Don’t make a mountain out of a Molehill: The Prime Minister did not rebuke Oromo Nationalism


By Maganasa Oda*

Disclaimer: Nationalism is a very complex subject that is very difficult to comprehensively present its entire aspect in this short article. Please do not cite this piece for academic purposes.

Watching what some of my friends are saying, and reading what they have been writing regarding the speech of Dr. Abiy Ahmed on Oromo Nationalism, forced me to write this short piece. This is a very difficult subject that needs enormous time. I convinced myself to put something out to let some of my friends to have a perspective on what has been said and what some of us have been writing.

What is Nationalism?

Nationalism is a very complex subject. Defining it is also problematic. For the purpose of this short piece what Craig Calhoun noted is taken: “nationalism is a discursive formation that gives shape to the modern world.1 It is a way of talking, writing, and thinking about the basic units of culture, politics, and belonging that helps to constitute nations as real and powerful dimensions of social life.”

Good and bad nationalism

In his article, good and bad nationalism published in 2001, Robert Reich wrote: “Negative nationalism assumes that the world is a zero-sum game where our gains come at another nation’s expense, and theirs come at ours’.” In the case of negative nationalism, “dictators and demagogues, on the other hand, flourish where social capital is in short supply. People who feel little responsibility toward one another will turn against minorities in their midst and outsiders across their borders, in return for promises of glory or comforting fictions of superiority.” In this aspect, the writer mentioned the reemergence of nationalism in Frans, Austria, and Switzerland. As it has been widely reported, the recent resurgence of nationalism in Europe mainly explained by ‘why do we care about others, we are better than them.’

On the other hand, as per the writer, “Positive nationalism assumes that when our people are better off they’re more willing and better able to add to the world’s wellbeing.” The writer continues, “A society with a lot of positive nationalism is more likely to be tolerant and open toward the rest of the world because its people have learned the habits of good citizenship and social justice.” This is a kind of nationalism that “accept[s] and uphold[s] those cultural values that symbolize a nation.”

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Oromo Nationalism

The modern Oromo nationalism emerged in the middle of `20th century. It emerged at the time when Oromos were not considered equal citizens. It emerged at the time when Oromos did not have the right to learn and work by their own language. It emerged at the time when Oromo singers were told that Afaan Oromo songs would break a tape recorder. It emerged at the time when an Oromo person had to speak Amharic and must have an Amharic name to progress in his/her career. So, that nationalism was fundamentally founded on the idea of equality for the Oromo people. That nationalism was based on justice for the Oromo people. That nationalism was founded on the premise of saving and reviving the Oromo culture, history, and language- which were under constant attack from the ruling elites.

The context of Abiy’s speech

The Prime Minister mentioned the issue of nationalism in the context of unity and working together. He was drawn to the subject to address the right-wing element in our society. In this context, he was trying to explain the danger of exclusive nationalism which dangerous for any nation, especially heterogeneous nation like Ethiopia. In this context, the PM underlines that Amhara nationalism should not be eliminated, but at the same time, it should not eliminate us as a country. In this case, the prime minister was referring to the exclusiveness of negative nationalism, not the existence of Amhara nationalism.

When he was referring to the Oromo nationalism, the Prime Minister, said, yes, he said, “Oromo nationalism brought the Oromo people to a village level.” If we love cherry-picking, yes this is enough, the prime minister rebuked Oromo nationalism. However, truth must be told, this would not be fair for the prime minister. The prime minister, like many of us, when making that speech was cognizant of some groups who misinterpreted Oromo Nationalism. Explaining all might be complex and time-consuming, but let me put the issue in the following VERY FEW questions:

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Was it not the case that some Oromo nationalists were claiming to be superior over their own Oromo brothers from a different region?
Was it not the case that we used to label people who want to work with others, especially with the Amhara people for common good, anti-Oromo? Case in point Dr. Marara Gudina in 2005.
Was it not the case that if someone’s mother or father was not an Oromo, we used to sideline that person?
Was it not the case that if someone is not fluent in Afaan Oromoo, that person was not considered proper Oromo?
Fast forward, just two month ago, didn’t some of us write and disseminate rumors that Abiy’s mom is not an Oromo, his wife is From Tigray and his kids speak Tigrigna at home and because of this Abiy does not represent Oromo interests?
The combined effect of the above issues gave EPRDF under the leadership of TPLF additional impetus to divide Oromo political groups and created an even larger gap between our own people and has enabled the EPRDF/TPLF to gain further inroads amongst the populace.

