Home | Comment & Analysis    Wednesday 13 August 2008

Ethiopia: On the ongoing conflict within the opposition OLF leadership

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By Kallacha Dubbii

ON REGIONALISM

August 13, 2008 — Maccaa and Tullamaa are two ethnographic branches of Oromo covering the central and western regions. Despite its location at the center, and its adaptation of only these two segments of the Oromo people for its identification, the Maccaa Tullamaa Self Help Association (MTSHA) was established in the 1960s as the first organized pan-Oromo movement representing and reflecting the entire Oromo people’s interest. It emerged as a result of the first wave of Oromo nationalism of the 50s and 60s at the center, with expanding influence throughout Oromia. The location of this first pan-Oromo association is not surprising since it simply benefitted from the relative concentration of the Oromo middle class in the capital city. Despite its ban and subsequent arrest and killing of MTSHA leaders and members, Oromo nationalism continued growing, giving rise to the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) in the early 70s. The beginning of Oromo nationalism was narrowly
geographic and its continued growth appears to have bubbles as a regionally traversed wave covering the last 3-4 decades. The first such wave stood out in the late 1960s and early 1970s in the east. This wave marked the creation of the first guerilla cells in Carcar. It was a very positive and historical development.

Since then, after the banning of MTSHA, there were also bubbles of Oromo nationalism which appeared here and there. The early waves were embraced by the then existing Oromo nationalism which founded MTSHA as well as the rising nationalist sentiments elsewhere. Hence, there was never equal distribution of nationalism that encompassed all regions of Oromia at any given time. This remains to be one of the challenges of the Oromo struggle.

This uneven progress in the nationalist development has at times negatively influenced the underlying political discourse of Oromia. For example, the bubble of the 1980s was costly since it created a split within the OLF. As a result, not only capable leaders were exposed to enemy fire, but internal clashes eliminated many potential leaders, demoralizing the rising pan-Oromo movement. Part of the bubble eventually linked itself to religion with a serious punch to the pan-Oromo movement and to the OLF. Although the problem was diffused to a great extent, thanks to Oromo elders who played key roles, suspicions and detestations remained for a long time. It is proof that the idea of injecting region or religion for political gains can be long-lasting and harmful. Just as the bitter Senator from New York was forced, some say she did it willingly – to accept her defeat in order to keep the unity of the Democratic Party, one has the right to expect from elites to give up their political ambitions to keep the unity of their people.

But it is important to recognize these political bubbles in Oromia as natural and neutral. They are random political platforms and one should not necessarily characterize them as destructive dynamics of the Oromo movement. The uneven rise of nationalism here or there, even with regional characteristics, is not uncommon. Failure to merge these bubbles to mainstream Oromo nationalism and embrace a constructive course of action to promote Oromo interest makes them destructive. They can be made destructive also if they target inward, or backward. They can be extremely divisive if they link themselves to clan and religious politics. Elites have serious responsibilities to guard the overall interest of the Oromo people. There is a lot at stake here.

ON CLAN POLITICS

The historical influence of clan politics on Oromo unity is an interesting topic. The Gada constituents and the election to the Gada offices had to deal with clan sentiments for the overall good of the Oromo people. Oromo modern politics has a serious challenge of merging clan politics with Oromo nationalist identity. This is a gap that can be easily exploited by political enemies as well as group rivalries. The danger is that, enemy manipulations can be easily exposed. That of group rivalries can not. The use of clan politics to promote group politics is a serious offense that could leave a lasting scar on Oromo unity and history. The penalty that comes as a result of clan agitated politics far outweighs the gain one may expect from a reform that comes at the cost of splitting Oromos to clan tentacles. It leads Oromo politics to great shame. It is harmful but acceptable to split for any political motive; it is a shame to split to feed clan lines, a shame unworthy of the Oromo people. I for one prefer no change at all than a change that leaves a clan out or collects only one clan in to a political bunch. Clan politics is a disaster, Somalia par Excellence – the greatest gift to those who wish Oromos ill. It calls for a few days or weeks long retreat from politics so that Oromo elites can all meditate and see the looming danger of their irresponsible actions. Even in politics it is ok to lose sometimes, there is such a thing as winning by losing – losing for a higher cause. It is in this spirit that many Oromos are staying out of this conflict even when they want to voice their version of the truth – to avoid the historic shame. But clan politics is ignorant of the truth; it besmirches the martyrs and belittles the people. How could one be part of clan politics? This psychic itself is sufficiently paralyzing for Oromo struggle. It puts Oromos far below where
they thought they are.

