On Levine’s problematic arguments about Oromo’s role in Ethiopia


ayantu tibeso
by Ayantu Tibeso Oromo struggles are largely structural–not individual or personal as Donald Levine suggests. Though Levine discusses different Oromo individual’s rise to power, he fails to mention that no Oromo (who was conscious about Oromo struggle for justice and equality) has ever ruled Ethiopia or even come close. Nor that Oromos have truly had a chance at political participation in the Ethiopian state.  I am surprised that as a sociologist, Levine was not more careful in differentiating individual/structural issues.
Need I also point out that Oromo remain utterly policed—unable to publicly and freely organize amongst themselves in their supposed country? Levine suggests that Oromos should “invite themselves more robustly into the Ethiopian center” How can he make such a simplistic assertion about a people who face enormous challenges to even simple public organization? In a country where Oromo intellectuals and politicians continue to be haunted down, imprisoned and even killed?
Levine’s entire argument hinges on an implicit assumption that being an Oromo by blood is enough to make one fight for Oromo interests. This is greatly problematic, as history has shown us. It has been through the aid of so-called Oromo generals and individuals that Oromo people have been conquered and massacred by the thousands. Oromo struggles are not personal or individual; it is a struggle against a dehumanizing system that was never meant to work in their favor.
Levine uses past successes of Oromo individuals to discount the Oromo struggle for justice. This is problematic given that the OPDO, despite their so-called access to power remain paralyzed—unable to implement any real changes in that country.  Furthermore, Oromo individual successes have obviously not translated to collective Oromo empowerment.
Although Levine’s attempts are to recommend solutions for Ethiopia’s future, he relies entirely on a historical analysis to construct his argument. History is important. If there is one thing that the Oromo know deeply and dearly it is that. However, in this case, Levine uses history as a weapon to delegitimize systemic oppression against Oromo people. The message he seems to be sending is that the Oromo need to stop whining and get on already. This is not only highly dismissive but also problematic given the arguments I’ve made above. Moving forward requires honesty, recognition and willingness to examine what might not be appealing…to Levine and others who seek to dismiss perpetual structural discrimination and violence in Ethiopia.
Furthermore, by failing to discuss the repressive nature of the Ethiopian state itself, Levine positions it as a natural entity, which needs no questioning. However, how can we discuss the future of Ethiopia without discussing the nature of the STATE itself?
In the end, I would like to say that I do appreciate the overarching message behind Levine’s arguments. Oromos have always made an invaluable contribution to the Ethiopian state. This is an undeniable fact. In fact, many Oromo nationalists, in their attempts to construct the image of “victimhood” Levine implicitly writes against, have tended to under-emphasize just how crucial Oromo have been and continue to be to that country. Here, I give credit to Levine but also to other scholars such as Mohammed Hassan and Amerom Legasse who have documented this so thoroughly. However, I must say that there is no moving forward in Ethiopia without addressing the systemic inequities that persist. Perhaps, the next installment will undertake this challenge.
*Ayantu Tibeso is a graduate student at Ohio University, studying Communication and Development.

2 responses to “On Levine’s problematic arguments about Oromo’s role in Ethiopia

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