the regime is overthrown the Oromo will continue to suffer immensely. They are denied state support in relation to protection, food, shelter, clothing, medicine and other necessary services.[20] Because the current regime fears the size of the Oromo population, it attempts to reduce their influence through hidden policies and war.[21] The regime has already prevented Oromo representatives from coming into political power through systematic killings, imprisonment or exile.[22] For these reasons, the Oromo are very concerned about their future. In addition, little hope for things to change as a result of external pressure because international powers such as the United States[23] as well as organizations such as USAID have a close relationship with the government.[24] This gives rise to concerns within the Oromo community that their grievances will not be heard and that they will not be given support. Nevertheless recently the Oromo people are determined to change their status quo and better their future. That is why they are continuing with their movement, despite massive incidents of death and imprisonment. But the Ethiopian regime has demonstrated that it will dictate everything to the Oromo people and its leadership through the barrel of the gun. The Oromo people are rejecting this heavy-handed approach. So, in this conflict, there are two options – either the regime must go, and the Oromo be victorious, or the Oromo people must be destroyed to serve the interest of the regime.

Despite the fact that the regime has intensified its terrorism and genocide, the Oromo protest movement has started to change the political landscape of Ethiopia and shaken the regime’s foundations. Erupting like “a social volcano”, it has sent ripples through the empire with different groups changing their attitudes and standing in solidarity with the Oromo.[25] The support of the Ahmaras has been particularly significant as they are the second largest ethno-national group in Ethiopia. For the first time in history, the plight of the Oromo people has also received worldwide attention. International media outlets have reported on the peaceful protests and subsequent government repressions. This has brought about diplomatic repercussions. In January 2016 the European Parliament condemned the Ethiopian government’s violent crackdown.[26] It also called for the establishment of a credible, transparent and independent body to investigate the murder and imprisonment of thousands of protesters. Similarly, the UN Human Rights Experts demanded that Ethiopian authorities stop the violent crackdown.[27] Not all global actors are taking a strong stance. Some are concerned with maintaining good relations with the incumbent government. For example, the US State Department expressed vague concern about the violence associated with the protest movement.[28] In sharp contrast they signed a security partnership with the Ethiopian government. Nevertheless, the momentum of the Oromo movement looks set to continue. The protests, and subsequent support, have seen the further development of activist networks and Oromo leadership, doubling their efforts to build their organizational capacity. There are reasons why the Oromo movement did not yet dismantle Ethiopian colonial structures after shaking their foundations. The absence of the national institutional and organizational capacity, which is a prerequisite to capture state power, is the main reason. This fundamental problem should be recognized and solved in order to achieve the Oromo national political objectives of liberation and egalitarian democracy.

Major Obstacles in Rebuilding Oromo National Institutions

The political legacy and impact of Ethiopian colonialism, the erosion of national norms, religious divisions, political fragmentation, the disconnection between lineage or local interests and national interests, and uneven development of national Oromummaa (Oromo national culture, identity and nationalism) are the major challenges for rebuilding Oromo national institutions and organizations. Successive Ethiopian colonial states have prevented the Oromo society from having their autonomous national institutions and organizations through violence and other policies (Jalata 2007, 2010; Dugassa 2012). These chains of factors have negatively affected the Oromo elites and the other sectors of Oromo society ideologically, religiously, culturally and politically. As a result, most of the time, most Oromo elites spend their intellectual and material resources, energies, and times on peripheral projects such as changing of the Ethiopian Empire through introducing “socialism” or “democracy” or focus on the differences among Oromo branches and localities rather than learning critically and rigorously about Oromo national history, culture and tradition in order to build Oromo national institutions and organizations. As Robert Boyd and Peter J. Richerson (2008: 322) state, “The visibility of politically driven institutional change might suggest that every institutional feature of a society is subject to strong political influences. History, however, teaches us that institutions have deep roots that guide politics via unexamined attitudes, intuitions, and emotions.”

