Yonas Biru, PhD
This article is inspired by a recent op-ed on Addis Standard online titled “Critiquing the anti-Oromo nascent narrative of disgruntled Amhara elite in the diaspora: A rejoinder to the wrong manifesto.” The Manifesto in reference is my proposal titled “Averting Civil War in Ethiopia: An Emergency Manifesto.”
Speaking of my manifesto, the authors of the op-ed, Professor Mirgissa Kaba and Girma Gutema (MK & GG), started with an eyebrow raising statement. “In our view, the Oromo as well as all nations and nationalities that have suffered under the subjugation of the Amhara political elites in Ethiopia often do not give much attention to such hostile rhetoric as well as intentionally corrupted writings.”
Evidently, every general statement allows an exception or two. Hence their attempt at rebutting my Manifesto, fearing that if left unchecked the “nascent narrative” can become “a reference to the future history.” They added: “Individuals and their narrow groupings like that of Dr Yonas Biru still appear to influence the process through their writing, advocacy and twisting their alike in foreign government system.”
My Manifesto aimed at four broad areas: (1) bringing to light the worsening political and economic crises under the Oromo-led government; (2) uncovering the underlying causes of the crises, namely recycled Gedaa and emboldened Oromummaa; (3) exploring a win-win nexus for an all-inclusive dialogue, and (4) promoting domestic and international campaigns to pressure the government towards a peaceful resolution. The rejoinder is focused on defending Gedaa and Oromummaa. No effort was made to address items 3 and 4 at all.
I need to flag three caveats from the outset in the interest of clarity. First, the term Oromummaa has two dimensions: social and political. The social meaning of the term is “being Oromo.” It reflects Oromo’s humane traditions and ethos of welcoming outsiders with a sense of community value and welfare. As a political doctrine, Oromummaa imposes the Oromo language, culture, and identity on other tribal communities through coercion – political, economic, and military.
Second, when critics of the Oromummaa political aggression pen legitimate exposés, the common Oromummaa scholars’ response is intentionally muddling the political and social aspects of Oromummaa and accusing their critics of tarnishing the Oromo social standing. This is what MK & GG did in their deceptively crafted and lie-ridden rejoinder.
Third, as noted in my manifesto, since its formation, the Oromo Prosperity Party (Oromo-PP) has gone through subtle but intense infighting between Ethiopianist and Oromummaa factions. Over the last year-and-half, the Oromummaa doctrine has increasingly controlled the levers of power and the PM has progressively become a part of it.
As noted in my Manifesto, Oromummaa is in equal measure part cult and part political dogma. Its adherents uphold it above religion and family. Oromo leaders, including the President of the Oromo land have publicly accused Oromos with Biblical and Islamic names of undermining their Oromummaa roots. We have witnessed one of the most prominent Oromo political leaders, Bekele Gerba, attributing the decline of the Oromo language to interethnic marriage. We have also heard Oromo activists calling for a mass divorce to free Oromos from their Amhara wives and husbands, leaving behind their half-cast children.
The purpose of this article is to show the extent that Oromummaa scholars go to weaponize false claims and outright lies as a strategic defense of the Oromummaa cult. A rudimentary fact checking would have led to the rejection of the rejoinder. Its publication shows not only of the saddening lack of intellectual ethics on the part of the authors, but also the absence of journalistic integrity on the part of the editors of Addis Standard.
My manifesto was clear in its disposition and objectives in all four broad areas noted above. Let us briefly revisit the key issues.
Crisis Under the Oromo-Led Government
The economic and political crises highlighted in my manifesto were data driven and well documented with 17 references from credible international agencies. They include the IMF, the World Bank, the UN, Transparency International (the most authoritative institution on corruption indexes), Heritage Foundation (known for its economic freedom index), the Hong Kong based Fitch Rating (globally recognized for rating a nation’s ability to meet its financial obligations), VOA, and NPR, among others.
Referring to me, the response in the rejoinder is: “His manifesto, in our view, is essentially an opinion of individuals or at best people in the same circle who may have their own dream which has nothing to do with what the general public believes it should rather be.” The reference to “people in the same circle” represents “disgruntled Amhara elite in the diaspora”.
Diaspora, I may be. But the Amhara designation needs further clarification. I am part Oromo and part Amhara. Besides, the current political, economic, and geopolitical crises are flagged by all Ethiopians, including Oromos. In a 67-page document, Jawar Mohammed, arguably the most prominent Oromo politician, did not hesitate to speak candidly.
