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Bekele Gerba Vs. Individual Freedom

Bekele Gerba vs. Individual Freedom

Dr. Yohannes Aberra Ayele 3-24-19

In this world there are as many interests as there are people. Some individual or group interests may be anathema to the moral principles of humanity; but still imposed regardless by exerting negative pressure on humans. Other individual or group  interests are realized by persuasion without involving violence or fear. This may seem milder but manipulation through brainwashing is even more dangerous. The latter can be more enduring than the former because mental prisoners are less willing to escape than physical prisoners.

I read the translated version of Bekele Gerba's public speech about the future of languages and what to do with one of them. I can only have respect for him as a scholar-politician who is engaged in a peaceful struggle for the rights of his (our) people. I know Bekele is a scholar in language sciences. Although there is no need for academic specialization in politics; he is entitled to it. However, I find it inappropriate to focus so much on language as if the Oromo people all have attained a high enough standard of living making it timely to talk about the spiritual than the material. By this I don't mean the language issue has to be left out in favor of material life. What I mean is people have to live first to speak a language and develop it. By the way politicization of language is agenda of the elite. They have time for that away from the drudgeries of subsistence farming.

I wanted to write as early as two years ago when the opposition to the Addis Ababa master plan was at its peak. I did not need to be an Oromo when I opposed the eviction of farming communities without compensation that could help them to lead a decent life after. We are worried about the eviction because it was not voluntary. It was a question of human rights violation! I was dismayed by an article on ethiomedia posted by Bekele Gerba a few days before he was jailed. Bekele was much more worried about the loss of Oromo culture to the Addis Ababa urban melting pot, due to the evictions in the Oromia outskirts of Addis Ababa. What do we mean by culture? Is it a tattoo that cannot change without disfiguring yourself? There is no permanent culture. The origin of culture is a reflection of and a means for material life of societies. Oromos were predominantly pastoral with all kinds of complex cultural expressions associated with it. Where is it now? Do the Oromos regret being farming communities and the evolution of complex material and intangible culture associated with it? Was farming imposed on them without their will? Oromos would never have hesitated for a second to return to pastoralism as soon as they got their freedom to decide on their own affairs. I say eviction is forced; but what if adequate compensation schemes are put in place and the farmers become Addis Ababans? Would there be anyone who could force them to melt in the pot?  At this age where the rights of nations and nationalities are protected by the Law of the Land who could force the Oromos to abandon their language, their life styles? If this change takes place it can only be voluntary. Whom would Bekele blame for the "loss" of culture when the people are simply following a line of convenience based on their own free will? If Bekele is thinking of the threat of "Amharanization" of Oromos in Addis Ababa it would be like fear of "Anglo-saxonization" of Ethiopians in New York City. Addis Ababa speaks Amharic does not mean it is cuturally Amhara. Neither does New York City have an Anglo-Saxon culture. Urban areas are unique futures in the sense that they evolve their own urban culture based on their unique economic activities and social interaction. As the urban center grows larger and more complex it will be different from all the cultures of origin of its residents. There could be some ethic-cultural enclaves in cities; but they are only for material and psychological security of immigrants. Smaller urban centers have similar cultures to the surrounding country side. Addis Ababa is too big for that.

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I said culture is never static. No one is living in a medieval culture in Europe. We only see it in Hollywood movies. We sometimes wonder "Were they like this?" It is enough to compare European culture of the present day and the culture of the middle ages. Just get a video of the "Game of Thrones". You will be disgusted by some of their cultural values let alone protect them. In the future space age I hope Bekele will not attempt to prevent Oromos from changing into space men.

There is a tendency in Ethiopia to give too much emphasis to language as if it is everything that matters. In the Bible every Christian knows that multiplicity of languages is a curse. All mankind had one language of Adam. It was well and good! Isn't it? After all language is needed to communicate! The people of the Biblical times could not have built that great structure “the Tower Babel" if they had different languages. It was God, who felt offended by their Tower, cursed them to speak different languages and destroy the Tower due to miscommunication. To have many languages is good; to have a single language for all is better. However, you don't bring that better by force. That is unacceptable; but if people prefer to use single language on their own free will, that is great! What matters most is the choice is based on individual freedom. If I and my family prefer, without any external pressure or persuasion, to use Afan Oromo, so be it! Would the Government of Tigray or Tigrean politicians take me to court or condemn me in public for exercising my individual right to choose any language I perceive as convenient for my daily life?

