The Current Oromo Protest Movement: The Beacon of Freedom and Egalitarian Democracy for All Tigrayan Colonial Subjects

By Asafa Jalata (Prof.)*The current Oromia-wide protest movement, that is led by Oromo school children and supported by their parents and relatives, demonstrates the maturation of national and global Oromummaa by overcoming the ideological problem of the Oromo movement. This popular movement also clearly shows that the Oromo people are the fulcrum for bringing about a fundamental political transformation in Ethiopia and beyond in order to establish sustainable peace, development, security, self-determination and egalitarian multinational democracy. Understanding these facts is necessary to transform our thinking in politics in order to critically and thoroughly assess the prospects for politico-cultural transformation and liberation from Tigrayan colonialism, political slavery and ethnocracy. The main reason for these assertions is that the Oromo are the largest national group in Ethiopia and the region; Finfinnee, which is also called Addis Ababa, is the heart of Oromia and is the seat of the Ethiopian state, the African Union and many other international organizations. In addition, Oromia is located in the heart of Ethiopia, and the Oromo people have already created a cultural corridor with different peoples in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa. The foundation of this corridor is the gadaa/siiqqee system (Oromo democracy), which with other indigenous democratic traditions can be a starting point for building a genuine multinational democracy based on the principles of national self-determination.

As the slogans and political practices Oromo protesters demonstrate, the ideology and practice of national and global Oromummaa embrace the principles of human freedom and social justice, equality and equity, and national self-determination and egalitarian multinational democracy. That is why various peoples, groups, political parties and progressive individuals are sympathetic to the Oromo protest movement. The Tigrayan-led terrorist government cannot stop the erupting revolutionary volcano of the Oromo, which is supported by all freedom-loving peoples. Mass killings, tortures, rapes beatings and imprisonments of children, women and elderly are increasing the political rage of the Oromo and that of others and facilitating the strengthening the movement in order to bury this regime in its final graveyard. The Tigre-dominated and led Ethiopian regime has been using war, terrorism, torture, rape and other mechanisms of violence to fulfill its political objectives impoverishing its colonial subjects by transferring their lands and other resources to Tigrayan business and political elites and their supporters. While engaging in political violence in the form of state terrorism and genocide to control the Oromo people and others, and loot their economic resources, the Tigrayan state elites claim that they are promoting democracy, federalism and national self-determination. Thousands of Oromo students, farmers and intellectuals have been harassed or killed or forced into exile or suffering in prisons/concentration camps for the last twenty-five years. Now, its policy of land grabbing in general, and the so-called Addis Ababa Master Plan in particular, clearly demonstrate how this regime is committed to exterminate the Oromo people by transferring Oromo lands to Tigrayan elites, and their domestic and global supporters. The Gambella, Sidama and other peoples have been facing similar conditions. The regime accepts state violence against the Oromo, Sidama, Annuak, Somali, Amhara and others as a legitimate means of establishing political stability and order. Because of their economic resources, the size of their population, and their resistance in challenging the racist policy of the regime, the Oromo are mainly targeted for destruction. The Tigrayan-led Ethiopian government sees Oromia as part of its empire, controls all Oromian resources, and practices terrorism and genocide against the Oromo people since it perceives them as potential or real enemies.

The regime has been hiding its genocidal practices and terrorist activities until November and December 2015, when the Oromia-wide peaceful protest movement has dismantled its local administrative structures and forced the regime to openly reveal its true nature. The government of Ethiopia has also committed genocide on the Sidama, Somali, and the Annuak people of Gambella. In the letter it sent to Prime Minster Meles Zenawi on January 8, 2004, the International Campaign to End Genocide notes that massacring people “because of their ethnic group membership is genocidal. The Genocidal Convention outlaws the intentional destruction of part of an ethnic group, not just the destruction of the whole group … We ask that you now arrest and try the perpetrators of the December massacre of Annuak in Gambella.” As its genocidal policy, the Tigre regime uses rape. State-sanctioned rape is a form of terrorism in Ethiopia. The use of sexual violence is a tactic of genocide that a dominant ethnonational group practices in destroying the subordinate ethnonational group. The Tigrayan cadres, soldiers, and officials have frequently raped girls and women to demoralize the Oromo and other peoples, and show that the Tigrayan rulers wield boundless power. Many of the rape survivors have contracted diseases, such as syphilis, gonorrhea, and AIDS.