That was the type of nationalism that the Prime Minister was referring to.

Discussing Oromo nationalism without mentioning the role of Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) in shaping Oromo nationalism is incomplete. To begin with, this is another complex issue, to say the least. According to OLF Political program, an Oromo is a person whose father OR mother OR one of his grandparents is an Oromo. However, through the course of time some supporters, knowingly or unknowingly ignored this very fact. For these die-hard supporters, an Oromo is someone whose both parents are an Oromo. Within this group, there is also a group that even tries to define Oromo based on religion; still, there is a group within this group that defines Oromo based on a particular region/place. To be fair, this has never been on the agenda of OLF. In reviewing many documents about OLF and viewing many videos that the OLF leadership in the past and present have said, I only heard Oromo nationalism as a force for equality, justice, freedom, and self-determination of Oromo people.

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What is the fuss about Abiy’s Speech?

Using this situation for personal or group political gain is more than a credibility issue- it is a dangerous approach that can pit our own people against their fellow citizens. There are numerous areas where I can reasonably and legitimately doubt and criticize the prime minister; however, this is not one of the areas. Does anyone of you believe in an Oromo nationalism that belittles others? Oromo nationalism that wants to impose its own language, culture, and history on others? Oromo nationalism that does not care about the suffering of other ethnic groups in the country? Oromo nationalism that makes others a scapegoat? If the answers are negative, then you have to agree with the prime minister, because he was referring to that sort of nationalism, the Oromo nationalism that is built of freedom, equality, and justice for the Oromo people. If the answers are affirmative, you have not been struggling for equality, freedom, and justice for all; you were fighting to replace one repressive regime with that of your own. I have watched the video more than a couple of times, the one that is more than six minutes, not the one that was deliberately edited to mislead others. My honest and unbiased understanding is that the Prime Minister was NOT referring to the general Oromo nationalism that has been the driving force for justice and equality in the country; he was rather referring to a section or a group that has, for different reasons, created a narrow narrative from benevolent Oromo nationalism and in the end went out of whack. Thus, compatriots, don’t make a mountain out of a molehill. If the prime minister was rebuking the Oromo nationalism that helped the survival of Oromo identity, culture, and history, I will be the first to hit the autobahn waving an anti-Abiy flag.

* (Maganasa Oda is Oiplatform contributor. He is based in Germany. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. The author can be reached at: magansaoda@gmail.com

11 Comments

  1. This is a very good article. I agreed with most of what you said, until you came to the speech itself. Because you were not able to defend what the PM said, you resorted to his motive when he said what he said. Our moral analysis should in most cases ignore matters of motivation. Abiyi without making any distinction, with a broad brush condemned Oromo Nationalism. No where did he make any distinction between negative and positive nationalism as you claim. This is your creation, you try to put words into his mouth. I could understand if you first admitted what he said is wrong, but tried to explain this was his intention. Because you tried to gloss over what he said, your credibility is suspect.

    By the way you tried to show some of the negative aspect of Oromo nationalism. But really, is that what defines todays Oromos nationalism. Why as PM dwell on that? It gives an impression that he subscribes to the position of the Amhara intellectuals who are only for individual rights and abhor group rights in Ethiopia. its this aspect of the speech that drove all Oromos who are concerned about Oromo rights crazy. Look at it from this angle. I am not discounting those who are destructive in their criticism. Even among the critics there is a huge difference why and how they criticized the speech.

    Galatoomi

  2. There is no Shewa question or Wellega question or Jimma question. There is only one question and that is Oromo question and on this we are united. We do not need to be pulled in to this nonsense being shoved down our throat by the prime minister as a real issue when it is not

  3. I did not listen to the Prime Minister’s Speech about Oromo Nationalism–and its effects on the consensus he is trying to build in the Empire. As someone who’ve spent the past 40 some odd years challenging Abyssinia colonialism and the political culture of the Empire, the tone, and terms of your description our struggle is Solipsistic!

