The Politics of Denial: the Birth and Expansion of Finfinnee at the Expense of Oromo
By Geresu Tufa
“A man who denies his past is a man who truly denies himself a future, for he refuses to know himself, and to deny knowledge of oneself is to stumble through life as handicapped as the blind mute.” – Tobsha Learner
Last week, I partook in a panel discussion with my fellow Oromos on OMN about the ongoing land-grabbing around Finfinne/Addis. I believe the time is a very critical one for all peoples in that country to stand together and condemn the injustices being inflicted upon poor farmers surrounding Addis. Therefore, most of the talks focused on the impacts of Addis’ expansion on the neighboring region of Oromia, on our farmers’ livelihoods and health, on the environment, and on the overall political-economy of Oromia in the Ethiopian Empire. At the discussion, I gave a little introductory remark about the background of the Addis expansion – starting from its foundation.
All of us are products of a particular historical process. If we want to clearly understand what is happening today, we need to put it into an appropriate historical context. In line with this indisputable fact of life, I could only be right by mentioning major historical factors that have contributed to place us where we find ourselves today. Instead of condemning both historical and ongoing injustices on our farmers, I am surprised to see the reactions of a few individuals who had come out of their shells to deny historical injustices in the aforementioned area,viz. Finfinne. The intention of this short piece is not to divert the public’s attention from focusing on current injustices or to dwell over the past, it is only to undress this politics of denial with some historical facts and give the rationale behind this kind of mindset.
Inquiring the sources of these historical facts is very healthy and should be a way forward for our future dialogues. This kind of evidence-based argument is very essential to save us from making/being evidence-nude society that bases arguments on either ‘hearsay’ or ‘I think,’ or even the worst, ‘I am sure’ kind of arguments without citing any credible source for the information. Therefore, I praise those who have asked for evidences, which have deliberately been kept away from the public by elites who harvest various kinds of profits from the ongoing politics of denial. It appears that people who deny historical injustices will obviously do the same, or worse, if they happen to mastermind the atrocities that we see today in the name of development. For this group of deniers, it is not the cruel action that matters much; it is who is doing (or had done) those cruelties to whom – that matter much. If it’s their group that’s the culprit, then it is a norm and the order of the time; if others are the culprit, then the atrocities are labeled as fascism, Apartheid, racism – you name it. It is a sad reality, but it is what it is. If anyone thinks about convincing this group of deniers by logic, it can only be a futile effort that will never bear fruit. This piece of evidences about the atrocities during and after creation of Finfinne/Addis Ababa is written for sensible minds only.
As to the characteristics of atrocities that happened in Finfinne, I am shocked how people easily, and conveniently, forget or distort the recent Ethiopian political history. In case one forgets the quest of Oromos and Southern peoples and nations – which led to the 1974 Ethiopian Revolution, was a struggle to reclaim their land that had been appropriated to settler Neftegnas by reducing them into tenants and servants on their own land. I hope no one forgets the Land to the Tiller. Grabbing Oromo farmers’ land by settlers did not start during the Haile-Silassie regime, as some people try to convince us, it has been ongoing since the formation of the modern Ethiopian Empire. Of course, the intensity has increased where the settlers have established themselves in the form of cities (garrison towns). Finfinne/Addis is a case in point.
Herein, I list some of the major historical facts and policy guidelines that have been put in place to execute the evictions of Oromo farmers over the last century; evidences are also presented such that the reader can have their own judgment.
As an oral society, Oromos living in and around Finfinne have very popular folk songs in which they narrate most of the events they see/hear. The following folk song has been in the public’s memory for the last 150 years:
No more standing on Intottoo,
to look on meadows blow.
No more taking cattle to Finfinnee,
to water at the mineral springs.
No more gathering on Daalattii,
where the Gullallee assembly used to meet.
No more going beyond Gafarsaa,
to chop firewood.
No more pasturing calves,
on the meadows of Hurufa Bombi.
The year the enemy came,
our cattle were consumed.
Since Mashasha came,
freedom has vanished.