Despite the fact that we blame this organization or that, this leadership or that or this region or that for the delay of our liberation, we did not even yet understand how lack of national institutions has hindered the progress of our national struggle. Oromo political organizations could not survive in Oromia without national institutions that could have encountered the onslaught of the colonial state by mobilizing the Oromo society. Without building strong national institutions, Oromos could not transform their numerical strength, abundant economic resources, and the determination of nationalists to national organizational power that can empower the nation. The immediate challenge the Oromo face as a nation is accepting that they do not have national institutions and organizations that can empower the Oromo people. By the way, even the developed societies, which have complex national institutions, face the problem of institutional renewal and rebuilding to catch up with the advances in science and technology. For instance, countries that are very rich could solve the problem of poverty; societies that have advanced in medicine by replacing damaged hips, livers, kidneys, knees, and other parts of human body, and in biology by mapping the human genome and understand the structure of the human brain, and in computer science by improving the acquisition of knowledge, the storage of information, and the speed of communication have failed to solve the major problems of humanity. As Lawrence S. Wittner (2017: 1) points “there is a glaring discrepancy between these kinds of advances and the social institutions that can ensure that they are used for the benefit of humanity. Despite very substantial progress in modern science, vast numbers of people receive no medical treatment or, at best, inferior medical care. Television’s marvelous ability to transmit knowledge, culture, and understanding around the world is employed primarily to distribute mindless, coarse entertainment and peddle commercial products.”

Powerful countries and their clients are still engaging in violent development that destroys humanity and environment to benefit a few capital accumulators and their agents around the globe. The following point that Wittner raises for powerful groups and counties also apply to the Oromo case: “The real question is whether people and nations can muster the political will to reshape their behavior and social institutions to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.” The challenge the Oromo face today is changing their norms and behaviors to transform their kin-based or local-based institutions and fragmented political organizations into formidable national institutions and civic and political organizations. I do not see another model, except critically and thoroughly learning about the Oromo democratic traditions and rebuilding a national consensus through honest, open and democratic deliberations. As Boyd and Richerson (2008:322) assert, “Every human social group has politics. Ongoing environmental changes will probably destabilize existing institutional equilibriums and make other potential equilibriums attractive. Deliberate, collective decision making is a means to escape failing equilibriums and to negotiate a path to a superior new one. In these often- controversial domains, we are extremely well aware that there are choices to be made. The art of reason, empirical science, and rhetoric are deployed to persuade others that some change in an institution is necessary or not.”

The Oromo choice is either to change their current norms and behaviors and the way they deliberate their politics in order to build their democratic national institutions and organizations to liberate themselves or to perpetuate the existing status quo of fragmentation and disempowerment and suffer under the authoritarian-terrorist state of Ethiopia. Understanding this reality, some Oromo activists scholars and nationalists have recently established Global Gumii Oromia and invited all Oromo institutions and organizations including religious ones, political organizations, professional associations, civic institutions, groups and individuals to openly, honestly and democratically deliberate with this new national civic institution to collectively build Oromo national institutions and organizations in order to make collective decision on Oromia’s national affairs. All Oromo nationalists must believe that Oromo “indigenous organizational structures are framed in an Oromo paradigm of thinking and they are in a better position to understand the social problems of the Oromo people. In addition, they foster the participation of people, create a stable, transparent and dynamic society and help to continuously improve the social environment in which the Oromo work and live” (Dugass 2014: 23).

The Way Forward

The immediate task for the Oromo should be to agree to create the democratic rules of the game based on acceptable national norms, behaviors and values that reflect safuu and Oromo democracy. The next task is to fashion and build formidable national institutions and organizations that will empower the Oromo nation to determine its national destiny.  I believe that all concerned Oromos are agents who can contribute something to change the deplorable condition of their people. We know that it is wrong to be neutral and silent when the Oromo people are facing terrorism and genocidal massacres by Tigrayan colonial elites and their collaborators. Particularly the diaspora Oromo have moral and ethical responsibilities to maintain safuu and to get organized to support the struggle of their people; they must also stop those who engage in divisive activities that facilitate the perpetual suffering of their people. The Tigrayan-led Ethiopian government is rotten and the Oromo protest movement has demonstrated that it will soon become the dustbin of history.

