Yonas Biru, PhD
Since elementary school, I have been taught to start an essay with an introduction, followed by the body of the essay and ended with a summary conclusion. Please allow me to violate what I have been taught since elementary school and start with the conclusion of my article: What a fucked-up bunch of idiots are leading the Oromo tribal land?
If Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s new palace and its opulent satellite city spreading across 503 hectares is estimated to cost $15.3 billion, one can imagine how much it would cost the Oromo tribal land to build Sheger City. Remember it is sprawling across an area of 1,600 square kilometers (160,000 hectares). To put the cost in perspective, the price tag for Egypt’s new city that covers 700 square kilometer (70,000 hectares) is $59 billion. Even if you assume Sheger will cost only 33 percent of that of the New Cairo per square kilometer, the cost can be well over $51 billion without taking inflation and foreign currency crunch into consideration. Anyone who believes that Sheger City is a real project is a gullible soul.
Sheger City has two objectives. The first objective is to serve as a pretext to evict non-Oromos from the Oromo tribal land. According to the World Population Review, “close to half of the population of Addis Ababa is of the ethnic group Amhara, while the majority of the remaining population is split among the groups Oromo, Gurage, and Tigray.” The African Cities Research Consortium provides more specific data, showing Amhara (47%), Oromo (19.5%), Gurage (16.3%) and Tigray (6.2%) as the four largest tribal groups.
As the population of Addis Ababa grew, people spread outward and settled on its outskirts. It is, therefore, reasonable to assume the tribal demography on the outskirts of Addis Ababa will not be significantly different from that of Addis Ababa. This means around 80 percent of the people living on the outskirts of Addis Ababa are non-Oromo.
Not all houses that the Oromo government demolished were built illegally, as the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission has reported. The demolition and eviction process are not motivated by the desire to establish law and order. Nor is it driven by a plan to build Ethiopia’s largest city. It is all about ethnic cleansing.
Second, Shgere City is the equivalent of the delusional “Mekele Smart City” that TPLF was supposed to build. After TPLF left Addis Ababa and hankered in Mekele, the bustling Tigrayan economy that was supported with looted resources from the rest of the country started to cool off and eventually came to a halt. TPLF had to channel the energy and anger of the people (particularly the youth) by instilling a sense of Tigrayan nationalism.
The TPLF strategy was to preoccupy the people with Tigrayan exceptionalism, exalting their culture, heroism, and virtues above all other tribes. The people of Tigray were made to believe they are the alpha tribe, the Israel of Africa. War, they were convinced, is their pastime. Their red flag with yellow emblem became part of their wardrobe, from their hats to their socks and everything in between.
They started painting their cows, horses, and pets red and yellow. Even meetings of TPLF’s foreigner advisors (Martin Plaut, Alex de Waal, Kjetil Tronvoll, William Davidson, and Rashid Abdi) were decorated with Tigrayan flag. They used photoshoped smart city designs of Mekele with high-rises. They went as far as announcing The North Star Business Group was formed and ready with a “plan to establish #Tigray based airlines.” Pilots and hostesses attended the Business Groups meeting with Tigray Airlines pilot and hostess uniform. Mekele was touted to become the largest and most modern city in Ethiopia with its own international airlines.
The people’s empty stomachs were desensitized by their adrenalin filled brains. Their decimated careers and businesses were compensated by their overhyped nationalist social psychology. Sadly, their dreams and hypes were crashed by the weight of hard reality. Today, neither the cows nor the people wear the red and yellow banner.
The area designated for Sheger city is still in ጋሪ and ኩራዝ era. In reality, Sheger city is the equivalent of TPLF’s photoshoped smart city and international airline.
The Oromo government’s strategy is to preoccupy the restive unemployed Oromo youth with Oromo nationalism. President Shimelis’ touts the imaginary city as the largest city in Ethiopia with a potential to produce Africa’s largest GDP. Imagine a small area in the Oromo tribal land having the potential to produce Africa’s largest GDP, overpassing Nigeria, Egypt, and South Africa. The Chinese have a proverb: “Don’t tell obvious lies that make you look stupid.”