    Your historical babble regarding Oromo national narratives is incorrect and diffused, just listen to fellow Oromos who’ve trail-blazed the Oromo case in Germany for the past 40 years before you hit the Autobahn waving flags!

  4. It’s so funny ( when it’s not sickening ) how these so called “Oromo nationalists” are still obsessed with a supposed Amhara cultural subjugation ( or is it colonialism? LOL ) even as they are being abused and exploited into destructive confusion by Tigre tribal aggression and greed! What makes these people so sickening is how they won’t drop their stupidity even after Lemma and co. have successfully ridden ETHIOPIAN nationalism into power! Grow some balls people, ETHIOPIA is all yours; all you need is just dump this shitty endless victimhood mentality and move with confidence, just like the great Lemma Megersa and co. have successfully demonstrated! Oromo nationalism is nothing but a shitty woyane ploy to keep Oromos out of their rightful place at the center of ETHIOPIAN great possibilities! Long live Lemma Megersa!

  5. The TPLF is just another Abyssinian power that just happen to be Tigre. Nothing has changed. The same form of government under different name.
    Lema and Abiy are tools for Abyssinians domination.We had many fool Oromos like them in the past. They need to remmeber it is the Oromo natioanilism that got them there.

  6. You have a nice piece of cake waiting for you at the table; but no, you won’t touch it, because you are too busy obsessing about its ingredients!

    But what is in the cake? He wants to know. Is there water in it? Why doesn’t the color of water show in the color of the cake? Why is the cake not liquid like the water it is made of? etc. etc. etc.

    For God’s sake, stop Abyssinizing the hell out of the freaking water and just eat your cake!

    Long live Lemma Megersa! …. because, you know, this brother knows how to grab the cake and eat it, instead of literally wasting away just talking about it!

  7. Dear garo
    you are such one of the lousiest person with shallow personality. YOu are using the name of Oromo to destroy the whole Ethiopia. Wollega and Showa (my central origin) can never ever come together-we are different. What might be in common is our language-Oromiffa. Many Wollagas are now days drivers of chaos in Oromia. Showa (us) are closer to Amhara weather you believe it or not. However, in this TPLF regime (a regime that stand to destroy all Showa: Oromos, Amharas, Gurages etc because of a pretext and a deceived history against the ruler Obbo Minilik), we are the first to pay most and suffer most. Many Tigres believe that showa is their enemies and infcat many oromos from far-Harrarghe, Bale, Arsi, Wollaga- regard Showa Oromos as Gobanas (an Ethiopian hero who integrated Ethiopians). So, please stop your idiot politics. Oromos can not exist without the rest. Oromia- will suffer the greatest endless civil war more than any other regions. Main reasons include: being locked up by all other nations (no proximity to any port); A great potential of Jihadists movement: obviously- Oromia could fall into Islamist jihadists: no boarder boundary with any of the nations: Amhara, South, Somali, Tigri, Afar, Bensangul etc; and Also we use similar dialetcs-but we have great differences in culture- that obviously cause huge destruction of the region. We are now seeing this happening in the region and causing other peaceful nations to be instable. Watch out the unrest between Oromia and Somalia region_ this will destroy Oromia because- not only ogaden who is fighting but also the whole somali land will fight Oromia. Please Oromos such as you-think again- specially those narrow elites. Love Ethiopia! Our country.

  8. Dear Dorry
    your chanting of Oromo nationality bla bla is now outdated. such stupid narrow people will not be allowed to play politics of destrucjtion in Oromia or great Ethiopia. Oromoa, Amhara Tigre, Gurage, somali etc are together building one country: great Ethiopia. Such stupid as you will not have time if you are really Oromo. I suspect some shabia use these medias to post their deceptive and destructive agendas

  9. Dear Alem
    We are on the same line: I am Oromos and spit at the narrow ideas of this Oromo nationalists; but suspect-may be shabia using oromo names.
    It is undeniable fact that Oromo can not exist outside others and vice versa. The so called abysiniya etc is what shows their stupidity. they do not know the history of Ethiopia at all and say it as they were told by destructive agents. Now things have turned upside down. Ethiopia remains as Ethiopia and for Ethiopians. Those narrow nationalists have no place to hide.

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