ON THE GENESIS OF THE CONFLICT

Owing to political developments of the last several years, the OLF emerged with three political identities:

On the left, OLF’s ultra-radical members condemn any attempt to negotiate with any Abyssinian organization; leave alone the Tigrean led Ethiopian government. This has been a paralyzing tide for the OLF leadership. In the early 2000s, considerable time and energy was spent needlessly, arguing the merits and demerits of negotiations, interpreting and reinterpreting the very idea of talking to the enemy as violation of the principles of liberation, betrayal of the cause, etc. This leftist tendency may just have been a pretext for power struggle, this I can’t tell. But the leftist arguments readably existed and heavily populated the Oromo internet.

On the right, the OLF is pulled by members who want to drop armed struggle and go into power sharing competition against the TPLF. This matter was a serious agenda both at the 2004 Bergen conference and at the OLF Congress in Eritrea . The group’s motion was defeated by a large majority of the OLF congress. Although the group raises some legitimate concerns and important questions regarding lack of significant progress in the armed struggle, there are no indications that the group has modified its sympathy for the idea of converting the OLF into a legal Ethiopian opposition. I will write more about this below as it relates to the ongoing conflict. In the middle are the OLF members who are willing to negotiate, but without ever compromising their right to armed struggle.

These three traits of the OLF may be able to walk together, but not run. In fact, failure to segregate these three identities and explain to OLF members and followers is one of the serious neglects of the OLF leadership. In many instances, these internal clashes were deliberately suppressed and the problem tabled, evidently at the cost of tabling progress and victory. Even today most OLF supporters do not understand the source of the conflict; it is only packaged as change. No one is against change that brings success and results. This is not headed that way.

Most of the ultra left dropped out of the OLF some years ago, and have since remained critical of the mainstream OLF without making an outwardly significant impact on the Oromo struggle. The group claims to be the legitimate OLF as now does the rightist group.

The ultra-right emerged openly as a new bubble and a contending force within the OLF in 2004 at the Bergen conference on "Conflict Resolution in the Horn of Africa: A Consultation among Oromo Elders and Leaders with International Scholars". The conference, a consultation as it may be, yielded some new developments which may relate to the current conflict within the OLF.

Apparent from the Bergen discussion was that some members of the OLF openly and clearly argued against the armed struggle accepting Meles’ condition to renounce the armed struggle and become Ethiopia’s legal opposition. This misgiving to the armed struggle was later rearticulated at the OLF congress in Eritrea by the same OLF members who moved the idea in Bergen. The OLF Congress voted the idea down after a heated debate that lasted for several hours. The ongoing conflict within the OLF is led by the same core group which also promoted renouncing armed struggle in order to participate in the Ethiopian elections. In fact, the group’s recent dissociation from the OLF first appeared suspiciously on Ethiopian website within hours - a leak by an insider who has vested interest from linkage to the Ethiopian peace politics. How could one fail to realize that that good news to that media was bad news to the Oromo people? Unfortunately it supports the flows with the presumed motto. Based on events of the last few years, I note that the bubble is predominantly identifiable with the second traits of the OLF. I have not seen sufficient proof to assume that the group has departed from those views expressed at the two major Oromo events. But one must be open to such possibility.

ON LEGAL OPPOSITION AND THE OLF’S CONSTITUTION

I believe legal Oromo opposition within the Ethiopian administration plays a very important role in fighting for the rights of the Oromo people. The Honorable Bulcha Damaksa and the Honorable Marara Gudina are examples of courageous people who cover this dimension of the Oromo struggle. One cannot undermine the wish of those individuals, OLF members or otherwise, who prefer fighting as a legal opposition. However, the OLF raised arms as the ultimate means and backup to the Oromo struggle. The armed option must be central to the very definition of the OLF as the ultimate guard to the only light at the end of the tunnel.

As mentioned above, the ongoing ‘reformists’ have raised some legitimate questions about the lack of sufficient progress in the armed struggle. These are valid issues that should be addressed at the executive or central committee levels, or by the eventual OLF congress. They have ample venues to raise these and all other issues within their organizational responsibilities. Unfortunately, ignoring the bylaws and claiming to take over political power without a due process is more of a coup (successful or not) than a reform. Poor performance that can be corrected democratically does not rise up to a reason worthy of a split. The executive committee can be replaced by a majority vote of the central committee; the central committee can be replaced by the congress. Where is the need for a shortcut and illegal change?