After sacrificing thousands of precious lives of Oromo nationalists and revolutionaries for the quarter of the century, are the Oromo going to allow those who have better national institutions to bypass the Oromo for the fifth times and capture state power in Oromia and beyond? History aptly demonstrates that people can revolt and overthrow regimes, but they cannot form their own government without having their strong national institutions and organizations. Without building strong national institutions the Oromo cannot build strong national civic and political organizations. As North (1995: 18) says, “The viability, profitability, and survival of the organizations of a society typically depend on the existing institutional matrix.” From all Oromo corners, the slogan of unity is articulated without explaining the meaning of this unity. All Oromo branches are historically, culturally and linguistically united and nobody can dismantle this unity. The unity that the Oromo must articulate now is not a general and abstract unity, but an institutional and political unity that their enemies have constantly suppressed. This institutional and political unity requires honest deliberations, rigorous social scientific knowledge, strong willpower, sacrifice and tolerance from all Oromo elites such as political, religious, economic and academic elites and from all sectors of the Oromo society.

The Oromo need to unlearn the norms and behaviors that they have learned from alien cultures through developing the rules of the game that we agree upon. This requires recognizing that, among other meanings “institutions are the laws, informal rules, and conventions that give durable structure to social interactions in a population” (Boyd and Richerson 2008: 305). Most of the times, human beings have deep loyalty for their relatives and friends, but national institutional and organizational building requires larger loyalties to a nation and a country. The Oromo in diaspora in particular and the Oromo people in general can learn from the experiences of the Jewish and Palestinian peoples who have faced difficult conditions and seriously struggled for their survival and liberation. The diaspora Oromo can learn some lessons from the Jewish and Palestinian diaspora groups in the process of national institutional and organizational building. Because of the terrorist nature of the Ethiopian state, the Oromo in Oromia cannot openly and peacefully build their institutions in Oromia. Like the Jewish and Palestinian peoples, the Oromo in diaspora can build their national institutions and organizations and support the Oromo national struggle in their homeland.

After living in exile for thousands of years in different countries, the Jewish Diaspora gained more political consciousness, skills, and knowledge to organize and become a strong people through integrating into the world system. These global experiences helped the Jewish in Diaspora in to play a decisive role in creating the Zionist World Organization in 1887, and in creating a unified national leadership known as the Jewish Agency in 1929 in Zurich and bringing together and unifying organizations and institutions such as Haganah, Palmach, Histadrut, Mapai and even Herut (Adelman 2008: 31-34). The new agency also included a number of non-Zionist Jewish individuals and organizations that were interested in Jewish settlement in Palestine. Within two decades, the agency facilitated the creation of the Jewish state and brought millions of the Diaspora Jewish to Israel, and, for over 80 years, it served as the link between the Diaspora Jewish and Israel. The impact of European anti-Semitism and the attacks on Jewish individuals and groups from all sides made a few Jewish thinkers and ideologues to propose the development of Zionism and the establishment of a Jewish national state (Milton-Edwards 2009: 13). One can also argue that the fear of total assimilation and being absorbed in the Gentile population was a pressing concern. Theodor Herzl, an Austro-Hungarian journalist, writer, and political activist, started to develop the idea of a Jewish state in Palestine and launched a movement aiming at “the immediate return of the Jews to Palestine on a mass scale, from every one of countries of the Diaspora, to land which would be theirs as a Jewish homeland, recognized as such by the Great Powers of the world” (Gilbert 2008: 10).

Herzl founded the World Zionist Organization, and the concept of Zionism was coined six years before the formation of this organization. In the same year, he published a book entitled Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State) and fashioned political Zionism by proposing a national identity and a national homeland for the Jews. Max Nordau, his ardent supporter who was also a Jewish newspaper correspondent in Paris, drafted for the Zionist Congress a document known as the Basel Program. This document stated,  “The task of Zionism is to secure for the Jewish people in Palestine a publicly recognized, legally secured homeland.” Consequently, in 1897, the First Zionist Congress was held in Basel, Switzerland. There was no body among Zionists who commanded great recognition and respect than Theodor Herzl (1860-1904) because of his ideological clarity and organizational talent that led to the success of the Zionist cause (Gelvin 2007: 49). Herzl was “a practical man who understood that to succeed Zionism needed a permanent institutional structure that could speak in the name of the movement and move its diverse adherents toward consensus” (Gelvin 2007: 52). Herzl organized the First Zionist Congress with about two hundred Zionists that issued the Basel Program with clear nationalist objectives. The Congress identified and approved five tasks:  to (1) “encourage the systematic settlement of Palestine with Jewish agricultural workers and artisans,” to (2) “organize and unite the Jewish people by the creation of groups in various countries whose objective would be to foster the aims of the movement,” to (3) organize in accordance “with the laws of their respective countries,” to (4)  “dedicate itself to strengthening Jewish consciousness and national feeling,” and finally to “organize political efforts so as to obtain the support of the various Governments of the world for the aims of Zionism.”