Particularly, the Tigrayan regime has targeted all sectors of the Oromo society to destroy the foundation of Oromo nationalism and political struggle. In Ethiopia, where neither freedom of expression nor free media exist, people choose to be quiet to save their lives even if the government killed their relatives until 2015, when the popular uprising has emerged all over Oromia and beyond. The Ethiopian state elites, who have been engaging in gross human rights violations and genocide like other criminal leaders in peripheral countries, “not only go unpunished, they are even rewarded. On the international scene they are accorded all the respect and courtesies due to government officials. They are treated in accordance with diplomatic protocol in negotiations and seated in the General Assembly of the United Nations. When they are finally ousted from their offices, they are offered asylum by countries that lack respect for international law, but have a great deal of respect for the ill-gotten wealth that such perpetrators bring with them.”

The Tigrayan-dominated regime has banned independent Oromo organizations, and declared war on them and the Oromo people. It has even outlawed musical groups and professional associations, and closed down Oromo newspapers. Attempting to make the Oromo voiceless, as previous Ethiopian governments had done, the Tigre government has left Oromo without any meaningful organization and institution. Only the organizations and media owned and controlled by the Tigrayan government have remained intact, serving to impose the Tigrayan colonial and racist authority in Oromia and other colonized regions. The regime has engaged in political crimes, genocidal massacres, and state terrorism with little or no opposition from Western powers, particularly the United States. During the current protest movement, the Tigrayan military, police and security apparatus are waging war and terrorism on Oromo school children, farmers, teachers and elderly people; until today, they massacred more than 100 people, imprisoned more than 20,000 Oromo, and beaten and disfigured thousands of individuals. These forces are engaging in raping Oromo girls and women in front of their families. So the current silence by big powers and international institutions while continuing to finance the terrorist and genocidal policies of the Tigre regime is tantamount to encouraging the crimes against humanity. How long will international bodies continue to ignore these problems? Are they waiting for a full genocide to emerge?

The ongoing Oromo protest movement not only needs to build its organizational capacity, but also needs to develop strategic visions and political plans for working with other peoples who are interested to implement the principles of self-determination and egalitarian multinational democracy. While Oromo activists engage in debates and dialogues for formulating policies that reflect their indigenous democracy, they must also develop political plans that they can share with other peoples who have similar interests for discussion, debate and consensus building. The Oromo people can play a central role in implementing the principles of self-determination and multinational democracy provided that it will effectively mobilize their abundant human and economic resources, and ally with others to build their human capabilities. In developing leadership and organizational capacity, emphasize should be given to build organizations and institutions rather than promoting the egos and leadership of individuals to avoid the pitfalls of liberation movements that won liberation wars, but failed to build healthy and effective democratic societies. The disaster of Tigrayan liberation movement is a living example. This movement only won the war against the Ethiopian state and eventually became its photocopy after capturing state power. Recently, the Tirayan-led regime has excelled its predecessor by committing more crimes against humanity. All colonized subjects, including the Amhara people, must ally with the Oromo protest movement based on the principles of national self- and mutual-interest, self-determination and multinational democracy to dismantle this terrorist regime.

Developing a united, skillful, knowledgeable and determined leadership that believes truly in democratic principles and hard work is very crucial for the advancement and success of the Oromo and other movements in Ethiopia today. For Oromo society, building the kind of leadership and organization that reflect the Oromo democratic and consultative traditions is absolutely necessary to fully develop the Oromo organizational capacity. The same is true for the other societies. Those Oromo leaders, who created the Macha-Tulama Self-Help Association and the Oromo Liberation Front, reflected some Oromo democratic and consultative traditions although such traditions were gradually undermined with external pressures and internal crises in the Oromo movement. If the colonized societies, such as the Oromo, cannot develop skills, knowledge and capabilities to promote and exercise freedom and egalitarian democracy while engaging in protest and liberation struggles, they may inadvertently replace colonial dictatorships by national or other forms dictatorships. Therefore, the Oromo liberation movement and other movements must start to practice freedom and egalitarian democracy while struggling to overthrow Tgrayan colonial dictatorship. The Oromo protest movement must start dismantling the ideology of sexism and values of patriarchy, and the ideology of classism and all forms of stratification.