No doubt, the organization must address causes of its poor performance and take appropriate measures to improve its performance. The strength of an organization is rooted on members’ respect and loyalty to its constitution, not to individuals. Otherwise the reason for a split has to be fundamentally ideological – and the only one that comes to mind is the one that calls back Bergen and Eritrea. Why not join Ethiopian forces and wage peaceful opposition politics without burning the bridge? What is the basis or claim under which six OLF executive committee members are ‘fired’ by one executive committee member who claims to take control of the army? How could an OLF army ‘follow’ the one executive committee member who failed to convince the other six elected executive officials? How can one reconcile this with the organization’s constitution to which all officers pledged allegiance? These are unsettling questions; one is comforted by the knowledge that Diaspora politics is illusive.

Kallacha Dubbii is a scholar who is currently residing in USA. He can be reached at kallachadubbi@yahoo.com



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  • 14 August 2008 02:49, by Yaadasaa Dafaa

    Dear Obbo Kallacha Dubbii,
    Thank you for your analysis of the Nation of Oromoo’s current political scenarios. But I can not help to be critical of your version as it appears to be a single sided approach for me.

    First and for most I do prefer starting with the cause of the issue. After honestly informing and sharing the fundamental causes of the present situation of Oromoo Nation, IE how the oromoo Nation lost the ownership to their own lands and the beautiful vicinities of Oromoo to the invading army of the neighboring aliens, then we can discuss with a realistic integrity the journey and the ups and downs it is taking the Nation of Oromoo for reclaiming what had lost.

    Secondly, Oromoo never handed over silently to the invaders the ownerships of their lands, and all the properties they lost. The fight started when the invading army arrived at the front yards of our Nation on all the different parts of Oromia, continued through years , and will continue till our Nation takes back what they lost to the aliens. Here I am just reminding readers that Maccaa and Tullamaa self help association is only a very small part of the Oromoo resistance activities even if the movement was/is one of the most dynamic undertaking by the Oromoo Nationalists. These Nationalists do deserve our respect and their heroic deeds will always be upheld by the true Oromians. Furthermore, there are numerous Oromoo resistance uprising wars in different parts of Oromia at different times. But all share one goal: to be the owners of their own lands/vicinities, and reclaim back what the oromoo Nation lost to the invading armies of the aliens. To this end the war is not over yet, but a very few Oromoo individuals internally began to abandon the wish of the people of Oromia as traitors.

    History had proven that the presence of some segments of opportunists in the total population of any Nation, and always remains unavoidable truth. But making a corrective actions and pushing for aspirations of the people is a historical journey which will be undertaken by the younger and vibrant segment of the Nation of Oromia.

    Yes Maccaa Tullamaa Self Help Association (MTSHA) did develop to be part of the OLF. But that is not the whole history when it comes to the total struggle, uprisings, wars, and different resistance strategies the Nation of Oromoo undertook to resist, and reclaim what belongs to them for centuries. Besides, it will continue till the grievances of the Nation of Oromoo is addressed or solved meaningfully. The external or internal maneuvers of the enemy of Oromoo people will not deter the aspirations of the Oromoo people.
    Yaadasaa

    repondre message

    • 14 August 2008 07:30, by juma

      Dear Friends,

      It is my earnest belief that the Oromo (People living in the Oromia region?) have legitimate questions of democracy, good-governance and equitable use of resources and that any government that doesn’t address these and other needs of the Oromo (who are a majority) would fail to bring peace, stability and economic development in Ethiopia.

      I have questions that I never found answers for, however. I wish anyone of you would educate me on this. Please note that these are not accusations, they are questions:

      1. The author said that we shouldn’t devide on clan lines for the sake of political gain. Why not extend this to ethnic level? I simply do not understand why it is okay to devide people based on their ethnic origin (Oromo, Tigre, Amhara, Gurage, Sidama...) but not okay to devide based on clan.

      2. Why is it important to go back and claim land taken by previous invaders? I for one, am no historian but suspect that many nations took their current form out of the same struggle for land some hundreds years ago. (I don’t imagine there were 195 countries in the world some thousands or even hundreds of years ago). If at all it is important to go back in history, how far back should we go?

      3. Should it matter how nations were formed as far as all the citizens in that nation are currently given equal treatment. Shouldn’t we open our hearts to love and unity based on common human values? To put the question differently, should the Indians in America take up arms to claim back their lands? (Now, the comparison here with the Oromos is not fair because their (human) rights have been violated and are oppressed with other nationalities of Ethiopia by the current dictatorial regieme of the Meles administration.)

      4. Finally and more importantly, how many of us are willing and able to discuss and analyze these issues with no hate to other nationalities in our hearts. Hate is that repulsion that you feel when you think of associating yourself with someone from another ethnic group. It hinders the mind of thinking rationally. It is distructive. Shouldn’t we, thus, first liberate ourselves from hate? How sure are we that WE DO NOT HATE? (I am saying this to people on all sides of this issue.)