Recognizing the importance of these tasks, Herzl wrote in his diary on September 3, 1897 the following: “Were I to sum up the Basel Congress in a word – which I shall guard against pronouncing publicly – it would be this: At Basel I founded the Jewish state. If I said this out loud today, I would be answered by universal laughter. Perhaps in five years, and certainly in fifty, everyone will know it.” Unfortunately, Herzl’s racist worldviews and the lack of concern for the Palestinians facilitated the emergence of “a social cancer” between the two related peoples who could have formed a bi-national democratic state in a shared sovereign Palestine. Herzl and his colleagues ignored the existence of 650,000 Palestinians although Leo Motzkin recognized this fact after he visited Palestine (Gilbert 2008: 17). Considering the racist aspects of Zionism and the consequence of establishing an exclusive state in a bi-national society, many leading Jewish intellectuals and thinkers, such as Herman Cohen and Franz Rosenzweig and later on Martin Buber, Gershom Scholem, Hannah Arendt, Albert Einstein, and Hans Kohn opposed the goal of creating an exclusive Jewish state (Hazony 2001: xxiv). Although the Zionists were fighting against European racism and fascism, they decided to practice similar evils on the Palestinians. The Israeli state engaged in state terrorism against the Palestininas. The Oromo nationalist movement must carefully avoid the mistakes of the Jewish people and intensify their national struggle for genuine national self-determination and egalitarian multinational democracy.

After the mid-20th century, some Palestinians in the diaspora achieved modern education and developed intellectual capacity and skills through the exposure to the capitalist world system that enabled them to overcome their lack of modern political structures and leadership that were necessary to better organize and confront the Jewish state and its supporters. Gradually the leaders of the Palestinian Student Union in Egypt such as Yasser Arafat, Khalil al-Wazir, and Salah Khalaf formed Fatah in 1959. The newly emerged leaders of this organization focused on Palestinian nationalism rather than Arab nationalism. Fatah, the movement for the Liberation of Palestine, declared the revival of the Palestinian political awareness and launched armed struggle against the Israeli state. On its part, the Israeli state continued to expropriate more land and other resources and decided to “channel the waters of the River Jordan down to the Negev” (Fraser 2008: 75). Arab states were very angry at this decision, and understanding that Israel could not be stopped militarily, Jamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt convened an Arab summit in Cairo in January 1964; this summit decided to form a political organization known as the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). Gamal ‘Abd al-Nasser was mainly responsible for the formation the PLO in 1964, and he picked its first leader, Ahmad Shuqairy (Gelvin 2007: 198). Yasir Arafat was elected its chairman in 1969; he held the position until his death. When Egypt controlled the PLO through Shuqairy’s leadership, the organization remained ineffective and made the Palestinians bitter (Fraser 2008: 75).

The Palestinian Liberation Army initiated its military operations in January 1965 by raiding the Israeli water networks and causing a new threat and crisis to Israeli’s security. These conditions alarmed Israel to declare a pre-emptive war against Arab states. Israel defeated Arab states in 1967, and occupied the remaining Palestinian territories, including the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and Eastern Jerusalem. Considering all these situations, the Palestinian nationalists decided to lead and fight their liberation war. Fatah and a coalition of other Palestinian organizations and groups took over the PLO leadership and Arafat was elected as its Chairman. Since then it became clear that the Jewish state could not have absolute monopoly of violence and the PLO and other Palestinian organizations started to use all forms violence, including oppositional terrorism, to be able to survive as a nation and to achieve their national sovereignty. There were a number of Palestinian liberation organizations that were members of the PLO, including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Fatah, and the Popular Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PDFLP). The PFLP and the PDFLP frequently engaged in oppositional terrorist acts such as hijacking airplanes, and brought the question of Palestine to international attention (Harms and Ferry 2008: 119-120). With the strengthening of the PLO and the emergence of Arafat as its chairman, some Palestinians convinced themselves to liberate their county by all means.