Caffee gad ilaalun haafe,
Finfinnee loon geessani,
Hora obaasuun hafe
Tullu Daalatti irratt
Yaa’iin Gullallee hafee
Qoraan cabsuun hin hafee
Hurufa Bombi irratti,
Jabbilee yaasuun hafee
Bara jarri dhufani,
Loon keenyaas ni dhumani
Edda Mashashan dhufee
(Source: Wolde Yohannes Warqineh and Gammachu Malkaa; ‘Oromiyaa: Yetedebeqew Yegif Tarik,’ 1994)
“The chronicler of the reign of Menelik states that Menelik quoted his grandfather the Negus Sahle Selassie: ‘O land, today you are full of
Gallas, but one day, my grandson will build here a house and make of you a city.’ About 1886, large areas of land on the site were distributed; the recipients among others were the Empress, Ras Mikael, Ras Darge, Afe Negus Nasibu, the Echege,Dejazmatch Girmame, Balambaras Mekonnen, etc. – and areas were set aside such as that for the quarters of the palace guard.” (Source: Richard Greenfield; ‘Ethiopian: A New Political History,’ 1965 (p. 102))
“In 1843 Sahle Sellasie went on one of the predatory raids, he usually conducted twice and often three times a year, into the Tuulama Oromo territory bordering on the kingdom of Shawa. Major W.C. Harris, who was sent on a diplomatic mission, leading a British delegation, to Shawa and followed Sahle Sellasie on several of his raiding expeditions against the Oromo during the 18 months he stayed in the country, reported what he witnessed in his book The Highlands of Aethiopia (1844, Vols. I-III) …
“‘Hundreds of cattle grazed in tempting herds over the flowery meads [meadows]. Unconscious of danger, the unarmed husband man [herdsman] pursued his peaceful occupation in the field;his wife and children carolled blithely over their ordinary household avocations; and the ascending sun shone bright on smiling valleys, which, long before his going down, were left tenanted [occupied] only by the wolf and the vulture.’
“Harris noted that, after conferring for a while with an Orthodox priest acting as his father confessor, Sahle Sellasie ordered the expectant army to ‘carry fire and sword through the land.” What followed was exactly what the king ordered his forces to do.
“‘Rolling on like the mighty waves of the ocean, down poured the Amhára host among the rich glades and rural hamlets, at the heels of the flying inhabitants—tramping under foot the fields of the ripening corn, in parts half reaped, and sweeping before them the vast herds of cattle which grazed untended in every direction. When far beyond the range of vision, their destructive progress was still marked by the red flames that burst forth in turn from the thatched roofs of each village; and the havoc committed many miles to the right by the division of Abagáz Maretch, who was advancing parallel to the main body, and had been reinforced by the detachment under Ayto Shishigo, became equally manifest in numerous columns of whites moke, towering upwards to the azure firmament in rapid succession.’”
(Source: Mekuria Bulcha; ‘A Decade after the Aborted Oromo Eviction from Finfinnee: A Persistent Story of Expropriation, Humiliation & Displacement,’ 2013 – quoting W. C. Harris’ book ‘The Highlands of Aethiopia (1844, Vols.I-III),’ Vol. II (pp. 185-198))
What Tedla Haile, who was a Minister of Education, proposed in the late 1920’s, as it was quoted in Bahru Zewde’s Pioneers of Change,:
“Tedla goes back to classical Rome to demonstrate how the army has always been a factor for assimilation, be it through the intermarriage of garrison troops with local women or the recruitment of subjects people into the imperial arm. Likewise, all other facts of government policy – administration, justice, economic organization – should be regulated by the policy of assimilation. Provincial boundaries need to be redrawn to facilitate the policy. Oromo numerical predominance in the southern provinces should be tempered by a policy of Amhara settlement. Tigreans too should be encouraged to settle in the southern provinces, as they are great assimilator by virtue of their religious fervour and their inherent weakness in learning non-semtic language.” (Source: Bahru Zewde; ‘Pioneers of Change,’ 2002 (pp. 132-133))
The introduction of the Ethiopian Constitution of 1931 reads as follows (emphases below are mine to show the two classes of citizenship in the Ethiopian Empire; the first-class citizens are the ‘natives’ while the second-class citizens are the ‘subjects.’)
The Ethiopian Empire and the Succession to the Throne
Art. 1. The territory of Ethiopia, in its entirety, is, from one end to the other, subject to the government of His Majesty the Emperor. All the natives of Ethiopia, subjects of the empire, form together the Ethiopian Empire.
(Source: The Ethiopian Constitution of 1931)
The imposition of Amharic on non-Amharas and the Amharization strategy became almost-open government policies in 1955/6. They were enshrined in the Statute to establish the Ministry of National Community Development and Social Affairs. It is clearly stated in Article 7 of the statute that members of the police and security forces should be recruited from the Amhara ethnic group and those assigned to conquered regions should be provided with special privileges. The details of those privileges are listed in Article 15 as follows:
“በመንግስት ሥራ በጸጥታ ጥበቃ በአገር አገዛዝ በፖሊስነት ወደነዚህ አገሮች የሚሄዱት አማሮች በዚያ አገር ውስጥ ለመኖርና ለመቆየት ምክንያት እንድኖራቸው በጠፍነት የሚለካው የጋላ መሬት በየአቅራቢያቸው እንደመንግስት ችሮታ መጠን ኢንድያገኙና ለማልማትም የሚረዱበት ልዩ ዘዴ እንድደረግላቸው።” (Source: Getahun Benti; ‘Addis Ababa: Migration and the Making of a Multiethnic Metropolis,’ 1941-1974 (p. 176))
Now, I leave the judgement for someone who reads and understands what is presented here.
“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” – Carl Gustav Jung