አንድ ቡድን በኦሮሞ ስም አምባገነንነትን ገንብቶ ለጎረቤት ክልሎችና ሕዝቦች ጠላት አድርጎናል። አገዛዙ ባለፉት አምስት አመታት አብረን ከምንኖርባቸው ሕዝብና የክልል መንግሥታት ጋር ጦርነት ውስጥ እንድንገባ አድርጎናል …
… በመጀመሪያ በሀገሪቱ የተለያዩ አቅጣጫዎች የሚነሱ ግጭቶችን ለማስቆም ትኩረት መስጠት ያስፈልጋል። ከዚህ ጎን ለጎን ሀገሪቱን ለማስተዳደር ፖሊሲዎችን መቅረፅ፣ የአመራር ብቃትን ማሻሻል፣ የሥልጣን ምሰሶዎችን መገንባት፣ መለወጥ፣ በከፍተኛ ብስለት መከለስ በፍጥነት ሊሰሩ የሚገባቸው ተግባራት ናቸው። ከብሔር ብሄረሰቦች ጋር ያለንን ግንኙነት ማጠናከርና በዲፕሎማሲው መስክም ያሉብንን ድክመቶች ማስተካከል ጊዜ የማይሰጣቸው ናቸው። ‹ኦሮሞ አገርን ሊገዛ ይቅርና ክልሉን ማስተዳደር አይችልም› የሚለው ፕሮፓጋንዳ ባለፉት አምስት ዓመታት በተፈጠሩ ስህተቶች ተቀባይነት እያገኘ መምጣቱ የሚካድ አይደለም። ይህም በሕዝባችን ሥነ-ልቦና ላይ ከፍተኛ ጉዳት አስከትሏል። ከሀገር ውስጥ እና ከውጭ ሀገራት ጋር ያለንን ግንኙነትም እያበላሸ ነው። ይህንን በመረዳት፤ የግል ኢጎዎችንና የቡድን አመለካከቶችን ወደ ጎን በመተው የጋራ ስማችንን ለማጽዳት መሥራት ያስፈልጋል።
The Causes of the Crises: Recycled Gedaa and Emboldened Oromummaa
In the noted manifesto, I highlighted two causes for the crises. First is the effort to resurrect Gedaa from the tomb and rinse and recycle it for current use. The second is the Oromummaa political doctrine. These are the two issues that MK & GG focused on because they saw them as daggers at the heart of the Gedaa inspired Oromummaa political doctrine.
Gedaa was a 16th century Oromo tradition practiced in limited areas of the current day Oromo tribal land, governing the community’s economic, political, social, and religious traditions. It was an effective governance system when people lived in small clans in the same area for generations. The system became outdated and unfit for purpose after the advent of population growth. Its demise was further exacerbated by migration, following the Oromo conquest of new tribal lands. As a governance system it started its decline in the 16th century. After the dawn of the 19th century, “it was reduced to a ritual system.”
The reason for the transformation of Gedaa into a ritual system was articulated by none other than Asafa Jalata (the intellectual Godfather of the Oromummaa political doctrine). In his view, the culprits were: “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”.
Other Oromo scholars such Endalkachew Lelisa Duressa attribute the transformation of Gedaa from a governance system to a traditional to the “spread of Islam and Christianity [that] undermined the political and military roles of the Gadaa system.” Jawar Mohammed, in his 76-page recent report, argued the Gedaa system was weakened by “population expansion and the advent of migration.”
With total disregard for the truth, MK & GG wrote: “Gadaa is governance system of the Oromo that has survived the subjugation and annihilation for 600 years despite brutal crackdown under the different state of this country.” This was unmitigated and uncircumcised lie. Allow me to summon Jawar Mohammed as my primary witness.
In his above-noted 76-page document, Jawar asserts: “የኦሮሞ ትግልን ብንመለከት፤ ከምኒልክ ወረራ በፊት ያለው ዘመን የነፃነት እና የብልጽግና ተደርጎ ይወሰዳል።” [Before Menilik’s invasion, Oromo was free and prosperous and Gedaa was the emblem of our pride.] Menelik’s reign was between the end of 19th century and the beginning of 20th century.
I will let MK & GG settle their fictional narrative of 600 years of subjugation and annihilation of the Oromo by the Ethiopian state with Jawar’s narrative of a free and prosperous Oromo before Menelik’s reign.