      I am sure that someone will take the time to educate me on this. If anyone is angered because I asked these questions, I am sorry but I thought these are questions that require solid answers if we want the region to ever prosper.

      Peace for East Africa.

      repondre message

      • 15 August 2008 11:20, by Geday Zerfachew

        I´ll try to remind you about the basic an fundamental human rights enshrined on the " Universal declaration of human right", several human right conventions and the practice in most civilaized world:

        All nation and nationalities in the world have equal and inalinable right for self determination until succetion. Oromo people have organized themselvs and are claiming these rightes. Soon or later, by hook or crook we wil get it. It is the matter of time. I hope you will understand this.

        That was why the Eritreans fight for, and ofcourse the TPLF. The TPLF seems to har changed their mind, but in realty they have not. They found a golden opportunity to exploit the divided people. HOW LONG ????? As long as we are devided

        I appritiate your eagerness to learn and i advise you to explor more on this issue.

        With best regard

        repondre message

  • 14 August 2008 17:50, by Fonqolcha Nura

    The OLF split don’t has negative effect on Oromo struggle for liberation of Oromiyaa.

    The split started longtime ago which resulted in the emergence of four other liberation organisations before OLF with the same names regrouped in three lines.
    Recently OLF is divided in generation lines like the traditional Oromo Gadaa system and this split impact is limited on Oromo diaspora.

    In Oromiyaa, Oromo are united as one nation for the frist time in history without the presence of OLF since the 130 years of occupation.
    Fascism is fascism and occupation is occupation no matter who is funding it.
    No nation love thier motherland, without hating the fascist occupier.
    During local election why the Oromo people have punished Bulchaa Dammaqsaa and M. Guddina, is because both opportunist leaders had crossed the Red Line by claiming that the former nafxanya rules were better than the present federation rule.

    Liberation is a terrible thing to loose.

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    • 18 August 2008 12:25, by Bitamtuu Tigree

      Obbo Fonqolchaa,
      So you think OLF’s much talked about split does not affect the cause of Oromoo at all? It is so strange to find such notion even among the bitamtuus who have dramatically changed their stance in recent times. I don’t think you know what you are saying as it is not the real situation on the ground. I don’t think you are a dummy who cannot fathom what OLF really is to the Oromoo in spite of its deficiencies. No organization operates without a mistake and it is just shame that you dodge the truth — that OLF and Oromoo are two inseparable things.

      You are either a liar or a complete dummy, or bought off by woyanne bread to fail to understand this. If it is ignorance, then time that you learn and keep yourself abreast critical and pertinent realities surfacing the politics of Oromo which, by the way, has a potential of wrecking the entire region let alone the poor country of Abysinia. Before I forget, who told you such views you said are carried only by members of the Diaspora? I live right here in the heart of Finfinnee, obboleesso! and I very much know there are millions with similar perspectives, which I doubt you don’t know.

      repondre message

      • 21 August 2008 13:25, by Iwunatu Yiwuxa

        I read all the comments given by different individuals - positive and negative on Oromo questions. As there are many Oromos who are very much concerned about their struggle there are also some Oromos who are advocating for the enemy - colonizers/ Abbysinians.

        What surprised me more anything is the perception that one of the persons who commeted gave above. he said that why do you worry about division among Oromos on tha basis of clan? He is telling us that we should rather worry about the division on the basis of ethinicity. His problem is clear that he is too much worried about Oromo unity, as this would eventually uproots the Abbysinian rule over Oromia.
        The mere reason why we Oromos worry about clan politics is that we wanted to have unity among ourselves to bring about what we want - liberation of oromia.

        We don’t hate unity among all the nations and nationalities living in the current Empire state of Ethiopia created by western powers at the end of the 19th century. based on equality and we wish that the people of thie Empire can build a strong country in the Horn of Africa. But so long as each nationa nationality and peoples’ rights is violated there could not be any unity. The old naftanyas are still propagating that "we are equal" when we are not. So, how do we appericiate our current state of affairs when we are oppressed by the minority Abbysinians in our lands? How do we tolerate this suppression when we are the least/pooeerst in our ancestral lands and the enemy is living a decent life? How do we think more for unity of "Ethiopia" when our fellow men are denied their democratic rights and suffering in prisons of this Empire? How do we consider this Empire state as ours when we are denied to thei right of self determinationa and enemy when oromo opportunists and enemies speaking afan oromo deciding on our fate under the pre-text of Oromia regional government? How do keep quite when Oromos are denied their basic rights to own land for constructing houses around Finfinnee when enemies/ocupation forces have access to any part of oromia to amass wealth by selling Oromo lands?