The PLO initiated guerrilla tactics and Palestinian commandos operating from neighboring countries engaged in cross-border raids, airplane hijackings, and hostage-takings. The Palestinian armed struggle “brought mixed results. On the one hand, in targeting Israeli civilians as well as soldiers, Palestinians were branded as ‘terrorists’ in the Western press, and accorded little sympathy after Israeli reprisals. On the other hand, their resistance not only restored a measure of self-respect and confidence among the Palestinian people, but it also publicized their grievances after 20 years of neglect by the world community, and gained them official recognition” (Halwani and Kapitsn 2008: 7). Claiming that the PLO was a terrorist organization, the Israeli state continued its terrorist activities on the Palestinians in the occupied territories. Israeli racist arrogance, over confidence in military and technology, military adventures, and various forms of violence in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip led to the outbreak of the Intifadas (shaking off) in the 1980s and the creation of Hamas. Learning from the experiences of the Jewish and Palestinian peoples, the Oromo in the diaspora and in Oromia must immediately build their strong national institutions and political organizations to make sure their survival as a nation and to form the state that is democratic and multinational.


In their struggle against the Tigrayan-led Ethiopian government, the Oromo have paid heavy sacrifices in human lives and economic resources for the last quarter of century. Despite the fact that the development of national Oromummaa has blossomed and the unity of the Oromo in protest movement has been solidified recently, the Oromo nation could yet capture state power by overthrowing the Tigrrayan-led authoritarian terrorist regime. However, the Oromo struggle has shaken the foundation of this criminal regime, and it is a matter of time when the regime will face the fate of the previous government(s). It is self-evident that the capturing of state power by the Oromo to regain their freedom and sovereignty is only possible by building national institutions and organizations. This is a very difficult and complex task despite the fact that the Oromo have numerical strength and abundant economic resources.[29] The political potential, the size of the Oromo population and the richness of their economic resources have created many enemies for the Oromo people. Recently, the Tigrayan-led regime has successfully mobilized their neighbors against them. The Oromo have only themselves and they should realize this and honestly and democratically deliberate to establish the rules of the game and build formidable national institutions and organization to successfully achieve their political objectives.

If the Oromo continue to fail as they did in 1974, when the military regime overthrew the Haile Selassie government, and as in 1991, when the Tigrayan Liberation Front replaced the military regime because of their relative national institutional and organizational strengths, the better-organized ethnonation both institutionally and organizationally may capture the state power and continue Ethiopian colonialism, state terrorism and genocide. The Habasha groups that advocate democracy now cannot practically accept the principles of democracy and implement them because of their political culture and historical background (Jalata and Schaffer 2010). The Amhara-led military regime claimed to implement socialism, but eradicated all socialists and democrats and reinstituted dictatorship. Similarly, the Tigrayan-led regime promised national self-determination, federalism and democracy, but practiced colonialism, terrorism and political repression. Therefore, only naïve individuals and groups or organizations are persuaded by the slogans of the Habasha political groups. All Habasha political groups or organizations implicitly agree in opposing the Oromo national struggle for genuine national self-determination, multinational federalism, and egalitarian democracy. Overall, genuine Oromo nationalists and activists must recognize that without creating the rules of the game among all independent Oromo institutions and organizations they cannot build their strong national institutions and organizations that are absolutely necessary for the survival of the Oromo nation and for defeating the Ethiopian colonial state and its Oromo collaborators.


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[9] Oromiamedianetwork,, accessed on 05/13/2016.
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[29] To day the size of the Oromo population is estimated at fifty million, which is almost half of the population in the Ethiopian Empire. Oromia is the richest regional state on which other states depend on economically.


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