How Gedaa was reduced to a state of ritual practice is not the most important question. The most important question is: If Gedaa lost its competence in the 19th century as Asafa Jalala noted, what purpose will Gedaa serve in a globalized world in the 21st century? Using Gedaa at the national and regional level in the 21st century is akin to forcing grown up ass man or women to wear the ጥብቆ he or she used as a toddler.
Japan and China had far more developed and sophisticated traditional institutions and governance infrastructures than the Oromo Gedaa. However, Japan under the Meiji Restoration Period (in the 19th century) and China under Deng Xiaoping (in the 20th century) figured out one cannot go forward in a reverse gear. They enacted policies to ban old traditions and 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 are tickling their fancy to resurrect and recycle an expired ritual when modern societies are exploring best practices from around the world.
In all fairness, clinging to the past is not only an Oromo elite problem. Amhara and Tigray elites are inflicted with the same social illness. The Amhara spent their waking hours regurgitating the global significance of Adwa and Lalibela. Tigrayans still believe the sun and its galaxy revolve around the Axumite civilization whose heyday was somewhere between the 4th and 5th century.
The hermitized and tribalized Amhara, Oromo and Tigray scholars never get tired of fighting about who has the best tradition, who stole from whom in centuries past, who killed whose old traditions is the staple of their political life.
This is nowhere clearer than in MK & GG’s pregnant statement: “Ethiopia unfortunately do not have anything of its own that it could proudly claim to have as relevant to the world, except the monuments in the rocky lands of the habasha Old Testament Biblical belt. The good ones coming from the South including Oromia are shunned down as indigenous etc.”
Anyone with access to Google can see what are the most important Ethiopian iconic legacies that have their hand and footprint on the world stage. A Google search for Adwa fetches 4,150,000 results, followed by Axum (3,880,000), and Lalibela (3,850,000). Gedaa fetches 58,800 entries. Alas, at a closer examination, MK & GG’s pregnant statement was stillborn.
The Mogassa Legacy: Military Subjugation followed by Mass Adoption Under Duress
One issue that got the attention of MK & GG is my narrative of the Oromo Mogassa tradition. Sadly, they tried to launder the blood soaked Mogassa using the Oromo Guddifachaa tradition (voluntary and humane adoption) as a detergent. In the Oromo Guddifachaa tradition, an adopted child is treated like a biological child. The process is voluntary, and the practice is common to this day.
Mogassa is different in form and substance. Unlike Guddifachaa that involves individual adoptions by a family, Mogassa was the practice of the mass adoption of conquered tribes. It is a forced assimilation of other tribes into the Oromummaa galaxy.
Mogassa had a three-step process. First, in the quest to take lands inhabited by other tribes, Oromo warriors decimated other tribal lands. Second, once they took over new territories, the Oromo conquerors adopted women, elders, children and surrendered fighters of the conquered tribe. Third, the conquered tribes were assimilated into Oromummaa under duress. The adopted communities were forced to abandon, their names, languages, and traditions, and were politically and militarily baptized to become Oromo in every facet of their existence.
The adoption is undertaken under “political, military and economic considerations” as documented by one of the most prominent Oromo historians (Mohammed Hassan) in a book published by Oxford University. Mohammed notes: Historically, the Oromo has “assimilated more than they were assimilated by others.” This included absorbing defeated tribes “as clients or serfs (gabbaro) into the [Oromo] tribal structure.”
To top it off, Mohammed’s book reveals that new fictitious Oromo genealogies were created for the forcefully assimilated tribes so they can count “their ancestors several generations back” to a “hypothetical” Oromo lineage. It was a complete dissolution of culture, tradition, name, and even genealogy.
Mohammed further informs us that the assimilation process culminated with an oath taking ceremony led by an Oromo Aba Gadaa, repeating: “I hate what you hate, I like what you like, I fight whom you fight, I go where you go, I chase whom you chase.” Those who refused to Oromize their body, spirit, soul, and genealogy were wiped out of existence in a bloodshed. The punishment included amputation of penis. Yet, MK & GG falsely present Mogassa as a noble and human practice of adoption, narrating it under the rubric of Guddifachaa.
Mogassa 2.0 in the 21st Century
The President of the Oromo region, Shimelis Abdisa, did not mince words when announcing that Oromo-PP’s plan for “the Future of Ethiopia” is Gedaa. In another speech he revealed that as part of this grand strategy the “Prosperity Party is built in such a way to advance the interest of Oromo. The head of the Party will always be an Oromo or an Oromo plant.” This was upped in a different speech. To rejuvenate and spread the Gadaa system, the Oromo government is “spending billions and erecting Oromummaa markers in Addis Ababa.”
