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Oromo: The nation in the continuous revolution

Oromo: The nation in the continuous revolution

Assefa A. Lemu 09-14-20

Ethiopia, with its present-day shape and borders, was createdby Emperor Menelik II who was born on August 17, 1844 in Ankober, North Shewa of the present Amhara State, and died in Addis Ababa (Finfinne) on December 12, 1913 and who was the emperor of Ethiopia from 1889 to 1913. As stated in the preamble of The Transitional Period Charter of Ethiopia, the Ethiopian regimes up to 1991 were the continuation of Menelik’s regime and followed similar policies that facilitated subjugation and domination of one culture (value)---the culture which Walelign Mekonnen described as the Amhara and, their junior partners, the Tigre culture.

The Oromo and other nations and nationalities in Ethiopia who felt their rights have been violated protested and revolted against these subjugations and dominations. For example, in 1991, at the end of Derg Government, there were seventeen armed organizations fighting the central government of Ethiopia (Bereket Simon, Tnsa’e ZeItiyophiya Kementa Menged, 2010 E.C, p.15).The majority of these armed organizations were, some of them still are, liberation fighters including Eritrea People’s Liberation Front (EPLF), Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), Afar Liberation Front (ALF), Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), Islamic Front for the Liberation of Oromia (IFLO), Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF), Beneshangul People’s Liberation Movement (BPLM), Gambella People’s Liberation Movement (GPLM), and Sidama Liberation Movement (SLM).This makes “liberation” which usually necessitates revolution a long standing demand in Ethiopian politics.

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About two decades ago, I wanted to write a book under the title of Oromoo:Ummatawarraqsahindhumiinkeessajiru(Oromo: The people in the unfinished revolution) and did all the necessary researches and prepared the manuscript and gave it to one of the senior leaders of Metcha-Tulama Association (MTA) for review before its publication. Unfortunately, following the 2003 MTA led Oromo protest against the relocation of the capital city of Oromia from Finfinne to Adama, the Government security forces invaded the office of MTA and confiscated properties and documents they found in the office and arrested some of the leaders of the association. My hand written manuscript was one of those documents which were confiscated and their where about are not known up to now. Here I am, writing again about Oromo’s unfinished (continuous) revolution. Unless it is finished, I or somebody else may again write about this unfinished revolution after a decade or decades.

As Oromo revolted many times in many different places, this short article could not cover all of them. Therefore, in this article, I will discuss only selected Oromo revolutions that took place after Menelik’s forces occupied the Oromo land and subjugated Oromos.

Rayya Oromo Revolution

In 1928, the Rayya Oromo of Rayya, Yejju, Wajerat, and Azebo revolted against the subjugation and oppression of the government of Empress Zewditu Menelik which was controlled by Teferi Mekonnen (latter Hailesellassie) who was then regent and plenipotentiary of Empress Zewditu’s government and refused to pay the heavy taxes imposed on them and an order to end their nomadic culture (aadaaforaa).  The government first dispatched troops led by Ras Gugsa Araya and then by Ras Gugsa Wale, the husband of Empress Zewditu. The Rayya Oromos fought back the Government forces and were able to defeat them and capture large quantity of arms and ammunitions. They also managed to close the main road connecting Dessie and Mekelle. As Hailesellassie himself wrote, the order he gave to Ras Gugsa Wale was to end the rebellion of Oromos of Rayya, Wajirat, and Azebo either peacefully through negotiation or through armed forces (Hiywot enna yeItyophiya Irmijja, Vol. 1, 1929(E.C), p.133).Consequently, Rayya Oromo revolt which started in 1928 was put to an end by the forces of Empress Zewditu-King Teferi government in 1930.

The Rayya Oromo revolt against the Government of Hailesellasse was reignited in 1935 and they opened war against Ethiopian forces (Gadaa Melbaa, Oromia: An Introduction, 1988, p.120). Even though the revolt was stopped during the Italian occupation of Ethiopia (1936-1941), the Rayya Oromos revolted again in 1941 rejecting the return of Hailesellassie to power. Their revolt was again crushed by the Government forces in 1942 and the penalty to pay 50,000 cattle, 50,000 guns, and 50,000 Maria TheresaThaler was imposed on them (Gebru Tareke, Ethiopia: Power and Protest, Peasant Revolt in the Twentieth Century, 1991, p.106). Learning lessons from the failed repeated isolated revolts, the Rayya Oromo started contacting Tigrian officials who had discontent with the Government of Hailesellassie and convinced them to create common front against the Government. These communications and alliance resulted in the Woyane Rebellion (Qedamay Woyane) which took place from September–November 1943 (Gebru Tareke, 1991, p.96). The solidarity of Oromo and Tigraway against dominations and oppressions by the Neftegna system started with Woyane Rebellion. This solidarity reached its peak in 1991 and broke from June 1992 to April 2018. Currently, it looks like that the solidarity is coming back in defense of the current constitution and the current federal structure. Oromo and Tigraway have common strategic interests such as rights for self-administration, rights to use their own languages, and developing their culture to rally around and coordinate their struggles against tyranny.