I am sure, any opposition party to EPRDF is against Revolutionary Democracy favoring Liberalism instead. I assume Bekele Gerba's party is liberalist. I don't need to define liberalism and what this line of political economic thought entails to individual freedom. The core of liberalism is individual freedom of choice. That formed the philosophical foundation for individual enterprise and innovativeness. This is the ground where capitalism is built. Liberalism, if truly implemented, shatters national boundaries let alone ethno-linguistic boundaries. Liberalism and market economy has not only blended hundreds of different languages of medieval Europe into fewer languages such as English, French, and German but also left no other choice for Europe than speak English in the EU. This not forced by anyone on Europe.

Bekele has rightly said that languages disappear through time. He also rightly said that they disappear because people stop using them. Well that is how things go! That is the normal and inevitable evolution of societies. No one can stop it. It becomes injustice and un evolutionary if such change is taking place due to coercion. If some linguistic group is using all kinds of hard and soft methods against the existence and expansion of a particular language people using that language have every right to fight back and preserve their language. Beyond protection of the language from forced extinction no one has the right to impose that language on others to ensure its survival. Bekele seemed to care less about the disappearance of other languages. He considered it as an evitable course of history. I agree with him for reasons that I discussed earlier. However, he never wanted to admit that Afan Oromo could be one of those languages that could be extinct. There is no need for double standards here. If other languages are not immune from extinction how could Afan Oromo be if it is left for individual free will to use or not to use like the others? If Afan Oromo is destined to go through time (in the next century, timeline used by Bekele) by the free will of the speakers how could Bekele and likes stop the tide? First of all, we don't know what is going to happen in 80 years from now. We don't know what kind of mentalities Oromos, or other ethnic groups will develop. By the spontaneous and free choice of people Ethiopia may become an English speaking country. Bekele dreaded the possibility of Afan Oromo being extinct and the Oromo people as a consequence. No need to fear! If the Oromos are Oromos simply because they speak Afan Oromo, then I could be ethnic Oromo if I can speak the language. Being Oromo is more than speaking the language. Weren't fluent Afan Oromo speaking Amhara chased out of Oromia?

What disgusted me most in his speech are the actions he suggested to save Afan Oromo from extinction and by extension the Oromo people. First of all extiction of Oromoness "logically" following the extinction of Afan Oromo only serves a political purpose of arousing public emotions and instilling fear and sowing suspicion among Oromo people just for the sake of snatching votes from the ODP. No one can rule out the possibility of Mandarin language, which has a billion speakers in China, being extinct by the free will of the people if China is fully integrated into the global economy. This does not mean there will not be a single Chinese left from out of the billion and half now.

Bekele and his party have every right under the Sun to develop Afan Oromo. I would personally support the effort. Twelve years ago in my article posted on Deki Alula I have thanked Mekuria Hinsene for publishing an Afan Oromo dictionary for Ethiopians. I even went to the extent of proposing to the Oromia government to open basic Afan Oromo training programmes freely for anyone interested to attend including myself.

We all want 86 languages of Ethiopia to be saved from extinction. We consider them as wealth, not as a burden. However, if the free choice of people resulting from mixing and remixing in the course of buzzing national economic growth and development and the evolution of national and global markets, results in the disappearance of some or many languages this cannot be a reason for lamentation. The lesser the number of languages the better for interaction. Never make a mistake. Economy is a formidable force. It is a tide that no one can reverse. It destroys boundaries of any sort. If Bekele hates to see Afan Oromo being extinct, I also hate to see that, democratic methods have to be employed to reverse any perceived trend of extinction. Denying Oromos individual freedom to choose how to live by proposing banning intermarriages, creating hurdles in the smooth running of commerce is totally unexpected of a savage let alone from a respectable university professor. In a world where people wed from locations thousands of miles apart Bekele is suggesting that a Shoa Oromo and Shoa Amhara living as neighbors in Jiru should never fall in love and get married. What should the Shoa Oromo neighbor do? Go to Horogudru and marry a pure Oromo. Is this democratic? Is it even human?

Another "Bekele commandment" is “Don’t buy if no Afan Oromo". These clashes head on with the basic principles of economic exchange. Selling and buying are economic phenomena occurring as result of demand and supply. You don't choose a seller; you choose what you want to buy. Bekele should refrain from brainwashing the Oromo youth to make them more violent. When the Ambo youth were dying led by his party Bekele was teaching! Don't create irreversible rifts between the Oromos and the rest of Ethiopians. Conflict between peoples is harmful to all except for those who want to "fish in troubled waters"


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