Furthermore, the theory and practice of national and global Oromumma must enable all Oromo to engage in a politico-economic paradigm shift in order to build a free and democratic society. Similarly, the movements of the other colonized societies need to promote and implement similar strategies and tactics in order to establish an egalitarian multinational democracy. Amartya Sen identifies five factors for developing capabilities and freedoms in a given society; they are (1) political freedoms, (2) economic facilities, (3) social opportunities, (4) transparency guarantees and (5) protective security. All of these factors are combined to develop the general capacity of a person and a society. As Sen notes, “Public policy to foster human capabilities and substantive freedoms in general can work through the promotion of these distinct but interrelated instrumental freedoms.” Political freedoms involves political and civil rights, such as the right to determine who should govern and on what principles, the right to scrutinize and criticize authorities, the right of political expression and an uncensored press, and the freedom to choose between political leaders and organizations.

If the Oromo and other national movements cannot start now these political freedoms, it is impossible to practice them after liberation. The experiences of liberation movements in the world, including the Horn of Africa, and their failure to build democratic societies demonstrate this reality. The principles of economic freedoms also should be articulated while engaging in liberation movements. The principles of economic facilities oppose the control of market through state dictatorship and unregulated capitalism because they are undemocratic and corrupt. The Oromo people and others should struggle to form a state that should balance public and private ownership of the means of production in order to protect the respective national economic resources from the robbery of private forces in the name of the so-called free markets. The Oromo and other peoples should own their lands and natural resources. Balanced public and private economic agendas should involve the policies of freely participating in markets and generating wealth and public resources, the availability and access to finance, and utilizing economic resources for the purpose of consumption, or production, or exchange, and allowing all citizens to have access to basic economic security and entitlement.

The principles of social opportunities deal with social arrangements such as education, employment and health care; equal access to these services influences the individual’s substantive freedom to live better and longer and increases more effective participation in socio-economic and political activities. The Oromo and other movements must openly declare such policies to encourage their respective people to liberate themselves from the robbery of the Ethiopian colonial state and its regional and global supporters. In a truly democratic society, there must be also transparency guarantees that allow individuals to have the freedom to openly and freely deal with one another, and the right to disclose and prevent corruption, financial irresponsibility and underhand dealings. Furthermore, having protective security enables a society to enjoy access to a social safety net that protects people from abject misery, starvation, disasters, death and disease. Theoretically speaking, the founders and members of the Macha-Tulama Association and the Oromo Liberation Front envisioned, to a certain degree, the notion of developing national Oromummaa as a vision of Oromo liberation and sustainable development to enable the Oromo to have political freedoms and to achieve economic facilities, social opportunities, transparence guarantees and protective security. The current Oromo protest movement and its allies must build their political future on these substantive principles to avoid the cancer of successive Ethiopian state elites who have been enriching themselves, their relatives and their agents while recurrent famines and absolute poverty have been destroying ordinary people.

Based on these and other principles and values, the Oromo and other movements should start to expand and develop strategic and practical policies rather dreaming how to capture state power at the cost of the masses in order to enrich themselves. Whenever they can, these movements must demonstrate that they are struggling to enable their respective people to regain all their freedoms and overcome their deficits in human capabilities. The struggle for empowering of the people is an endless process that goes beyond decolonization; these processes require to constantly building institutional and instrumental freedom. The Oromo and others must be sure that their country will be liberated if they are determined and work hard; they also need to develop policies that must be translated into actions based on the five factors that Sen has identified above to convince the people that their future will be free, better, and democratic. The Oromo protest movement is paying in lives to open a new chapter in Oromia and Ethiopia, and all peoples who are determined to achieve their freedom and egalitarian democracy must immediately take necessary actions for an inevitable victory by joining hand in hand with their Oromo sisters and brothers.

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* Asafa Jalata (Ph.D.): Professor of Sociology and Global and Africana Studies, University of Tennessee, Department of Sociology

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