Trying to Go Forward in a Reverse Gear with Gadaa
Gadaa is a 16th century Oromo governance system that was practiced in limited areas of the Oromo tribal land. Successive Oromo intellectuals including advocates of Oromummaa acknowledge it has died of a natural death like thousands of old traditional systems had died around the world. Professor Endalkachew Lelisa Duressa wrote the eulogy of Gadda as follows: “Due to the geographical expansion of the Oromo territory and an increasing population, the central Gadaa government declined beginning in the mid-17th century and autonomous regional and local republics took its place.”
Professor Asafa Jalata, the God father of Oromummaa explains how Gadaa is incompetent for the 21st century as follows: “The nonfederal nature of the Gadaa System, lack of Strong Central government, lack of regular meeting of Gadaa official and long distance of Gumii (assembly) from political center made Gadaa system less Competent”.
Today, the Oromummaa community and Oromo-PP led by Shimelis Abdissa are trying to resurrect Gadaa from the dead. Shimelis declared: “Gadaa is the Future of Ethiopia”, falsely claiming it is “a holistic and deep philosophy with thousands of years practice in human life and strong institutions.” At best Gadaa lasted from 16th century to the beginning of 19th century (300 years). The claim of “thousands of years” is a blatant lie. Did I mention that the Chinese have a proverb: “Don’t tell obvious lies that make you look stupid!”
The question is: If Gadaa lost its competence centuries ago, as Professor Jalata acknowledged, how can it be of interest in the 21st century? It is not only the Oromo government that is aspiring to make Ethiopia under the Gadaa system. One of the leading Oromo elites envisions that Ethiopia will be “slowly, but surely, transformed to Gadaa democratic Ethiopia, i.e. de facto Great Oromia.”
Neither the Oromo government nor its tribal intellectual coteries are able to come to terms that Gadaa is a 16th century tradition whose time has long expired. Gadaa belongs to anthropological books because it is incompatible with the 21st century complex social, political, and economic developments. The Oromo government and Oromummaa intellectuals are not worried about the development of the Oromo tribal land. Their interest is building Oromo nationalism, touting Gadda as “an example of classical African civilization.”
Rather than spending billions to teach the Oromo youth math and science and prepare it for the future, the Oromo government is resurrecting the ghosts of Gadaa to help it overcome the scientific challenges of the 21st century with 16th century tools. The people of Oromo are already suffering the consequences.
In the most resent college entrance national exams, the Oromo tribal homeland lagged behind the national average. For example, the average scores for all subjects by regions were, Addis Ababa (38.46%), Harari (32.88), Dire Dawa (31.42%), Amhara (30.37%), Sidama (28.34), Southern People (28.17), and Oromo (27.96). Oromo performed below Amhara in almost all areas. Of the top 5 best performing high schools in the nation, three were in Amhara and one in Oromo. Further, Amhara performed better than the national average by 9 percentage points. Oromo was under by 41 percentage points.
Japan and China had far more developed and sophisticated traditional institutions and governance infrastructures than Gadaa. However, Japan under the Meiji Restoration Period and China under Deng Xiaoping figured out one cannot go forward in a reverse gear. They adopted western practices, just like the founding fathers of the US in the 18th century modeled their democracy after Greece’s system of self-government. It is sad to see Oromo tribalists embracing an expired village ritual when modern societies are exploring best practices from around the world.
It is hard to blame the Oromo alone. The sense of “we have the best tradition” is a chronic problem throughout Ethiopia. We need to remember “Tigryan exceptionalism” is what led to a spectacularly exceptional self-destruction of the TPLF. It is the same mindset that has chained hermitized Amhara intellectuals to distant centuries.
We, the people of Ethiopia are cursed with imagined greatness with stories of glorious past that are not relevant to the present or future challenges of Ethiopia. I cannot think of anything of significance that we have contributed to the World, outside of two plant-based medicines, including ድንገተኛ. Our people still use ድንገተኛ because they do not have access to, or they cannot afford, amoxicillin. The Oromo fictional greatness of Gadaa is the equivalence of ድንገተኛ in a world where health science is advancing at a dizzying speed in gene therapy, telemedicine, artificial intelligence, and neurotechnology.
What a fucked-up bunch of idiots are leading the Oromo tribal land.