 Bale Oromo Revolution

The Bale Oromo revolution which was led by General Wako Gutu and lasted from 1963-1970  and also locally known as the Dhombir war after the name of the rifle called Dhombir that the Oromo fighters used during the revolt was the revolt against an exploitative feudal system, heavy tax, subjugation, and oppression. The Bale revolution took place under a simple motto: “To root out tyranny in all of its forms in their lifetime or, failing that, to raise a generation to finish the task”.

In his June 5, 1969, message to the leaders of Ethiopian Government in Bale, General Wako said we are not surrendering because we are fighting for our rights. The war between “you” and “us” is like the war between Vietnam and U.S.A and one of us must be eliminated. We are fighting for the freedom of our country and we prefer to die over surrendering to you. Our struggle is getting more power like a cyclone (Quoted in Gebru Tareke, 1991, p.155).

From 1963-1970, the Bale Oromos paid huge sacrifices and also achieved remarkable victories over the invading and occupying forces.

Emperor Hailesellassie who realized that the Bale Oromo revolt could not be won through armed forces, designed another strategy. He appointed General Jagama Kello and instructed him to convince the leaders of the revolt to surrender and get material rewards and positions. General Jagama Kello who himself was an Oromo approached Bale Oromo revolution leaders and convinced them to surrender. Accordingly, General Wako Gutu surrendered to Emperor Hailesellassie on March 28, 1970 and that marked the end of Bale Oromo revolt of 1963-1970 (GebruTareke, 1991, Page 148). Even though the Balae Oromo revolution didn’t succeed to liberate Oromos from the Neftegna system as wished, it contributed a creation of a generation who committed itself to fight for freedom until it is achieved. For example, Artist Adnan Mohammed’s music titled “IttifufaQabsoon” describes this fact very well. He succinctly explains about the need for continuous revolution until freedom is achieved and says Oromo and Neftegna system are fire and hay that cannot coexist.

Western Oromo Revolution

In 1936, DejazmachHabtemariamGebreIgzabiher coordinated 33 Oromo leaders of Wollegga, Ilu-Ababora and Jimma and formed Western Oromo Confederation (WOC). The main objective of WOC was achieving the independence of Western Oromo from Ethiopian rule and to be member of the League of Nations (Patrick Gilkes, The Dying Lion: Feudalism and Modernization in Ethiopia,PP.211-213).The letter signed by 33 Western Oromo leaders and sent by Dejazmach Habtemariam to the British Delegation in Sudan through British Consulate in Gambella on May 23,1936 explains how Oromia is self-sufficient in human and natural resources and how it qualifies to be an independent state and member of the League of Nation.

As Wolbert Smidt wrote, “The [WOC] delegation started the negotiations in Gambella in June 1936, and several memorandums were sent to the British Government… These negotiations were kept secret from “the Amhara” ... The [British] delegation informed Foreign Minister Anthony Eden, that due to the break-down of the Ethiopian government the western Oromo had formed a “Confederation” to govern themselves, and that a “provisional government” of “Western Galla [Oromo]” would be formed in Gore by Habtä Maryam. They underlined that the western Oromo had always preserved their autonomy within the Empire, were governed by their own dynasty and never militarily subdued “by Šäwa” [Shewa Amhara], and that they had accepted Ethiopian domination only in order to enjoy military protection, which had disappeared now”. Unfortunately, the British Government officials were not willing to assist WOC to establish their administration. Rather, while they were negotiating with the WOC on one hand, they supported the Ethiopian Government officials to establish their administration in Gore, Iluababora, with Bitwaded Waldatsadik as its head and Ras Imiru Hailesellassie as his assistant on the other hand.In spite of the fact that WOC didn’t achieve its main objective, it created aspiration for independence which the next generation (OLF) took forward and contributed for the continuation of Oromo revolution.