A detailed strategic plan is provided in a report titled “We Need Modern Version of the OLF With High Confidence Politics of Haile Fida!”
“It is time to foster a modern version of the OLF with high confidence politics of Haile Fida. Dr Haile was the one, who envisioned that Ethiopia using primarly Afaan Oromo as the working language can slowly, but surely, be transformed to Gadaa democratic Ethiopia, i.e. de facto Great Oromia… The aim of an independent Gadaa Oromia is Oromo politics of the past, the goal of an ethnic federation is that of present status quo and the objective of an integrated Gadaa Ethiopia (de facto Great Oromia)… we surely will move to the level of high confidence in order to own the whole Ethiopia…”
This is not a wishful plan. The plan is already under implementation. During the Regular Session of the Parliament on March 28, 2023, the Honorable Hassan Sheikh, the representative of a small tribe bordering the Oromo tribal land expressed fear that the survival of his ethnic group (አማሮ) is in danger.
“የአማሮ ህዝብ በሶስት በኩል በኦሮሞ የተከበበ በሞሆኑ ከሌሎች አጎራባች ብሄሮች ጋር እንዳይገናኝ መንገድ ተዘግቶበታል:: ለመግለጽ በሚያዳግት እና ይህ ነው በማይባል አፈና እና በመከራ ውስጥ ይገኛል:: ከመወረርና ከመጨፍጨፉም አልፎ እንደ አንድ ብሄር ህልውናው አደጋ ላይ ነው:: …”
[The people of Amaro are encircled by Oromo on three directions. We are denied access to other regions. It is hard to explain our suffering in words. We are invaded and butchered, and our existence as an ethnic group is in peril.]
Non-Oromo residents of Addis Ababa, accounting for 81 percent of the population including the Amhara representing 47 percent of Addis Ababans feel the same threat. The President of Oromo did not hesitate to validate their fear. In a speech to the Oromo-PP youth squad, he explained why he was building a new city completely encircling Addis Ababa, stating: “Some naive Oromos may not understand the strategy behind building Sheger City encircling [Addis Ababa]. Our enemies understand our intentions.” Having seen this in my Manifesto including the links for the quotes, MK & GG wrote:
“We understand that there are units who are working with the divisive mentality of the Amhara elites in every part of the country. Such units orchestrate events that bring people who live together peacefully into conflict. Now, what are presented by the author in our view are simple allegation of dramatized act by themselves.”
They were not satisfied with their brazen obfuscation. They needed to lie blatantly, stating “The Oromo lived peacefully and has never enticed any wrong to any peoples whom they live with as neighbors.” Let us see just a few samples of what international human rights organizations and the international media says.
Human Rights Watch, August 2022: “An armed group killed several hundred Amhara civilians in western Oromia in June 2022 while the Ethiopian security forces did little to protect them.” The Oromo-PP led government and the armed Oromo fighter blame each other for the mass murder. It may be obvious, but it warrants reminding MK & GG that either way it is an Oromo group that is engaged in mass killings of innocent and defenseless people.
The Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention, February 2023: “[We are] alarmed by the ongoing massacres of ethnic Amhara men, women, and children in the Oromia region of Ethiopia.”
UNICIEF 2018: “Severe ethnic conflict broke out in July and August in the border zones of Oromia and SNNP regions, leading to large scale displacement of nearly one million people.”
Reuters, June 2022: “On June 18 gunmen killed at least 200 people in the Gimbi district of Western Wollega Zone… “Per data I have received from the Oromiya region yesterday, the number of victims identified so far rests at 338,” the prime minister’s spokesperson Billene Seyoum told reporters.
Amnesty International July 2022 – “These horrific killings in Tole, allegedly at the hands of the Oromo Liberation Army, reveal its perpetrators’ utter disregard for human life.”
What we are witnessing is a Mogassa tradition not a Guddifachaa one. The PM’s repeated threats “to slaughter hundreds of thousands of people over night” (2021) and “unleashing violence that will be many times bloodier than the red terror” (2023) reflect the inherent tendency of Oromummaa politics using terror as a tool of subjugation.
At the practical level, the Oromummaa political culture is bloodletting. At an intellectual level, Oromummaa is a lie-fomenting doctrine. MK & GG’s rejoinder proved this far more than my manifesto achieved.