        These are some of the burning issues that each and every Oromo is rasing these days. Hence, we believe that there could not be remedy unless otherwise we are the ones to decide our own fate on our own land/country.

        Nagaatti.

        repondre message

        • 27 August 2008 18:00, by juma

          Dear Iwnetu,

          Thanks for taking your precious time to discuss on this issue.

          You and I agree on most (all?) points. I never denied history (taking of land by power) and of the current state of affairs for most Oromos (oppression by the current government). Thus, you and I agree that there is a problem here (CURRENTLY).

          I feel we also agree on the solutions to these problems but I am not sure thus I have to reiterate my points.

          Actually, I only raised questions that should be answered when seeking solution to these serious problems that our people face today as I don’t claim to know all the solutions.

          I have no fear to admit that I don’t know all the solutions as I am a mere individual and not a politician. Let me reiterate the questions that would help us in forming solutions:

          QUESTION: How much should history play a role in solving our current situations? I am merely asking what relation the historical injustices the Oromos suffered have with the current state of oppression they suffer from the current government and their CURRENT problems. I am not going to simply believe politicians when they say that all my CURRENT sufferings are a result of incidents that took place some hundreds of years ago. I have to question it, haven’t I? This is crucial because, if the premise is wrong, the conclusion is also going to be wrong and subsequently the solution too and we are talking about a solution that affects millions of individuals.

          My brother Iwnetu, I am all for people’s rights for self-determination. My fear is that politicians may manipulate this legitimate question in their quest for power. Some politicians are hungry for power-so much so that they uphold it is okay to divide people (among ethnic lines) for political motives (read the main article). In my contribution to the solution, I would like to suggest that putting democracy on the ground first ensures that self-determination is not manipulated by politicians who do not represent the will of the people.

          Finally, I would like to remind you that reality is a MOVING TARGET. It is dynamic, complex and thus changing. Trying to fix the serious problems that we face currently by trying to redraw history (however unjust that history might have been) may not solve our CURRENT problems. One simple illustration of this continuously evolving nature of reality is the thousands (may be millions) of Oromos who have been married, who had children with, and have been peacefully living with the "colonizers".

          May God Almighty give us the wisdom and honesty we need to solve our problems. Amen.

          repondre message

          • 28 August 2008 08:12, by Iwunatu Yiwuxa

            Dear,
            If you understood the role of the current regime in marginalizing and impoverishing our people by denying their rights to access resources and systematically empowering themselves to economically and politically control our land, the solution is to work hand in hand with real powers fighting this injustice, be it in the country or abroad. Building unity among our people is one of the most important issues in establishing a free Oromo society where Oromos are masters of their resources.

            What I hate is not to contribute to enemies plans in dividing us through clans, regions and religions. We have to be ready to work with true sons of oromo irrespective of his/her clan, region of residence and religion. These artificial phenomenon should not be the ones that divide us in our effort to decolonize Oromia. What worries me more than anything is these diseases that our historical enemies are cultivating in our society to weaken us as they know that a united oromo can not be easily ruled by the minority Abbysinians.

            So, let us thing of ways by which we eliminate these evil divisive artificial phenomena that create boundaries between our people.

            God help us to do so.

            repondre message

            • 29 August 2008 10:58, by juma

              Dear Iwunetu,

              I agree with you. But, in addition to unity between all Oromos in order to make Oromos a master of their future I am calling for unity among all nationalities and ethnic groups (Oromos, Gurages, Sidamas, Tigres, Amharas,Wolayitas....) of Ethiopia for the same purpose.

              That was what I tried to advocate in my previous two comments. Let’s form a new Ethiopia based on unity in diversity instead of blaming and fighting each other based on historical imperatives.

              Instead of trying to "correct" the PAST, and fall prey to power hungry politicians in the process, why not stand united with other nationalities and ethnic groups who are ready to respect our rights and uniqueness? This should not mean denying past injustices committed. DENYING PAST INJUSTICES WILL NOT HELP EITHER (JUST US BLAMING THE PAST FOR OUR CURRENT PROBLEMS WOULDN’T RESULT IN A SOLUTION).

              Look where the past 17 years of division under EPRDF have gotten us? Those who believe that we don’t deserve better continue to divide us among ethnic lines. We can continue to fall for the politics of hate because it appeals to our emotions (not to our intellects), and continue to alienate each other and continue to suffer.

              But my hope is that we could say "enough" to politicians who work hard to divide us among ethnic (religious, regional.....) lines and embrace unity based on love to each other and hope for the FUTURE.

              May God enlighten all of us. Amen.

              repondre message



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