Qeerroo Revolution

The Qeerroo (Oromo youth) revolution of 2015-2018 that had made Ethiopia ungovernable and forced Prime Minister Hailemarian Dessalegn to resign in April 2018 and facilitated the coming to power of Dr. Abiy Ahmed and  which reignited following the assassination of Artist Hachalu Hundessa on June 29, 2020 is the continuation of the previous Oromo revolutions. Even though the Qeerro revolution ushered the removal of one of the brutal and corrupt regimes in Ethiopia, the groups who hate everything of Oromo accuse Qeerroo for committing crime.

As the Qeerroo revolution is still ongoing, the outcome of its struggle is not yet known. What we know at this stage is that the Qeerroo revolution of 2015-2018 was hijacked and didn’t achieve its main objective.


Why Oromo are in the continuous revolution?

According to Laura Neitzel, “Revolution has been central to the formation of the modern world. The word itself refers to radical, transformative change … As a historical process, “revolution” refers to a movement, often violent, to overthrow an old regime and effect complete change in the fundamental institutions of society…Revolution erupt when the governor is not able to govern and the governed refuse”.

As we discussed above, the Oromo people have been in the continuations revolution refusing illegal occupation of their country, subjugation, and oppression. At all stages, the groups who are in government power in Ethiopia caricatured Oromo revolutions, but the revolutions have been transforming themselves from one stage to other recording incremental gains. Oromo revolutions passed through metamorphosis and now reached Qeerroo Revolution stage.The revolution is necessary and must continue with more momentum until Oromos get lasting solutions to their problems and end the campaign which was opened against them to evict them from their land and to make them country-less. In the face of continuous propaganda against Oromo values and systems, sabotages against Oromo progress and advancement, and physical attacks against Oromos; the continuation of revolution is a must.It is only through the revolution that the Oromo nation can reverse the attacks launched againsttheir systems like Gada system, Oromo values such as Gudifacha and Mogasa, Oromo institutions such as Qeeroo, Oromo language, Oromo rights, identity, and existence.

Slowly by slowly, the campaign which demonizes pluralism and current federal structure which enshrines the right to self-administration of nations, nationalities, and peoples in Ethiopia and to develop their cultures, languages, is moving to the revival of the domination of language and values of one ethnic group. This group who is trying to dispossessTigrians of their history, obelisk, and alphabets, who is claiming Amharaness, is the benchmark of human-being and Amhara is the creator of Ethiopia is now intensifying its operations against Oromo to undermine their values and dispossess their lands.

The claim which says Oromo are late comers to Ethiopia and need to be expelled from Ethiopia and to be sent to Madagascar is now floating around among certain groups. It should be recalled that the persecution of Rohingya in Myanmar started with the claim that Rohingya are unwanted “Bengali” foreigners from Bangladesh posing an existential threat to Buddhist culture.Unless Oromos challenge the propaganda war opened against them and their values and jettison them, they may face the fate of Rohingya of Myanmar and Arabs of Palestine.

The two main driving reasons for the continuous Oromo revolution are the need to regain the lost rights and to defend the gains achieved in the courses of their revolutions.The pleas to reverse the current federal system and to reduce the status of States (Regions) to provinces like under Hailesellassie’s centralized unitary government and to repeal or suspendthe current constitution, to dissolve the elected parliament and to rule the country with Martial law makes the continuation of the revolutioncritical at least to defend the gains achieved so far. The advocates of reversing the current federal structure and changing or repealing the current constitution are not only individuals, but also organized political parties. For example, the sugar coated “federalism based on the social and economic benefits” advocated by Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice (alias EZEMA) and the amendment of constitution demanded by National Movement of Amhara (NaMA) are political projects to reverse the current federal structure and make the current constitution hollow.

The so called federalism based on economic benefits is the political strategy to divide Oromo into different federal units and weaken them and erase the word “Oromia” from their political dictionary. Similarly, the so called constitutional amendment is the political strategy to remove the key articles of the constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE) and to make it serve the purpose of their domination.

The burning question for the majorityof Oromo nationalists is not about the continuation or discontinuation of the revolution, but how to take the current revolution to the next higher level to achieve bilisumma (freedom) of Oromo with the possible minimum price.The definition of bilisumma is in fact very broad ranging from using their language (Afaan Oromo) for private and official businesses to exercising the right for self-determination.


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